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Trump Administration Quietly Releases Over $100 Million in Lebanon Military Aid

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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has quietly released more than $100 million in military assistance to Lebanon after months of unexplained delay that led some lawmakers to compare it to the aid for Ukraine at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

The $105 million in Foreign Military Financing funds for the Lebanese Armed Forces was released just before the Thanksgiving holiday and lawmakers were notified of the step on Monday, according to two congressional staffers and an administration official.

All three spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly to the matter.

The money had languished in limbo at the Office of Management and Budget since September although it had already won congressional approval and had overwhelming support from the Pentagon, State Department and National Security Council. The White House has yet to offer any explanation for the delay despite repeated queries from Congress.

Lawmakers such as Rep. Eliot Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., had been pressing the administration since October to either release the funds or explain why it was being withheld. The State Department had notified Congress on Sept. 5 that the money would be spent.

Earlier this month, the delay came up in impeachment testimony by David Hale, the No. 3 official in the State Department, according to the transcript of the closed-door hearing. Hale described growing consternation among diplomats about the delay.

The White House and the Office of Management and Budget have declined to comment on the matter. The State Department had offered only a cryptic response to queries, defending the assistance but also calling for Lebanese authorities to implement economic reforms and rein in corruption.

As with the Ukraine assistance, OMB did not explain the delay. However, unlike Ukraine, there has been no suggestion that President Donald Trump is seeking “a favor” from Lebanon in exchange for the aid, according to officials familiar with the matter.

The delay had frustrated the national security community, which believes the assistance that pays for U.S.-made military equipment for the Lebanese army is essential, particularly as Lebanon reels from financial chaos and mass protests.”

The aid is intended to help counter Iran’s influence in Lebanon, which is highlighted by the presence of the Iranian-supported Shiite Hezbollah movement in the government and the group’s militias, officials have said.

“Holding the money weakened the Lebanese military just at the moment that they were holding the country together,” Sen. Murphy said in response to the release. “There’s literally nothing in the Middle East this White House can’t screw up.”

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., who joined Engel in demanding an explanation for the delay, said he was “pleased to see this critical aid finally resuming. Our assistance is crucial to help Lebanon counter Iran-backed Hezbollah and other groups threatening the region.”

Some pro-Israel members of Congress have sought to defund the Lebanese military, arguing that it has been compromised by Hezbollah, which the U.S. designates as a “foreign terrorist organization.” Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has long advocated cutting the assistance and is expected to introduce legislation that would bar such aid as long as Hezbollah is part of Lebanon’s government.

The Pentagon and State Department reject that view, saying the army is the only independent Lebanese institution capable of resisting Hezbollah.





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For U.K. Real Estate Market, Johnson’s Win Brings Some Certainty

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(Bloomberg) — Want the lowdown on European markets? In your inbox before the open, every day. Sign up here.The Conservative Party’s emphatic victory in the U.K. general election has given the country’s real estate market what it’s been craving for more than three years: the prospect of some political certainty.Prime Minister Boris Johnson now has the votes he needs to push his Brexit deal through Parliament. For investors and developers who have been waiting for clarity on this issue since voters backed Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union in mid-2016, the election result brings with it the possibility of increased deal-making and new projects.Investors have been cautious about committing to deals while it remained unclear if Parliament would ever pass a withdrawal agreement that would alleviate the risk of a disorderly divorce. Deals for London offices fell by almost half in the first nine months of this year, as the U.K. staggered through three missed Brexit deadlines and the election campaign, according to data compiled by broker CBRE Group Inc.“The certainty that a parliamentary majority provides is incredibly welcome,” said Neil Sinclair, chief executive officer of landlord Palace Capital Plc. “Investors will now have the appetite to go ahead and commit.”While developers have taken a cautious approach to starting new projects, companies including Linklaters have continued to seek new office space this year. That’s helped keep rents and values high.With all but a handful of seats declared as of Friday morning, the Conservatives had won 361 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons, a gain of 47 seats, to the Labour Party’s 203 seats, a drop of 59. That puts the Conservatives on course for their biggest majority since 1987 under Margaret Thatcher.Johnson committed to taking the U.K. out of the EU by the end of January if he secured a majority, and every Conservative candidate signed a pledge to approve his deal. Once Britain has left, it can begin negotiations on its future trading relationship with the bloc.Under the current timetable, the U.K. has until the end of 2020 to conclude a free trade agreement with the EU, a deadline Johnson has said he won’t break. That’s a tight schedule, given that the EU’s trade deals with other countries have often taken longer to finish.“A Tory majority is the most positive or benign outcome for business and the real estate market, but I don’t think this is going to lead to any sudden euphoria or an investment spree into the U.K.,” said Rob Wilkinson, chief executive officer of AEW Europe SA, a real estate investor with about 70 billion euros ($77.8 billion) of assets under management.Wilkinson said “critical uncertainties” will still remain, particularly around whether Brexit can be completed by the end of January and a trade deal can be done on schedule.That could mean any boost in activity is short-lived, as the prospect of a messy separation emerges again toward the end of next year, rekindling fears of widespread economic disruption and job losses.“The clock will start ticking very quickly toward end-2020 when the transition period comes to an end,” said Zachary Gauge, a real estate analyst at UBS Group AG’s asset management unit. “Based on the experience of the previous three and a half years, it’s very difficult to see how all the details of the future trading arrangements can be tied up within 11 months.”To contact the reporter on this story: Jack Sidders in London at jsidders@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Shelley Robinson at ssmith118@bloomberg.net, Patrick HenryFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.



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Trump Signs Off on Trade Deal With China to Avert December Tariffs

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President Donald Trump signed off on a so-called phase-one trade deal with China, averting the Dec. 15 introduction of a new wave of U.S. tariffs on about $160 billion of consumer goods from the Asian nation, according to people familiar with the matter.

The deal presented to Trump by trade advisers Thursday included a promise by the Chinese to buy more U.S. agricultural goods, according to the people. Officials also discussed possible reductions of existing duties on Chinese products, they said. The terms have been agreed but the legal text has not yet been finalized, the people said. A White House spokesperson declined to comment.

The administration has reached out to allies on Capitol Hill and in the business community to issue statements of support once the announcement is made, they said.

U.S. stocks rose to records earlier Thursday as optimism grew that there would be a deal. Trump tweeted that the U.S. and China are “VERY close” to signing a “BIG” trade deal, also sending equities higher.

“They want it, and so do we!” he tweeted five minutes after equity markets opened in New York, sending stocks to new records.

Trump has rejected deals with China before. Negotiators have been working on the terms of the phase-one deal for months after the president announced in October that the two nations had reached an agreement that could be put on paper within weeks.

The U.S. has added a 25% duty on about $250 billion of Chinese products and a 15% levy on another $110 billion of its imports over the course of a roughly 20-month trade war. Discussions now are focused on reducing those rates by as much as half, as part of the interim agreement Trump announced almost nine weeks ago.

In addition to a significant increase in Chinese agricultural purchases in exchange for tariff relief, officials have also said a phase-one pact would include Chinese commitments to do more to stop intellectual-property theft and an agreement by both sides not to manipulate their currencies.

Put off for later discussions are knotty issues such as longstanding U.S. complaints over the vast web of subsidies ranging from cheap electricity to low-cost loans that China has used to build its industrial might.

Officials from the world’s two biggest economies have been locked in negotiations on the phase-one deal since Trump announced it.

The new duties, which were scheduled to take effect at 12:01 a.m. Washington time on Sunday unless the administration says otherwise, would hit consumer goods from China including smartphones and toys.

Before today, Trump’s advisers have sent conflicting signals and stressed that he hadn’t made up his mind on the next steps. Advocates of delaying the tariff increase have argued that continued negotiations with Beijing will enable him to maintain a tough line with China without inflicting the economic damage that more import taxes might bring.

The decision facing Trump highlights one dilemma he confronts going into the 2020 election: Whether to bet on an escalation of hostilities with China and the tariffs he is so fond of or to follow the advice of more market-oriented advisers and business leaders who argue a pause in the escalation would help a slowing U.S. economy bounce back in an election year.

What Bloomberg’s Economists Say…

“The outcome of U.S.-China trade talks will be a key determinant of the trajectory for 2020 growth. At one extreme, a deal that takes tariffs back to May 2019 levels, and provides certainty that the truce will hold, could deliver a 0.6% boost to global GDP. At the other, a breakdown in talks would mean the trade drag extends into the year ahead.”
–Tom Orlik, chief economist
For the full report, click here

Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative leading the negotiations with China, is in a camp that sees progress in talks and wants them to continue without further escalation, according to people familiar with the discussions. That would set up a push to conclude the talks in January, possibly before a State of the Union address to Congress by Trump.

–– With assistance from Justin Sink, Vince Golle and Jennifer Jacobs.





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Boris Johnson Heads for Big Majority in U.K. Election, Exit Poll Says

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(Bloomberg) — Sign up to our Brexit Bulletin, follow us @Brexit and subscribe to our podcast.Prime Minister Boris Johnson is on course to win a decisive election victory, vindicating his gamble on an early vote and putting the country on track to leave the European Union next month. The pound rose.The official exit poll predicted his Conservatives will win 368 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons — a large overall majority of 86 seats. The main opposition Labour Party is projected to secure 191 seats, a loss of 71 since the previous election. The Scottish National Party is seen securing 55.If the forecast is borne out by results, Johnson’s majority — the biggest for his party since Margaret Thatcher’s in 1987 — will give him more power to get his own way on Brexit, especially if he needs extra time to negotiate with the EU. Meanwhile, the plan is to hurry legislation through Parliament to meet the current departure date of Jan. 31.“If the numbers play out the way they seem and we get that stable working majority, then we get real busy, real quick,” Conservative Party Chairman James Cleverly told Bloomberg TV. For an interactive election map, click hereFor Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the projection of heavy losses is a disaster. He staked everything on a radical plan to hike taxes for the rich and nationalize swathes of industry.Senior Labour officials expect Corbyn to announce his resignation as party leader if the exit poll is accurate. Two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no way he could carry on if the results are as bad as expected.“I thought it would be closer. I think most people thought the polls were narrowing. If it’s anywhere near this, it’s extremely disappointing,” Labour’s economy spokesman John McDonnell told the BBC. “We knew it would be tough because Brexit has dominated this election. We thought other issues would cut through and there would be a wider debate.”For the Scottish National Party, it was a different story. It was playing down the scale of its success until results are declared. The exit poll predicted it would win back all but one of the seats it lost in 2017 and leave just four disctricts in Scotland for the other parties. That would spur leader Nicola Sturgeon to reiterate her demand for another Scottish independence referendum, something Johnson has so far ruled out.The exit poll is based on a mass survey of tens of thousands of people after they cast their ballots. That has generally made it more accurate in predicting the outcome of U.K. elections than snapshot surveys of voters’ intentions conducted during the campaign.The exit poll Parliamentary seat forecast showed:Conservatives to win 368 seatsLabour to win 191Liberal Democrats to win 13Brexit Party to win 0Scottish National Party to win 55Green Party to win 1Other parties to win 22For Johnson, a big majority would mark the culmination of an extraordinary rise to power. After he led the pro-Brexit campaign three years ago, Johnson watched as Theresa May tried and repeatedly failed to negotiate an EU divorce agreement the House of Commons would accept.When she called a snap election in 2017 expecting a landslide, she lost the majority she started with, plunging the U.K. into two years of chaos as a deadlocked parliament failed to agree on the way forward. May was finally forced to resign, allowing Johnson to take over as prime minister in July with a promise to deliver Brexit “do or die” by the end of October.Despite months of threats and bellicose rhetoric, he eventually secured a new Brexit deal with the EU, but couldn’t persuade parliament to rush it into law in time for him to meet his deadline.That was enough to prompt the premier to trigger an early election — the next one wasn’t due until 2022 — in the hope voters would give him the majority he needed, in his words, to “get Brexit done.”If the exit poll proves correct again this year — and most of the results will be declared overnight — Johnson’s bet will have paid off.(Updates with Scotland in eighth paragraph.)\–With assistance from Heather Harris, Robert Hutton and Anna Edwards.To contact the reporters on this story: Tim Ross in London at tross54@bloomberg.net;Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net;Greg Ritchie in London at gritchie10@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Flavia Krause-Jackson at fjackson@bloomberg.net, Thomas Penny, Rodney JeffersonFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.



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