Posts Tagged ‘NATO’

Putin is ‘probably’ involved in assassinations and poisonings, but ‘it’s not in our country,’ Trump says

October 15, 2018

President Trump said he believes that Russian President Vladi­mir Putin “probably” has been involved in assassinations and poisonings, but he appeared to dismiss the gravity of those actions, noting that they have not taken place in the United States.

“Probably he is, yeah. Probably,” Trump told CBS’s Lesley Stahl when asked during an interview on “60 Minutes” whether he thinks Putin is involved “in assassinations, in poisonings.”

“But I rely on them; it’s not in our country,” Trump added.

FILE In this file photo taken on Monday, July 16, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shake hand at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland. Experts say Putin isn’t necessarily dictating every Russian influence campaign abroad. Some accused of meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections appear to be ambitious individuals taking the initiative based on signals from the presidential entourage. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP / Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

A long line of Russian dissidents, journalists and others critical of Putin have been poisoned or died under mysterious circumstances; in one of the most recent cases, Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, and his daughter were poisoned in Britain, allegedly by Russian operatives. Russia denies any involvement in the attack.

By Felicia Sonmez
The Washington Post

Trump’s remarks echoed recent comments he made about Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who is missing. Trump has vowed “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia if the United States determines that Saudi agents killed Khashoggi, but he also has noted that the columnist’s disappearance “took place in Turkey, and to the best of our knowledge, Khashoggi is not a United States citizen.”

Trump acknowledged that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign, but he sought to blame other countries, as well.

“They meddled. But I think China meddled, too,” he said.

He later ridiculed the notion that his campaign would seek help from Russia.

“Do you really think I’d call Russia to help me with an election? Give me a break,” Trump said. “They wouldn’t be able to help me at all. Call Russia. It’s so ridiculous.”

The interview marks Trump’s first appearance on “60 Minutes” as president. He previously was interviewed for the program as president-elect in November 2016.

In the occasionally combative interview Sunday, Trump touched on a wide range of topics, including his relations with North Korea, NATO and the news media.

Trump declined to say whether he will fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, saying only that “we’ll see what happens come midterms.” He also declined to say that he will not end the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, although he said he does not intend to do so.

Trump told Stahl that he trusts North Korean leader Kim Jong Un but also warned, “That doesn’t mean I can’t be proven wrong.”

On relations with Europe, Trump said that the United States has “been the stupid country for so many years,” and that although he “will always be there with NATO,” the other partners in the alliance “have to pay their way.”

Asked what his biggest regret has been as president, he first said that the media “treats me terribly.” When Stahl then asked what his biggest mistake has been, he pointed to the fact that he did not act more quickly to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“I could have been earlier with terminating the NAFTA deal,” he said. “The problem was, I was getting to know the leaders. I was getting to know countries. I didn’t want to do it right out of the box.”

He also defended a speech he delivered this month in which he mocked Christine Blasey Ford, the psychology professor who accused Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when the two were teenagers before he was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice.

“Had I not made that speech, we would not have won,” Trump told Stahl. He added that he “didn’t really make fun of” Ford and “was just saying she didn’t seem to know anything.”

The “60 Minutes” interview, which was recorded Thursday, comes as Trump has stepped up his media appearances in the final stretch before the November midterm election.

Last week, he had more than half a dozen interviews and informal Q&A sessions with reporters, including a freewheeling 45-minute phone call with “Fox & Friends,” a chat with reporters aboard Air Force One and a surreal Oval Office meeting with rapper Kanye West. This week, he has an interview with Fox Business Network’s Trish Regan that is set to air Tuesday night.

Cable networks have begun easing off on their coverage of the president’s campaign rallies. Trump headlined four Make America Great Again rallies during each of the past two weeks; he will hold three more this week in Montana, Arizona and Nevada.

Washington Post-ABC News poll published Sunday showed that voter enthusiasm is up sharply from where it stood four years ago, with the increases greatest among Democrats, young people and nonwhite voters. Eighty-one percent of registered Democrats say they are “absolutely certain to vote” in November, compared with 63 percent in 2014. Seventy-nine percent of Republicans and 72 percent of independents say they plan to vote.

At the same time, Trump’s approval rating has slightly improved since the summer, with 43 percent of registered voters approving of the job Trump is doing as president and 53 percent disapproving.

In the interview, Trump said he is unsure whether Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will leave the administration and described him as “sort of a Democrat,” amid reports of friction between the two.

Trump said that he has a “very good relationship” with Mattis and that the two had lunch together “two days ago,” but the president added that “it could be that he is” leaving.

“I think he’s sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said. “But General Mattis is a good guy. We get along very well. He may leave. I mean, at some point, everybody leaves. Everybody. People leave. That’s Washington.”

Mattis has often publicly walked back some of Trump’s more controversial statements on foreign policy, and the two have a strained relationship, longtime journalist Bob Woodward, an associate editor at The Washington Post, reported in his book “Fear.”

In one episode, Woodward reported, Mattis described Trump as having the understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader” after a National Security Council meeting. In another episode, after Trump said he wanted to have Syrian President Bashar al-Assad assassinated, Mattis reportedly agreed but later told an aide, “We’re not going to do any of that.”

Mattis has denied making disparaging comments about Trump, and the president said last month that the retired general was “doing a fantastic job.”

Trump sparred at times with Stahl during the interview, declaring twice, “I’m not a baby,” and one point growing testy when Stahl tried to interrupt him to ask a question.

“Lesley, it’s okay,” Trump said. “In the meantime, I’m president, and you’re not.”


What Sort of World Are We Headed for?

October 13, 2018

Image result for world order, pictures

The liberal world order never really existed. Great-power politics are here to stay.

U.S. flags flutter in strong wind in front of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., on March 2. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Lately, international relations hands such as Patrick PorterGraham Allison, Thomas WrightRobert KaganRebecca Lissner, Mira Rapp-Hooperyours truly, and a host of others have been caught up in a lively discussion about the current world order. Much of the debate has centered around whether that order was, is, or will be “liberal.” IR theory mavens out there could spend several days sifting through the various contributions and pondering who makes the better case. But to be honest, I’m not entirely convinced it would be worth your time.

Why? Well, for starters, I’ve never fully understood what “world order” means. Plenty of authors use the term—the statesman Henry Kissinger even wrote a fat doorstop of a book with that ponderous title—and I confess that I’ve used it myself on occasion. Yet it remains a vague and fuzzy concept on which there is little consensus.

Is “world order” merely the configuration of power in the world? And if so, how is power being defined?

Is “world order” merely the configuration of power in the world? And if so, how is power being defined?

Is it the distribution of power plus whatever system of formal or informal rules and norms the strongest states devise and enforce, except for those occasions when they decide to ignore or rewrite them? Is the term meant to signify a more or less predictable pattern of behavior among key global actors, where the observer gets to decide which players and behaviors matter most, or is it just a lazy catchall term pundits use to refer to a particular international system at a particular point in time?If nobody really knows what “world order” actually means, let’s lower our sights a little. Instead of trying to figure out what the—portentous drum roll—“world order” is, we could just try to anticipate what the central features of global politics are likely to be in a few years’ time. In other words, if somebody asked you to describe the main features of world politics in 2025, what would you tell them?

As it happens, someone did ask me that question recently. My answer focused primarily on the implications for the United States, but for what it’s worth, here’s what I said.

Overall, the world of 2025 will be one of “lopsided multipolarity.” Today’s order isn’t a liberal one (a number of key actors reject liberal ideals), and 2025’s won’t be either. The United States will still be the single most consequential actor on the planet, because no other country will possess the same combination of economic clout, technological sophistication, military might, territorial security, and favorable demography. But its margin of superiority will be smaller than it used to be, and the country will still face long-term fiscal problems and deep political divisions. China will be the world’s No. 2 power (and it will exceed the United States on some dimensions), followed by a number of other major players (Germany, Japan, India, Russia, and so on), all of them considerably weaker than the two leading states.


In this system, the United States will need to be more selective in making commitments and using its power abroad. It will not revert to isolationism, but the hubristic desire to remake the world, which characterized the unipolar era, was fading long before Donald Trump became U.S. president. It is not coming back, no matter how many nostalgic neoconservatives try to rescue it.

As is already clear, U.S. foreign and defense policy will focus mainly on countering China. In addition to trying to slow China’s efforts to gain an advantage in a number of emerging technologies, the United States will also seek to prevent Beijing from establishing a dominant position in Asia. In practice, this will mean maintaining, deepening, and if possible expanding America’s alliance ties there, even as China tries to push the United States out and bring its neighbors into its own loose sphere of influence. Maintaining the United States’ position in Asia will not be easy, because the distances are vast, America’s Asian allies want to preserve their current economic ties with China, and some of those allies don’t like each other very much. Holding this coalition together will require deft U.S. diplomacy, which has been in short supply of late, and success is by no means certain. But neither is failure, because China will face accumulating problems of its own, including that most of its neighbors do not want Beijing to dominate the region.

But as realists have been warning for more than 15 years, the emerging rivalry between the United States and China will be the single most important feature of world politics for at least the next decade and probably well beyond that.

But as realists have been warning for more than 15 years, the emerging rivalry between the United States and China will be the single most important feature of world politics for at least the next decade and probably well beyond that.

By contrast, no country presently threatens to dominate Europe. For this reason, the U.S. role there will continue to decline (as it has since the end of the Cold War). Despite alarmist fears about a resurgent Russia, it is too weak to pose the same threat to Europe as the bad old Soviet Union. The case for a major U.S. commitment to the region is therefore much weaker than it was during the Cold War. Europe has a combined population in excess of 500 million people, whereas Russia’s population is roughly 140 million, is aging rapidly, and is destined to shrink in the near future. Europe’s combined economy is about $17 trillion—Germany’s alone is about $3.5 trillion—and Russia’s is worth less than $2 trillion. Most telling of all, NATO’s European members spend three to four times what Russia does on defense every yearThey don’t spend it very effectively, but what Europe needs is defense reform, not open-ended U.S. subsidies. And the real problems Europe faces—such as defending its borders against unregulated immigration—are not things the United States can solve for it.

Moreover, Europe and NATO simply won’t have much of a role to play as Washington focuses more and more on Asia. European countries will not want to give up profitable economic ties with China and will be neither willing nor able to do much to balance Beijing. If Sino-American competition heats up, as I expect it to, this issue will be another point of friction between the United States and its European partners. Trump could accelerate this process by continuing to bash Europe on trade and by foolishly imposing secondary sanctions on European states that are trying to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive, but even if he doesn’t, the slow devolution of trans-Atlantic relations will continue. There’s nothing surprising or tragic about this, by the way; it is simply the gradual but inevitable consequence of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rise of Asia.

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University. @stephenwalt


NATO flexes muscles in show of strength to Russia

October 9, 2018

NATO’s largest exercise since the end of the Cold War will see 50,000 troops deploy into the first snows of a Norwegian winter to show Russia that the alliance is ready to repel any attack, officers said Tuesday.

Officially, November’s Trident Juncture exercise will simulate an attack from a fictional country, but it will bring a huge force into one of Moscow’s neighbours just months after Russia’s vast Vostok war games.

The head of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command, US Navy Admiral James Foggo said that the exercise “must show NATO is capable to defend against any adversary. Not a particular country, anyone.”

© AFP | Admiral James Foggo, who heads US Naval Forces Europe says the exercises ‘must show NATO is capable to defend against any adversary’

And he noted that Norway has a frontier with Russia and that the huge force, backed by 150 aircraft, 60 ships and some 10.000 vehicles, would demonstrate that they can mobilise quickly to defend an ally.

“The core exercise area is 1,000 kilometres from the Russian border,” said Norwegian General Rune Jakobsen, who will run the exercise headquarters. “There should not be any reason for the Russians to get scared or see this as anything other than a defensive exercise.”

Two Russian and two Belarus military observers have been invited to watch the manoeuvres.

These will be the biggest such movement of NATO personnel and vehicles since at least the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, although smaller than the Vostok-18 exercise staged by Russia and China last month.

The Western allies have stepped up their military posture, with rotating garrisons in eastern Europe and the Baltic States, in the four years since Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea.

Exercises like Trident Juncture 18 are designed to teach troops how to move a large force quickly in the event of an invasion against a NATO member triggering the allies’ “Article 5” mutual defence clause.

– German brigade –

The first part of this year’s exercise will simulate an effort to halt an offensive launched from northern Norway southwards by part of the force playing an adversary, Canadian General Christian Juneau told AFP.

Once the “invader” is halted, the second stage will see NATO forces figuring our how to force it back.

While the exercise is deigned to show the 29-nation alliance’s unity and strength, it may also bring Western forces face-to-face with some of their own shortcomings.

US President Donald Trump has criticised many of the allies for underspending on defence and in February a German parliamentary report found that its own military has outdated equipment, often in a state of disrepair.

Officers in NATO headquarters share the concerns, but Juneau told AFP that Germany would contribute a 6,000-strong brigade to the exercise and that the bulk of its troops and vehicles are already in Norway.

The rest of the build-up is expected to be complete by October 25, with forces from across Europe and North America arriving by sea and by plane on the alliance’s northern flank.

The British contingent will land in Europe in the Netherlands and make its way to Norway by road through Germany, Denmark and Sweden to test the alliance’s ability to coordinate transport on civilian roads.

Once in Norway the multinational force will conduct multinational training exercises — dealing with traffic and the first snows of winter — and the main invasion exercise



UK Is Practicing Cyberattacks To Black Out Moscow As A Nuclear Deterrent

October 9, 2018

Britain’s military has engaged in a massive cyber-strike war game scenario which envisioned an attack on Russia’s power grid which would black out all of Moscow.

The non-conventional military exercise comes as British defense officials have expressed increasing concern that the UK would be outgunned if under attack by Russia.

An alarming new report in the Sunday Times begins as follows:

Defence chiefs have war-gamed a massive cyber-strike to black out Moscow if Vladimir Putin launches a military attack on the West, after concluding that the only other way of hitting back would be to use nuclear weapons.

Senior security sources have told The Sunday Times they are concerned that Britain has a capability gap that has left commanders with too few weapons to meet Kremlin aggression short of firing a Trident nuclear missile.

Britain’s military is said to be exploring a host of alternative measures and “more options” that could constitute a significant blow to Russia’s defenses short of launching nuclear war. The Sunday Times continues:

Planning exercises on the threat posed by Russia have left officials “ashen-faced” at the speed with which confrontation with Moscow could escalate.

Whitehall officials have vowed to step up offensive cyber-capability, including the ability to “turn out the lights” in the Kremlin.

Apparently the non-conventional and cyber-weapons strike readiness are part of growing tit-for-tat actions and tensions after UK and US officials have accused the Kremlin of aggressive actions ranging from cyberattacks on Western targets to election interference, to the poising of a former spy on British soil.

But officials are concerned that they don’t have enough in the UK military arsenal for an adequate response that would halt and deter Russian aggression. One senior military source told The Sunday Times“If they sank our aircraft carrier with a nuclear-tipped torpedo, what is our response? There’s nothing between sinking their submarine and dropping a nuclear weapon on northern Kamchatka.”

The source explained further: “This is why cyber is so important; you can go on the offensive and turn off the lights in Moscow to tell them that they are not doing the right things.”

The Crimea had experienced a total blackout in June of last summer due to a power grid failure, according to Reuters. 

This comes as British troops recently participated in their biggest military exercise in a decade, which involved six navy ships and over 5,000 soldiers in the Omani desert. The UK military says it’s increasingly preparing for irregular warfare situations and engagement with Russian forces such as witnessed in recent years in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

NATO is also said to be beefing up its cyber-weapons and security capabilities, something United States is soon expected to announce it will make major contributions to in response to an alleged uptick in Russian operations. US intelligence officials have feared that Russia may be planning major hacking attempts ahead of the November midterms.

Late last week Dutch and other European authorities alleged Russian intelligence conducted four high profile cyber attacks, including an attempt to spy on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is the independent body responsible for investigating chemical attacks in Syria and in the UK.

Meanwhile Moscow for its part has dismissed what Kremlin officials have lately called “Western spy mania” while leveling its own accusations that the US, UK, and NATO are engaged in their own provocations that of necessity put Russia on the defensive.

U.S., NATO Warn of Russian Submarine Threat: Russian sub activity in the North Atlantic has reached a 25-year high

October 7, 2018

Russian sub activity in the North Atlantic has reached a 25-year high

America’s most senior naval officer in Europe, Adm. James Foggo, said Friday that he was “concerned” about some of Russia’s newer and more advanced fleet of submarines.

Image result for VYACHESLAV PROKOFYEV, putin, salute

“Russia is not 10 feet tall but they do have assets that keep me vigilant, concerned. One of them is in the undersea domain,” Foggo, the commander of US Naval Forces Europe, told reporters at the Pentagon.
While Foggo said Russia’s surface fleet, including its aging aircraft carrier, posed little threat — saying Moscow did “not have a robust capital ship capability” — he did express concerns about Russian advancements in its development of submarines and cruise missiles.
“We’ve seen creation of new classes of all sorts of submarines and ships. I’m more concerned with submarine warfare,” Foggo said earlier on Friday while addressing the Atlantic Council in Washington.
“Russians have produced the new Dolgorukiy-class submarine. They’ve produced the Severodvinsk-class submarine. They’ve produced the new Kilo hybrid-class submarines,” Foggo told reporters at the Pentagon.
Borei Russian sub
Yury Dolgorukiy, the lead vessel of the Borei-class submarine Rubin Design Bureau. Follow-on subs are called Dolgorukiy-class submarines
He said six of the Kilo-class subs were either “operating in the Black Sea or the eastern Mediterranean,” where “they’re firing the Kalibr missile,” a Russian-made cruise missile that he called “very capable,” saying it could reach “any one of the capitals of Europe.”
“That’s a concern to me, and it’s a concern to my NATO partners and friends. So we should know where they are at all times,” he added, advocating for increased US and allied investment in anti-submarine warfare capabilities.
Related image
Russian Kilo Class Submarines
Foggo, who is also the commander of NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command-Naples, also discussed the upcoming NATO exercise Trident Juncture, which is due to begin October 25 and will involve some 45,000 troops from all NATO members as well as Sweden and Finland.
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The exercise, which Foggo called NATO’s largest since 2002, will take place in Norway and the surrounding areas of the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea. It will include 150 aircraft, 60 ships and up to 10,000 vehicles.
Foggo said Russia had been invited to observe the military exercise in accordance with international agreements and that the exercise would send a message of “deterrence” to any would-be adversary.
Image result for Trident Juncture, photos
NATO confirms German troops to spearhead ‘Trident Juncture’ exercises
See also:

The remarkable ‘cat and mouse’ operation to stop Putin’s subs attacking our vital cables


Britain and America fear Vladimir Putin is prepared to cause financial chaos by attacking undersea cables between the countries and are going to extraordinary lengths to track Russian submarines, The Telegraph can reveal.

US and UK military sources have told this newspaper that Russian sub activity in the North Atlantic has reached a 25-year high and there has been a return to “Cold War cat and mouse games” under the water.

Amid mounting tensions with the Kremlin, the allies are using an remarkable array of modern technology and military equipment to make sure they know exactly where the submarines are as they move around the region.

Satellites spot when the submarines leave naval bases and…

Read the rest (Paywall):

UK minister slams ‘pariah state’ Russia over worldwide cyber attacks campaign

October 4, 2018

Ahead of NATO talks, Gavin Williamson says Moscow’s ‘reckless and indiscriminate’ attacks have isolated it from the international community


British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson prior to attend a NATO defense ministerial meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels on October 4, 2018.  (AFP PHOTO / Emmanuel DUNAND)

British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson prior to attend a NATO defense ministerial meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels on October 4, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Emmanuel DUNAND)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — Britain’s defense minister on Thursday condemned Russia as a “pariah state” after London accused Kremlin spies of mounting a campaign of cyber attacks on civilian bodies around the world.

Cyber experts from the UK have identified operatives from Russia’s GRU military intelligence as being behind a string of high-profile incidents, including an attempted hack on the World Anti-Doping Agency in Switzerland last year.

As he arrived for talks in Brussels with his NATO counterparts, Gavin Williamson said Moscow’s “reckless and indiscriminate” attacks had left it isolated in the international community.

“This is not the actions of a great power, this is the actions of a pariah state and we’ll continue working with allies to isolate, make them understand they cannot continue to conduct themselves in such a way,” Williamson told reporters.

Britain’s National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) has “high confidence” that the GRU was “almost certainly” responsible for a number of attacks, including the infamous targeting of the US Democratic Party ahead of the 2016 presidential election, according to sources in London.

In this photo taken on March 8, 2018, members of the emergency services in green biohazard encapsulated suits investigate the site where Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found on March 4 in critical condition at The Maltings shopping center in Salisbury, southern England. (AFP PHOTO/Ben STANSALL)

NATO is stepping up efforts to strengthen its resources to counter electronic warfare, with the US set to announce it is making offensive cyber capabilities available to the alliance.

Asked three times whether Britain would consider hitting back at Russia with cyber attacks of its own, Williamson said that being named and shamed was a deterrent in itself.

“We’re going to make it clear where Russia acts that we are going to be exposing that action and we believe that by doing so this will act as a disincentive to act in such a way in the future,” he said.

Ties between Britain and Russia are at rock bottom after a nerve agent attack targeting former Kremlin agent Sergei Skripal in the English city of Salisbury.

London has blamed Moscow for the attack, which left one person dead, and last month the British-based investigative group Bellingcat identified one of the suspects as a highly decorated GRU colonel.



Germany shares Iran, Syria goals with US, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas says

October 4, 2018

After meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Maas said the two nations have the “same goals” on Iran — despite the US decision to abandon the Iran nuclear pact. The meeting came amid strained trans-Atlantic ties.

Maas shakes hands with Pompeo (Reuters/K. Lamarque)

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his American counterpart, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, reaffirmed areas of trans-Atlantic cooperation during a Wednesday meeting in Washington.

The 45-minute meeting comes during a time of strained relations between the US and Germany over the Iranian nuclear accord, economic sanctions, and the Trump administration’s hostile position towards international organizations, among other things.

On the day of the meeting, Maas reiterated that Germany’s partnership with the US “consisted of more than 280 Twitter characters, and America is also more than the White House.”

“The US remains our closest partner outside of Europe,” he added in his Tweet.

Heiko Maas


Von einzelnen Tweets machen wir unsere Beziehung zu den USA nicht abhängig. Unsere Partnerschaft besteht aus mehr als 280 Zeichen bei Twitter und Amerika ist auch mehr als das Weiße Haus. Die USA bleiben unsere engsten Partner außerhalb Europas.

Maas and Pompeo discussed “countering Iranian and Russian aggression, the way forward on Syria, and other key shared priorities,” such sharing the burden of NATO, a statement released by the US State Department read.

Maas was also scheduled to meet with with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Alexandra von Nahmen@AlexandravonNah

Just spotted German Foreign Minister @HeikoMaas and @GermanAmbUSA heading for the White House to meet with @AmbJohnBolton. Iran is presumably on the agenda.

‘Same goals’ on Iran

Germany has criticized the Trump administration for abandoning the 2015 Iran nuclear accord. However, in remarks to reporters, Maas underlined that both Germany and the US want to curb Iran’s ballistic missile program.

“In the end, we pursue the same goals with respect to Iran,” Maas said. “We just have different paths that we want to follow.”

The US has threatened to slap sanctions on companies that do business with Iran, while the EU has developed plans that would enable it to keep trading with Iran.

Both Germany and the US also want to see Iran withdraw from Syria, where it supports the regime of President Bashar Assad, as well as work towards a political solution to the seven-year-old civil war.

Maas stands next to Pompeo (Reuters/K. Lamarque)Maas spent around 45 minutes talking with his American counterpart, Pompeo

More German support in Syria

Maas pledged more German support to US activities in Syria while underlining that German military participation in response to a potential chemical weapons’ attack was not likely to get the necessary parliamentary approval.

Both countries agreed that the primary objective was to prevent such an attack from taking place.

“There are different ways to participate to help ensure that chemical weapons are not used there and that none are even present,” Maas said.

Maas and Pompeo also discussed threats to global security and working towards North Korean denuclearization, the US State Department said.

The meeting took place on Germany Unity Day, a national holiday that celebrates the reunification of the country in 1990. Following his meetings with US officials, Maas headed to the German Embassy in Washington, where he celebrated the holiday and kicked off the Year of German-American Friendship, aimed at promoting German and American contact and understanding.

cmb/ng (AFD, dpa, Reuters)

U.S. Prepared To Destroy Banned Russian Cruise Missile Warheads

October 2, 2018

Russia must halt its covert development of a banned cruise missile system or the United States will seek to destroy it before it becomes operational, Washington’s envoy to NATO said on Tuesday.

The United States believes Russia is developing a ground-launched system in breach of a Cold War treaty that could allow Russia to launch a nuclear strike on Europe at short notice, but Moscow has consistently denied any such violation.

U.S. ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison said Washington remained committed to a diplomat solution but was prepared to consider a military strike if Russian development of the medium-range system continued.

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U.S. ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison. Credit  Virginia Mayo / AP

“At that point, we would be looking at the capability to take out a (Russian) missile that could hit any of our countries,” she told a news conference.

“Counter measures (by the United States) would be to take out the missiles that are in development by Russia in violation of the treaty,” she added. “They are on notice.”

The Russian foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment. In the past, it has said it is ready for talks with the United States to try to preserve the treaty and would comply with its obligations if the United States did.

The comments by Hutchison, who was appointed to the NATO post by U.S. President Donald Trump, are the most direct warning of a preemptive strike since a U.S. official said in 2017 the United States would consider its own system if Russia continued to violate the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The treaty bans medium-range missiles capable of hitting Europe or Alaska. The United States and Russia celebrated its 30th anniversary in Geneva in 2017.

But that same year, the U.S. State Department report found Russia had violated obligations “not to possess, produce, or flight-test” a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km (310-3,417 miles), “or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

Russian Iskander-M missile. Missile of this type are deployed in Kaliningrad and threaten NATO

The U.S. accusations are likely to further strain relations between Moscow and the West that are at a low over Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea, its bombing campaign in Syria and accusations of Russian meddling in Western elections.

“We have been trying to send a message to Russia for several years that we know they are violating the treaty, we have shown Russia the evidence that we have that they are violating the treaty,” Hutchison said.

“We are laying down the markers so that our allies will help us bring Russia to the table,” she added.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said he would discuss the issue with his NATO counterparts at a scheduled two-day meeting in Brussels from Wednesday.

“I cannot forecast where it will go, it is a decision for the president, but I can tell you that both on Capitol Hill and in State Department, there is a lot of concern about this situation and I’ll return with the advice of our allies and engage in that discussion to determine the way ahead,” he told reporters in Paris.


US Defense Secretary warns of ‘tough fight’ to oust IS

October 2, 2018

The US-led military alliance battling the Islamic State group faces “a tough fight” to oust the jihadists from their last holdouts in Syria, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday.

While the extremists have lost almost all of the self-declared “caliphate” they held across Iraq and Syria four years ago, Mattis warned that destroying the group completely was “still going to take some time”.

“Make no mistake about it, as ISIS has collapsed inward, in their own way they have reinforced the centre as they’ve been forced into what is now less than two percent of their original territory,” Mattis told reporters in Paris.

© AFP | The battle to defeat the Islamic State group is far from over, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis warned during a visit to the French defence ministry

“So it’s going to still be a tough fight, I don’t want anyone to be under any illusions,” he added.

“We will be successful but it’s still going to take some time.”

Last month the military chief of France, which has troops in the US alliance fighting IS, estimated the jihadists would lose their last Syrian territory by January.

Francois Lecointre predicted “the end of the physical caliphate of Daesh before the end of the year, probably late autumn”, using another name for IS.

IS has lost all of its urban centres in Iraq and late last month US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters launched a fresh operation to oust the group from its last holdouts in southeast Syria.


Ukraine needs Azov Sea base to counter new Russian threat: military chief

October 1, 2018

Ukraine will build a military base on the Azov Sea and has sent more forces to the area to counter a worsening Russian threat, Ukraine’s armed forces head told Reuters, referring to an arm of the Black Sea that is a flashpoint of tensions with Moscow.

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Chief of the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces Viktor Muzhenko

Ukraine has been at loggerheads with Russia since the 2014 annexation of Crimea and more than 10,000 people have died in fighting between Ukrainian troops and Moscow-backed separatists. Ukraine and NATO countries accuse Russia of supplying troops and heavy weapons to eastern Ukraine, which Moscow denies.

Viktor Muzhenko, Chief of the General Staff, said Russia had moved beyond covert fighting in the Donbass region, home of a Kremlin-backed separatist insurgency, to building up its military presence on Ukraine’s borders and nakedly aggressive actions against ships sailing to Ukrainian ports.

The Azov Sea, a strategic arm of the Black Sea where Russia and Ukraine share the coastline, has become a flashpoint this year. Ukraine says Russia is preventing scores of vessels from reaching Ukrainian ports through spurious inspections and detentions.

Washington too has called on Russia to stop “harassing” ships, and supplied Ukraine with U.S. patrol boats. Moscow in turn says Ukraine might try to blockade Crimea.

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“All those actions that are being taken in the Azov Sea region, are elements of building up our presence in this region for an adequate response to possible provocations by the Russian Federation,” Muzhenko said.

He said Ukraine had already deployed more air, land, sea and artillery forces to the area.

Muzhenko ruled out suggestions that Ukrainian navy ships would escort commercial vessels across the sea to prevent them being stopped by Russian ships.

Russia says its checks on shipping are lawful.


“Russian checks on ships are intended exclusively to ensure security in the Azov Sea and Kerch Strait, they don’t contradict international law as it applies to this maritime area,” Maria Zakharova, Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, told a news conference on Sept. 22.

Muzhenko was speaking to Reuters on Saturday aboard a military plane flying back from Tendrivska Kosa island on the south coast, on the last of five days of war games across different parts of Ukraine.

Part of those exercises took place on the Hungarian border, which caused consternation in Budapest. Ukraine and Hungary have become embroiled in a series of diplomatic rows over the use of Hungarian in Ukrainian schools and Hungary issuing passports to ethnic Hungarians across the border.

Muzhenko denied the wargames were a show of strength toward Hungary, and said they were intended to counter any chance of Russia attacking Ukraine from the west.

“First of all, this concerns the ability to respond adequately to threats from the Russian Federation. We are talking about protecting our communications, about a possible response to threats, including in the west,” he said.

Washington has continued to support Ukraine under the Donald Trump administration, including supplying Javelin missiles to Ukraine, a step President Barack Obama shied away from.

Muzhenko said the Javelins had been tested and his troops trained to use them, but they had not been deployed in battle yet. Asked whether Ukraine wanted to buy the U.S. Patriot air defense system, he said various options were being considered.

Additional reporting by Christian Lowe in Moscow, Editing by William Maclean