On Eve of Brexit Summit, Northern Ireland Rejects Johnson’s Plan

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his 27 counterparts from across the European Union are converging on Brussels Thursday for a summit they hope will finally lay to rest the acrimony and frustration of a three-year divorce fight.

Yet even before dawn, Johnson had a serious setback when his Northern Irish government allies said they would not back his compromise proposals. The prime minister needs all the support he can get to push any deal past a deeply divided parliament.

It only added to the high anxiety that reigned Thursday morning, with the last outstanding issues of the divorce papers still unclear.

Technical negotiators again went into the night Wednesday to fine tune customs and sales tax regulations that will have to regulate trade in goods between the Northern Ireland and Ireland, where the U.K. and the EU share their only land border.

European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier attends the weekly EU College of Commissioners meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels, Oct. 16, 2019. EU and British negotiators have so far failed to get a breakthrough in the Brexit talks.

And they were set to continue right up to the summit’s midafternoon opening. If a deal is agreed on during the two-day summit, Johnson hopes to present it to Britain’s Parliament at a special sitting Saturday.

After months of gloom over the stalled Brexit process, European leaders have sounded upbeat this week. French President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday that “I want to believe that a deal is being finalized,” while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said negotiations were “in the final stretch.”

Johnson, who took office in July vowing Britain would finally leave the EU on Oct. 31, come what may, was slightly more cautious. He likened Brexit to climbing Mount Everest, saying the summit was in sight, though still shrouded in cloud.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party added to those clouds early Thursday.  DUP leader Arlen Foster and the party’s parliamentary chief Nigel Dodds said they “could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues,” referring to a say the Northern Irish authorities might have in future developments.

Both the customs and consent arrangements are key to guaranteeing an open border between the U.K.’s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland — the main obstacle to a Brexit deal.

Foster and Dodds said they would continue to work with the U.K. government to get a “sensible” deal. The problem is that the closer Johnson aligns himself with the DUP, the further he removes himself from the EU, leaving him walking a political tightrope.

Brexit negotiations have been here before, seemingly closing in on a deal that is dashed at the last moment. But hopes have risen that this time may be different. Though with Britain’s Oct. 31 departure date looming and just hours to go before the EU summit, focus was on getting a broad political commitment, with the full legal details to be hammered out later. That could mean another EU summit on Brexit before the end of the month.

So far, all plans to keep an open and near-invisible border between the two have hit a brick wall of opposition from the DUP.



Chinese Snooping Tech Spreads to Nations Vulnerable to Abuse

When hundreds of video cameras with the power to identify and track individuals started appearing in the streets of Belgrade, some protesters began having second thoughts about joining anti-government demonstrations in the Serbian capital.

Local authorities assert the system, created by Chinese telecommunications company Huawei, helps reduce crime. Critics contend it erodes personal freedoms and exposes citizens to snooping by the Chinese government.

The cameras, equipped with facial recognition technology, are being rolled out across cities around the world, particularly in poorer countries with weak track records on human rights where Beijing has increased its influence through big business deals. With the United States claiming that Chinese state can get backdoor access to Huawei data, the rollout is raising concerns about the privacy of millions of people.




Iran Detained 2nd French Researcher, Colleagues Say

The Iranian government has been holding a second French researcher in custody for the past four months, according to his colleagues.

Roland Marchal, a sub-Saharan Africa specialist at Paris university Sciences Po, was arrested in June when he traveled to Iran to visit his partner, Fariba Adelkhah, according to Sciences Po professor Richard Banegas.
Iranian authorities disclosed in July that they had arrested Adelkhah, a prominent anthropologist who holds dual French-Iranian nationality, on charges that have not been made public.
There was no immediate acknowledgement of Marchal’s arrest in Iranian state media.  
It’s unclear exactly what charges Marchal faces, but Banegas told The Associated Press that he and his colleagues consider him “an academic prisoner.”
The French Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.






Warren And Sanders Stockpile Millions More Than 2020 Rivals

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren don’t just lead the Democratic presidential primary in fundraising. They’ve stockpiled millions more than their rivals, including former Vice President Joe Biden, who burned through money at a fast clip over the past three months while posting an anemic fundraising haul.

Sanders held $33.7 million cash on hand on his third-quarter fundraising report. Warren had $25.7 million during the same period, while South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg came next $23.3 million.

Biden, meanwhile, held just $8.9 million, a small fraction of what his leading rivals have at their disposal.

With the first votes of the Democratic contest just months away, the candidates are entering a critical and expensive period where having an ample supply of cash can make or break a campaign. Biden’s total raises questions about his durability as a front-runner.
“Can he do better at fundraising? Absolutely. And I think he will,” said Biden donor and fundraiser Steve Westly.

While many contenders in the crowded field will be triaging resources and making difficult spending decisions in the coming months, the advantage enjoyed by the Vermont and Massachusetts senators means they will have the luxury of spending when and where they want. That will allow them to buy large amounts of advertising, respond to attacks and boost their ground games in early voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

“If you are sitting at fourth, fifth or even seventh place and you don’t have the money to have a real paid media campaign, the future for you is probably pretty bleak. You will get drowned out by the rest of the noise,” said Grant Woodard, a Des Moines attorney who is a veteran of John Kerry’s and Hillary Clinton’s Iowa campaigns. “It’s still a fluid race. But to be competitive in this thing you are going to have to be on TV, digital and you are going to have to be on direct mail. The fundamentals still matter.”

Biden has built a formidable campaign, but it’s come at a cost. The $17.6 million he spent over the past three months was more than the $15.7 million he took in, according to his fundraising figures that were submitted to the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday’s reporting deadline.

Despite his lackluster totals, he still remains a favored candidate in recent public opinion polls, along with Warren. And in recent weeks, both Biden and his wife, Jill, have kept up a busier fundraising schedule.

“People focused on the minutia and the details,” said Westly, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. “The reality is this is quickly boiling down to a two-person race _ and that’s between Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.”

Still, Biden is not alone in the sprawling field.

California Sen. Kamala Harris had $10.5 million cash on hand but deferred paying consultants including her pollster nearly $1 million, records show. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker held $4.2 million, disclosures show.

And the situation was far more dismal for others. Former Obama housing secretary Julian Castro had just $672,000 cash on hand, while Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan had even less, $158,000, records show.

The advantage Warren and Sanders have was evident in the way they have been able to spend.

Sanders’ $21.5 million in spending between July and the end of September topped the list. It enabled him to spend $3.8 million on advertising and online fundraising, drop nearly $1 million on campaign merchandise and pay his staff a combined $5.6 million, records show.

Warren’s $18.6 million in spending during that period allowed her to fund a sprawling staff operation that includes well over 500 people on the payroll, in addition to financing a more than $3.2 million digital operation, records show.

Buttigieg, too, has hired roughly 100 staffers in Iowa, where his campaign is betting on a strong performance.

But just because they have a massive cash advantage doesn’t mean the other candidates are doomed. Even though time is running out, candidates could still see their financial picture improve, particularly if they have a viral online moment to boost their online fundraising.

“The question is: Do you have enough money to run a strong campaign? North of $5 million and you have the ability to get through the fourth quarter,” said Democratic donor and Wall Street financier Robert Wolf, who was an economic adviser to Barack Obama.



US Pushing for Cease-fire After Turkey’s Push Into N. Syria

The United States says diplomatic efforts are on “high gear” to press for a cease-fire after Turkey’s incursion into northern Syria, as Washington tries to get the situation under control, according to a senior State Department official.

“Goal number one is to carry out diplomacy to try to find a cease fire. Get the situation under control. It’s very, very confusing.  It’s dangerous for our troops. It’s placing the fight against ISIS at risk. It’s placing at risk the safe imprisonment of almost 10,000 detainees,” the official said, using an acronym for the Islamic State terror group.

The official noted that there has not been “any major successful breakout so far of detainees,” referring to imprisoned IS fighters and their families.  Syrian Kurdish officials have said hundreds of suspected IS prisoners have escaped.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House, Oct. 14, 2019, in Washington.

U.S. President Donald Trump has announced sanctions against Turkish officials over the military operation and he plans to send a delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence to Ankara for talks to resolve the situation.

“I can just tell you that it’s (Pence’s trip) going to be launched very quickly,” the State Department official told reporters Tuesday. “And again our first goal is to basically have a heart to heart talk with the Turks.”

President Donald Trump speaks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, Oct. 12, 2019.

President Trump has faced harsh criticism in the week since the White House announced Turkey was going forward with its long-held plans to try to carve out a buffer zone along its border with Syria free from the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters it accuses of being terrorists linked to separatist Kurds in Turkey. The U.S. military has long said its Kurdish allies have been instrumental in the fight against IS, and the elimination of IS’s caliphate.

“We’re very concerned about their [Turkey’s] actions and the threat that they presented to peace, security, stability, and territorial integrity of Syria, of our overall political plans, and the risk of humanitarian disaster, and human rights violations, some of which we’ve seen not by Turkish troops, but by what we call the TSO-Turkish supported Syrian opposition elements, armed opposition elements, who are responsible for those horrible pictures you saw,” the U.S. official said Tuesday.

Turkey’s incursion pushed the US-allied Syrian Democratic Forces to reach an agreement with the Syrian government that has brought Syrian troops back into the northeastern part of the country for the first time in years, including on Monday reaching the town of Manbij.

A U.S. military spokesman said Tuesday American troops left the town of Manbij as part of their withdrawal from the area.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to his ruling party officials, in Ankara, Turkey, Oct. 10, 2019.

Trump spoke Monday with both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and General Mazloum Kobani, the head of the mostly Kurdish SDF that the United States has relied on to battle Islamic State militants in Syria.

In addition to the call to halt the military operation, the United States raised steel tariffs and halted negotiations on a $100-billion trade deal with Turkey.

U.S. Democrats and Republicans have faulted the Trump administration for what is unfolding, saying the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the area cleared the way for the U.S. ally SDF to be put in danger as well as the potential for Islamic State militants under SDF detention to break free and stage a resurgence.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., reads a statement announcing a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 24, 2019.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that Trump’s “erratic decision-making is threatening lives, risking regional security and undermining America’s credibility in the world.”

She said both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate will proceed this week with “action to oppose this irresponsible decision.”

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that while Turkey does have legitimate security concerns linked to the Syrian conflict, the operation against the U.S.-backed Kurds jeopardizes the progress won against IS.

“Abandoning this fight now and withdrawing U.S. forces from Syria would re-create the very conditions that we have worked hard to destroy and invite the resurgence of ISIS,” McConnell said.  “And such a withdrawal would also create a broader power vacuum in Syria that will be exploited by Iran and Russia, a catastrophic outcome for the United States’ strategic interests.”

A senior administration official rejected criticisms against Trump in the call with reporters Monday, saying only Erdogan’s actions are to blame.

The official said Turkish President Erdogan “took a very, very rash, ill-calculated action that has had what, for him, were unintended consequences.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper addresses reporters during a media briefing at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., Oct. 11, 2019.

Earlier Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Erdogan “bears full responsibility” for what happens.

He called the Turkish offensive “unnecessary and impulsive,” and said it has undermined what he called the successful multinational mission to defeat Islamic State in Syria.

Esper said he plans to go to Brussels next week to press other NATO allies to apply sanctions on Turkey.

Nike Ching contributed to this report.