Russian Minister Denounces US Exerting Pressure on Venezuela

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed out that the U.S. had "dusted off the notorious Monroe Doctrine" to threaten countries like Venezuela.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said Wednesday that the use of force to influence Latin American countries, by the United States, is "exerting unprecedented pressure" on Venezuela.

RELATED: Russia: US Wants to Revive Monroe Doctrine, Persecute Venezuela

"In the Western Hemisphere, the U.S. is taking up the Monroe doctrine, which aims to limit the sovereignty of Latin American countries, to put pressure on those who do not follow the same policies as Washington, as an instrument of pressure they take into account all possible methods, including force," said the defence minister.

"The best example is the situation in Venezuela, where the legitimate government is exposed to unprecedented external pressure."

On April 13, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also pointed out that Washington had "dusted off the notorious Monroe Doctrine" to threaten countries like Venezuela.

Lavrov said that the United States has so far failed in its attempts to force a change of government in Venezuela, but has continued to attempt to force the exit of Nicolas Maduro.

Recently Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zajarova also warned the U.S. government against continuing on the path of antagonism and issuing threats to countries in Latin America.

"It seems that Washington is looking back on time and plans to return, not even 50 or 60 years ago, but 200, since John Bolton has declared again in public about  the resurrection of the Monroe Doctrine, which declared Latin America 'the zone of exclusive interests of the U.S.' in the colonial era," the spokeswoman stated.

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Iran Not Backing Down: IRGC Navy Vows To Block US Ships From Important Waterway

The Trump administration announced on Monday that they would be cancelling waivers to eight countries buying oil from Iran as they tighten the economic blockade against the Persian Gulf nation. 

The spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Abbas Mousavi, issued a statement on Monday that warned of "adverse consequences" if the U.S. ended their sanctions waiver on the Persian Gulf nation's oil imports.

RELATED:US Ends Sanction Waivers for Countries Importing Iranian oil

"Given the illegal nature of the U.S. sanctions, Iran has not and will not consider any value for the waivers granted," Mousavi said. "However, in view of the negative effects in politics of these sanctions ... Iranian Foreign Ministry has been continuously in touch with relevant domestic institutions while holding comprehensive consultations with many foreign partners, including Europeans."

The Trump administration announced on Monday that they would be cancelling waivers to eight countries buying oil from Iran as they tighten the economic blockade against the Persian Gulf nation. 

Mousavi said Iran will take appropriate actions to counter the U.S. move, adding that his government will make it public. 

Not everyone in the Iranian government and military were as cordial as Mousavi, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Navy, Alireza Tangsiri, vowed to take harsher actions against the U.S.

Tangsiri vowed to close the important Strait of Hormuz, which would be a major blow to the U.S. Navy who is currently docked at their largest Middle Eastern naval base in Bahrain.  

“If we are prevented from using it, we will close it,” Tangsiri said, as cited by the state-run Fars News Agency. “In the event of any threats, we will not have the slightest hesitation to protect and defend Iran’s waterway.”

Iran's oil exports have dropped to about 1 million barrels per day (bpd) from more than 2.5 million bpd prior to the re-imposition of sanctions.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a briefing Monday, said "we're going to zero across the board," saying the United States had no plans for a grace period for compliance beyond May 1.

The White House intends to deprive Iran of its lifeline of $50 billion in annual oil revenues, Pompeo said, as it pressures Tehran to curtail its nuclear program, ballistic missile tests and support for conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

A senior administration official said President Donald Trump was confident Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will fulfill their pledges to compensate for the shortfall in the oil market. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Frank Fannon said Riyadh was taking "active steps" to ensure global oil markets were well supplied.

Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih, in a statement on Monday, did not commit to raising production, saying it was "monitoring the oil market developments" after the U.S. statement, and that it would coordinate with other oil producers to ensure a balanced market. OPEC is next scheduled to meet in June.

While Saudi Arabia is expected to boost output again, analysts fear the U.S. move - along with sanctions on Venezuela - will leave the world with inadequate spare capacity.

The international Brent crude oil benchmark rose to more than $74 a barrel on Monday, the highest since November, due to the uncertainty surrounding increased supply from Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations, while U.S. prices hit a peak of $65.92 a barrel, the highest since October 2018.

 
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US leads effort to pump $10bn into Venezuela's shattered trade once Maduro is out

Having strangled Venezuela's economy with its ever-expanding sanctions, the US has now volunteered to negotiate a $10 billion trade aid package to give to Caracas – but not until its own protege is in power.

Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated that the US has been leading the effort to salvage the Venezuelan economy, which his own country has been choking off with the long and continuously growing list of punitive measures. The help will only be available to the "new government" of self-proclaimed "interim president" Juan Guaido, who Washington has been backing in a push for regime change in Caracas.

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"We're going to be working on trying to put together a consortium of about $10 billion of trade finance that would be available for the new government to spark trade," Mnuchin said.

Venezuela has been battling with soaring inflation, which made basic goods unaffordable for the general public and gave rise to a flourishing black market. A shortage of food and water as well as near-daily blackouts triggered mass migration from Venezuela, as its economy lies in tatters. The economic woes have been exacerbated by political turmoil, with the US and its allies betting on Guaido to exploit the economic hardship and incite a coup against the elected Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Mnuchin was speaking several days after the fifth meeting of 20 finance ministers from the group of the so-called "friends of Venezuela" that he hosted at the Treasury Department on Thursday. The meeting also featured the chief of Guaido's economic advisers, Dr Ricardo Hausmann.

Speaking after the meeting, Mnuchin said that the ministers agreed to "support robust engagement by the international financial institutions to assist interim president Guaido's government as it prepares for new elections," noting that "very significant trade finance" would also be needed to revitalize the country's private sector.

For now, though, the US and about 50 countries that have vouched for Guaido will keep pushing to see him come to power.

READ MORE: US ‘seriously considering’ military option in Venezuela as Rubio seeks to declare Maduro ‘terrorist’

"We will continue to support Venezuela in its transition to a legitimate government as soon as possible to meet the people's aspirations for a better life and democratic future," Mnuchin said.

The US have already disrupted much of Venezuela's oil trade, which is Caracas' primary source of revenue, by confiscating assets of Venezuela's state-run oil and gas giant in the US and barring American customers from paying for Venezuelan oil, which led to a sharp drop in exports. In a fresh batch of sanctions on Friday, Washington placed nine oil tankers and four companies on the US Treasury blacklist. 

Mnuchin said that US officials took up the issue of financial aid to Venezuela with representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. The IMF has yet to agree to the idea, however: Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on Saturday that it would take the “large majority” of its 189 members to greenlight the aid package, which is currently far from assured.

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US Charges WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange With Hacking Conspiracy

WASHINGTON: US prosecutors announced charges on Thursday against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, accusing him of conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to gain access to a government computer as part of one of the largest compromises of classified information in U.S. history.

Assange, arrested by British police in London and carried out of Ecuador's embassy there, faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison on the American charges, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement. His London arrest paved the way for his possible extradition to the United States.

Assange's indictment arose from a long-running criminal investigation dating back to the administration of former President Barack Obama. It was triggered in part by the publication by WikiLeaks in 2010 of hundreds of thousands of U.S. military reports about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and American diplomatic communications.

The Justice Department said Assange, 47, was arrested under an extradition treaty between the United States and Britain and charged with conspiracy to commit computer intrusion.

The indictment said that Assange in March 2010 engaged in a conspiracy to assist Manning in cracking a password stored on U.S. Department of Defense computers connected to the Secret Internet Protocol Network (SIPRNet), a U.S. government network used for classified documents and communications.

Representatives for Manning had no immediate comment on the indictment.

The Justice Department said Manning had access to the computers as an intelligence analyst and was using them to download classified records to transmit to WikiLeaks. Cracking the password would have enabled Manning to log on to the computers under a username other than her own, making it more difficult for investigators to determine the source of the illegal disclosures, the department said.

Manning was jailed on March 8 after being held in contempt by a judge in Virginia for refusing to testify before a federal grand jury in what is widely believed to be related to the Assange investigation.

Manning was convicted by court-martial in 2013 of espionage and other offenses for furnishing more than 700,000 documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts to WikiLeaks while she was an intelligence analyst in Iraq. Obama commuted the final 28 years of Manning's 35-year sentence.

The Obama administration decided not to prosecute WikiLeaks and Assange on the grounds that the work of the website was too similar to journalistic activities protected by the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

SPECIAL COUNSEL INQUIRY

Special Counsel Robert Mueller also underscored the role of WikiLeaks in his 22-month investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. election. The website published emails damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that Mueller and U.S. intelligence agencies have said were stolen by Russia in a bid to boost Republican Donald Trump's candidacy.

The Justice Department said Manning and Assange engaged in real-time discussions concerning Manning's transmission of classified records to Assange in which Assange encouraged Manning to provide more information.

The department's statement quoted an exchange between the two in which Manning told Assange that "after this upload, that's all I really have got left," with Assange replying that "curious eyes never run dry in my experience."

WikiLeaks has faced criticism from U.S. officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In a 2017 speech when he was CIA director, Pompeo called Assange a "fraud" and WikiLeaks a "hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia."

But Trump praised the group during the 2016 presidential race. At a campaign rally shortly before the November 2016 U.S. election, Trump said "I love WikiLeaks" after it released the hacked Democratic emails that harmed Clinton's candidacy.

Assange, who took refuge in Ecuador's London embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden in connection with a sexual assault investigation, has said he does not know where Democratic Party-related emails WikiLeaks published before the election originated, though he has said he did not get them from Russia.

The fact that the United States was pursuing charges against Assange emerged in November, when a document errantly filed by federal prosecutors in Virginia in an unrelated terrorism investigation indicated that he had secretly been indicted by U.S. authorities. The indictment was issued in March 2018, a U.S. law enforcement official said.

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Nothing short of total obedience? Pentagon rejects any talks with Turkey in S-400 vs F-35 row

The Pentagon has firmly rejected Turkey's offer to create a bilateral working group that would ensure that no military secrets of the US are compromised once Ankara deploys the Russian S-400 air defense systems.

Trying to preserve a working relationship with Washington amid disagreements over Turkey’s purchase of modern weapon systems from Russia, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Wednesday proposed creating a bilateral technical panel to make sure that the S-400 “will not be a threat – neither to F-35s nor the NATO systems.” He reiterated the need for such an arrangement on Thursday, before the Pentagon rejected the Turkish proposal, insisting that it stands opposed to American and Russian weapons working side-by-side.

“A technical working group at this stage isn’t necessary or a path the US is even considering as a resolution,” said Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon.

We have been clear with Turkey at all levels – the S-400 is a threat to the F-35 program and the safety of our NATO allies.

Also on rt.com ‘US must choose between Turkey and terrorists’: Ankara slaps Pence with counter-ultimatum...

The Pentagon halted the transfer of F-35 technology to Turkey earlier this week, until Ankara abandons its planned acquisition of the Russian hardware. The move was followed by a warning from Vice President Mike Pence, who threatened to kick Ankara out from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program unless it behaves like a good NATO ally and bows to Washington’s conditions. Turkey joined the Program in 2002 and, over the years, invested more than $1.25 billion in developing and manufacturing various parts for the jet.

Also on rt.com Russian S-400 purchase a ‘done deal,’ despite US freeze on F-35 deliveries – Turkish FM...

Washington remains committed to pressing Turkey into buying US-made Patriot missile defense systems instead. “This issue with the S-400 is a very serious issue,” the Pentagon’s spokesman Charlie Summers told reporters on Thursday. “Should they accept the S-400, that would definitely affect the F-35.”

Turkey “could agree on a price” for the Patriots, pending congressional approval to resolve the F-35 issue, yet is does not consider it as an alternative to the S-400, Cavusoglu reiterated. The minister also emphasized that relations with Russia are not seen as an alternative to the NATO alliance.

Also on rt.com Turkey must choose between remaining NATO partner or buying Russian S-400 – Pence...

Downplaying the friction in bilateral ties, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he remains “very confident” that the sides “will find a path forward,” following a meeting between top US and Turkish diplomats. Ankara has, meanwhile, accused the US State Department of making false claims and of failing to mention that Pompeo had been threatening Turkey with “devastating consequences.”

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US top brass warn against punishing unbending India for buying Russia’s S-400 missiles

US defense officials are trying to convince India to reject Russian S-400 missiles, but warn against slapping sanctions on the nation if it completes the deal. However, as with Turkey, efforts have so far failed.

India’s decision to purchase the S-400 air defense system from Russia, as well as the fact that it leaves New Delhi exposed to American sanctions, was discussed during a House Armed Service committee hearing on Wednesday.

Assistant Defence Secretary Randall Schriver told the lawmakers he thought “it would be an unfortunate decision” if the Indians completed the S-400 deal. “We are very keen to see them make an alternative choice,” he said, adding that “we’re working with them to provide potential alternatives”.

Also on rt.com Russia to supply India with 5 S-400 systems, defying Washington sanctions...

A similar line came from Admiral Philip Davidson, Commander of the Indo-Pacific Command. “I continue to make the point with them that our interoperability and compatibility going forward will be advantaged with the purchase of US systems,” he said.

The purchase of advanced Russian arms makes any country a potential target for US secondary sanctions under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). The US slapped some on China for buying Russian Su-35 fighter jets and S-400 missiles in September last year.

This didn’t stop India from signing a contract a month later, purchasing five S-400 batteries with estimated worth of $5.43 billion. The two nations have a decades-long record of defense cooperation. Russian producers supplied some of the most advanced weapon systems to the Indian Armed Forces as well as contributed to joint projects like the BrahMos supersonic missile.

The threat of possible US sanctions was of course retained during the negotiations, with Indian officials insisting that New Delhi was pursuing an independent defense policy and was not dissuaded by it.

“When Russians asked about the American sanctions, my reply was, ‘Yes, we do appreciate that there could be sanctions on us, but we follow an independent policy,’” General Bipin Rawat, India’s chief of staff, said in the run-up to signing the deal.

Also on rt.com Footage of India’s satellite-killer missile launch appears online (VIDEO)...

Arguably adding insult to Injury, India even agreed that the contract would be paid in rubles rather than dollars, as was customary in international arms sales. Russia’s policy is to move away from the greenback where it makes sense, which Washington understandably does not appreciate.

Schriver warned the committee about being too zealous in implementing the provisions of the law against India.

“We want to work through it because India is an emerging partnership for us,” he said. The official added the law “is not designed to be an impediment in the growing strategic partnership we have with India. It’s designed for consequence to Russia.”

Potential US-made alternatives for the Russian offer would include Raytheon’s Patriot system or possibly Lockheed Martin’s THAAD system. The former is pitched as the better option to another buyer of the S-400, Turkey. Washington is pressuring Ankara into changing its mind on the deal with Russia by threatening that it could block delivery of F-35 fighter jets.

Speaking to the same Armed Service Committee a day before Schriver and Davidson, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Washington wants Turkey to get F-35s and that the only way for Ankara to do it is to buy US missiles. “We need Turkey to buy the Patriot,” he stressed.

Turkey refuses to yield to US pressure, but hinted it may buy the Patriot system to complement the S-400, not as a replacement.

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US: Democrat Presidential Candidates Boycott AIPAC Convention

2020 Democrat presidential candidates will skip AIPAC annual conference revealing the growing discontent of progressives with the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S.

The 2020 Democratic Presidential nominations will not be attending pro-Israel lobby’s annual convention this year. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual conference will start Sunday amidst a growing debate about Israel’s influence on internal politics in the United States.

ANALYSIS: 5 Reasons Why Ilhan Omar Is Right About AIPAC

Thousands of high-profile pro-Israel lobbyists, lawmakers, and politicians are going to the Washington Convention center to attend the event. Around 15,000 Jewish-Americans are also expected to visit Washington.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will deliver a keynote address Tuesday, a day after meeting United States President Donald Trump Monday.

Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren said they will not go to the event. AIPAC’s list of confirmed speakers also does not feature any Democrat running for president or any expected candidate like former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

This decision of the Democratic candidates is a reflection of the debates within the party in the recent past regarding the pro-Israel lobby’s influence on U.S. politics, andwhich revealed many Democrat’s opposition it.  

"AIPAC is faced with a unique set of challenges this year. There is a change in the discourse," said Abed A Ayoub, national legal and policy director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington.

"You see a lot more individuals on the left, Democrats and progressives, realizing that Israel is complicit in human rights violations, that what they are doing to the Palestinians is essentially an Apartheid state and the US is supporting this to the tune of billions of dollars a year," Ayoub said.

RELATED: US Nonprofits Funding 'Jewish KKK' in Israel: Investigation

MoveOn, a progressive advocacy group with millions of members, decided to call on Democratic presidential candidates to boycott AIPAC's conference after over 74 percent of its members expressed support for the move in an online survey.

"Any progressive vying to be the Democratic nominee for president should skip the AIPAC conference,” MoveOn said.

"The Democratic public position on Israeli policy has really become more critical over time," Shibley Telhami, a pollster at the University of Maryland, told Al Jazeera. "Every politician who is clever and wants to win is going to have to weigh where AIPAC is on this issue, but they can't ignore the public and the public right now is on the other side."

AIPAC is an American pro-Israel lobby group based in Washington D.C. The AIPAC Policy Conference is the largest gathering of America's pro-Israel community. The conference is a celebration of the U.S.-Israel partnership and the premier meeting to lobby their Congressional office to reinforce the U.S.-Israel relationship.

AIPAC's controversial history came under the spotlight after U.S. Congresswomen Ilhan Omar said that members of Congress support Israel because of money they receive from the pro-Israel lobby. She tweeted that support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins” i.e., Benjamin Franklin whose image appears on the US$100 bill.

"There's clearly a shift happening in the progressive base, where the clearly partisan actions of AIPAC can no longer be pushed under the rug," Iram Ali, campaign director at MoveOn told Middle East Eye.

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Russia Warns US of 'Unpredictable Consequences' of Arms Race

The United States withdrawal from multilateral treaties can foster a large-scale arms race.

At the Conference on Disarmament held in Geneva, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Wednesday that the U.S. recent withdrawal from both the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) leads to an “Arms race” with likely worse consequences than the Cold War’s one.

RELATED: Russia, Iran: Dedicated to 'Internal Peace' in Venezuela

"Washington made no secret of an intention to have their hands free in order to build up unrestricted missile capabilities in the regions where the U.S. tends to push through their own interests," the Russian top diplomat said and explained that the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM and INF treaties "could lead to a renewed widescale arms race with unpredictable consequences."

The Rotating Presidency of the Conference on Disarmament is held by the United States, a nuclear country whose Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance Yleem Poblete accused Russia of "aggressive activities" that have shaken European security.

Lavrov responded said the U.S. stance does not favor overcoming the Conference on Disarmament's crisis and called on Western countries to properly assess the situation.

UN in Brussels @UNinBrussels "We need a new vision for arms control in the complex international security environment of today" -- @antonioguterres at Conference on Disarmament urging countries to seek security in diplomacy & dialogue, rather than weapons. https://bit.ly/2U5SDrK

"I'm still confident that we all have enough wisdom and strength to overcome this crisis, preserve and consolidate the existing system of international agreements on arms control and non-proliferation, and complement it with new arrangements,” Lavrov said and hoped that “our Western colleagues will be in a position to properly assess the situation and set their priorities in a new way and rejoin us in the collective efforts to ensure peace and security including arms control."

In early February, the United States confirmed the suspension of the INF Treaty, a multilateral agreement signed by Moscow and Washington in 1988, which prohibited countries from manufacturing, deploying or testing both short-range (500-1,000 km) missiles and medium range (1,000-5,500 km) missiles.

According to President Donald Trump administration, however, Russia developed the 9M729 missile, which the White House has claimed violates the INF Treaty.

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