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Trump Says Iran Non-Compliant with Nuke Deal

President Donald Trump has announced that he is decertifying Iran’s compliance with a multinational 2-year-old nuclear deal and slapping Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps with new counter-terrorism sanctions. VOA White House Bureau Chief Steve Herman reports, however, the president is stopping short of calling for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to be scrapped.

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US Special Counsel Questions Trump’s Former Chief of Staff

A lawyer representing former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said a team of US government investigators interviewed Priebus on Friday as part of an ongoing probe on whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia

during last year’s US presidential election.   

“He was happy to answer all of their questions,” said Priebus’ lawyer, William Burck.

Priebus was head of the Republican National Committee during Trump’s presidential campaign and served as the president’s chief of staff when Trump took office, before he resigned in July.

Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team of investigators are also looking into some of the actions the US President has taken since assuming office in January, including the firing of FBI Director James Comey.  Among other things, Mueller’s

team is trying to see whether the president might have obstructed justice earlier this year by persuading Comey to drop an investigation on then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.  

Flynn resigned in February following reports he had met with the Russian ambassador .  

Investigators expect to speak to a number of current and former officials in the coming weeks.  

President Trump has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

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Transcript of Trump Speech on Iran Nuclear Deal

THE WHITE HOUSE

 

Office of the Press Secretary


For Immediate Release                            October 13, 2017

 

 

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT TRUMP

ON IRAN STRATEGY

 

Diplomatic Reception Room

 

 

 

12:53 P.M. EDT

 

 

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  My fellow Americans:  As President of the United States, my highest obligation is to ensure the safety and security of the American people.  

 

History has shown that the longer we ignore a threat, the more dangerous that threat becomes.  For this reason, upon taking office, I’ve ordered a complete strategic review of our policy toward the rogue regime in Iran.  That review is now complete.

 

Today, I am announcing our strategy, along with several major steps we are taking to confront the Iranian regime’s hostile actions and to ensure that Iran never, and I mean never, acquires a nuclear weapon.  

 

Our policy is based on a clear-eyed assessment of the Iranian dictatorship, its sponsorship of terrorism, and its continuing aggression in the Middle East and all around the world.

 

Iran is under the control of a fanatical regime that seized power in 1979 and forced a proud people to submit to its extremist rule.  This radical regime has raided the wealth of one of the world’s oldest and most vibrant nations, and spread death, destruction, and chaos all around the globe.

 

Beginning in 1979, agents of the Iranian regime illegally seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held more than 60 Americans hostage during the 444 days of the crisis.  The Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah twice bombed our embassy in Lebanon — once in 1983 and again in 1984.  Another Iranian-supported bombing killed 241 Americans — service members they were, in their barracks in Beirut in 1983.

 

In 1996, the regime directed another bombing of American military housing in Saudi Arabia, murdering 19 Americans in cold blood.

 

Iranian proxies provided training to operatives who were later involved in al Qaeda’s bombing of the American embassies in Kenya, Tanzania, and two years later, killing 224 people, and wounding more than 4,000 others.

 

The regime harbored high-level terrorists in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, including Osama bin Laden’s son.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, groups supported by Iran have killed hundreds of American military personnel.

 

The Iranian dictatorship’s aggression continues to this day.  The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist networks.  It develops, deploys, and proliferates missiles that threaten American troops and our allies.  It harasses American ships and threatens freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf and in the Red Sea.  It imprisons Americans on false charges.  And it launches cyberattacks against our critical infrastructure, financial system, and military.

 

The United States is far from the only target of the Iranian dictatorship’s long campaign of bloodshed.  The regime violently suppresses its own citizens; it shot unarmed student protestors in the street during the Green Revolution.  

 

This regime has fueled sectarian violence in Iraq, and vicious civil wars in Yemen and Syria.  In Syria, the Iranian regime has supported the atrocities of Bashar al-Assad’s regime and condoned Assad’s use of chemical weapons against helpless civilians, including many, many children.

 

Given the regime’s murderous past and present, we should not take lightly its sinister vision for the future.  The regime’s two favorite chants are “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”

 

Realizing the gravity of the situation, the United States and the United Nations Security Council sought, over many years, to stop Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons with a wide array of strong economic sanctions.

 

But the previous administration lifted these sanctions, just before what would have been the total collapse of the Iranian regime, through the deeply controversial 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.  This deal is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

 

As I have said many times, the Iran Deal was one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.  The same mindset that produced this deal is responsible for years of terrible trade deals that have sacrificed so many millions of jobs in our country to the benefit of other countries.  We need negotiators who will much more strongly represent America’s interest.

 

The nuclear deal threw Iran’s dictatorship a political and economic lifeline, providing urgently needed relief from the intense domestic pressure the sanctions had created.  It also gave the regime an immediate financial boost and over $100 billion dollars its government could use to fund terrorism.

 

The regime also received a massive cash settlement of $1.7 billion from the United States, a large portion of which was physically loaded onto an airplane and flown into Iran.  Just imagine the sight of those huge piles of money being hauled off by the Iranians waiting at the airport for the cash.  I wonder where all that money went.

 

Worst of all, the deal allows Iran to continue developing certain elements of its nuclear program.  And importantly, in just a few years, as key restrictions disappear, Iran can sprint towards a rapid nuclear weapons breakout.  In other words, we got weak inspections in exchange for no more than a purely short-term and temporary delay in Iran’s path to nuclear weapons.

 

What is the purpose of a deal that, at best, only delays Iran’s nuclear capability for a short period of time?  This, as President of the United States, is unacceptable.  In other countries, they think in terms of 100-year intervals, not just a few years at a time.  

 

The saddest part of the deal for the United States is that all of the money was paid up front, which is unheard of, rather than at the end of the deal when they have shown they’ve played by the rules.  But what’s done is done, and that’s why we are where we are.  

 

The Iranian regime has committed multiple violations of the agreement.  For example, on two separate occasions, they have exceeded the limit of 130 metric tons of heavy water.  Until recently, the Iranian regime has also failed to meet our expectations in its operation of advanced centrifuges.   

 

The Iranian regime has also intimidated international inspectors into not using the full inspection authorities that the agreement calls for.  

 

Iranian officials and military leaders have repeatedly claimed they will not allow inspectors onto military sites, even though the international community suspects some of those sites were part of Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program.

 

There are also many people who believe that Iran is dealing with North Korea.  I am going to instruct our intelligence agencies to do a thorough analysis and report back their findings beyond what they have already reviewed.

 

By its own terms, the Iran Deal was supposed to contribute to “regional and international peace and security.”  And yet, while the United States adheres to our commitment under the deal, the Iranian regime continues to fuel conflict, terror, and turmoil throughout the Middle East and beyond.  Importantly, Iran is not living up to the spirit of the deal.

 

So today, in recognition of the increasing menace posed by Iran, and after extensive consultations with our allies, I am announcing a new strategy to address the full range of Iran’s destructive actions.

 

First, we will work with our allies to counter the regime’s destabilizing activity and support for terrorist proxies in the region.

 

Second, we will place additional sanctions on the regime to block their financing of terror.

 

Third, we will address the regime’s proliferation of missiles and weapons that threaten its neighbors, global trade, and freedom of navigation.

 

And finally, we will deny the regime all paths to a nuclear weapon.

 

Today, I am also announcing several major steps my administration is taking in pursuit of this strategy.  

 

The execution of our strategy begins with the long-overdue step of imposing tough sanctions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.  The Revolutionary Guard is the Iranian Supreme Leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia.  It has hijacked large portions of Iran’s economy and seized massive religious endowments to fund war and terror abroad.  This includes arming the Syrian dictator, supplying proxies and partners with missiles and weapons to attack civilians in the region, and even plotting to bomb a popular restaurant right here in Washington, D.C.

 

I am authorizing the Treasury Department to further sanction the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for its support for terrorism and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates.  I urge our allies to join us in taking strong actions to curb Iran’s continued dangerous and destabilizing behavior, including thorough sanctions outside the Iran Deal that target the regime’s ballistic missile program, in support for terrorism, and all of its destructive activities, of which there are many.  

 

Finally, on the grave matter of Iran’s nuclear program: Since the signing of the nuclear agreement, the regime’s dangerous aggression has only escalated.  At the same time, it has received massive sanctions relief while continuing to develop its missiles program.  Iran has also entered into lucrative business contracts with other parties to the agreement.

 

When the agreement was finalized in 2015, Congress passed the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act to ensure that Congress’s voice would be heard on the deal.  Among other conditions, this law requires the President, or his designee, to certify that the suspension of sanctions under the deal is “appropriate and proportionate” to measure — and other measures taken by Iran to terminate its illicit nuclear program.  Based on the factual record I have put forward, I am announcing today that we cannot and will not make this certification.

 

We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror, and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout.

 

That is why I am directing my administration to work closely with Congress and our allies to address the deal’s many serious flaws so that the Iranian regime can never threaten the world with nuclear weapons.  These include the deal’s sunset clauses that, in just a few years, will eliminate key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program.

 

The flaws in the deal also include insufficient enforcement and near total silence on Iran’s missile programs.  Congress has already begun the work to address these problems.  Key House and Senate leaders are drafting legislation that would amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act to strengthen enforcement, prevent Iran from developing an inter- — this is so totally important — an intercontinental ballistic missile, and make all restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity permanent under U.S. law.  So important.  I support these initiatives.  

 

However, in the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.  It is under continuous review, and our participation can be cancelled by me, as President, at any time.

 

As we have seen in North Korea, the longer we ignore a threat, the worse that threat becomes.  It is why we are determined that the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism will never obtain nuclear weapons.

 

In this effort, we stand in total solidarity with the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people.  The citizens of Iran have paid a heavy price for the violence and extremism of their leaders.  The Iranian people long to — and they just are longing, to reclaim their country’s proud history, its culture, its civilization, its cooperation with its neighbors.

 

We hope that these new measures directed at the Iranian dictatorship will compel the government to reevaluate its pursuit of terror at the expense of its people.

 

We hope that our actions today will help bring about a future of peace, stability, and prosperity in the Middle East –- a future where sovereign nations respect each other and their own citizens.

 

We pray for a future where young children — American and Iranian, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish — can grow up in a world free from violence, hatred, and terror.

 

And, until that blessed day comes, we will do what we must to keep America safe.

 

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.  Thank you.

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A Day After Criticism, Trump Offers Support to Puerto Rico

President Donald Trump is assuring residents of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico that he “will always be with them.”

His tweet Friday morning comes a day after he lashed out at the island, insisting that the federal government can’t keep sending help “forever.” He’d also suggested the U.S. territory is to blame for its financial struggles.

 

He took a softer tone on Friday, saying that “the wonderful people of Puerto Rico” have an “unmatched spirit.” He tweeted, “I will always be with them!”

 

But he also said again that residents “know how bad things were before” the hurricanes.

 

Much of the island remains without power weeks after the storm.

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Trump Weathering Turbulent Times at Home and Abroad

President Donald Trump, who is no stranger to political chaos, found himself in turbulent times this week.

Trump faces critical foreign policy challenges on Iran and North Korea and he remains frustrated with the prospect of a stalled domestic agenda at home. Adding to the turbulence in recent days was the president’s Twitter feud with Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee and a resurgence of Trump’s long-running spat with the mainstream news media.

On Thursday, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made a rare appearance before reporters at the daily White House briefing to knock down reports that he is frustrated in his job.

“I don’t think I’m being fired today, and I’m not so frustrated in this job that I’m thinking of leaving,” Kelly said.

As for Trump, even as he highlighted tax reform at a rally in Pennsylvania Wednesday, he complained again that he has gotten little credit for his achievements so far.

“The confidence in our country is back like it hasn’t been in many, many years,” Trump said to cheers at the event in Middletown, Pennsylvania.

He seemed a bit wistful at one point about his life before politics: “I had a very good life. But you know what? I am having a better life now and I’m helping a lot of people.”

Feuds and spats

But the president has been irritated this week over criticism from Senator Corker, warning that Trump’s temperament and rhetoric could risk “World War III.”

He also lashed out at the media in the Oval Office over reports from NBC News that he wanted to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal by a factor of ten, something both he and his defense secretary denied.

“And it is frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it,” he said.

Trump’s rally in Pennsylvania was an attempt to refocus attention on tax reform. He is eager for a legislative victory he can point to in advance of next year’s congressional midterm elections.

But Republican divisions over the issue and the opposition of Democrats pose a threat to the tax plan being enacted.

“They say it is tax cuts for the middle class. It’s not. It is aimed at the rich,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said.

Success on tax reform is also important to Republicans, especially those running for re-election next year.

“The best way for us to help people and advance our principles is that we stay unified and advance this agenda that we are working on like tax reform,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters at the Capitol.

Watch: President Trump Facing Turbulent Times at Home and Abroad

Looking to the base

Amid what some see as chaos on many fronts, Trump continues to turn to his political base for solace and support.

“I think he still gets the populist moments,” Republican strategist John Feehery said. “He still gets the fact that Washington is extraordinarily unpopular. He understands that the media is extraordinarily unpopular with the Republican voters.”

But Feehery added that the president’s habit of picking fights with both opponents and allies continues to provide major distractions from getting his agenda passed in Congress.

“His biggest problem right now is that the national media does not like him. The Republican Party, by and large, the establishment, does not like him,” he said. “Democrats obviously hate him, and so it has been very difficult for him to gain any traction, and there is also the problem of his own volatile nature.”

Despite the recent turmoil, Trump is counting on his core supporters to stick with him and he made that clear to the crowd in Pennsylvania this week. “You finally have a government that is going to defend you and stand up for you and your country,” he told the crowd.

Mixed polls

Analysts say for the most part Trump’s base is hanging with him.

“With 38 percent of the electorate, 80-plus percent of the Republican Party strongly behind him, it is unlikely that we are going to see a lot of Republicans break from him and really challenge him in meaningful ways,” George Washington University political scientist Matthew Dallek said.

But all that focus on shoring up the president’s base does come with a political cost, Gallup pollster Frank Newport said.

“For him to get a higher approval rating, he has got to somehow move those Democrats and some independents, where he is getting about a 30 percent approval now, and that is very hard,” Newport said.

In the latest Quinnipiac University poll, Republicans approved of the president’s job performance by a margin of 81 to 12 percent.

His overall approval rating was at 38 percent, up slightly from last month. That is about even with the job approval average of several polls calculated daily by Real Clear Politics, which has Trump at 38.8 percent approval, 55.4 disapproval.

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US FCC Head Silent on Trump Comment About Pulling Broadcast Licenses

A suggestion by President Donald Trump that a U.S. regulator pull broadcast licenses from TV networks over what Trump calls “fake news” has been met by silence from the watchdog’s head Ajit Pai, who has a history of defending free speech rights.

Pai, who was reconfirmed last week for a new five-year term at the Federal Communications Commission and named chairman by Trump in January, has been urged by members of Congress to denounce Trump for a proposal that has little, if any, chance of success.

That is because the commission does not actually license broadcast networks or cable stations and the hurdles to denying licenses to individual stations are extremely high.

Trump’s remarks on Wednesday that threatened to muzzle the media and fellow-Republican Pai’s strong support for press freedoms could conflict as Pai mounts ambitious plans to overhaul federal communications regulations.

Trump said in a Twitter post: “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!”

His ire was raised by an NBC News report that said he had called for a massive increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, a report Trump denied. Trump and his supporters have repeatedly used the term “fake news” to cast doubt on media reports critical of his administration, often without providing any evidence to support their case that the reports were untrue.

Pai’s office has declined to comment, despite Reuters’ repeated requests Wednesday and Thursday.

The FCC, an independent agency, does not issue licenses to individual networks but to local stations, including those directly owned by broadcasters such as Comcast Corp that owns NBC. Comcast and NBC declined to comment on Trump’s remarks.

Pai has defended the First Amendment and press freedoms. In October 2016, he said anyone at the FCC “has the duty to speak out whenever Americans’ First Amendment rights are at stake.”

In a 2014 Wall Street Journal piece, Pai said “the government has no place pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.”

Pai has an ambitious agenda, which he is expected to unveil details of in the coming months. It includes proposing to eliminate some significant media ownership restrictions and a plan to roll back former Democratic President Barack Obama’s so-called net neutrality rules.

Senator Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, said on Twitter Trump’s comments were “unacceptable attacks on the #FirstAmendment by @POTUS. @AjitPaiFCC committed to Congress to speak up at times like this. We are waiting.”

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan defended press freedoms Thursday but did not directly criticize Trump.

“I’m for the First Amendment. I don’t always agree and like what you guys write, but you have a right to do it,” Ryan said.

Republican Senator Ben Sasse asked if Trump was “recanting” the oath of office to defend the First Amendment.

In March, Pai told the U.S. Congress he did not agree with Trump when he said that “the media is the enemy of the American people.” Pai said he would act independently of the White House on media-related matters.

Last month, Pai lamented that people on Twitter demand “the FCC yank licenses from cable news channels like Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN because they disagree with the opinions expressed on those networks. Setting aside the fact that the FCC doesn’t license cable channels, these demands are fundamentally at odds with our legal and cultural traditions.”

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Israeli Defense Experts Warn Against Dropping Iran Nuclear Deal

If President Donald Trump moves to scuttle the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, Israel’s nationalist government can be expected to be the loudest — and perhaps only — major player to applaud.

But the true picture is more complicated than what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might portray: There is a strong sense among his own security establishment that there are few good alternatives, that the deal has benefited Israel, and that U.S. credibility could be squandered in the turbulent Middle East in ways that could harm Israel itself.

That is not to say that Israel’s respected security chiefs are all pleased with every aspect of the Iran deal. But after Netanyahu declared at the United Nations last month that it was time to “fix it or nix it,” the prevailing attitude among security experts seems to be that fixing it is the best way to go.

“It seems to me that the less risky approach is to build on the existing agreement, among other reasons because it does set concrete limitations on the Iranians,” said Uzi Arad, a former national security adviser to Netanyahu. “It imposes ceilings and benchmarks and verification systems that you do not want to lose. Why lose it?”

Israel considers Iran to be its greatest foe, citing its decades of hostile rhetoric, support for anti-Israel militant groups and its development of long-range missiles. Israeli decision-makers see a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat.

With Iran believed to be rapidly closing in on developing nuclear weapons, then-President Barack Obama led a coalition of world powers, including Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, to the nuclear agreement in 2015. The deal offered Iran relief from crippling economic sanctions in exchange for strict limits on its nuclear program.

Netanyahu’s opposition

As the deal was being finalized, Netanyahu frantically tried to block it, claiming it did not go far enough. Among his concerns: clauses that will lift the restrictions on Iran next decade, quick relief from sanctions, an imperfect system of inspections and the failure to address Iran’s other belligerent behavior such as missile tests and involvement in regional conflicts. Netanyahu’s opposition was so intense that he delivered a speech to the U.S. Congress railing against the emerging deal in early 2015, setting off a crisis in relations with Obama that never healed.

On the campaign trail last year, Trump frequently criticized the Iran deal and vowed to rip it up if he was elected. In his own speech to the U.N. last month, Trump called it “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions” in U.S. history. Netanyahu said he had never heard a “bolder or more courageous speech” at the U.N.

Following up on his U.N. performance, Trump is expected to “decertify” the nuclear deal on Friday by saying it is not in America’s security interests.

This would not immediately pull the U.S. out of the deal. Instead, it would kick it over to Congress, which will then have 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions. If that happens, Iran has threatened to walk away.

Most of Trump’s top national security aides do not want to dismantle the nuclear deal, and America’s European allies have also urged the Trump administration not to walk away.

Netanyahu’s office said he discussed the matter of decertification with Trump when they met last month, but gave no further details. But he is likely to praise any move toward scrapping the nuclear deal.

In an opinion column published in The New York Times last week, Michael Oren, Netanyahu’s former ambassador to Washington and now a deputy minister for diplomacy, argued that decertification would not be the disaster that critics have predicted.

He said if the deal is ultimately canceled, it should be replaced by “crippling sanctions.” If retained, he said it should be improved to include stricter inspections of suspect nuclear sites, harsh penalties for violations, and eliminating the “sunset clause” that will gradually end the deal.

“Either way, revisiting the agreement will send an unequivocal message to the world,” Oren said. “It will say that the United States is truly unwilling to accept a nuclear Iran — not now, not in a decade, not ever.”

Support for deal

As Trump’s decision nears, however, a number of prominent security experts in Israel are publicly and privately advocating that the deal be left intact and its shortcomings addressed separately.

These experts say that the U.S., in consultation with Israel, should work with its allies to engage Iran on their many concerns. Simply walking away would hurt American credibility and put it at odds not only with Iran, but with its partners who remain committed to the deal.

“You cannot reverse that easily without paying a price,” said Arad, Netanyahu’s former security adviser. “It would simply be a suboptimal and riskier route to go. So I say build on it, reinforce it, enforce it and address other issues without causing kind of self-inflicted losses in the process.”

Arad said that while there is a healthy debate over how to move forward, he believes that based on his discussions with both retired and active security officials, the prevailing view among experts on the issue is that the deal should be preserved.

Top military officials, for instance, say that Iran has scrupulously upheld its commitments in the deal. This calm on the nuclear front has allowed them to focus on their other concerns about Iranian behavior, most critically its involvement in neighboring Syria and its support for the powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

“The Iran deal is a deal that contains both problems and shortcomings, but its advantages outweigh the weaknesses by far,” said Efraim Halevy, a former director of the Mossad intelligence service.

Yaakov Amidror, another former national security adviser to Netanyahu, said he did not think that scrapping the deal is even possible, given the position of America’s partners. “What should be done is to enhance it. Make it a much better agreement,” he said.

Yoel Guzansky, a former Iran specialist on the Israeli National Security Council, said that sending the deal to Congress is a “hasty” decision that could backfire.

He said the best way to gain leverage over Iran and alter its behavior is through concerted international action. Working together, he said, the international community could pursue various options, including diplomacy, a U.N. resolution or even threatening military action.

“We need to build an international coalition, which we lack right now. No one except Trump and Netanyahu, with all due respect, is supporting this move right now,” said Guzansky, a senior fellow at INSS, a prominent Israeli think tank. “I really hope the two gentlemen have a program.”

Chemi Shalev, a columnist with the Haaretz daily, said Netanyahu was playing with fire by pushing Washington to break an agreement.

“Washington’s signature on any accord will be significantly devalued, and its demands for new agreements with Iran, North Korea or for Middle East peace would henceforth be greeted with polite mockery,” he said.

Dan Shapiro, who served as Obama’s ambassador to Israel when the deal was negotiated, said the lack of alternatives and the uncertainty that canceling the deal would bring are causes of great concern to the Israeli security establishment.

“They don’t know what will happen if the deal unravels, but it’s much more likely that they’re going to be faced with their decision point on Iranian nuclear capability much sooner without the deal than with it,” he said.

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Kelly Says He’s Not Leaving as White House Chief of Staff

The White House chief of staff said Thursday that he was not leaving his job, and he chastised reporters for speculating that his tenure would be brief.

“I’m not quitting today, I don’t believe. And I just talked to the president. I don’t think I’m being fired today,” Kelly told reporters from the White House briefing room podium.

In a rare, extended, on-the-record interaction with journalists, the former Marine Corps general also criticized reporters — in concert with his boss — saying “it’s astounding to me how much is misreported” about President Donald Trump and what occurs in the West Wing.

Kelly suggested reporters develop better sources at the White House for their stories.

Asked what the president’s biggest frustration was, Kelly replied, “One of his frustrations is you. Not all of you, but many of you.”

Kelly, who was secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, succeeded Reince Priebus in late July, whom Trump ousted. Priebus, a former Republican National Committee chairman, had struggled since the inauguration to bring order to the West Wing.

Chief of staff’s role

Kelly also told reporters that they had mischaracterized his role.

Stories have emanated from the White House of a president bristling under a more disciplined and authoritative chief of staff, himself reportedly exasperated by Trump’s controversial ad lib comments in speeches and on Twitter that upended attempts to carefully set policy.

Kelly denied he was bothered by Trump’s frequent tweets and that his job did not include managing the president.

“I was not brought into this job to control anything but the flow of information,” Kelly said.

The chief of staff added that he did not restrict anyone from going in to see the president, as has been reported, but acknowledged now that instead of “onesies and twosies” entering the Oval Office to speak with the president, advisers go in as groups.

Kelly acknowledged North Korea as the most serious threat the Trump administration was now dealing with but said Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons were “not an immediate concern.”

Manageable threat, for now

“That state simply cannot have the ability to reach the homeland,” he said. “Right now, there is great concern about a lot of Americans that live in Guam. Right now, we think the threat is manageable, but over time, if it grows beyond where it is today — well, let’s hope diplomacy works.”

In recent weeks Trump and others in the administration have made clear a military option is under consideration for preventing Pyongyang from achieving the ability to hit the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.

Kelly also pushed back on the perception that the president strongly desires to increase America’s nuclear arsenal.

Kelly said that what he’d heard Trump say most often about nuclear weapons was, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get rid of them all?”

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Congress Bracing for Trump’s Decision on the Iran Nuclear Deal

President Donald Trump is expected to announce Thursday that Iran is not complying with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama to curb Iranian nuclear activities. Trump’s decision would trigger a 60-day deadline for Congress to set the next steps in dealing with Tehran. VOA’s Congressional reporter Katherine Gypson has more on why the president’s decision would put Capitol Hill lawmakers in a tough position.

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Somali Musician, Kept from US Internship, Blames Trump Travel Ban

The Somali musician Hassan-Nour Sayid — known by his stage name, Aar Maanta — and his band, the Urban Nomads, were supposed to be in Minnesota last week, where they were to kick off a monthlong internship of performances and workshops set up through the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis.

Visa delays, however, have led to the cancellation of the event, and Aar told VOA he thinks it is because the Trump administration has delayed his visa to come to the U.S. because he is Muslim and Somali.

“After months of planning these peaceful events, I was expecting only the inevitable reasons could bring them to a disappointing halt, but now I think it is because of being Muslim and Somali. Why I was discriminated and singled out in the visa process,” Aar told VOA Somali. “I blame the current U.S. government.”

Dual citizenship

Aar is a respected and well-known band leader, with dual citizenship in Somalia and Britain, though he says these qualifications did not help him get a U.S. visa “easily and on time.”

“My four other colleagues — musicians in the band — are Italian, French, Nepalese-Scottish and British-Caribbean, and all received their visas with no trouble. Only me. I think it is because I am the band’s sole Somali and Muslim member,” he said.

He said his passport was held by the U.S. consulate, and he was told his application was placed under “additional administrative processing.”

In an email, a State Department official told VOA they were not able to discuss individual visas.

“Since visa records are confidential under the Immigration and Nationality Act, we are not able to discuss individual visa cases. We would also note that visa applications do not include questions pertaining to religious identity/affiliation. U.S. immigration law does not contain visa ineligibilities based on religious identity/affiliation,” the official wrote.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, who on Tuesday addressed a question by VOA on a visa denial to the ousted Venezuela attorney general, said visa applications are confidential under federal law.

“So visa applications — and those are confidential, so no matter who it is or what the cause is, that’s something that we don’t comment on. I think we’ve talked about that before. They’re confidential under a federal law,” Nauert said.

Musician

Aar — a Somali singer, songwriter, actor, composer, instrumentalist and music producer — moved to the United Kingdom in the late 1980s, on the eve of the civil war in Somalia. He has lived there since, and has received his British citizenship. But he says he always realized that holding a Western passport would not change “his true identity.”

“I was always telling my Somali fans that it does not matter whether you have a British passport or American passport or the passport of any other Western country, you will always and forever remain Somali,” he said.

Under a revised travel order signed last month by President Donald Trump, travelers to the United States from eight countries face new restrictions, which take effect Oct. 18. The new executive order will affect citizens from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Chad, North Korea and Venezuela.

The new restrictions ban Somali immigrants from entry to the U.S., according to immigration attorneys. However, non-immigrants who are seeking business or tourist visas, such as Aar, must undergo additional screening measures.

According to tour organizers, the Urban Nomads have worked with the Cedar Cultural Center twice before, where they performed live music, led songwriting and held poetry workshops for young people. During the planned trip, though, the band would have extended its performances outside the metro area, carrying a message of unity for Somali-American communities.

Surprised by visa challenges

In a written statement, Fadumo Ibrahim, the program’s manager at the Cedar Cultural Center, said she was surprised by the visa challenges the musician faced, given his work with the center in the past.

“This case is a concrete example of how travel restrictions and the travel ban limit artistic voices and freedom,” Ibrahim said. “While it’s obviously important for the artists, it’s equally important for the community who had been anticipating this residency.

“Aar Maanta’s visit to Minnesota would have brought hope and positivity to the Somali and larger communities here at a time when we all really need it,” she said.

Midnimo, the Somali word for “unity,” is a program that features Somali artists from Minnesota and around the world in residencies and events that increase understanding of Somali culture through music.

The center said, “Midnimo is reviving and preserving Somalia’s rich musical traditions while fostering social connections between generations and cultures in the heart of the largest Somali diaspora in North America.”

VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching contributes to the story.

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