Posts Tagged ‘OPCW’

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

June 3, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Write to Jonathan Cheng at jonathan.cheng@wsj.com

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Japan urges Trump to take a hard line with North Korea

June 2, 2018

As Japan watches its closest ally explore a historic deal with its worst enemy, the Japanese government has little choice but to support the diplomatic opening between the United States and North Korea. But as Japan’s security is now largely in President Trump’s hands, Tokyo’s mission is to keep Trump close and hold him to tough terms as he prepares for a potential sitdown with Kim Jong Un.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump.

Publicly, there’s no daylight between the Trump administration and the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told me in an interview he has received assurances from senior Trump administration officials that the United States will stick to a hard line in negotiations with Pyongyang. Kono believes Trump will insist on complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and all ballistic missile programs before giving the Kim regime any sanctions relief or other economic benefits.

“The international community’s intention is they need to complete the CVID process before they can expect anything out of it,” Kono said. “How can complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement be partial?”

If that sounds like what national security adviser John Bolton controversially referred to as “the Libya model” in April, it is. Neither Kono nor Bolton would use that reference now, after both Trump and Kim equated it with the subsequent overthrow of Moammar Gaddafi. But make no mistake: Both Japan and Bolton are advocating that North Korea completely fulfill its side of the bargain first.

Columnist
The washington Post
May 31

North Korea, China and Russia are putting forth different terms, pushing for step-by-step concessions. But Kono expressed confidence that Trump will stick to this hard line if he meets Kim in Singapore on June 12.

“I don’t think the Trump administration will allow any deviation. When they talk about CVID, they talk about all the nuclear weapons and the nuclear facilities plus missiles of all ranges,” he said. “I don’t think there are any differences between the United States and Japan at all.”

Privately, some Japanese and U.S. officials aren’t so sure. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week that economic relief could come after North Korea takes “credible steps” or “an irreversible set of actions,” but he stopped short of demanding total dismantlement up front. On Wednesday, a senior State Department official said only that denuclearization is the goal and Pompeo wants to leave room for negotiation.

Other U.S. officials tell me they could envision a deal that eliminates North Korea’s missiles that could reach the United States but leaves Pyongyang with missiles that could threaten Japan and the rest of the region.

Regardless, Japan’s public position is maximalist. Not only must Pyongyang dismantle all its nuclear and missile programs, but also it must resolve the cases of 12 Japanese abductees who remain unaccounted for in North Korea, an issue Trump promised Abe he would add to the agenda.

If North Korea does all that, Japan will normalize relations and provide economic assistance, Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s minister in charge of the abductee issue, told me. But, “without resolution of the abduction matter, North Korea is not in a position to envision any bright future for itself,” he said.

The Japanese government’s message is directed both to its domestic audience and the Trump administration. But with Trump changing his mind by the day, Tokyo can’t be sure what Trump will say or do inside the room. To influence Trump ahead of a summit, Abe’s personal relationship with Trump is key.

Abe was first on the scene at Trump Tower after Trump’s election. Abe and Trump have spent more than a dozen hours together one-on-one at Mar-a-Lago and elsewhere. Officials close to both men say that they genuinely like each other and that Trump respects Abe’s opinion and seeks his counsel.

Trump has a real incentive to keep Abe close. If the summit fails or doesn’t happen, the Trump administration will attempt to return to maximum pressure, perhaps without full Chinese and South Korean support. In that environment, if North Korea offered Japan resolution of the abductee issue in exchange for aid, Abe would have a tough political decision to make. Right now there is no public space between Japan and the United States, but that could change.

Is Trump thinking through the regional strategic implications of his meeting with Kim? Is he in command of the details, aware of all the permutations and factoring in allies’ interests as he prepares to possibly sit down at that table? For Japan, Trump’s personal unpredictability is the biggest and most dangerous unknown in the entire equation. In that respect, we are all in the same boat.

Abe has a chance to pin Trump down when the two meet in Quebec during the Group of Seven summit next week. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope Abe is able to impress upon Trump’s mind what a good deal with North Korea actually would look like.

Read more from Josh Rogin’s archivefollow him on Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/japan-urges-trump-to-take-hard-line-with-north-korea/2018/05/31/6058db14-64d1-11e8-a768-ed043e33f1dc_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.44b6c7f77cec

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Japan Wants to See North Korea’s Concrete Action to Dismantle all of its Nuclear Weapons and Ballistic Missile Programs Before any “Rewards”

June 2, 2018

Japan’s Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said on Saturday it was important not to reward North Korea for only agreeing to dialogue and it must take concrete action to dismantle all of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

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His South Korean counterpart urged support for dialogue to help North Korea join the international community, saying its leader Kim Jong Un must be given the benefit of the doubt.

The apparent divergence of views between the U.S. allies come ahead of a planned summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump on June 12 in Singapore to discuss ending the North’s nuclear weapons program.

Speaking at the Shangri-la Dialogue security forum in Singapore, Onodera said North Korea had entered into agreements to end its nuclear program in the past only to conduct more activities to further their weapons development.

“In light of how North Korea behaved in the past, it is important not to reward it for agreeing to have dialogue,” Onodera said.

Image result for Itsunori Onodera, singapore, photos

Japan’s Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said on Saturday it was important not to reward North Korea for only agreeing to dialogue. Reuters photo

The only way to bring peace was to ensure North Korea takes concrete action to end all nuclear programs and the development of ballistic missiles of all ranges, he said.

North Korea in 1994 and 2005 signed agreements to end its nuclear weapons program in return for diplomatic and economic rewards, but it went on to conduct the first of its six nuclear tests in 2006, bringing about a series of U.N. sanctions.

The South Korean government of liberal President Moon Jae-in has made it a top priority to engage the North in dialogue to resolve decades-old animosity and bring lasting peace, publicly pledging it would never pursue the collapse of its neighbor.

South Korea’s defense minister, Song Young-moo, said he recognized there was debate about the extent of the nuclear disarmament that Kim should be made to agree to, but if the focus was on disagreement and not on the way forward, dialogue would never make progress.

“But there must be CVID (complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement), and it must be enforced, and I believe Kim Jong Un will embrace it,” Song told the forum.

“If you continue to doubt Kim Jong Un’s motives, that will only come as an obstacle to dialogue and progress.”

Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel

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South Korea, Japan defense chiefs divided over future of North’s shorter-range ballistic missiles

REUTERS, STAFF REPORT, JIJI

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Saturday that it is important not to reward North Korea for only agreeing to dialogue and it must take concrete action to dismantle all of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs — including shorter-range weapons that threaten Japan.

His South Korean counterpart urged support for dialogue to help North Korea join the international community, saying its leader, Kim Jong Un, must be given the benefit of the doubt.

The apparent divergence of views between the U.S. allies comes ahead of a planned summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump on June 12 in Singapore to discuss ending the North’s nuclear weapons program.

Speaking at the Shangri-la Dialogue security forum in Singapore, Onodera said North Korea had entered into agreements to end its nuclear program in the past, only to conduct more activities to further their weapons development.

“In light of how North Korea behaved in the past, it is important not to reward it for agreeing to have dialogue,” Onodera said.

The only way to bring peace is to ensure North Korea takes concrete action to end all nuclear programs and the development of ballistic missiles “of all flight ranges,” he said.

Tokyo has repeatedly said that in addition to its long-range missiles, the North’s large arsenal of shorter-range weapons — which are capable of striking Japan — must also be eliminated.

North Korea in 1994 and 2005 signed agreements to end its nuclear weapons program in return for diplomatic and economic rewards, but it went on to conduct the first of its six nuclear tests in 2006, bringing about a series of U.N. sanctions.

The South Korean government of liberal President Moon Jae-in has made it a top priority to engage the North in dialogue to resolve decades-old animosity and bring lasting peace, publicly pledging it will never pursue the collapse of its neighbor.

South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo said he recognizes there is debate about the extent of the nuclear disarmament that Kim should be made to agree to, but if the focus is on disagreement and not on the way forward, dialogue will never make any progress.

Asked if this means that North Korea retaining shorter-range ballistic missiles is acceptable, Song dodged the question, but said that such threats will disappear if it joins the international community.

“As North Korea forms diplomatic ties with the free world, such threats will dissipate over time,” he said.

Still, Song did voice support for the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of the North’s nuclear arsenal.

“But there must be CVID, and it must be enforced, and I believe Kim Jong Un will embrace it,” Song told the forum.

“If you continue to doubt Kim Jong Un’s motives, that will only come as an obstacle to dialogue and progress.”

But despite the two defense chief’s divide, Onodera did note that Japan would spare no efforts in providing support in certain fields, if North Korea takes concrete actions toward denuclearization. This was likely an allusion to sending Self-Defense Forces personnel to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to take part in possible verification procedures in the event of any deal by the North to give up its arsenal.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/06/02/national/politics-diplomacy/onodera-says-singapore-security-summit-important-not-reward-pyongyang-just-coming-dialogue-table/#.WxJBf0gvyUk

France freezes company assets over Syria chemical weapons

May 18, 2018

France on Friday froze the assets for six months of companies based in Syria, Lebanon and China after they were linked to an alleged chemical weapons programme in Syria.

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

The businesses include Sigmatec and the Al Mahrous Group, both based in Damascus, Technolab in Lebanon, and a trading company in Guangzhou in China, according to a list published in the government’s official gazette.

Two Syrian nationals will also face asset freezes, as well as a person born in Lebanon in 1977 whose nationality was not specified.

The asset freezes were signed by French Finance minister Bruno Le Maire.

In January, France sanctioned 25 people and companies based in Syria, but also French, Lebanese and Chinese, over suspicions of fuelling the development of chemical weapons in the war-ravaged country.

The companies targeted included importers and distributors of metals, electronics, logistics and shipping.

Some thirty countries meet in Paris on Friday to put in place mechanisms to better identify and punish those responsible for using nerve agents such as Sarin and chlorine in attacks.

After hundreds of people were killed in chemical attacks near Damascus in August 2013, a landmark deal with Russia was struck to rid Syria of its chemical weapons stash, staving off US air strikes.

Despite the deal, a suspected chlorine and sarin attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7 triggered a wave of punitive missile strikes against alleged chemical weapons facilities in Syria by the United States, Britain and France.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is due to soon release a fact-finding report into the suspected Douma attack.

Chemical weapons team kept from reaching alleged Syria attack site

April 16, 2018

AFP and AP

© Hasan Mohamed, AFP | A child runs along a street in front of clouds of smoke billowing following a reported air strike on Douma, the main town of Syria’s rebel enclave of Eastern Ghouta on March 20, 2018.

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2018-04-16

Independent investigators were prevented by Syrian and Russian authorities Monday from reaching the scene of an alleged chemical attack near the Syrian capital, an official said.

The incident comes days after the USFrance and Britain bombarded sites they said were linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program.

The lack of access to the town of Douma by inspectors from the watchdog group, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has left questions about the April 7 attack unanswered.

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said Syrian and Russian officials cited “pending security issues” in keeping its inspectors from reaching Douma.

“The team has not yet deployed to Douma,” two days after arriving in Syria, Uzumcu told an executive council of the OPCW in The Hague.

Syrian authorities were offering 22 people to interview as witnesses instead, he said, adding that he hoped “all necessary arrangements will be made … to allow the team to deploy to Douma as soon as possible”.

Heather Nauert

@statedeptspox

Chemical weapons were used on Syrian men, women, and children in . Reports that weapons inspectors require special @UN passes are completely false. and need to stop the disinformation and allow unfettered access to the attack sites.

The US and France say they have evidence that poison gas was used in Douma, east of Damascus, killing dozens of people, and that President Bashar al-Assad’s military was behind it, but they have made none of that evidence public. Syria and its ally Russia deny any such attack took place.

Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov blamed the Western air strikes carried out early Saturday for holding up a mission by the OPCW team to Douma. He told reporters in Moscow that the inspectors could not go to the site because they need permission from the UN Department for Safety and Security.

But a UN spokesman said the clearances have been given to the OPCW team.

“The United Nations has provided the necessary clearances for the OPCW team to go about its work in Douma. We have not denied the team any request for it to go to Douma,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Both Russia and the Syrian government have welcomed the OPCW visit. The team arrived in Syria shortly before the air strikes and met with Syrian officials. Government forces and Russian troops have been deployed in Douma, which is now controlled by the Syrian government.

>> Read more: The difficulties of probing chemical weapons attacks in Syria

Syrian opposition and activists have criticised the Russia deployment in the town, saying that evidence of chemical weapons’ use might no longer be found.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied that Russia interfered with any evidence.

“I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site,” Lavrov told the BBC in an interview Monday.

Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has said his country is “fully ready” to cooperate with the OPCW mission. He said government officials met with the delegation, which has been in Damascus for three days, a number of times to discuss cooperation.

Syria has in the past accused the West of politically manipulating the OPCW mission.

UK Delegation OPCW@UK_OPCW

Director Gen briefs Exec Council on his Fact Finding Mission’s deployment to 🇸🇾 to investigate chem weapon attack. OPCW arrived in Damascus on Saturday. Russia & Syria have not yet allowed access to Douma. Unfettered access essential. Russia & Syria must cooperate.

At least 40 people are believed to have died in the attack on Douma, which until Saturday was the last rebel-held town near Damascus.

The OPCW team dispatched to Syria to investigate does not have a mandate to assign blame.

Russia vetoed last year the extension of the mandate of another joint UN-OPCW joint body in charge of determining who was behind other chemical attacks in Syria. The joint body was created in 2015 and found the Syrian government responsible for using sarin gas last year in Khan Shaykhoun, a rebel-held area in northern Syria.

>> Read more: A history of the Syria chemical weapons ‘red line’

Meanwhile, NATO’s secretary general said the US-led air strikes will reduce the Syrian government’s capabilities of carrying out new chemical attacks.

Jens Stoltenberg said the strikes were a “clear message” to Assad, Russia and Iran that the use of chemical weapons is not acceptable and that the allies would not stand idle. He spoke in an interview with Turkey’s NTV television on Monday.

In Damascus, hundreds of Syrians gathered Monday in Omayyad Square in Damascus, rallying in support of their armed forces, which they said had succeeded in confronting the air strikes by the West.

State TV broadcast the rally live from the central square, where protesters waved Syrian flags in a demonstration that was dubbed a “salute to the achievements of the Arab Syrian Army”. They also set off fireworks and unleashed celebratory gunfire.

Shouts of “Allah, Syria, and only Bashar,” a reference to Assad, rang out.

The strikes have ratcheted up international tension, as the US and Russia exchanged threats of retaliation.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said a decision on new economic sanctions against Russia will be made “in the near future”. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley had said a decision was coming Monday for sanctions against Russia for enabling the Assad government to continue using chemical weapons, but the White House did not commit to that timetable.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the military strikes violated the UN Charter and that if they continue, “it will inevitably entail chaos in international relations”, according to a Kremlin statement on Sunday.

Douma was the last rebel holdout in the eastern Ghouta enclave, which was the target of a government offensive in February and March that killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands of people.

Syrian media, Russian and Syrian officials have sought to play down the impact of the airstrikes, saying the Syrian air defences intercepted most of the missiles. The Pentagon says no missiles were engaged.

Also Monday, British Prime Minister Theresa May was to face angry lawmakers for authorising the strikes without a vote in Parliament. Her office said she planned to tell them the strikes were “in Britain’s national interest” and were carried out to stop further suffering from chemical weapons attacks.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

Bashar Assad, Iran just reached point of no return in Syria — Trump administration should consider more cooperation with Turkey and Russia

April 16, 2018

Assad has to be removed… Iran prefers to sew sectarian hatred rather than encourage cooperation.

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

Daily Sabah
Editorial

On Friday evening, U.S. President Donald Trump stood before television cameras to announce that he had ordered the U.S. Armed Forces to launch “precision strikes” against regime positions in Syria. The announcement came a week after Bashar Assad carried out a chemical attack against innocent civilians in Douma, a small town near the Syrian capital Damascus, claiming dozens of casualties. Turkey welcomed Washington’s decision, which, it said, “eased humanity’s conscience.”

In light of the most recent developments in Syria, it has become clear that the Assad regime should not survive. Nor can the Syrian dictator, who has killed hundreds of thousands of his country’s citizens, play any role in the future of Syria.

In recent years, the Syrian regime repeatedly misled the United States and Russia, along with others, into believing that it would abandon its chemical weapons program. At the time, the international community was so eager to believe that it was making some progress in Syria that the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for its “extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons.” To nobody’s surprise, it turned out that the Syrian regime indeed had a large amount of chemical weapons at its disposal.

In retrospect, the fact that the same people thought U.S. President Barack Obama, whose inaction encouraged Assad to massacre innocent people, deserved a “peace prize” should have been telling.

At this point, Assad offers little and does significant damage to his allies. To be clear, it makes no sense for the Syrian regime’s protectors to continue their support. For the Russians, it is time to abandon the criminal in Damascus and work with Turkey and others to shape the country’s future. There are many opportunities in the Middle East that Moscow could seize – but only if it stops carrying the dead weight of Assad and his atrocities.

But the problems in Syria are not limited to the regime and their solution requires the support of Western countries as well. France, for instance, could play a constructive role in Syria. In addition to working toward the preservation of the country’s territorial integrity, Paris can build on its historical relations with the Syrian Arabs to promote a political solution. The obvious obstacle before France’s efforts to maximize its interests in Syria is the French government itself. If French President Emmanuel Macron opts to protect the terrorist organization PKK and its Syrian branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed People’s Protection Units (YPG), because he wants to get back at Daesh for the Paris and Nice terror attacks, his country will pay a heavy price. Fighting a terrorist organization and addressing the threat posed by returning foreign fighters is a serious challenge – which France could address by helping to restore peace and stability in Syria and cooperating with the international community instead of having a knee-jerk reaction.

It is time for the United States to present the world with a coherent Syria policy – right after U.S. President Donald Trump, the Pentagon, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the State Department and National Security Adviser John Bolton sign off on the same plan.

Until now, Washington has put a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. The Obama administration’s decision to partner with non-state actors instead of making actual decisions was doomed to fail. Retaliating against the Assad regime’s chemical attacks is not an actual policy either. Nor did attempts by the United States to sabotage the Astana process and the Sochi talks amount to a policy.

Washington’s lack of a coherent policy hurts its reputation in the Middle East. People around the world know that last weekend’s retaliatory strikes amounted to nothing but a facade. There are a number of smart and result-oriented steps that the Trump administration could take in cooperation with Turkey and Russia – including in the fight against Daesh terrorism. By tapping into Turkey’s vast diplomatic experience, Washington could address tensions with Russia and keep its eye on the prize. Although President Trump made an important point in his announcement, developing long-term solutions is the ultimate answer. The United States has a responsibility to ensure that innocent civilians are not killed – with chemical or conventional weapons.

There is a way the U.S., Russia and France can join Turkey to make peace possible in Syria. However, there is one factor that all parties concerned need to take action against and that is Iran’s sectarian expansionism. It has become the main source of instability and violence in the wider region. Particularly due to its long-standing conflicts with the West and regional powers, Tehran’s involvement in any attempt to resolve the Syrian crisis makes things complicated and causes unnecessary suffering for the people of Syria. Iran prefers to sew sectarian hatred rather than encourage cooperation. Tehran has exploited the goodwill of Turkey and a handful of other countries, which want to avoid unnecessary violence and polarization in the region.

What Syria needs is an end to Iran’s sectarian policy and this can only happen if the remaining actors cooperate in instituting a new government in Syria without Assad. The Syrian people deserve the commitment of the international community to ensure the end of bloodshed and the introduction of peace. They have suffered enough.

https://www.dailysabah.com/editorial/2018/04/15/bashar-assad-iran-just-reached-point-of-no-return-in-syria

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Reuters

Turkey: We Differ From Iran, Russia, U.S. on Syria and Middle East

While Turkey is working with both Russia and Iran to decrease the use of violence in Syria, Ankara has long demanded that President Bashar Assad must go and has backed rebels against him

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Turkish soldiers atop an armored personnel carrier in Afrin, Syria, March 24, 2018.
Turkish soldiers atop an armored personnel carrier in Afrin, Syria, March 24, 2018.Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

Turkey does not stand with or against Syria, and its policy on the region differs from that of Iran, Russia and the United States, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Monday.

Bozdag’s comments were in response to a reporter’s question about an earlier remark from French President Emmanuel Macron, who said Turkey’s support of missile strikes against Syria showed it had “separated” from Russia.

The United States, Britain and France fired more than 100 missilesat Syria on Friday in a “one-time shot” that the Pentagon said followed evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad was responsible for a chemical weapons attack using chlorine gas.

“Turkey’s Syria policy isn’t to stand with or against any country. There is no change to the policy Turkey has been carrying out,” Bozdag told reporters in Qatar.

“We do not have a united policy with the United States on the YPG issue, and Turkey’s stance has not changed. We are also against the unconditional support for the (Syrian) regime and we are at odds with Iran and Russia on this,” he said.

While Turkey is working with both Russia and Iran to decrease the use of violence in Syria, Ankara has long demanded that President Bashar Assad must go and has backed rebels against him. Assad’s main supporters are Moscow and Tehran.

Turkey has also been at loggerheads with Washington over U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Ankara considers a terrorist organization linked to Kurdish militants waging a decades-long insurgency in Turkish soil.

Turkey supported the airstrikes by U.S., British and French forces, saying the move sent a message to Assad.

Bozdag said Turkey did not hesitate to work with any country that defended “correct principles” on Syria.

Russia and Iran warn of ‘consequences’ over air strikes — “Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible.”

April 14, 2018

Moscow’s ambassador to US says responsibility rests with Washington, London and Paris

Image result for RAF tornado takes off, April 2018, night, photos

Russia warned on Saturday morning that air strikes by the US, the UK and France on Syrian targets would “not be left without consequences”, as Iran condemned the attacks as a “blatant violation of international laws”.

The strikes on Friday night were in retaliation for the poison gas attack in Syria — allegedly carried out by the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad — that killed at least 60 civilians on April 7.

The Iranian foreign ministry said the Islamic republic was against any use of chemical weapons, but the US, UK and France had resorted to military action “without any documents and evidence” by placing themselves in the position of “global judge and police”.

A statement from the ministry also warned of “regional and extra-regional consequences of this adventurism”.

Image result for Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, photos, airlift

The Russian defence ministry said the majority of the incoming missiles had been shot down by the Syrian military’s air defence systems.

Russian news agencies quoted the defence ministry as saying that Moscow’s air base in Hmeimim and its naval base in Tartus had not been targeted in the strikes. “Not one of the cruise missiles launched by the United States and its allies came into the zone of responsibility covering the objects in Tartus and Hmeimim,” Interfax cited a defence ministry statement as saying.

“Russian air defence units deployed on the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic were not used to repel missile attacks,” the ministry said.

Russia had repeatedly warned earlier that it would directly hit back against the US military if strikes on Syria created threats to Russian soldiers.

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We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris

The strikes on Syrian targets were aimed at degrading the Assad regime’s chemical weapons capabilities, but stopped short of attacking Russian or Iranian targets in order to avoid escalating hostilities.

US defence secretary Jim Mattis said earlier that the western allies had not co-ordinated with the Russians or pre-notified them.

Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the US, wrote on Twitter soon after the attack: “We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris.”

Russia's Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov in 2015 (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Russia’s Ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov in 2015 (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

He added: “Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible. The US — the possessor of the biggest arsenal of chemical weapons — has no moral right to blame other countries.”

Vladimir Dzhabarov, deputy chairman of the international relations committee in Russia’s upper house of parliament, told Interfax that the strikes were “a complete disgrace” and a “direct step towards a broad confrontation”.

The Russian foreign ministry described the strikes as a blow to Syria just as it had a chance for peace.

“A strike has been delivered on the capital of a sovereign state which has been trying to survive for many years in the conditions of a terrorist aggression,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook.

Ms Zakharova said the western media also bore responsibility for the events, as she pointed to the White House’s statement that its belief that a chemical attack had taken place in Douma was based on media reports among other sources.

One senior Russian lawmaker said the strikes were a flagrant violation of international law and an attack on a sovereign state without appropriate justification.

“It is also very likely that this is an attempt to create difficulties for the mission of OPCW [the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] just as it is starting its work in Douma today, or to disrupt this work altogether,” said Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the international relations committee in the lower house of parliament.

Despite blocking international attempts to create a more robust chemical weapons inspection mechanism for Syria, Russia has consistently claimed that it was supporting OPCW efforts to investigate what happened in Douma last week.

Iran called on international organisations to condemn the strikes which “could strengthen radicalism and terrorism” in the region.

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Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, right, with Brigadier General Ali Fadavi and other commanders

https://www.ft.com/content/29698964-3f9c-11e8-b9f9-de94fa33a81e

Related:

Jerusalem Responds to Russia: Iranian Aggression Is Destabilizing Syria – Not Israel

April 12, 2018

Putin called Netanyahu yesterday and urged Israel to refrain from taking action in Syria ■ PM told Russian leader that Israel won’t allow Iran to set up military presence in Syria

.Putin Netanyahu at a Black Sea resort of Sochi, 2013.
Putin Netanyahu at a Black Sea resort of Sochi, 2013.REUTERS

Israel responded to Russia’s claim that it’s alleged attack in Syria “only worsened” the situation there. “What is destabilizing Syria is the Iranian aggression and attempts by Iran to set up a military presence in Syria to threaten Israel and other nations, a senior diplomatic source in Jerusalem says.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that a strike on a Syrian airbase carried out by Israel has only “worsened stability” in the war-torn country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Wednesday, when the Russian leader urged Israel not to take action in Syria and to threaten its security. Israeli officials confirmed the call took place and said that Netanyahu told Putin that Israel will not permit Iran to set up a military presence in Syria.

Moments after the Russian foreign ministry issued the statement, a Russian lawmaker announced that Russian ships have left the Tartus naval base in Syria. Interfax news agency quoted Vladimir Shamanov, who chairs the Russian defense committee of the lower house of parliament, as saying that the vessels had left the Mediterranean base for their own safety, adding that “this is normal practice” when there are threats of an attack.

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FILE - This Dec. 11, 2017 file photo, shows Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Syrian President Bashar Assad watching troops march at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria. In comments published on the official presidency Telegram channel Wednesday, March 14, 2018, Assad said his country's war on terrorism will continue as long as there is "a single terrorist" on Syrian territories. Russia and Iran have been strong backers of Assad, helping him in his bid to regain control of territories. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

FILE – This Dec. 11, 2017 file photo, shows Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Syrian President Bashar Assad watching troops march at the Hemeimeem air base in Syria. In comments published oMikhail Klimentyev/AP

Putin has also reached out to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the situation in Syria by phone Thursday afternoon.

Later Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis told Congress that Russia was complicit in Syria’s retention of chemical weapons.

French President Emmanuel Macron said France has proof the Syrian government was behind the suspected chemical attack last week in Douma, but added that he would decide whether to intervene once all the necessary information had been gathered.

“We have proof that last week… chemical weapons were used, at least chlorine, and that they were used by the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” Macron said during a television interview.

Macron said French and U.S. officials were “working together very closely, and we will have decisions to take, at the time we choose, when we consider it most useful and most effective.”

‘Don’t test Israel’

Also Wednesday, following the call, Netanyahu threatened Iran in a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. “I have a message for the leaders of Iran: Don’t test Israel’s resolve,” he declared.

“To the Iranian people, he said: “The regime is oppressing you and when this regime disappears off the face of the earth then our two peoples can live together once more in coexistence,” he said.

>> This is not a drill: Syria showdown could spark Israeli-Iranian and U.S.-Russian clashes ■ Revenge by Iran could push Israel to terminate its Syrian presence

Netanyahu also took the opportunity to condemn the Syrian regime and the recent chemical attack in Syria, saying that “murderous evil that is not stood up against spreads rapidly.”

Israel is on high alert for any Iranian retaliation after Tehran’s direct threat Tuesday, as well as any possible U.S. strike against Syria’s Assad regime in retaliation to the chemical attack at Douma.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted early Thursday morning that the U.S. attack on Syria “could be very soon or not so soon at all.”

Trump wrote on Twitter, “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our “Thank you America?”

Trump appears to be closer to taking action in Syria after Saturday’s deadly chemical attack, for which he vowed “animal Assad” would “pay a heavy price.”

An earlier tweet by Trump Wednesday said: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

>> Israel on high alert, prepares for possible Iranian retaliation after strike on Syrian base ■ Revealed: The Iranian compound targeted by the ‘Israeli strike’ in Syria

The American president followed that tweet with an assessment of U.S.-Russia relations, writing, “Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War. There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together. Stop the arms race?”

‘Get ready Russia’ – Donald Trump tells Putin “You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal” — Expect an Attack In Syria Soon

April 11, 2018

By Raf SanchezGordon Rayner, and Ben Riley-Smith
The Telegraph
April 11, 2018

11 APRIL 2018 • 12:18PM

President Donald Trump has told Russia and Syria to “get ready” for a missile attack on the Assad regime, saying the bombs will be “nice and new and smart”.

Mr Trump tweeted an extraordinary response to Russia’s claim that it would shoot down any missiles fired at Syria following the chemical weapons attack on Douma.

The US President added: “You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

 Image may contain: one or more people and car
Wreckage of a Syrian aircraft hangar after Israel attacked in response to Syria’s most recent chemical weapons attack. Israel says this facility was ‘entirely run by Iranian forces.”
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Related:

Earlier, Alexander Zasypkin, the Russian envoy to Beirut, said: “If there is an American strike, then we… will shoot down the missiles and target the positions from where they were launched.

“In the past few days, we have seen an escalation towards a significant crisis.”

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!

Mr Zasypkin’s comments, made in an interview with a Hizbollah-affiliated television channel,  are the sternest Russian warning yet against American strikes. They go beyond previous threats that Russian troops would use their missile defence systems to shield the Assad regime.

Mr Trump’s tweet increases the pressure on Theresa May to give her unequivocal backing to air strikes against targets in Syria, having said on Tuesday that she and Mr Trump would not “allow the use of chemical weapons to continue”.

The Russian ambassador spoke as Eurocontrol, the pan-European air traffic control agency, warned civilian airliners to be cautious above the eastern Mediterranean because of the possibility of strikes in the next 72 hours.

The agency warned that both missiles launched from aircraft or from naval forces might be launched before the end of the week.

“Due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria with air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles within the next 72 hours, and the possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment, due consideration needs to be taken when planning flight operations in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the agency said in a statement.

The US has two Navy destroyers capable of firing a barrage of cruise missiles in the eastern Mediterranean already. An American naval strike group, led by the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman, is moving towards the area.

The World Health Organisation said that 500 people were treated in last weekend’s suspected chemical weapons attack in Douma and demanded access to the site.

The global health agency said it estimated 500 were brought to hospital with “signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals”.

“WHO demands immediate unhindered access to the area to provide care to those affected, to assess the health impacts, and to deliver a comprehensive public health response,” said Peter Salama, the deputy director-general for emergency preparedness and response.

The Syrian regime has so far prevented UN agencies from visiting the site of the alleged attack, although Russian military inspectors have been allowed access.

Allies Mull Joint Military Attack on Syria — Can Syria’s chemical weapons be the target? — “Could send a message of international unity about enforcing the prohibitions on chemical weapons”

April 11, 2018
Robert Burns and Josh Lederman
Associated Press

Trump administration officials consulted with global allies Tuesday on a possible joint military response to Syria’s alleged poison gas attack, as President Donald Trump canceled a foreign trip in order to manage a crisis that is testing his vow to stand up to Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Trump spoke with other world leaders, and other U.S. officials said the U.S., France and Britain were in extensive consultations about launching a military strike as early as the end of this week. None of the three countries’ leaders had made a firm decision, according to the officials, who were not authorized to discuss military planning by name.

A joint military operation, possibly with France rather than the U.S. in the lead, could send a message of international unity about enforcing the prohibitions on chemical weapons and counter Syria’s political and military support from Russia and Iran.

 

President Emmanuel Macron said France, the U.S. and Britain will decide how to respond in the coming days. He called for a “strong and joint response” to the attack in the Syrian town of Douma on Saturday, which Syrian activists and rescuers say killed 40 people. The Syrian government denies responsibility.

The French president does not need parliamentary permission to launch a military operation. France is already involved in the U.S.-led coalition created in 2014 to fight the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. Multiple IS attacks have targeted French soil, including one last month.

Trump suggested Monday he had little doubt that Syrian government forces were to blame for what he said was a chemical attack, but neither he nor other administration officials have produced hard evidence. Officials suggested such evidence was lacking, or at least not yet at hand. This is in contrast to an incident one year ago in which U.S. intelligence agencies had video and other evidence of certain aspects of the actual attack, which involved the use of Sarin gas. Trump responded by launching Navy cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield.

One official said the U.S., France and Britain were considering military options that would be more extensive than the punitive, one-day strike last April. That strike did not appear to have had the desired effect of deterring Assad from further use of chemical agents. So the three countries are discussing a range of options, including preventing Assad from conducting future attacks by striking military capabilities involved in carrying out such attack, the official said.

Asked whether France would take military action, Macron said his country will continue discussing technical and strategic information with U.S. and British allies and “in the coming days we will announce our decision.” He said any action would “target chemical weapons” stocks. Under a 2013 agreement for which Russia was a guarantor, Syria was to have eliminated all its chemical weapons, but it has used chlorine and perhaps other chemicals since then.

Trump spoke by phone with British Prime Minister Theresa May. A British government statement said the two agreed the attack in Syria was “utterly reprehensible” and that the international community must respond “to uphold the worldwide prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.” Trump met at the White House with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who told reporters that he and Trump “see eye to eye” on the Syria problem.

“We cannot tolerate with a war criminal,” the emir said, adding, “This matter should end immediately.” Qatar hosts the United States’ main air operations center for the Middle East, which would coordinate any American air attack in Syria.

A watchdog agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, announced that it will send “shortly” a fact-finding mission to Douma, after receiving a request from the Syrian government and its Russian backers to investigate the allegations. It was not immediately clear whether that visit would delay or avert U.S. or allied military action.

The Russian military, which has troops in Syria, said on Monday that its officers had visited the site of the alleged attack and found no evidence to back up reports of poison gas being used.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis canceled plans to travel to California this week, indicating his focus on Syria. He was expected at a White House meeting Wednesday for further consultations on Syria.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump will not attend the 8th Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, or travel to Bogota, Colombia, as planned. She said he will stay home to “oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world.”

The president’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, urged Trump to skip the trip, an official said. This reflects a view in the White House that deeper Russian and Iranian involvement in Syria have complicated calculations about a response to any U.S. military attack, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Moscow has cautioned the U.S. not to launch a military attack.

Amid the tough talk from the White House, the U.S. military appeared to be in position to carry out any attack order. A Navy destroyer, the USS Donald Cook, got underway in the eastern Mediterranean on Monday after completing a port call in Cyprus. The guided missile destroyer is armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, the weapon of choice in a U.S. attack one year ago on an airfield in Syria following an alleged sarin gas attack on civilians.

Also, the Navy said the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier and its strike group will depart Norfolk, Virginia, on Wednesday for a regularly scheduled deployment to Europe. The Navy does not currently have a carrier in the Persian Gulf.

Associated Press writers Angela Charlton in Paris, Edith M. Lederer in New York and Jill Colvin, Ken Thomas, Catherine Lucey and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

See also:

What could the US target in Syria and how is Russia likely to react?

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/10/what-could-the-us-target-in-syria-and-how-might-russia-react

and

Trump Weighs More Robust Military Strike Against Syria

NYT:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/10/us/politics/trump-military-strike-syria.html

and

Preventing Chemical Weapons Use in Syria  (From 2012)

https://www.cfr.org/expert-brief/preventing-chemical-weapons-use-syria

and

Fears grow for fate of Syria’s chemical weapons (From 2012)

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-18483788