US to curb Russian military flights over American territory

U.S. officials are preparing to announce restrictions to Russian military flights over American territory under the Treaty on Open Skies in the latest sign of strain in U.S.-Russia relations.

The treaty, part of a suite of arms-control, transparency and confidence-building agreements that proliferated in the late stages of the Cold War, permits its 34 ratified member states to conduct observation flights over each other’s territory while capturing aerial imagery of military personnel and materiel.

Treaty-related tensions intensified over two days in August, when a Russian plane operating under Open Skies flew over U.S. cities including Washington as well as Bedminster, N.J., while President Trump was staying at the Trump National Golf Club in the town.

Those flights, however, aren’t the cause of the new restrictions, according to U.S. officials. Instead, they assert that Russia is in violation of the Open Skies treaty, because the Kremlin imposed restrictions on flights over Kaliningrad, Russia’s Baltic Sea exclave, which U.S. officials believe is host to a cache of sophisticated weaponry.

The Trump Effect reaches Germany

This is what happens when elected leaders ignore the will of the people who put them in power.

As Bellwether noted last week, Germany’s electorate is tired of being lectured about the country’s duty to take in undocumented refugees from the Middle East and Africa. On Sunday, voters made their feelings clear by giving unprecedented support to the anti-immigrant party, Alternative for Germany, known by the acronym AfD.

By winning 13 percent of the vote in Sunday’s federal elections, the AfD will, for the first time, send avowedly right-wing politicians to the German Bundestag – a shocking turn of events in a country that, even 70 years later, wrestles with its Nazi past.

While Angela Merkel will no doubt continue as chancellor for a fourth term, she will need the support of two smaller parties, the pro-business Free Democrats, and, paradoxically, the environmentalist Green Party, to hold power. The left-wing Social Democrats, who have in the past joined Merkel’s Christian Democrats in a so-called Grand Coalition, announced Sunday that they would move into opposition against the government. The Social Democrats turned in their worst result in the post-World War II era, or what its leader bemoaned as a “bitter day.”

MERKEL WINS FOURTH TERM AS FAR-RIGHT ENTERS GERMAN PARLIAMENT

But there’s no doubt, the AfD’s support is mostly due to Merkel’s stubborn insistence that taking in migrants from majority-Islamic countries like Syria is part of Germany’s responsibility as the driving force in Europe. Even when some of those immigrants attacked and sexually molested several women in Cologne two years ago, Merkel said her support for welcoming newcomers would continue. On Sunday, she paid a heavy political price for those views, losing 20 percent of the support her party enjoyed in the last elections in 2013.

The AfD, widely though inaccurately compared to the Nazis for its unapologetic anti-Islam prejudice, now bears the burden of showing it can act responsibly in a democratically-elected parliament. It understood that even Germans, shadowed by the shameful memory of Adolf Hitler, are finally asserting their rights as a nation to decide who may live among them.

It is much the same platform that brought Donald Trump to the White House and made Marine Le Pen the second-place finisher in France’s presidential elections.

Ignoring voters in a democracy carries a price. Angela Merkel is the latest to learn that lesson.

Trump signs executive order targeting North Korea’s trading partners

President Trump signed an executive order Thursday targeting North Korea’s trading partners, calling it a “powerful” new tool aimed at isolating and de-nuclearizing the regime.

The president announced the order as he met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

He said the order would help target individuals and companies doing business with Pyongyang. Specifically, he said it enhances the Treasury Department’s authority to target those conducting significant trade with the regime, including by sanctioning foreign banks.

“It is unacceptable that others financially support this criminal rogue regime,” Trump said.

He added, “Foreign banks will face a clear choice. Do business with the United States, or facilitate trade with the lawless regime in North Korea.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin echoed the president as he issued a warning to foreign banks at a news conference Thursday.

“Foreign financial institutions are now on notice that going forward they can choose to do business with the United States or with North Korea, but not both,” he said.

Mnuchin said the executive order authorizes the Treasury Department to suspend U.S. account access to foreign banks that knowingly facilitate “significant transactions tied to trade with North Korea.”

“For too long, North Korea has evaded sanctions and used the international financial system to facilitate funding for its weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs,” Mnuchin said. “No bank in any country should be used to facilitate Kim Jong Un’s destructive behavior.”

According to a fact sheet provided by the White House, the executive order issues a 180-day ban on vessels and aircraft that have visited North Korea from visiting the United States.

It also allows for sanctions of those involved in the construction, energy, financial services, fishing, information technology, manufacturing, medical, mining, textiles, or transportation industries in North Korea.

On the heels of giving a blistering speech before the U.N. General Assembly where the president blasted “rocket man” Kim Jong Un, Trump said Thursday that he seeks a “complete de-nuclearization” of North Korea.

“We cannot have this as a world body any longer,” he said.

Trump also praised China following reports that its banks are halting business with North Korea.

Chinese banks received a document Monday stating they should halt financial services and loans to new and existing North Korean customers as a result of strict U.N. sanctions passed earlier this month, a source told Reuters on Thursday.

“Our bank is fulfilling our international obligations and implementing United Nations sanctions against North Korea. As such, we refuse to handle any individual loans connected to North Korea,” the document reportedly said.

The move comes after repeated calls from the Trump administration for China to help isolate Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship.

“We appreciate it,” Trump said Thursday.