Trump hits back at Bannon; Pro-government counter protests in Iran

  1. Trump threatens Palestine aid, trades 'nuclear button' boast with North Korea
  2. Ethiopia to release all political prisoners
  3. Trump on Bannon: "When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind."

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  • Former presidential aide Steve Bannon referred to the Donald Trump Jr. meeting with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign as “treasonous” and “unpatriotic,” according to a new book based on over 200 exclusive interviews (Guardian). The newspaper quotes excerpts of Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, authored by the journalist and media critic Michael Wolff. In the book Wolff quotes Bannon extensively who returned as the head of Breitbart News after being dismissed from his White House position. New York Magazine has an extensive excerpt from the book outlining the first few months of Trump’s transition into the White House.
    • Trump attacked Bannon in response: “When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” he said in an official statement. He also said that the right-wing advocate had little to do with his electoral victory or presidency.
  • Thousands of Iranians took part in pro-government demonstrations in response to anti-government unrest that began December 28. Iranian state TV showed marchers waving Iranian flags, shouting slogans in support of the clerical leadership, and blaming the unrest on the U.S., Britain and Israel. The protests began because of long simmering anger about poor economic conditions and then snowballed into an expression of broader dissatisfaction against the government. Videos on social media suggested the demonstrations are still going on, particularly in rural areas. (Read more: At least 20 killed in worst unrest in Iran since 2009).
    • As outlined in this Vanity Fair piece, the anti-government protests appear to have no leadership, but are organic and may be much harder to contain than the 2009 “Green Movement” — in part because the rapid proliferation of cell phones in the past eight years has vastly increased access to information and social media.
  • Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group that is highly critical of the Trump Administration, is suing the Department of Justice for releasing text messages between two FBI agents to reporters last month. The agents expressed support for Hillary Clinton in these text messages. They were then removed from participating in the probe over allegations of Russian involvement in the Trump presidential campaign. Republican leaders have pointed to this correspondence as proof of anti-Trump bias in the FBI, the highest law enforcement body in the U.S. CREW is suing in order to gather more information over why these texts were released, in a move that the group deemed as “highly unusual.” 
  • Ethiopia’s prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, announced that all of the country’s political prisoners are to be released, as part of an effort to create political dialogue. The East African country has detained thousands of politicians, activists and journalists since 2015. Internet access is also restricted in Ethiopia. Desalegn also announced that a notorious prison, where it is widely suspected prisoners were tortured, will be closed and turned into a museum.


  • President Donald J. Trump’s claim that his administration would restart the faltering Middle East peace process with “the ultimate deal” took a hit as he lashed out at Palestine for taking hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid when they are “no longer willing to talk peace” with Israel. In two tweets, Trump appeared to threaten cuts to $220 million that the U.S. was to send the Palestinians. Most of that funding goes to non-governmental groups for good governance and health and education projects. Details can be found on the website for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees. President Trump’s threat comes after 128 countries at the UN rejected his administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
  • President Trump traded “nuclear button” boasts with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, with both claiming they had the power at their fingertips to launch a deadly attack. Kim struck out first in an address on state television during which he said he could send a missile from his desk. In reply, Trump sent a tweet aimed at a leader he has previously called “rocket man”, in which he said his button is “a much bigger & more powerful one”. An earlier tweet also said sanctions against North Korea were having a “big impact”. The barbs came after Kim made an overture toward South Korea by opening the possibility of direct talks (The New York Times).

Donald J. Trump on Twitter

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!

  • Hours after Trump’s tweet, North Korea reopened a hotline with South Korea in a major diplomatic move. Seoul confirmed it received a call at 6.30 GMT on Wednesday. The hotline, which had been dormant for two years, was opened to discuss the 2018 Winter Olympics to be held in the South and other practicalities. Tensions have risen between the two Koreas ever since the North expanded its nuclear programme. (Read our explainer on Pyongyang’s nuclear capacity here).
  • Zambia’s foreign minister, Harry Kalaba, announced his resignation with a powerful attack against “swelling” levels of corruption in the country of 16 million. The resignation came in the form of a Facebook post. Officials are yet to receive a letter from Mr Kalaba. The resignation is thought to represent a move to pressure current president Edgar Lungu, who is considering running for a third term despite the Zambian constitution’s two-term limit. According to Reuters, Kalaba is considered a potential candidate in the presidential election, due in 2021, while Mr Lungu’s allies have asked the Supreme Court to confirm whether the president will be eligible to stand.

What we’re reading

  • As competition for jobs among India’s youth intensifies, the offer of a lucrative career in a call center can be difficult to turn down – even if the work turns out to be operating a scam. This piece in the Guardian goes down the rabbit hole of an industry predicated on exploiting vulnerable “employees” who then are asked to go on and attempt to defraud the public. – Charles Anderson
  • There’ve been a few recommendations for articles on China lately, but best not to ignore the elephant in the room, or on the planet. An excellent “big read” from the New Yorker pinpoints how Trump’s approach to world politics plays to Chinese ambitions. Evan Osnos writes: “China has never seen such a moment, when its pursuit of a larger role in the world coincides with America’s pursuit of a smaller one.” Osnos notes that the U.S. still has unassailable military hardware, but recalls the words of an earlier president and general, Eisenhower: “We could be the wealthiest and the most mighty nation and still lose the battle of the world if we do not help our world neighbors protect their freedom and advance their social and economic progress.” – Angela Long
  • Financial Times columnist Martin Wolff sees the nativist and transactional tendencies of President Trump creating cracks in the post-World War Two global consensus and room for authoritarians worldwide. “On a daily basis, he violates the behaviour and attitudes the world expects of a US president. But the exploitation of office for personal gain, indifference to truth and assault on institutions of a law-governed republic are all as one should have expected.” (may be behind a paywall) – Peter Bale

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