Men due to Leave Gitmo Under Obama Seem Stuck Under Trump

Abdellatif Nasser got what he thought was the best news possible in the summer of 2016: One of his lawyers called him at the Guantanamo Bay detention center and told him that the U.S. decided he no longer posed a threat and could go home to Morocco.

The prisoner allowed himself to get excited, to think about Moroccan food, imagining he would be home in no time. “I’ve been here 14 years,” he said at the time. “A few months more is nothing.”

But his optimism turned out to be misplaced. A diplomatic agreement that would have allowed him to go free was not returned by Morocco until Dec. 28, eight days too late to meet a deadline to be among the last prisoners to leave under President Barack Obama.

Now, he is one of five prisoners who the U.S. cleared to go but whose freedom is in doubt under President Donald Trump.

“We had hoped until the last moment that he might still be released,” said Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, the lawyer who told him about his pending release and shared her notes from the conversation. “When it didn’t happen we were crushed. That eight-day foible has turned into a potential lifetime of detention.”

The Trump administration has not released any prisoners and not added any to the list of cleared men who can go home, or to a third country, for resettlement. There were 197 transferred out under his predecessor and more than 500 under President George W. Bush.

Obama sought to close the detention center but was thwarted by Congress because of objections over transferring any of the remaining detainees to facilities in the U.S.

“It is entirely unprecedented for an administration to take the position that there will be no transfers out of Guantanamo without regard to the facts, without regard to individual circumstances,” said Pardiss Kebriaei, a detainee attorney with the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.

The administration has not announced its policy toward the detention center. But Trump said on Twitter before he took office that there should be no further releases from “Gitmo,” as it’s often called. “These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield,” he said.

Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson, a Pentagon spokesman for issues related to Guantanamo, said detainee case files will still be reviewed on a periodic basis but the government “is still considering whether or not to transfer detainees.”

A National Security Council spokeswoman, Tara Rigler, noted that the president has said the detention center will “remain an available option in the war on terrorism.” She said he will make any decisions related to detainees “on a case-by-case basis and in the best interest of the United States,” but she declined to go into further detail.

The possibility that former Guantanamo prisoners would resume hostile activities has long been a concern that has played into the debate over releases. The office of the Director of National Intelligence said this summer in its most recent report on the subject that about 17 percent of the 728 detainees who have been released are “confirmed” and 12 percent are “suspected” of re-engaging in such activities.

But the vast majority of those re-engagements occurred with former prisoners who did not go through the security review that was set up under Obama. A task force that included agencies such as the Defense Department and CIA analyzed who was held at Guantanamo and determined who could be released and who should continue in detention. The previous administration also created a Periodic Review Board that considered not just the potential threat, but also such factors as detainees’ behavior in custody and their prospects for meaningful work on the outside. The recidivism rate for those released after those measures were adopted dropped to 4 percent confirmed and 8 percent suspected.

The 41 remaining prisoners include the five approved for transfer and 10 who have been charged by military commission. That leaves 26 in indefinite confinement who could potentially be reviewed and added to the cleared list. Several may still be prosecuted and are unlikely to be set free, but lawyers for the rest are considering filing new legal challenges, arguing that a policy of no releases would mean their confinement can no longer legally be justified as a temporary wartime measure.

In addition to Nasser, the prisoners who have been cleared for release come from Algeria, Yemen and Tunisia. Another was born in the United Arab Emirates but has been identified in Pentagon documents as an ethnic Rohingya who is stateless.

A review board cleared the Algerian, Sufiyan Barhoumi, and he was expected to go just before Obama left office, but then Defense Secretary Ash Carter did not sign off on the transfer and he had to stay behind despite a last-minute legal appeal filed in a federal court in Washington on behalf of him and Nasser. The other three have been approved for release by the task force since at least 2010. It’s not publicly known why the U.S. has not been able to resettle them. A lawyer appointed to represent the one born in the U.A.E. says the man has never agreed to a meeting.

“The daily reality of what it means to them is really settling in,” said Sullivan-Bennis, who met with Nasser and other detainees at the base last week to discuss legal strategies as the men near their 16th year confined at the U.S. base on the southeastern coast of Cuba.

Nasser’s journey to the prison was a long one.

Now 53, he was a member of a non-violent but illegal Moroccan Sufi Islam group in the 1980s, according to his Pentagon file. In 1996, he was recruited to fight in Chechyna but ended up in Afghanistan, where he trained at an al-Qaida camp. He was captured after fighting U.S. forces there and sent to Guantanamo in May 2002.

An unidentified military official appointed to represent him before the review board said he studied math, computer science and English at Guantanamo, creating a 2,000-word Arabic-English dictionary. The official told the board that Nasser “deeply regrets his actions of the past” and expressed confidence he would reintegrate in society. The board approved him by consensus in July 2016.

When Nasser learned he wasn’t going home, he initially stopped taking calls from his lawyers and they feared he might try to kill himself, Sullivan-Bennis said. More recently, she said, he has tried not to lose hope.

Another of his reprieve attorneys, Clive Stafford-Smith, said after visiting the prisoner at Guantanamo last week that Nasser is worried some in his large extended family won’t recognize him if he does go home.

“He holds it in,” the lawyer said. “You can see tears welling up in his eyes but he tries to put up a positive front.”

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WH Denies Trump’s Tweet Against Democratic Senator Was Sexist

U.S. President Donald Trump is facing a backlash after posting an insulting tweet about a Democratic senator from New York. Kirsten Gillibrand said Tuesday that the president is trying to silence her calls for his resignation following renewed allegations by women who claim that Trump harassed them sexually in the past. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports the White House has denied the allegations.

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Democrat Jones Wins Alabama Senate Election

Democrat Doug Jones won the special election to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat representing the southern state of Alabama, delivering what many see as a stunning setback to the Republican Party and a stinging rebuke to President Donald Trump, who urgently endorsed embattled Republican candidate Roy Moore despite a chorus of sexual misconduct allegations.

After a contentious campaign, voters backed Jones over Moore by a margin of 49.9 percent to 48.4 percent.

The result means that in January when Jones is sworn in, the Republican majority in the 100-seat Senate will shrink to 51-49 and make it tougher for President Trump to enact his agenda.

“We have shown not just around the state of Alabama, but we have shown the country the way, that we can be unified,” Jones told cheering supporters in a victory speech Tuesday night. He said the Senate has a lot of work to do on important issues facing the country, including health care, jobs and the economy.

Moore, at his own rally, did not concede the election to Jones.

“It’s not over. It’s going to take some time,” he said.

His campaign pointed to Alabama laws concerning recounts, including a provision that calls for an automatic recount of votes if the margin of victory is less than one-half of one percent.

​Speaking to CNN, Alabama’s Secretary of State John Merrill said he would find it “highly unlikely” that Jones will not be declared the winner when the vote tally is certified in the coming week. He said there are “not a whole lot of mistakes that are made” during the initial vote-counting process.

Moore had the backing of Trump, but faced opposition from other Republican leaders. He has been accused of sexual misconduct in the 1970s when his female accusers were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

Moore has consistently denied the allegations, but he initially admitted dating young women when he was an attorney general, before denying ever knowing any of his accusers.

Some Republicans, including Alabama’s other senator, Richard Shelby, opted to use write-in votes rather than support Moore. The number of total write-ins was about the same as the margin of victory for Jones.

Trump used Twitter to congratulate Jones while looking ahead to the next election for the Senate seat in 2020.

“The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win. The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time,” Trump wrote.

Jones is the first Democrat from Alabama to win a Senate seat since 1992 and will serve out the roughly three years remaining in the term Jeff Sessions won in 2014 before stepping down to serve as Trump’s attorney general.

Capri Cafaro, executive in residence at American University’s School of Public Affairs, told VOA that with the demographics of Alabama it is more likely than not that whoever challenges Jones in the 2020 race will win.

She said overall with Jones in the Senate she thinks there will be a slowdown in the Republicans’ legislative agenda, but with a major push already ongoing on tax reform in Congress, Republicans will do their best to finish that work before breaking for a holiday recess at the end of this month.

“Certainly now that the majority has shrunk by one seat and now they only have a one-seat margin, it will be more likely than not the Republicans will try to expedite the process,” she said.

Cafaro added that the controversies surrounding Moore, including his history of statements regarding the LGBT, Muslim and Jewish communities, as well as the recent rise in visibility and consequences surrounding high-profile sexual assault cases in the United States, made a difference in Tuesday’s result.

Jones, who said he was “overwhelmed” by the victory, did not specifically reference Moore in his victory speech, but did allude to some of the same themes.

“This entire race has been about dignity and respect. This campaign has been about the rule of law. This campaign has been about common courtesy and decency and making sure everyone in this state regardless of which zip code you live in is going to get a fair shake in life,” he said.

Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican who has announced he will not be running for re-election in his state of Arizona, posted on Twitter last week a picture of a campaign donation he was making to Jones. He followed that Tuesday night with a post that said, “Decency wins.”

Democratic Senator Cory Booker campaigned alongside Jones and said Alabama “gave the whole country a needed renewal of hope and the first ray of light of a rising sun and a coming new day.”

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Survey: Majority in US Believe Government Corruption Has Risen Under Trump

A new survey shows that nearly six in 10 Americans believe the level of government corruption has risen in the year since U.S. President Donald Trump was elected and that the White House is now a more corrupt institution than Congress.

Berlin-based Transparency International says its survey of 1,000 Americans in October and November revealed that 44 percent believe that Trump and White House officials are corrupt, up from 36 percent recorded in a similar survey in early 2016 at the start of former U.S. president Barack Obama’s last year in office.

The Trump White House responded Tuesday by saying it has acted to end corruption and increase transparency in government.

The anti-corruption group says nearly seven of 10 of those it surveyed believe the U.S. government is failing to fight corruption, up from half in 2016. The group defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.

“I think the survey shows that Americans are disappointed that the government has not delivered on its promises to clean up government. Around the world we’ve seen that when elected officials fail to deliver on their anti-corruption promises, it has a corrosive effect on public trust in government,” said Zoe Reiter, Transparency International’s representative. “We are having a cultural moment in history in America that our elected officials really need to wake up to.” 

Responding for the White House, Principal Deputy White House Spokesman Raj Shah said, “Actually, we’ve done quite a bit to end corruption and increase transparency in government. We’ve elevated the status of the ethics office, issued guidance to staff to be more cooperative with congressional resolutions, and we’ve said we want government agencies to be as transparent as possible. We have worked hard to work back the backlog of FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests to make information about the government more available. What people say they believe in this [TI] survey has more to do with the media barrage of negative coverage than with actual corruption.”

Global perspective

In the survey, Transparency International asked people how well their government is doing at fighting corruption.

In 2016, people in the United States had slightly more faith in their government’s efforts than the global average.

“In 2017, citizens’ responses to this question are now much worse and similar to what people in Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Uganda told us. In terms of perceptions of the level of corruption in the Office of the President, the global average is that less than a third of people say their executive is highly corrupt,” said Transparency International researcher Coralie Pring.

“In 2016, the U.S. was already over this mark [36 percent]. However, the figure is now even worse at 44 percent — comparable to what people in Pakistan, Armenia and El Salvador told us,” Pring told VOA.

Survey numbers

The survey says 38 percent of Americans believe members of Congress are corrupt and 33 percent believe government officials are. Congress fared the worst in last year’s survey.

The poll says 32 percent think business executives are corrupt, 23 percent believe local government officials are corrupt and 22 percent believe religious leaders are corrupt. Judges and magistrates fare the best, with 16 percent of Americans believing they are corrupt.

The survey shows that close to a third of African-Americans believe police are corrupt, compared to a fifth of those polled overall. Slightly more than half say they feared retaliation for reporting what they believe to be wrongdoing, up from slightly less than a third in 2016.

Transparency International says its survey shows “people are now more critical of government efforts to fight corruption. From just over half in 2016, nearly seven in 10 people in the United States now say that the government is doing a bad job at combating corruption within its own institutions. This is despite widespread commitments to clean up government.”

Those surveyed said that while public protests and speaking out can be effective in fighting corruption, the best way is to vote out of office politicians they believe to be corrupt.

The anti-corruption group says that while Trump was elected on a vow to make government work better “for those who feel their interests have been neglected by political elites,” the opposite has happened.

“Rather than feeling better about progress in the fight against corruption over the past year,” the group said, “a clear majority of people in America now say that things have become worse.”

VOA’s Ken Bredemeier and Peter Heinlein contributed to this report.

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Trump Blames Democrats for Stoking Sexual Misconduct Allegations

U.S. President Donald Trump blamed Democratic lawmakers Tuesday for fueling the controversy surrounding allegations of sexual misconduct before he was in the White House.

One day after 56 congresswomen, all members of the Democratic Women’s Working Group, called on House leaders to investigate the allegations, the president on Twitter accused Democrats of playing partisan politics and denied knowing any of the women who have leveled accusations against him.

“Despite thousands of hours wasted and many millions of dollars spent, the Democrats have been unable to show any collusion with Russia – so now they are moving on to the false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met.  FAKE NEWS!”

Trump also denounced New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who said Monday on CNN the “allegations are credible” and ” many of them are heartbreaking.”

“Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for [fellow New York Democratic Senator] Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump.  Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!”

Gillibrand responded with a tweet of her own, saying Trump is unable to deny women the right to voice their opinions about him.

“You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office.”

The 56 representatives sent a letter Monday to Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy and Democrat Elijah Cummings of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

“At least 17 women have publicly accused the president of sexual misconduct,” the letter from the Democratic Women’s Working Group says.

“The American people deserve a full inquiry into the truth of these allegations.  The president’s own remarks appear to back up the allegations … he feels at liberty to perpetrate such conduct against women.  We cannot ignore the multitude of women who have come forward with accusations against Mr. Trump.”

The letter invites the president to bring forth present evidence in his own defense.

Gillibrand and five other U.S. senators have called for Trump to resign over the allegations.

Gillibrand said if Trump does not immediately resign, Congress “should have appropriate investigations of his behavior and hold him accountable.”

The remarks are similar to calls by Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent, and Democratic Senators Mazie Hirono, Jeff Merkley, Cory Booker and Ron Wyden.  All of them urged the president to step down following the announced resignations of three lawmakers: Democratic Senator Al Franken, Democratic Congressman John Conyers and Republican Congressman Trent Franks over sexual misconduct allegations.

Renewed accusations

Three women, who last year accused Donald Trump of making unwanted sexual advances, renewed their allegations Monday, saying it was time Congress investigate claims against the president in the wake of dozens of other powerful American men being held accountable for their treatment of women.

Rachel Crooks, who accused Trump of forcibly kissing her 12 years ago when she worked as a receptionist at his Trump Tower business headquarters in New York, said lawmakers should “put aside their party affiliations and investigate Mr. Trump’s history of sexual misconduct.”

She appeared alongside the two other Trump accusers at a New York news conference: Samantha Holvey, who alleged that Trump walked uninvited into a backstage dressing area where she and others were in various states of undress at a 2012 beauty pageant Trump owned, and Jessica Leeds, who accused Trump of groping her when she sat next to him on a commercial airline flight in the late 1970s.

During last year’s presidential campaign, more than a dozen women accused Trump of sexual misconduct extending over several decades, but he denied all the accusations, and said that an explicit 2005 taped comment of him boasting of groping women was merely “locker room talk.”

The White House again rejected the allegations.

“These false claims, totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts, were addressed at length during last year’s campaign, and the American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory,” the White House said. “The timing and absurdity of these false claims speaks volumes and the publicity tour that has begun only further confirms the political motives behind them.”

Later, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “We feel these allegations have been answered” by the results of the 2016 election. “The American people knew this and voted for the president.”

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Alabama Voters Picking Senator in Race Watched Nationally

Voters in the southern U.S. state of Alabama are voting Tuesday in a closely watched election to fill the Senate seat left by Jeff Sessions when he became attorney general.

The race pits controversial Republican Roy Moore, who is battling sexual harassment allegations, against Democrat Doug Jones, a former prosecutor. The outcome of the race could have national implications for both political parties and for President Donald Trump.

WATCH: Stakes High for Trump in Senate Race in Alabama

Moore has denied several allegations of sexual misconduct when he was in his 30’s involving women who were teenagers at the time, including one who was 14 at the time.

“I do not know them. I had no encounter with them. I never molested anyone,” Moore said in a televised interview Sunday with the Voice of Alabama Politics.

Jones says the accusations make Moore unfit to serve in the Senate.

“It is crystal clear that these women are telling the truth and Roy Moore is not!”

Trump behind Moore

President Donald Trump recorded a get-out-the-vote phone message for Moore and spoke on his behalf at a rally in neighboring Florida on Friday.

“And we want jobs, jobs, jobs. So get out and vote for Roy Moore. Do it. Do it,” he said.

Trump held off on endorsing Moore for several weeks in the wake of the sexual misconduct allegations but now says electing Moore is a priority for him.

“We certainly don’t want to have a liberal Democrat who is controlled by Nancy Pelosi and controlled by Chuck Schumer. We don’t want to have that for Alabama,” he said.

In the final days of the campaign, Moore is also highlighting his support for the president’s agenda.

“We are going to see if the people of Alabama will support the president and support his agenda in Washington by electing somebody that is not part of the establishment there.”

Democrat Jones told supporters that Moore’s character is the issue. “We know who we are, Alabama, we know who we are. This is an election to tell the world who we are and what we stand for.”

Republican critics

Several Senate Republicans have called on Moore to quit the race, including majority leader Mitch McConnell.

“If he were to be elected, he would immediately have an Ethics Committee case, and the committee would take a look at the situation and give us advice.”

McConnell now says he will leave it to Alabama voters to render a judgment on Moore.

Alabama’s senior Senator Richard Shelby said on Sunday that he did not support Moore and wrote in another name instead. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that the Senate will “have a very tough decision to make” if Moore wins the race on Tuesday. Moore could face a move to expel him depending on whether there is an Ethics committee probe.

Several Senate Democrats said they will push for Moore’s ouster if he is elected. Democrats last week prevailed upon Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota to announce that he would be resigning soon in the wake of sexual allegations made against him.

Political fallout

Some Republicans worry that if Moore is victorious, he could become a rallying cry for Democrats looking to spur voter turnout in next year’s congressional midterm elections.

“Roy Moore, if he does win, is the gift that keeps on giving in terms of Democratic politics,” said South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham.

Given the recent ouster of Franken and veteran Michigan House Democrat John Conyers, some analysts believe a Moore victory could be damaging for Republicans in next year’s elections.

“Their outrage has been squared or cubed by recent events. And if Roy Moore is elected to the Senate, you could expect that level of outrage to go even higher,” said Brookings Institution scholar Bill Galston.

The Alabama race could also impact the balance of power in the Senate. Republicans currently hold a narrow 52 to 48 seat edge, but a victory by Jones would cut the margin to 51 to 49, possibly making it even more challenging for Trump to get some of his agenda through Congress.

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Waiting for Congress, Mnuchin Makes 2nd Emergency Debt Move

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday he is making a second emergency move to keep the government from going above the debt limit while awaiting congressional action to raise the threshold.

 

In a letter to congressional leaders, Mnuchin said he will not be able to fully invest in a large civil service retirement and disability fund. Skipped investments will be restored once the debt limit has been raised, he said.

 

In September, Congress agreed to suspend the debt limit, allowing the government to borrow as much as it needed. But that suspension ended Friday.

 

The government said the debt subject to limit stood at $20.46 trillion on Friday. Mnuchin has said he will employ various “extraordinary measures” to buy time until Congress raises the limit.

 

The Congressional Budget Office estimated in a recent report that Mnuchin has enough maneuvering room to stay under the limit until late March or early April.

 

If Congress has not acted before Mnuchin has exhausted his bookkeeping maneuvers, the government would be unable to borrow the money it needs to meet its day-to-day obligations, including sending out Social Security and other benefit checks and making interest payments on the national debt.

 

In August 2011, a standoff between Congress and the Obama administration over raising the borrowing limit came down to the wire and prompted the Standard & Poor’s credit rating agency to impose the first-ever downgrade of the government’s credit rating.

 

Raising the debt limit is a separate issue from the need for Congress to pass a spending bill to cover government operations. A failure to pass a spending bill triggers a partial government shutdown but does not carry the potential catastrophic market disruptions that a failure to raise the debt limit poses.

 

In his new letter, Mnuchin said, “I respectfully urge Congress to protect the full faith and credit of the United States by acting to increase the statutory debt limit as soon as possible.”

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Judge Rules US Military Must Accept Transgender Recruits by Jan. 1

Transgender recruits will be able to join the U.S. military as of Jan. 1, a federal judge ruled on Monday, denying a request by President Donald Trump’s administration to enforce his ban on transgender troops while the government appeals an order blocking it.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Washington refused to lift part of her Oct. 30 order stopping the ban from taking effect until the case is resolved, because it likely violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection under the law.

The administration had argued that the Jan. 1 deadline was problematic because tens of thousands of personnel would have to be trained on the medical standards needed to process

transgender applicants, and the military was not ready for that.

Kollar-Kotelly rejected the concerns, saying that preparations for accepting transgender troops were underway during the administration of Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.

“The directive from the Secretary of Defense requiring the military to prepare to begin allowing accession of transgender individuals was issued on June 30, 2016 – nearly one-and-a-half years ago,” the judge said.

Several transgender service members filed a lawsuit after Trump announced in July he would ban transgender people from the military, citing concern over military focus and medical costs.

In an August memorandum, Trump gave the military until March 2018 to revert to a policy prohibiting openly transgender individuals from joining the military and authorizing their discharge. The memo also halted the use of government funds for sex-reassignment surgery for active-duty personnel.

Defense Secretary James Mattis had previously delayed a deadline that had been set during the Obama administration to begin enlisting transgender recruits to Jan. 1, which Trump’s ban then put off indefinitely.

The Pentagon said on Monday that it was preparing to allow transgender people to enter the U.S. military on Jan. 1, following court orders.

The service members who sued Trump, Mattis and military leaders in August had been serving openly as transgender people in the U.S. Army, Air Force and Coast Guard. They said Trump’s ban discriminated against them based on their sex and transgender status, and that they had relied on the Obama-era policy to reveal they are transgender.

In her October ruling, Kollar-Kotelly said the Trump administration’s reasons for the ban “do not appear to be supported by any facts” and cited a military-commissioned study that debunked concerns about military cohesion or healthcare costs.

The U.S. Department of Justice appealed the injunction and also asked the judge to suspend the Jan. 1 enlistment date, warning it could cause harm and confusion in the ranks.

A second federal judge in Maryland also halted the ban in Nov. 21 ruling.

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Top EU Economic Powers Warn US About Tax Plans

The European Union’s top five economies are warning the United States that its massive tax overhaul could violate some of its international obligations and risks having “a major distortive impact” on trade.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, the finance ministers of Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Spain wrote they had “significant concerns” about three tax initiatives in particular.

In the letter, seen by The Associated Press, the five wrote that “it is important that the U.S. government’s rights over domestic tax policy be exercised in a way that adheres with international obligations to which it has signed-up.”

EU nations have been warily eyeing President Donald Trump’s domestic tax proposals as they made their way through Congress and have long expressed fears they might hurt world trade and EU companies in particular.

“The inclusion of certain less conventional international tax provisions could contravene the U.S.’s double taxation treaties and may risk having a major distortive impact on international trade,” the five wrote.

They specifically targeted the so-called Base Erosion and Anti-abuse Tax (or BEAT) Senate bill. This measure aims to combat what is called base erosion and profit shifting, the practice by some multinationals to avoid tax by exploiting mismatches in countries’ tax rules to artificially report their profits in countries with low or no taxes.

The finance ministers lauded the measure’s aim to ensure companies pay their fair share in taxes to the U.S. But they said that under the current plans, the measures would also hurt genuine commercial deals. In the financial sector in particular, “the provision appears to have the potential of being extremely harmful for international banking and insurance business.”

They said it “may lead to significant tax charges and may harmfully distort international financial markets.”

The EU’s 28 finance ministers had already expressed concern about the U.S. plans during a meeting last week, but now its five biggest economies have gone ahead with their own warning.

In Washington, Republicans are upbeat about finalizing the tax bill from the House and Senate versions for Trump’s first major legislative accomplishment in nearly 11 months in office.

Trump has set a Christmas deadline for signing the bill into law, giving lawmakers named to a special conference committee two weeks to iron out major differences in the House and Senate versions of the legislation. The conference committee has scheduled its first formal meeting for Wednesday.

Both measures would cut taxes by about $1.5 trillion over the next decade while adding billions to the $20 trillion deficit, combining steep tax cuts for corporations with more modest reductions for most individuals. Together, the changes would amount to the biggest overhaul of the U.S. tax system in 30 years, touching every corner of society.

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