Friday, March 9, 2018

فوق السلطة- قطَر 96.. والثاني أعظَم

Playing with fire: Britain and its craven support for Saudi's bin Salman

Under bin Salman's leadership, Saudi has become a source of regional instability and could easily become the next state in the Middle East to unravel

By David Hearst


For three bewildering days, London is getting a glimpse of what it will feel like to live in post-Brexit, or shrinking, Britain.
In scenes similar to Pyongyang or Bishek, the Great Leader’s portrait has appeared on billboards all over the capital. Neo-liberals in the media had been duly primed and groomed to welcome his arrival.
Media outlets from The Times and The Daily Telegraph to the Foreign Office’s web page are all in lockstep on this one. They all cry: “All hail the king, the bold young reformer, the human dynamo!"
I don’t know which is worse: the MBS roadshow or the band of carpet baggers queueing up to feed at the trough
This, of course, is not our great leader. We have long since abandoned faith in them. Their task is to lead foreigners down the steps of Memory Lane to the Churchill War Rooms, from where the British wartime leader directed the forces of the Empire. It is now a museum under Whitehall.
The fanfare is for the arrival of Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, to whom BAE Systems (BAE) is desperate to sell its next batch of Typhoon fighters. Without orders from the Saudi Royal Air Force, the lights in its factories in Lancashire would have long since gone out.
MBS is the 32-year-old who will decide on which stock market Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, will stage its initial share offering. If Aramco achieves its valuation of $2 trillion, the sale of five per cent of its shares would be worth $100 billion - a fat prize for the London Stock Exchange.
I don’t know which is worse: the MBS roadshow or the band of carpet baggers queueing up to feed at the trough.
The mass genuflection taking place in London is hardly the Paradise Lost of Edwardian Britain that Brexiteers like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove dream about when they have achieved their aim of amputating the country from Europe.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Britain sent its Indiana Joneses or Gertrude Bells, to map, climb and conquer the disintegrating shards of the Ottoman Empire. Bell chose the emirs Britain would deal with. People like her and TE Lawrence created countries like Iraq, although she quickly tired of her role.
"You may rely upon one thing," she said. "I'll never engage in creating kings again; it's too great a strain." Bell promoted Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, an emir who had captured the Nejd region, and he eventually became the founder of the Saudi kingdom.
Today the traffic between the two kingdoms is mostly the other way. When the "wali al amr" (literally the "lord of all our affairs"), the owner of all the land, oil, assets and the people of Saudi Arabia, comes to London, it is to inspect his assets and to dangle contracts in front of his tradesmen and hawkers - which is what the British have become.

The jaws of a crocodile

Even they might wince at the salary that this young man will pay himself when he becomes king - if he has not do so already.
A source close to the Saudi royal court tells me that that the king’s allowance per month is currently running at 3 billion riyal, which is $800 million. No, you have not misread that. Eight hundred million dollars. In one month.
The prime minister of the United Kingdom is paid £150,402 a year, excluding the value of her flat in Downing Street and other official residences. The president of the United States of America takes $400,000 a year plus other allowances. But the Saudi king pays himself 2,000 times that sum - in one month.
The prince, hailed as a 'bold economic reformer', is putting proven economic reformers such as Amr Dabbagh in prison on alleged corruption charges
This small fact is just one indicator of the trouble we are storing up for ourselves when we build our polices, strategic industries and regional strategies on the sands of relationships with despots such as these.
Other warning lights are flashing. The prince, hailed as a "bold economic reformer", is putting proven economic reformers such as Amr Dabbagh in prison on alleged corruption charges, then torturing them until they cough up their assets.
Dabbagh, who was head of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), was credited with moving the kingdom from 64th to 11th on the World Bank’s list of business competitive nations in 2010.
There is no way of testing the corruption claims against Dabbagh, because there is no due process, no lawyers, no courts, no hearings and no presentation of evidence. The committee set up to lead this purge was created outside the purview of the Saudi legal system, such as it is.
Will the nightmare that Dabbagh has been subjected to encourage foreign investors to place themselves and their assets in the jaws of a crocodile called MBS? I am not sure they will. The crown prince's mood could change at any time.
What he is doing is a recipe for capital flight. Foreign workers are already leaving in droves, leaving thousands of menial jobs unfilled.
Adverts have appeared in London ahead of bin Salman's visit (supplied)
The prince, who is hailed as a social reformer, has executed more prisoners than ever before. According to the British human rights campaign group Reprieve, 133 executions have taken place since MBS became crown prince compared to 67 in the eight months before.
Ali Shihabi, founder of the Arabia Foundation who was put up to defend the regime on the BBC World Service’s Newshour that I participated in, saw no problem in this. He said that those executed were drug ringleaders. He claimed no one had been executed on political charges.
In January 2016, 47 people were executed in one day. Several of these were juveniles. One, Ali al Ribh, was convicted of taking part in demonstrations calling for political reform, when he was 17 years old.
As we have seen time and again, Britain cares little for human rights. It is the stability argument that plays strongest with its foreign policy elite.
Here again, the gap between image and reality is dangerously wide. I will not write here about Yemen or what happened to Lebanon’s prime minister Saad al-Hariri.

The grievances of Jordan

A better place to gauge the regional instability emanating from Riyadh is Jordan, which is another longstanding British military ally.
No one in Amman will speak on the record about the damage MBS is currently doing to their kingdom. But plenty of informed sources in official circles will speak off the record about their grave concerns.
One of them told me: “Saudi has not paid us a penny in two years. Jordan used to get between $1 billion and $1.5 billion. Today we do not get a dime. It's not just us. Even the money they were going to give us for investment has not come. No oil aid. Zero.”
Another said: “We are now about 10th on Riyadh’s list of priorities.”
Feelings in Amman are running high. They are but a snapshot of the mayhem that bin Salman is creating among Britain’s Arab allies
A third added: “The relationship with Saudi Arabia changed considerably politically and financially. Politically, Mohammed bin Salman and his father were never very close to the Hashemites. King Salman does not have any affinity to the Hashemites that his other brothers might have had. So on the political front there is no affinity, no empathy.
“There is a feeling that Jordan and others should be either with them or against them. So we were not completely with them on Iran, on Qatar, on Syria. We did what we could and I don’t think we should have gone further. But to them that was not enough.”
Jordan has other grievances with Riyadh, apart from money and foreign policy. Seen from the perspective of the Hashemite royal family, the House of Saud is once against trying to displace their role as custodian of the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. It took Mecca and Medina away from them during the early 20th century. Now it is trying to do the same with Jerusalem.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May greets Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on March 7, 2018 (AFP)
In a country where Palestinian refugees from the West Bank form 60 per cent of the population, bin Salman’s offer to Donald Trump to take the Palestinian right of return off the table is an affront.
Bin Salman’s attempts to bully Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, into swapping East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestinian for Abu Dis, a suburb on the outskirts of the city, have also not gone down well in Amman. There is not a Palestinian leader on the planet who could accept this.
Another well-placed Jordanian observer said: “For us, these matters are not bargaining chips. They are matters of national security.”
But the Hashemite kingdom is trapped. It cannot roll over and become Riyadh’s Bahrain. But nor can it confront its unstable southern neighbour overtly. Jordan is going through a real financial crisis. It depends, for example, on the remittances of those 500,000 Jordanians working in Saudi.
Feelings in Amman are running high. They are but a snapshot of the mayhem that bin Salman is creating among Britain’s Arab allies. In a meeting attended by the Egyptian TV host, Lamiss Elhadidy, bin Salman described Turkey and Iran as forming part of a "triangle of evil".

The language of war

Whatever you think of either power, this is not the language of a future leader who can play a stabilising role regionally. He is challenging both the foremost Sunni state in the region and the Shia one at the same time. It is the language of war.
Jordan, whose special forces have been at the forefront of the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq, can not be described as a country promoting or funding the Jihadis, as indeed Saudi did. It regularly attempts to disrupt the work of, or imprison, its political Islamists, too.
So when May gets up in the Commons and says the relationship with Saudi is in the British national interest, how does she define that interest?
Does she really understand what is happening around Saudi Arabia? Does she care?
Under this leadership, Saudi is a source of regional instability. Unless it changes, the kingdom under this prince-turned-king could easily become the next state in the Middle East to unravel.
This is the fire that Britain is playing with, by endorsing this man so fully and so cravenly.
- David Hearst is editor-in-chief of Middle East Eye. He was chief foreign leader writer of The Guardian, former Associate Foreign Editor, European Editor, Moscow Bureau Chief, European Correspondent, and Ireland Correspondent. He joined The Guardian from The Scotsman, where he was education correspondent.

Why does Saudi Arabia describe Hamas as a terrorist organisation?

By Hassan Abu Hannieh


Dictatorships in the Arab region have historically worked to eliminate their internal crises and shrinking international legitimacy at the expense of the Palestinian cause. They have done so through identifying with American and European ideas which are based on looking at Israel as an advanced Western base that guarantees their interests in the Middle East; they make acceptance of Israel the only way for such dictatorships to secure introductions in Western capitals.
Designating legitimate resistance to Israel’s military occupation as “terrorism” is one of the most frequently-used labels for the US, Europe and Israel to liquidate the Palestinian cause. They aim to delegitimise armed resistance and dismantle its intellectual, ideological and military structure by assimilating it with a “peaceful” response to the state terrorism of the Israeli occupation forces.
Arab opinions about solving the Palestinian issue have been on a downward spiral, from liberation efforts to normalisation, demonstrating a series of internal, regional and international crises in the process. This decline has reached the point of complying fully with US and European views, which are identical to Israel’s vision of the conflict.
Since the end of the Cold War and the emergence of “Islamic terrorism”, the Arab world has tended towards the trade-off of Palestine and its people. After the Gulf War, the 1991 Madrid peace conference began. After the September 2001 events, the Arab Peace Initiative came along the following year; it was an initiative of Saudi Arabia. Until that date, the Saudi government had recognised Hamas as a resistance movement, and had always objected to Western efforts to isolate the group.
Following the rise of Daesh and the growing talk about its Wahhabi ideology and Saudi influence in promoting violent extremism, the government in Riyadh embarked on a process of revising its relationship with the Wahhabi Salafis and has since widened its perception of terrorism. In order to legitimise its efforts in the fight against terrorism, it identified with the American, European and Israeli views on the Palestinian issue and the definitions of that scourge. Labelling resistance movements as terrorist groups has become a requirement of all statements by the Saudi Foreign Minister in forums across the US and Europe. For example, Adel Al-Jubeir told the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee in Brussels on 22 February that the suspension of Qatar’s funding for Hamas allowed the Palestinian government to control the Gaza Strip; he described the Islamic Resistance Movement as “extremist”, after having recently described it as a “terrorist” group.
There is no doubt that labelling Hamas as a terrorist organisation is at the heart of the US-Israel “Deal of the Century”. This has become clearer since US President Donald Trump announced his recognition of occupied Jerusalem as the capital of the Zionist state and his decision to transfer the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This will fulfill the principles of the US national security document, which stipulates the essence of the deal and its pretexts: “For decades, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the main obstacle to achieving peace in the region. Today, however, Islamic terrorist extremism from Iran has led us to realise that Israel is not the source of conflict in the Middle East, and there are countries that showed possibilities for joint efforts with Israel to face the Iranian threats.” The US strategy to understand the nature of dangers in the Middle East suggests that Washington sees two threats in the region: terrorism and Iran.
Mohammad Bin Salman and Netanyahu - Cartoon []
Mohammad Bin Salman and Netanyahu – Cartoon []
The acceptance of US terrorist designations is part of the Deal of the Century and calls for the integration of Israel into the Arab region by establishing an alliance between American imperialism, Arab dictatorships and the Israeli occupation, under the pretext of confronting the common threat of terrorism and Iran. The priorities of Trump’s administration are to limit the influence of Iran as a sponsor of terrorism, and to confront the violent organisations emanating from the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Jubeir’s statement that Hamas is a terrorist organisation was made in the context of accelerated US action to achieve the Deal of the Century, liquidating the Palestinian issue and the integration of Israel into the fabric of the Arab-Muslim region. On 31 January, the US State Department added Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to its terrorist list. Last July, the European Court of Justice decided to keep the Islamic Resistance Movement — Hamas — on the EU’s list of terrorist groups.
Following the military coup against the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood President in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE welcomed with obscene haste the exclusion of the movement and Mohamed Morsi’s removal. The coup against the Brotherhood in Egypt was not limited to isolating it politically from power and authority; it evolved into a concerted campaign to delegitimise the group, which was classified as a terrorist organisation on 25 December, 2013. The delegitimisation of the movement did not stop in Egypt, but spread to several Arab countries in general and Gulf States in particular, where Saudi Arabia designated the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation on 7 March 2014, followed by the UAE on 15 November 2014.
Such a designation is not only surprising but also fairly nonsensical, as the Muslim Brotherhood is a peaceful movement which has embraced democracy and is not on the US or EU terrorist lists. Even stranger is the designation of Hamas by the Arab states because it is a resistance movement against the Israeli occupation which has never conducted any military action beyond the borders of occupied Palestine. This simple fact seems to have confused some countries hesitant to place Hamas on the terrorist list, in part due to the complexity of the Palestinian situation. Following a Cairo court’s decision in February 2015 to place the movement on the list of terrorist organisations, the judgement was overturned by Egypt’s Court of Expedited Affairs on the grounds of a lack of jurisdiction. The list of terrorist organisations issued by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on 8 June last year included 59 individuals and 12 entities that were linked to Qatar, but did not include Hamas.
It is clear that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE are aware of the complexities of putting Hamas on the terrorist list. They have worked to conduct dialogue and reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, but at the same time they are keen to identify with American, European and Israeli designations and they try to present themselves as partners in the “war against terrorism”. In May 2017, Donald Trump was clear about describing Hamas as a terrorist organisation during the Arab Islamic Summit, which was attended by some 55 leaders, presidents and officials in Riyadh. In his speech, Trump compared Hamas to Daesh and Al-Qaeda, and claimed that it represents a terrorist threat to the region. He even called on Arab and Islamic countries to expel Hamas from their territories. Saudi Arabia, which was the host, did not respond to this. The United States is working to pass the Deal of the Century by having pressure put on Hamas.
Saudi attracts US attention by singing Israel's tunes - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]
Saudi attracts US attention by singing Israel’s tunes – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]
Saudi Arabia’s persistence over classifying Hamas as a terrorist group can only be understood in the context of a trade off on the Deal of the Century and an intervention to liquidate the Palestinian cause, to overcome the questions of legitimacy of local dictatorships, to abandon demands for democratic transformations and to disregard the human rights situation. The trade-off appeared in Trump’s speech in Riyadh, where he took a position on Hamas gradually. Al-Jubeir’s statements in Brussels about Hamas were not really surprising; he made similar comments in Paris in June last year. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of Israeli government activities in the Palestinian territories, commented on Al-Jubeir’s Brussels remarks via his Twitter account: “If this is also the definition of Hamas by the Saudis, then we agree with them.”
The Islamic Resistance Movement itself issued a statement on 24 February condemning Al-Jubeir’s “extremist” statements at the European Parliament. The movement denounced what it called the Saudi Foreign Minister’s continued incitement, regarding it as misleading and a distortion of the legitimate resistance of the Palestinian people, which does not reflect the position of the Saudi people and does not comply with Saudi Arabia’s stated positions in support of the Palestinian cause. Hamas warned that Al-Jubeir’s statements would encourage the Israelis to commit more crimes and violations against the Palestinians and their symbols. Despite all of that, Hamas is aware of the nature of Saudi’s changes of position, and where Riyadh stands on the Deal of the Century.
In conclusion, successive statements by Adel Al-Jubeir about the terrorist nature of Hamas reflect the changes of the Saudi position on the Palestinian issue and the arrangements of Trump’s Deal of the Century. The deal goes beyond the liquidation of the Palestinian issue and integrating Israel within the region through the gates of the “war on terrorism”; it tries to reproduce the history of the postcolonial dictatorial regimes in the region, whose national narratives are close to the edge of the abyss, and which are trying to renew their legitimacy internationally by identifying with US and European terrorism positions related to the Palestinian issue. It is doing so through establishing a regional narrative that stipulates the creation of a lasting friendship with Israel and the creation of new local and regional enmities marked by terrorism; reducing those enmities to movements and states that support the Palestinian cause, particularly the Islamic Republic of Iran and the groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood; in particular, this means the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Adviser to Emirates With Ties to Trump Aides Is Cooperating With Special Counsel

The N Y Times


WASHINGTON — An adviser to the United Arab Emirates with ties to current and former aides to President Trump is cooperating with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and gave testimony last week to a grand jury, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Mueller appears to be examining the influence of foreign money on Mr. Trump’s political activities and has asked witnesses about the possibility that the adviser, George Nader, funneled money from the Emirates to the president’s political efforts. It is illegal for foreign entities to contribute to campaigns or for Americans to knowingly accept foreign money for political races.
Mr. Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who advises Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the effective ruler of the Emirates, also attended a January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles that Mr. Mueller’s investigators have examined. The meeting, convened by the crown prince, brought together a Russian investor close to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia with Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater and an informal adviser to Mr. Trump’s team during the presidential transition, according to three people familiar with the meeting.
Mr. Nader’s cooperation in the special counsel’s investigation could prompt new legal risks for the Trump administration, and Mr. Nader’s presence at the Seychelles meeting appears to connect him to the primary focus of Mr. Mueller’s investigation: examining Russian interference during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Mr. Nader represented the crown prince in the three-way conversation in the Seychelles, at a hotel overlooking in the Indian Ocean, in the days before Mr. Trump took office. At the meeting, Emirati officials believed Mr. Prince was speaking for the Trump transition team, and a Russian fund manager, Kirill Dmitriev, represented Mr. Putin, according to several people familiar with the meeting. Mr. Nader, who grew close later to several advisers in the Trump White House, had once worked as a consultant to Blackwater, a private security firm now known as Academi. Mr. Nader introduced his former employer to the Russian.
Continue reading the main story
The significance of the meeting in the Seychelles has been a puzzle to American officials ever since intelligence agencies first picked up on it in the final days of the Obama administration, and the purpose of the discussion is in dispute. During congressional testimony in November, Mr. Prince denied representing the Trump transition team during the meeting and dismissed his encounter with Mr. Dmitriev as nothing more than a friendly conversation over a drink.
A lawyer for Mr. Nader did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for Mr. Dmitriev has repeatedly declined to comment about the Seychelles meeting, as has Yousef al-Otaiba, the Emirati ambassador in Washington.
Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian fund manager, represented President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia during a meeting with Mr. Nader and Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater and an informal adviser to President Trump’s transition team. CreditMikhail Kireev/Getty Images
Mr. Dmitriev, a former Goldman Sachs banker with an M.B.A. from Harvard, was tapped by Mr. Putin in 2011 to manage an unusual state-run investment fund. Where other such funds seek to earn returns on sovereign wealth, Mr. Dmitriev’s Russian Direct Investment Fund seeks outside investments, often from foreign governments, for unglamorous infrastructure projects inside of Russia.
The Obama administration imposed sanctions on the fund as part of a raft of economic penalties after the Russian government sent military forces into Ukraine in 2014.
The United Arab Emirates, which Washington considers one of its closest Arab allies, has invested heavily in Mr. Dmitriev’s fund as part of an effort to build close relations to Russia as well. After Crown Prince Mohammed met with Mr. Putin in 2013 in Moscow on a state visit, two investment arms of the government in Abu Dhabi committed to invest $6 billion in the Russian Direct Investment Fund, eventually paying to build projects like roads, an airport and cancer treatment centers in Russia.
Mr. Dmitriev became a frequent visitor to Abu Dhabi, and Emirati officials came to see him as a key conduit to the Russian government. In a 2015 email, the Emirati ambassador to Moscow at the time described Mr. Dmitriev as a “messenger” to get information directly to Mr. Putin. The email was among a large number hacked from the account of the ambassador to Washington and published online. The now former ambassador to Moscow, Omar Saif Ghobash, did not respond to an email about the leak.
Mr. Nader was first served with search warrants and a grand jury subpoena on Jan. 17, shortly after landing at Washington Dulles International Airport, according to two people familiar with the episode. He had intended to travel on to Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s Florida estate, to celebrate the president’s first year in office, but the F.B.I. had other plans, questioning him for more than two hours and seizing his electronics.
Since then, Mr. Nader has been questioned numerous times about meetings in New York during the transition, the Seychelles meeting and meetings in the White House with two of Mr. Trump’s senior advisers, Jared Kushner and Stephen K. Bannon, who has since left the administration.
The meeting in the Seychelles also took place against the backdrop of a larger pattern of secretive contacts between the Trump team and both the Russians and the Emiratis. In the weeks after the 2016 presidential election, Crown Prince Mohammed aroused the suspicions of American national security officials when they learned that he had breached protocol by visiting Trump Tower in Manhattan without notifying the Obama administration of his visit to the United States.
Mr. Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and a senior transition adviser, met at Trump Tower with Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to Washington at the time, and discussed setting up a back channel to communicate with Moscow during the transition — circumventing American diplomatic channels normally used during a presidential transition. Mr. Kushner met a few days later with a Russian banker close to Putin, Sergey N. Gorkov — whose bank was also under sanctions — in what Mr. Kushner has said was an attempt to establish a direct line of communication to Mr. Putin during the transition.
Mr. Prince denied to congressional investigators that he was representing the Trump transition team at a meeting in the Seychelles. CreditZach Gibson for The New York Times
Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, was fired for lying about his conversations with the Russian ambassador during the transition.
Public accounts of the Seychelles meeting have varied sharply. Questioned about it during testimony in November before the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Prince dismissed his encounter with Mr. Dmitriev as little more than a chance run-in.
He was in the Seychelles for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed and Emirati officials, Mr. Prince said, and after the meeting, the officials suggested he meet Mr. Dmitriev at the bar of the Four Seasons hotel.
“We chatted on topics ranging from oil and commodity prices to how much his country wished for resumption of normal trade relations” with the United States, Mr. Prince said about the meeting, which he said lasted about 30 minutes.
“I remember telling him that if Franklin Roosevelt could work with Joseph Stalin to defeat Nazi fascism, then certainly Donald Trump could work with Vladimir Putin to defeat Islamic fascism,” he told lawmakers.
Shortly after the Seychelles meeting, Mr. Dmitriev met with Anthony Scaramucci, then an informal Trump adviser, at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. In an interview afterward with TASS, a Russian news agency, Mr. Scaramucci criticized the Obama administration’s economic sanctions on Russia as ineffective and suggested that the Trump administration and Russia could find common ground on numerous issues.
“We have to make the world safer, we have to eliminate from the world the radical Islamic terrorism, and we have to figure out the ways to grow the wages for working class-families,” said Mr. Scaramucci, who later had a brief but calamitous stint as White House communications director. “Whether in Russia or in the U.S., I think there are a lot of common objectives.”
For his part, Mr. Dmitriev seemed particularly optimistic at the dawn of the Trump era. In an interview with The New York Times two days after the 2016 election, he said he was excited that Mr. Trump’s dramatic victory would “reshape the U.S.-Russia relationship.”
“When Russia is treated with respect,” he said, “we can move forward.”