A team of chemical experts on Wednesday assembled by the United Nations was about to travel to Syria, having received the go-ahead from President Bashar Assad’s government after extended negotiations, CBS News reported.
One U.N. official, who would not agree to be named, said the team would arrive in Damascus on Friday, the network reported. Earlier in the week, the mission was suspended indefinitely due to “technical hitches,” in the words of one anonymous source.
“Everything is set. The inspectors will interview victims, witnesses, doctors and residents. They will report what they see on the ground but will not make decisions,” the official told CBS for the Wednesday report.
“As agreed with the government of Syria, the team will remain in the country to conduct its activities, including onsite visits, for a period of 14 days, extendable upon mutual consent,” the United Nations said in statement released on Wednesday.
Speaking on Thursday, a Syrian Foreign Ministry insider said “there were no difficulties in the negotiations and Syria said it is ready to give the team all the facilities it needs to carry out its mission.”
“Syria has nothing to hide,” the source told Agence France-Presse.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey continued his weeklong trip to the Middle East on Wednesday, engaging in talks with Jordan’s king and top military official about securing their nation’s border with Syria and handling upwards of 550,000 Syrian refugees, the New York Times reported.
Jordan is seeking U.S. help in securing a border that is increasingly used by weapons smugglers, according to the newspaper. Additionally, King Abdullah II and Gen. Mashal al-Zaben discussed with Dempsey the need for increased humanitarian aid for Syrians who have fled to Jordan, according to the Times.
“We did not talk about direct military intervention,” Dempsey said. “That actually never came up. What did come up was discussions about what we could do to help them build their capability and capacities, whether it was border surveillance and ISR [Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance].”
The United States and Jordan have close diplomatic ties, making additional aid likely, according to the newspaper. That could include specialized training for Jordanian Special Operations forces to increase their counterterrorism capabilities and prepare a defense plan against a chemical weapons attack.
Additionally, U.S. support could come in the form of combining the gathering of intelligence and integrating intelligence and operations, the American Forces Press Service reported.
Dempsey said part of the challenge in Syria under discussion with Jordan and Israel is “identifying a moderate opposition [in Syria], and then enabling it to be effective,” the press service reported.
“Certainly our partners in the region are far better equipped to determine who’s who and with what motivation than we are. They are and will continue to be an important part of making those identifications,” AFPS cited Dempsey as saying.
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The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has released its score of the House-passed American Health Care Act, which would replace Obamacare. According to the CBO, the bill would reduce the deficit by $119 billion by 2026, while leaving 14 million more Americans uninsured in 2018 than under current law, a number swelling to 23 million by 2026. Further, insurance premiums would balloon 20 percent in 2018 and five percent in 2019 before the waiver provision in the legislation would kick in. The provision allows states to apply for waivers and permit insurers to offer skimpier plans, which would likely entice younger and healthier individuals to buy health insurance while potentially pricing older and less healthy Americans out of insurance plans. House Republicans approved this bill in late April without waiting for the CBO score.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing that President Donald Trump's budget is little more than recycling bin material. "The budget proposed by the president doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of passing," Graham said. Graham had previously opposed the budget over its nearly 30 percent cut to the budget of the State Department. The budget slashes spending on domestic priorities while increasing military spending.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday that he doesn't yet know the formula towards gaining passage of an Obamacare replacement in the Senate. "I don't know how we get to 50 (votes) at the moment. But that's the goal," McConnell said. The House passed an Obamacare replacement bill which has been widely seen as dead on arrival in the Senate, and McConnell has put together a working group of Republican Senators working towards creating health care legislation which could gain the support of at least 50 Senators.
"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."