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Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said Friday a resolution to a bitter dispute with Qatar seemed “within reach” after Kuwait announced progress toward ending a row that Washington says hampers a united Gulf front against Iran.
The United States and Kuwait have worked to end the dispute, during which Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have imposed a diplomatic, trade and travel embargo on Qatar since mid-2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner held talks in Doha on Wednesday following a visit to Saudi Arabia.
“We have made significant progress in the last few days thanks to the continuing efforts of Kuwait but also thanks to strong support from President Trump,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told a Rome conference via videolink.
“We hope this progress can lead to a final agreement, which looks within reach, and I can say I am somewhat optimistic that we are close to finalizing an agreement between all the nations in the dispute.”
A source in Washington familiar with the discussions said a tentative deal had been reached by the parties and that it could be signed in a few weeks.
“They’re working towards taking what’s an agreement in principle and getting it actually signed,” the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah welcomed the developments Friday, state-run news agency KUNA said.
It quoted him as saying “this agreement has shown that all concerned parties are keen on retaining the pan-Gulf and the pan-Arab solidarity, unity, and stability.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking remotely at a Bahrain summit on Friday, said the United States was “very hopeful” that the dispute would be resolved.
All countries involved are U.S. allies. Qatar hosts the region’s largest U.S. military base, Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE host U.S. troops.
Washington has been pushing for reopening Gulf airspace for Qatari aircraft as a first step, diplomats and sources have said.
The boycotting nations accuse Doha of supporting terrorism. Qatar denies the charges and says the embargo aims to undermine its sovereignty.
‘An imperative step’
Kuwait’s foreign minister, Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al Mohammad Al Sabah, said earlier Friday that fruitful discussion had taken place recently “in which all sides expressed their keenness for Gulf and Arab unity and stability, and to reach a final agreement that realizes lasting solidarity.”
In a Twitter post, Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, welcomed the Kuwaiti statement as “an imperative step” toward resolving the rift.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is encouraged by the Kuwait statement and hopes all countries involved work together to formally resolve their differences, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a Twitter post said he hoped Gulf reconciliation “contributes to stability and political and economic development for all peoples of our region.”
The Qatari minister earlier told the Rome conference that Doha hoped “things will move in the right direction,” but that any resolution should be based on mutual respect for sovereignty, including in foreign policy.
Doha had been set 13 demands, ranging from closing Al Jazeera television and shuttering a Turkish base to cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood and downgrading ties with Iran, which shares a significant gas field with Qatar.
Voice of America – English
California certified its presidential election Friday and appointed 55 electors pledged to vote for Democrat Joe Biden, officially handing him the Electoral College majority needed to win the White House.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s formal approval of Biden’s win in the state brought Biden’s tally of pledged electors so far to 279, according to a tally by The Associated Press. That’s just over the 270 threshold for victory.
These steps in the election are often-ignored formalities. But the hidden mechanics of electing a U.S. president have drawn new scrutiny this year as President Donald Trump continues to deny Biden’s victory and pursues increasingly specious legal strategies aimed at overturning the results before they are finalized.
Although it’s been apparent for weeks that Biden won the presidential election, his accrual of more than 270 electors is the first step toward the White House, said Edward B. Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University.
“It is a legal milestone and the first milestone that has that status,” Foley said. “Everything prior to that was premised on what we call projections.”
The electors named Friday will meet Dec. 14, along with counterparts in each state, to formally vote for the next president. Most states have laws binding their electors to the winner of the popular vote in their state, measures that were upheld by a Supreme Court decision this year. There have been no suggestions that any of Biden’s pledged electors would contemplate not voting for him.
Results of the Electoral College vote are due to be received, and typically approved, by Congress on Jan. 6. Although lawmakers can object to accepting the electors’ votes, it would be almost impossible for Biden to be blocked at that point.
The Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate would both vote separately to resolve any disputes. One already has arisen from Pennsylvania, where 75 Republican lawmakers signed a statement on Friday urging Congress to block the state’s electoral votes from being cast for Biden. But the state’s Republican U.S. senator, Pat Toomey, said soon afterward that he would not be objecting to Pennsylvania’s slate of electors, underscoring the difficulty in trying to change the election results through Congress.
“As a practical matter, we know that Joe Biden is going to be inaugurated on January 20,” Foley said.
That was clear in the days after the election, when the count of mail ballots gradually made clear that Biden had won victories in enough states to win the Electoral College. It became even more apparent in late November, when every swing state won by Biden certified him as the winner of its elections and appointed his electors to the Electoral College. Trump has fruitlessly tried to stop those states from certifying Biden as the winner and appointing electors for the former vice president.
Trump made no effort in deeply Democratic California, the most populous state in the nation and the trove of its largest number of electoral votes. Three more states won by Biden — Colorado, Hawaii and New Jersey — have not yet certified their results. When they do, Biden will have 306 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 232.
Trump and his allies have brought at least 50 legal cases trying to overturn results in the swing states Biden won — mainly Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. More than 30 have been rejected or dropped, according to an AP tally.
Trump and his allies have also raised the far-fetched notion that Republican state legislatures in those states could appoint a rival set of electors pledged to Trump.
But state Republican leaders have rejected that approach, and it would likely be futile in any case. According to federal law, both chambers of Congress would need to vote to accept a competing slate of electors. If they don’t, the electors appointed by the states’ governors — all pledged to Biden in these cases — must be used.
The last remaining move to block the election would be the quixotic effort to vote down the electors in Congress.
This tactic has been tried — a handful of congressional Democrats in 2000, 2004 and 2016 objected to officially making both George W. Bush and Trump president. But the numbers were not enough to block the two men from taking office.
Voice of America – English
The Pentagon has appointed two close allies of President Donald Trump, Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, to a defense advisory board, continuing a post-election purge in the final weeks of the administration.
The acting secretary of defense, Christopher Miller, who was installed by Trump on Nov. 9 after Trump fired then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper, said in a written statement Friday that nine members of the Defense Business Board had been replaced with the appointment of 11 new members.
Lewandowski and Bossie are among Trump’s most vocal supporters. The nine other appointees are Henry Dreifus, Robert McMahon, Cory Mills, Bill Bruner, Christopher Shank, Joseph Schmidt, Keary Miller, Alan Weh and Earl Matthews.
“These individuals have a proven record of achievement within their respective fields and have demonstrated leadership that will serve our department and our nation well,” Miller said.
The Miller statement initially said the nine individuals removed from the board had been serving in “expired positions,” implying they were overdue to leave. But later the Pentagon amended the statement to say some board members had been “terminated.” It gave no reason for the firings.
The board’s charter says members are appointed for terms ranging from one to four years, with annual renewals.
The board’s charter says members must possess “a proven track record of sound judgment and business acumen in leading or governing large, complex private sector corporations or organizations and a wealth of top-level, global business experience in the areas of executive management, corporate governance, audit and finance, human resources, economics, technology, or health care.”
The role of the Defense Business Board, which was established in 2002, is to provide the secretary of defense and deputy secretary of defense with independent advice and recommendations on overall Defense Department management, business processes and governance from a private-sector perspective.
Lewandowski was Trump’s first of three campaign managers in 2016, and both he and Bossie were regulars on the campaign trail with Trump this year.
Bossie was brought on as part of a 2016 campaign team shakeup to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. He briefly fell out of favor with Trump aides over his involvement with political groups that sought to fundraise off Trump’s name but did not benefit his reelection campaign. He found his way back into Trump’s orbit earlier this year thanks to his vigorous advocacy of the president.
Voice of America – English