Posts Tagged ‘chemical weapons’

Skripal Novichok poisoning suspects identified

July 19, 2018

UK investigators believe they have identified the suspected perpetrators behind the Novichok nerve agent attack on the Skripals, the Press Association reported on Thursday.

Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were struck down with the poison in March. The Skripals subsequently recovered.

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British police officers suspect several Russians were involved in the attempted murder of the Skripals and are looking for more than one suspect, the Press Association reported.

Investigators have identified the suspected perpetrators through CCTV and have cross-checked the footage with records of people who entered the country around that time, it said.

In recent weeks, British counter-terrorism police have also been investigating the murder of a woman who died on July 8, just over a week after being exposed to Novichok near the city of Salisbury.

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Boris Johnson issues battle cry to block ‘botched’ Brexit

July 19, 2018

Former UK foreign secretary makes thinly veiled pitch for Conservative party leadership

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Boris Johnson delivers his resignation speech as foreign secretary to the Commons on Wednesday, using it as a thinly veiled pitch for the leadership of the Conservative party © AFP

By George Parker and Laura Hughes in London

Boris Johnson has drawn up the battle lines for the end game of Brexit, urging fellow Eurosceptics to join him in a fight to stop Theresa May signing a “botched treaty” with the EU and declaring: “It is not too late to save Brexit.”

The former foreign secretary’s Commons resignation statement on Wednesday was also a thinly veiled pitch for the Conservative party leadership, as he set himself as the standard bearer for a true Brexit.

The prime minister’s ability to deliver a Brexit deal in the autumn now hangs on whether Tory Eurosceptics follow Mr Johnson’s hardline stance, or if they heed her warning that Britain will end up staying in the EU should they torpedo her compromise plan.

The schism that has opened up on the Tory right over Brexit is now the biggest factor determining whether Mrs May can deliver an exit deal based on her “soft Brexit” plan that was thrashed out by the cabinet at Chequers, her country residence, this month.

While Mr Johnson and David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, quit the cabinet to lead resistance to the plan, many moderate Eurosceptics have swallowed the need for a compromise proposal that can win the support of MPs.

Environment secretary Michael Gove, trade secretary Liam Fox and the new Brexit secretary Dominic Raab are among the Eurosceptics calling for the party to unite behind Mrs May to make sure Britain leaves the EU on March 29 2019.

Mr Gove, backed by many moderate Conservative Eurosceptics, has been telling fellow Tories that the main task is to get Brexit “over the line” and that flaws in the exit treaty can be fixed once Britain has left.

Mr Johnson was scathing of that approach. “It is absolute nonsense to imagine, as I fear some of my colleagues do, that we can somehow afford to make a botched treaty now, and then break and reset the bone later on,” he told MPs.

Mr Johnson said that Mrs May’s Brexit plan, outlined in a white paper published last week, would leave Britain in a state of “miserable permanent limbo” and that the prime minister had come up with a “Heath Robinson” customs proposal.

Mrs May agreed a new strategy with cabinet colleagues this week intended to push more Eurosceptics into Mr Gove’s camp, by highlighting the risks to Brexit if MPs reject her deal in the autumn.

“We’ve all been asked to make the point that if the Commons votes down a deal, the result will not be a ‘no deal’ Brexit, it would be no Brexit at all,” said one cabinet minister.

Downing Street argued that if MPs rejected Mrs May’s deal, the Labour party would use an arcane parliamentary procedure known as a “humble address” to force a vote to stop Mrs May leading Britain out of the EU without a deal.

Most MPs are opposed to a “no deal” exit because of the economic chaos it would unleash, in spite of claims by Mr Johnson, Mr Davis and arch-Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg that Britain could simply trade with the EU on World Trade Organization terms.

“If we can’t agree on a deal or a no deal exit, the only way out would be to have a general election,” said the minister. “We would also come under pressure to have another referendum. Either way, Brexit would be in jeopardy.”

At a meeting of the 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers on Wednesday, Mrs May urged MPs to back her. She was given a boost when one Eurosceptic, Simon Clarke, stood up in front of colleagues to say he was withdrawing his letter calling for a vote of confidence in the prime minister.

Mr Clarke said: “We all want Brexit to succeed: that is the reality. I don’t want to go into the summer feeling like the Conservative party is at war with itself.”

Mr Rees-Mogg agreed that the mood at the “end-of-term” meeting of the 1922 committee, which took place after several Commons votes on Brexit this week had highlighted Mrs May’s fragile grip, had been “very supportive” of the PM.

Mrs May joked with journalists before the meeting that she did not intend to watch a recording of Mr Johnson’s resignation speech, saying she would rather be attending to documents in her official red box instead.

Although Mrs May had to abandon her attempt to end the turmoil by bringing forward the date of the Commons summer recess to Thursday, in practice many MPs are already packing their bags.

They will not return to Westminster until early September, by which point Mrs May is meant to be in the final stages of negotiating the deal in Brussels that will make or break her premiership — and Britain’s future relations with the EU.


‘It’s not too late to save Brexit’, Boris Johnson tells UK parliament

July 18, 2018

Boris Johnson, Britain’s former foreign secretary who quit in protest at Theresa May’s plan for leaving the European Union, urged parliament on Wednesday to rethink its strategy, adding that the country would never get the chance to get it right again.

“It is not too late to save Brexit,” he said as he delivered his resignation speech. “We have time in these negotiations, we have changed tack once and we can change again.

“The problem is not that we failed to make the case for a Free Trade Agreement of the kind spelt out (by May) at Lancaster House, we haven’t even tried. We must try now because we will not get another chance to get it right.”


Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; writing by Kate Holton; editing by Stephen Addison

See also


Boris Johnson: It is not too late to save Brexit

Experience With Syria, Russia Compels The World To Guard Against Chemical Weapons

July 17, 2018

The outgoing head of the world’s chemical arms watchdog has urged nations not to sacrifice a century of hard-fought efforts to banish toxic weapons for the sake of short-term political disputes.

Speaking exclusively to AFP just days before he steps down and with a team of inspectors on the ground in Britain to probe a suspected nerve agent attack, Ahmet Uzumcu called on members of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to overcome bitter divisions.

The Chemical Weapons Convention banning the use, production and stockpiling of arms such as mustard gas, which crept across the battlefields of World War I or enveloped the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988, came into force in 1997.

Today “in order to reach this stage to develop such a regime, the international community spent more than 100 years,” stressed Uzumcu.

“It will be really unfortunate if we make it a victim to short-sighted political interests.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad during their meeting in Sochi on May 17, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad during their meeting in Sochi on May 17, 2018

– Work in a time of war –

When the seasoned Turkish diplomat took over as the OPCW’s director general in July 2010 the body was little known, ploughing away at its arduous task of eliminating the world’s stockpile of chemical weapons.

In total 193 countries have signed up to the convention, and 96 percent of the world’s declared stocks have been eliminated. The remaining 4 percent is in the United States and due to be eradicated by 2023.

Yet the ongoing civil war in Syria has seen repeated allegations of chemical weapons attacks on civilians — 85 reports have been checked by the OPCW’s fact-finding team and 14 have been proven.

Used to being behind the scenes, the OPCW inspectors were thrust into a high-profile war, in full glare of an anxious international community.

© AFP/File | An image grab taken from a video released by the Syrian civil defence in Douma shows volunteers helping children at a hospital following an alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town on April 8, 2018

“We had to restructure, to re-prioritise our work… we had to prepare and train our staff to go to Syria to conflict areas,” Uzumcu said.

Even after “the most traumatic incident” when one team came under attack and was ambushed in May 2014, there was no lack of volunteers including the team which went into the Syrian town of Douma in April.

In an interim report, experts have ruled out the use of sarin gas in the deaths of about 40 civilians there, but suspect chlorine may have been unleashed.

“Children are dying before our eyes.”

Those were the stark and potent words from UNICEF’s executive director hours after reports emerged of another suspected chemical strike in Syria.

And, like a year ago, soon after the reports came the photos: gut-wrenching and ghastly.

First responders and relief workers said Sunday that they discovered families asphyxiated in homes and shelters in the suburbs of Damascus. Many were found in basements where they had taken refuge during an artillery attack.

Dozens were believed to have perished, among them children; hundreds were reportedly injured. Relief workers said victims had foam around their mouths.

It appeared to be the latest dark turn in a conflict that dragged into its eighth year in March

– Noble cause –

The teams are driven by “the sense of purpose. They think that they are contributing in fact to a noble cause, getting rid of chemical weapons, thereby in fact preventing their use and harming people.”

But the body, which in 2013 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work, has become riven with disputes between Western nations, and Syria’s main ally Russia and its supporters.

“I hope that this division amongst state parties will be over very soon and they will be united once again as used to be the case,” Uzumcu said.

He warned chemical weapons are also evolving — even the so-called Islamic State jihadists were found to have used mustard gas.

“The proliferation risks are high. We need to be aware of this,” Uzumcu said, referring particularly to jihadists returning to their own countries.

Following a landmark vote last month, the OPCW now has the added responsibility of deciding who was behind any attack in Syria.

Uzumcu confirmed inspectors would also review previous attacks, such as in Latamneh in northwestern Syria in March in which both sarin and chlorine were used, to determine who was behind them.

– Taboo crime –

Attribution is the first step towards bringing perpetrators to justice, he insisted.

“Accountability is key,” said Uzumcu, otherwise “we cannot ensure deterrence. We cannot prevent further uses. A culture of impunity would be extremely dangerous for the future.”

A team of OPCW inspectors arrived Sunday in Britain for the second time this year, to take samples including tissue from Dawn Sturgess who died on July 8.

She, and her partner Charlie Rowley who is recovering in hospital, are believed to have been exposed to the same poison used in March in Salisbury on a former Russian spy and his daughter.

Concerned about the events in Britain, Uzumcu revealed he has set up a small taskforce to learn more about this nerve agent, named by London as Novichok, but so rare it is not even listed in OPCW files.

Despite leaving a busy in-tray for incoming director general, Spanish diplomat Ferdinand Arias, Uzumcu remains hopeful as he ends his mandate, pointing out no-one has yet claimed responsibility for any recent attack.

“Everyone, I believe, is fully aware that the use of chemical weapons is a taboo. It’s a crime, and they perfectly understand that those who commit such crimes may be held accountable,” he said.

UK police explore if discarded vial led to novichok poisoning

July 5, 2018

Couple remain in critical condition after exposure to nerve agent used in Skripal attack

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Police outside flats  in Amesbury, Wiltshire, on Wednesday. Charlie Rowley and Dawn Sturgess remain in a critical condition in Salisbury Hospital © PA

By David Bond and Jim Pickard

Police investigating the poisoning of a man and a woman in south-west England are exploring the possibility that the pair became critically ill after accidentally coming into contact with a discarded vial of the nerve agent used in the attack on a former Russian spy in March.

According to Whitehall officials, the theory is the most likely line of inquiry being pursued by the Metropolitan Police’s counter terror command after scientists from the Ministry of Defence research laboratory at nearby Porton Down confirmed on Wednesday night that the pair had fallen ill after being exposed to novichok.

The pair, named locally as Charlie Rowley, 45, and Dawn Sturgess, 44, remain in a critical condition in Salisbury Hospital after falling ill on Saturday in nearby Amesbury. On Wednesday morning Wiltshire Police announced a “major incident” and cordoned off five sites in Amesbury and Salisbury which the pair had visited before becoming unwell.

UK home secretary Sajid Javid will on Thursday morning chair a meeting of the government’s emergency committee Cobra to discuss how to respond to the latest developments, which come almost exactly four months after the attack on the former MI6 informant Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

About 100 officers from the Met Police’s counter terror unit, who led the investigation into the Skripal attack, are now leading the inquiry into what may have happened to Mr Rowley and Ms Sturgess.

Met Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu said that while no contaminated items had yet been found, officers were trying to piece together the pair’s movements to figure out where they might have been poisoned.

“We have no idea what may have contained the nerve agent at this time,” he added.

Among the sites cordoned off is Queen Elizabeth park in Salisbury, eight miles from the Amesbury address where the couple fell ill, but a five-minute walk to the Maltings area of the cathedral city where the Skripals were found.

The incident will reignite simmering tensions between the UK and Russia over the novichok attack, which the British government has blamed on the Kremlin.

Russia maintains it had nothing to do with the incident, which sparked the biggest crisis in relations between the UK and Moscow since the end of the cold war. More than 130 Russian diplomats and suspected spies were expelled from Britain, the US and its western allies.

Both Sergei and Yulia Skripal, who were in a critical condition in hospital for weeks, have since recovered from the attack and are being kept in a secure location, thought to be in London.

The exposure of another two people to the nerve agent, which was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s, in Wiltshire takes the total number of people to fall seriously ill to five. One of the first police officers to attend to the Skripals, Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, also became critically ill in March but recovered more quickly.

Chemical weapons experts said that because of novichok’s lasting potency — unlike other chemicals it does not break down easily when exposed to air — there was always a risk that more people could be contaminated.

But the latest developments will raise serious questions about the clean-up operation in Salisbury, which lasted for months and involved chemical weapons specialists from Porton Down and members of the armed forces.

Sally Davies, the UK’s chief medical officer, sought to reassure the public that the risk to people’s health remained low. “You do not need to seek advice from a health professional unless you are experiencing symptoms, as any individual who had been significantly exposed at the same time would by now have symptoms,” said Ms Davies.

Ben Wallace, security minister, said the government still believed “to a very high assurance” that the Russian state was behind the original attack.

“The Russian state could put this wrong right, tell us what happened, tell us what they did . . . and fill in some of the significant gaps,” he told the BBC Today radio programme on Thursday morning. “They can come and tell us what happened. We are waiting for the phone call from the Russian state.”

However, Russia’s embassy in the Netherlands has rebuffed speculation that Moscow could be behind the second poisoning. A tweet from the embassy said: “How dumb they think [Russia] is to use “again” so-called “Novichok” in the middle of the FIFA World Cup and after the special session of the CSP (convened by the way by GB) that gave the #OPCWattribution functions. The show must go on?”

The CSP refers to the Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, held by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international watchdog.

Additional reporting by Henry Foy in Moscow



Iran Says Donald Trump Is Damaging Nuclear Non-Proliferation and International Law

July 1, 2018
TEHRAN (FNA)- Iranian President Rouhani’s special envoy and Deputy Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi underlined that the policies pursued by US President Donald Trump have damaged the nuclear non-proliferation process and international law.

“The destructive and unilateral policies (of Trump) have even targeted the US allies, specially Canada and Europe,” Sarmadi said in a meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas on Sunday.

FARS News (Iran)

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Iran’s President Ahmadinejad (2010)

He added that Trump’s policies have harmed the nuclear non-proliferation process and the international law, noting, “The two countries should seriously confront Trump’s destructive policies by increasing mutual cooperation.”

Maduro, for his part, stressed that “Venezuela will firmly support Iran on all political stages of the country’s confrontation against the US aggressions (enmities)”.

US President Donald Trump announced on May 8 that the US would no longer remain part of the JCPOA and promised to re-impose the highest level of economic sanctions against Iran in response to Tehran’s development of its nuclear program.

Later US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened Iran with the “strongest sanctions in history” if it did not comply with a list of steep demands, including ending uranium enrichment.

Iran has said it will remain committed to the deal for the time being, pending negotiations with other signatories to the JCPOA to see if Iran’s interests would still be protected under an accord without the US.

Tehran’s other partners in the deal – Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China – have all opposed Washington’s unilateral withdrawal and said they would still live up to their commitments as part of the deal.

After Trump’s declaration, the Iranian government issued a statement, calling the US withdrawal as “unlawful”. The statement underlined Iran’s prerequisites for continuing the deal with the five world powers after the US pullout of the agreement.

“Iran, as a country that has remained committed to its legal obligations, will pursue the US Government’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA as provided by the mechanisms and provisions of the accord, and if the US withdrawal is not fully compensated and the full interests of the Iranian people are not met and guaranteed – as stated in the accord and as outlined by Iran’s Leader on 9 May – it will exercise its legal right to take whatever reciprocal measures it deems expedient. Other parties to the JCPOA, and especially its three European signatories, must take necessary action to safeguard the accord and to implement their commitments – which they proved incapable of fully performing even while the US was nominally a party to the deal, due to the obstructions by the Trump Administration – and to proceed from giving pledges to taking practical action without any preconditions,” it said.

“None of the provisions or timeframes within the JCPOA, which were the subject of twelve years of negotiations, are negotiable in any manner. The US, which has through its meddling and erroneous policies ignited extremism, terrorism, destruction, war and child killing in our region, is in no position to issue any diktat about the Islamic Republic of Iran’s lawful presence within its own region nor its effective support for the peoples of Syria and Iraq in their endeavor to fight extremists. The US and its allies, which through their support for the regime of Saddam Hussein, including equipping it with chemical weapons and the most advanced military equipment while blocking Iran’s access to any means of defense victimized the Iranian people for eight years, and currently turning our region into a powder keg through their sale of hundreds of billions of dollars of useless advanced weaponry devouring the financial resources of the region, are in no position to impose restrictions on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s lawful means of defense, including defensive ballistic missiles which have been designed to carry conventional weapons based on the bitter experiences of the war with the regime of Saddam Hussein. Indeed, such efforts explicitly violate the principles of international law, and the Islamic Republic of Iran’s legitimate right to self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter,” it added.

“As announced by the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran on 8 May, the Foreign Minister has been tasked with the duty of taking the necessary measures to obtain required guarantees from the remaining parties to the JCPOA as well as Iran’s other economic partners, and to immediately report the results of this mission. Meanwhile, the President of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran has been tasked with taking all necessary steps in preparation for Iran to pursue industrial-scale enrichment without any restrictions, using the results of the latest research and development of Iran’s brave nuclear scientists.”

“The people of Iran will with calm and confidence continue their path towards progress and development and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has foreseen all necessary measures to facilitate this under any circumstances,” the statement continued.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran, as a secure and powerful state, which derives its security and economic development from within, relying on the prudent participation and resilience of its brave and civilized people, seeks constructive and dignified engagement with the world, and as shown by its implementation of the JCPOA despite the United States’ continuous violations, is a trustworthy and committed partner for all who are prepared to cooperate on the basis of shared interests and mutual respect,” it reiterated.


Iran Boasts of Capacity to Make Bomb Fuel (2010)



Timeline of the nuclear program of Iran

Assad regime responsible for crimes against humanity in Ghouta: UN

June 21, 2018

The method of warfare in Syria was barbaric … Assad regime deliberately starved civilians, used chemical weapons in eastern Ghouta, UN says.

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Forces loyal to the Assad regime committed what amounted to crimes against humanity, including deliberately starving civilians, during the siege of eastern Ghouta, U.N. investigators said Wednesday.

The five-year siege, on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, ended in April when the regime regained control of the opposition enclave.

“Following the end of the longest running siege in modern history… the U.N. Commission of Inquiry (for human rights in Syria) has condemned this method of warfare in Syria as barbaric,” the U.N. investigators said in a statement.

The COI, tasked by the U.N. Human Rights Council in March to urgently investigate recent events in eastern Ghouta, released a 23-page report filled with horrific details of civilian suffering.

“It is completely abhorrent that besieged civilians were indiscriminately attacked, and systematically denied food and medicine,” commission head Paulo Pinheiro said in the statement.

As pro-regime forces dramatically escalated their campaign to recapture the besieged enclave between February and April this year, they used tactics that were “largely unlawful in nature,” the report said.

The tactics, it said, “aimed at punishing the inhabitants of eastern Ghouta and forcing the population, collectively, to surrender or starve.”

It described thousands of desperate people holed up for months in squalid basements with dwindling food rations and few if any sanitation facilities, as bombs and missiles rained down.

The investigators said chemical weapons were probably used in eastern Ghouta.

Referring to April 7, when regime air attacks hit the city of Douma, the inquiry said: “The available evidence is largely consistent with the use of chlorine.”

Some of the reported symptoms point to the additional use of a different gas, most likely a nerve agent, the investigative body said, without specifying the perpetrators.

The investigators have received reports about at least 49 deaths and up to 650 injuries during the air attacks on April 7.

Inspectors for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have also investigated the incident, but they have yet to issue a report.

‘Deliberate starvation’

The report concluded that “certain acts perpetrated by pro-Government forces during the siege laid to eastern Ghouta, including the deliberate starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare, amount to the crime against humanity of inhumane acts causing serious mental and physical suffering.”

The investigators slammed the widespread use of sieges throughout Syria’s seven-year conflict, which has killed more than 350,000 people.

“Hundreds of thousands of Syrian women, men and children countrywide have suffered for too long the perverse and long-lasting effects of this medieval form of warfare,” the report said.

The U.N.’s Syria commission, set up in 2011 shortly after the civil war began, has repeatedly accused the warring parties of crimes.

In Wednesday’s report, the commission also faulted armed opposition groups like Jaysh al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham for committing “war crimes” by launching “indiscriminate attacks” on Damascus, and killing and maiming hundreds of civilians.

“Through the entire duration of the siege, armed groups also regularly arbitrarily arrested and tortured civilians in Douma, including members of religious minority groups, repeatedly committing the war crimes of cruel treatment and torture, and outrages upon personal dignity,” the report said.

The investigators, who have never been granted access to Syria, said they based their findings for their latest report on some 140 interviews conducted in person in the region and from Geneva.

They also said they analyzed photographs, video recordings, satellite imagery, and medical records, as well as reports from regime and non-regime sources.

The report noted that by the time regime forces declared eastern Ghouta recaptured on April 14, around 140,000 people had been displaced from their homes.

Tens of thousands of them are still being unlawfully interned by regime forces in managed sites throughout the Damascus region, the report said.

Following local “evacuation agreements”, up to 50,000 civilians from eastern Ghouta were displaced to Idlib and Aleppo governorates, it said.


Delusional Assad denies Moscow running the show in Syria

June 10, 2018

Assad admitted his government has disagreed with Russia and Iran throughout the country’s seven-year conflict — Moscow intervened militarily in Syria’s conflict in 2015, when Assad’s forces were struggling to hold territory against rebel fighters

DAMASCUS: Syria’s President Bashar Assad denied Moscow is running the show in his war-torn country, saying in an interview released Sunday his government operates independently of its Russian and Iranian allies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad during their meeting in Sochi on May 17, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad during their meeting in Sochi on May 17, 2018

In a wide-ranging interview in Damascus with the Mail on Sunday, Assad slammed the United States and British military actions in Syria as “colonial” while praising supporter Russia.

Defiant: Bashar al-Assad talks to journalist Hala Jaber in his palace in Damascus last week

Defiant: Bashar al-Assad talks to journalist Hala Jaber in his palace in Damascus last week

“We’ve had good relations with Russia for more than six decades now, nearly seven decades. They never, during our relation, try to dictate, even if there are differences,” he told the British newspaper.

Assad admitted his government has disagreed with Russia and Iran throughout the country’s seven-year conflict.

“That’s very natural, but at the end the only decision about what’s going on in Syria and what’s going to happen, it’s a Syrian decision,” he said.

Moscow intervened militarily in Syria’s conflict in 2015, when Assad’s forces were struggling to hold territory against rebel fighters.

Russian air strikes and military advisers have since helped regime troops seize back more than half the country.

Tehran, too, has sent military advisers to Syria, but Assad has denied that Iranian troops are on the ground.

Iran’s regional foe, Israel, has repeatedly warned it will not accept an entrenched Iranian presence in Syria.

It is suspected of carrying out numerous raids on Syrian government positions over the years, and last month announced unprecedented strikes on what it said were Tehran-operated bases in Syria.

In his interview, Assad denied Moscow had ever had prior knowledge of such strikes, despite close cooperation between Israel and Russia.

“No, no, that’s not true,” he said.

“Russia never coordinated with anyone against Syria, either politically or militarily, and that’s (a) contradiction,” he said.

“How could they help the Syrian army advancing and at the same time work with our enemies in order to destroy our army?“

Syria’s war has also drawn in many Western powers, who first backed rebel groups against Assad then shifted their focus to defeating the Islamic State jihadist group as part of a US-led coalition.

Assad lambasted the American and British interventions, saying they were “breaching the sovereignty of Syria.”

“This is colonial policy, that’s how we see it, and this is not new,” he said.

He also told the Mail on Sunday that his country had stopped intelligence sharing with European nations.

“They want to exchange information despite their governments being politically against ours, so we said… When you change your political position, we’re ready,” he said.

“Now, there’s no cooperation with any European intelligence agencies including the British.”

The interview, according to the Mail on Sunday, was Assad’s first with a British journalist since 2015. Its full transcript was published on Syrian state news agency SANA.

See also:

I use chemicals? Prove it! Syrian President Assad brands gas attacks ‘fake news’ and calls Theresa May a ‘colonialist and a liar’ in astonishing face to face interview

Trump Wants Kim to Commit to Disarmament Timetable in Singapore

June 6, 2018
Mar-a-Lago summit possible if talks go well between leaders — White House hasn’t described schedule beyond first meeting

The White House wants North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to commit to a timetable to surrender his country’s nuclear arsenal when he meets President Donald Trump next week in Singapore, a high-stakes summit that could last as long as two days — or just minutes.

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Trump has been advised not to offer Kim any concessions, as the White House seeks to put the onus on the North Koreans to make the summit a success, one U.S. official said. The president is determined to walk out of the meeting if it doesn’t go well, two officials said. Alternatively, Trump is toying with the idea of offering Kim a follow-up summit at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida — perhaps in the fall — if the two men hit it off.

Other than announcing that the two leaders will first meet at 9 a.m. Singapore time June 12 at the Capella Hotel on Singapore’s Sentosa Island, the White House has described no schedule for the summit. If the first meeting goes well, there will be further events that day and perhaps even on June 13.

The Capella Hotel stands on the island of Sentosa in Singapore.

Photographer: Nicky Loh/Bloomberg

Trump will be joined in Singapore by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, his Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Adviser John Bolton. The U.S. delegation also tentatively includes the CIA’s top Korea expert, Andrew Kim; the National Security Council’s point person on Korea, Allison Hooker; and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin, who has negotiated much of the groundwork for the summit with the North Koreans.

How Kim Jong Un and Trump Differ on Denuclearization: QuickTake

Notably absent from Trump’s delegation: Vice President Mike Pence, who will remain in the U.S., and Defense Secretary James Mattis. Mattis said on Sunday at a defense conference in Singapore that North Korea will win relief from crippling U.S. economic sanctions “only when it demonstrates verifiable and irreversible steps to denuclearization.”

Trump’s Preparations

North Korea has publicly bristled at U.S. officials’ insistence that it must agree to disarm before receiving anything in return, instead calling for a step-by-step approach to ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons. Trump has indicated flexibility in his approach, although it’s still unclear what a path to denuclearization would look like.

Mike Pompeo and Kim Jong Un.

Photographer: The White House via Getty Images

Pompeo, who has traveled to Pyongyang twice since March, has prepared Trump for the summit in about eight-to-ten hours of briefings per week for several weeks, two U.S. officials said. The CIA’s Kim has helped with the Trump briefings. On Tuesday, former senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar briefed Trump and Pence on their lessons learned co-sponsoring a law aimed at securing and dismantling nuclear weapons after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Typically, the president’s preparations for meetings with foreign leaders are shaped by several administration officials and result in a pair of briefing books, one person familiar with the process said. One, on customs and protocol, primarily is assembled by the State Department and shared with much of the U.S. delegation. The other is a more exclusive document for the president that includes a biography of the foreign leader assembled by the U.S. intelligence community. It also sometimes includes memos from individual Cabinet members with their private assessments of the leader.

U.S. vs North Korea: A Fraught History in Pictures

Trump’s aides consider him ready for a summit in which the White House believes he holds an advantage — while 12 hours ahead of Washington, Singapore is a Westernized metropolis and will be the farthest Kim Jong Un has traveled since taking charge of his country in 2011.

Kim’s Worries

U.S. officials believe Kim is extremely worried about security at the summit and is fearful of assassination attempts, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Frustrated after the North Koreans cut off communications for about five days last month and snubbed Hagin at a preparatory meeting in Singapore, Trump canceled the summit on May 24. Talks resumed, however, and Kim dispatched an envoy — his spy chief Kim Yong Chol — to Washington on Friday to deliver a letter to Trump.

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The letter, handwritten by Kim Jong Un in Korean, expressed the dictator’s desire for the summit. Trump said later that day that the Singapore meeting was back on. Kim Yong Chol also brought Trump a gift, and Trump reciprocated with a gift for Kim Jong Un. White House officials declined to describe either present.

— With assistance by Keith Zhai, and Nick Wadhams


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Plans to Meet Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang

June 3, 2018

Summit could be North Korean leader’s first meeting with a foreign head of state in his capital

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, seen here in May, is planning a visit to Pyongyang to meet leader Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s state media has reported.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, seen here in May, is planning a visit to Pyongyang to meet leader Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s state media has reported. PHOTO: KLIMENTYEV MIKHAIL/ZUMA PRESS

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is planning to visit Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s state media reported Sunday, for what could be the North Korean leader’s first summit meeting with a foreign head of state in his capital, Pyongyang.

The report didn’t specify when a visit by Mr. Assad might take place, but quoted the Syrian president as saying: “I am going to visit the DPRK and meet HE Kim Jong Un,” using the acronym for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “HE” is short for “His Excellency.”

If the visit takes place, it will add to a recent burst of diplomacy between North Korea—one of the world’s most isolated countries—and its neighbors and allies.

In recent months, Mr. Kim has met twice with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the inter-Korean demilitarized zone and twice visited Chinese President Xi Jinping in China. Mr. Kim has also hosted Mike Pompeo, now the U.S. Secretary of State, in North Korea twice in recent months, and on Thursday he welcomedRussian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Pyongyang.

Mr. Kim is also slated to sit down with President Donald Trump at a summit on June 12 in Singapore.

Syria has close ties with North Korea, and Messrs. Assad and Kim are frequently quoted in North Korean state media exchanging well wishes and pleasantries on their parties’ and countries’ respective national holidays and anniversaries.

Mr. Assad’s remarks were made on May 30, according to the North Korean state media report. Mr. Assad, receiving diplomatic credentials from the new North Korean ambassador Mun Jong Nam, said that recent developments on the Korean Peninsula—a likely reference to Mr. Kim’s diplomatic meetings—were brought about “by the outstanding political caliber and wise leadership of HE Kim Jong Un.”

“I am sure that he will achieve the final victory and realize the reunification of Korea without fail,” Mr. Assad was quoted as saying.

Mr. Assad also said the Syrian government would “fully support all policies and measures of the DPRK leadership.”

Kim Jong Un and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in North Korea on May 31.
Kim Jong Un and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in North Korea on May 31. PHOTO: SHARIFULIN VALERY/ZUMA PRESS

North Korea and Syria are believed by experts to cooperate closely on chemical weapons and on other weapons of mass destruction.

In February, United Nations investigators concluded that North Korea had shipped 50 tons of supplies to Syria for use in building what is suspected to be an industrial-scale chemical weapons factory.

In April, the U.S. conducted missile strikes aimed at the Barzah Research and Development Center near Damascus, which the U.N. said has housed North Korean advisers.

Write to Jonathan Cheng at