A former independent watchdog at the United States State Department who was fired by President Donald Trump has said top department officials tried to bully him and dissuade his office from conducting a review of a multibillion-dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia.
Former Inspector General Steve Linick told Congress last week that two senior officials sought to block an inquiry into the arms deal, according to a transcript of the interview made public on Wednesday by Democrats leading an investigation into his dismissal.
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Linick, who had been inspector general since 2013, was looking into previously reported allegations that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his wife may have misused government staff to run personal errands and several other matters. Trump abruptly fired him late on May 15 with what Linick said was no warning or cited cause.
“I was in a state of shock because I had no advance notice of anything like that,” Linick said, recalling his reaction when he was informed of Trump’s decision. “I had no indication whatsoever.”
A ‘bad actor’
Shortly after the transcript was released, Pompeo called Linick a “bad actor” who had been acting inappropriately and not in the best interests of the State Department.
Pompeo did not address the allegations of attempted bullying. He stood by his recommendation that Trump fire Linick, one of several inspectors general whom the president has recently dismissed.
Linick said he had opened a review of last year’s $8bn arms sale to Saudi Arabia at the request of legislators who claimed Pompeo had inappropriately circumvented Congress to approve the deal. Linick said the State Department’s top management officer Brian Bulatao, and legal adviser Marik String tried to stop him.
Bulatao “said that we shouldn’t be doing the work because it was a policy matter not within the IG’s jurisdiction”, Linick said, adding that both Bulatao and String “were of the same mind” on the matter.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo takes a question from a reporter during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, DC [File: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo]
Linick said in the interview that he believed the Saudi review, which is continuing, was appropriate because it looked at whether proper procedures and regulations were followed. He said he had requested an interview with Pompeo on the matter but had never received a response. Linick acknowledged that Pompeo did respond in writing to questions.
“All I can say is it’s ongoing and their report is ongoing,” he said of the Saudi arms sale review.
Linick testified that he repeatedly clashed with Bulatao, a former business associate and close friend of Pompeo, over other issues as well. “I would say that sometimes the relationship was professional; at other times, he tried to bully me,” he said.
Pompeo, Bulatao and others have said Linick was dismissed in part because of inappropriate actions but also because of the alleged leak of one of his office’s reports into accusations of political reprisals by Trump appointees against career State Department officials.
Linick denied his office was responsible for the leak. He said an investigation into the alleged leak by the Defense Department inspector general cleared him and his office.
Linick’s office has been highly critical of such retaliation but had also criticized Democratic officials during the Obama administration, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
At a State Department news conference, Pompeo questioned the validity of the leak investigation and said he and others still had questions about the origin of information that was critical of the administration’s top envoy for Iran, Brian Hook.
“We have asked for a more thorough investigation than Mr Linick asked for,” Pompeo said. “We’re determined to figure out how that information escaped to harm someone who works here.”
In addition to the Saudi arms deal and Pompeo’s use of government staff, Linick said that at the time of his removal, his office had open reviews into several other matters. They included issues related to the conduct of the former chief of protocol who was dismissed last year, the curtailment of visas for former Afghan and Iraqi translators who served with US forces, and a controversy over a rescinded Global Women of Courage award.
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Iran says ‘internal agents’ may be responsible for Natanz blast |NationalTribune.com
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year. On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the…
Tehran, Iran – The Iranian government said on Tuesday there are strong suspicions that “internal agents” played a role in a massive explosion that occurred at a key nuclear facility earlier this year.
On July 2, a fire ripped through a building at Natanz, a major uranium enrichment site. Satellite images showed it caused the roof to collapse and parts of the building were blackened by the blaze.
“One of the strong theories is based on internal agents being involved in the incident,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters at a news conference, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).
“The issue is being seriously reviewed by the country’s security organisations and we will announce the results after things are clear.”
It is the first time an Iranian official specifically pointed to the possibility of an inside job for the blast.
In late August, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization confirmed the damage to the facility was the result of “sabotage”.
“But how this explosion took place and with what materials … will be announced by security officials in due course,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said at the time, citing “security reasons” for not disclosing further information.
‘Sabotage is certain’
In early September, Kamalvandi announced Natanz saboteurs “have been identified” but refrained from discussing further details, including whether internal agents were complicit.
On Tuesday, Rabiei also reiterated that “sabotage is certain” but the incident still needs to be investigated due to its complexities.
The desert Natanz site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities regularly monitored by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
Following the explosion, international media reports indicated Israel may have been behind the attack. Israel has been deliberately vague, neither confirming nor denying involvement while stressing the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.
“Everyone can suspect us in everything and all the time, but I don’t think that’s correct,” Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said days after the attack.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi also said “Iran cannot be allowed to have nuclear capabilities”, adding to that end, “We take actions that are better left unsaid.”
September’s announcement that Iran knows the saboteurs behind the Natanz explosion came one week after IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited the country.
The trip was successful, leading to Iran granting access to two suspected former nuclear sites that the UN watchdog wished to inspect.
“In this present context, based on analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations other than those declared by Iran,” the IAEA and Iranian officials said in a joint statement following the visit.
In a speech during the 64th session of the General Conference of the IAEA on Monday, the president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi referred to the Natanz incident.
“These malicious acts need to be condemned by the agency and member states,” he said via video conference, adding “Iran reserves its rights to protect its facilities and take necessary actions against any threat as appropriate.”
Salehi also urged the UN watchdog not to compromise its “impartiality, independence and professionalism”.
Iran, UN and the United States are locked in a major disagreement centred around the landmark 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers, which US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned in May 2018.
The US on Sunday declared it reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran, an announcement that was roundly rejected by the United Nations Security Council as lacking legal basis.
The US is trying to indefinitely extend an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire in October as part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the formal name of the nuclear deal.
Iran, which has always maintained it never pursued nuclear weapons, accepted the nuclear deal that removed all UN sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.
The US reneged on the deal, unilaterally imposing a harsh campaign of sanctions that have hit almost all the productive sectors of the Iranian economy. US sanctions have also targeted Iranian officials and organisations.
In response, starting exactly one year after US sanctions were imposed and other parties failed to guarantee economic benefits promised Iran under the deal, Iran started gradually scaling back its nuclear commitments.
Palestine quits Arab League role in protest over Israel deals |NationalTribune.com
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel. Palestinians see the deals that the United…
Palestine was meant to chair Arab League meetings for next six months, but FM Riyad al-Maliki has declined the position.Palestine has quit its current chairmanship of Arab League meetings, the Palestinian foreign minister said on Tuesday, condemning as dishonourable any Arab agreement to establish formal ties with Israel.
Palestinians see the deals that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain signed with Israel in Washington a week ago as a betrayal of their cause and a blow to their quest for an independent state in Israeli-occupied territory.
Earlier this month, the Palestinians failed to persuade the Arab League to condemn nations breaking ranks and normalising relations with Israel.
Palestine was supposed to chair Arab League meetings for the next six months, but Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told a news conference in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah that it no longer wanted the position.
“Palestine has decided to concede its right to chair the League’s council [of foreign ministers] at its current session. There is no honour in seeing Arabs rush towards normalisation during its presidency,” Maliki said.
In his remarks, he did not specifically name the UAE and Bahrain, Gulf Arab countries that share with Israel concern over Iran. He said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit had been informed of the Palestinian decision.
Palestinians rally against Bahrain-Israel normalisation
The Palestinian leadership wants an independent state based on the de facto borders before the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and annexed East Jerusalem.
Arab countries have long called for Israel’s withdrawal from illegally occupied land, a just solution for Palestinian refugees and a settlement that leads to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state, in exchange for establishing ties with it.
In a new move addressing internal Palestinian divisions, officials from West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction and the Gaza-based Hamas movement were due to hold reconciliation talks in Turkey on Tuesday.
Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 from Fatah forces during a brief round of fighting. Differences over power-sharing have delayed implementation of unity deals agreed since then.
Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies
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