Steven Hopkins   |   September 24, 2015    8:12 AM ET

Channel 4 presenter Matt Frei has apologised after using a racial slur he claims he "simply wasn't aware of" to describe Barack Obama.

The Europe editor said the US president was "smiling like a split watermelon" during a meeting with the Pope, a comment that was widely condemned online. British former NBA player John Amaechi was among those to slam the remark.

obama pope francis

Matt Frei has apologised for the remarks

The watermelon is considered a symbol of racism to black people in America. It dates back to a stereotype that the fruit is a favourite of African Americans.

Frei apologised on Twitter for his description of Obama and said that he was unaware the expression had racial connotations - something that wasn't lost on everyone.

Amaechi later conceded Frei probably did not mean to cause any offence.

Frei isn't the first high profile Brit to apologise after making the off-colour remark.

In 2008 Boris Johnson apologised for referring to black people as "piccaninnies" and using the term "watermelon smiles" in a column published in the Daily Telegraph six years earlier.

The London mayor had mocked Tony Blair's globetrotting, writing: "What a relief it must be for Blair to get out of England. It is said that the Queen has come to love the Commonwealth, partly because it supplies her with regular cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies," he wrote. It also mentioned "watermelon smiles".

Frei's biography on the Channel 4 website, it states: 'Prior to his appointment as Europe Editor for Channel 4 News, Frei was the Washington Correspondent for two years and has reported on the Americas on everything from business and culture to US foreign policy and its view of the world.'

He previously anchored the BBC World News America bulletin and was also Washington Correspondent.


Chris York   |   September 23, 2015    3:00 PM ET

Did you hear? The Pope is calling for planetary government and is a danger to the entire world.

No this isn't the plot from the latest instalment of Star Wars, it is the latest tirades of America's right-wing media.

His holiness has embarked upon an historic visit to the US and has given Conservatives the jitters as he talks about thing outside what they see as his remit.


Barack Obama shakes hands with the most evil man alive the lovely Pope

Apparently it's fine for Pope Francis to "help souls get to heaven" but he isn't allowed to talk about capitalism, climate change or redistribution of wealth in a country with one of the highest levels of income inequality in the world.

And if he does that's because he's an evil Marxist intent on imposing a New World Order.

Thankfully the Pope took absolutely no notice.

Jumping into the issues of the day, Pope Francis opened his visit to the United States with a strong call Wednesday for action to combat climate change, calling it a problem that "can no longer be left to a future generation." President Barack Obama, in turn, hailed the pontiff as a moral force who is "shaking us out of our complacency" with reminders to care for the poor and the planet.

The White House mustered all the pageantry it had to offer as the pope arrived at the White House before an adoring crowd of thousands and a nation that seemingly cannot get enough of the humble pontiff who is rejuvenating American Catholicism while giving heartburn to some of its conservatives.

Speaking in a soft voice and halting English, Francis delivered a strong message against those who doubt the science of climate change, saying that the warming planet "demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition" of conditions awaiting today's children.

It was a message sure to delight the Obama White House, and liberals in general. But the pope's message had something for conservatives, too, with a pointed call to protect religious liberties - "one of America's most precious possessions."

"All are called to be vigilant,' he said, "to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it."

That message was sure to be welcomed by many US bishops and conservatives who have objected to the Obama administration's health care mandate and the recent Supreme Court legalization of same-sex marriage.

Paul Vale   |   September 22, 2015    9:34 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Pope Francis has arrived. On his first visit to the United States, the Pontiff landed at Joint Base Andrews on Tuesday, the 78-year-old greeted by President Obama and the First Family.

The Jesuit, who has attempted to transform the Catholic Church into a force for social justice during his two years in the Vatican, has a diplomatic brief for the trip. However, he arrives at a time of acute political tension, in which any statement, utterance or action is likely to be corralled into the ongoing presidential campaign debate that has dominated the country’s political culture in recent months.

The Pope arrived from Cuba, emerging from the Alitalia jet in his traditional chalky robes, removing his hat in the wind. Francis will spend six days in the US, addressing Congress, before visiting Philadelphia and New York.

The Argentine is expected too preach a message of care for the downtrodden and protection for the environment, uncomfortable notions for many American conservatives in which free market fundamentals (often at expense of the poor and the Earth’s resources) remain the national God.

Francis has also spoken out against the vilification of immigrants, a lively topic in the simmering political climate, as well as attacking the sacred cow of capitalism. Abortion and race relations are also potential flash points during the visit.

According to AP, Francis spoke of the conservative criticism of his economic worldview during the flight, telling reporters that he may have given the impression that he’s "a little bit more left-leaning." He said this was wrong, and his is simply administering church doctrine. It won’t be the last time he has to answer this charge in the forthcoming days.

Paul Vale   |   September 20, 2015    7:06 PM ET

NEW YORK -- A hugely popular Christian conservative, currently polling second in the race to be the Republican presidential candidate, said on Sunday he “absolutely would not agree” with a Muslim entering the White House.

Ben Carson, a former neuroscientist who boasts fanatical support amongst American evangelicals, told NBC’s “Meet The Press” Islam is incompatible with the country’s constitution.

The softly spoken doctor, who has a penchant for masking extremist sentiment with a gentle delivery, was reacting to a question about a Donald Trump supporter, who at a rally on Thursday decried President Obama as a “Muslim” and called for ethnic cleansing.

ben carson

Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson delivers a speech to supporters Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, in Phoenix

When asked if the president’s faith mattered, Carson said it would depend on what the faith was. "If it's inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter," he said. "If it fits within the realm of America and is consistent with the Constitution, I have no problem."

"I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation," he added. "I absolutely would not agree with that."

Carson's record includes stating that prison sex proves homosexuality is a choice, demanding the US military not be constrained by rules, and that the best way to understand the administration of President Obama is to read Mein Kampf.

Trump was rounded upon earlier this week for not correcting the questioner at his rally, who peddled the birther line that Obama was not born in the US. Despite the outrage, Trump insinuated on Sunday that America had already had its first Muslim president.

When asked on the same show if how he'd feel should a Muslim president be elected, Trump said: "Would I be comfortable? I don’t know if we have to address it right now... But I think it is certainly something that could happen."

When asked again, the frontrunner said: "I mean, some people have said it already happened, frankly… But of course you wouldn’t agree with that."

In reaction to Carson's comments, Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the Washington Examiner: "I think his remarks should be repudiated by everyone on the political spectrum and that he should withdraw."


Paul Vale   |   September 18, 2015    3:49 AM ET

NEW YORK -- After a toothless performance in Wednesday's Republican presidential debate, Donald Trump’s campaign rolled into a crisis on Thursday when the reality TV star failed to correct a supporter who explicitely called for the ethnic cleansing of Muslims.

donald trump new hampshire

Trump speaks during a town hall event at Rochester Recreational Arena September 17, 2015 in Rochester, New Hampshire

The first man to grab the microphone at an event in Rochester, New Hampshire, said: "We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims. You know our current president is one. You know he's not even an American."

Trump’s rebuttal?

"We need this question? This is the first question?"

The unidentified man in a “Trump” t-shirt continued: "Anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us… That's my question: When can we get rid of them?"

Trump’s rebuttal?

"We're going to be looking at a lot of different things. You know, a lot of people are saying that and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening. We're going to be looking at that and many other things."

When asked after the event why the property tycoon didn’t correct the questioner, his campaign manager ran to a familiar excuse: He didn’t hear the question.

Beleaguered apologist Corey Lewandowski offered the following mitigation: "All he heard was a question about training camps, which he said we have to look into. The media want to make this an issue about Obama, but it's about him waging a war on Christianity."

Trump launched a pretend presidential campaign ahead of the 2012 election, but was forced out of the race after this roasting at the White House Correspondents' dinner:

That “campaign” was based on Trump’s innuendo that the president was not an American-born citizen, with the attendant suggestion that he was a Muslim fifth-columnist bent on ending the Republic.

And if you think Trump didn't hear the questioner, watch this:


Sophie Brown   |   September 17, 2015    6:58 AM ET

Barack Obama has shown his support for Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Muslim boy who was arrested for making a clock that his teachers believed to be a bomb.

The President tweeted an invite to dinner at the White House, writing: "Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great."

On Wednesday, people took to Twitter to show their solidarity with Mohamed using the #IStandWithAhmed hashtag. The teenager now has a long line of supporters including Mark Zuckerberg, who invited him visit Facebook.

You’ve probably seen the story about Ahmed, the 14 year old student in Texas who built a clock and was arrested when he...

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Mohamed was arrested after a teacher raised concerns about the clock, prompting police to question him, search his things and march him from the school in handcuffs. He was wearing a NASA t-shirt when he was arrested.

Police said they did not believe the device was dangerous but said it would be mistaken for a fake explosive.

Mohamed was suspended from school for three days but has not yet been charged.

“She was like, 'it looks like a bomb',” Ahmed told Dallas News of what the teacher said. “I told her, ‘It doesn’t look like a bomb to me.’”

“[A police officer said] ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’ I told them no, I was trying to make a clock. He said, ‘It looks like a movie bomb to me.’”

A Twitter account claiming to be Mohamed and his family has now been verified.

David Cameron's Ideological Assault on the Environment Could Have Catastrophic Consequences Beyond Our Own Borders

Seb Dance   |   September 15, 2015   11:29 AM ET

In October the European Parliament will vote on proposals to strengthen existing air quality legislation, on which I have been working in the Environment Committee. But leaked documents have shown the UK Government is already hard at work undermining these efforts.

Confidential government submissions to Brussels, revealed by the Guardian, argue the UK would lose out due to the high sulphur content of British coal. This, it claims, would lead to pit closures and a greater need to import from foreign competitors.

This course of action is utterly self-defeating, and it will cost the UK further down the line.

We need to wean ourselves off of our dependence on coal and develop alternatives that will allow the UK to become a leader in renewable and non-fossil fuel energy. Our future economic growth depends on it.

In the short-term we can and must take immediate action to limit emissions from heavy polluting sources. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology offers such a possibility; but digging up coal offers no long-term solution for powering our industry and keeping our homes heated.

The costs of an over-reliance on fossil fuels are unsustainable; not only are coal plants the top source of CO2 emissions - the primary cause of global warming - but they also add significantly to the problem of air pollution and corresponding health effects and premature deaths this causes.

Unfortunately the Government's position appears blind to this reality and this latest intervention is by no means an exception.

The litany of wasted opportunities and a willingness to concede to the narrow-minded climate change-sceptics on the Tory backbenches have pushed the government to the fringes of the environmental debate. David Cameron's claim to be the 'greenest Government ever' has been well and truly hollowed out.

This government has scrapped subsidies for onshore wind, solar and incentives to replace coal with biomass. It has sold off the Green Investment Bank. It has done away with incentives for consumers to buy greener cars, dropped targets to increase the proportion of revenue from environmental taxes and given up on a pledge of making every new home 'carbon-free' from 2016. Cameron has even u-turned on his pledge to stop fracking in sites of scientific special interest.

Not content with undermining the cheapest and cleanest and economically viable energy sources available, Tory ministers are now set on protecting the big polluters and putting the health of the British people at risk.

The link between our health and air pollution is incontrovertible. Poor air quality causes lower birth weight and reduced lung development of children in polluted areas. It causes asthma, pulmonary heart disease, strokes and lung and bladder cancer. It's killing 10,000 in London every year alone, and it's hitting the poorest and the most vulnerable hardest.

The UK has been in breach of the EU's nitrogen dioxide limit since 2010. The government's record is so poor that the Supreme Court has stepped in and ordered it to present a credible plan to address the problem.

The Environment Secretary's contempt for the Supreme Courts ruling is significant, but the consequences of the Government's actions on the international stage are possibly disastrous.

In December, world leaders will assemble at the COP 21 summit in Paris to thrash out new binding promises and targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, in the hope of containing global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius and to limit the most extreme and catastrophic impacts of climate change. Failure is not an option.

So what message does the UK picking fights over our domestic coal industry send out to other big polluters like China and India? Why on earth should other, fast-growing economies listen to the preaching's of UK ministers, when the UK is so keen to follow its own, ultimately short-term and self-defeating, self-interest?

Unlike David Cameron, President Obama has had the courage of his own convictions. His plans to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions by 32% by 2030 would transform hundreds of US coal-fired powers stations and mines. He will expend significant political capital by laying down the gauntlet to state governors likely to push for legal challenges, to Republican senators and congressman, and to vested interests in the fossil-fuel industry to seek cleaner, greener alternatives.

Obama's actions send out a clear message that a deal can be done in Paris. Cameron so-far offers nothing but outdated and short-term thinking.

His ideological assault on environmental policies, including air quality legislation, is not only putting the lives of people at risk, but is having a serious impact on our ability to cut global carbon emissions before its too late.

Our current political leaders, whether we support them on other matters or not, must not abdicate themselves from showing the leadership the world so desperately needs.

The Coming Syrian Regional War? A Full Briefing

Paul Reynolds   |   September 11, 2015    1:23 PM ET

The current question before the political leaders of the USA's allies such as the UK is 'how can we address the refugee problem at source, and how far should our escalating military efforts against ISIS and the Syrian regime go ?'.

At least, that is the kind of formulation they are given to promoting.

However this is misleading at best. In order to understand better this terrible Syrian conflict, and three related conflicts, it is necessary to examine the motivations of the USA and the various participants in these wars. Without a better understanding it is impossible for politicians and the public they represent to assert any common sense or to consent or otherwise to the major wider war which looms.

Moreover, it is necessary to assert that these wars are not only politically avoidable and almost certainly capable of being resolved by negotiation, they have been for at least five years. The absence of efforts to reach a settlement among the participants in that time, is not the point. The point is that these wars have been encouraged by the USA and its allies, and the main regional participants have been unofficially aided. The Russians have contributed to the conflicts too by their ill-judged rigidity, and unwise obsession with promoting their leader as 'invincible strong man'.

First, Syria. Dislodging the Syrian regime, with its support for attacks on Israel and its close relationships with Russia and Iran, has long been a regional strategic aim of the US. During the Cold War this was impossibly risky, with Russian bases and support for the Assad regime. In any case, the colonialist Sykes-Picot agreement after WW1 had led to an ethnic and religious patchwork of a country held together by strong leaders, by economic divide-and-rule, and from the 1960s by a vicious Moscow-trained state security apparatus.

The chances of disrupting the state from within were close to nil. Two things changed that.

First, in 2000 President Hafez was succeeded by his son, Bashir, consolidating minority Shia Muslim control. Bashir attempted reform but was defeated by the security state and by poor management of the tribal economic divide-and-rule system. But some economic liberalisations did prevail, and state control was weakened. Second, a decade later the 'Arab Spring' came to Syria's cities, and was brutally but ineffectively oppressed. Without the prospect of concessions to anti-Assad political groups, and with the 'tribal balance' economic system under threat, the uprising was easily coaxed by Bashir into a fight by Sunni Muslims against Shia and others, helping to fuel his 'terrorists against the state' narrative.

Both the USA and Israel were in two minds. There were fears that a more liberal and democratic Syria would be a threat to Western interests in the region, and disrupt an 'accommodation' that had been established between Israel and Bashir Assad. Turkey, a NATO member, was concerned about the Kurdish region of Syria making common cause with Kurdish separatists in Turkey's South East and in Iraq, if under a reformed Syria they had more autonomy.

On the other hand the prospect of expelling Russia from their Mediterranean submarine base at Tartus, and removing an ally of Shia Iran, was hard for the USA to resist. While militarily insignificant, Russia's president had unwisely made Tartus a litmus test of his prowess - believing that they could get Bashir to hang on militarily and that Western resolve would be weakened by conflating rebels with Islamic terrorists.

The AKP government in Turkey also wanted to get rid of Bashir, and not just because he was an enabler of Russian support for Kurdish separatists in Eastern Turkey. There were other, older animosities; these were lands which Russia had historically coveted..

These developments were occurring against a background of a major shift in the Middle East, which was to transform the Syrian conflict.

In 2013 a new government took over in Iran, paving the way for a rapprochment with the USA and EU countries. The relatively conciliatory and patient approach of Iran's new leaders, and closer economic ties with China and Russia, made a new relationship between Iran and USA almost inevitable. This created something akin to panic in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, who feared loss of influence as well as troublemaking from Iran among their restive Shia populations.

The US Presidency thus faced a problem. How to complete the rapprochement with Iran, and splice US oil firms into the Iranian petroleum & gas sectors, whilst keeping Saudi Arabia and Gulf states happy, (and while dealing with Israeli objections) ?

The result was Saudi acceptance of the inevitable with Iran, but a green light and some support to Saudi and Gulf state proxies to reduce Iranian influence in the Mid East. That meant the removal of Bashir Assad from power, and the domination of anti-Assad forces by Gulf-sponsored Islamists. It also meant creating problems for the Shia-led government in Iraq, and the eventual defeat of Syrian-supported Hizb Ullah in Lebanon. The result was ISIS/Daesh, (with unofficial Turkish, Gulf state and Iraqi Sunni support); a conventional army with sophisticated US military kit and weaponry, and led by experienced officers from Iraq and elsewhere.

For the USA and its allies like the UK this was an approach fraught with dangers. Could ISIS be contained ? Would the Shia government in Iraq be overthrown ? What about the US allies in Northern Iraq - the Kurds ? Many in Washington's inner circles questioned the US government's ability to manage the complex situation and contain ISIS.

For example, with help, (eg US air cover) the Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and the Syrian Kurds, proved to be more effective than the Iraqi army at containing ISIS in the north and keeping them out of Kurdish territory. US military support for Pershmerga and Syrian Kurds to contain any ISIS northern push, upset the Turkish AKP leadership, made worse when Turkish Kurds started to cross the border to fight ISIS alongside their Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish brethren.

Many in Washington's inner circles began to see the conflicts spiralling out of control.

Even thought Turkey took a permissive approach to ISIS they understood the US need for containment. However the threat of Kurdish unity led to negotiations with the USA. The result was the US being able to use the Incirlik air base in SE Turkey, long denied the US military.

More dangerously, the Turkish leadership appeared to have agreed with the USA a 'safe zone' inside Syria on the Turkish border. Ostensibly to create a place for Syrian refugees to escape to. The border area in question was controlled by Syrian Kurds. It appeared that the Turkish leadership had persuaded the US to halt support for Kurds fighting ISIS and instead to remove the Kurds from the Syria-Turkey border.

It also appeared that the USA had decided to 'replace' the Kurds, with their own military might, in order to contain ISIS. A step up of US and allied military involvement was thought to have two advantages. First to ensure that ISIS could be contained and kept away from Iraqi Kurdistan and Baghdad. Second, it would provide a basis for the US and allies to break the stalemate and topple Assad, at least in theory.

Russia, however, saw the safe zone as a proposal for Turkish annexation of parts of Syria, especially after Turkish officials hinted that Aleppo could be annexed by Turkey. In addition, the Russians believed that the US using the Ircirlik air base would facilitate a major attack on Syria. The result was that Russia stepped up their support for Assad and the Syrian government. During the first week in September 2015 the Russians started a military build up. More Russian advisers were accompanied by ground troops and equipment, including extra fighter planes available.

The US plan for a stepped-up direct Western military effort was reinforced when the UK, Canada and Australia announced that they would be stepping up their bombing campaign into Syria and other military activities.

A by-product of all these Iran-related developments was Yemen. The Yemeni version of the Arab Spring resulted in, with US mediation, the removal of quasi-Shia Houthi president Saleh (formerly US-supported), with strong Saudi approval. He was replaced by a compromise Presidental choice, Hadi, reputedly weak and ineffective.

However Saleh had kept the loyalty of much of the military, and with the help of Houthi rebels, the ex-President's tribal friends and half the military marched on key main towns and took control of much of the country. President Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis and the Gulf states, fearing one piece of the plan to reduce Iranian influence would fail, attacked the Saleh supporters and Houthis, with US advisers in the background. The effect on the already-poor population has been cruelly devastating.

Those in Washington's inner circles who feared the US presidency would lose control of the situation started to become more vocal. The US Presidency countered by stressing the importance of the rapprochement with Iran, and the necessity of keeping Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and Turkey, on board and Russia and China at bay.

The problem remains however that this may lead to war with Russia. More immediately perhaps the approach being taken by all sides suggests there is no prospect of the wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen coming to an end any time soon, and this has fuelled the refugee crisis. And now the Turkish government, having negotiated reduced support for Kurds, and having whipped up anti-Kurd nationalism in Turkey with another election looming, Kurdish unity is all but assured, with unpredictable consequences (ie. across Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and even Iran).

So how should the US and its allies respond differently ?

By any measure it's a terrible mess. US policy on Iran is being driven by a different group with an economic and diplomatic agenda, relative to the Mid East, and Saudi relations. The latter group is dominated by a 'military-first' approach; with plenty of folk who are against the Iran rapprochement and for a more belligerent stance with Russia.

Are these wars worth the Iran rapprochement ? Certainly not in loss of life, and in strategic US terms, it depends on the eventual outcome. Many suspect that the political aim is to neutralise Syria, Lebanon and Iraq by bogging them down in 'permanent' war. It didn't have to be that way, especially since the core 'Iran problem' (intentions to build nuclear weapons) has been wildly inflated politically since 2003, with spectacularly effective help from Israel (contrast with the US formal position and US NIEs since 2003).

US allies may not have a choice, but ideally the UK should stand back from further military involvement in Iraq and Syria, and work with European partners to build a consensus for a negotiated settlement, via a regional conference backed by the US, Russia, and China.

For years, analysts have known the probable shape of a settlement (see my article here from 2011).

The Russians will ask for guarantees over its Tartus base, and a future role for Syrian Ba'athists (not necessarily Assad). Syrians will almost certainly go along with a new regionalised constitution. Turkey will seek guarantees over the shape of Kurdish unity. Saudi Arabia will require assurances over its Shia population, and a power-sharing settlement in Yemen, which will probably exclude Hadi's and Saleh's militias. Hizb Ullah will be asked to withdraw from Syria. Saudi/GCC and Turkish overt and covert financial and military support for ISIS will have to be ended, and the supply lines through Iraq disrupted. Iraq's government will certainly be asked to reform its two-way leadership (Kurdish/Shia) towards a proper three-way arrangement (Kurdish/Shia/Sunni). The Euphrates Iraq/Syria border will have to be strengthened, perhaps with UN troops.

Peace will not be simple, but a way must be found to unwind this mess. The arrogance of all parties is to blame. It's time for a bit of humility.

The prospect of a devastating a major war involving Russia and the US is real, and the dangers should be properly understood. Such negotiating points (or something like them) will take months to conclude, while people perish. The effort and patience deployed by the US, Russia, Europe and China to reach agreement over Iran, must be applied equally to Syria, Iraq and Yemen. This means abandoning the 'military first' approach, even though this is a loss of face for its proponents.

I don' want people to read this article in sadness two years from now, in the midst of a major global war.

Paul Vale   |   September 10, 2015    9:54 PM ET

NEW YORK -- The United States has “scaled up” next year’s expected intake of Syrian refugees to 10,000 in response to pressure from European leaders. This figure is an increase from the 5,000 to 7,000 Washington had previously promised to resettle from Assad’s beleaguered state.

Speaking on Thursday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest answered questions about the US response to a crisis that has seen millions of refugees move to countries neighbouring Syria, and hundreds of thousands cross into Europe.


Obama meets with veterans to discuss the Iran nuclear deal on September 10, 2015 in the Roosevelt Room of the White House

“The president has directed his team to further consider how we can scale up this response,” he said. “One thing the United States can do is begin to admit more Syrian refugees into the United States.”

“We know that it’s certainly not feasible for millions of Syrians to come to this country. But what we can do is make sure that we are doing everything we can to try to provide for their basic needs,” Earnest added.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said the US was committed to increasing the number of refugees it accepts from Syria, but did not give a specific number. “We are committed to increasing the number of refugees that we take, and we are looking hard at the number that we can specifically manage with respect to the crisis in Syria and Europe,” a statement read.

Reports followed from congressional staff speaking off the record that an annual ceiling limit of 100,000 was discussed during a meeting with members of the House Appropriations Committees.

David Miliband, the former British foreign secretary, who currently leads the International Rescue Committee in New York, has called on the US to take 65,000 Syrian refugees by the end of next year.

Four million refugees have fled the fighting in Syria since 2011; the United States has taken only 1,500 resettlements since the war started. The country has an annual intake limit of 70,000 refugees from 70 states around the world.

The United Kingdom has taken only 7,000 registered refugees so far, with London promising to take up to 20,000 over the next five years. In contrast, Sweden has taken nearly 65,000, Germany around 100,000 and Egypt 130,000, while Lebanon has seen an influx of 1.1 million and Turkey nearly 2 million.


"The West's Iranian Policy" or "Fantasy Land"

Lord Maginnis   |   September 7, 2015   12:10 AM ET

Last month's agreement with the harsh Tehran regime over its nuclear programme may be touted by proponents as the conclusion to a decade-long dispute. But surely this optimistic assessment it is no more realistic than was the Munich Accord signed 77 years ago this month. Just as betraying an understanding with the Sudetenland was to flatter Hitler's ambitions and precipitate nations into World War II so one must look at both the history of relations with the Mullahs' Regime and the 'small print' in the text. Comparable to 1938 one can see little hindrance to the Regime ambition to actually accelerate Iran's clandestine nuclear weapons work, leaving the country free to enrich uranium for a viable bomb within the next ten to fifteen years.

In the midst of the polarising debate over this agreement, the excessive optimism of its defenders is not even limited to the deal itself. They would have us believe that the negotiating process has also led to the conclusion of yet another years-long dispute, namely the frequently stalled and obstructed probe into the past military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme.

Tehran, they suggest, has accepted unprecedented inspection of its current nuclear activities when everyone can see that the deal allows Iran to stall some inspections for 24 days, giving it an opportunity to conceal evidence. They would also have us believe that Tehran has agreed to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency's probe when in fact the UN nuclear watchdog has all but abdicated its responsibility to inspect sites where evidence of illicit activity has been spotted in the past.

This latter fact recently became abundantly clear when the Associated Press obtained a draft of one of the "side deals" signed between the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran around the same time as the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The AP's transcription reveals that Iran is to be permitted to effectively manage its own inspection of the Parchin military base, where Tehran has been suspected of conducting experiments on such things as nuclear detonators.

The suspicious nature of Parchin has hardly abated in recent years or months. In fact, in July satellite images obtained by U.S. intelligence agencies showed evidence that Iran had been operating machinery in the area, in an apparent effort to sanitise the site ahead of IAEA inspections.

Now it turns out that notwithstanding whatever concealment they have accomplished through these efforts, there will not even be genuine IAEA inspections anytime in the near future. Rather, "separate arrangement II" assigns Iran to the task of taking photographs and video of the site, as well as collecting its own soil samples from areas mutually agreed upon by Iran and the IAEA. Furthermore, the document gives Tehran the power to limit the visual evidence that it provides for off-site analysis by citing "military concerns."

Even in the midst of the P5+1 negotiations, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano repeatedly issued statements indicating that Iran was falling short of required transparency and had provided answers to only one of a dozen key questions that were supposed to be resolved "before the negotiations finished".

Now, instead of enforcing such transparency, the UN agency has handed the Islamic Republic the tools for more effective obfuscation. And the Obama administration has declared that it is "comfortable" with the arrangement and "confident" in the IAEA's ability to settle the issue.

All of this confidence seems to depend upon an inexplicable belief that Iran will reverse a long pattern of deceptive behaviour now that the deal has been signed. In fact, this has been guiding Iran policy since President Obama began on the path to rapprochement. And that appears to be grounded in the mistaken belief that the West is now dealing with a different kind of Iranian leadership.

In actuality, even the so-called moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is an establishment figure and a regime insider who previously served as the lead negotiator on Iran's nuclear programme and later boasted of Tehran's ability to deceive the West and maintain a "calm environment" in order to dramatically expand the country's enrichment capabilities.

If this is not sufficient to undermine confidence in Iran's willingness to cooperate with the existing agreements, the Iranian signatory to the IAEA side deal is even more obviously the wrong sort of person to be dealing with. A day after the AP's report on that document, the Iranian opposition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), released a profile of that individual, Ali Hosseini-Tash, a Brigadier General in the terrorist-sponsoring Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Putting Hosseini-Tash at the centre of this agreement highlights both the level of importance that Tehran attaches to it and the apparent obliviousness of the IAEA as to what it has agreed. The NCRI points out that Hosseini-Tash, a former deputy Defence Minister and deputy for the Supreme National Security Council, has long played leading roles in Tehran's nuclear programme, as well as being linked to a biological weapons programme.

What is particularly telling is that Hosseini-Tash directly supervised the Organisation for Defensive Innovation and Research, the body that the NCRI has identified as being in charge of armament projects. Furthermore, he did so at the exact time that Iran was known to be carrying out experiments at Parchin with nuclear weapons applications.

What this means is that the person who has been entrusted with an agreement allowing Iran to collect and filter information on one of its most suspicious sites is perhaps the person who is most intimately familiar with the nuclear-related experiments that occurred there, and thus with what aspects of the site Iran most needs to hide.

The Persian saying relevant to the situation might be cited: Someone asked the fox, "who is your alibi," and the fox answered, "my tail," is very appropriate.

Given the background of Ali Hosseini-Tash, we now know that in this case, the fox's tail is adept at covering the fox's tracks. And yet we have accepted that alibi with the same outlandish optimism that has guided so much discussion of the nuclear deal among its supporters, especially the Obama administration.

Nothing has really been settled. There is every reason to believe that Tehran regime is not only committed to cheating, but also that it has now enshrined the means to do so in the 'agreement'. And meanwhile - not a word about the rate of executions of ordinary Iranian citizens. The more policymakers and their constituents understand these facts, the better a chance we will have of taking measures to correct the indefensible mistakes the U.S. and the UN have made in recent months.

Eve Hartley   |   September 4, 2015   12:02 PM ET

President Barack Obama has taken to Facebook to comment on the extraordinary kindness of an Iranian child, featuring on a Humans Of New York post.

Brandon Stanton, the photographer and photojournalist behind the project, is currently documenting the lives of those in Iran.

During this trip, Stanton stumbled across a father and son who were celebrating the boy's tenth birthday in the Iranian town of Tabriz.

“Today’s his tenth birthday. He’s a very emotional young man. He likes to solve other people’s problems. One time...

Posted by Humans of New York on Thursday, 3 September 2015
President Obama commented on the story of a boy's kindness in Iran

The father shared the heart-warming story, telling Stanton the tale that made him realise he "was raising a humanitarian."

He continued: "One time when he was five years old, he came with me to the store and we bought two pounds of fresh apricots. I let him carry the bag home.

"He walked a little bit behind me the entire way. After awhile, I asked him to hand me an apricot. ‘I can’t,’ he said. ‘I’ve given them all away.'"


After reading the tale of selflessness, an obviously moved President Obama stepped in, using the White House's account to respond.

He wrote: "What an inspirational story. One of the most fulfilling things that can happen to you as a parent is to see the values you’ve worked to instill in your kids start to manifest themselves in their actions — and this one really resonated with me,

obama comment hony

Obama's comment on the picture can be seen with the signature '-bo'

"I hope this young man never loses his desire to help others. And I'm going to continue doing whatever I can to make this world a place where he and every young person like him can live up to their full potential. (And if I ever get to meet him, I hope he’ll save me an apricot!)"

The comment was signed with “bo,” which the President uses to sign off on social media posts, and comes just one day after he secured enough Democratic support to safeguard a pending Iran nuclear deal.

Paul Vale   |   September 2, 2015    2:35 PM ET

Here’s an unusual selfie -- the 44th president of the Unites States… and Bear Grylls.

The snap was take on Tuesday during Barack Obama’s trip to Alaska during which POTUS taped an episode of the show “Running Wild” with the British survivalist.

Glad this was the only Bear I met in the park. -bo

A photo posted by The White House (@whitehouse) on

Filmed for NBC, the episode will air later this year and will focus on the impact of climate change in the northeastern state.

Obama has been criticised in the US over his taping of the show, having recently signed a deal to let Shell Oil drill in the Arctic.


Paul Vale   |   August 31, 2015   10:15 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Bear Grylls has snared his biggest catch to date -- the 44th President of the United States. Barack Obama is to appear alongside the British adventurer on a hike into the Alaskan wilderness for a TV programme to be broadcast later this year, NBC announced on Monday.

The show will focus on the environmental impact of climate change in the northern state, which is known for its freezing temperatures (minus 80F) and impenetrable icy terrain... and Sarah Palin.

bear grylls

The British adventurer is to show the president how to survive on Alaska's Exit Glacier in the Kenai Mountains

"President Obama will meet with Grylls while visiting Alaska to observe the effects of climate change on the area,” read a statement from the network. “The two will then come together in the Alaskan Wilderness. President Obama will become the first US president to receive a crash course in survival techniques from Bear Grylls. The visit will be taped and aired on NBC later this year."

The film is to be taped on Tuesday in Exit Glacier in Kenai Mountains, according to the New York Times. The trip could prove dangerous, with black and brown bears roaming the Alaskan coastline, though it's likely a heavily armed secret service detail will be in tow.

On Monday, Obama set off for a three-day tour of Alaska to view for himself the consequences of warmer global temperatures. Following tough new regulations on carbon emissions, the president is bent on spending the last 16 months of his administration pushing for greater consensus on how to tackle climate change,

Speaking to Reuters, Sharon Burke, a former Pentagon official who worked on energy issues for Obama, said: "It's a really important punctuation mark on what he's saying is a top priority for him. It's the ultimate legacy issue because it is something that's going to affect so many generations of Americans."

obama bike

US President Barack Obama rides a bike on August 22, 2015 in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts on Martha's Vineyard

Grylls, who once served with the SAS, is well known in the US for guiding a raft of hapless yet willing celebrities into unfriendly environments, forcing them to learn and rely on survival skills.

Called "Running Wild With Bear Grylls," Kate Winslet, Zac Efron and Channing Tatum have all appeared on the show. In a recent episode, "Fast and Furious" star Michelle Rodriguez was asked to eat a mouse stewed in her own urine. On Monday, a petition was launched demanding the Commander-in-Chief do likewise.


As Egypt Jails Al Jazeera Journalists, the West Still Tolerates El-Sisi

Nehad Ismail   |   August 30, 2015    3:49 PM ET

An Egyptian judge on Saturday 29th Aug handed down an unexpectedly harsh verdict in the trial of three journalists from the Al Jazeera English news channel, sentencing them to three years in prison on charges that legal experts said were unfounded and politically motivated. The New York Times described the sentences as "stunning". In a separate development the BBC reported that Amal Clooney who represents Canadian-Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy has called on President al-Sisi to pardon the men.

Recently the United States has denounced Egypt's newly expanded counter terrorism law and expressed concern about its potential impact on human rights in the country. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi signed a law on 16th August expanding the government's surveillance powers and, according to critics, muzzle dissent and target opponents. Human rights activists have accused Sisi of leading an increasingly repressive regime.

However, despite the American denunciation, Egypt remains a solid military ally of the United States. According to Aljazeera the US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Cairo on Sunday 2nd to meet his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. He said that US-Egyptian relations were returning to a "stronger base" in bilateral ties despite tensions and human rights concerns.

In a statement that day the US State Dept noted that the two sides had "renewed their commitment to the strategic relationship and resolved to take practical and specific steps to consolidate it.
This came just after the US delivered eight F-16 fighter jets to Egypt as part of a military support package. At the same time Kerry acknowledged stress in the US-Egypt relationship over human rights and said the US would continue to press Egypt on the arrests of dissidents and journalists and mass trials.

The US moves come as some analysts argue that the new regime is no better than the old. For example a headline in The Atlantic January read: Is Egypt on the Verge of Another Uprising? The article argues that the regime the Egyptians overthrew 4 years ago has returned. "In the face of relentless pressure and violence from the authorities, most of the revolutionary movements have been side-lined or snuffed out".

Following the revolution the Muslim Brotherhood won the November 2011 elections and the presidential elections of June 2012.

Having been declared the fifth President of Egypt Mohamad Morsi, instead of acting as President for the country acted as a political party chief. He swiftly moved to get rid of Army Chief Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and replaced him with the younger General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Morsi then cancelled a constitutional declaration aimed at curbing his powers. In November 2012 he stripped constitutional court judges of all powers. Secular and liberal Egyptians felt excluded and disenfranchised. Once again the people protested and denounced Morsi as the new Mubarak. The economic situation got worse, prices of essential commodities shot up, the country suffered repeated power cuts and fuel shortages. The protests grew culminating in June 2013 with millions of Egyptians assembling in Cairo. The army intervened, backed by liberals, the Copts and Al-Azhar Authority (the highest religious authority in the Muslim Sunni world) and Morsi was removed from office by the army.

However, many observers and analysts agree with The Atlantic view that the harsh tactics used by the security forces are taking Egyptians to the days of the Mubarak era. The courts have lost their independence and impartiality. The judiciary has been politicised and is seen as a tool of the regime. The chronic problems of poverty, unemployment, acute housing shortages, and inadequate health care system remain unaddressed and even got worse.

So why does the US not criticise el-Sisi?
According to a recent analysis by Bloomberg "President Barack Obama's decision to lift the partial embargo on military aid to Egypt is a harsh nod to reality. Since taking power in a military coup in 2013, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has been every bit the tyrant, showing utter disregard for civil rights. And the Obama administration has long claimed it would lift the embargo only if Egypt showed "credible progress" toward restoring democracy."

Yet despite all of this, the US-Egyptian ties are warming after two years of strain, doubt and uncertainty.

Egypt has been considered a solid ally to the West since the early 1970s when President Sadat expelled Soviet advisers and reoriented Egypt westwards.

Then in 1977 Sadat paid a historic visit to Israel, beginning the process that led to the 1979 peace treaty. By 1991 they were so close that Egypt joined the allied coalition to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

Yet despite all the criticism and the damage that the Al Jazeera journalist's case has done to the image of Egypt, the West looks at Egypt as a robust linchpin in the fight against terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, and the West supports Egypt efforts in defeating al Qaeda and ISIS in the Sinai. Despite all the short-comings Egypt remains a regional power and a bulwark against Islamic extremism and terrorism.