Peace picks, November 28-December 2

  1. Can Interfaith Contact Reduce Extremism Among Youth? | Monday, November 28th | 1.30pm – 3pm | US Institute of Peace | click HERE to register

The Pakistani government banned more than 200 groups as extremist or terrorist organizations last year in a significant move to stop the spread of ideological, religious and political extremism that can feed violent conflict. But many ideologically extreme groups still operate openly, especially recruiting young university students. In Sri Lanka, Buddhist ideological extremism fuels negative attitudes about minority ethnic and religious groups. Join a U.S. Institute of Peace Jennings Randolph Fellow Rabia Chaudry and other experts to discuss the findings of her research on these trends.

The panel discussion also will include two USIP experts and Ayub Ayubi, who heads a research organization in Pakistan, the Renaissance Foundation (Mashal-e-Rah), that has been a partner for USIP.

  1. What’s Next, For America and Israel? Challenges and Opportunities in an Uncertain World| Monday, November 28th | 4.30pm – 6pm | Johns Hopkins SAIS| click HERE to register

Dean Vali Nasr and The Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies cordially invite you to join Ambassador Ron Dermer, Ambassador of Israel to the United States, for a discussion on “What’s Next, For America and Israel?  Challenges and Opportunities in an Uncertain World.”

The event will be moderated by Laura Blumenfeld, Senior Fellow, The Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies.

  1. Domestic Security in the Age of ISIS | Monday, November 28th | 6.30pm | Council on Foreign Relations | click HERE to register

Experts discuss how the United States can better prepare for and protect the homeland with the growing threat of ISIS inspired terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.


Michael Chertoff – Executive Chairman and Cofounder, Chertoff Group; Former Secretary, U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Christopher T. Geldart –  Director, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, District of Columbia

Farah Pandith – Adjunct Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations


Thom Shanker – Assistant Washington Editor, “New York Times”

  1. Conference: Facing a World in Turmoil | Tuesday, November 29th | 7.30am – 2pm | Women’s Foreign Policy Group | click HERE to register

Join us November 29th for our conference on Facing a World in Turmoil. The conference will include two panels. The first panel, Security at Home and Abroad, will focus on threats and challenges to national and international security and will include a discussion of the role of cybersecurity. The second, A World in Chaos: Challenges for the Next Administration, will address transnational issues like mass migration and terrorism. We are honored to announce that Secretary of State John Kerry will be our luncheon speaker.

  1. Beyond Borders: Reshaping Media Narratives around Migration | Tuesday, November 29th | 9am – 11am | International Women’s Media Foundation | click HERE to register

The International Women’s Media Foundation invites you to attend Beyond Borders: Reshaping Media Narratives around Migration, a panel discussion at the Newseum on Tuesday, November, 29th.

The Beyond Borders panel will feature Howard G. Buffett and IWMF Reporting Fellows Kimberly Adams, Raquel Godos, and Jika González. The Fellows joined the IWMF on reporting trips to the Mexico-U.S. border and Colombia as part of the IWMF Adelante Initiative discussing media coverage of migration in Latin America. Their reporting has appeared on Marketplace Radio, EFE and Univision.

The panel discussion will be moderated by Maria Hinojosa, anchor and executive producer of Latino USA on National Public Radio.

  1. What to Do about Russia’s Rising Profile in the Middle East | Tuesday, November 29th |9.30am | Atlantic Council | click HERE to register

Russia’s dramatic intervention in the Syrian civil war, expanding military relationship with Iran and overtures to long-time U.S. partners such as Egypt and Turkey present a new challenge to American leadership in a vital and conflict-ridden part of the world.

A conversation with:

Anna BorshchevskayaIra Weiner Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Thomas CunninghamDeputy Director, Global Energy Center, Atlantic Council

Alireza NaderSenior International Policy Analyst, Rand

Aaron SteinSenior Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council

  1. A New Saudi Arabian Regional Policy? | Tuesday, November 29th | 2.30pm| Atlantic Council | click HERE to register

Saudi Arabia is engaged in two simultaneous wars, the first in Yemen, as leader of the Arab Coalition there, and the second, in Syria as a member of the anti-ISIS coalition in Syria. The Kingdom is also challenging the view that its foreign policy revolves around aid: it has cut financial support to the Lebanese Armed Forces while rolling back aid and suspending oils transfers to Egypt. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is witnessing shifting alliances and relationships with traditional partners and adversaries.

In light of the election of Donald Trump, how will Saudi Arabia’s relations with its neighbors and allies change, if at all? On November 29 at the Atlantic Council, the panelists will discuss these and other critical issues including intra-GCC relations, the future of Iraqi-Saudi relations, the war in Yemen, and the growing regional rivalry with Iran.

Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, a businessman and investor primarily active in the defense and security sector, is the Chairman of Shamal Investments and the Chairman of Alliance Services. Mohammed Khalid Alyahya, a Saudi Arabian political analyst and commentator, is also a research fellow at the Gulf Research Center and serves on the advisory board for the Future Trends in the GCC Program at Chatham House. Frederic C. Hof is the director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and specializes in Syria.

  1. Should We Fear Russia | Wednesday, November 30th | 10.30am – 12pm | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | click HERE to register

Please join the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace for the launch of Dmitri Trenin’s new book, Should We Fear Russia? (Polity, 2016).

Since the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis, there has been much talk of a new Cold War between Russia and the West. Russian President Vladimir Putin is widely seen as volatile, belligerent, and willing to use military force to get his way.

In this latest book, Dmitri Trenin, the longtime director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, explains why the Cold War analogy is misleading. Relations between the West and Russia are certainly bad and dangerous but, he argues, they are bad and dangerous in new ways. Trenin outlines the crucial differences, which make the current rivalry between Russia, the EU, and the United States more fluid and unpredictable. By unpacking the dynamics of this increasingly strained relationship, Trenin makes the case for handling Russia with pragmatism and care and cautions against simply giving into fear.

  1. A New Approach for the Middle East | Wednesday, November 30th | 12pm| Atlantic Council | click HERE to register

Under the bipartisan Co-Chairmanship of former US Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and former US National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley, the Atlantic Council convened the Middle East Strategy Task Force (MEST) in February 2015 to examine the underlying issues of state failure and political legitimacy that drive extremist violence and threaten fundamental interests broadly shared by the peoples of the region and the rest of the world.

The result of almost two years of intensive study, Albright and Hadley’s final report proposes nothing short of a paradigm shift in how the international community and the Middle East interact. Not only does the report present solutions to the region’s most immediate crises in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya, it also puts forward a pragmatic and actionable long-term strategy that emphasizes the efforts of the people of the Middle East themselves, with an eye toward harnessing the region’s enormous human potential.

  1. China’s Role in the Middle East | Friday, December 2nd | 8.30am – 1pm| Johns Hopkins SAIS | click HERE to register

At the beginning of 2016, President Xi Jinping visited Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt signaling Beijing’s new level of engagement with the Middle East. Chinese state media labeled China’s approach “bright, clear dawn.” But what are Beijing’s goals and how does it aim to achieve them? Focusing on both the security and soft-power dimension as well as energy and infrastructure, the Institute of Current World Affairs and the Johns Hopkins-SAIS China Studies Program will bring together leading experts to illuminate China’s evolving relationship with the Middle East.


Keynote: Kent Calder – Edwin O. Reischauer Professor at the School of Advanced Inter-national Studies (SAIS), Director of the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies, Director of Asian Studies Programs

Naser al-Tamimi (from Doha) – Independent UK-based Middle East Researcher, Political Analyst, and Commentator

Jon B. AltermanDirector and Senior Fellow of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)

I-wei Jennifer ChangProgram Specialist in the China Program at the U.S. Institute of Peace

Joshua EisenmanAssistant Professor at the University of Texas at Austin’s Lyndon Baines Johnson School of Public Affairs and Senior Fellow for China Studies at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC

Chaoling FengSenior Research Associate, KNG Health

Sarah Kaiser-Cross (from Dubai) – Works for a private financial institution based in Dubai, focusing on the nexus of contemporary security threats and finance in the Middle East.

Camille PecastaingSenior Associate Professor of Middle East Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University

Robert SutterProfessor of Practice of International Affairs at the Elliott School of George Washington University

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Trust is the Middle East’s big problem

A report on the upcoming challenges for the Arab World—titled “Real Security: The Interdependence of Governance and Stability in the Arab World”—was presented at Brookings Monday. The report was launched by the Atlantic Council and Brookings to explore how the US can best help stabilize the Middle East in coming years. The report was written by Tamara Cofman, Senior Fellow and Director for the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings, and commissioned by the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Strategy Task Force, which is co-chaired by former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright and former National Security advisor, Stephen Hadley. All three convened for a panel yesterday, joined by Amr Hamzawy, a Senior Associate for the Middle East and Democracy & Rule of Law Programs at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Hadley moderated the panel.

Albright believes that the region is destined for good governance. Many others believe that a country needs to be secure before it can start pursuing practices of good governance, but Albright believes that they must occur at the same time in order to be sustainable. “People want to vote and eat,” she said.

Cofman believes that the civil wars and unrest throughout the region are a symptom of a general breakdown of social order in these countries. With the advent of easily accessible technology and constant global communication, authoritarian ideology began to break down in 2011. People were able to see what they did not have by communicating with others around the world and began to hold their leaders accountable for failing to fulfill their social contract. When people arose in protest, the authoritarian governments responded by cracking down. This did not stop the protests but instead led to the rise of independent militias who could provide security for the people against government aggression.

Trust between the government and the governed needs to be rebuilt in these countries if they want to see peace, Cofman said. Simply building more democratic institutions won’t cut it, since the problem lies with who populates those institutions. Creating more borders will not solve the problem either, as any new borders will be fought over. Dialogue is the only way forward and social trust needs to be built from the bottom up.

Hamzawy complimented Cofman on her report, but suggested that perhaps the Middle East is heading to a revival of autocracy rather than a new democratic order. To reverse this trend, he suggests focusing on generating social capital and reinvigorating civil society, rather than on constitutional reforms and institution building. There also needs to be a new focus on combating corruption in the judicial system and among law enforcement, as people need to feel as though they can trust the state to protect them. Additionally, the US needs to look closely at which countries are being run by the military and which are being run by the people since countries that are run by the military are very difficult to reform.

When asked which countries she sees as fragile, Cofman said she is keeping a close eye on Algeria and the Palestinian Authority. Both governments have aging leaders and no clear plans for succession. In an uncertain environment, people are more likely to rise up in protest. Albright added that Jordan may also be an issue in the future, as the monarchy there is losing trust with the people and not delivering on promises. She summarized saying that in the Middle East, “people are talking to the government on 21st century technology, but the government only listens on 20th century technology and ia responding to problems with 19th century technology.”

Hamzawy pointed out that while supporters of autocracies claim that they provide better national security than democracies, that security is not sustainable. Autocracies may provide better security against external threats, but by breaking trust with their citizenry, they are causing internal insecurity.

During the Q&A session, the German Ambassador to the US asked the panel whether the United States and its allies are doing enough to promote human rights in the region. Albright responded that more can certainly be done, though it cannot be accomplished solely by external actors. People living in the region need to make a commitment to preserving human rights and cannot simply rely on the West to guarantee these rights.

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Will Romney or Mattis make a difference?

A friend brought this to my attention:

He noted that you don’t have to speak a word of Italian to understand the message: make Italy great again! We know how that turned out.

The similarity of rhetorical style to Donald Trump is in fact remarkable. A tweeter pointed out to me earlier this week that Trump’s technique involves “enthymeme,” an ancient Greek device in which the crowd is permitted to complete the thought of the speaker. While Mussolini doesn’t exactly do that, he uses pregnant pauses to allow the crowd to anticipate, if not quite to enunciate, what he will say next. Clearly the effect is similar: the crowd loves this man and is ready to do battle in support of him.

Another friend provided this to me, from Adolf Hitler:

The broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force.

I confess I find Trump an inarticulate speaker, one whose facial expressions are at least as silly as Mussolini’s. His hand gestures are worse. But of course I am not Trump’s audience. And though I speak good Italian, Mussolini leaves me cold too. But George Lakoff’s exegesis is pretty convincing (read it to the end): Trump is practiced and successful in knowing how to appeal to those he has rapport with.

What I don’t know is how well Trump’s popularity will hold up as he appoints obvious bigots, it becomes clear that he can’t deliver on many of his promises, those he can deliver on fail to produce the expected results, and he combines his private business interests with his public office. Mussolini ended up hanging upside down in a public square. Hitler committed suicide in his bunker.

Neither end is likely for Trump, who has the advantage of living in a society attached to a long tradition of allowing its former leaders to live out their natural lives in peace and prosperity. The bigger concern is what kind of America he will have created by the time he leaves office. So far he shows no sign of wanting to bridge the divide with his opponents: he has appointed only hard-line white males, signaling unequivocally his attachment to white nationalist goals and aspirations.

Will it make a difference if he appoints Romney Secretary of State or General Mattis as Defense Secretary? Not in my book. My admittedly minor contact with Mattis left me unimpressed. He is tough talking and intelligent, but hardly likely to reform the Pentagon in a meaningful way. He will welcome the flood of money the Republican Congress will throw his way and get on efficiently with the killing of extremists in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, but he is unlikely to rethink the merits and demerits of that policy, which is essentially identical to President Obama’s.

Romney, as everyone else has already commented, looks the part of chief diplomat and has the considerable virtue of recognizing President Putin as the menace he is. That will put him at odds with Trump, as will his advocacy of free trade and a more forward-leaning American posture in the world. That is much more akin to what Hillary Clinton was offering than what Trump has promised. So if Romney takes the job, he’ll need to knuckle under to a White House that definitely does not share his cosmopolitan views or his commitment to resolute American civilian as well as military leadership in the world.

Romney and Mattis would certainly raise the intellectual level of the Trump administration, which at the moment lies somewhere between the gutter of white nationalism and the cesspool of Benghazi lies. But it will take a lot more than their nominations to convince reasonable people that this new administration wants to govern with respect for us all.

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Peace picks, November 21-25

  1. The American Moment in the Middle East from Eisenhower to Trump |Monday, November 21 | 11:45am – 1:30pm | Hudson Institute | Click HERE to RegisterWith the election of a new president and significant foreign policy decisions on the line, one of the best ways to understand the stakes involved is to revisit the past. With the Middle East, there is no better place to start than with Dwight Eisenhower, the incisive leader who helped win World War II and formulated America’s Cold War policy. But according to Hudson Senior Fellow Michael Doran in his critically acclaimed new book, Ike’s Gamble, Eisenhower stumbled repeatedly in the Middle East before he got it right.
    Eisenhower, in Doran’s account, initially made the same kinds of mistakes that President Barack Obama has made. Both believed America had tilted too closely to Israel and sought to readjust the balance—Obama by realigning with Iran, and Eisenhower by allying with Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. The difference, argues Doran, is that Eisenhower came to realize he was wrong to turn against America’s traditional Middle East allies and he eventually restored the status quo. Obama, however, leaves the White House with America’s position in the Middle East still unsettled. Will Donald Trump be able to repair Middle Eastern relations, or will he indulge isolationist tendencies and further cede America’s status in the region? Given the extent of Eisenhower’s engagement in the region, what other lessons can the next administration draw from his experience?
    Join us at Hudson Institute on November 21 as panelists Michael Doran, Hudson Distinguished Fellow Walter Russell Mead, and Council on Foreign Relations Fellow Ray Takeyh discuss Eisenhower’s strategy and the incoming administration’s policy options in the Middle East. This lunchtime panel will be moderated by Hudson Senior Fellow Lee Smith.
  2. Real Security: Governance and Stability in the Arab World | Monday, November 21 | 3:00pm – 4:30pm | Brookings Institution | Click HERE to RegisterThe breakdown of regional order in the Middle East was driven by domestic crises in the relationship between Arab citizens and their governments, but the resulting disorder has unleashed civil violence, sectarian and ethnic conflict, and fierce geopolitical competition. What is the relationship between the region’s power politics and the breakdown in the Arab social contract? What does the collapse of Arab governance tell us about the requisites for lasting stability in the Middle East? And what role can outside powers, especially the United States, play in helping the region move toward more sustainable governance?
    On November 21, the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council and the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings will launch a report on this topic written by Tamara Cofman Wittes: “Real Security: The Interdependence of Governance and Stability in the Arab World.” The report was commissioned by the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Strategy Task Force (MEST), co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. To discuss the report, they will be joined by Amr Hamzawy, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
  3. Ambassador Series: Ambassador of Finland, H.E. Kristi Kauppi | Tuesday, November 22 | 6:00pm – 8:00pm | World Affairs Institute at the Ronald Reagan Building | Email to RegisterPlease join the World Affairs Council-Washington, DC as we host Her Excellency Kirsti Kauppi, Ambassador of Finland to the United States. She will address the US – Finland bi-lateral relationship, the country’s approaching centennial, Finland’s climate change research in the Arctic, and its relationship with Russia.
    Ambassador Kauppi took up her post in Washington in September 2015. She has over 30 years of experience in foreign policy. She previously served as advisor to the Finnish State Secretary and head of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy coordination in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Helsinki. Her previous diplomatic postings include Permanent Representative to the UN-related international organizations located in Vienna, where she served for three years as the Finnish Governor in the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors.


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What the fuck have you done?

Egyptian physician and comedian Bassem Yousseff MC-ed the Middle East Institute’s annual conference dinner Tuesday evening. He asked two things about the election that have stuck with me:

  • America: what the fuck have you done?
  • How come your campaigns cost a lot of money? In the Middle East, assholes are free.

We are now in a position to begin to answer the first question. President-elect Trump’s initial nominations, with the exception of Republican National Committee Chair and now Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, all come from the racist, Muslim-bashing fringe of America First politics:

  • Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is the editor of the alt_right scandal website turned Trump cheerleader Breitbart News;
  • National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is an anti-Muslim ideologue who says Barack Obama invented the Islamic State;
  • Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions has expressed disregard for the NAACP as “un-American,” opposes same-sex marriage, abortion and Obamacare, and supports unfettered gun rights.
  • CIA Director nominee Michael Pompeo thinks Muslims have to denounce terrorist acts, or else and held Hillary Clinton culpable in the Benghazi incident that killed the American Ambassador, even though the Republican-controlled committee reached the opposite conclusion.

So far, what America has done is to bring to power fringe right-wingers with little regard for civil rights or constitutional protection, except when it comes to carrying a loaded gun. There are rumors Trump might choose Mitt Romney as Secretary of State and David Petraeus as Secretary of Defense, neither of whom belong to this racist fringe, but we’ll have to wait and see about that. It might no make much difference with these initial appointments in place.

Assholes aren’t free in the US, but they apparently cost far less than Hillary Clinton:


That’s arguably worse than embarrassing. How do you spend that much more than Trump and still lose Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania?

The short answer is that you fail to turn out minorities and you lose white working class votes, including women. You pile up almost as many votes as Barack Obama did and win over Trump by well over 1.4 million, but they came mainly in the northeast and on the West Coast. That causes you to fail in the electoral college, where smaller and more rural states have added weight.

What are the implications for foreign policy?

Some of the sharp edges will get smoothed down. The United States isn’t ditching NATO or tearing up the Iran nuclear deal, since even an asshole would recognize we are better off with them than without them. If I am wrong about that, we are in not only for a rough ride but a potentially catastrophic one.

But other promises will need to be fulfilled. I expect the wall on the border with Mexico to be built, even though more Mexicans are leaving the US than arriving. I expect an end to accepting Syrian refugees, even though they are already undergoing “extreme vetting.” The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead, leaving the initiative on trade in Asia to the Chinese. Ditto the Paris climate change agreement, unless Trump reverts to his 2009 position in favor of vigorous action on greenhouse gases (not going to happen):

Trump on climate change, 2009
Trump on climate change, 2009

Trump will certainly attempt to reach an understanding with Russia on Syria and Ukraine, but he will only succeed if he is willing to offer Moscow more than Obama did. That will anger not only many Democrats but also many Republicans, most notably John McCain.

It will be much harder to get rid of refugees or undocumented immigrants who are already in the US, since they have rights to “due process” (even Melania Trump, who apparently worked illegally in the US). It will also be difficult to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has boosted US exports and created a mutual dependency that would be expensive and complicated to unravel.

In the end, I suspect the biggest international damage from appointing people like Bannon, Flynn, Sessions, and Pompeo is to America’s reputation abroad and to the liberal democratic model that has been so important for the last 70-odd years. It doesn’t really matter whether Trump himself is a racist or anti-Muslim. His appointments speak louder than anything he can say. The right response is this, from the cast of Hamilton last night:

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Praveen Madhiraju, a pro bono advisor to the Bytyqi family, writes: 

Recently, the credibility of Serbia’s many promises to resolve the state-sponsored murders of three American citizens and brothers took a sharp downward turn.

US Ambassador Kyle Scott summarized the problems in the Bytyqi case well:

This is obviously a burden for the Bytyqi family, but also a burden for our bilateral relationship[.] When three of our citizens were arrested by the Serbian police, handed over from one unit of the police to another, and then found out back with their hands tied, executed gangland style, someone is responsible and it defies logic that no one saw anything and no one knows anything.

I find it is very difficult to understand that nothing happened to any of the members of that group and that in fact, the leader of that unit [Goran “Guri” Radosavljevic] is now in a position on the Executive Board of the leading party in this country.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic’s response? To go to bat for the main suspect:

And now, I have been asked, why is he [Guri] a member of Vucic’s party…You should be ashamed of yourself, what do you think, that I will allow someone kicking me in the head and not reply with facts…. Never [would] the enemy of the USA and killer of the American people get [an] invitation to NATO.

Mr. Vucic then protested that no one did anything in 13 years to resolve the case and now he is to blame.

This is unprecedented. Many people (me included) have opined that Prime Minister Vucic still protects war criminals. Before 2008, he had a long history of doing so. But this is the first time he so overtly went to bat for the prime suspect in the murders of three American citizens.

Remember that Prime Minister  Vucic has previously pledged to resolve the case by the end of Summer 2014 and March 2015. In June 2016, he pledged resolution, “very soon or much sooner than anybody might expect” to the American public, Vice President Biden, and others. Each time, he has done little to nothing. It seems like the only time Mr. Vucic authorizes Serbian prosecutors to work on the case (and yes, it seems like they require his authorization) is when he needs something from the United States.

The Associated Press, Tanjug, and Radio Slobodna Europa, all covered Fatose Bytyqi’s recent visit to Belgrade.  A new independent investigative outlet called Insajder (Insider) produced a 30 minute mini-documentary on Serbia’s failures in the case. Yet Serbian officials seem content in their complacency.

Despite his many promises, Prime Minister Vucic just took a stand for war criminals. But he still has time to reassert the independence of the investigation and distance himself from the main suspect, Goran Radosavljevic. After all, it’s what he has promised to do many times.

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