Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits U.S. Embassy in London that Trump said was ‘bad deal’

LONDON —Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited  the U.S. Embassy here on Monday, days after President Trump criticized it as a “bad deal.”Woody Johnson, the U.S. ambassador to Britain, greeted Tillerson at the $1.2 billion building as workmen compled planting shrubs in the grounds, Reuters reported. Tillerson then met some of the U.S. Marines who are stationed there.The embassy opened its doors to the public last week. It moved from Mayfair in central London — where it had been since 1960 — to Nine Elms, a former industrial area on the south bank of the River Thames that is the subject of a multi-billion dollar regeneration scheme.Trump said earlier this month that he canceled a planned trip to London because he didn't want to cut the ribbon at the high-tech new building, thought to be the most expensive embassy in the world. More: New U.S. Embassy derided by President Trump opens in Britain More: Trump calls off trip to London, blaming Obama for Bush embassy decision “Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for ‘peanuts,’ only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!” Trump tweeted.However, according to the State Department and the U.S. Embassy, the administration of President George W. Bush — not Obama — decided to build a new embassy in 2006 and chose the new location in 2008. Officials also said the embassy was financed entirely by the sale of other U.S. property in England. More: Iran rejects Trump's call to renegotiate terms of nuclear deal More: New $1 billion U.S. Embassy in Britain: Things to know When asked when there would be a ribbon cutting ceremony, Johnson said: “At some point Continue Reading

Trump calls off trip to London, blaming Obama for Bush embassy decision

WASHINGTON — President Trump said he canceled a planned trip to London because he doesn't want to cut the ribbon at the new U.S. Embassy there that he described as a "bad deal."Trump's on-again, off-again visit to the United Kingdom had been in the planning stages but hadn't been officially announced. The latest cancellation is sure to increase tensions with a vital ally that has broken with Trump recently over his anti-Muslim rhetoric. Some neighborhoods in London declared themselves off-limits to the president.Trump confirmed his decision on Twitter late Thursday night after British newspapers reported that fears of mass protests had scuttled the trip. A poll from last year found that about 4% of Britain's population — roughly 2.5 million people — would protest a state visit by Trump. But he gave a different reason, blaming former President Obama."Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for 'peanuts,' only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars," Trump said in a tweet late Thursday. "Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!"The problem with that explanation is that Trump's tweet misrepresented the history of the U.S. Embassy move. According to the State Department and the U.S. Embassy itself, it was the administration of President George W. Bush — not Obama — that decided to build a new embassy in 2006 and chose the new location in 2008. And the billion-dollar price tag is typical of an embassy construction of that size. Officials also said that it was financed entirely by the sale of other U.S. property in England — not new taxpayer money. It opens to the public on Jan. 16. The diplomatic compound moved from Grosvenor Square in the well-heeled Mayfair neighborhood of central London, to Nine Elms, a formerly Continue Reading

What links My Ding-a-Ling to Ping Pong diplomacy?

This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations site. Year’s end is a time for taking stock, counting successes, and assessing failures. It is also time for remembering those who are no longer with us.Here are ten Americans who died in 2017 who through their vision, service, intellect, or courage helped shape U.S. foreign policy. They will be missed. Keep up with this story and more Benjamin Barber (b. 1939) was a political scientist who wrote Jihad vs. McWorld among other books. Born and raised in Greenwich Village in New York City, Barber earned his undergraduate degree from Grinnell College and his Ph.D. from Harvard. He taught for three decades at Rutgers University, before joining the faculty at the University of Maryland in 2001.Jihad vs. McWorld was released in 1995, but it didn’t become a bestseller until after September 11, 2001. It argued that two competing forces were shaping the world and threatening democracy— retribalization and globalization. As Barber later put it : “These two sets of forces could not avoid clashing and exploding; they were going to create nothing but death and explosion unless we did this third thing, and we didn’t.”The third thing was to create authentic democracies. How to advance and perfect democracy was a constant theme in Barber’s writings. His other books included Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age (1984) and The Conquest of Politics: Liberal Philosophy in Democratic Times (1988), and Fear’s Empire: War, Terrorism, and Democracy (2003).Chuck Berry (b. 1926) pioneered rock 'n' roll. Berry was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. He recorded his first song, “ Maybellene,” an adaptation of the country hit “ Ida Red,” in 1955. It was a smashing success. By the end of the 1950s, Berry had recorded seven more top forty hits.He was known for his distinctive guitar-playing techniques and his trademark Continue Reading

Novelist John Le Carré Reflects On His Own ‘Legacy’ Of Spying

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Today, we continue our Holiday Week series, collecting some of our favorite interviews of the year and feature our interview with John le Carre. He's famous for his spy novels, but his writing has been praised for transcending genre fiction and simply being great literature. Many of his books were adapted into films or TV series, including "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold," "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and "The Night Manager." Before writing espionage novels, le Carre was a spy. He worked for Britain's domestic intelligence service, MI5, and its foreign intelligence service, MI6. He was still working for MI6 when his third book, the Cold War novel "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold," became an international best-seller. One of the characters in that novel, George Smiley, became the main character in several of le Carre's later books. In his recent memoir, "The Pigeon Tunnel" le Carre wrote about creating the character of Smiley. Smiley is back in le Carre's latest novel, "A Legacy Of Spies," which was published in September, the month I spoke with him. The main character, Peter Guillam, had been a protege of Smiley's. In the new novel, Guillam is retired, but he's forced to re-examine actions he took when he was a spy during the Cold War that may have cost the lives of two people who are close to him. (SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST) GROSS: John le Carre, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let's begin with a reading from your new novel, "A Legacy Of Spies." Would you read the first page for us? JOHN LE CARRE: Sure. (Reading) What follows is a truthful account, as best I'm able to provide it, of my role in the British deception operation, code named Windfall, that was mounted against the East German intelligence service, Stasi, in the late 1950s and early '60s had resulted in the death of the best British secret agent I ever worked with and of the innocent woman for whom he gave his life. A professional intelligence Continue Reading

Final goodbye: Roll call of some who died in 2017

Bernard Mcghee, Associated Press Updated 10:55 am, Sunday, December 31, 2017 window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-5', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 5', target_type: 'mix' }); _taboola.push({flush: true}); window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-10', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 10', target_type: 'mix' }); _taboola.push({flush: true}); window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-15', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 15', target_type: 'mix' }); _taboola.push({flush: true}); window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-20', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 20', target_type: 'mix' }); _taboola.push({flush: true}); window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-25', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 25', target_type: 'mix' }); _taboola.push({flush: true}); window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-30', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 30', target_type: 'mix' }); _taboola.push({flush: true}); window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-35', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 35', target_type: 'mix' }); _taboola.push({flush: true}); window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-c', container: 'taboola-interstitial-gallery-thumbnails-40', placement: 'Interstitial Gallery Thumbnails 40', target_type: Continue Reading

Though the 2012 presidential race was competitive at home, it was no contest overseas

LONDON — He won, and the word "phew" trended worldwide on Twitter. Despite a hard-fought campaign in the United States, there was never any contest overseas. Gone are the days when President Barack Obama was seen as a youthful, messianic figure capable of magically curing the world's woes. But he remains widely popular, and his triumph reassured many who feared an abrupt change in U.S. policy could spell trouble.   Even Tom McGrath, president of Republicans Abroad France, conceded: "It's clear that if they could vote, Europe would vote 80 percent for Obama."   Part of the reason is continuity. Challenger Mitt Romney is a little-known figure internationally with scant foreign policy experience, while Obama was seen — even by most critics — as a steady hand following a predictable course.   If he hasn't brought peace to the world's fire zones, or done much to slow climate change, or sparked global economic growth, he is credited at least with having started no new wars, and having tried to heal relations with the Muslim world even while aggressively pursuing al-Qaida and its affiliates.   Itsuo Inouye/AP U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos, center, and Japanese high-school students celebrate reports that President Barack Obama won the presidential election at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. "I think it is good that Obama won," said Pawel Kukiela, a 30-year-old company consultant in Poland, one of the few countries around the world where Romney has sizeable support. "He has a good program and I think it will be much better for Obama to continue what he has started." A BBC survey during the run-up to the election found remarkable support for an Obama second term. More than 21,000 people in 21 countries were questioned in July, August and September, with residents in all but one country backing Obama. Only Pakistan, where Obama's heavy reliance on drone strikes has been unpopular, preferred Continue Reading

Romney outrages Palestinians by saying Jewish culture helps make Israel more successful

JERUSALEM - Mitt Romney told Jewish donors Monday that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the nearby Palestinians, outraging Palestinian leaders who called his comments racist and out of touch. ``As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,'' the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who breakfasted around a U-shaped table at the luxurious King David Hotel. The reaction of Palestinian leaders to Romney's comments was swift and pointed. ``What is this man doing here?'' said Saeb Erekat, a top Palestinian official. ``Yesterday, he destroyed negotiations by saying Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and today he is saying Israeli culture is more advanced than Palestinian culture. Isn't this racism?'' The economic disparity between the Israelis and the Palestinians is actually much greater than Romney stated. Israel had a per capita gross domestic product of about $31,000 in 2011, while the West Bank and Gaza had a per capita GDP of just over $1,500, according to the World Bank. Romney, seated next to billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson at the head of the table, told donors at his fundraiser that he had read books and relied on his own business experience to understand why the difference is so great. ``And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,'' Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the ``hand of providence.'' Romney, in comparing the Israeli and Palestinian economies, made no mention of the Continue Reading

Romney, the quieter American

A generation ago, it was the three I’s. A presidential challenger’s obligatory foreign trip meant Ireland, Italy and Israel. Mitt Romney’s itinerary is slightly different: Britain, Poland and Israel. Not quite the naked ethnic appeal of yore. Each destination suggests a somewhat more subtle affinity: Britain, playing to our cultural connectedness with the Downton Abbey folks who’ve been at our side in practically every fight for the last hundred years; Poland, representing the “new Europe,” the Central Europeans so unashamedly pro-American; Israel, appealing to most American Jews but also to an infinitely greater number of passionately sympathetic evangelical Christians. Unlike Barack Obama, Romney abroad will not be admonishing his country, criticizing his President or declaring himself a citizen of the world. Indeed, Romney should say nothing of substance, just offer effusive expressions of affection for his hosts — and avoid needless contretemps, like his inexplicably dumb and gratuitous critique of Britain’s handling of the Olympic Games. The whole point is to show appreciation for close allies, something the current President has conspicuously failed to do. On the contrary. Obama started his presidency by returning to the British Embassy the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office. Then came the State Department official who denied the very existence of a U.S.-British special relationship, saying: “There’s nothing special about Britain. You’re just the same as the other 190 countries in the world.” To be topped off by the slap they received over the Falkland Islands, an issue the Brits had considered closed since they repelled the Argentine invasion there 30 years ago. They were not amused by the Obama administration’s studied neutrality between Britain and Argentina, with both a State Department spokesman and the President ostentatiously employing Continue Reading

China confirms the execution of British citizen Akmal Shaikh, despite UK plea

URUMQI, China - China brushed aside international appeals Tuesday and executed a British drug smuggler who relatives say was mentally unstable and unwittingly lured into crime. Britain's prime minister quickly criticized the execution — China's first of a European citizen in nearly 60 years. "I condemn the execution of Akmal Shaikh in the strongest terms, and am appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted. I am particularly concerned that no mental health assessment was undertaken," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in a statement issued by the Foreign Office. The press office of the Xinjiang region where Shaikh had been held confirmed the execution in a faxed statement. Shaikh, 53, first learned he was about to be executed Monday from his visiting cousins, who made a last-minute plea for his life. They say he is mentally unstable and was lured to China from a life on the street in Poland by men playing on his dreams to record a pop song for world peace. Brown had spoken personally to China's prime minister about his case. Foreign Secretary David Miliband also condemned the execution and said there were unanswered questions about the trial. "I also deeply regret the fact that our specific concerns about the individual in this case were not taken into consideration ... These included mental health issues, and inadequate professional interpretation during the trial," Miliband said in a statement. China defended the case and criticized Brown's comments, saying drug smuggling was a serious crime. "We express our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the British accusation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular news conference. Jiang said she hoped the case did not harm bilateral relations, and called on London not to create any "obstacles" to better ties. Shaikh was arrested in 2007 for carrying a suitcase with almost 9 pounds (4 kilograms) of heroin into China on a flight Continue Reading

Britain to cut troops in Iraq next spring

LONDON - Britain will halve its remaining troop contingent in Iraq next spring, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said yesterday - and there may be no Brits left by the end of next year. The announcement came on a day in which a series of bomb attacks killed 21 people, including 10 civilians near a police station in a village near Samarra, 62 miles north of Baghdad.Brown, under fire over his decision not to call an election for this year, told lawmakers Britain would lower troop levels to 2,500 by mid-2008 and redeploy logistics staff to neighboring states. The prime minister was clearly hoping the announcement would help boost his popularity among a public weary of the war.Brown said his Iraq plan follows the success of the U.S. troop surge this summer and efforts by Iraqis to drive insurgents from havens in Anbar Province, west of Baghdad.Meanwhile, Iraqi police said a car bomb killed two people near Poland's Baghdad embassy, five days after the Polish ambassador was wounded in a separate attack. Nine others were killed by roadside bombs or car bombs across Iraq. One car bomb killed four people and wounded 10, including women and children, near central Baghdad's Technology University, police said.Roman Polko, the head of Poland's national security agency, told Polish television's tvn24 that Poland was planning to move to new buildings inside the Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, home to the U.S. and British embassies as well as the Iraqi parliament and many government ministries.Poland's acting Baghdad ambassador, Waldemar Figaj, said there were no casualties among the staff and no damage to the embassy in the latest attack. He described the first blast as "very, very powerful."The shock wave from the blast blew open windows at the embassy, but there was no damage. "I don't believe we were targeted. We just felt the impact," Figaj said. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading