Tyendinaga Township home burns to the ground

Almost nothing is left of a two-storey Tyendinaga Township home after an early-morning fire Thursday.

Fire crews from Tyendinaga Township, Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory and Belleville tackled the flames as they ripped through the building, leaving behind a pile of debris.

“I woke up, went downstairs, I saw the left side of the house was on fire. I continued watching it for about four hours,” said 13-year-old Simon Mahaffy, who lives across the street from the home on Legire Road.

Scott Anderson, who rents the home with his girlfriend, says they were sleeping on the ground level when they woke up to their dog barking and the sound of fire alarms.

He said their bedroom was filled with heavy smoke as the couple quickly wrapped themselves in blankets and ran outside to escape the fire.

The 120-year old wood-framed home couldn’t hold up to the blaze and quickly fell to pieces.

Anderson said he was shocked and devastated by the fire, having watched the house crumble in just a few minutes.

Nevertheless, he told Global News he was feeling fortunate his kids were out of the country at the time.

At this time, the cause of the blaze is still being investigated by the Tyendinaga Township fire department.

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At Los Angeles Teachers’ Strike, a Rallying Cry: More Funding, Fewer Charters

LOS ANGELES — Maria Lopez had to rush off for her job at a nearby laundromat. Carmen Vasquez did not want her son to ruin his perfect attendance and needed to get to the home across town where she cleans a couple of times a week. Aurelia Aguilar needed to get to the restaurant where she cooks and serves.

Their children were a few of the hundreds who poured into Virgil Middle School on Thursday morning, the fourth day of a massive teachers’ strike in the nation’s second-largest school district. Their families could not pay for child care and were too worried to leave students at home alone. Just a few miles away, in a well-off Silver Lake elementary school, there were fewer than a dozen students in attendance; most parents could afford to keep their children out of school.

“What choice do I have, this is the best place for her to be,” Ms. Aguilar said. “I hope, I pray, the teachers get what they want and come back soon.”

After more than a year of protracted negotiations, the district’s 30,000 public schoolteachers walked out demanding higher pay, smaller class sizes and more support staff for students. But the union is also using the strike as a way to draw attention to what it sees as the growing problem of charter schools, saying that they siphon off students and money from traditional public schools.

Part of the issue here is school finances: Though California is one of the richest states in the country, it also has the highest poverty rate in the nation, when cost of living is factored in. And though it is a bastion of liberal policies, its urban public school systems are the most hurt by the state’s limits on how much money can be raised in property tax.

As in many urban school districts, the overwhelming majority of students in Los Angeles public schools are poor — more than 80 percent qualify for free or reduced price lunch. Los Angeles’s sizable wealthy population has for decades largely chosen to send its children to private schools or to nearby cities, like Beverly Hills or Culver City, with higher performing schools.

For generations, California has spent less on public schools than many other states, despite Democratic control and an influential state teachers’ union. The state spent about half as much as New York did on the average student in 2016, the last year for which federal comparisons were available. Even now, with a $209 billion state budget with record-high reserves, that appears unlikely to drastically change. After decades of funding shortages, educators say that Los Angeles and other urban schools need far more than what they currently have to educate some of the neediest students in the country.

About one-fifth of students in the Los Angeles district are learning English and roughly 15 percent need special education services. The district is also highly segregated: Latinos account for roughly 75 percent of all students; about 7 percent are white and about 8 percent are African-American. Class sizes in the district often top 40 students, well above the national average for urban schools, which ranges between 16 and 28. Teachers say large classes are particularly challenging in schools with high-needs students.

This week, just a fraction of the district’s half a million students have shown up to schools; on Thursday, roughly 84,000 students were in attendance. But district officials say that schools with a larger proportion of the neediest students have had higher attendance rates.

The chronic funding shortage for California’s large urban school systems is primarily because of the state’s property tax law. Voters passed Proposition 13 in 1978, capping property taxes and drastically limiting the amount of money the state could collect for public schools. The law has led to smaller, more affluent communities raising money with local bonds or parcel taxes, something that is virtually impossible in poorer urban districts like Los Angeles.

But despite widespread agreement from education experts that the law harms low-income schools, it is widely seen as a third rail of state politics and changing it would require statewide voter approval. There is now an effort, supported by both district and union leaders in Los Angeles, for a 2020 ballot measure that would change the law to increase commercial property taxes, but not change the law for homeowners.

Still, Democratic leaders are facing pressure to find significantly more money for public schools. The scrutiny is now turning to Mayor Eric Garcetti and Gov. Gavin Newsom. Austin Beutner, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, has suggested that the mayor use some of the city’s budget to help pay for student services. And many observers say that an agreement between the union and the district will ultimately require more money from Mr. Newsom’s budget.

Although the union and Mr. Beutner agreed that the state should spend more on public schools, they are locked in a bitter fight over how the district should use the money it already has — and cannot agree on how much that is.

The union has pointed to a nearly $2 billion reserve, which it says could be used to pay for more educators so that class sizes are significantly smaller and that all schools have full-time nurses, counselors and mental health professionals. But Mr. Beutner has said the district is already spending far more than it brings in. A state-appointed fact-finder supported both claims, and both sides have pointed to the report to bolster their arguments.

Mr. Beutner has been steadfast in his support for charters, saying they give parents more choices and are an essential option in Los Angeles. But Mr. Beutner has pushed back at the union’s claim that he wants to shutdown traditional public schools.

Mr. Garcetti has said he supports the teachers; on the first day of the strike, he said he was “immensely proud of Los Angeles’s teachers today for standing up for what I believe is a righteous cause.” But the mayor has also embraced his role as mediator between the union and district. On Thursday, Mr. Beutner and Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president of the union, met face-to-face for the first time in nearly 10 days, but negotiations appeared to remain at an impasse.

Education politics in largely Democratic California are vastly different than in the six states where teacher walkouts took place last year. In those states, picketing teachers traveled to capitols to demand that lawmakers, largely Republicans, raise taxes and increase education funding.

In contrast, the Los Angeles strike has been organized by a strong union against its bosses: the superintendent and the Board of Education. At the city and state level, union allies sit in many of the key political seats that make decisions on education. In Sacramento, Democrats hold a new supermajority in the State Legislature.

In many ways, this is a moment of strength for the California teachers’ unions, which have won a series of electoral victories against Democratic critics who support the expansion of charter schools, which are generally not unionized. (One of the small charter school groups with a union also went on strike this week.)

Virgil began sharing its campus with a charter school two years ago, a decision that came from the district despite protests from parents and teachers. Though there were fears that Citizens of the World Charter School Silver Lake would siphon off enrollment from Virgil, that has not happened. Instead, Virgil’s principal, William Gurr, said the school is “bursting at the seams.”

The populations of the two schools are markedly different. While nearly all students at Virgil qualify for free or reduced price lunch, the same is true for just 15 percent of students at Citizens of the World.

Though he supports charter schools, Mr. Gurr says he is still frustrated when he sees that the charter he shares a campus with has far more space.

He has gone to great lengths to find ways to pay for many of the things the union is demanding for all schools: a nurse, a social worker and academic counselors. “These are things that enable the students to learn on a normal school day,” he said.

This week, more than 220 of Virgil’s seventh graders gathered in the auditorium for geometry with Linda Lee, one of the assistant principals. Though Dr. Lee was prepared, with a movie-theater-size screen to display the lesson and a booming microphone, it was impossible to keep the students quiet for the nearly 90-minute period.

“Miss, Miss, Miss,” one student shouted, as he struggled to hear Dr. Lee.

As she sat near the back of the auditorium, Angie Hernandez, 13, found it hard to focus over the din of chattering students. But in some ways, it did not feel all that different than her usual classes, which have often swelled to 40 and are sometimes so crowded that there are not enough desks for students.

“It’s challenging for sure,” she said.

Dana Goldstein contributed reporting from New York.

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Shooting at Vanier fast-food joint leaves 1 injured, police seek 3 suspects who fled scene

Police are searching for three suspects and asking witnesses to come forward after what investigators believe was a targeted shooting at a Burger King on Montreal Road in Ottawa’s Vanier neighbourhood on Wednesday night.

Three men entered the fast-food restaurant, located east of the downtown core, around 6 p.m., and got into verbal fight with a male customer, according to Ottawa police.

“Multiple shots were then fired at the victim who was struck and the suspects fled the restaurant,” the Ottawa Police Service said in a news release on Thursday morning.

The wounded man was taken to hospital and his injuries are now considered non-life-threatening, police said.

The force’s guns and gangs unit is probing the incident, saying the man who was shot is known to police. Investigators say they also believe all four men involved know each other.

The fast-food restaurant was closed down Wednesday night as police investigated the scene. It has since reopened, Ottawa police spokesperson Const. Chuck Benoit said Thursday morning.

Investigators urge any witnesses to contact them at 613-236-1222 ext. 5050.

Tips can also be submitted anonymously by calling Crime Stoppers toll-free at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) or by downloading the Ottawa police app.

Ottawa’s guns and gangs unit said earlier this week it’s also investigating a shooting in the Britannia Bay area on Monday night that left a 20-year-old man injured.

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Trump unveils plan for space missile system to defend US

Donald Trump has unveiled a revamped US missile defence strategy involving a new layer of space-based sensors to detect and track enemy missiles.

The president announced the results of the review, the first compiled since 2010, during a speech at the Pentagon.

He called for an investment into new missile defence technologies and pointed to the development of advanced weapon systems by both China and Russia.

It drew comparison to Ronald Reagan’s costly and ambitious project to create a space-based anti-missile system at the height of the Cold War in the Eighties, which was derisively dubbed “Star Wars” by critics.

In the review, US intelligence agencies also warned Iran and North Korea’s missile capabilities present existing threats to US and global security.

“The world is changing and we’re going to change much faster than the rest of the world,” the president said. “The United States cannot simply build more of the same or make incremental improvements … We must pursue advanced technology and research to guarantee the United States is several steps ahead of those who wish to do us harm.”

Mr Trump outlined six major changes to the current set-up, calling for 20 new ground-based missile detectors, new radars and sensors to detect foreign missiles launched by “rogue states” and a new system that could potentially shield all major US cities.

Speaking about the possibility of the new “space-based layer” of the nation’s defence capability, the president said: “It’s ultimately going to be a very, very big part of our defence and obviously our offence.”

“The system will be monitored and we will terminate any missile launches from hostile powers, or even powers that make a mistake,” Mr Trump continued.

“The stronger you are, the less you will need whatever that strength may be.”

Pentagon officials have previously said the US has too few resources to counter a first strike on the US homeland by a major nuclear power – with Washington believing deterrence a more worthwhile strategy.

Acting defence secretary Pat Shanahan said competitors such as Russia and China are aggressively pursuing new missiles that are harder to see, harder to track and harder to defeat. The new proposals come on top of previously announced plans to increase the number of ground-based interceptors over the next several years, lifting the number positioned at Fort Greely, Alaska to 64 from 44.

The new review is likely to stoke tensions with Russia, which views US missile defence advances as a threat.

The chair of Russia’s upper house defence and security committee, Viktor Bondarev, said that the new US missile defence strategy would ramp up global tensions, Interfax news agency reported.

China, in turn, has also alarmed the Pentagon with advances in super-fast “hypersonic” technology, which could allow Beijing to field missiles that are far harder to detect.

In a report earlier this week that singled out the hypersonic threat, the Pentagon warned China’s military was “on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world”.

“In some areas, it already leads the world,” the report said.

US officials, including under-secretary of defence for research and engineering Michael Griffin, believe a space-based sensor layer could help to detect missiles moving at hypersonic speeds.

However, seemingly recognising the potential concerns surrounding any perceived weaponisation of space, the strategy pushes for studies. No testing is mandated, and no final decisions have been made.

For Mr Trump, who is trying to revive efforts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear arsenal, the report’s release comes at an awkward moment.

Three North Korean officials, including the top envoy involved in talks with the United States, are booked on a flight to Washington, suggesting possible movement toward a second summit between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, according to South Korean media.

“While a possible new avenue to peace now exists with North Korea, it continues to pose an extraordinary threat and the US must remain vigilant,” the report said.

“Space, I think, is the key to the next step of missile defense,” a senior Trump administration official told reporters ahead of the document’s release. (© Independent News Service)

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New border migrant separations revealed

Thousands more migrant children may have been separated from their families at the southern border than previously thought, US inspectors have found.

The practice began months before the Trump administration announced its migrant separation policy, according to a new US health department report.

Officials earlier said nearly 3,000 children were taken under the “zero tolerance” policy last summer.

The policy sparked global outcry and Mr Trump withdrew it on 20 June 2018.

Under the “zero tolerance” policy, nearly all migrant adults entering the country illegally were prosecuted while their children were placed in shelters or foster care.

The report, issued on Thursday by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the agency which oversaw the children once they were detained at the border, found a “sharp increase” in the number of children who were separated from a parent or guardian even before the policy was announced in the spring of 2018.

“Thousands of children may have been separated during an influx that began in 2017… and HHS has faced challenges in identifying separated children,” the report said.

But the total number of separated migrant children is unknown due to a lack of coordination among government agencies, according to the report.

In June President Trump bowed to public pressure and signed an executive order vowing to “keep families together” in migrant detentions.

A week later a federal judge in San Diego ordered the government to reunite families who were separated at the border in a case stemming from the “zero-tolerance” policy.

But the new report found that 118 children were taken from a parent or guardian between July and November, after the court order.

It also warns that “it is not yet clear whether recent changes to [departmental] systems and processes are sufficient to ensure consistent and accurate data about separated children” going forward.

Under previous US administrations, immigrants caught crossing the border for the first time tended to be issued with court summonses and released.

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New Brunswick man dead after snowmobile crash: RCMP

A man from Saint-Anne-de-Madawaska, N.B., has died after a snowmobile crash in Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes, N.B., on Tuesday.

RCMP say that shortly after 10:30 p.m., police received a report of a snowmobile crash that occurred on a snowmobile trail in Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes, N.B.

The Mounties say they believe the crash occurred when the snowmobile left the trail and ended up in a ravine near the river.

The man was later taken to hospital where he died as a result of his injuries.

Police say they continue to investigate the cause of the crash.

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Trudeau, Singapore PM discuss the detention of Canadians amid spat with China

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong Thursday about China’s detainment of Canadians.

A press release from the Prime Minister’s Office explained that the two leaders spoke about “the importance of safeguarding international norms,” amid the rising tensions between Canada and China.

“The two leaders discussed the detention of two Canadians in China, the application of the death penalty to a third Canadian in China, and the importance of safeguarding international norms, including diplomatic immunity, judicial independence and respect for the rule of law,” the release read.

China has been holding Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig for about a month. Earlier this week, the country announced it would apply the death penalty to another Canadian detained in China.

In response, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland slammed China’s “arbitrary detentions of Canadians,” saying they “represent a way of behaving which is a threat to all countries.”

The prime minister himself has also called the detentions “arbitrary,” and on Monday claimed China has violated diplomatic immunity principles.

“We are extremely concerned as should be all countries around the world that China is choosing to act arbitrarily whether it is in application of its own justice system to its own citizens and people around the world or whether it’s in its choice to not respect long-standing practices and principles in regard to diplomatic immunity,” Trudeau said.

China has dismissed criticisms from Canadian officials.

“It is understandable that Canada is a little worried, but we hope it will avoid speaking freely without thinking because its reputation and image would be badly damaged by such behaviours,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said this week.

Hua was taking aim at Freeland in particular, and retorted, “What threat has China posed to Canada?”

Both China and Canada have been careful not to directly link the detentions of Canadians to the Vancouver arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou.

Trudeau and Lee also discussed trade matters during Thursday’s talk, congratulating each other on the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“Both Canada and Singapore are among the first to ratify the agreement, deepening trade and investment ties, and bringing economic benefits and good jobs to both countries,” the PMO release explained.

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Ontario government fines trucking company $312K for deadly 2017 acid spill

The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks announced Thursday that they have fined a trucking company more than $300,000 after a collision of one of their trucks caused 8,000 litres of acid to spill which doused and killed the driver.

According to the ministry, Titanium Trucking Services Inc. was convicted of one violation under the Environmental Protection Act and was fined $250,000 plus a victim fine surcharge of $62,500.

The incident occurred in March 2017 when a Burlington area company ordered more than 80,000 kg of fluorosilicic acid which is a corrosive liquid the government has classified as a dangerous good, according to a report by the ministry.

On the day the truck was scheduled to make the delivery, Environment Canada had issued a weather advisory related to a major winter storm, says the report, and the public was asked to consider postponing nonessential driving.

The truck departed despite the warning and within four hours after leaving Montreal, the truck and the driver were involved in a multi-vehicle collision while travelling westbound on Highway 401, according to the ministry’s report. The crash, which occurred just east of Kingston, forced the closure of both directions of Highway 401 between Mallorytown and Lansdowne.

As a result of the collision, 15 totes of fluorosilicic acid ejected through the front wall of the trailer and came to rest in the roadside ditch.

The ministry says that eight of those totes were punctured in the crash which doused the nearby area and the driver, resulting in his death later in hospital.

Due to the spill, first responders and members of the public at the scene had to be decontaminated and Highway 401 was closed in both directions for an extended period.

The OPP officer who initially attempted to get the driver out of the cab experienced significant health effects such as chemical burns. In addition, the ecosystem next to the road was significantly damaged by the acid.

The company has been given two years to pay the fine.

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When Hispanics vote, America wins

Hispanic voters are the Holy Grail of American politics. Everyone wants them, everyone thinks they should get them, but somehow they remain elusive.

Not that they aren’t there. They are.

Hispanics are the single biggest minority group in the US – there are more of them than there are African Americans.

And Hispanics still have higher birth rates than white or black Americans so their numbers will continue to grow.

In Florida, where we are today, Hispanics are an even bigger part of the population – about 25%, compared to 18% nationally.

This is ground zero for “Dear Hispanic Voter, I want to be a congressman, please vote for me. Gracias”

For politicians, these arcane demographic statistics are gold.

Lock-in this big group of voters – not easy as they’re hardly a monolithic bloc – and you’re looking at easy wins potentially for decades to come.

Both parties could appeal to Hispanic voters.

They tend to be more socially conservative, which makes the Republican party a more natural home. But immigration reform is important to them, which makes the Democrats more appealing.

Historically Hispanics have leaned slightly left which may have lulled Democrats into a false sense of Democratic destiny.

Donald Trump’s hardline policies and disparaging comments about Hispanics (he said Mexico was exporting rapists and drug dealers) haven’t helped Republicans appeal to this group.

But the bigger problem for both parties is that Hispanics just don’t turn out to vote in big numbers. And research suggests parties don’t do a good job of reaching out to them.

So, for the moment, this impressive electoral reserve remains largely untapped. Which is a shame for the parties and, more importantly, a shame for the country.

Increasing Hispanic participation in elections would be a bonus, not just for Republicans and Democrats but for America.

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Why the Khashoggi crisis is far from over

The US secretary of state’s seven-day tour of the Middle East was an effort to reassure Washington’s allies about the US withdrawal from Syria and draw the region together against Iran.

On the heels of abrupt changes in President Donald Trump’s Middle East game plan, Mike Pompeo visited Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Oman.

After accompanying the secretary of state on part of this rapid round of diplomacy, here are my key takeaways.

1. Mohammed Bin Salman is here to stay

Riyadh is different than when I last visited three years ago.

The power of the religious police has been curbed – some women have even traded black abayas for more colourful cloaks, and taken off their headscarves.

True, that’s only in very small numbers, but the change is striking.

Women are now allowed to drive; they’re being actively recruited into the workforce; and they sit next to men at the cinema and at rock concerts – forms of public entertainment that until recently were banned, yet are now being promoted by the government.

Women to whom I spoke gave credit to the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

One told me she’d been worried that he’d lose power because of the international backlash over the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The crown prince, or MBS as he is known, has been accused of ordering the killing carried out by a hit team in a Saudi consulate in Turkey last October.

The woman was afraid that anyone who might replace MBS would roll back the reforms. But 100 days since the killing it’s clear that won’t happen.

After the limited cabinet reshuffle ordered by King Salman earlier this month MBS holds the same power and his allies still serve in government.

However, the king also revived structures for making national security decisions that had been sidelined, suggesting he was trying to address issues that led to the crisis in the first place.

2. But the crisis isn’t over

The key to how this crisis plays out lies in the strength of the international backlash, especially that of the United States.

President Trump has stood by Mohammed bin Salman despite a CIA assessment that he probably ordered the killing.

Secretary of State Pompeo has supported the president’s viewpoint. But he’s also pressing for accountability, and before his trip a senior State Department official told us that the Saudis had not reached an acceptable ‘threshold’ in that regard.

Something that might help get them there is the fate of the crown prince’s former media adviser, Saud al Qahtani. The US has sanctioned him, determining that he was “part of the planning and execution operation” that led to Mr Khashoggi’s death.

The Saudis have demoted him but, it seems, little else, according to the Washington Post and it does not appear that he is one of 11 suspects in a Saudi trial that got underway earlier this month.

Mr Pompeo, however, had nothing new to report. “No change,” he told us after meetings with the king and the crown prince.

They had repeated their assurances that they would hold everyone responsible for the crime to account, but were still in the “fact finding” process, he said.

The secretary of state didn’t strike any urgent or critical notes. His aim is to manage this strategic relationship through a turbulent time.

The US senate, on the other hand, has been very critical, and much depends on how vigorously congress continues to scrutinize the matter.

The other bell weather is international investment: the crown prince needs it for his ambitious economic reforms.

Top business executives boycotted his recent investment conference, but the Financial Times correspondent in Riyadh, Ahmed al Omran, told me that so far they did not seem to be cutting business links.

Still, Mr Omran said recovery would take a while because the reputational damage had been big. “One government official described it to me as 10 times worse than 9/11 [which was carried out largely by Saudi hijackers],” he said.

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3. It’s all about Iran (and Israel)

Secretary Pompeo made clear that the Trump administration’s top Middle East priority is to counter Iran, to stop its “wave of regional destruction and global campaign of terror”.

That was a crucial theme of his speech in Cairo setting out US policy, suggesting that this would be the benchmark for judging America’s still largely authoritarian Arab allies.

He also hailed signs of “steps toward rapprochement” between Israel and Arab states. This was necessary for “greater security in the face of shared threats,” he said, promoting a Sunni Arab and Israel axis against Iran.

Mr Pompeo’s message about Iran, if not Israel, was by and large well received among Sunni Arab leaders. Most also consider Shia Persian Iran to be a foe, although some more than others.

It was difficult to say, though, whether Mr Pompeo made progress.

He didn’t give much detail about how he wanted Arabs to roll back Iran’s influence, beyond enforcing sanctions.

Militarily confronting Iran would mean taking on the militias it backs in various countries.

That’s complex asymmetrical warfare in which few Arab states are willing to engage and it’s been a disaster when they have, as in Yemen.

Mr Pompeo talked about expanding what he calls the coalition against Iran with an international conference next month in Poland. But he also acknowledged that an ongoing regional feud between Qatar and its Arab Gulf neighbours was weakening the anti-Iran front.

In a rare moment of pessimism he admitted to US embassy staff in Qatar that the rift appeared no closer to resolution and “I regret that.”

4. Mixed messages on Syria

Before Mr Pompeo’s trip, President Trump abruptly declared that the Islamic State group (IS) had been defeated and announced a rapid withdrawal of US troops from Syria.

This vastly complicated things for the secretary of state.

By the time he departed for the Middle East, Mr Trump’s national security officials had persuaded the president to slow down the withdrawal because IS wasn’t actually quite defeated.

But they were still scrambling to formulate a plan as Mr Pompeo tried to reassure Arab allies that the US was not retreating on its commitment to their security interests, and it showed.

His rhetoric remained bold and unapologetic – the US exit was a tactical change, not a retreat, given there were other military assets in the region it could employ, he said; the US would “expel every last Iranian boot from Syria” he promised, even though it was withdrawing the troops that would have given it leverage to do that.

But the reality was confusion. On a separate trip the National Security Advisor John Bolton laid down conditions for the withdrawal, including the protection of America’s Kurdish allies.

This triggered a furious response from Turkey, the Washington Post reported – disrupting the State Department’s delicate negotiations to secure a safe zone between Turkey and the Kurdish regions of Northern Syria.

Mr Pompeo had barely caught his breath when President Trump threw another spanner into the works, posting a tweet threatening Turkey with ‘economic devastation.’

The Secretary of State passed when we asked him what the president was talking about. “You’d have to ask him,” he replied, a rare example of him not reflexively defending the President.

The day after Mr Pompeo returned from the Middle East IS militants killed four Americans in northern Syria, just as the Vice-President Mike Pence made a speech again declaring the group had been defeated.

With such a muddle in Washington, Middle East allies could be forgiven for being confused about US policy despite Mr Pompeo’s reassurance tour, and few doubt that in Syria, at least, the administration is in retreat.

5. A religious experience

Mr Pompeo began his overture to the Middle East with a statement of faith.

In his Cairo speech, he declared that he was an Evangelical Christian who kept a Bible open in his office to remind himself of “God, his Word, and the Truth”.

A visit to a grand new cathedral built by the Egyptian president was one of the highlights of his trip. He seemed truly excited to be there and spoke with real admiration about what he saw.

“The Lord is at work here in Egypt,” he told journalists: the cathedral was a “stunning testament to the Lord’s hand… a truly remarkable place where you can see religious freedom at work.”

He praised President Sisi and called Egypt a “land of religious freedom and opportunity”.

Religion is the language of the Middle East and it could be an advantage for Mr Pompeo to speak it, especially as he maintained a tone of prayerful respect when he visited the grand new mosque that was also part of President Sisi’s project.

But his enthusiasm about religious freedom in Egypt was notable for his failure to acknowledge the political repression in the country.

He didn’t mention the 60,000 political prisoners the regime is thought to be holding. In his speech he didn’t mention human rights at all.

And his brand of evangelical faith can colour the administration’s approach to the Middle East in ways that are divisive: his language on Iran framed US policy as one of good versus evil, describing the Islamic Republic as a “cancerous influence”.

The Trump administration’s strong support for Israel is also a key tenet of evangelical beliefs.

While Mr Pompeo raised Israel’s interests several times in his speech, he did not balance that with any mention of Palestinian rights and concerns.

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