Posts Tagged ‘chemical weapons’

Obama official says they didn’t do enough about Russian election hacking: ‘We choked’ — Putin Decided Obama Was Weak and the Time Was Right for Russia To Get Involved in U.S. Election

June 24, 2017

The administration was concerned that stronger actions would have been perceived as an attempt to influence the election

By Clark Mindock New York

The Independent

A former White House official has said that they think the Obama administration mishandled its response to Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 election.

“It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend”, the official from Barack Obama’s White House told the Washington Post of his role in determining how the White House should handle their knowledge that the Kremlin was trying to undermine the integrity of the US electoral process. “I feel like we sort of choked”.

The Obama White House was notified about Moscow’s campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election was on orders from Vladimir Putin in August, but was hesitant to make that knowledge public, according to that investigation by the Washington Post.

This file photo taken on September 5, 2016 shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) meeting with his US counterpart Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou. (Photo by AFP)

This file photo taken on September 5, 2016 shows Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) meeting with his US counterpart Barack Obama on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou. (Photo by AFP)

That’s at least in part because Donald Trump, then a Republican nominee whom many thought had almost no chance of beating Democrat Hillary Clinton, had repeatedly said that the election was being rigged. With those allegations repeatedly airing on cable news covering the Trump campaign, Mr Obama was hesitant to divulge the Russian influence for fear of giving the appearance that the US government was also interfering.

But the slow response was also a result of confidence in Ms Clinton’s campaign winning the election. Throughout the fall, as November crept closer, Democrats saw many signs that their candidate would ultimately win: She had three strong debate performances against Mr Trump, polls showed her with an impressive lead most of the time, and Mr Trump appeared to have an incredible capacity for inflicting harm on his campaign just by making controversial remarks on stage.

The Obama administration considered retaliatory measures against Moscow after they learned about the extent of the meddling, including potentially compiling a personal dossier on Vladimir Putin that could be released to embarrass him. They also considered planting “cyber weapons” in Russian infrastructure that could harm those services. They ultimately landed on modest sanctions, and expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the country in December.

The cyber weapons plan was given a green light, but those efforts hadn’t come to fruition by the time Mr Obama left office, and Mr Trump took over responsibility for those efforts.

Those measures have been criticised as being weak compared to what the Kremlin did.

“The punishment did not fit the crime”, Michael McFaul, Mr Obama’s ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, told the Washington Post. “And US policymakers now — both in the White House and Congress — should consider new actions to deter future Russian interventions”.

Image result for Michael McFaul, ambassador to Russia, photos

Michael McFaul

Mr Obama’s former aides say that the threat was taken very seriously by that White House, and note that the President himself brought the issue up during a meeting with Mr Putin. The Russian president denied the allegations, and said that the US didn’t have proof that his government was directly involved.

Mr Trump’s campaign has been under investigation for potential collusion with Russia in the effort, but the President has adamantly denied any wrongdoing on his part.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/obama-russia-election-hacking-comments-regrets-putin-trump-a7805746.html

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Vladimir Putin sees Barack Obama’s coolness as weakness – and it is hurting America

Russia’s bombing of American allies in Syria underlines how much more powerful and provocative Putin is than he was before Obama took office

President Barack Obama extends his hand to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York

President Barack Obama extends his hand to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Russian warplanes began bombing American-backed Syrian opposition strongholds on Wednesday, a move that can be viewed as the latest example of American humiliation abroad.

As was the case when Russians invaded Ukraine, the Russians cloaked their activity in lies.

In the former example, Russian soldiers didn’t wear uniforms, a thinly-veiled move meant to create the impression the fighters were merely Ukrainian “separatists.”

Likewise, Wednesday’s bombings ostensibly targeted Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil); in fact, the strikes were aimed at moderate rebels and civilians – part of a plan to take out any opposition to their client, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

President Bashar al-Assad claimed the British Government is "determined to militarise the problem" in SyriaSyrian President Bashir al-Assad  Photo: REUTERS

This all comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s drawing of a “red line” regarding the use of chemical weapons, only to back down when the Assad regime – by most accounts – used them.

This past week, White House press secretary Josh Earnest strained credulity when he said Mr Obama doesn’t regret drawing that red line.

Weakness invites provocation, and – never one to miss an opportunity to outmanoeuvre Mr Obama – Mr Putin provided a self-serving opportunity that would also allow the president to save face: Moscow would push Syria to put their chemical weapons under international control.

It’s also important to note that in the wake of the red line being trampled, Russia invaded Crimea. President Obama’s legacy may be mixed, but one thing is for sure: Vladimir Putin is much more powerful and provocative than he was before Mr Obama took office, and Russia has only expanded its sphere of influence.

The Syria bombings also come almost immediately after Mr Putin met with Mr Obama at the UN where they agreed to “deconflict” military operations – a very Obama-esque line that Mr Putin immediately crossed.

Smoke rises after airstrikes in Kafr Nabel of the Idlib province, western Syria. Russian jets carried out a second day of airstrikes in Syria Thursday, but there were conflicting claims about whether they were targeting Islamic State and al-Qaeda militants or trying to shore up the defenses of President Bashar Assad. Russian bombs exploding outside Idlib  Photo: Hadi Al-Abdallah via AP

And prior to bombing our friends in Syria, the Russians also had the audacity to issue a “démarche” for the US to clear air space over northern Syria. As if that weren’t enough, this came just as reports that the Russians attempted to hack Hillary Clinton’s email server.

For those paying attention, Mr Obama’s foreign policy world-view has failed.

The suggestion that America could leave a vacuum that wouldn’t be filled by our adversaries – the idea that the “international community” (whatever that means) would respect us more if we were to retreat from the world – was always a farce.

At some level, high-stakes diplomacy is still a game of chicken – where machismo matters.

Even domestically, there are still traces of this left in our more civilised politics.

We recently witnessed an example of Jeb Bush standing on his toes during a photo-op, attempting to appear taller than Donald Trump. This is childish and petty, and yet serious people play these power games.

But nobody plays them better than Mr Putin, the former KGB officer who likes to ride horses while shirtless.

It’s nice to live in a postmodern country, but we shouldn’t delude ourselves into believing the rest of the world is impressed by our sophistication.

In the vast majority of the world, power (or the perception of power) is what matters. In America, President Obama’s brand of metrosexual coolness works well.

Vladimir PutinVladimir Putin  Photo: Getty Images

He mocked Mitt Romney, for example, as a Neanderthal stuck in the 1980s for suggesting in 2012 that Russia was still our main geopolitical foe.

Mr Obama’s mix of cool insouciance and biting sarcasm plays much better with the latte-sipping crowd than it does with former KGB operatives, where his style and rhetoric suggests weakness, softness, and a lack of commitment and moral clarity.

Today, it looks like he’s allowing Russia to push America around, and dictate the terms of our being pushed around.

One can only imagine that this might impact the 2016 presidential race. My theory is that it helps Donald Trump. He’s perceived as a “winner” who could stand up to Mr Putin.

It’s reasonable to conclude that what we need is a Mr Putin of our own. They’ve got a strongman – maybe we need a strongman? Mr Trump might be a sonofabitch, Americans might conclude, but he’s our sonofabitch!

In the world of high-stakes diplomacy with a man like Mr Putin, politics is closer to the law of the jungle than anything civilised.

He’s not terribly concerned about being on “the wrong side of history” — a line Mr Obama bandies about as if its intimidating to anyone outside American cities.

It has been said that when you watch a political debate, you should turn down the sound and predict the winner, via body language.

When you look at Mr Putin and his ministers, and then compare them to Mr Obama and their Russian counterparts, one gets the sense that the Russians would easily win every fist fight.

Unfortunately, it’s the United States of America that is left with a black eye.

Matt K. Lewis is a senior contributor at The Daily Caller website in Washington, DC

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Fri Jun 23, 2017 8:17PM
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Former US President Barack Obama was informed by the CIA last August that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered a cyber campaign to help Donald Trump win the 2016 US presidential race, a report says.

The CIA’s top-level intelligence also showed that Putin ordered the operation to damage the electoral chances of Trump’s main rival Hillary Clinton, the Washington Post reported on Friday.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton pauses while speaking during a fundraiser at the Capitol Hill Hyatt hotel on October 5, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)

 

The envelope, containing the information, was delivered by a courier to the White House and it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be seen by just four people: Obama and three senior aides.

Obama and his team struggled to figure out how to react as they were concerned that they would be seen as attempting to tip the scales in the presidential race, the Post reported.

The White House viewed the information as a deep national security threat once they received it, the report added.

Thus, a secret intelligence task force was created to firm up the information and come up with possible responses.

The administration left countermeasures until after the vote, but delivered stiff warnings to Moscow not to go farther, the report said.

At least four direct warnings were issued by Obama to Putin and the American spy chief to his Russian counterpart via top diplomatic channels.

They apparently had an impact, officials told the Post, adding they believe that Moscow withdrew from any possible plans to sabotage US voting operations.

“We made the judgment that we had ample time after the election, regardless of outcome, for punitive measures,” a former senior official told the Post.

According to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Obama’s failure to respond to Putin amounted to “choking.”

“It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend. I feel like we sort of choked,” the official told the newspaper.

After Trump’s shock victory, some of the Obama administration officials strongly regretted shying from tough action.


This file photo taken on October 19, 2016 shows US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during the final presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of the University of Las Vegas in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by AFP)

“From national security people there was a sense of immediate introspection, of, ‘Wow, did we mishandle this,” one official told the paper.

The options they had on the table included more sanctions on the Russian economy, leaking intelligence that would embarrass Putin diplomatically, and launching cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure.

Obama, however, took modest measures at the end of December, expelling 35 Russians and adding to existing sanctions.

He also authorized a plan to place cyberattack implants in the systems of critical Russian infrastructure, according to the Post.

It is not clear whether Trump has followed through with that, the Post added.

Since he started running for president, candidate Trump was a staunch supporter of improving relations with the US’ former Cold War foe.

On May 9, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey right in the middle of an investigation into Russia’s meddling of the US presidential elections, an allegation Moscow has repeatedly denied.

http://217.218.67.231/Detail/2017/06/23/526303/US-Russia-FBI-Donald-Trump-Barack-Obama-Putin

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As a result of being unable to “help” Hillary Clinton by backing down Mr. Putin, Barack Obama’s help to Hillary is summed up in this photo. There was no real help that mattered….

See also:

Ten Years of Russian Cyber Attacks on Other Nations

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/hacking-in-america/timeline-ten-years-russian-cyber-attacks-other-nations-n697111

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John Emerson, Washington's man in Berlin, to meet with Guido Westerwelle, German foreign minister, over claims Angela Merkel's phone was tapped by US

Chancellor Merkel called President Obama demanding answers after reports emerged that the US may have been monitoring her phone Photo: YVES HERMAN/REUTERS
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U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power speaks at the Center for American Progress’ 2014 Making Progress Policy Conference in Washington November 19, 2014.  Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron

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Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama at a joint news conference in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 25.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama at a joint news conference in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 25. Photo: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg News
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Russia To Target U.S. and Coalition Aircraft Over Syria

June 19, 2017

Russia steps up rhetoric after U.S. fighter shoots down Syrian government jet

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June 19, 2017 10:33 a.m. ET

MOSCOW—Russia escalated tensions with the United States Monday, promising to actively track U.S. and coalition aircraft over Syria with air defense systems and warplanes, the country’s defense ministry said.

In a statement released Monday, the Russian military said it would treat U.S. and coalition operating west of the Euphrates Rivers as “aerial targets,” but stopped short of threatening a shootdown.

“In regions where the…

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Russia warns US-led coalition over downing of Syrian jet

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Defence ministry says planes flying west of Euphrates will be treated as targets and that it has suspended safety agreement with US

A US navy F/A-18 Super Hornet
The Pentagon confirmed that a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet had shot down a Syrian warplane on Sunday. Photograph: US DoD handout/EPA

Russia’s defence ministry has said it will treat any plane from the US-led coalition flying west of the Euphrates river in Syria as a potential target, after the US military shot down a Syrian air force jet on Sunday.

The ministry also said it was suspending a safety agreement with Washington designed to prevent collisions and dangerous incidents in Syrian airspace.

According to the Pentagon the Syrian jet in question had dropped bombs near US partner forces involved in the fight to wrest Raqqa from Islamic State (Isis) control. It was the first such US attack on a Syrian air force plane since the start of the country’s civil war six years ago.

In an apparent attempt at deescalation, Viktor Ozerov, the chairman of the defence and security committee at the upper chamber of Russian parliament, described the defence ministry’s statement as a warning. “I’m sure that because of this neither the US nor anyone else will take any actions to threaten our aircraft,” he told the state-owned RIA Novosti news agency. “That’s why there’s no threat of direct confrontation between Russia and American aircraft.”

Ozerov said Russia will be tracking the coalition’s jets, not shooting them down, but he added that “a threat for those jets may appear only if they take action that pose a threat to Russian aircraft”.

The deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said the US strike “has to be seen as a continuation of America’s line to disregard the norms of international law.

“What is this if not an act of aggression? It is, if you like, help to those terrorists that the US is fighting against, declaring they are carrying out an anti-terrorism policy.”

The Russian response increases the risk of an inadvertent air fight breaking out between US and Russian warplanes in the skies above Syria.

The US military confirmed that a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet had shot down a Syrian SU-22 on Sunday. The US said the Syrian jet had dropped bombs near Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters who are aligned with US forces in the fight against Isis. Damascus said its plane had been on anti-Isis mission.

Col John Thomas, a spokesman for US Central Command, said there were no US forces in the immediate vicinity of the Syrian attack but that the SDF was under threat for more than two hours.

The growing risk of a direct confrontation between the US and Russia follows a decision by Donald Trump to grant his military chiefs untrammelled control of US military strategy in Syria.

Tensions have also been bubbling between Washington and Moscow over efforts to dislodge Isis from its Raqqa stronghold.

Russia, a staunch supporter of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, has been pressing the US to make the removal of Isis a joint land and air operation, but discussions over Syria’s long-term political future appear to have ground to a halt, leaving the US military to operate in a political vacuum.

The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters working alongside western special forces, said it would take action to defend itself from Syrian warplanes if attacks continued.

The Trump administration has promised to improve arms supplies to the SDF after it concluded that it was the force most capable of freeing Raqqa from Isis.

In a sign of how complex the Syrian peace process has become, Russian-sponsored peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, are scheduled to resume on the same day – 10 July – as talks convened by the UN in Geneva.

The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, announced the date on Monday in the knowledge that it would coincide with the UN schedule. He also said that the UN’s Syria envoy, Staffan de Mistura, would take part.

A spokesman for de Mistura said “the subject is currently being discussed”.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/19/russia-target-us-led-coalition-warplanes-over-syria

Russia halts US aviation cooperation over downing of Syrian jet

June 19, 2017

AFP, Reuters and The Associated Press

© Omar haj kadour, AFP | A Syrian army jet fires rockets over the village of Rahbet Khattab in Hama province on March 23, 2017.

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2017-06-19

The Russian defence ministry said Monday that it was halting aviation cooperation with the United States after the US downed a Syrian government warplane on Sunday, a move one Russian official described as a clear “act of aggression”.

The Russian defence ministry said it was halting cooperation with Washington within the framework of the Memorandum on the Prevention of Incidents and Ensuring Air Safety in Syria, effective immediately. It also accused the United States of not using the proper communication channels before shooting down the Syrian army jet.

“The command of the coalition forces did not use the established communication channel for preventing incidents in Syrian airspace,” the ministry said, adding that Moscow “ends cooperation with the American side from June 19”.

Moreover, any coalition aircraft flying to the west of the Euphrates will be treated as targets, the defence ministry said.

“Any flying objects, including planes and drones of the international coalition, discovered west of the Euphrates river will be tracked as aerial targets by Russia’s air defences on and above ground.”

URGENT: Russian military halts Syria sky incident prevention interactions with US as of June 19 – Moscow https://on.rt.com/8f9g pic.twitter.com/w27zQsyy5y

RT

@RT_comCoalition’s airborne objects in Russian Air Force’s Syria missions areas to be tracked as targets – Moscow https://on.rt.com/8f9g  pic.twitter.com/PHqYQjI6Yo

Voir l'image sur Twitter

Russia previously suspended the memorandum of understanding on air safety in April to protest against US airstrikes launched in response to a suspected chemical attack.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, on Monday firmly condemned the United States for shooting down the Syrian plane, calling it an “act of aggression”.

“This strike has to be seen as a continuation of America’s line to disregard the norms of international law,” Ryabkov told journalists in Moscow on Monday, the TASS news agency reported. “What is this if not an act of aggression?”

Ryabkov said the Kremlin had also warned the United States not to use force against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a longtime Moscow ally.

A Syrian jet plane

The incident marked the first time an American fighter jet had taken down a Syrian warplane, which Washington accused of attacking US-backed fighters.

The tensions come as the US-led coalition and allied fighters battle to evict the Islamic State (IS) group from its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.

>> Read more: MSF says 10,000 Syrians flee Raqqa as battle for the city nears

The Syrian jet was shot down after regime forces engaged fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance battling IS jihadists with US support, in an area close to Raqqa. The American F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down the Syrian SU-22 around 7pm as it “dropped bombs near SDF fighters” south of the town of Tabqa, the coalition said in a statement.

It said that several hours earlier, regime forces had attacked the SDF in another town near Tabqa, wounding several and driving the SDF from the town.

The coalition said the Syrian warplane had been shot down “in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defence of Coalition partnered forces”.

Syria’s army disputed the account, saying its plane was hit while “conducting a mission against the terrorist Islamic State group”.

It warned of “the grave consequences of this flagrant aggression”.

International imbroglio

The SDF entered Raqqa for the first time earlier this month and now holds four neighbourhoods in the east and west of the city.

In a further escalation of military action in Syria, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it launched a series of missiles into Syria on Sunday in revenge for deadly attacks on its capital that were claimed by the Islamic State group. It said the missiles were “in retaliation” for a June 7 attack on the parliament complex and the shrine of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that killed 17 people.

Assad has focused his forces further east, to the oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor, which is largely under IS group control and where government forces are besieged in part of the provincial capital.

Outside of coalition operations, US forces have only once directly targeted the regime – when Washington launched air strikes against an airbase it said was the launchpad for an alleged chemical attack that killed more than 80 civilians in April.

The Kremlin denounced those US strikes as an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law”.

Syria’s war began in March 2011 with anti-government protests but has since spiralled into a complex and bloody conflict that has killed more than 320,000 people and become a proxy war for regional powers as well as ensnaring the United States and Russia.

Interfax reported that Ryabkov and the US under secretary of state, Thomas Shannon, would meet in St Petersburg on June 23 to discuss persistent tensions in bilateral ties.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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The Syrian SU-22 fighter bomber was shot down by an American F18 Super Hornet after it had dropped bombs near the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces north of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil)-held city of Raqqa in northern Syria.

The US, which has special forces troops in the area, had earlier sent a warning to the Syrian military to stop targeting the forces and called on Russia to rein in its ally, but they were ignored.

Russia, which intervened militarily to back the Syrian regime in 2015,on Monday condemned the US action, saying it flouted international law.

“It is, if you like, help to those terrorists that the US is fighting against, declaring they are carrying out an anti-terrorism policy,” Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said, adding it was a “dangerous escalation”.

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Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, said: “It is hard for me to choose any other words but these: if you [the US] can’t help you should at least not interfere. As your ‘efforts’ once again do nothing but help the militants.

“You are fighting the wrong party: it is not the Syrian army that perpetrates terror attacks in European capital cities.”

See the whole report:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/18/us-forces-shoot-syrian-jet-first-time-move-described-self-defence/

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Russian diplomat: U.S. downing of Syrian warplane is ‘support of terrorists’: TASS

June 19, 2017

Image may contain: airplane

Moscow sees the downing of a Syrian government warplane by the United States as an “act of aggression and support of terrorists”, TASS news agency quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Monday.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov)

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The truth is, the U.S. has communicated with Russia and Syria many times not to fly in a threatening manner in certain areas. The consequences of Syria’s Russian-supported actions are clear. Russia’s answer is more fake news and propaganda. Peace and Freedom Editor

Macron, Putin Hold Talks Amid Strained U.S.-European Ties

May 29, 2017

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The talks at Versailles are the French president’s first with the Russian leader since winning election earlier this month

Alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin waves upon his arrival at the Versailles Palace on Monday.

Alongside French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin waves upon his arrival at the Versailles Palace on Monday. PHOTO: STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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VERSAILLES, France—French President Emmanuel Macron and his counterpart Vladimir Putin of Russia strained Monday to turn the page on allegations of Russian interference in France’s elections well as their differences over Syria, with the French leader describing the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime as a “red line.”

The newly elected French leader was hosting Mr. Putin at the Palace of Versailles to mark 300 years of Franco-Russian diplomacy that began under Russian Czar Peter the Great.

Heightened tensions with Moscow loomed over the meeting as Mr. Macron and other European leaders have begun to weigh a geopolitical landscape defined by increasingly fragile trans-Atlantic relations. Last week U.S. President Donald Trump didn’t reaffirm the principle of mutual defense at the heart of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, to which the U.S. and 27 other nations belong. That prompted German Chancellor Angela Merkel to say this weekend it was time to “really take our fate into our own hands.’’

“It was an extremely frank, direct conversation,” Mr. Macron said in a joint news conference with Mr. Putin after their talks.

Any fissures in the NATO alliance provide Mr. Putin with an opening to drive a lasting wedge between the U.S. and its allies on a range of foreign policy fronts. Europe has often strained to show unity on defense and foreign policy, a struggle that risks being exacerbated without full-throated security assurances from the U.S. and with the looming departure of the U.K. from the European Union.

On Monday, Mr. Macron stood firm on the European Union’s sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea as well as France’s opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad whom the West has accused of carrying out chemical attacks against his own people.

“There is a very clear red line on our side,” Mr. Macron said. “The use of chemical weapons by anyone—so any use of chemical weapons—will meet with retaliation and an immediate response.”

Mr. Macron also said reopening France’s embassy in Damascus was “not my priority.”

Mr. Putin said attacks on the Assad regime would only strengthen militant groups like Islamic State.

“It is impossible to combat the terrorist threat by destroying the statehood of countries that already suffer from internal problems,” Mr. Putin said.

The Macron-Putin meeting was also closely watched for signs of personal animus between the two leaders. Mr. Putin irked Mr. Macron’s presidential campaign by hosting his rival, National Front leader Marine Le Pen, during a visit to Russia.

“If Ms. Le pen asked to meet, why should we turn her down?” Mr. Putin said as Mr. Macron looked on.

The Russian leader also dismissed allegations the Macron campaign made that Kremlin-backed hackers and media outlets interfered in France’s presidential election. Mr. Macron’s party En Marche said in February its website was targeted by thousands of hacking attempts and that Kremlin controlled outlets spread defamatory rumors about the candidate in an attempt to destabilize the campaign. In the final hours of official campaigning, Mr. Macron’s party said it was hacked when thousands of emails and documents purportedly from the campaign were leaked on the internet.

“They say Russian hackers may have interfered,” Mr. Putin said, referring to the Macron campaign. “Dear colleagues, how can you comment on such things?”

The remarks belied initial attempts by both leaders to play down the alleged interference. Mr. Macron he did not discuss the issue with Mr. Putin behind closed doors because he wanted to be “pragmatic.”

That resolve wavered when a Russian journalist asked Mr. Macron why his campaign banned Russia Today and Sputnik from its headquarters.

“Russia Today and Sputnik did not behave like press organizations or journalists, they behaved like organization of influence, of propaganda, and false propaganda,” he said.

Write to Stacy Meichtry at stacy.meichtry@wsj.com and William Horobin at William.Horobin@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/macron-putin-hold-talks-amid-strained-u-s-european-ties-1496062884?mod=e2tw&tesla=y

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Rouhani says Iran’s ballistic missile program will continue — “Iran is key to Middle East peace”

May 22, 2017

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday Tehran would continue its ballistic missile program, state television reported, striking a defiant note after strong criticism of the Islamic Republic from U.S. President Donald Trump.

“The Iranian nation has decided to be powerful. Our missiles are for peace and for defense … American officials should know that whenever we need to technically test a missile, we will do so and will not wait for their permission,” Rouhani said in a news conference, broadcast live on state TV.

Rouhani also criticized Iran’s arch-foe Saudi Arabia over its lack of democracy, urging Riyadh to allow its people to decide their country’s fate through free elections.

(Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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Cavorting with the Russians?

Kerry and Lavrov. John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov in 2013. They engineered a deal to remove all chemical weapons from Syria. They both played pivotal roles in the Iran nuclear deal.

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Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry react during a joint news conference after their meeting in Moscow, May 7, 2013.Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

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John Kerry thanks his pal Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov for getting all the chemical weapons out of Syria — which turned out to be a hoax….

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with Hossein Fereydoun, the brother of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif before addressing an international press corps on the nuclear deal on July 14, 2015.Reuters

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Reuters

Rouhani says regional stability impossible without Iran: TV

Israeli Minister calls For Assassination of Syrian President Bashar Assad

May 16, 2017

BY ANNA AHRONHEIM
The Jerusalem Post
MAY 16, 2017 12:25
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Housing Minister Yoav Galant also charges that the rule of the Assad regime is the worst since the Nazis in WWII.

This image provided by the State Department and DigitalGlobe, taken Jan. 15, 2015, a satellite image of what the State Department described as a building in a prison complex in Syria that was modified to support a crematorium

This image provided by the State Department and DigitalGlobe, taken Jan. 15, 2015, a satellite image of what the State Department described as a building in a prison complex in Syria that was modified to support a crematorium.  US says Syria built crematorium to dispose of prisoners’ bodies (credit: REUTERS)

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Earlier on Tuesday, in an interview with Army Radio, Galant charged that the rule of the Assad regime was the worst since the Nazis led by Adolf Hitler in Germany during WWII.

Housing Minister Yoav Galant (credit: Nurit Zatlawi)

Housing Minister Yoav Galant (credit: Nurit Zatlawi)

“What is happening in Syria is defined as genocide, under all its classifications,” he told Army Radio. The Kulanu minister added that Israel wants to see the Assad and his Alawite regime fall from power and be replaced by a moderate Sunni ruler.

The US State Department on Monday accused the Assad regime of having constructed a crematorium at the notorious Sednaya military prison near Damascus to burn the bodies of prisoners that continue to be executed inside.

“Beginning in 2013, the Syrian regime modified a building within the Saydnaya complex to support what we believe is a crematorium,” said Assistant Secretary of State Stuart Jones, adding that “we believe that the building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place in Sednaya prison.”

“These atrocities have been carried out seemingly with the unconditional support from Russia and Iran,” the main backers of the Assad regime.

According to Galant, while it is unclear whether or not the crematorium was in use for all those years, it is imperative that something must now be done. The Obama administration made a “strategic mistake” Galant said by “deviating” from the course of supporting Sunni countries in order to try to come closer to Shi’ite countries, something which Galant said is different in the Trump administration.

Up until a year-and-a-half ago, Syria looked like it was heading towards a Sunni rule, but following the Russian intervention, who used methods first used in Chechnya such as blockading cities while continuing aerial bombardments, the will of the rebels to fight was broken and the tides turned.  But while the Russians are currently backing Assad, they realize the importance of the region and understand who they are aligned with, Galant said.

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“They realize that once the war is over there will still be 20 million Sunnis in Syria who will be wanting to avenge their dead and the Russians know they will be a target,” Galant said adding that the Russians will “seek avenues to make relations better with the Sunnis, including sacrificing Assad.”

The major threat to Israel remains Iran, which wishes to open up a Shiite land bridge from Tehran through Iraq to Damascus in order to get to Israel. ·

“What is behind Syria is Hezbollah who is backed by Iran. Iran is a danger to the security of the entire world. Iran is the problem, not the solution.” By getting to Assad, Galant said, we get to Tehran.

“When we get the tail of the snake we can get the head in Tehran too.”

Jpost.com Staff contributed to this report.

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Syria has executed thousands of prisoners and burned the dead bodies in a giant crematorium, US administration claims

May 15, 2017

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing, suit and indoor

  • Around 50 people per day are hanged and burned at Saydnaya military prison, claims US
  • Stu Jones, top US diplomat for the Middle East, said Assad’s regime has ‘sunk to a new level of depravity
  • State Department said thousands of mass killings have been carried out
  • It said crematorium is being used to hide extent of the executions 
  • A satellite image of a prison in Syria with a section of the snowy roof having melted backs up the claims 

The Syrian government has been accused of carrying out mass killings of thousands of prisoners by the US government – which released a satellite image to prove it.

Diplomat Stuart Jones said Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government ‘has sunk to a new level of depravity’.

The Trump administration claims the bodies of those killed were burned in a large crematorium outside the capital.

The allegation matches an Amnesty International report released in February which claimed up to 13,000 people – mostly civilians opposed to the government – have been hanged in secret at the prison.

This image provided by the State Department and DigitalGlobe, taken Jan. 15, 2015, a satellite image of what the State Department described as a building in a prison complex in Syria that was modified to support a crematorium

This image provided by the State Department and DigitalGlobe, taken Jan. 15, 2015, a satellite image of what the State Department described as a building in a prison complex in Syria that was modified to support a crematorium

President Bashar al-Assad has been accused of sinking to a 'new level of depravity'

President Bashar al-Assad has been accused of sinking to a ‘new level of depravity’

The State Department says about 50 detainees a day are being hanged at Saydnaya military prison, about 45 minutes from Damascus.

THE JAIL WHERE PRISONERS ARE BEATEN AND HANGED

Hangings at Saydnaya are carried out once or twice a week, usually on Monday and Wednesday, in the middle of the night, according to insiders.

Those whose names are called out were told they would be transferred to civilian prisons in Syria.

Instead, they are moved to a cell in the basement of the prison and beaten severely.

They are then transported to another prison building on the grounds of Saydnaya, where they are hanged.

Throughout this process, they remain blindfolded. They do not know when or how they will die until the noose was placed around their necks.

‘They kept them [hanging] there for 10 to 15 minutes. Some didn’t die because they are light. For the young ones, their weight wouldn’t kill them. The officers’ assistants would pull them down and break their necks,’ said a former judge who witnessed the hangings.

Detainees held in the building in the floors above the ‘execution room’ reported that they sometimes heard the sounds of these hangings.

(Source: Amnesty International) 

It says the crematorium is being used to hide evidence of the extent of the killings.

A satellite image provided by the State Department taken in January 2015 shows a building in a prison complex in Syria that was modified to support a crematorium. The snow on one section of the roof is melted in the photo.

In February Amnesty International claimed as many as 13,000 people had been hanged in secret.

It claimed the executions have happened at a rate of around 50 a day between 2011 and 2015.

Lynn Maalouf, Deputy Director for Research at Amnesty International’s regional office in Beirut, said: ‘The horrors depicted in this report reveal a hidden, monstrous campaign, authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government, aimed at crushing any form of dissent within the Syrian population.

‘We demand that the Syrian authorities immediately cease extrajudicial executions and torture and inhuman treatment at Saydnaya Prison and in all other government prisons across Syria.

‘Russia and Iran, the government’s closest allies, must press for an end to these murderous detention policies.’

The US State Department has released newly-declassified photographs showing what it says is a building in the prison complex that has been modified to support the crematorium.

Jones, the acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, said the crematorium could be used to dispose of bodies near a prison where tens of thousands of people have been detained during the country’s six-year-old civil war.

Jones also said the United States has ‘reason to be skeptical’ about a deal to set up ‘de-escalation zones’ brokered by Russia during ceasefire talks in the Kazakh capital Astana last week.

The department released commercial satellite photographs showing what it said is a building in the prison complex that has been modified to support the crematorium. The photographs taken over the course of several years, beginning in 2013, do not definitely prove the building is a crematorium, but they show construction consistent with such use.

One photograph taken in January 2015 shows one area of the building’s roof cleared of snow due to melt.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4507928/US-accuses-Syria-mass-executions-burning-bodies.html#ixzz4hAkQQSmP
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Russia’s Lavrov to meet with Trump on Syria amid uproar — Arctic Council could also be discussed

May 10, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who last set foot in Washington in 2013, would be the highest ranking Russian official to meet President Donald Trump since he took office

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Donald Trump will receive Russia’s top diplomat Sergei Lavrov at the White House Wednesday even as a political firestorm has put Moscow’s alleged meddling in the US election back in the spotlight.

Lavrov’s visit, confirmed by the White House late Tuesday, centers on a Russian proposal to de-escalate the violence in Syria’s civil war.

But it comes just a day after the president stunned Washington by firing James Comey as director of the FBI amid an investigation into whether Trump campaign aides colluded with Russia to sway the November elections.

The sacking prompted angry Democrats to call for the Russia probe to be placed in the hands an independent prosecutor or commission.

The uproar seemed certain to complicate Lavrov’s mission in search of US support for a Russian plan to create safe zones in Syria.

He first holds talks with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then goes on to the White House to meet Trump.

Lavrov, who last set foot in Washington in August 2013, would be the highest ranking Russian official to meet with Trump since he took office.

Relations between the two former Cold War foes soured under former president Barack Obama over Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its unyielding support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Since March 2011 the Syrian conflict has caused more than 320,000 deaths and forced millions of refugees to flee. Neither Washington, which backs the opposition, nor Moscow, a longtime ally of the Syrian regime, have managed to find to a solution to the conflict.

Since the end of Obama’s presidency the United States has gradually withdrawn from the diplomatic process, leaving Russia to take the lead.

The US was not part of a deal by government backers Russia and Iran, and rebel supporter Turkey, signed last Thursday in the Kazakh capital Astana on establishing safe zones in Syria.

– ‘De-escalation zones’ –

The agreement calls for the creation of four “de-escalation zones” to shore up a ceasefire, ban flights and allow for deliveries of humanitarian aid.

Washington has given the deal a skeptical welcome, citing concerns about Iran’s role as a guarantor even as it expressed hope the agreement could set the stage for a later settlement.

“We will look at the proposal, see if it can work,” said Pentagon chief Jim Mattis on Monday.

Several ceasefires have been agreed on since Syria’s conflict broke out in 2011, but they have failed to permanently stem the fighting.

Over the past six years Moscow and Washington have sparred multiple times over the conflict in Syria, especially concerning Assad’s fate.

Donald Trump’s White House takeover has not brought the former Cold War adversaries closer to seeing eye to eye — and in early April the US even launched direct military action against the Syrian regime in retaliation for a chemical attack attributed to it.

Both countries have recently indicated that relations under Trump have never been so bad.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Monday that Moscow expected “above all coming to a common understanding on the need for de-escalation in Syria.”

– ‘Common position’ –

“If we manage to find… a common position with the United States on this issue, it will be the most important result,” he said, quoted by the state news agency Interfax.

The US State Department said that “on Syria, the secretary intends to discuss efforts to de-escalate violence, provide humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, and set the stage for a political settlement of the conflict.”

Regarding Ukraine, the State Department also said “the sides will discuss the need to stop the violence in eastern Ukraine and resolve the conflict through the full implementation of the Minsk agreements.”

After talks Wednesday the two diplomats will again meet Thursday in Fairbanks, Alaska for the Arctic Council meeting, an intergovernmental forum for cooperation on the environment, oil and mining, shipping, fisheries and tourism. It brings together the eight countries bordering the Arctic Ocean — Canada, Russia, Norway, Denmark, the US, Iceland, Sweden and Finland.

Tillerson and Lavrov’s meeting in Alaska comes 150 years after Washington purchased the US state from Moscow.

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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.