THE MORUNG EXPRESS
Amid hacking row, pressure builds on Trump to soften his pro-Russia rhetoric
WASHINGTON, JANuAry 10 (reuTerS): President-elect Donald Trump is finding himself caught between his desire to improve relations with Russia and fellow Republicans who are pushing for a harsher response to what American spy agencies say was the Kremlin’s meddling in the U.S. presidential election. The tacit acknowledgement on Sunday by his incoming chief of staff, Reince Priebus, that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic Party organizations suggests that Trump’s manoeuvring room could be shrinking. Trump has long been dismissive of the U.S. intelligence conclusion that Russia was behind the election hacks, which Russia has denied, or was trying to help him win the November ballot, saying the intrusions could have been carried out by China or a 400-pound hacker sitting on his bed. But following a report from U.S. intelligence agencies last week blaming Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia experts say Trump will face growing calls for a stiff military, diplomatic, economic, and perhaps also covert response after his Jan. 20 inauguration. “The new U.S. administration will need to adopt a significantly tougher line,” said Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington that is an influential voice in Trump’s
US sanctions Russia’s top investigator & four others for human rights abuses WASHINGTON, JANuAry 10 (reuTerS): The United States on Monday blacklisted Alexander Bastrykin, Russia's top investigator and a close aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and four other Russian officials for human rights abuses. The sanctions, announced by the U.S. Treasury Department, are not tied to U.S. hacking allegations against Russia but to the 2012 U.S. Magnitsky Act for human rights abuses, U.S. officials said. However, the move comes on top of a series of measures taken by the Obama administration in recent weeks to punish Russia for the hacking during the U.S. presidential campaign and for harassment of American diplomats. Bastrykin heads the Russian Investigative Committee, the government body that decides whether to bring criminal charges. Also sanctioned were Gennady Plaksin and Stanislav Gordiyevsky, a state investransition team. Republicans in Congress wary of Trump’s push for detente with Putin could pressure the new president to withhold the thing the Russian leader wants most: a rapid easing of the economic sanctions imposed after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, the Russia experts said. U.S. intelligence agencies say that since the election, Russian spies have turned to hacking other individuals and organizations, including prominent think-tanks, in what analysts think is an effort to gain insights into future U.S. policies.
Washington’s Brookings Institution, which is headed by prominent Russia expert Strobe Talbott, “received a big wave of attacks the day after the election,” but there is no reason to believe its systems have been compromised, said David Nassar, the think tank’s vice president for communications. SHOWDOWN WITH CONGRESS? Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he and fellow Republican John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, would introduce legislation with stronger sanctions than the ones now in place.
“We’re going to introduce sanctions that ... will hit them in the financial sector and the energy sector, where they’re the weakest,” Graham told NBC television’s Meet the Press. Retired Marine General James Mattis, the nominee for secretary of defence who will face a Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday, is expected to advocate a stronger line against Moscow than the one Trump outlined during his election campaign.That could put him at odds with Trump’s national security adviser, retired Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who has had warmer relations with Putin’s government, and with Rex Tillerson, the
nominee for secretary of state, who as CEO of ExxonMobil had extensive business ties with Russia. If Mattis does push for a tougher approach to Russia, that could empower U.S. advocates for strengthening the American military presence in Europe. That could include reinforcing U.S. troops in the Baltic states and Poland, analysts say. NATO already plans to deploy 4,000 additional troops, planes, tanks and artillery to the three former Soviet republics in the Baltics and Poland this year. “There is nervousness about Trump among Europeans at NATO,” said one European diplomat. “Any
grand bargain with Russia would fundamentally change NATO’s course and threaten Europe with disunity,” the diplomat said. “But we don’t expect that. NATO is seeking to reassure Baltic allies, and the United States is a big part of the deterrent.” Some advocates of a sterner response to the Russian hacking say it should include cyber counterattacks, perhaps by leaking financial information embarrassing to some of Putin’s aides and close associates. So far, the Obama administration has refrained from such action, at least publicly, for fear that it could lead to an escalating cyberwar that could threaten crit-
tigator, both tied to Sergei Magnitsky, an anti-corruption lawyer who died in 2009 after a year in a Russian jail. The Magnitsky Act bars Russians believed to have been involved in his death or other severe human rights abuses from entering the United States, and freezes their assets there. Also blacklisted were Andrei Lugovoy, a Russian lawmaker, and Dmitry Kovtun, both leading suspects in the murder of Russian spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. Litvinenko fled Russia for Britain, where he was poisoned after drinking green tea laced with a rare but potent radioactive isotope at a London Hotel. The inquiry found Lugovoy and Kovtun carried out the killing as part of an operation directed by the Russian Federal Security Service. Efforts to extradite both suspects to Britain have failed.
ical infrastructure such as said, key Senate commitfinancial transactions and tees, including Armed Serenergy transmission. vices and Intelligence, will investigate. TRUMP RUSSIA Experts say the close POLICY STILL A BLUR scrutiny of Russia’s actions Although Trump has will come just as Trump’s said the nation needed to administration starts to “move on to bigger and craft a comprehensive stratbetter things” following the egy on the former Cold War U.S. disclosure of alleged foe. It is likely to be weeks or Russian hacking, it ap- longer before a clear sense pears that Republican and of Trump’s actual Russia Democratic lawmakers are strategy comes into view. unlikely to drop the issue “Until there’s a team in anytime soon. place, until there’s a little McCain told NBC he more organization … I tend wanted to create a select to think we’re not going to committee to investigate the have clear answers,” said Russian hacking, if he can Heather Conley, a former convince the Republican- deputy assistant secretary controlled Senate’s leaders of state for Europe now at to charge their minds. the Center for Strategic and In the meantime, he International Studies.
barack Obama gets a Smoking costs $1 trillion, KabUl twin blaStS: at least 21 ‘job offer’ from Spotify soon to kill 8 million a year killed, 45 wounded in explosions
WASHINGTON, JANuAry 10 (IANS): Barack Obama ends his 8-year tenure as US President in a couple of weeks but he might not be out of a job for long as the world’s leading streaming service Spotify “offered him a job”. Spotify advertised an opening for “President of Playlists”, and said it was looking for someone with “at least eight years experience running a highly regarded nation”, reported CNBC on Tuesday. The opportunity was tweeted by Spotify CEO Daniel Ek on Monday. The streaming service said that the role requires someone with a Nobel Peace Prize, which Obama won in 2009. It further said that “knowing famous artists is a plus”. “Have good relationships with a wide range of artists and musicians. Ever had Kendrick Lamar play at your birthday bash? We’d love to hear about it!,” the tongue-in-cheek Spotify job posting reads. Another favourable characteristic of the candidate is the ability to “speak passionately about playlists at press events.” “Let us be clear, you should be nothing short of one of the greatest speakers of all time,” the job posting said. It follows a quip Obama made recently about waiting for a job offer from Spotify. “I’m still waiting for my job at Spotify … Cuz’ I know y’all loved my playlist,” Obama had said in an Instagram post. Obama has previously curated playlists for Spotify and his list this summer featured an eclectic mix of songs from “Rock Steady” by Aretha Franklin to “So Ambitious” by Jay Z and Pharrell Williams.
GeNeVA, JANuAry 10 (reuTerS): Smoking costs the global economy more than $1 trillion a year, and will kill one third more people by 2030 than it does now, according to a study by the World Health Organization and the U.S. National Cancer Institute published on Tuesday. That cost far outweighs global revenues from tobacco taxes, which the WHO estimated at about $269 billion in 2013-2014. “The number of tobacco-related deaths is projected to increase from about 6 million deaths annually to about 8 million annually by 2030, with more than 80 percent of these occurring in LMICs (low- and middle-income countries),” the study said. Around 80 percent of smokers live in such countries, and although smoking prevalence was falling among the global population, the total number of smokers worldwide is rising, it said. Health experts say to-
bacco use is the single biggest preventable cause of death globally. “It is responsible for... likely over $1 trillion in health care costs and lost productivity each year,” said the study, peer-reviewed by more than 70 scientific experts. The economic costs are expected to continue to rise, and although governments have the tools to reduce tobacco use and associated deaths, most have fallen far short of using those tools effectively, said the 688-page report. “Government fears that tobacco control will have an adverse economic impact are not justified by the evidence. The science is clear; the time for action is now.” HOW TO QUIT Cheap and effective policies included hiking tobacco taxes and prices, comprehensive smokefree policies, complete bans on tobacco company marketing, and prominent pictorial warning labels.
Tobacco taxes could also be used to fund more expensive interventions such as anti-tobacco mass media campaigns and support for cessation services and treatments, it said. Governments spent less than $1 billion on tobacco control in 2013-2014, according to a WHO estimate. Tobacco regulation meanwhile is reaching a crunch point because of a trade dispute brought by Cuba, Indonesia, Honduras and Dominican Republic against Australia’s stringent “plain packaging” laws, which enforce standardised designs on tobacco products and ban distinctive logos and colourful branding. The World Trade Organization is expected to rule on the complaint this year. Australia’s policy is being closely watched by other countries that are considering similar policies, including Norway, Slovenia, Canada, Singapore, Belgium and South Africa, the study said.
Afghan security forces stand guard near the site of two blasts in Kabul, Afghanistan on January 10. (AP Photo)
KAbul, JANuAry 10 (AP): At least 21 people were reportedly killed and nearly 45 others wounded in twin explosions that rocked the Afghan capital of Kabul on Tuesday, news agency AFP quoted officials as saying. The target of the blasts was probably an area that includes government and lawmakers’ offices, according to Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Interior Ministry. The first explosion, carried out by a suicide bomber, was quickly followed by a second, caused by car bomb parked near the same site, he said. Sediqqi said the exact number of casualties remain unclear. Public health ministry spokesman Ismail Kawasi only confirmed that three wounded civilians were brought to hospital. Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibil-
ity for the Kabul attacks. Earlier in the day, a suicide bomber on foot struck in southern Helmand province, killing at least seven people, said Gen. Agha Noor Kemtoz, the provincial police chief. The target of the attack was a guesthouse used by a provincial intelligence official in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, said Kemtoz. Those killed include civilian and military personnel, and six others were wounded in the attack, Kemtoz added. A car full of explosives was found nearby. No one claimed responsibility for the Helmand attack but the Taliban frequently use use suicide attacks or roadside bombs to target government officials and Afghan security forces across the country.
Huge crowd bids farewell to Iranian ex-president who fell out with supreme leader DubAI, JANuAry 10 (reuTerS): Hundreds of thousands of Iranians massed in central Tehran on Tuesday for the funeral of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an influential figurehead of the Islamic Republic whose pragmatism led to a rift with Iran’s supreme leader. Rafsanjani, who died on Sunday aged 82, was buried next to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 who founded its system of theocratic rule. Rafsanjani’s policies of economic liberalisation and better relations with the West attracted fierce supporters and equally fierce critics during his life. While many of his opponents turned out to honour him, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stressed
for political prisoners to be released, some hardliners were shouting ‘Death to America!’. But they didn’t clash. Everyone was respectful.” Some of the chants called for the release of former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi and of Mehdi Karoubi, a cleric and former speaker of parliament who lost the disputed 2009 presidential election to incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Both men refused to accept the results of that election and were placed under house arrest while Rafsanjani, who had backed them, Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. was politically isolated (REUTERS File Photo) along with his family. their close bond, what was formist ex-president MoKHATAMI ABSENT intended by the state as a hammad Khatami. Two separate sources show of unity was clouded An eyewitness told by the chants of thousands Reuters on the phone said Hashemi’s daughter opposition supporters, as from Tehran: “Some were Faezeh, jailed for six months well as the absence of re- chanting slogans asking in 2012 on charges of anti-
government propaganda, had told people at the funeral that Khatami had been banned from attending. On state television’s live coverage, the opposition chants were drowned out by solemn music. As a leading powerbroker, Rafsanjani helped Khamenei to secure Iran’s most powerful position, that of supreme leader, after Khomeini’s death in 1989, and won election as president himself a few months later. However, their friendship gradually turned into rivalry as Rafsanjani, who continued to wield enormous influence even after his eight years as president ended, sided with reformists who promoted greater freedom, while Khamenei interpreted the values of the Islamic Republic much more conservatively.
In his condolence message, Khamenei said political differences had never been able to “entirely break up” their nearly 60 years of friendship. Streets were filled overnight with billboards that showed a picture of the two men smiling and chatting as close friends. “No one will be like Hashemi for me,” the billboards quoted Khamenei as saying, using Rafsanjani’s first family name. KHAMENEI’S PRAYER It was Khamenei who said the final prayer over Rafsanjani’s body in the University of Tehran courtyard where the late president delivered many of his sermons during Friday prayers. Politicians, military commanders and religious figures from all camps
stood behind him. President Hassan Rouhani, the head of parliament, the head of the judiciary and senior Khamenei advisers stood in the first line at the service, while cabinet ministers and the deceased leader’s relatives filled the rows behind them. Rafsanjani’s body, sealed in a metal coffin with his white turban on top, was then brought in procession down Revolution Street in central Tehran, where hundreds of thousands of people came out in cold winter weather to pay tribute. Among those attending were Revolutionary Guards Commander Qassem Soleimani, leading Iranian Sunni cleric Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi, several of Khomeini’s grandsons and even a number of Ira-
nian movie stars. Rafsanjani’s death is a blow to Rouhani, whom he had backed in the 2013 presidential election and who now faces re-election having resolved Iran’s long nuclear standoff with the West but shown little of the economic payoff that he had promised. Rouhani’s deputy chief of staff, Hamid Aboutalebi, tweeted: “The glorious presence of people of Tehran in the funeral and their tearful farewell show that they will never forget Rafsanjani’s moderate thoughts and his allies.” Rafsanjani was a member of the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body that selects the supreme leader. His absence from that debate, whenever it happens, means the chances of a pragmatist succeeding Khamenei are reduced.