Obama told participants in a conference call to get more active in their efforts to garner support for the Iran deal
President Obama told grassroots organizers on a conference call Thursday to “get moving” on efforts to make their support for the Iran deal known to members of Congress.
“You guys have to get more active and loud and involved and informed,” Obama said on conference call Thursday.
Obama challenged the organizers to take an approach opposite what organizers took when Congress was mulling whether or not to authorize the Iraq War. His frustration with that effort, he said, was in the fact that everyone got “loud and active when it was too late.”
As Congress leaves for its summer recess, the Iran Deal will likely be a major topic of discussion at town halls and meetings in their districts
Obama’s strategy hit home with at least one organizer on the call, who spoke to TIME shortly after it ended.
“The still-raw memories of the Iraq war are the single motivating factor for those of us who are pushing for the deal,” says Ben Wikler, the Washington Director for MoveOn.org, who joined the call Thursday. MoveOn.org was one of the most active groups calling for diplomacy, not war in Iraq following the September 11 terrorist attacks.
According to the White House a wide-cross section of progressive groups were invited to join the call. At the outset, Obama thanked groups including MoveOn.org, the Truman National Security Project, and Organizing for Action for their support thus far on the nuclear deal with Iran. Wikler said it was “heartening” to hear directly from the President and to know that the White House is “pulling out all the stops” to ensure that the diplomatic agreement over Iran’s nuclear program comes into fruition.
“It makes all the difference in the world if you’re calling Congress, and attending town halls to know that there are people on your side,” Wikler says.
Wikler compared the tone of the call to one that could be experienced during an election season—Obama was forceful, direct, and adamant that the his bully pulpit alone won’t see the deal through a skeptical Congress. Wikler says his organization has a similar sense of urgency around the deal, which he says is their “overriding priority” leading up to the vote.
Thursday’s call made clear that the White House is leaving nothing on the table in its effort to garner support for the historic deal over Iran’s nuclear program. Members of the Obama administration have been actively lobbying Congress over the pending deal since it was announced on July 14. Cabinet members are making regular appearances on Capitol Hill and just Wednesday a group of House Democrats attended a working reception at the White House where the Iran deal was discussed.
Despite the White House efforts, opponents of the deal remain relentless in their efforts to block it and a hefty coalition of Congressional leaders are insistent upon keeping it from passing. Congress was given 60 days to either approve or reject the deal, though Obama has said he would veto any attempt to block it.
Washington is having serious trouble finding dependable allies in Southeast Asia
The U.S.’s “rebalancing” toward Asia has two main pillars: being a counterweight to China and securing a free-trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If Washington is to succeed on both fronts, it needs as many friends in the region as it can win. The U.S.’s newest ally is Malaysia, this year’s chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Nation, collectively a growing market, and, on the surface, a modern, democratic, Muslim country. In April 2014 U.S. President Barack Obama paid an official visit to Malaysia, the first sitting President to do so in decades, and, later in the year, played golf with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak when both were on holiday in Honolulu. This November, Kuala Lumpur will host the next East Asia Summit and Obama is due to attend.
But recently, all the news coming out of Malaysia is negative. After becoming embroiled in a corruption scandal, Najib on Tuesday sacked his deputy and Malaysia’s attorney general in an apparent purge of critics. British Prime Minister David Cameron is facing a domestic backlash for pushing forward with a visit to Kuala Lumpur this week despite the snowballing controversy. Here are five reasons why Obama might want to break from Cameron by giving Najib a wide berth.
- 1MDB — A Wall Street Journal report has alleged that Najib’s personal bank accounts received nearly $700 million in March 2013 from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a government-owned development fund. Najib has protested his innocence and threatened legal action against the Journal. “I am not a thief,” Najib told Malaysian media on July 5. “I am not a traitor and will not betray Malaysians.” The police, the local anticorruption agency, the attorney general’s office and the central bank are investigating the allegations. On July 8, the police raided 1MDB’s office in Kuala Lumpur and took away documents. Even before the latest news, 1MDB was an embarrassment for Najib, who chaired the fund’s advisory board as debts of $11.6 billion were accrued. Such are the suspicions of malfeasance that former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who ran the country from 1981 to 2003 and has long been considered Najib’s mentor, has repeatedly called for his protégé’s resignation over 1MDB’s alleged mishandling.
- Anwar Ibrahim — Najib’s main political rival is once again in prison for a sodomy conviction. Human Rights Watch deemed his five-year sentence handed down Feb. 10 to be “politically motivated proceedings under an abusive and archaic law.” This is the second time Anwar has been jailed for sodomy.
- Hudud — Stoning for adultery and amputation for theft are not the kind of punishments meted out by the progressive state that Malaysia purports to be. Yet Najib’s United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) is supporting attempts to introduce hudud Islamic law in the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party’s (PAS) heartland state of Kelantan, where nightclubs are forbidden and men and women are designated separate public benches. Why is UMNO supportive of recognizing hudud under federal law? Largely because PAS is part of a three-party Pakatan Rakyat coalition that is UNMO’s chief challenger. The other partners — Anwar’s Keadilan, or People’s Justice Party, supported by middle-class, urban Malays, and the Chinese Malaysian–backed Democratic Action Party (DAP) — are strongly against hudud. Many analysts accuse UMNO of cynically fostering a radical Islamic bent to widen rifts in its political opponents.
- Shaariibuugiin Altantuyaa — In 2002, when Najib was Defense Minister, a $1.25 billion contract was signed to purchase two Scorpène submarines from French firm DCNS. Altantuyaa was a Mongolian woman who, knowing French, facilitated negotiations as a translator, and then allegedly attempted to blackmail Abdul Razak Baginda, one of Najib’s aides with whom she was also having an affair, for $500,000 over “commission” payments he had allegedly received. Two policemen posted to Najib’s bodyguard detail were convicted of murdering Altantuyaa on Oct. 18, 2006. Najib denies any involvement.
- Prevention of Terrorism Act — Najib campaigned on scrapping the controversial Internal Security Act (ISA) but then immediately replaced it with the equally sweeping Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) and Security Offences (Special Measures) Act, or SOSMA. The POTA includes practically the same powers as ISA, including two-year detention without trial, and was dubbed a “legal zombie arising from the grave of the abusive [ISA]” by Human Rights Watch. Najib also vowed to repeal the similarly maligned Sedition Act but reneged after his election in 2013. In fact, in April his government extended the maximum jail term under the Sedition Act from three to 20 years.
President Obama spoke proudly of his Kenyan heritage on his third trip to sub-Saharan Africa, visiting Kenya before traveling to Ethiopia
President Barack Obama aggressively pushed back against Republican criticism of a deal his Administration helped negotiate to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran’s hands, telling reporters traveling with him to Ethiopia that the GOP presidential hopefuls who hope to succeed him were using “ridiculous” and “ad hominem” attacks to avoid a serious debate rooted in substance.
During a news conference in Addis Ababa, Obama was asked about remarks made a day earlier by Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas Governor who compared the deal to the Holocaust. Obama used the question to level broader criticism of the jockeying happening inside the Republican Party that is still in the early days of a search for a 2016 nominee.
“I have not yet heard a factual argument on the other side that holds up to scrutiny,” Obama said of his GOP critics. “There is a reason why 99 percent of the world thinks this is a good deal. It’s because it’s a good deal.”
The Republican candidates looking to follow him into the White House do not share his analysis. For instance, Huckabee said the proposed deal gives too much trust to Iran and betrays Israel, musing to the conservative Breitbart News that Obama was ready to “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”
The oven remark was a clear reference to the Holocaust, when Nazis murdered millions of European Jews in concentration camps. Iranian leaders often use strong anti-Israel rhetoric, promising “death to Israel,” though few analysts think the country is actually preparing to engage in a genocide.
Obama, whose great uncle helped to liberate part of the Buchenwald camp in Germany, took offense to Huckabee’s rhetoric and said it matched up with other statements he has heard from Republicans. Obama said it “would be considered ridiculous if it weren’t so sad.”
“We’re creating a culture that is not conducive to good policy or good politics. The American people deserve better. Certainly, presidential debates deserve better,” Obama said, speaking broadly about a crowded Republican field that has been marked by daily oneupmanship. “In 18 months, I’m turning over the keys. I want to make sure I’m turning over the keys to somebody who is serious about the serious problems that the country faces and the world faces.”
Obama has long shown an impatience with the political showmanship, especially when it comes to foreign policy. The President said his would-be-replacements should take time to more carefully study the issues before jumping forward with criticism to motivate the party’s base.
“We have robust debates. We look at the facts. There are going to be disagreements but we just don’t fling out ad hominem attacks like that because it doesn’t help inform the American people,” Obama chided.
Speaking in Des Moines, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton joined Obama in criticizing Huckabee’s rhetoric.
“Comments like these are offensive and have no place in our political dialogue,” Clinton said. “I am disappointed and I’m really offended personally.” The former Secretary of State said there is space for candidates to disagree on the details of the deal, but said Huckabee’s rhetoric “steps over the line” and deserved to be repudiated.
For his part, Huckabee was not backing off. From his campaign headquarters in Little Rock, Ark., Huckabee released a statement that doubled-down on his earlier rhetoric after hearing Obama’s criticism.
“What’s ridiculous and sad is that President Obama does not take the Iran threats seriously. For decades, Iranian leaders have pledged to ‘destroy,’ ‘annihilate,’ and ‘wipe Israel off the map’ with a ‘big Holocaust,’” Huckabee said. His statement to reporters included links to Iranian leaders’ comments using that rhetoric.
Huckabee pledged he would never allow that to happen. “I will stand with our ally Israel to prevent the terrorists in Tehran from achieving their own stated goal of another Holocaust,” he added. In a follow-up email to supporters, Huckabee asked them to sign a petition urging Congress to skip its summer break and stay in Washington to “fulfill your constitutional duty and KILL the dangerous Obama-Kerry nuclear deal with the Iranians.”
There was no real downside for Huckabee to continue his line of criticism. The former Baptist pastor is a favorite among the evangelical wing of the GOP and he is a frequent guide to the region, taking paying guests on tours of Biblical sites. Republicans—especially those voters who pick the party’s nominee—overwhelmingly support Israel and are more than willing to listen to criticism of anything Obama backs.
Republicans have been almost unified in their opposition to the deal with Iran, which was negotiated by world powers China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States.
Under the deal, Iran will get relief from sanctions and regain access to international oil markets, which will bring it a windfall of about $100 billion. In exchange, Iran must dispose of most of its low-enriched uranium, stop efforts to produce or acquire more nuclear fuel and consent to inspections. The deal is expected to block Iran from obtaining the technology needed to build a nuclear weapon for at least a decade.
With additional reporting by Sam Frizell.
An estimated 20 million people worldwide are working under forced and illegal conditions
The U.S. State Department removed Cuba and Malaysia from its human trafficking blacklist on Monday as part of an annual update to its contentious Trafficking in Persons report.
The 2015 report separates 188 nations into three tiers based on their efforts to combat human trafficking. The lowest tier nations face the threat of diplomatic repercussions at the discretion of the U.S. President. Cuba and Malaysia’s ratings were watched closely this year in light of both nations’ growing economic ties with the U.S.
Human rights activists warned that a premature upgrade would hint at political favoritism and damage efforts to hold governments accountable. An estimated 20 million people worldwide are believed to be victims of human trafficking, working in industries ranging from the sex trade to fishing and mining.
Jonathan Pollard becomes eligible for parole in November
(JERUSALEM)—The former wife of Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying for Israel, called on the Israeli government to pay for an attorney to facilitate his freedom on Saturday amid international speculation he could be released soon.
Jonathan Pollard was arrested in 1985 as he tried unsuccessfully to gain asylum in Israel’s Washington embassy. Since then, the case has stoked passions and divided opinions in both countries.
Supporters argue that he was punished excessively given that he spied for a country that’s a U.S. ally and point to other cases where spies from less-friendly countries were treated more leniently.
Critics, including prosecutors and government officials, call him a traitor who they say damaged U.S. national security by disclosing a trove of sensitive documents.
He becomes eligible for parole in November, on the 30th anniversary of his arrest on charges of selling classified information to Israel.
This week, there was widespread media speculation that Pollard could be released sooner.
Anne Pollard told Israel’s Channel 2 TV Saturday night that “that there is no official word that Jonathan is being released on any date.”
She said that the Israeli government should fund a budget “so that Jonathan can hire a top, top-notch attorney” for his upcoming parole hearing.
Once he is released he will want to move to Israel “100 percent,” she said, “otherwise nothing would make sense to him.”
“I just want to see him out, I can’t bear it anymore, that he sat and lost all of his life in jail, it’s a crime, it’s such a crime,” she said.
Pollard’s attorney, Eliot Lauer, told The Associated Press on Friday that he hoped his client would be released, but said he had received no commitment from the Obama administration.
Pollard’s release now could be seen as a concession to Israel, which strongly opposed the just-concluded U.S. nuclear deal with Iran. The U.S. has previously dangled his release, including during Israel-Palestinian talks last year.
Pollard’s supporters maintain the information he relayed was material that the U.S. had traditionally shared with the Israelis as part of an intelligence agreement but was being held back.
Advocates throughout the years of his incarceration asserted that he had either been used as a scapegoat or was victim of anti-Semitism.
The affair damaged relations between Israel and the U.S and has been a lingering sore point between the two allies.
Pollard, 60, has battled health problems in recent years and is being held in a North Carolina prison. The Federal Bureau of Prisons website lists his expected release date as November 21.
Jonathan Pollard becomes eligible for parole in November
(WASHINGTON) — Jonathan Pollard, an American who was convicted of spying for Israel in a sensational espionage case that inflamed public sentiment, could be released from federal prison within months, his lawyer and the Justice Department said Friday.
Pollard becomes eligible for parole in November, on the 30th anniversary of his arrest on charges of selling classified information to Israel. He will be presumptively eligible for release unless the U.S. Parole Commission determines that he has a record of bad behavior in prison or is likely to commit new crimes.
U.S. officials say they’re unlikely to oppose his parole. But the Justice Department says it expectsPollard to serve out his entire sentence.
“The Department of Justice has always and continues to maintain that Jonathan Pollard should serve his full sentence for the serious crimes he committed, which in this case is a 30-year sentence as mandated by statute,” said spokesman Marc Raimondi.
His attorney, Eliot Lauer, told The Associated Press on Friday that he hoped his client would be released, but said he had received no commitment from the Obama administration.
Pollard was arrested in November 1985 as he tried unsuccessfully to gain asylum in Israel’s Washington embassy. Since then, the case has stoked passions and divided opinions, with supporters arguing that he was punished excessively given that he spied for a country that’s a U.S. ally. Critics — including prosecutors and government officials — call him a traitor who damaged the nation by disclosing a trove of sensitive documents.
The U.S. has previously dangled his release, including during Israel-Palestinian talks last year. His release now could be seen as a concession to Israel, which strongly opposed the just-concluded U.S. nuclear deal with Iran. But federal officials rejected that idea.
“Mr. Pollard’s status will be determined by the United States Parole Commission according to standard procedures,” said National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey. “There is absolutely zero linkage between Mr. Pollard’s status and foreign policy considerations.”
Pollard, 60, has battled health problems in recent years and is being held in a North Carolina prison. The federal Bureau of Prisons website lists his expected release date as November 21.
Amid ongoing tension between Ukraine and Russia
The United States will expand its current training programs for troops in Ukraine to include army and special operations military forces, the State Department said Friday.
The training will likely focus on lessons in tactics and combat medicine, Reuters reports. The expanded program will not include any lethal weapons or aide, a State Department spokesman told reporters.
The U.S. began providing security assistance to Ukraine in 2014, with troops training Interior Ministry national guard units to strengthen the country’s security in the face of threats from Russia-backed rebels. Including this expanded training program, the U.S. will have spent over $244 million on supporting Ukraine since last year.
Obama is in Kenya for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, but made time for family on Friday
President Obama made time to meet with family on the first night of his four-day trip to Kenya and Ethiopia. About three dozen of the President’s relatives joined him for dinner on Friday, including his half sister Auma and his step-grandmother Mama Sarah.
Obama is in Kenya for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, of which he is co-chair. His trip marks the first time a sitting U.S. president has traveled to both Kenya and Ethiopia, but the trip also has historical significance given Obama’s personal connection to the East African nation. Obama’s father, Barack Obama, Sr., was born in Kenya and later died there. Obama was born in Hawaii.
Per the White House pool report on Friday’s dinner:
Potus, still in suit and tie, was seated in the middle of two long tables filled with relatives, about three dozen in all. Seated to his right was his step-grandmother, Mama Sarah, whom he calls Granny, wearing a [gold]-colored head scarf. To his left was his half-sister, Auma Obama, wearing a white jacket and black blouse. The other relatives were all wearing suits or other appropriately dress clothes. There were a lot of smiles all around.