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Vox Sentences: Tillerson goes to Moscow, Bannon goes down

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Tillerson goes to Moscow; a surprise twist in Iran’s presidential election; Bannon keeps losing to Kushner.


Tillerson’s difficult meeting with Putin

Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson Speaks To The Media At West Palm Beach Airport
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in West Palm Beach, Florida last week.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
  • The relationship between the White House and the Kremlin has hit a rough patch. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • Yesterday, the US National Security Council released a report using declassified intelligence to demonstrate the culpability of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in last week’s chemical weapons attack in Syria. The report further accused Russia of peddling “false narratives” that shift the blame to anti-Assad insurgents. [NYT / Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Helene Copper]
  • For background: Russia has deep ties to the Syrian military and has backed Assad over the course of Syria’s six-year civil war; its involvement has escalated dramatically in the past year. Today it blocked a United Nations Security Council resolution aimed at investigating the chemical attack and holding Assad’s government responsible. It was the eighth time Russia has used its veto power to protect Assad since the war began. [Reuters / Michelle Nichols]
  • The NSC report was released as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson prepared to meet with the Russian government in Moscow today. Tillerson and Russian President Vladimir Putin would not be meeting for the first time, however, as the two men have a friendship that dates back to Tillerson’s days as CEO of Exxon Mobil. [LA Times / Tracy Wilkinson]
  • Before going to Moscow on Tuesday, Tillerson said in Italy what many have read as an ultimatum to Russia: “I think it is clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.” [New York Times / David E. Sanger]
  • Then on Wednesday, Trump said that “if Russia didn’t go in and back this animal, we wouldn’t have a problem right now” — casting blame not only on Assad’s regime but directly on Russia as well. [New York Times / Julie Hirschfeld Davis]
  • Putin, for his part, prepared for the much-anticipated meeting by doubling down on his support of Syria, alleging that the attacks were carried out by rebel groups in order to frame Assad’s regime and suck the US into the conflict. [Guardian / Emma Graham-Harrison, Julian Borger, Spencer Ackerman]
  • Late Wednesday afternoon, after Tillerson was reportedly kept waiting, he and Putin met for nearly two hours. “There is a low level of trust between our two countries,” Tillerson told reporters after the meeting. [Associated Press / Josh Lederman]
  • Still, the two nations did agree to establish a working group intended to improve relations — which is apparently desperately needed, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov used a joint news conference with Tillerson to issue not-so-subtle digs at US Syria policy, such as: “I don’t remember any positive examples of how a dictator was overthrown and everything was just fine afterwards.”
  • President Trump, for whatever it’s worth, thought Tillerson and Putin’s meeting went better than expected. [Reuters / Steve Holland, Warren Strobel]
  • Many have found Trump’s back and forth on Russia — from admiration of Putin to swift condemnation of Russia’s efforts to shield Assad — to be confusing, if not also potentially disingenuous. His son Eric Trump’s comments don’t help matters: “If there was anything that [the strike on] Syria did, it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie,” he said. [New York Times / Peter Baker​]

Ahmadinejad part 3

State Funeral Held For Hugo Chavez In Caracas
Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2013.
Getty Images / Mario Tama
  • Despite saying in September that he would not run for office, former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has officially registered to run for a third term against the incumbent president, Hassan Rouhani, in next month’s presidential election. [NPR / Bill Chappel]
  • Ahmadinejad was a controversial leader both in Iran and abroad. At home, his presidency was clouded by allegations of corruption as the country’s economy faltered. After his 2009 reelection drew protests in the streets, there was a brutal crackdown that resulted in the detainment of thousands, and dozens of deaths. [New York Times / Associated Press]
  • Abroad, Ahmadinejad was condemned for Holocaust denial, peddling anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and suggesting the US government perpetrated 9/11 — among other offenses. [New Republic / Reuel Marc Gerecht]
  • When the second of his two four-year terms ended in 2013, he was widely seen as disgraced and powerless. His preferred successor was barred from running for office, and, trashed by the Iranian parliament and press, Ahmadinejad was seen as a lame duck for his last year in office. [New Republic / Cameron Abadi]
  • But after four years out of office, Ahmadinejad is legally eligible to run again, and in Iran, some see his decision as, at least in part, a reaction to Trump’s election. [New York Times / Associated Press]
  • Which is a bit ironic, given that political spectators have made the case that Trump is “the American Ahmadinejad.” [The Atlantic / Chris Bodenner]
  • It’s unclear, however, if Ahmadinejad’s campaign will ultimately be viable. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has come out against Ahmadinejad running again — and presidential candidates must have their candidacy deemed qualified by an overseeing body, which could stop Ahmadinejad’s campaign before it really starts. [Tehran Times / Ali Kushki​]

The Rise and Fall of Stephen K. Bannon

Neil Gorsuch Is Sworn In As Associate Justice To Supreme Court
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon
Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla
  • Yesterday afternoon in an interview with a New York Post reporter, President Trump seemed to distance himself from political advisor Steve Bannon. “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late,” Trump told the Post. He also said, regarding rumors that Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner have been clashing, “Steve is a good guy, but I told them to straighten it out or I will.” [New York Post / Michael Goodwin]
  • Trump also said he didn’t know Bannon when he joined Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016. That’s not true; the two men have known each other since 2011. [New York Times / Linda Qiu]
  • Today, reports suggest that Bannon may see his role in the White House further diminished because of infighting between him and Kushner. [New York Times / Jeremy W. Peters, Maggie Haberman​]
  • Trump’s latest comments come in the wake of Bannon being removed from a role on the National Security Council… [Reuters / Steve Holland, John Walcott]
  • …and after an expansion of Kushner’s responsibilities that also seemed to suggest Bannon had been demoted. [Washington Post / Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker]
  • Trump reportedly ordered that Bannon and Kushner reconcile their differences in an almost hour-long meeting this past Friday between the two senior aides set up by White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. [Washington Post / Abby Phillip]
  • But Trump’s statement to the Post suggests that Bannon remains on thin ice, and could be getting a large share of blame for the administration’s early failures. [Vox / Andrew Prokop]
  • Who still has Bannon’s back, you might ask? The answer is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, another hypernationalist, far-right figure in the Trump administration. [The Hill / Mark Hensch]

Miscellaneous

  • Fast & Furious, by the numbers: all the data you need, from racing time to time spent in garages to time spent on car chases and more. [Bloomberg / Kim Bhasin, Mark Glassman, Kyle Stock]
  • Meet the man — nay, the hero — who got "Executive Producer DICK WOLF" tattooed on his lower back. [Jezebel / Sophie Kleeman]
  • Sen. Jeff Flake has declared war on the alpaca industry, and the Alpaca Owners Association is NOT HAPPY. [Washington Post / Max Ehrenfreund]
  • Burger King unveiled a (since-canceled) ad that tried to activate Google Home devices near your TV to tell you more about the Whopper. It was very ill-advised and vaguely dystopian. [The Verge / Jacob Kastrenakes]
  • It's taken two years, but vision scientists have begun to understand why everyone disagreed about that dress in that BuzzFeed post. [Slate / Pascal Wallisch]

Verbatim

  • “Mr. Trump said he told his Chinese counterpart he believed Beijing could easily take care of the North Korea threat. Mr. Xi then explained the history of China and Korea, Mr. Trump said. ‘After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,’ Mr. Trump recounted.” [WSJ / Gerard Bake, Carol E. Lee, Michael C. Bender]
  • “By day, Sumiko Iwamuro runs a Chinese restaurant, where she has worked for six decades making ‘gyoza’ dumplings, while by night, she spins records at Tokyo clubs under the moniker DJ Sumirock. … She is also 82 years old.” [Reuters / Mayu Yoshida]
  • “‘So what?’ he crankily replies, when a judge tells him his client is ineligible for a drug program because her attempts at rehab have failed in the past. ‘Our system,’ he later writes, ‘never treated the failure of prison as a reason not to try more prison.’” [NYT / Jennifer Senior]
  • “You’re not crazy. We know for a fact that wine tastes different in the air.” [Jordan Salcito to GQ / Kelsey McKinney]
  • “Ask a vertical-transportation-industry professional to recall an episode of an elevator in free fall — the cab plummeting in the shaftway, frayed rope ends trailing in the dark — and he will say that he can think of only one. That would be the Empire State Building incident of 1945, in which a B-25 bomber pilot made a wrong turn in the fog and crashed into the seventy-ninth floor, snapping the hoist and safety cables of two elevators. Both of them plunged to the bottom of the shaft.” [New Yorker / Nick Paumgarten]

Watch this: I’m a Syrian-American journalist. Syria is more than the headlines.

Chemical weapon attacks aren’t the only reason to pay attention to Syria. [Vox / Matteen Mokalla, Dean Peterson]


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