Posts Tagged ‘chemical weapons’

Chemical weapons allegedly used 45 times in Syria: OPCW chief says

April 28, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | A child receives treatment following a suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in Syria’s the northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017

THE HAGUE (AFP) – 

Experts from the world’s watchdog tasked with destroying chemical weapons are probing reports that toxic arms have been used 45 times in Syria since late last year, the body’s chief said Friday.

Director general Ahmet Uzumcu said there was “a huge list of allegations” of the use of toxic arms reported to the operations hub of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

In the “second part of 2016, 30 different incidents, and since the beginning of this year, 15 separate incidents, so 45,” he told a reporters, brandishing a list of several pages which he chose to keep confidential.

They include the April 4 sarin gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun that was reported to have killed 88 people, including 31 children.

“All these allegations are recorded by our experts, who follow this every day from our operations centre,” Uzumcu said.

The OPCW is currently trying to ensure it is safe enough to deploy its fact-finding team to the town for further analysis, after Uzumcu said last week that “incontrovertible” test results from OPCW-designated labs on samples taken from victims showed sarin gas or a similar substance had been used.

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has “already stated that they would support this mission, actually they have invited us to go via Damascus,” he said.

“The problem is that this area is controlled by different armed opposition groups, so we need to strike some deals with them to ensure a temporary ceasefire, which we understand the Syrian government is willing to do,” he added.

“If we can put all this together then we will deploy. The team is ready, and we have the volunteers.”

However, it is not yet mandated to also visit the Shayrat air base in the central Syrian province of Homs.

The base was the target of a US strike launched in the wake of the Khan Sheikhun attack, and Russia has called for the allegations that it was stocking chemical weapons to be investigated.

Uzumcu also confirmed that the OPCW, based in The Hague, believed jihadist rebels from the so-called Islamic State group had used “sulphur mustard” near Iraq’s second city of Mosul last week.

The Iraqi military said some security personnel were injured in the April 15 attack as part of the operation to recapture Mosul.

The OPCW has offered to help Iraqi forces investigate, but “they have not yet requested any assistance,” Uzumcu said.

Israel’s Attack in Syria: Israel’s Policy of Ambiguity Could Be Nearing an End — Proxy “War” With Iran — Has Russia Allowed Israel’s Raids?

April 28, 2017

By Amos Harel

Strike in Damascus international airport attributed to Israel ■ Why isn’t Russia taking action? ■ defense chief draws a new red line: No Iranian and Hezbollah military presence on the Syrian border

Explosion in Syria

Explosion in Syria . (photo credit:ARAB MEDIA)

Witnesses said a total of five strikes occurred near the Damascus airport road, about 25km from the capital, early on Thursday.

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Iranian cargo planes land in Damascus hours before ‘Israeli strike’ on airport

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Syria confirms Israeli strike hit military compound near Damascus airport

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Israel destroyed dozens of Hezbollah-bound missiles in last Syria raid, officer says

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What has been done up to now with a degree of ambiguity, not to say discretion, is now being done for all to see. Syria confirmed on Thursday, in a report from its official news agency, that the Israeli airforce struck a military compound next to the Damascus airport before dawn.

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Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz implicitly acknowledged Israeli responsibility for the strike when he explained in a somewhat sleepy radio interview from the United States on Army Radio that “the incident totally fits with our policy for preventing weapons transfers to Hezbollah.” And all of this happened while Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman was away on a visit to Russia, the chief sponsor of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Katz’s comments followed an earlier, first acknowledgement of its kind by Israel, after numerous reports in the Arab media of an Israeli airstrike in Syria in late March. And this past Tuesday, a senior Israel Defense Forces officer told journalists that about a hundred missiles, some intended for Hezbollah, were destroyed in that March airstrike. But it is still not certain that a deliberate decision has been made to abandon the policy of ambiguity that Israel has adhered to for the past five years, neither denying nor confirming its responsibility for such air strikes.

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This policy of ambiguity seems to be based on the idea that Israel’s refusal to comment on these strikes makes them less of an embarrassment for the regime and thus does not whet the Syrians’ appetite for revenge as much. The recent deviations from this policy were likely random occurrences and not the product of long-range strategic thinking.

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An Israeli tank on the Golan Heights

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The initial reports from Damascus did not specify what types of weaponry was hit. Arab intelligence sources (quoted by an Amman-based reporter for Reuters) claimed that the targets this time were arms shipments from Iran being smuggled on civilian commercial flights via the international airport in Damascus.

Syrian reports denied that Israeli planes had penetrated Syrian airspace, and claimed their bombs were launched from within Israeli territory. This could explain the lack of an antiaircraft missile response from the Syrian and Russian air defenses, although Russian radar in northwest Syria can also identify aircraft movements in much of Israel.

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Why isn’t Russia taking action? After the March airstrike, Russia reportedly protested to Israel that the Syrian target in the Palmyra area came too close to a Russian military base. Possibly, Russia doesn’t really care that much, as long as these actions don’t directly threaten the Assad regime’s survival. Most of the Russian troops and aircraft are in the northwest, in the area of Tartus and Latakia, and hardly Israeli strikes have been reported in that area since the start of the Russian military deployment in September 2015.

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On the tactical level, Russia and Israel seem to be getting along quite well amid the general Syrian chaos. The military coordination mechanism for preventing aerial clashes between the two countries is working properly and Israeli officials, especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have held frequent consultations with their Russian counterparts. But on the long-term, strategic level, Israel has a problem: Russia’s military success in the war means the salvation of the Assad regime and a gain for Assad’s other allies, Iran and Hezbollah. Should Russia decide to promote the interests of these other members of the Assad alliance, it could come at Israel’s expense.

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In his talks in Russia, Lieberman has been emphasizing the new red line drawn by Israel: no Iranian or Hezbollah military presence near the Syrian border on the Golan Heights. As Assad’s forces have advanced southward, there have been initial reports of the arrival of members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah and related Shi’ite and Palestinian militias in the border area, mainly in the northern Golan Heights. Besides the arms smuggling, this is the matter of greatest concern for Israel right now. Should it decide to take action to enforce its stance, as Lieberman has spoken about, Israel will have to weigh the possibility not only of heightened friction with Iran, but also of a shift in relations with Moscow.

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read more: http://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/syria/1.786074

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Did Moscow Green-Light an Israeli Attack in Syria?

The Kremlin may be backing Bashar al-Assad and publicly denouncing Israel’s strike on Damascus’ airport Thursday, but the two sides are ‘tightly’ coordinating behind the scenes.
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By Benny Avni

An Israeli attack in Damascus on Thursday was evidently well coordinated with Russia, highlighting how transient alliances in the Middle East’s most consequential war can be.

Israel, in addition to Sunni Muslim countries opposed to the Syrian regime, is America’s close regional ally, while Russia backs some of Israel’s most formidable foes: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran, and Hezbollah.

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Loud explosions were reported near Damascus’ international airport Thursday morning, reportedly injuring three people.

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Syrian officials were quick to blame Israel for the attack, and in an apparent attempt to retaliate, an “object”—reportedly a drone—was sent over the Golan Heights that was destroyed by an Israeli Defense Force Patriot missile, according to an IDF spokesman.

Although Jerusalem officials normally refrain from confirming such attacks like the one in Damascus, this time they did not quite deny it.

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“The incident in Syria is consistent with our policy of preventing the smuggling of advanced weapons from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon by Iran,” Intelligence Minister Israel Katz told Israel’s Army Radio. He declined, in accordance with the long-held policy, to explicitly confirm that the IDF conducted the attack.

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 Image result for syrian aircraft at russian base, photos

Three weeks ago, in a rare departure from that Jerusalem’s policy of ambiguity, Israeli officials did acknowledge they fired missiles at Syrian targets. In Moscow, Kremlin officials publicly denounced that Israeli attack, leading some in Jerusalem to speculate that the tacit understanding between Jerusalem and Moscow could be at an end and that the Kremlin would no longer wink and nod at Israel’s routine incursions into Syria’s airspace, largely dominated by Russian and Syrian government air forces.

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On Thursday Russian spokesmen denounced the attack as well, though they were careful not to confirm Israel was behind it. And when asked Thursday whether Israel had notified Moscow in advance of the strike, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told Kremlin reporters that “Russia and Israel exchange information using various channels.”

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One likely such channel, according to Jerusalem sources, is Avigdor Liberman, the Russian-speaking, Moldovan-born Israeli defense minister who landed in Moscow on Wednesday for a pre-planned visit. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also speaks to Putin on the phone regularly and often visits Moscow.

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“The Russians know that our most important ally is the United States, and we know, of course, that Russia’s clients are Assad, Iran, and Hezbollah,” said an Israeli official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Yet, he added, “that doesn’t stop us from tightly coordinating with Moscow through well-established work mechanisms.”

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The IDF and Russia want to ensure there are no collisions in the skies above Syria, the official added, saying, “And yes, the Russians are very familiar with our red lines.”

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Those red lines include “preventing Iran from establishing a military foothold in Syria,” Katz, the intelligence minister, told The Daily Beast last week. Additionally, he said, Jerusalem has made clear it will not allow Iran to transfer heavy armaments through Syria to Hezbollah, which he characterized as “our most formidable non-state enemy.”

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 Hezbollah fighters. Reuters photo
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Speaking to the UN Security Council last week, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Washington and its partners will resume their pressure on Tehran, documenting violations of several council resolutions that ban arms transfers from Iran to Hezbollah, as well as to its Yemen-based ally, the Houthis.

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Hours after Thursday’s Israeli attack in Damascus, Russian diplomats exchanged barbs with their British and French counterparts at the United Nations, while Haley sharpened her criticism of the Kremlin’s Syria policy.

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During a Security Council session on humanitarian aid to Syria, Haley blamed Russia for shielding Assad, even as the Syrian dictator prevents UN aid from reaching its destination and bombs hospitals. “Many of you said we need to put pressure on the Syrian regime,” she said. “That’s actually not the case. We need to put pressure on Russia, because Russia continues to cover for the Syrian regime”—does so even when Assad “uses chemical weapons on his own people.”

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The French UN ambassador, François Delattre, told reporters Thursday that Paris has conclusively determined that in a well-publicized April 4 attack at Khan Sheikhun, in Syria’s Idlib province, “sarin was used, and the presence of a substance called hexamine is characteristic of the sarin produced by the Syrian regime.” So, he added, “we have no doubt that the Syrian regime is responsible for this barbaric attack.”

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The United States fired 59 Tomahawk missiles in response to that chemical assault, hitting a Syrian airbase that according to Pentagon officials was used to launch the Idlib attack.

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On Wednesday, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson said that if Washington asked London to join in future military attacks against Syria, “It would be difficult for us to say no.”

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But Washington has yet to clarify its ultimate goal in Syria—and particularly its policy on Assad’s future, despite the atrocities he has committed. President Trump, who hosted the 15 members of the Security Council at the White House last week, said that while the Syrian dictator is clearly a “bad actor,” his removal “is not a deal breaker” for the U.S., according to an ambassador who attended the session. However, the ambassador, who requested anonymity, said that at a later session National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told the visiting diplomats, “There can be no stable Syria as long as Assad stays in power.”

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/04/27/did-moscow-green-light-an-israeli-attack-in-syria.html

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Hezbollah Air Lines? Boeing Deal?

What Trump’s Early Days Tell Us About His Path Forward

April 27, 2017

President’s grades mean less than what he learns about how best to operate

President Donald Trump, shown in February.

President Donald Trump, shown in February. PHOTO: EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Updated April 27, 2017 11:55 a.m. ET

As the Trump presidency’s 100-day mark arrives, here’s a little secret: That opening stretch often is a rocky one for new presidents.

Bill Clinton suffered through a botched economic-stimulus package, a controversy over gays in the military and a White House travel-office scandal. George H.W. Bush made what turned out to be a disastrous pick for defense secretary.

If you reach back further, John Kennedy made a historic blunder by approving the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, a failure that continued to haunt him.

President Donald Trump’s journey through 100 days has been notably messy, of course. His most important legislative effort, on health care, collapsed at the hands of members of his own party, while a travel ban on select Muslim-majority countries stalled in the courts. His national-security adviser was fired in a controversy over contacts with Russian officials. He leveled an unsubstantiated accusation that his predecessor tapped his phones. He set a record for early job disapproval.

Yet he has been more effective on other fronts. With less notice, he has begun a broad rollback of regulations, in part through use of a long-dormant law that allows elimination of past regulatory directives, to the cheers of the business community. His team got a respected Supreme Court nominee through the Senate. Ditching campaign-season impulses, he launched a strike at Syria over its use of chemical weapons, and built what seems to be a solid relationship with China’s president.

So the debate is on over what Mr. Trump has and hasn’t done at the much-hyped 100-day milestone. But history suggests that the precise balance sheet at 100 days means less than what has been learned about how a new president operates—and what kinds of adjustments he makes based on those opening lessons.

Ronald Reagan used his opening 100 days to build an effective legislative coalition of fellow Republicans and conservative Democrats. That coalition implemented his broad agenda in his first year—and then was useful the following year when he needed to roll back some of his signature tax cuts to shrink the deficit. He also began learning that allowing multiple, competing power centers inside his White House wouldn’t work.

Mr. Kennedy learned not to put unquestioned trust in military leaders and to put stock in his own instincts. That proved useful in guiding him through the Cuban missile crisis that came later.

Mr. Clinton learned he needed to impose more order on his personal and political world. He did, and ended up overseeing a prospering economy and largely successful presidency—although that lack of personal discipline returned to haunt him in the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Those early lessons are the ones that proved prescient in the past. So the important question at this point may be less what did or didn’t happen in Mr. Trump’s first 100 days, but what we know about the new presidency—and what lessons the president might walk away with himself.

We know that Mr. Trump is a restless activist who doesn’t abide by the rules, for better and for worse. His presidency will never be quiet. The risk for him now is that the volume and looseness of his running commentary will undermine his ability to communicative effectively, at home and abroad, when it’s urgent to do so.

Yet we also know he can curb his impulses, if he really wants to. He has gone stretches without indulging in his Twitter addiction. He can lean toward more of a conventional style when he wants to. He bashes the press yet also is open to it in a way few of his predecessors were.

Perhaps more important, he has allowed a cadre of more conventional advisers—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, economic adviser Gary Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin —to accumulate increasing influence. Whether that continues is a key indicator for the next 100 days.

Perhaps most important, Mr. Trump is hitting the 100-day mark without a clear governing coalition. Republicans’ control of the White House and both houses of Congress created an expectation that getting things done might be easy, but the early failure on the Obamacare repeal showed that he can’t count on support from his party’s most conservative wing.

At the same time, he hasn’t managed to win meaningful Democratic support, outside of cheers for the Syria strike. The polarizing effect of his opening days has made that task tougher; Democratic National Chairman Tom Perez, in his own 100-days message, called on Democrats “to keep resisting for the next hundred, and the hundred after that, and on until Donald Trump is out of office for good.”

The foremost presidential challenge​ for the next hundred days and beyond is to get Washington beyond the dangers of paralyzing polarization.​

Write to Gerald F. Seib at jerry.seib@wsj.com

Corrections & Amplifications
Gary Cohn is a White House economic adviser. An earlier version of this article incorrectly gave his last name as Cohen. (April 27, 2017)

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-trumps-early-days-tell-us-about-his-path-forward-1493285403

French intelligence says Assad forces behind April 4 sarin attack

April 26, 2017

Reuters

FILE PHOTO: A man breathes through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatments, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah/File Photo

French intelligence services have concluded that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out a sarin nerve gas attack on April 4 in northern Syria and that Assad or his closest entourage ordered the strike, a declassified report showed.

The attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun killed scores of people and prompted the United States to launch a cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base in response, its first direct assault on the Assad government in the conflict.

The six-page document – drawn up by France’s military and foreign intelligence services and seen by said it was able to reach its conclusion based on samples they had obtained from the impact strike on the ground, and a blood sample from a victim.

Among the elements found in the samples were hexamine, a hallmark of sarin produced by the Syrian government.

“The French intelligence services consider that only Bashar al-Assad and some of his most influential entourage can give the order to use chemical weapons,” the report said.

It added that jihadist groups in the area did not have the capacity to develop and launch such an attack and that Islamic State was not in the region.

Assad’s claim to AFP news agency on April 13 that the attack was fabricated, was “not credible” given the mass flows of casualties in a short space of time arriving in Syrian and Turkish hospitals as well as the sheer quantity of online activity showing people with neurotoxic symptoms, said the report.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Andrew Callus)

Iran nuclear deal reviewed as uncertainty grows

April 25, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Critics of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani charge that the 2015 nuclear deal has failed to bring anticipated economic benefits

VIENNA (AFP) – Iran and major powers were set to review adherence to their 2015 nuclear agreement on Tuesday, as uncertainty grows about the landmark accord’s future under US President Donald Trump.

The regular quarterly meeting was expected to hear, as Washington confirmed last week, that Iran is sticking to its deal with the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

The accord saw Tehran drastically curb its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of Western and UN sanctions.

However, Trump has ordered a 90-day review, saying last Thursday that Iran was “not living up to the spirit” of the “terrible” deal because of its actions in other areas.

This refers to Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, rebels in Yemen and militias in Iraq and in Lebanon as well as Tehran’s ballistic missile programme.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Monday the review would examine the nuclear accord “in the larger context of Iran’s role in the region and in the world, and then adjust accordingly.”

Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last Wednesday expressed misgivings about the nuclear deal itself, in particular time limits in key areas.

Iran cut the number of centrifuges that “enrich” uranium — making it suitable for power generation and at high purities for a bomb — from about 19,000 to 5,000.

Together with other restrictions and ultra-tight UN inspections, Iran pledged to stay at this level for 10 years and not to enrich uranium above low purities for 15 years.

Its uranium stockpile will also stay below 300 kilograms — well short of what would be needed for an atomic bomb — for 15 years.

Tillerson said that the accord “fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran” and had been a way of “buying off” Tehran “for a short period of time”.

– Tehran not satisfied –

Iran is not happy either, with critics of President Hassan Rouhani — facing a tough battle for re-election next month — charging that the nuclear deal has failed to provide all the promised economic benefits.

While nuclear-related sanctions were lifted, those related to human rights or missiles remained or have been expanded, frustrating Iran’s efforts to boost trade.

Last week Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded to Trump’s comments by saying that Washington was failing to live up not just to the spirit of the nuclear deal, but its wording too.

“So far, it has defied both,” Zarif said on Twitter.

Tuesday’s “Joint Commission” meeting from 0930 GMT among senior diplomats was to be held behind closed doors — in the same plush Vienna hotel where the deal was hammered out — with no press events planned.

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There is a way to neutralise North Korea without a war, but China needs to be on board

April 21, 2017

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Missiles are paraded in Pyongyang on Saturday to celebrate the birthday of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung. North Korea showed off what appeared to be a new intercontinental ballistic missile, seen here in an image taken from North Korean TV footage, at the military parade in Pyongyang on Saturday, April 15, 2017. PHOTO: YONHAP NEWS/ZUMA PRESS

OPINION

By Charles Krauthammer

The crisis with North Korea may appear trumped up. It’s not.

Given that Pyongyang has had nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles for more than a decade , why the panic now? Because North Korea is headed for a nuclear breakout. The regime has openly declared that it is racing to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the United States — and thus destroy an American city at a Kim Jong Un push of a button.

The North Koreans are not bluffing. They’ve made significant progress with solid-fuel rockets, which are more quickly deployable and thus more easily hidden and less subject to detection and preemption.

At the same time, Pyongyang has been steadily adding to its supply of nuclear weapons. Today it has an estimated 10 to 16. By 2020, it could very well have a hundred. (For context: The British are thought to have about 200.)

Hence the crisis. We simply cannot concede to Kim Jong Un the capacity to annihilate American cities.

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Some will argue for deterrence. If it held off the Russians and the Chinese for all these years, why not the North Koreans? First, because deterrence, even with a rational adversary like the old Soviet Union, is never a sure thing. We came pretty close to nuclear war in October 1962.

And second, because North Korea’s regime is bizarre in the extreme, a hermit kingdom run by a weird, utterly ruthless and highly erratic god-king. You can’t count on Caligula. The regime is savage and cultlike; its people, robotic. Karen Elliott House once noted that while Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a prison, North Korea was an ant colony.

Ant colonies do not have good checks and balances.

If not deterrence, then prevention. But how? The best hope is for China to exercise its influence and induce North Korea to give up its programs.

For years, the Chinese made gestures, but never did anything remotely decisive. They have their reasons. It’s not just that they fear a massive influx of refugees if the Kim regime disintegrates. It’s also that Pyongyang is a perpetual thorn in the side of the Americans, whereas regime collapse brings South Korea (and thus America) right up to the Yalu River.

● They don’t mind tension but they don’t want war. And the risk of war is rising. They know that the ICBM threat is totally unacceptable to the Americans. And that the current administration appears particularly committed to enforcing this undeclared red line.

● Chinese interests are being significantly damaged by the erection of regional missile defenses to counteract North Korea’s nukes. South Korea is racing to install a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system. Japan may follow . THAAD’s mission is to track and shoot down incoming rockets from North Korea but, like any missile shield, it necessarily reduces the power and penetration of the Chinese nuclear arsenal.

● For China to do nothing risks the return of the American tactical nukes in South Korea, withdrawn in 1991.

● If the crisis deepens, the possibility arises of South Korea and, more importantly, Japan going nuclear themselves. The latter is the ultimate Chinese nightmare.

These are major cards America can play. Our objective should be clear. At a minimum, a testing freeze. At the maximum, regime change.

Because Beijing has such a strong interest in the current regime, we could sweeten the latter offer by abjuring Korean reunification. This would not be Germany, where the communist state was absorbed into the West. We would accept an independent, but Finlandized, North Korea.

During the Cold War, Finland was, by agreement, independent but always pro-Russian in foreign policy. Here we would guarantee that a new North Korea would be independent but always oriented toward China. For example, the new regime would forswear ever joining any hostile alliance.

There are deals to be made. They may have to be underpinned by demonstrations of American resolve. A preemptive attack on North Korea’s nuclear facilities and missile sites would be too dangerous, as it would almost surely precipitate an invasion of South Korea with untold millions of casualties. We might, however, try to shoot down a North Korean missile in mid-flight to demonstrate both our capacity to defend ourselves and the futility of a North Korean missile force that can be neutralized technologically.

The Korea crisis is real and growing. But we are not helpless. We have choices. We have assets. It’s time to deploy them.

Read more from Charles Krauthammer’s archive, follow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/with-north-korea-we-do-have-cards-to-play/2017/04/20/8623985a-25fa-11e7-bb9d-8cd6118e1409_story.html?utm_term=.3690fa1b94d3

U.S. defense secretary says Syria dispersed warplanes, retains chemical weapons

April 21, 2017

Reuters

By Idrees Ali | TEL AVIV

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday that Syria had dispersed its warplanes in recent days and that it retained chemical weapons, an issue he said would have to be taken up diplomatically.

The United States launched dozens of missiles earlier this month against a Syrian air base in response to a chemical attack that killed 90 people, including 30 children. It says the Syrian government launched the attack from the Shayrat air base.

The Pentagon has said that the strike had damaged or destroyed about 20 percent of the Syrian military’s operational aircraft.

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During a press conference alongside his Israeli counterpart, Mattis was asked whether the Syrian military had moved warplanes to a Russian base in Latakia.

“They have dispersed their aircraft, no doubt. They have dispersed their aircraft in recent days,” Mattis said.

Mattis also reiterated that the United States believed Syria had retained some chemical weapons.

“The bottom line is, I can say authoritatively they have retained some (chemical weapons). It’s a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and it’s going to have to be taken up diplomatically,” Mattis said.

Israel’s military said on Wednesday it believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces still possess several tonnes of chemical weapons.

A senior Israeli military officer told Israeli reporters that “a few tonnes of chemical weapons” remained in the hands of Assad’s forces, a military official told Reuters.

In a 2013 agreement brokered by Russia and the United States, Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical weapons, a global watchdog, said sarin or a similar banned toxin was used in the April 4 strike in Syria’s Idlib province.

Mattis later met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Before the start of their talks, Netanyahu said he was optimistic about relations between the two countries under the new U.S. administration.

The two countries are working to set a more positive tone after eight years of friction under President Donald Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Gareth Jones and Richard Lough)

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov: It Is Clear The West Means To Oust Assad (OPCW has lost trust in Russia over Chemical Weapons)

April 21, 2017

Russia Today (RT)

OPCW’s block of on-site probe shows Western powers now aiming to oust Assad – Lavrov
The attempt by Western countries to derail Russia’s fact-finding initiative in Syria to examine the site of the chemical incident in Idlib province exposes their aim to topple the Syrian government, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

READ MORE: Russia questions Britain’s chemical weapons investigation in Syria

“I believe that it’s a very serious situation, because now it’s obvious that false information about the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government is being used to move away from implementing Resolution 2254, which stipulates a political settlement with the participation of all the Syrian parties, and aims to switch to the long-cherished idea of regime change,” Lavrov said, speaking at a press conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Astana.

UNSC Resolution 2254 calls for an inclusive government in Syria and a peace process that would involve a new constitution and free and fair elections.

According to the minister, the decision displayed “complete incompetence” on the part of his Western colleagues, who, in fact, are “prohibiting the OPCW from sending their experts to the site of the incident, as well as to the airfield from where aircraft loaded with chemical weapons allegedly flew out.”

“Yesterday [April 20], our proposal that experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW] visit the sites of the suspected chemical attack in Syria was blocked by Western delegations without any explanations,” Lavrov said.

© AFP/File | A child receives treatment following a suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in Syria’s the northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017

In the meantime, the UK and France claim their experts have received samples from the site of the incident, Lavrov added.

READ MORE: UN doesn’t send experts to Idlib ‘chemical incident’ site as West & US are blocking it – Assad

“London, Paris, and the OPCW have given no answers to our questions as to where they took these samples, who took them, or when they were delivered,” Lavrov stated.

“I think we are very close to this organization [OPCW] being discredited,” Lavrov added.

On Thursday, the OPCW’s executive council overwhelmingly rejected a proposal from Russia and Iran for a new investigation into the Idlib chemical incident.

The Executive Council has overwhelmingly rejected the Russian and Iranian decision which attempted to undercut the FFM

The proposal had been amended to agree to Western demands that the investigation into the alleged attack be carried out by the existing OPCW fact-finding mission, but was defeated nonetheless.

The draft proposal seen by AFP called on the OPCW “to establish whether chemical weapons were used in Khan Sheikhoun and how they were delivered to the site of the reported incident.”

Both OPCW fact-checking missions tasked with looking into the Idlib incident are being headed by UK citizens, which Lavrov called “a very strange coincidence” that “runs contrary to the principles of an international organization.”

Earlier in April, an incident in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun reportedly killed as many as 100 people and injured several hundred. The US has squarely laid the blame on Damascus, claiming that it hid chemical weapons stockpiles from the OPCW after pledging to hand them over in 2013.

Moscow, however, said a thorough investigation, including an on-site inspection in rebel-held territory, should be carried out before jumping to any conclusions. Russia has cautioned that the incident may have been a false flag operation meant to provoke a US attack against Syrian government forces.

https://www.rt.com/news/385515-lavrov-opcw-mission-syria-blocked/

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Chemical arms watchdog to vote on Russian-Iranian bid for new Syria probe

April 20, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | A child receives treatment following a suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in Syria’s the northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017

THE HAGUE (AFP) – The governing body of the global chemical arms watchdog will Thursday vote on a controversial Russian-Iranian move to set up a new team to probe a suspected chemical attack in Syria, sources told AFP.

The draft decision, seen by AFP, calls for an investigation “to establish whether chemical weapons were used in Khan Sheikhun and how they were delivered to the site of the reported incident” — even though a probe is already underway.

It also calls for investigators to visit the Shayrat airbase — bombed by the United States after the April 4 attack — to “verify allegations concerning the storage of chemical weapons” there.

The move comes as the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Wednesday “incontrovertible” test results by the OPCW team already probing the incident had shown sarin gas or a similar substance were used in the April 4 attack.

Samples from three people killed in the attack and seven survivors analysed at four OPCW-designated laboratories “indicate exposure to sarin or a sarin-like substance,” said OPCW director general Ahmet Uzumcu.

Western nations have accused the Syrian regime of carrying out the suspected air strike on the rebel-held town in Idlib province which killed at least 87 people, including many children.

But Moscow, the closest ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is leading efforts to sideline the OPCW’s existing fact-finding mission by calling for a new “full-scale and thorough investigation”.

The move has raised hackles at the OPCW executive council meeting this week in The Hague, where nations have lined up to voice support for the existing fact-finding team.

The team “deserves our full confidence,” the Belgian representative to the OPCW told the meeting on Wednesday.

“We don’t see the need to put in place a new structure.”

The draft decision, due to be voted on by the council later Thursday, also calls for member states to “provide national experts for participation in the investigation.”

Such a move would be against the convention against chemical weapons “as it is the role of the OPCW to lead independently any investigation,” one source close to the discussions told AFP.

Russia last week vetoed a UN draft resolution condemning the attack and demanding the Syrian government cooperate with an investigation, blocking Security Council action against its ally for an eighth time.

After Moscow initially said a Syrian air strike had struck a “terrorist warehouse” containing “toxic substances,” Russian President Vladimir Putin last week accused Assad’s opponents of planning to stage chemical attacks to lure Washington deeper into the conflict.

On Friday Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticised the OPCW for not sending experts to the attack site, saying it was “unacceptable to analyse events from a distance”.

But Uzumcu vowed Wednesday an OPCW team was ready to head to the town “should the security situation so permit. I am told that this would require a 48-hour ceasefire and safe passage for the team to be arranged”.

Related:

France says will ‘prove’ Damascus behind Syria ‘chemical attack’

April 19, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Syrian children receive treatment in the town of Maaret al-Noman, following a suspected chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syria?s northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017

PARIS (AFP) – 

France will produce proof “in a few days” that the regime of Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical strike on a Syrian village that killed 87 people earlier this month, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Wednesday.

“We have elements that will allow us to show that the regime knowingly used chemical weapons,” Ayrault said of the suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun on April 4.

“In a few days I will be able to bring you the proof,” he told French television.

In an exclusive interview last week with AFP in Damascus, Assad said the suspected chemical attack was a “fabrication” to justify a US missile strike on Syrian forces.

“Definitely, 100 percent for us, it’s fabrication,” he said.

Western leaders including US President Donald Trump have accused Assad of being behind the attack in the rebel-held town, saying his forces used a chemical weapon during an air strike.

The suspected attack killed at least 87 people, including many children, and images of the dead and of suffering victims provoked global outrage.

The missile strike was the first direct US military action against Assad’s forces since the start of Syria’s civil war six years ago and precipitated a downward spiral in ties between Washington and Moscow.