Trump should end Obama’s Hezbollah failure
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President Trump has a chance to rectify one of his predecessor’s worst failures to protect Americans from the combined scourge of drugs, terrorism, and Russian adventurism in Europe and the Middle East. On March 9th a dangerous terrorist just walked free from a Lebanese jail rather than facing extradition to the United States from the Czech Republic. And the two men most responsible for his freedom are scheduled to meet with Trump in April.

Czech President Milos Zeman and Finance Minister Andrej Babis were at the linchpin of the shocking refusal last year of the U.S. government’s request for the extradition of Ali Fayyad, a Lebanese arms dealer with a Ukrainian passport and ties to Russian intelligence. Congressional criticism of the Czech action was very harsh, but President Obama refused to acknowledge the anger of his law enforcement agencies over this failure.

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Fayyad was arrested in Prague in a 2014 j­oint operation between Czech authorities and the Drug Enforcement Agency. The U.S. extradition request was stalled by Czech authorities for 2 years, under heavy Russian pressure; the Czechs finally released him to Lebanon rather than give him to American authorities, in a complex drama worthy of Ian Fleming that I wrote about last year.

 

The actors in the drama were President Zeman and several officials affiliated with and controlled by the controversial oligarch Finance Minister Babis and the ANO, the political party that he founded and still chairs. 

Ali Fayyad is still wanted by the U.S. on charges of arms trafficking to Hezbollah and ISIS, drug trafficking, money laundering, and attempting to assassinate U.S. officials. Because he orchestrated arms for drugs trades between Mideast terrorist groups and Latin American drug cartels, and was closely associated with Russian intelligence services, he would have provided U.S. interrogators a rich supply of intelligence about the flows of money, drugs and arms around the world, including the supply routes of the opiates and cocaine that are the scourge of American cities and rural areas. Keeping him out of U.S. custody was one of the most urgent tasks of the Russian intelligence agencies; both Zeman and Babis have been identified in a study by the Congressional Research Service and by analysts of Eastern Europe as leading mouthpieces and agents of Russian influence.

President Zeman boasted openly of his role in freeing Fayyad, claiming that his series of phone calls with Russian President Putin paved the way for the deal that brokered the release. He also exerted great pressure on Cabinet members to resist the U.S. extradition request and release Fayyad to Lebanon instead.

Because of his release, not only has the U.S. lost an opportunity to gain crucial information, but he is now free to continue his nefarious activities and threaten American lives and interests. And now the two men most responsible for that failure are scheduled to meet with Trump.

Any time there is a meeting between the president and another head of state, there is substantial negotiation between staff of each president over the agenda for the meeting, and the expected outcomes. There is always a bargain. What bargain can either of these men make with Trump? 

What message does it send to the DEA, to the families of those suffering from the drugs killing our youth, or to the U.S. officials who were the targets of Fayyad’s assassination threats? The White House staff should look very closely at this visit, and at the background of these officials, and have the courage to recommend canceling the meeting. The Fayyad affair represents a failure by the Obama administration to protect American interests. Why should Trump continue Obama’s error? Trump has nothing to gain from meeting with Zeman or Babis. 

James D. Durso is the managing director at consultancy firm Corsair LLC. He was a professional staff member at the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and served as a U.S. Navy officer for 20 years specializing in logistics and security assistance. His overseas military postings were in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and he served in Iraq as a civilian transport advisor with the Coalition Provisional Authority. He served afloat as supply officer of the submarine USS SKATE (SSN 578).


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