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Russia warns US on Syria strikes

John Kerry will be hoping to the backing from the Saudis and other regional powers


Russia has warned that US air strikes against militants in Syria would be a gross violation of international law.

President Obama: We will degrade and ultimately destroy IS

But the statement brought a strong reaction from Russia, which has been an ally of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The US president has spoken directly about the possibility of strikes by the US armed forces against Isil (IS) positions in Syria without the consent of the legitimate government ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich was quoted as saying

“This step, in the absence of a UN Security Council decision, would be an act of aggression, a gross violation of international law.”

Syria also repeated its warning that the US had to co-ordinate with the Syrian government before launching air strikes on its territory.

“Any action of any kind without the consent of the Syrian government would be an attack on Syria,” National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar said on Thursday.

Last month, Syria offered to help the US fight Islamic State.

The US has launched more than 150 air strikes against the group in Iraq and has provided arms to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting against IS.

The jihadist group has become notorious for its brutality, recording their beheadings of enemy soldiers and Western journalists.

Mr Kerry, who arrived in the Red Sea port of Jeddah on Thursday, will hold talks with representatives of Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf states as well as Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Nato member Turkey.

Reports say that among the issues to be discussed are training for Syrian rebels on Saudi soil and broader permission from regional states to use their airspace in order to increase the capacity of US aircraft.

President Obama’s anti-IS strategy

In a 15-minute speech shown at peak time in the US on Wednesday, President Obama vowed that America would lead “a broad coalition to roll back” IS.

“Working with the Iraqi government, we will expand our efforts beyond protecting our own people and humanitarian missions, so that we’re hitting Isil targets as Iraqi forces go on the offense,” he said.

President Obama was elected in part because of fervent opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and presided over the US troop pullout from the country.

Analysis: Jon Sopel, BBC North America editor, Washington

For the first time, Islamic State targets on the ground in Syria will be in the crosshairs of American pilots. The president told the American people: “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are.” But he was equally emphatic that the combat on the ground would happen without US troops. Instead the US will ramp up its military assistance to the Syrian opposition.

But the president was also at pains to express what this wasn’t. “We will not get dragged into another ground war,” he insisted. He said that America would lead a broad coalition to roll back this terrorist threat and would not be acting alone. There were two cautionary notes – the first on timescale and also that this would not be risk-free to American servicemen and women. Action is going to start: who knows when it will be mission accomplished.

The speech Obama had hoped to avoid

Last year, President Obama abandoned plans to launch airstrikes in Syria against government forces after congressional opposition.

In his speech, he ruled out working with President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, despite the fact that his forces are also engaged in fighting IS.

Instead, he said, the US would seek to strengthen the non-IS Syrian opposition, which fights against both IS and President Assad.

Syria’s Western-backed National Coalition welcomed Mr Obama’s plan, and urged Congress to approve it.

However, the BBC’s Jim Muir in northern Iraq says the Syrian opposition is fragmented and dominated by Islamists, who may be opposed to IS but are seeking Islamic rule rather than democracy.

Republicans ignoring their own advice on immigration


Washington (CNN) — Republicans already are steaming about President Barack Obama’s expected executive action to potentially allow millions of undocumented workers to remain in the country.

But another debate on immigration will refocus on internal GOP splits and raise questions about whether the party is taking any of its own advice about being more open to Hispanics.

Pointing to inaction by Congress, Obama signaled last week that he’s done waiting for Republicans to negotiate a compromise on any immigration measures.

“I promise you, the American people don’t want me just standing around twiddling my thumbs and waiting for Congress to get something done,” he said.

How far can the President go on executive actions?

House Speaker John Boehner warned Obama that any move to expand earlier executive action would be “a grievous mistake.”

In an opinion piece in Politico on Friday, Boehner insisted any action to fix immigration “must be done by Congress, and it must be done in a common-sense, step-by-step fashion so that the American people have a say in what we are doing.”

Boehner was one of the first top Republicans after Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election to say that the party needed to deal with immigration.

But a bipartisan Senate bill approved last year and backed by some prominent Republicans hit a wall in the GOP-led House.

Because most House Republican districts are solidly red, most of the party’s rank and file feared primary challenges from the right. The incentive was to stop immigration reform, not move it forward.

Recent actions contradict efforts to be inclusive

With Congress divided, Obama to go his own way on immigration

Many Republican Party leaders and possible presidential candidates, however, say the GOP needs a more inclusive message to Hispanics if it hopes to win the White House in 2016.

But the message they’re hearing on immigration from many in the party could make it harder to build relationships with the Latino community.

House bill

Right before leaving town for August, the House passed a bill requiring that some 600,000 children born in the United States to parents who entered the country illegally would be deported.

The vote was largely along party lines and Republicans pressing for broader reform said that ending the Obama administration’s program easing such deportations sent the wrong message.

“Why are Republicans continuing to shoot themselves in the foot?” Carlos Gutierrez, a Republican himself and a former commerce secretary for George W. Bush, asked in a CNN interview.

A chief proponent of the House bill, Iowa Rep. Steve King, was confronted in his home state last week at an event with Sen. Rand Paul, a likely 2016 presidential candidate.

With media present covering Paul, a woman claiming that she would be deported if the measure became law confronted King about the legislation. Paul was seen leaving before the matter turned into a heated debate.

Paul has made broadening the Republican Party’s appeal a cornerstone of his message.

He helped open GOP offices in minority neighborhoods in his home state and appeared before numerous African-American groups, highlighting his support for reforming criminal sentencing guidelines.

Former 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has also traveled to more than a dozen communities around the country to discuss poverty issues and promote his economic growth policies.

But Democrats have pounced on King’s Iowa dust-up as well as others trying to paint the GOP as more extreme on immigration.

Rick Perry says youths crossing the border is a ‘side issue’

Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks said in a recent interview that he believed some were waging a “war on whites.”

Brooks was responding to a reporter pointing out the GOP’s own fears about its dwindling appeal among Hispanics. But he argued that Democrats are “claiming that whites hate everybody else,” which he insisted was “not true.”

Republicans nervous

Rep. Jeff Denham of California was one of 11 House Republicans to oppose the House bill and told CNN the decision by GOP leaders to allow a vote on it was “disappointing.”

Echoing the same sentiment expressed by Obama, Denham said the measure was “a messaging bill” and “would never see the light of day” over in the Senate.

“We’ve got kids who are going to high schools that know of no other country to call home and we’ve got to address all aspects of immigration reform,” Denham said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has no plans to take it up in the Democratic-led Senate and Obama has said he would veto it anyway.

Boehner didn’t want to turn the discussion over addressing the crisis of Central American migrant youth streaming across the southern border into a broader debate over immigration.

He agreed that Congress needed to work with the White House and Democrats to pass narrow legislation to deal with the issues that caused the surge of immigrants and provide resources to handle the tens of thousands who already arrived.

Number of unaccompanied minors crossing into U.S. tops 60,000

A political wedge

But Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party hero, insisted that halting Obama’s ability to defer future deportations had to be part of the GOP’s response to the border situation.

As part of a deal to pass a $694 million border funding bill, Boehner and his top lieutenants agreed to allow a separate vote on a measure promoted by House conservatives that went even further than Cruz’s proposal.

The bill would end all deportation deferments because they worried Obama would use his executive authority to expand them.

Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart also voted against that bill and told CNN that the GOP proposal helps Democrats continue to use immigration as a political wedge.

“It gives them another bullet point in their narrative,” Diaz-Balart said.

Both Denham and Diaz-Balart criticized Obama’s actions on immigration. They said it was appropriate for Congress to respond to when it believes he is overstepping his legal authority.

“If the message is perceived as strictly to protect the civil liberties and basic rights of our democracy, that is one thing. But if the message is perceived to be anti-immigrant, that is very, very negative,” Diaz-Balart said.

Party not taking its own advice

The recent actions show Republicans aren’t taking their own advice on growing their party.

Last spring, the Republican National Committee issued a report that examined its 2012 loss and called for the GOP to address immigration reform.

The so-called “autopsy report” warned that “if Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States, they will not pay attention to our next sentence.”

Henry Barbour, a top party strategist and a report co-author, told CNN that “tone is important.”

He conceded that taking on immigration reform “takes political courage.” But he also warned against “talking in a way that’s not too hot and comes across as negative or exclusive.”

Barbour added, “We’re a big, broad party — we’re not all going to agree on immigration — not going to agree on everything, but we certainly have to have people in Washington on the Republican and Democratic side that want to get things done.”

House Republicans also heard about it on the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, which doesn’t usually criticize Republicans.

“A party whose preoccupation is deporting children is going to alienate many conservatives, never mind minority voters. The episode is also sure to raise doubts among swing voters about whether Republicans would be prepared to govern if they do win control of the entire Congress,” the Journal said.

Advice on what to do

Even if Republicans can’t enact immigration reform in a divided Congress, others advise it has to look like it is at least trying to do something.

“Republican support among Hispanic voters does not hinge on immigration reform but inaction. Our inaction and poor optics can eviscerate any future we have right now,” Leslie Sanchez, a Republican strategist and author of “Los Republicanos — Why Hispanics & Republicans Need Each Other,” said.

Gutierrez said that he saw a scenario for Republicans to be on the offense if the party is able to retake control of the Senate in November.

He suggested the House and Senate could come together on a proposal that would both secure the border but also provide some path to legal status for the 11 million undocumented workers.

Presenting a bill to Obama would put the onus on him to respond and make him the subject of blame if he rejected it.

“I think this is one of those ‘Nixon goes to China’ things — it will be a Republican who reforms immigration. I don’t believe that Democrats have the credibility,” Gutierrez said.

Expanding the wedge?

Many Republicans interviewed by CNN said the challenge next year will be even greater because Democrats will want to use any divisions on the issue to further expand the wedge between the GOP and Latino voters going into the 2016 election.

But they warned that the party can’t use that as an excuse to not promote a message of positive reform.

“This is what people are elected to do,” Barbour said. “Just do your job — I’m talking to Republicans and Democrats alike. This is a two-way street.”

Campaign officials from both parties say immigration is not a top-tier issue for the midterms. There are only a handful of House Republicans in competitive races in districts with significant Latino populations.

The GOP is well-positioned to win control of the Senate and immigration is expected to be a factor in just one key contest — in Colorado, where there is a sizable number of Hispanic voters.

But the 2016 vote is again expected to come down to a handful of key swing states where both parties will work hard to win over independents.

And many Republicans agree that the party’s record on immigration will be important in states like Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, and Florida, which are home to expanding populations of Latino voters.

Calling immigration reform the “800-pound gorilla in the room,” Diaz-Balart said if Latinos perceive that Republicans don’t want to deal with immigration, then “that is a major, major, major stumbling block to get over.”