Trump in­sists no White House chaos

Rus­sia de­fends slash­ing 755 US diplo­matic staff

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE - — Agen­cies

John Kelly was sworn in yes­ter­day as the new White House chief of staff, as US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump looked to the re­tired Marine gen­eral for lead­er­ship af­ter a shake-up of his top staff. Kelly, 67, is re­plac­ing Reince Priebus, who was forced out last week af­ter the spec­tac­u­lar fail­ure of Trump’s bid to re­peal Oba­macare and as an ugly in-house feud spilled into the open. “We just swore in Gen­eral Kelly - he will do a spec­tac­u­lar job, I have no doubt, as chief of staff,” Trump said af­ter the Oval Of­fice cer­e­mony. “What he has done in terms of home­land se­cu­rity is record-shat­ter­ing, if you look at the bor­der, if you look at the tremen­dous re­sults we’ve had,” Trump said.

Trump ac­cen­tu­ated the pos­i­tive in an early morn­ing tweet: “High­est Stock Mar­ket EVER, best eco­nomic num­bers in years, un­em­ploy­ment low­est in 17 years, wages rais­ing, bor­der se­cure, S.C.: No WH chaos.” Repub­li­cans are hop­ing Kelly, who served as Home­land Se­cu­rity sec­re­tary for the first six months of Trump’s pres­i­dency, will suc­ceed in im­pos­ing dis­ci­pline on a White House whip­sawed by con­tro­versy.

The chief of staff tra­di­tion­ally man­ages the pres­i­dent’s sched­ule and is the high­est rank­ing White House em­ployee, de­cid­ing who has ac­cess to the US leader. But many ques­tion whether any­one can rein in the mer­cu­rial, Twit­ter-happy Trump, who has ap­peared to en­cour­age the in­fight­ing among var­i­ous fac­tions vy­ing for in­flu­ence in his ad­min­is­tra­tion. Un­der pres­sure from a widen­ing probe into his cam­paign’s con­tacts with Rus­sia last year, Trump last week at­tacked his own at­tor­ney gen­eral for dis­loy­alty, alarm­ing his con­ser­va­tive base, be­fore turn­ing on Priebus.

In another tweet yes­ter­day, Trump hinted that Congress’s own health in­surance plan should be re­placed for its fail­ure to re­peal Oba­macare, his pre­de­ces­sor’s sig­na­ture re­form of the US health care sys­tem. “If Oba­macare is hurt­ing peo­ple & it is, why

shouldn’t it hurt the in­surance com­pa­nies and why should Congress not be pay­ing what pub­lic pays?”

Since tak­ing of­fice six months ago, Trump’s tu­mul­tuous ad­min­is­tra­tion has seen a suc­ces­sion of neg­a­tive head­lines and brew­ing scan­dals. Fu­el­ing the fire, the bil­lion­aire Repub­li­can has parted with a num­ber of top of­fi­cials in­clud­ing his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor, deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor and FBI di­rec­tor, among oth­ers - an un­par­al­leled turnover for such a young pres­i­dency.

Mean­while, Moscow yes­ter­day sought to jus­tify its de­ci­sion to purge US diplo­matic per­son­nel in the coun­try, as the Krem­lin ap­peared to give up on hopes of im­prov­ing ties any­time soon un­der Trump. Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin an­nounced Sun­day that Washington will have to cut its diplo­matic mis­sion in Rus­sia by 755 em­ploy­ees, as Moscow struck back against new sanc­tions passed by the US Congress. The move rep­re­sents one of the big­gest sin­gle re­duc­tions of US per­son­nel by Moscow, with Putin warn­ing he could re­tal­i­ate fur­ther. “We have waited long enough, hop­ing that the sit­u­a­tion would per­haps change for the bet­ter,” the Krem­lin strong­man said. “But it seems that even if the sit­u­a­tion is chang­ing, it’s not for any time soon.”

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov yes­ter­day in­sisted that any hopes of mend­ing Rus­sia-US ties rest on “cur­ing the wors­en­ing po­lit­i­cal schizophre­nia” in Washington, but ad­mit­ted the two sides ap­peared “far away” from any im­prove­ment. He did in­sist Rus­sia re­mained keen on “con­tin­u­ing co­op­er­a­tion in the ar­eas that cor­re­spond to our in­ter­ests”, sug­gest­ing Moscow re­mains open to work­ing to­gether on Syria af­ter agree­ing a cease­fire with the US in the south of the war-torn coun­try.

The US State De­part­ment ear­lier called Moscow’s move “re­gret­table and un­called for” and said it was “as­sess­ing the im­pact of such a lim­i­ta­tion and how to re­spond”. US Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence while on a visit to Es­to­nia yes­ter­day said: “We hope for bet­ter days, for bet­ter re­la­tions with Rus­sia.” He stressed that “re­cent diplo­matic ac­tion taken by Moscow will not de­ter the com­mit­ment of the United States of Amer­ica to our se­cu­rity, the se­cu­rity of our al­lies.”

Last Thurs­day the US Se­nate over­whelm­ingly ap­proved a bill to toughen sanc­tions on Rus­sia for al­legedly med­dling in the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and its in­ter­ven­tion in Ukraine. Iran and North Korea are also tar­geted in the sanc­tions bill. The White House said Trump in­tends to sign off on the leg­is­la­tion, de­spite com­plain­ing ear­lier it would cut off the pres­i­dent’s room for diplo­matic ma­neu­ver­ing.

Rus­sia’s for­eign min­istry on Fri­day struck pre­emp­tively by or­der­ing Washington to re­duce its diplo­matic pres­ence to 455 by Septem­ber 1 to match the size of Rus­sia’s mis­sions in the US. It also froze two em­bassy com­pounds - a Moscow sum­mer house and a stor­age fa­cil­ity in the city from Aug 1. The US em­bassy has re­fused to state how many staff it has at its em­bassy in Moscow and con­sulates in the cities of Saint Peters­burg, Yeka­ter­in­burg and Vladi­vos­tok.

But Putin con­firmed that the move means 755 US diplo­mats and lo­cal Rus­sian per­son­nel will be forced to stop work­ing. It looks likely that the bulk of those im­pacted will be Rus­sians. A State De­part­ment doc­u­ment from 2013 said that of the 1,279 peo­ple then em­ployed by the US mis­sion, 934 were “lo­cally em­ployed” po­si­tions. Peskov said it was now a “choice for the US” on which staff Washington chooses to axe from its mis­sions around the coun­try, ad­ding he did not know if this would now make it harder for Rus­sians to get US visas.

“Hopes for im­prove­ment in re­la­tions be­tween Rus­sia and the US have defini­tively dis­si­pated,” Ve­do­mosti busi­ness daily wrote in a front-page editorial yes­ter­day. “The Rus­sian lead­er­ship up to the last mo­ment kept hope that it would be pos­si­ble to some­how build co­op­er­a­tion with the US,” Dmitry Suslov from Moscow’s Higher School of Eco­nom­ics told Kom­m­er­sant FM ra­dio. “But in the light of the Congress de­ci­sion, it is ab­so­lutely ob­vi­ous that this is im­pos­si­ble.”

— AFP

WASHINGTON: US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump (right) shakes hands with newly swornin White House Chief of Staff John Kelly at the White House yes­ter­day.

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