East Oregonian : E.O. (Pendleton, OR) 1888-current, April 12, 2017, Page Page 8A, Image 8

Below is the OCR text representation for this newspapers page. It is also available as plain text as well as XML.

    Page 8A
East Oregonian
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Tillerson in Moscow: Pushing During border visit,
on Syria where Obama failed Sessions outlines
MOSCOW (AP) — The Trump
administration veered toward deeper
conflict with Russia Tuesday as Secre-
tary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in
Moscow, gambling that an unpredict-
able new president armed with the
willingness to threaten military action
gives the U.S. much-needed leverage
to end Syria’s carnage.
Yet there were no guarantees
Tillerson’s arguments would prove
any more successful than the Obama
administration’s failed effort to peel
Russia away from its Syrian ally.
Tillerson’s mission, coming days after
59 Tomahawk missiles struck a Syrian
air base, also carries serious risks: If
Russia brushes off the warnings, Pres-
ident Donald Trump could be forced
into another show of force in Syria or
see his credibility wane.
“I hope that what the Russian
government concludes is that they
have aligned themselves with an unre-
liable partner in Bashar al-Assad,”
Tillerson said before flying to the
Russian capital, referring to Syria’s
embattled leader.
“The reign of the Assad family is
coming to an end,” he confidently
But Tillerson’s claim is one Pres-
ident Barack Obama, too, argued for
years, only to see Assad outlast his
own term in office. And the Trump
administration’s nascent Syria policy
seems to be increasingly centering on
the same tactic Obama unsuccessfully
employed: persuading Russia, Assad’s
staunchest ally, to abandon him.
The parallels haven’t gone unno-
ticed by Russian President Vladimir
Putin as U.S. officials have accused
his military of knowing about Assad’s
recent chemical weapons attack ahead
of time and trying to help cover it
up. Calling for a U.N. investigation,
Putin held to his claim that it was
actually Assad opponents who intro-
duced chemical weapons into Syria’s
harrowing civil war.
“We have seen it all already,” Putin
said. Jabbing at U.S. credibility, the
Russian leader reminded reporters
about unfounded U.S. claims of Iraqi
weapons of mass destruction, used to
justify America’s 2003 invasion.
The escalating dispute over last
week’s events in the Syrian town of
Khan Sheikhoun has thrust Wash-
ington and Moscow into a level of
tension rarely seen since the end
of the Cold War. The animosity is
especially striking given widespread
speculation that Trump, who lavishly
praised Putin during his campaign,
would pursue rapprochement
Spicer apologizes
for ‘insensitive’
reference to
(AP) — White House Press
Secretary Sean Spicer
apologized Tuesday for
making an “inappropriate
and insensitive” comparison
to the Holocaust in earlier
comments about Syrian
President Bashar Assad’s
use of chemical weapons
— remarks that drew instant
rebuke from Jewish groups
and critics.
Spicer said in an inter-
view with CNN that he was
trying to make a point about
Assad’s use of chemical
weapons and gas against
his people but “mistakenly
made an inappropriate and
insensitive reference to the
Holocaust, for which there is
no comparison. And for that
I apologize. It was a mistake
to do that.”
During the daily White
House briefing, Spicer told
reporters that Adolf Hitler
“didn’t even sink to using
chemical weapons.” Critics
noted the remark ignored
Hitler’s use of gas chambers
to exterminate Jews during
the Holocaust.
It was the second day
in a row in which Spicer,
President Donald Trump’s
main spokesman, appeared
to struggle to articulate the
president’s foreign policy at
a critical time.
During the briefing,
Spicer delivered a garbled
defense of his remarks in
which he tried to differen-
tiate between Hitler’s actions
and the gas attack on Syrian
“I think when you come
to sarin gas, there was no,
he (Hitler) was not using
the gas on his own people
the same way that Assad is
doing,” Spicer said. “There
was clearly ... I understand
your point, thank you. There
was not ... He brought them
into the Holocaust center I
understand that.”
Trump’s intelligence
doubts parroted by Putin
AP Photo/ Ivan Sekretarev
U.S. Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson steps out of a plane
upon arrival in Moscow’s Vnukovo
airport, Russia on Tuesday.
with Moscow.
Even on Syria, the positions
appeared to be hardening. Only a
week ago, top Trump officials had
spoken off deprioritizing past U.S.
efforts to remove Assad from office
and accepting the “reality” that 18
months of Russian military interven-
tion had secured him in power. Since
last Thursday’s cruise missile strike,
Tillerson and other U.S. officials
appear to have reverted to the past
administration’s rhetoric of insisting
that Assad is on the way out, without
outlining any strategy for making that
change of heart, apparently spurred
in part by the president’s emotional
response to the images of chemical
weapons victims, also is serving
another purpose: defanging the
perception of coziness between Trump
and Moscow. As the FBI and multiple
congressional committees investigate
potential collusion between Russia
and Trump’s campaign, the president
can point to his hard-line stance on
Assad as fresh evidence he’s willing
to stand up to Putin.
Asked about Putin possibly skip-
ping a meeting with Tillerson, White
House press secretary Sean Spicer
said, “There is a bit of irony that for all
of these talks that have been perpetu-
ated about back channels and direct
links, that now it’s they won’t meet
with you.” At a minimum, Tillerson
will meet Wednesday with Russian
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and
the two are expected to take questions
from reporters.
As Tillerson landed in Moscow,
senior White House officials briefed
reporters on declassified U.S. intel-
ligence they said disproved Russia’s
claim that rebels were responsible for
the chemical weapons. In an accom-
panying four-page memo, the U.S.
accused Russia of a disinformation
President Donald Trump’s
frequent questioning about the
integrity of his spy agencies is
coming back to haunt him.
As his administration used U.S.
intelligence to pressure Moscow
over its support for Syrian President
Bashar Assad, Russian President
Vladimir Putin parroted back
Trump’s doubts about the reliability
of U.S. spy agencies.
Trump used the same argument
in December, when the intelligence
community issued its official
assessment that Russia interfered
with the U.S. election. Rejecting the
assessment, Trump comparing the
analyses to the false claims in the
lead up to the Iraq War.
“These are the same people that
said Saddam Hussein had weapons
of mass destruction,” the Trump
transition team said in a statement.
Trump has picked other fights
with intelligence agencies, blaming
it for the leaks about his associates’
Russia ties. During the transition, he
ripped the intelligence community
for being behind the leaks and even
compared them to Nazi propaganda.
Lately, he has blamed Democrats,
suggesting that they were using
them as an excuse for Hillary
Clinton’s defeat.
Those statements threaten to
undermine the Trump administra-
tion’s recent effort isolate Assad, in
the wake of a chemical attack that
killed dozens of Syrians.
U.S. officials have accused
Russia of knowing about the attack
ahead of time and trying to help
cover it up. Putin has called for a
formal United Nations investigation.
“Putin knows that Trump
personally degraded U.S. intelli-
gence credibility by attacking it over
the Russian hacking and essentially
going to war with the CIA and
NSA,” said Malcolm Nance, a
veteran intelligence officer. He said
Putin, a former director of Russian
intelligence, “is now taking full
advantage of the damage Trump
caused with those attacks.”
campaign and aiding Syria in covering
up the gruesome attack.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told
reporters at the Pentagon, “It is very
clear who planned this attack ... and
who orchestrated this attack.”
immigration plan
NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) ability to follow through on
— Attorney General Jeff a commitment to end the
Sessions toured the U.S.- lawlessness,” Sessions said.
Mexico border Tuesday and
unveiled what he described expanding
as a new get-tough approach Department’s role in the
to immigration prosecutions anti-immigration agenda of
the Trump admin-
Donald Trump.
istration. But his
The nation’s top
speech Tuesday
law enforcement
during his first
official outlined a
visit to the border
series of changes
offered the most
that he said mark
the start of a new
look yet at his
era to rid American
plans for federal
cities and the
border of what
of those in the
he described as Sessions
country illegally.
“filth” brought on
He directed the
by drug cartels and criminal nation’s federal prosecutors
in a Tuesday memo to prior-
the itize
changes at a news conference cases, with an eye toward
following a morning tour targeting people who cross
of the border that included the border illegally and those
visiting a port of entry, where who come back after being
he exited an SUV in a white deported.
shirt and baseball cap before
Sessions urged federal
entering a restricted area. He prosecutors to intensify their
later visited with Customs focus on immigration crimes
and Border Protection offi- such as illegal crossing or
smuggling others into the
cers and agents.
Sessions credited Trump U.S., even though such
for a steep drop-off of border prosecutions are already
apprehensions this year and happening on a large scale.
said the administration will Half of federal arrests in 2014
bring more felony prose- were for immigration-related
cutions against immigrants offenses, according to a Pew
entering the country illegally. Research analysis released
“This is a new era. This is this week, based on the most
the Trump era,” he said. “The recent federal statistics.
Critics blasted the initia-
lawlessness, the abdication
of the duty to enforce our tives announced by Sessions
immigration laws, and the as fear-mongering and
catch and release practices of anti-immigrant rhetoric not
rooted in facts.
old are over.”
Sessions answered only a
few questions from reporters announcement in Nogales, a
following his remarks. He border city that has witnessed
said all prosecutors would a dramatic drop in immigrant
carefully protect the civil and drug smuggling in recent
rights of people charged years as more people enter
with crimes, and he defended the country in Texas, many
Trump’s proposed border of them Central Americans
wall, saying it will be another fleeing violence in Guatemala,
tool to fight illegal immigra- Honduras and El Salvador.
The Border Patrol’s
tion amid efforts within the
Justice Department and other Tucson
branches of government comprises most of Arizona,
to punish and deter border saw about 65,000 arrests of
immigrants last fiscal year,
“The barrier, the wall, roughly half the number
will have a great and positive agents made in 2012,
impact and will continue our according to Border Patrol.