Washington, Feb 22 (AP/UNB) — U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft is emerging as the front-runner to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is backing Craft for the post, and she also has the support of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters. They say President Donald Trump has been advised that Craft's confirmation would be the smoothest of the three candidates he is considering to fill the job last held by Nikki Haley.
Craft, a Kentucky native, was a member of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. General Assembly under President George W. Bush's administration. She is also friends with McConnell's wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, and thanked Chao for her "longtime friendship and support" at her swearing-in as ambassador.
As U.S. ambassador to Canada, she played a role in facilitating the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, a revamp of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Trump's first pick to replace Haley, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, withdrew over the weekend.
Trump is also considering U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and former U.S. Senate candidate John James of Michigan for the post.
Nauert's weekend withdrawal from consideration came amid a push within the administration to fill the position given a pressing array of foreign policy concerns in which the United Nations, particularly the U.N. Security Council, is likely to play a significant role. From Afghanistan to Venezuela, the administration has pressing concerns that involve the world body, and officials said there had been impatience with the delays on Nauert's formal nomination.
Trump said Dec. 7 that he would pick the former Fox News anchor and State Department spokeswoman for the U.N. job, but her nomination was never formalized. Notwithstanding other concerns that may have arisen during her confirmation, Nauert's nomination had languished in part due to the 35-day government shutdown that began Dec. 22 and interrupted key parts of the vetting process.
With Nauert out of the running, officials said Pompeo was keen on Craft to fill the position. Although Pompeo would like to see the job filled, the vacancy has created an opportunity for him and others to take on a more active role in U.N. diplomacy. On Thursday, for example, Pompeo was in New York to meet with U.N. chief Antonio Guterres.
Three other officials said both Pompeo and Bolton favor demoting the U.N. position to a sub-Cabinet level position, and Grenell has suggested he isn't interested in a non-Cabinet role. The officials were not authorized to discuss internal personnel deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Haley had been a member of the Cabinet and had clashed repeatedly with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and others during the administration's first 14 months. Bolton was not a Cabinet member when he served as U.N. ambassador in President George W. Bush's administration, and neither he nor Pompeo is eager to see a potential challenge to their foreign policy leadership in White House situation room meetings, according to the officials.
Chris Sands, director of the Center for Canadian Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, describes Craft as warm and gracious and said she is often underestimated.
"She's always, 'Oh, you know, I'm not the policy expert.' But she has a disarming quality. She's not a policy intellectual, but she's more emotionally astute and so I think she is more effective than she comes off," Sands said.
Craft is married to billionaire coal-mining executive Joe Craft, and they are major Republican donors.
Craft has been ambassador during a low point in relations. Last year Trump called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weak and dishonest, words that shocked Canadians.
Washington, Feb 22(AP/UNB) — The Trump administration, which abruptly announced in December that it was pulling out of Syria, said Thursday that it will keep 200 U.S. troops in the country for now.
"A small peace keeping group of about 200 will remain in Syria for period of time," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a one-sentence statement.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who had harshly criticized Trump's decision to pull U.S. forces out of Syria, applauded the president's decision to leave a few hundred as part of an "international stabilizing force."
Graham said it will ensure that Turkey will not get into a conflict with Syrian Democratic Forces, which helped the United States fight Islamic State militants. Turkey views Kurdish members of the SDF as terrorists.
Moreover, Graham said leaving a small force in Syria will serve as a check on Iranian ambitions and help ensure that IS fighters do not try to return.
"A safe zone in Syria made up of international forces is the best way to achieve our national security objectives of continuing to contain Iran, ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS, protecting our Turkish allies, and securing the Turkish border with Syria," Graham said.
Trump's decision to pull 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, which he initially said would be rapid but later slowed down, shocked U.S. allies and angered the Kurds in Syria, who are vulnerable to attack by Turkey. It also prompted the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and drew criticism in Congress. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, called the decision a "betrayal of our Kurdish partners."
The SDF is currently involved in a standoff over the final sliver of land held by IS in eastern Syria, close to the Iraq border.
Many believe the IS threat won't end with the pocket's recapture and an insurgency is underway. In a foreboding sign Thursday, the IS claimed responsibility for back-to-back suicide attacks that hit a village miles away, leaving more than a dozen people dead in a rare targeting of civilians.
It's unclear where the 200 remaining U.S. troops will be stationed.
The U.S. military has a limited network of bases inside Syria. Troops work mostly out of small camps in remote parts of the country's northeast.
Also, U.S. troops are among 200 to 300 coalition troops at a garrison in southern Syria known as al-Tanf, where they train and accompany local Syrian opposition forces on patrols to counter the IS group. Al-Tanf is on a vital road linking Iranian-backed forces from Tehran all the way to southern Lebanon — and Israel's doorstep.
Trump spoke Thursday with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
"On Syria, the two presidents agreed to continue coordinating on the creation of a potential safe zone," the White House said in a statement about the call.
The White House also said acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Joseph Dunford will be hosting their Turkish counterparts in Washington this week for further talks.
Pakistan, Feb 21(AP/UNB) — Pakistani officials say flash floods and heavy winter rains have led to the deaths of 12 people in the country's southwest and central regions.
The National Disaster Management Authority says flash flood submerged villages near the southwestern town of Lasbella, killing three people there and affecting 200 families.
In central Pakistan, nine were killed in three incidents of roofs on houses collapsing amid the rains, four of them in the city of Multan.
Imran Zarqoon, a spokesman for the provincial disaster authority says emergency workers are trying to rescue people from flooded parts of Lasbella in Baluchistan province.
Seasonal downpours cause frequent landslides and flash floods in Pakistan, causing casualties and damaging standing crops and houses.
Baghdad, Feb 21 (AP/UNB) — An Iraqi security official says the U.S.-backed Syrian forces fighting the Islamic State group in Syria have handed over more than 150 Iraqi members of the group to Iraq.
The official says the IS militants were handed over to the Iraqi side overnight, and that they were now in a "safe place" and being investigated.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The handover comes as the U.S.-backed Syrian forces are involved in a standoff over the final IS-held sliver of land in southeastern Syria, close to the Iraqi border amid the extremists' imminent territorial defeat.
Earlier this month, Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi said Iraq will take back all Iraqi IS members, as well as thousands of their family members.
Washington, Feb 21(AP/UNB) — The Trump administration is exploring the idea of forming a special committee to look at climate change and security risks, with the effort being coordinated by a 79-year-old physicist who rejects mainstream climate science.
A "discussion paper" obtained by The Associated Press asks federal officials from an array of government agencies to weigh in on a proposed executive order that President Donald Trump would sign establishing the "Presidential Committee on Climate Security."
A memo to those federal officials asks them to direct any questions to William Happer, a member of Trump's National Security Council and a well-known critic of mainstream climate science findings.
"Happer would be a fringe figure even for climate skeptics," said retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. David Titley, now a professor of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University.
Several climate scientists agreed with Titley, including Georgia Tech's Kim Cobb, who said Happer's "false, unscientific notions about climate change represent a danger to the American people."
Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes, who wrote the book "Merchants of Doubt" on climate denial, pointed to instances when Happer has claimed that carbon dioxide, the main heat-trapping gas from the burning of coal, oil and gas, is good for humans and that carbon emissions have been demonized like "the poor Jews under Hitler."
Happer's bio at Princeton University, where he previously taught, describes him as a pioneer in the field of optically polarized atoms. It notes that he served in the administration of President George H.W. Bush as the director of energy research at the Department of Energy, where he oversaw a basic research budget of roughly $3 billion.
The National Security Council advises the president on security and foreign policy issues. According to the discussion paper, the council would fund and oversee the committee. Among the committee's responsibilities would be to "address existing United States Government reports on climate for scientific accuracy and advise on the national security implications of climate change."
The committee would be composed of 12 members, according to a draft of the executive order. Members would include experts in national security and climate science. The panel would advise the president on how climate "might change in the future under natural and human influences."
A spokesman for the National Security Council declined to comment.
The Washington Post first reported on the proposed executive order establishing the climate security committee.
Trump once tweeted that climate change was a "Chinese hoax." More recently, he used a cold snap that hit much of the nation last month to again cast doubts. "People can't last outside even for minutes. What the hell is going on with Global Waming (sic)? Please come back fast, we need you!" he tweeted.
Both the Pentagon and the president's intelligence team have mentioned climate change as a national security threat, and a 2018 National Climate Assessment detailed drastic effects of global warming.
Over about a dozen years, government scientists, military leaders and intelligence experts have repeatedly highlighted climate change as a major national security risk, said Titley, who founded one such study team in the Navy.
Titley said these studies have come to the same conclusions under three presidents, including two Republicans. He said there are "a surprising number of documents from the Pentagon and intelligence community after January 2017 (when Trump took office) that talk about climate and security risk."
"For the Pentagon, it's about readiness," Titley said. "For the intelligence community, it's about risks. We see the risks are accelerating."
Climate change can "push a marginally stable area into chaos," Titley said, mentioning Syria, which suffered a record drought at the same time as a civil war that triggered a migration of a million people.
Francesco "Frank" Femia, chief executive of a think tank that reviews systemic risk to national and international security, expressed concern that the proposed panel was meant to poke holes in future government reports and studies.
"I would welcome a serious study commissioned by the White House on the security implications on climate change that include climate scientists and national security experts, but this is not that," said Femia, the CEO of The Council on Strategic Risks.
A place like the National Academy of Sciences was set up just for that type of study, said Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at Berkeley Earth, which monitors global temperatures.
"The ice doesn't care what this administration thinks," Titley said. "It's just going to keep melting and obeying the laws of physics, whatever Will Happer wants."