Kanye West defends pro-Trump sentiments in new song

After a week of controversial Twitter postings, Kanye West has defended his support of the US president in a new song.

The track Ye vs. The People sees the star trading lyrics with fellow-rapper T.I., who takes him to task over his support of Donald Trump.

“You representin’ dudes who seem crude and cold-hearted,” argues T.I., adding that West is emboldening “white supremacy”.

But the star stands his ground, insisting that he’s “fighting for the people”.

Alluding to a photo he posted of himself wearing Donald Trump’s famous Make America Great Again baseball cap, West raps: “Wearing the hat will show people that we are equal.”

Skip Twitter post 2 by @kanyewest

my wife just called me and she wanted me to make this clear to everyone. I don't agree with everything Trump does. I don't agree 100% with anyone but myself.

— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 25, 2018

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End of Twitter post 2 by @kanyewest

“I love Hillary too,” he added in another post.

Skip Twitter post 3 by @kanyewest

If your friend jumps off the bridge you don't have to do the same. Ye being Ye is a fight for you to be you. For people In my life the idea of Trump is pretty much a 50 50 split but I don't tell a Hillary supporter not to support Hillary
I love Hillary too.

— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 25, 2018

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‘Kind of a big deal’

Nonetheless, the president has seized upon this rare, A-list endorsement and tweeted his approval.

“Kanye West has performed a great service to the black community,” he wrote on Friday. “Big things are happening and eyes are being opened for the first time in decades – Legacy stuff!”

“Kind of a big deal,” added his son, Donald Trump Jr, on Instagram. “Seems like a cultural turning point.”

Skip Instagram post by donaldjtrumpjr

Kind of a big deal. Seems like a cultural turning point. Nice to see some real influencers push back on the nonsense narrative and actually push for free speech and thought and not just thought that falls totally in line with Hollywood’s and the far left’s ideology. #kanyewest #maga

A post shared by Donald Trump Jr. (@donaldjtrumpjr) on

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However, West has come in for criticism from fellow musicians, including his friend and former protégé John Legend.

Legend pleaded with the rapper not let his support for Trump tarnish his “legacy” in a private text message, which West later posted online.

Skip Twitter post 4 by @kanyewest

pic.twitter.com/zxcloMEj9I

— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 26, 2018

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End of Twitter post 4 by @kanyewest

“Think freely,” he advised West. “Think with empathy and context too. Your words and actions have consequences.”

Fellow Chicagoan Chance The Rapper initially defended West, saying “Black people don’t have to be democrats”.

But after President Trump praised his comments, the star issued a clarification.

I’d never support anyone who has made a career out of hatred, racism and discrimination,” he wrote.

“Unfortunately, my attempt to support Kanye is being used to discredit my brothers and sisters in the movement and I can’t sit by and let that happen.”

A prolonged publicity campaign?

Ultimately, it’s possible the entire controversy has been a bizarre, prolonged publicity campaign for West’s new music; but the exchange of views seems genuine.

T.I. even hinted that Ye vs. The People was recorded just two days ago, amidst the fallout of West’s return to Twitter.

“Yesterday spent the day with Kanye,” he wrote on Instagram on Friday.

“Still optimistic something from our discussion gon stick… I refuse to just give up on him.”

Before the release of Ye vs. The People, West trolled his fans by releasing another song – Lift Yourself – filled with nonsense lyrics.

The track opens with a sped-up sample of the 1973 Amnesty song Liberty, a soulful call to arms that states, “we need to strive for more liberty”.

However, West’s sole contribution was a verse built around the lyrics: “Poopy-di scoop / Scoop-diddy-whoop / Whoop-di-scoop-di-poop.”

The two releases are West’s first new music since 2016’s Life Of Pablo album.

He has hinted he will release a new album on 1 June, followed a week later by a collaborative record with Kid Cudi.

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North Korea nuclear test site to close in May, South Korea says

North Korea’s nuclear test site will close in May, the South Korean president’s office has said.

A spokesman said the closure of the Punggye-ri site would be done in public and foreign experts from South Korea and the US would be invited to watch.

Scientists have said the site may have partially collapsed in September.

On Friday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in agreed to work to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons.

Their summit came after months of warlike rhetoric from the North.

On Saturday, US President Donald Trump he would likely hold talks with the North Korean leadership “over the next three or four weeks” about the denuclearisation of the peninsula.

What did South Korea say?

Presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan said that Mr Kim had stated he “would carry out the closing of the nuclear test site in May”.

Mr Yoon added that the North Korean leader had also said he “would soon invite experts of South Korea and the US to disclose the process to the international community with transparency”.

  • Will Korea talks lead to lasting peace?
  • Five conflicts that continued after they ended

    The office also said North Korea would change its time zone – currently half an hour different – to match that of the South.

    North Korea has so far made no public comments on the issue.

    What is known about the test site?

    Situated in mountainous terrain in the north-east, it is thought to be the North’s main nuclear facility.

    The nuclear tests have taken place in a system of tunnels dug below Mount Mantap, near the Punggye-ri site.

    • North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site

      Six nuclear tests have been carried out there since 2006.

      After the last, in September 2017, a series of aftershocks hit the site, which seismologists believe collapsed part of the mountain’s interior.

      Mr Kim made an apparent reference to these reports, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

      “Some say that we are terminating facilities that are not functioning, but you will see that they are in good condition,” the North Korean leader was quoted as saying by Mr Yoon on Sunday.

      The information about the nuclear site has been gathered mainly from satellite imagery and tracking the movement of equipment at the location.

      Building trust

      Analysis by the BBC’s Korea correspondent Laura Bicker

      This is another significant and symbolic step by Kim Jong-un.

      He had already announced he’d be closing the Punggye-ri test site, but now he has told officials in South Korea that he’s prepared to make it public and invite experts and media from Seoul and the US to inspect it.

      Mr Kim also told President Moon that he hoped trust could be built with the US and reiterated that there would be no need for him to have nuclear weapons if they formally ended the war on the Korean peninsula.

      Mr Kim said once Washington spoke to him North Korea would know he was not an aggressor.

      He added that his heart was broken when he saw the two clocks with different Korean time zones hanging on the wall of the peace house at the border between the two countries.

      He will now match the time zone in the North with that of the South.

      What was agreed at the inter-Korean summit?

      Mr Kim and Mr Moon said they would pursue talks with the US and China to formally end the Korean War, which ended in 1953 with a truce, not total peace.

      The commitment to denuclearisation does not explicitly refer to North Korea halting its nuclear activities but rather to the aim of “a nuclear-free Korean peninsula”.

      Catch me up

      The statement talks about this taking place in a phased manner, but does not include further details.

      Many analysts remain sceptical about the North’s apparent enthusiasm for engagement.

      • Profile: Kim Jong-un
      • North Korea crisis in 300 words

        Previous inter-Korean agreements have been abandoned after the North resorted to nuclear and missile tests and the South elected more conservative presidents.

        Mr Kim said the two leaders had agreed to work to prevent a repeat of the region’s “unfortunate history” in which progress had “fizzled out”.

        Other points the leaders agreed on in a joint statement were:

        • An end to “hostile activities” between the two nations
        • Changing the demilitarised zone (DMZ) that divides the country into a “peace zone” by ceasing propaganda broadcasts
        • An arms reduction in the region pending the easing of military tension
        • To push for four-way talks involving the US and China
        • Organising a reunion of families left divided by the war
        • Connecting and modernising railways and roads across the border
        • Further joint participation in sporting events, including this year’s Asian Games

Scooter Libby: Trump pardons Cheney aide who leaked

US President Donald Trump has pardoned former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, who was convicted of lying about leaks to the media.

Lewis Libby, known as Scooter, was found guilty in 2007 following an investigation into the unauthorised disclosure of a CIA agent’s identity.

The White House said Libby was “fully worthy of this pardon”.

“I don’t know Mr Libby,” said Mr Trump, “but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly.

“Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.”

What’s the background to the case?

Libby was found guilty of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements following an investigation into a leak that revealed the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

His trial heard that Bush administration officials wanted to get back at Ms Plame’s husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Mr Wilson had written a 2003 New York Times op-ed accusing Mr Cheney of doctoring pre-war intelligence on Iraq.

Libby was charged with lying to investigators about his contacts with reporters, but he maintained he simply misremembered the sequence of events.

He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and fined $250,000 (£175,000).

But his sentence was commuted by then-President George W Bush.

What’s the reaction?

In an interview on Friday with MSNBC, Ms Plame condemned Mr Trump’s decision to pardon Libby.

“My personal sense is that I didn’t think my contempt for Donald Trump could go lower, but he surprises me each and every day,” she said.

“It’s very clear that this is a message he is sending, that you can commit crimes against national security and you will be pardoned,” she added.

Ms Plame has previously said her career as a CIA agent was finished “in an instant” once her identity was leaked.

She told the BBC in 2007 that “treason” had been committed in pursuit of political retribution.

Mr Cheney told the New York Times Mr Libby is “one of the most capable, principled and honourable men I have ever known.

“He is innocent and he and his family have suffered for years because of his wrongful conviction. I am gratedful that President Trump righted this wrong…”

On Friday, Democrats charged Mr Trump with hypocrisy for pardoning a man who leaked to the media, despite the president’s condemnation of such disclosures in his White House.

Mr Trump’s decision came on the same day that he savaged former FBI Director James Comey as a “proven LEAKER & LIAR”.

Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff tweeted: “This is the President’s way of sending a message to those implicated in the Russia investigation: You have my back and I’ll have yours.”

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    What was Libby case’s political fallout?

    Mr Cheney had pressured Mr Bush to pardon Libby in the final days of his presidency.

    But Mr Cheney’s badgering reached the point where Mr Bush reportedly told his aides his vice-president was beginning to annoy him.

    After consulting White House lawyers, Mr Bush decided it was best not to issue a pardon.

    When he finally told Mr Cheney about his decision, Mr Cheney snapped at him, saying: “You are leaving a good man wounded on the field of battle.”

    “The comment stung,” Mr Bush would write in his memoirs.

    “In eight years, I had never seen Dick like this, or even close to this.

    “I worried that the friendship we had built was about to be severely strained, at best.”

    • Key players in the 2007 CIA leak probe

      What is a presidential pardon?

      Libby’s pardon amounts to official forgiveness for his crime, but does not equate to exoneration or finding that he was innocent.

      Presidential pardons can overturn consequences of a conviction such as being denied the right to carry out jury service, vote or run for political office.

      Since the conviction, Libby has already had his law license reinstated.

      And former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell restored his voting rights in 2013.

      This is the third time Mr Trump has issued a pardon.

      In August last year, he did so for former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of criminal contempt over his crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

      Last month he pardoned Kristian Saucier, a Navy sailor who took photos of classified areas inside a US submarine and served a year in federal prison.

Trump lawyer Michael Cohen under criminal investigation

US President Donald Trump’s top lawyer is under criminal investigation, the US justice department has announced.

Prosecutors say they are focusing on Michael Cohen’s business dealings rather than his work as a lawyer.

Mr Cohen has been under investigation for months, the court filing says.

The filing was in response to efforts by Mr Cohen’s own lawyer to stop prosecutors reviewing material seized from Mr Cohen’s office on Monday.

Mr Cohen’s team argues that the papers are covered by the attorney-client privilege.

During a court hearing in New York on Friday, prosecutor Tom McKay accused Mr Cohen of trying to use attorney-client privilege “as a sword to challenge the government’s ability to review evidence”.

  • Trump hits out at ‘disgraceful’ FBI raid
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    Government prosecutors also said they believed Mr Cohen had “a low volume of potentially privileged communication” because he seems to only have one client – President Trump.

    “It is neither apparent that Cohen, in his capacity as an attorney, has many, or any, attorney-client relationships other than with President Donald Trump,” the filing said.

    It added that while Mr Cohen was an attorney, “he also has several other business interests and sources of income”, and is “being investigated for criminal conduct that largely centres on his personal business dealings”.

    A new lawyer for President Trump, Joanna Hendon, said the president had an “acute interest” in the case. Ms Hendon, who was hired on Wednesday, asked the judge to adjourn the session so she had more time to prepare.

    According to a New York Times report, the president phoned Mr Cohen to “check in” on him today.

    Lawyers tend to advise clients not to discuss investigations – which means their discussion could cause them problems, depending on what they talked about.

    In a separate development, Mr Cohen reportedly negotiated a $1.6 million settlement with a former Playboy model on behalf of a Republican fundraiser, according to a Wall Street Journal article.

    Elliott Broidy, a Los Angeles investor, acknowledged “a consensual relationship” with the Playmate, who became pregnant.

    Mr Broidy said it was “unfortunate” that the personal matter was “the subject of national discussion” because of the involvement of Mr Cohen.

    The investor was previously in the news after he urged President Trump to sack then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over a diplomatic dispute.

James Comey’s FBI memoir: Six claims about Trump

US President Donald Trump is seething about former FBI Director James Comey’s new memoir, which is chock-full of scathing assessments of him.

The publication likens Mr Trump to a mafia boss and details his fixation on unsubstantiated claims he consorted with prostitutes at a Moscow hotel.

But there are some parts the president is unlikely to brand fake news.

Mr Comey says he believes Mr Trump’s hair was his own and his much-mocked hands did not seem unusually small.

  • Seven ways Comey could hurt Trump – or himself

    On Friday morning, Mr Trump launched a furious fusillade on Twitter against Mr Comey.

    Skip Twitter post 2 by @realDonaldTrump

    ….untruthful slime ball who was, as time has proven, a terrible Director of the FBI. His handling of the Crooked Hillary Clinton case, and the events surrounding it, will go down as one of the worst “botch jobs” of history. It was my great honor to fire James Comey!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 13, 2018

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    End of Twitter post 2 by @realDonaldTrump

    The White House and its allies have launched an all-out campaign to discredit the publication, even launching a website, lyincomey.com.

    A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies & Leadership is due to be published on Tuesday, but advance copies have been obtained by US media outlets. Here is a selection of what’s in it.

    ‘Mafia Don’

    Mr Comey, who as a prosecutor earlier in his career helped break up the Gambino crime family, reportedly compares Mr Trump to a crime lord.

    He writes that interactions with the president gave him “flashbacks to my earlier career as a prosecutor against the Mob”.

    “The silent circle of assent,” he continues. “The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview.

    “The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organisation above morality and above the truth.”

    Skip Twitter post by @GStephanopoulos

    First look at my interview with Former FBI Director @Comey – what he was thinking during those meetings with President @realDonaldTrump https://t.co/TCPSpTzzzr

    — GeorgeStephanopoulos (@GStephanopoulos) April 13, 2018

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    End of Twitter post by @GStephanopoulos

    • The Trump-Russia saga in 200 words
    • FBI boss who went from ‘respect’ to ‘nut’

      ‘Moscow prostitutes’

      The former FBI boss writes that on at least four occasions Mr Trump raised the matter of unverified claims that he watched prostitutes urinate in a hotel suite during a 2013 Moscow trip.

      The allegations surfaced in a raw intelligence dossier compiled by a former British spy who had been hired by Mr Trump’s political enemies to dig up dirt on him.

      Mr Comey says Mr Trump angrily denied the claims and asked him to have the FBI disprove them because they were “terrible” for his wife, Melania Trump.

      He writes that he first broached the matter at a Trump Tower meeting in January 2017 shortly before the president’s inauguration.

      In an interview with ABC News to promote the book, Mr Comey said: “He interrupted very defensively and started talking about it, you know, ‘Do I look like a guy who needs hookers?’

      “And I assumed he was asking that rhetorically, I didn’t answer that, and I just moved on and explained, ‘Sir, I’m not saying that we credit this, I’m not saying we believe it. We just thought it very important that you know.'”

      Mr Comey added: “I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don’t know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It’s possible, but I don’t know.”

      This time it’s personal

      Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC News, Washington

      Ten months after his blockbuster Senate testimony, James Comey is back in the public spotlight. This time, it seems, it’s personal.

      There are few new earth-shattering revelations unearthed in Mr Comey’s tome so far, but the former FBI director does shed new light and share new details on the prominent episodes he had extensively discussed last June. What’s changed is the attitude Mr Comey takes when discussing the president.

      His book practically drips with disdain for the man in the Oval Office – his personality, his priorities and his overall demeanour. Even without the Russia investigation, it seems highly unlikely these two men would have gotten along.

      Now that book excerpts are being shared far and wide, attention turns to the upcoming spate of interviews Mr Comey will undertake in the coming weeks. With his written words, he’s had a chance to give his unchallenged account.

      But what about the things he doesn’t want to talk about? Allegations of FBI bias, charges – amplified by Mr Trump – that he’s a leaker and a grandstander? Questions about his handling of the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server and the early days of the Trump inquiry?

      There may be real bombshells out there, waiting to emerge.

      • Ways Comey could hurt Trump – or himself

        Trump’s ‘deep insecurity’

        Mr Comey notes that he never saw the president laugh, which he said was a sign of Mr Trump’s “deep insecurity, his inability to be vulnerable or to risk himself by appreciating the humour of others, which, on reflection, is really very sad in a leader, and a little scary in a president”.

        He concludes that the president “is unethical, untethered to truth and institutional values”, while his leadership is “transactional, ego driven”.

        Attorney general ‘overwhelmed’

        Mr Comey says Attorney General Jeff Sessions was of little help to him during an Oval Office meeting in February 2017 when Mr Trump allegedly asked Mr Comey to speak privately with him.

        The former FBI director has previously alleged that Mr Trump urged him to drop the investigation into national security adviser Michael Flynn, who lost his job after lying about meetings with the Russian ambassador.

        Mr Comey says he afterwards confronted Mr Sessions about why he had agreed to leave, saying: “You can’t be kicked out of the room so he can talk to me alone.

        “You have to be between me and the president.”

        But Mr Comey says Mr Sessions seemed “both overwhelmed and overmatched by the job”.

        He “cast his eyes down at the table, and they darted quickly back and forth, side to side.

        “He said nothing. I read in his posture and face a message that he would not be able to help me.”

        Obama almost made Comey cry

        Mr Comey was excoriated by Democrats for reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, a decision she partly blames for her shock loss in the 2016 election.

        But the FBI director says he was almost moved to tears in the aftermath of the vote by a private assurance from President Obama about his handling of the Clinton inquiry.

        Mr Comey writes that the Democratic president told him in a White House meeting: “I picked you to be FBI director because of your integrity and your ability.

        “I want you to know that nothing – nothing – has happened in the last year to change my view.”

        The FBI director says he nearly wept as he told Mr Obama: “Boy, were those words I needed to hear. I’m just trying to do the right thing.”

        “I know,” Mr Obama said, according to Mr Comey’s book. “I know.”

        Trump’s hair and hands

        Mr Comey, who is 6ft 8in, says that when he first met the 6ft 3in president-elect he appeared shorter than he did on TV.

        “His face appeared slightly orange,” Mr Comey reportedly writes, “with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assumed he placed small tanning goggles, and impressively coifed, bright blond hair, which upon close inspection looked to be all his.

        “As he extended his hand, I made a mental note to check its size. It was smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so.”

Syria air strikes: Will West’s attack sway Syria’s Assad?

This was a heavier strike than a year ago – three targets rather than one.

Then, the US acted alone; this time it was joined by its French and British allies.

More than double the number of weapons were fired against Syrian targets than last year – a little more than 120 in all.

But the fundamental question remains the same.

Was this enough to achieve what the Americans say was their goal – to deter President Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons again?

  • US and allies launch strikes on Syria
  • Syria ‘chemical attack’: What we know

    Assad’s effective victory

    Since April a year ago Syria’s torment has not ended. But two fundamental things have changed.

    Firstly, the Assad regime has effectively won its war and terrorising civilians has played a key part in its strategy.

    President Assad may not control all of Syrian territory. But backed by Russia and Iran, there is nobody that can really stand against him. It is shortages of manpower, equipment and capacity that prevent him re-establishing wider control.

    Secondly, relations between Washington and Moscow – and between Russia and the West more generally – have deteriorated significantly, to the extent that senior international officials are now talking of a new Cold War.

    This was the context in which President Trump determined to send his punitive message to the Assad regime. And this is the context in which they will have received it.

    Will they be cowed or defiant? Will public bluster conceal a more fundamental re-think on the part of Mr Assad? Might Russia, whatever its spokesmen say, have a stern word with the Syrian leader? And if they did, would it have any effect?

    • Syria war: Fall of Eastern Ghouta pivotal moment for Assad
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    • Why is there a war in Syria?

      Trump’s distraction

      Watching this crisis unfold from the United States, I found it both perplexing and in many ways worrying.

      There seemed to be a lack of focus and clarity on the part of the Trump administration. Hardly surprising, perhaps, when the president himself was increasingly bogged down in his own domestic difficulties as allegations and recriminations about alleged past affairs and misbehaviour returned to haunt him.

      At times he seemed more likely to strike out at the US justice system than at President Assad. Indeed over the past week, while much of the rest of the world worried about what Mr Trump might do about Syria, the media here has been dominated, absorbed and fascinated, in equal measure, by Mr Trump’s difficulties almost to the exclusion of all else.

      President Trump’s rhetoric suggested a major military strike against the Assad regime. In the event what has taken place falls far short of that. So what conclusion might Moscow and Damascus draw?

      • Trump lawyer under criminal investigation
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      • The president and the porn star: Why this matters

        Soft targets

        The Pentagon seems to have gone out of its way to avoid both civilian and “foreign” casualties – for that read “Russians”.

        The three targets hit were chosen both for their central role in the chemical weapons programme but also because the risk of collateral damage was smallest.

        The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted at a subsequent briefing that the US had a list of other targets which it did not choose to strike this time. The clear message is that if the Assad regime resorts to chemical weapons again then more strikes will follow.

        But again, since last April there have been a number of other alleged chemical weapons attacks, generally using chlorine gas. But until now the US did not strike again. So what message did this send?

        Now the hope is that Mr Assad will change his behaviour. But what about the wider Syrian conflict? This brutal war shows no sign of ending. Many have pointed out that it is barrel bombs, artillery and bullets that are responsible for the overwhelming bulk of the deaths and mutilations in Syria, not chemical weapons, and yet it is these that prompt Western action.

        There is a good measure of truth in this sentiment, though for historical and cultural reasons chemical weapons have a particular horror in the West in the wake of their use in World War One. The treaty banning them is an important disarmament agreement and its weakening threatens to unwind years of progress.

        But the wider question is to what extent these latest strikes change the picture in Syria? Do they bring the conflict any closer to an end? Sadly the answer is almost certainly no.

        Only a short while ago – much to his generals’ horror – Mr Trump spoke about pulling all US troops out of Syria. Only days later he seemed to be threatening a major military intervention. There has been no consistency in the Trump administration’s position.

        There is simply no clear strategy to help bring the war to an end. Indeed one of the arguments for keeping US troops in Syria to bolster their local allies like the Kurds, was in fact to keep the Assad regime and its Iranian backers off-balance.

        Constraining Iran is about the only unifying theme in the Trump administration’s approach, but even this has not been raised to the level of a coherent strategy. In his statement after the strikes the President again asserted that the US was not seeking an indefinite presence in Syria.

        His hope was clearly that as others shouldered the burden (who?) the US might walk away. But this was followed by a catch-all statement about the intractability of the region and its problems, which hardly suggests a desire for a long-term engagement.

        If these are the signals coming from Washington, then why should Russia worry?

        Russia’s rise

        It has, through its military, and political support for the Assad regime, re-established itself as a significant diplomatic actor in the region. Russia, of course warned the US and its allies not to strike Syria. So in the wake of this attack what might Russia do?

        In Syria itself, it might seek to further undermine Washington’s already weak position but it is not going to war with the Americans – such fears, barring some extraordinary disaster, were always, probably, far-fetched.

        US Defence Secretary James Mattis has already hinted at Russia’s likely response noting that “we fully expect a significant disinformation campaign over the coming days by those who have aligned themselves with the Assad regime”.

        Indeed this campaign has in many ways already begun, with the Russians – who now have forces in the area where the recent chemical attack is alleged to have occurred – insisting first that there was no sign of a chemical attack and then, more recently, that the whole thing was staged by foreign agents to discredit Mr Assad and Moscow.

        This is the same Russia that is accepted by most Western governments to have been behind the attempted assassination of a former Russian intelligence officer and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury, using a nerve agent. It is the same Russia that has tried to influence the US and other recent elections. It is President Putin’s Russia that has seized part of Ukraine. One could go on. The misinformation battle has already been joined.

        The new Cold War

        There is indeed a new sort of Cold War developing. It may not risk nuclear annihilation, but because of that it is in many ways more direct and unpredictable, with Moscow taking much greater risks than it might have done in the past.

        Russia is not a global superpower like the Soviet Union. It no longer has an ideology that gathers support from liberation movements around the world. It is fundamental a middle-ranking regional power with a significant nuclear arsenal and a relatively weak economy. But it knows how to wield influence and how to conduct information warfare. And Mr Putin is determined to defend Russia’s interests – as he sees them – wherever he is able.

        Mostly this means in Russia’s near-abroad, that is countries close to its borders that have been traditional Russian spheres of interest – such as Georgia or Ukraine. Syria is almost an honorary member of the near-abroad, affording Russia an entry point to regain its influence in a region that still matters. Russia’s star is rising and Washington’s influence is in many ways on the wane.

        And this matters. For instability in the region is growing. The ripples from a previous US administration’s decision to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq are still spreading. Iran was the principle benefactor of that decision. It has become a formidable regional player.

        Its growing influence in Syria risks a major conflict with Israel. Recently, Israel is believed to have struck at a Syrian base which was home to an Iranian facility.

        Tensions are rising. The region’s many fault-lines risk merging.

        And the US, British and French attacks over-night have inevitably thrown another pebble into the pool.

Syria air strikes: Trump hails ‘perfect’ mission

US President Donald Trump has hailed an overnight military strike on Syria as “perfectly executed”, adding “Mission Accomplished”.

The US, UK and France bombed three government sites, targeting what they said were chemical weapons facilities.

The strikes were in response to a suspected deadly chemical attack on the town of Douma last week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he condemned the Western strikes “in the most serious way”.

Russia, Syria’s main ally, had threatened military retaliation if any Russian forces had been hit.

He added: “So proud of our great military”, saying that after extra funding it would be “the finest our country has ever had”.

In a Friday evening address to the nation from the White House, he had said: “The nations of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshalled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality.

“The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons.”

The wave of strikes is the most significant attack against President Bashar al-Assad’s government by Western powers in seven years of Syria’s civil war.

Trump threatens further $100bn in tariffs against China

US President Donald Trump has instructed officials to consider a further $100bn (£71.3bn) of tariffs against China, in an escalation of a tense trade stand-off.

These would be in addition to the $50bn worth of US tariffs already proposed on hundreds of Chinese imports.

China’s Ministry of Commerce responded, saying China would “not hesitate to pay any price” to defend its interests.

Tit-for-tat trade moves have unsettled global markets in recent weeks.

The latest US proposal came after China threatened tariffs on 106 key US products.

In response to Mr Trump’s latest announcement, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said: “China and the US as two world powers should treat each other on a basis of equality and with respect.

“By waving a big stick of trade sanctions against China, the US has picked a wrong target.”

Ministry of Commerce Spokesman Gao Feng said: “We do not want to fight, but we are not afraid to fight a trade war.”

He said that if the US side ignores opposition from China and the international community and insists on “unilateralist and protectionist acts,” then China will “not hesitate to pay any price, and will definitely strike back resolutely… [to] defend the interests of the country and its people.”

Analysts have warned of the risk of a full-blown trade war for the global economy and the markets, and believe ongoing behind-the-scenes negotiations between the two giants are crucial.

Market reaction in Asia on Friday suggested investors were relatively untroubled by the latest twist in the trade row. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose more than 1% while Japan’s Nikkei index edged lower.

How has this unfolded?

Earlier this year, the US announced it would impose import taxes of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium. The tariffs were to be wide-ranging and would include China.

China responded last month with retaliatory tariffs worth $3bn of its own against the US on a range of goods, including pork and wine. Beijing said the move was intended to safeguard its interests and balance losses caused by the new tariffs.

Then the US announced it was imposing some $50bn worth of tariffs on Chinese-made goods, blaming what it described as unfair Chinese intellectual property practices, such as those that pressured US companies to share technology with Chinese firms.

Mr Trump argues that because Beijing forces any US firms setting up shop in China to tie up with a Chinese company, US ideas are left open to theft and abuse.

Mr Trump reiterated in his statement on Thursday that China’s “illicit trade practices” had been ignored by Washington for years and had destroyed “thousands of American factories and millions of American jobs”.

The draft details of the $50bn to $60bn worth of tariffs were released last week when Washington set out about 1,300 Chinese products it intended to hit with tariffs set at 25%.

China responded this week by proposing retaliatory tariffs, also worth some $50bn, on 106 key US products, including soybeans, aircraft parts and orange juice. This set of tariffs was narrowly aimed at politically important sectors in the US, such as agriculture.

In Mr Trump’s Thursday statement he branded that retaliation by Beijing as “unfair”.

“Rather than remedy its misconduct, China has chosen to harm our farmers and manufacturers,” he said.

“In light of China’s unfair retaliation, I have instructed the USTR (United States Trade Representative) to consider whether $100bn of additional tariffs would be appropriate… and, if so, to identify the products upon which to impose such tariffs.”

He said he had also instructed agricultural officials to implement a plan to protect US farmers and agricultural interests.

What could the impact be?

On the political front, Mr Trump’s latest announcement has elicited a less-than-friendly reception from some fellow Republicans.

They have warned that the tariffs will hurt Americans and cost jobs. They have also said relationships the US has with its other big trading partners could be hurt.

US retail giants including Walmart and Target have also asked Mr Trump to consider carefully the impact the tariffs would have on consumer prices and American families.

On Thursday, Ben Sasse, a Republican Senator from the farming area of Nebraska, said Mr Trump’s latest plan was “nuts” and that he hoped the president was “just blowing off steam”.

“Let’s absolutely take on Chinese bad behaviour, but with a plan that punishes them instead of us,” he said.

“This is the dumbest possible way to do this.”

Mr Sasse’s comments echo sentiment pouring out of various Republican-voting farming belts in the US. America’s soybean farmers are expected to be particularly hurt by Mr Trump’s tariff tactics.

To get a sense of how things might play out for those farmers, the trade tit-for-tat could hit soybean producers in the US – and possibly around the world.

China, which is a big producer of soybeans itself, buys about 60% of all soybeans exported by the US.

It uses the product to feed farmed animals, including pigs and chickens, as well as fish. Those animals are in turn used to help feed China’s enormous population.

China’s demand for soybeans and soybean products has buoyed the price of US soybeans for some time.

  • Five reasons why trade wars aren’t easy to win
  • Not a trade ‘war’ but a trade ‘dance’
  • Why China won’t baulk at US tariff threat

    But Beijing’s tariffs against US soybeans will mostly likely see sales to China fall off, which will in turn hurt American farmers.

    Meanwhile, China will need to set about sourcing the extra soybeans it needs from other countries.

    India is one of the world’s biggest soybean producers, and analysts there have already pointed to a potential trade war between the US and China as an opportunity for its economy.

    Other big soybean producers are Argentina and Brazil, and some studies suggest that is where China will turn to should the current set of proposed tariffs come into force.

    But it could end up paying more than it currently does, ultimately forcing up the price of those animals which eat soybean products. So that would mean pork, for example, China’s most popular meat, could get more expensive. And food price inflation is something that will worry Beijing.

    Beijing Deals

    What China sells to the US

    $462.6bn

    The value of of goods bought by the US from China in 2016.

    • 18.2% of all China's exports go to the United States

    • $129bn worth of China-made electrical machinery bought by US

    • 59.2% growth in Chinese services imported by US between 2006 & 2016

    • $347bn US goods trade deficit with China

      CIA Factbook; USTR. All data for 2016. Getty Images

      How long could this last?

      China has initiated a complaint with the World Trade Organization over the US tariffs, in what analysts say is a sign that this will be a protracted process.

      The WTO circulated the request for consultation to members on Thursday, launching a discussion period before the complaint heads to formal dispute settlement process.

      Meanwhile, under US law, the proposed set of tariffs against about 1,300 Chinese products must now go under review, including a public notice and comment process, and a hearing.

      The hearing is scheduled at the moment for 15 May, with post-hearing filings due a week later.

      So, it could be some months before the USTR will announce its final findings or any decision on whether or not it will move ahead with the proposed tariffs.

What next for Trump’s trade agenda?

There’s no doubt about the big question that looms now for international trade officials.

It is: what can they expect next from the United States under President Trump?

For decades after the Second World War, the US was arguably the biggest cheerleader for the gradual liberalisation of trade that took place.

Now, the US is the principal cause of anxiety among supporters of that process.

President Trump’s approach to international commerce is assertive and confrontational, driven by an agenda described as economic nationalism.

It is a central element behind the escalating trade tension this week.

Some fear that this approach will undermine the system that has evolved in the last three quarters of a century.

Ambivalent

It is a complex system based to a large extent on rules managed through the World Trade Organization (WTO), supplemented with agreements among groups of countries that provide still deeper trade integration.

President Trump has shown little enthusiasm for those deeper agreements. He pulled the US out of one that had not been implemented as soon as he took office – the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and has threatened to repudiate another, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

On the WTO, the Trump administration has been ambivalent.

Some recent steps have been given a WTO justification. The controversial tariffs on steel and aluminium followed an investigation by the US Commerce Department which concluded that imports of the metals were a threat to national security.

In essence, the argument is that the US military needs a more reliable source of supply from the country’s own industry.

WTO rules do permit countries to impose trade barriers to protect national security that would not otherwise be allowed.

It’s another question whether national security really was the motivation and many critics, including the European Commission and China, don’t believe it was.

Tariffs on imported washing machines and solar panels were safeguard measures, actions that are permitted in response to surges in imports, provided they are done in a way that is consistent with the WTO rulebook.

More difficult is the proposal, not yet implemented, to target Chinese goods with tariffs because of the country’s alleged appropriation of the intellectual property – such as patents and designs – of American companies.

It is certainly true that protecting trade partners’ intellectual property is required by WTO rules and the US concern about China is shared by others, including the EU.

But countries are in most circumstances supposed to use WTO procedures before retaliating on the basis of a dispute panel authorising such action. The US has made an official complaint to the WTO but that only happened last week.

It will be many months until there is a ruling and even if China loses and fails to comply there will be a further delay before the US is given authority to retaliate. Will President Trump be willing to wait that long?

Unilateral action

So it is certainly possible that the US will jump the gun and decide to go ahead while the WTO process rumbles on. That would be hard to reconcile with the organisation’s rules.

At a WTO meeting last week Chinese officials warned that unilateral action by the US undermines the multilateral trading system and sets a very bad precedent.

China’s Ambassador Zhang Xiangchen told the meeting that member countries should act together to “lock this beast back into the cage of the WTO rules”.

Still, the fact that the US has started the dispute settlement process can be seen as a sign that the Trump administration sees the WTO as useful.

It is worth noting that China is striking its first retaliatory blows without a WTO ruling, though there is a way that can sometimes be done under the rules. It is however debateable whether that provision really applies in this case.

Still, the Trump Administration has a strikingly different tone on trade after its predecessor.

The economic nationalism that motivates President Trump and some of his team is disposed to see other countries as trading unfairly. It sees trade deficits as a sign of weakness, as an indication that trade agreements are defective and unfair.

It is true that President Trump has fired the most influential voice pressing this approach, his former chief strategist Steve Bannon. But the disagreements that led to that were not about trade.

And there are others of similar view still in key positions for trade policy. His Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (who is in charge of negotiating trade deals) and the president’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, director of the National Trade Council are all from that mould.


Global Trade

More from the BBC’s series taking an international perspective on trade:

  • Markets edgy on US-China trade war fears
  • Trump announces tariffs on $60bn in Chinese imports
  • Brexit boost for consumers short-lived says IFS
  • US retail giants ask Trump to reconsider China tariffs
  • UK to seek exemption from US steel tariffs

    Mr Bannon’s departure did not reflect a disagreement over the economic nationalist agenda. But the resignation of Gary Cohn, as head of the National Economic Council did.

    Mr Cohn was someone seen as resisting that agenda in the administration. The firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reflected a number of disagreements with the President including the steel and aluminium tariffs.

    One of President Trump’s central views on trade is that other countries take advantage of the US. It is certainly true that US trade barriers are among the lowest. Tariffs – taxes applied to imports – are the easiest barrier to measure and average levels in the US are low. Not the lowest in the world as Mr Navarro has claimed.

    Hong Kong doesn’t have any at all and depending on how you calculate average tariffs several others are lower than the US. But certainly American tariffs are relatively low.

    There are some goods where American tariffs are high – known in the trade world as “tariff peaks”. There are some in excess of 100% for agricultural products and there is a 25% duty on light trucks.

    Does that mean other countries are taking advantage of the US? It’s debateable. The mainstream view among trade economists is that the main losers from tariffs are buyers of the affected goods in the country that imposes them.

    Main beneficiary

    They have to pay more, either because they buy imports from a supplier that has to recover the cost of the tariffs or from a domestic supplier who is able to raise their prices as result of the protection afforded by the tariffs.

    And sometimes the buyers of the affected goods are businesses that use them as inputs. Steel and aluminium are cases in point.

    So there is a case that would be supported by many trade economists that the main beneficiary of low US tariffs is the US itself, particularly American consumers.

    But President Trump’s focus has been on producers – firms and employees – who see themselves as being hit by low cost, and they argue, unfair foreign competition especially from China.

Trump threatens further $100bn in tariffs against China

US President Donald Trump has instructed officials to consider a further $100bn (£71.3bn) of tariffs against China, in an escalation of a tense trade stand-off.

These would be in addition to the $50bn worth of US tariffs already proposed on hundreds of Chinese imports.

China’s Ministry of Commerce responded, saying China would “not hesitate to pay any price” to defend its interests.

Tit-for-tat trade moves have unsettled global markets in recent weeks.

The latest US proposal came after China threatened tariffs on 106 key US products.

In response to Mr Trump’s latest announcement, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said: “China and the US as two world powers should treat each other on a basis of equality and with respect.

“By waving a big stick of trade sanctions against China, the US has picked a wrong target.”

Ministry of Commerce Spokesman Gao Feng said: “We do not want to fight, but we are not afraid to fight a trade war.”

He said that if the US side ignores opposition from China and the international community and insists on “unilateralist and protectionist acts,” then China will “not hesitate to pay any price, and will definitely strike back resolutely… [to] defend the interests of the country and its people.”

Analysts have warned of the risk of a full-blown trade war for the global economy and the markets, and believe ongoing behind-the-scenes negotiations between the two giants are crucial.

Market reaction in Asia on Friday suggested investors were relatively untroubled by the latest twist in the trade row. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index rose more than 1% while Japan’s Nikkei index edged lower.

How has this unfolded?

Earlier this year, the US announced it would impose import taxes of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium. The tariffs were to be wide-ranging and would include China.

China responded last month with retaliatory tariffs worth $3bn of its own against the US on a range of goods, including pork and wine. Beijing said the move was intended to safeguard its interests and balance losses caused by the new tariffs.

Then the US announced it was imposing some $50bn worth of tariffs on Chinese-made goods, blaming what it described as unfair Chinese intellectual property practices, such as those that pressured US companies to share technology with Chinese firms.

Mr Trump argues that because Beijing forces any US firms setting up shop in China to tie up with a Chinese company, US ideas are left open to theft and abuse.

Mr Trump reiterated in his statement on Thursday that China’s “illicit trade practices” had been ignored by Washington for years and had destroyed “thousands of American factories and millions of American jobs”.

The draft details of the $50bn to $60bn worth of tariffs were released last week when Washington set out about 1,300 Chinese products it intended to hit with tariffs set at 25%.

China responded this week by proposing retaliatory tariffs, also worth some $50bn, on 106 key US products, including soybeans, aircraft parts and orange juice. This set of tariffs was narrowly aimed at politically important sectors in the US, such as agriculture.

In Mr Trump’s Thursday statement he branded that retaliation by Beijing as “unfair”.

“Rather than remedy its misconduct, China has chosen to harm our farmers and manufacturers,” he said.

“In light of China’s unfair retaliation, I have instructed the USTR (United States Trade Representative) to consider whether $100bn of additional tariffs would be appropriate… and, if so, to identify the products upon which to impose such tariffs.”

He said he had also instructed agricultural officials to implement a plan to protect US farmers and agricultural interests.

What could the impact be?

On the political front, Mr Trump’s latest announcement has elicited a less-than-friendly reception from some fellow Republicans.

They have warned that the tariffs will hurt Americans and cost jobs. They have also said relationships the US has with its other big trading partners could be hurt.

US retail giants including Walmart and Target have also asked Mr Trump to consider carefully the impact the tariffs would have on consumer prices and American families.

On Thursday, Ben Sasse, a Republican Senator from the farming area of Nebraska, said Mr Trump’s latest plan was “nuts” and that he hoped the president was “just blowing off steam”.

“Let’s absolutely take on Chinese bad behaviour, but with a plan that punishes them instead of us,” he said.

“This is the dumbest possible way to do this.”

Mr Sasse’s comments echo sentiment pouring out of various Republican-voting farming belts in the US. America’s soybean farmers are expected to be particularly hurt by Mr Trump’s tariff tactics.

To get a sense of how things might play out for those farmers, the trade tit-for-tat could hit soybean producers in the US – and possibly around the world.

China, which is a big producer of soybeans itself, buys about 60% of all soybeans exported by the US.

It uses the product to feed farmed animals, including pigs and chickens, as well as fish. Those animals are in turn used to help feed China’s enormous population.

China’s demand for soybeans and soybean products has buoyed the price of US soybeans for some time.

  • Five reasons why trade wars aren’t easy to win
  • Not a trade ‘war’ but a trade ‘dance’
  • Why China won’t baulk at US tariff threat

    But Beijing’s tariffs against US soybeans will mostly likely see sales to China fall off, which will in turn hurt American farmers.

    Meanwhile, China will need to set about sourcing the extra soybeans it needs from other countries.

    India is one of the world’s biggest soybean producers, and analysts there have already pointed to a potential trade war between the US and China as an opportunity for its economy.

    Other big soybean producers are Argentina and Brazil, and some studies suggest that is where China will turn to should the current set of proposed tariffs come into force.

    But it could end up paying more than it currently does, ultimately forcing up the price of those animals which eat soybean products. So that would mean pork, for example, China’s most popular meat, could get more expensive. And food price inflation is something that will worry Beijing.

    Beijing Deals

    What China sells to the US

    $462.6bn

    The value of of goods bought by the US from China in 2016.

    • 18.2% of all China's exports go to the United States

    • $129bn worth of China-made electrical machinery bought by US

    • 59.2% growth in Chinese services imported by US between 2006 & 2016

    • $347bn US goods trade deficit with China

      CIA Factbook; USTR. All data for 2016. Getty Images

      How long could this last?

      China has initiated a complaint with the World Trade Organization over the US tariffs, in what analysts say is a sign that this will be a protracted process.

      The WTO circulated the request for consultation to members on Thursday, launching a discussion period before the complaint heads to formal dispute settlement process.

      Meanwhile, under US law, the proposed set of tariffs against about 1,300 Chinese products must now go under review, including a public notice and comment process, and a hearing.

      The hearing is scheduled at the moment for 15 May, with post-hearing filings due a week later.

      So, it could be some months before the USTR will announce its final findings or any decision on whether or not it will move ahead with the proposed tariffs.