Posts Tagged ‘Rex Tillerson’

U.S. calls Myanmar operation against Rohingya ‘ethnic cleansing’

November 22, 2017

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States called the Myanmar military operation against the Rohingya population “ethnic cleansing” on Wednesday and said it would consider targeted sanctions against those responsible, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement.

Referring to “horrendous atrocities” that have occurred, Tillerson said, “After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.”

Reporting by Doina ChiacuEditing by Chizu Nomiyama

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Rex Tillerson accused of violating law on child soldiers — By State Department Staffers

November 21, 2017

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 Rex Tillerson accused of violating law on child soldiers
WASHINGTON — A group of about a dozen U.S. State Department officials have taken the unusual step of formally accusing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of violating a federal law designed to stop foreign militaries from enlisting child soldiers, according to internal government documents reviewed by Reuters.

A confidential State Department “dissent” memo not previously reported said Tillerson breached the Child Soldiers Prevention Act when he decided in June to exclude Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan from a U.S. list of offenders in the use of child soldiers. This was despite the department publicly acknowledging that children were being conscripted in those countries.

Keeping the countries off the annual list makes it easier to provide them with U.S. military assistance. Iraq and Afghanistan are close allies in the fight against Islamist militants, while Myanmar is an emerging ally to offset China’s influence in Southeast Asia.

Documents reviewed by Reuters also show Tillerson’s decision was at odds with a unanimous recommendation by the heads of the State Department’s regional bureaus overseeing embassies in the Middle East and Asia, the U.S. envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the department’s human rights office and its own in-house lawyers.

“Beyond contravening U.S. law, this decision risks marring the credibility of a broad range of State Department reports and analyses and has weakened one of the U.S. government’s primary diplomatic tools to deter governmental armed forces and government-supported armed groups from recruiting and using children in combat and support roles around the world,” said the July 28 memo.

Reuters reported in June that Tillerson had disregarded internal recommendations on Iraq, Myanmar and Afghanistan. The new documents reveal the scale of the opposition in the State Department, including the rare use of what is known as the “dissent channel,” which allows officials to object to policies without fear of reprisals.

The views expressed by the U.S. officials illustrate ongoing tensions between career diplomats and the former chief of Exxon Mobil Corp appointed by President Donald Trump to pursue an “America First” approach to diplomacy.

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https://nypost.com/2017/11/21/rex-tillerson-accused-of-violating-law-on-child-soldiers/

Palestinians ‘freeze’ meetings with US over office row

November 21, 2017

This Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017 photo shows the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

This Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017 photo shows the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

The Palestinian Authority freezes all meetings with the United States after Washington decides to close the PA’s representative office in the US, officials say on Tuesday.

“In practice by closing the office they are freezing all meetings and we are making that official,” Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki tells AFP.

A spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization confirms that it had received instructions from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “regarding closing down all communication lines with the Americans.”

— AFP

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His country a smoldering ruin, but Assad still in his seat

November 21, 2017

In this Monday, Nov. 20, 2017, photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

BEIRUT: His nation is a smoldering ruin, much of it held by rival armed factions, domestic or foreign. Half the population is displaced, hundreds of thousands have died and much of the West regards him as a tyrant and human rights abuser. But Syrian President Bashar Assad appears to have survived the war and is likely to hold onto power for the foreseeable future.

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The sides in Syria’s civil war are preparing for what will be the eighth round of UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva intended to forge a path forward for a political transition to end the conflict. But barring any surprises, no negotiated resolution is likely to lead to Assad’s ouster.
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One reason is military. Assad’s forces have had the momentum on the ground the past year, backed by an overwhelming Russian air campaign and fighters from Iran and Hezbollah. Assad’s government now controls more than 50 percent of Syria.
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Holding half the country normally wouldn’t be an optimistic sign, but that’s up from 19 percent earlier this year. His troops control Syria’s four largest cities, 10 of Syria’s 14 provincial capitals and its Mediterranean coast. Also, no force on the ground is capable of driving Assad out at this stage.
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On the diplomatic front, the top supporters of the opposition, the United States and its allies, long ago backed off demands that any deal involve Assad’s immediate removal. Now they are pushing for a plan for elections that could bring a new leader. But Assad’s ally Russia now dominates the negotiating process, meaning there is little pressure on him to accept real elections. A political solution under his terms would be to incorporate opposition members into a national unity government under his leadership.
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Assad’s opposition is in disarray. The top opposition negotiator, Riyad Hijab, resigned on Monday, complaining that foreign powers were carving up Syria and brokering side deals to “prolong the life of Bashar Assad’s regime.” He leaves his post just two days before the opposition was to meet in Saudi Arabia to come up with a unified delegation and negotiating stance. Saudi Arabia has already signaled to the opposition it has to come to terms with Assad’s survival.
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Assad looks increasingly confident. On Monday, he traveled to Sochi for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the second time Assad has traveled to Russia or left the country in the course of the country’s civil war.
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Earlier this month, Assad’s office posted on social media a photo of the president and the first lady, Asma, strolling through their Damascus palace courtyard, smiling at each other. The picture is part of a propaganda campaign to project business as usual and confidence in the future. The presidency’s Instagram account produces daily images of the first couple visiting with students, families of slain fighters, orphanages and bakeries.
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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in late October repeated Washington’s call for Assad to surrender control, insisting that “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.”
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But turning that call into reality takes leverage that Washington doesn’t appear ready to use.
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In a joint statement released earlier this month, US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria. They made vague comments about Assad’s “recent commitment to the Geneva process and constitutional reform and elections” as called for under a United Nations Security Council resolution.
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There are few scenarios that could bring about Assad’s fall. One would be if the US struck a deal that convinced Russia to force Assad to accept a political transition that ensures his departure from the presidency.
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But it is hard to imagine what incentive the US could give Moscow to dump its ally. Another scenario would be if the US or other opposition backers reversed course and launched an all-out military drive against Assad.
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“That requires massive escalation, restarting the war from scratch to roll back Assad’s gains and creating an opposition that is both able to govern and acceptable to the international community,” said Aron Lund, a fellow with the New York-based think tank The Century Foundation.
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“Looking at the conflict right now and how the opposition’s allies are all backing away — it’s just not going to happen,” he said.
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Trump ended a CIA-backed program training rebel forces trying to oust Assad. The United States has been more focused on fighting the Daesh group in Syria, supporting Kurdish-led forces that have successfully rolled back the militants and took control of nearly a quarter of the country.
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Turkey, another top supporter of the opposition, is more concerned with thwarting the ambitions of the Kurds in Syria than with ousting Assad. It backs a force of opposition factions holding an enclave of territory in northern Syria and skirmishing with the Kurds.
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The main rebel-held area focused on fighting Assad is in the northwestern province of Idlib, but it is dominated by Al-Qaeda-allied factions.
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Russia, meanwhile, helped mediate a series of local cease-fires between Assad’s forces and rebels on most fronts around the country. That has allowed Assad and his allies — troops from Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas and Iraqi Shiite militiamen— to focus on battling the Daesh group in the east.
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On Sunday, state-run media announced that Assad’s forces have recaptured the town of Boukamal, the Daesh group’s last significant stronghold in Syria, leaving the militants to defend just strips of desert territory in the country and a besieged pocket outside the capital, Damascus.
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“To be sure there will be flare-ups of violence and bombings and unrest,” Lund said. “But he (Assad) holds the center, he holds most of the population, he’s got the economy and the institutions and the UN seat. … He has all the stuff he needs to continue to rule.”
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When Syria’s conflict began with mass protests in March 2011, many expected Assad to be quickly toppled like other Arab leaders. Regional and international supporters of the opposition poured in money and weapons and then US President Barack Obama and other Western leaders declared the Assad dynasty finished.
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Assad’s determination never wavered throughout the conflict, aided by the opposition’s fragmentation and Russia and Iran’s inerventions.
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Nikolaos Van Dam, author of the book “Destroying A Nation: The Civil War in Syria,” said Western countries created false expectations by calling on Assad to step down while only offering half-hearted support for the opposition and underestimating the cohesion of Assad’s leadership.

Palestinians say they won’t be blackmailed by U.S. move to close PLO office

November 19, 2017

This Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017 photo shows the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

This Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017 photo shows the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

RAMALLAH/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Palestinian officials expressed surprise on Saturday at a U.S. decision to close the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington unless the group enters peace negotiations with Israel, and said they would not surrender to blackmail.

A U.S. State Department official said that under legislation passed by Congress, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could not renew a certification that expired this month for the PLO office, “given certain statements made by the Palestinian leaders about the International Criminal Court.”

Image result for portrait of PLO chief arafat, framed, on wall, photos, Hasan Abdel-Rahman

The law says the PLO, the main Palestinian umbrella political body, cannot operate a Washington office if it urges the ICC to prosecute Israelis for alleged crimes against Palestinians.

In an address to the United Nations General Assembly in September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian Authority called on the ICC “to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggressions against our people.”

The State Department official added that restrictions on the PLO in the United States, including the operation of its Washington office, could be waived after 90 days if U.S. President Donald Trump “determines the Palestinians have entered into direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel.”

“We are hopeful that this closure will be short-lived,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, the Palestinian presidency expressed surprise at the U.S. move, which was first reported by the Associated Press.

WAFA quoted Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki as saying that Palestinian leaders would not give in to blackmail or pressure regarding the operation of the PLO office or negotiations on an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

The agency quoted a spokesman for Abbas, Nabil Abu Rdainah, expressing surprise, given that meetings between Abbas and Trump had been “characterized by full understanding of the steps needed to create a climate for resumption of the peace process.”

A Palestinian official who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters the State Department had informed the Palestinians of the decision on Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear what effect the State Department’s move might have on the Trump administration’s efforts to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which are led by Jared Kushner, the U.S. president’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

   Abbas’ spokesman called the U.S. move an unprecedented step in U.S.-Palestinian relations that would have serious consequences for the peace process and U.S.-Arab relations, according to WAFA.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Saturday: “This is a matter of U.S. law. We respect the decision and look forward to continuing to work with the U.S. to advance peace and security in the region.”

The State Department official said the U.S. move did not amount to cutting off relations with the PLO or signal an intention to stop working with the Palestinian Authority.

“We remain focused on a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians that will resolve core issues between the parties,” the official said.

Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem, and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by David Brunnstrom; Editing by John Walcott and Lisa Von Ahn

Palestinians reject ‘extortion’ in face of US move to close PLO’s DC office

November 18, 2017

Top PA diplomat says ‘ball is in American court’ as Trump administration says law prevents it from certifying diplomatic mission if Ramallah hounds Israel at ICC

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 11, 2015. (FLASH90)

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 11, 2015. (FLASH90)

The Palestinians will not give in to “extortion” after a US threat to close their diplomatic mission in Washington, the Palestinian foreign minister said Saturday.

In an interview on Palestine Radio on Saturday, Riad Malki said the Palestinians are waiting for further communication from the US government.

“The ball is now in the American court,” he said.

US officials, citing US law, said Friday that the Trump administration has put the Palestinians on notice that it will shutter their office in Washington unless they enter serious peace talks with Israel. President Donald Trump has 90 days to make a decision.

Malki said the US move may be aimed at putting pressure on the Palestinians. “The Palestinian leadership will not accept any extortion or pressure,” he said.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson refused to certify on Friday that the Palestinians are complying with a 2015 Congressional mandate, which induces penalties if the PA pursues the prosecution of Israelis at the International Criminal Court.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks to staff members at the US Mission to the UN, in Geneva, Switzerland, October 26, 2017. (AP/Alex Brandon, Pool)

The specific penalization, according to a provision in a US law passed in December 2015, is the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission to the United States, located in Washington, DC.

“We were unable to make a new certification, and have notified the PLO accordingly,” a State Department official told The Times of Israel on Friday evening. “The secretary concluded that the factual record, in particular certain statements made by Palestinian leaders about the ICC, did not permit him to make the factual certification required by the statute.”

During his speech to the UN General Assembly in September, PA President Mahmoud Abbas urged the ICC to “open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggressions against our people.”

The law states that the US President can reverse the move if he determines that Palestinians are in “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”

President Donald Trump has made it a signature priority of his to renew negotiations between the sides and reach a comprehensive peace deal.

The US official stressed that the move did not mean the administration was walking away from those attempts.

“This measure should in no way be seen as a signal that the US is backing off those efforts,” the official said. “Nor should it be exploited by those who seek to act as spoilers to distract from the imperative of reaching a peace agreement.”

“We are not cutting off relations with the PLO, nor do we intend to stop working with the Palestinian Authority,” he continued. “Our relations with the PLO and PA extend well beyond contacts with the PLO office in Washington. We remain focused on a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians that will resolve core issues between the parties.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/palestinians-reject-extortion-in-face-of-us-move-to-close-plos-dc-office/

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U.S. Warns Palestinians: Enter Peace Talks With Israel, or You May Lose U.S. Embassy

November 18, 2017

Move by Tillerson is based on provision to U.S. law that stipulates Palestinians must close their U.S. office if they try to prosecute Israelis for war crimes

Amir Tibon (Washington) Nov 18, 2017 5:36 AM
Haaretz
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FILE – In this May 23, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after making statements to the press in the West Bank City of Bethlehem. Palestinia Evan Vucci/AP

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration has notified the Palestinian Authority that unless it enters serious peace negotiations with Israel, the U.S. could shut down the Palestinian diplomatic delegation in Washington, D.C. within the next few months.

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The message was relayed to the Palestinians by the U.S. State Department recently, but it did not include a firm timeline. It was first reported on Friday by the Associated Press.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the Palestinians that this decision was reached as a result of statements made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who called on the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel and prosecute actions by Israelis.

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FILE- In this Oct. 30, 2017, file photo, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Trump administration put the Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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The State Department said that the statements made by Abbas go against a U.S. law which stipulates that the Palestinian mission should be closed if the Palestinians try to take action against Israel at the ICC.

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The report by the AP made it clear, however, that this was not an immediate threat, and that the United States was still engaging the Palestinians in the hopes of renewing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The White House, the Israeli embassy and the PLO delegation did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A State Department official told Haaretz on Friday night: “We are not cutting off relations with the PLO, nor do we intend to stop working with the Palestinian Authority.

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with U.S. presidential adviser Jared Kushner in the West Bank city of Ramallah, August 24, 2017. HANDOUT/REUTERS

“Our relations with the PLO and PA extend well beyond contacts with the PLO office in Washington. We remain focused on a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians that will resolve core issues between the parties. This measure should in no way be seen as a signal that the U.S. is backing off those efforts. Nor should it be exploited by those who seek to act as spoilers to distract from the imperative of reaching a peace agreement,” they said.

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The same State Department official told Haaretz that the issue was mostly technical, stating that “under U.S. law, to waive statutory restrictions on the PLO and its Washington Office, the Secretary [of State Tillerson] must certify the PLO has complied with conditions imposed by Congress.

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“In December 2015, Congress introduced a new condition concerning certain Palestinian actions related to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The most recent certification period ended in November. We were unable to make a new certification, and have notified the PLO accordingly. The Secretary concluded that the factual record, in particular certain statements made by Palestinian leaders about the ICC, did not permit him to make the factual certification required by the statute.”

The official added, however, that “the same statute allows for a waiver of restrictions on the PLO in the U.S., including operation of its Washington office, if after 90 days the President determines the Palestinians have entered into direct, meaningful negotiations with Israel.  We are hopeful that this closure will be short-lived.”

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The PLO Delegation has been operating in Washington, D.C. since 1994. The Trump administration, like previous Democratic and Republican administrations, has been in constant touch with the delegation, which is headed by Ambassador Hosam Zomlot, a close adviser to Abbas.

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Zomlot recently published a video on his social media platforms about the importance of keeping the delegation active in Washington. The video included a joint picture of Zomlot and President Trump in the White .

read more: https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/1.823481

Pragmatic Sunni Front Against Iran Is Gone — U.S. disengagement policy leaves the Middle East To Russia and Iran

November 17, 2017

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Analysis

BY ZVI MAZEL
 NOVEMBER 17, 2017 11:24

The long-drawn civil war has brought nothing but suffering to the Syrian people.

FOREIGN MINISTERS Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Walid al-Muallem (L) of Syria and Mohammad Javad Zari

FOREIGN MINISTERS Sergei Lavrov (C) of Russia, Walid al-Muallem (L) of Syria and Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran attend a news conference in Moscow in April.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump have agreed that there is no military solution for the Syrian crisis.

America is adopting the disengagement policy of former president Barack Obama and abandoning the Middle East to Russia and to Iran.

This unlikely strategic coordination between the two great powers is the death knell of the revival of the grand anti-Iranian front of pragmatic Sunni states – Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt – which the American leader had so proudly announced during his visit to Riyadh last May. That front had never gotten off the ground, partly because of the break-up with Qatar and partly because of Egypt’s ambivalent attitude towards Iran now that Cairo has strengthened its ties with Moscow and is aligning its position on Syria with its new ally.

Saudi Arabia, understanding that no American intervention was forthcoming and finding itself very much alone, was instrumental in getting the Lebanese prime minister to resign, thus triggering a crisis in Lebanon as a wake-up call to get the media and world public opinion to recognize at last that Iranian terrorism is about to engulf Lebanon and is threatening not only the Gulf area but the whole Middle East.

The aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring had dashed hopes of greater democracy and ushered an outpouring of Sunni radical Islam, which brought down nation states such as Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen and is blocking a return to regional stability. In Syria, world powers and Arab states are playing a dangerous game.

The long-drawn civil war has brought nothing but suffering to the Syrian people.

The overall situation – humanitarian, social, political, and economic – is so dire that it will take years for the country to recover if this can ever happen. The Sunni majority will not readily accept to live again under an Alawi dictatorial regime; the Kurds will refuse to see the dismantlement of the de facto autonomy they have achieved by fighting Daesh in Northern Syria.

On the other hand, neither Assad nor Iran nor Russia want elections held under international supervision, which would hand over the country to the Sunni majority. This would lose no time in bringing to justice Assad and his allies for their war crimes and would speedily expel Iran, its Hezbollah proxies and the so-called popular Shia militias, which are in fact Iranian terrorist organizations.

Furthermore, the agreements allowing Russia to maintain a military presence in the Mediterranean could well be rescinded.

Taking these factors into account, there can be no overall settlement of the Syrian crisis, only limited interim agreements.

There are understandings regarding so-called de-escalation or safe zones where fighting would end and displaced civilians could return. They would be enforced by cooperation among Russia, Iran and Turkey, with the tacit agreement of the United States and the support of Egypt. Iran’s presence in Syria would thus be officially recognized.

Four zones have been agreed upon, but it has not stopped Assad’s army, assisted by Iran and Russia, from taking advantage of the weakness of rebel forces to encroach upon them. Their fate is unclear.

Iran is the undisputed winner of the situation. It is now solidly entrenched in the country and it’s hard to see who could dislodge it. It has significantly furthered its goal of advancing to the heart of the Middle East, with Russia and America looking on and doing nothing.

Its presence is making itself powerfully felt in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. It can move its loyal Shia militias through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon while providing the Houthi rebels in Yemen with sophisticated military equipment.

Saudi Arabia is increasingly uneasy at being surrounded from all sides, while Iran openly plots its downfall and that of its Emirates allies with the help of Shia minorities in the Gulf. Khomeini saw in the Saudi kingdom the main stumbling block to his aspirations to impose a Shia regime in the region, but was thwarted by the unified Sunni front then led by Egypt.

Khamenei, his successor, is still vigorously pursuing his objective with significant successes. By signing a nuclear deal behind the back of his most faithful allies, Obama effectively left the front in disarray while giving a free rein to Tehran.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, ostracized by the American president, turned to Russia and developed close military, political and economic links with Moscow, ultimately going along with its position regarding leaving Assad in place in Syria.

This led to a rift with Saudi Arabia, which is hurting the Egyptian economy.

Sisi hosted several meetings with Sunni rebels and urged them to participate in the summit in the Kazakhstan capital of Astana, where Russia, Turkey and Iran are drawing the future map of Syria.

Saudi Arabia had hoped in vain that Trump would revive the old Sunni front and even use force against Iran, as he had done in Afghanistan against Daesh and in Syria, when he ordered strikes against the Shayrat airfield used by the Syrian Army to launch chemical attacks on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Now America is going along with Russia and recognizes an Iranian presence in Syria, thus demonstrating once again that the lack of American resolve to be once again a significant factor in the region that could prevent a takeover by Iran and its allies.

It has also abandoned the Kurds, another faithful ally. Not only did it oppose the referendum for independence of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan established with its protection, it did not try to stop the Iraqi Army it had trained and equipped from attacking it with the help of Shia militias.

Thus, Iraq and the Kurds, two American allies it had equipped and trained who had fought together against Daesh, are now fighting each other, while Washington remains neutral and does not even try to conciliate them.

Riyadh knows only too well that it cannot confront Iran militarily, as its poor showing in Yemen has made clear. Yet it probably believes that, due to its strategic position in the heart of the Middle East and its prominent influence on fixing the price of oil in the world, it can bring the West to reevaluate its stand on Iran.

Didn’t the French president, on a tour of the Emirates, rush to see the crown prince to get a firsthand account of the resignation of Saad Hariri, which could have dangerous repercussions on the Middle East and even on Europe, heavily invested in the Gulf states? Then there is the risk of a new wave of refugees. The West, which has long refused to see the Hezbollah takeover of Lebanon and Iran’s intention to set up not only military outposts in the country but perhaps missile factories, can no longer ignore what is going on. There are reports of Shia militias already training in Hezbollah camps in the Beqaa Valley.

Israel is closely monitoring Iran’s activities in Syria and has repeatedly stated that it would not let a new terrorist front develop.

It has thwarted Hezbollah’s efforts at setting up a basis near the Golan Heights.

Following intense lobbying in Moscow and Washington, a memorandum has been signed by the two powers and Jordan to push back non-Syrian forces (Hezbollah, Iranians, Shia militias and Sunni rebels such a Fatah Elshams) 20 kilometers from southwest Syria, along the borders with Jordan and the Golan.

This is still too close for Israel’s safety.

Saudi Arabia and Israel, the two main targets of Iran, will go on fighting Iran’s aggression, each on its own way, hoping against hope that America will at last fulfill its obligations to its allies, before it is too late and a new cycle of violence begins.

The writer, a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.

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Tillerson, in Myanmar, calls for credible probe of atrocities

November 16, 2017

Reuters

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United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi during a joint press conference in Naypyidaw on Nov 15, 2017. Photo: AFP

NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Wednesday for a credible investigation into reports of human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims committed by Myanmar’s security forces after a meeting with its civilian and military leaders.

More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since late August, driven out by a military counter-insurgency clearance operation in Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

A top U.N. official has described the military’s actions as a textbook case of “ethnic cleansing”.

“We’re deeply concerned by credible reports of widespread atrocities committed by Myanmar’s security forces and by vigilantes who were unrestrained by the security forces during the recent violence in Rakhine State,” Tillerson told a joint news conference with Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of a civilian administration that is less than two years old and shares power with the military.

Tillerson had earlier held separate talks with Myanmar’s military chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, whose forces have been accused of atrocities.

A senior U.N. official on Sunday leveled allegations of mass rape, killings and torture against the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, after a tour of refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazar region of neighboring Bangladesh.

Tillerson called for the Myanmar government to lead a credible and impartial investigation and said those who committed abuses should be held responsible.

“The recent serious allegations of abuses in Rakhine state demand a credible and impartial investigation and those who commit human rights abuses or violations must be held accountable,” he said.

“In all my meetings, I have called on the Myanmar civilian government to lead a full and effective independent investigation and for the military to facilitate full access and cooperation.”

He also said it was the duty of the military to help the government to meet commitments to ensure the safety and security of all people in Rakhine state.

A posting on Min Aung Hlaing’s Facebook page said Myanmar’s military supremo had explained to Tillerson the “true situation in Rakhine”, the reasons why Muslims fled, how the military was working with the government to deliver aid and the progress made for a repatriation process to be agreed with Bangladesh.

The military launched its clearance operation after an army base and 30 police posts were attacked on Aug. 25 by Rohingya militants, killing about a dozen members of the security forces.

CONSEQUENCES

Tillerson condemned the militant attacks, but said any response by the security forces needed to avoid to the “maximum extent possible harming innocent civilians”.

Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attend a press conference at Naypyitaw, Myanmar November 15, 2015. REUTERS/Aye Win Myint

An internal investigation by the military into the allegations of atrocities that was released this week was branded a “whitewash” by human rights groups.

Back in Washington, U.S. senators are pressing for economic sanctions and travel restrictions targeting the Myanmar military and its business interests.

Tillerson said he would advise against any broad-based sanctions against Myanmar, as the United States wanted to see it succeed.

Image result for Min Aung Hlaing, photos

Min Aung Hlaing defends military campaign in Rakhine

But he said if there was credible and reliable information on abuses by individuals they could be targeted by sanctions.

 

Tillerson said the United States would work with partners so that those responsible for any atrocities would face consequences, “using all available mechanisms, including those available under U.S. law”.

Myanmar is undergoing a transition to democracy after decades of rule by the military, but the generals retain extensive powers over security and a veto over reform of a constitution that has barred Suu Kyi from the presidency.

“Myanmar’s response to this crisis is critical to determining the success of its transition to a more democratic society,” Tillerson said.

”It’s a responsibility of the government and its security forces to protect and respect the human rights of all persons within its borders and to hold accountable those who fail to do so.”

He said the United States would provide an additional $47 million in humanitarian assistance for refugees bringing the total to $87 million since the crisis erupted in August.

“The humanitarian scale of this crisis is staggering,” Tillerson said.

But he said he was encouraged by talks between Myanmar and Bangladesh to agree on a refugee repatriation process.

During the news conference, Suu Kyi was asked to explain why she had not spoken out more strongly over the plight of the Rohingya, as the Nobel peace prize winner’s perceived failure to speak up has damaged her international reputation as a stateswoman.

“What I say is not supposed to be exciting,” Suu Kyi said, adding that she had aimed to keep the public informed without setting different ethnic, religious communities against each other.

“It’s important to bring peace and stability to this country and that can only be done on the basis of rule of law and everybody should understand that the role of theirs is to protect peace and stability, not to punish people.”

Writing by Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel

See also:

https://www.todayonline.com/world/asia/tillerson-myanmar-calls-probe-atrocities-against-rohingya

and

It’s Time To Talk About Min Aung Hlaing

http://www.arakanmedia.com/opinions/its-time-to-talk-about-min-aung-hlaing.html

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Tillerson says Myanmar sanctions won’t solve Rohingya crisis at this time

November 15, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Richard SARGENT, Hla Hla Htay | More than 600,000 Rohingya refugees have streamed into Bangladesh in recent months
NAYPYIDAW (MYANMAR) (AFP) – Washington’s top diplomat on Wednesday said he would not yet push for sanctions against Myanmar over the Rohingya refugee crisis, but he called for a independent investigation into “credible” allegations that soldiers were committing atrocities against the Muslim minority.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was speaking after a one-day stop in Naypyidaw, as global outrage builds over impunity for a military accused of waging an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya.

His comments came as de facto civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi hit back at accusations that she has been silent over the refugee crisis, saying she has focused instead on speech that avoids inflaming sectarian tensions.

More than 600,000 Rohingya have fled the mainly Buddhist country since the military launched a counterinsurgency operation in northern Rakhine state in late August.

While Myanmar’s military insists it has only targeted Rohingya rebels, refugees massing in grim Bangladeshi camps have described chilling and consistent accounts of widespread murder, rape and arson at the hands of security forces and Buddhist mobs.

Speaking after meetings with the army chief and Suu Kyi, Tillerson said that broad economic sanctions is “not something that I’d think would be advisable at this time”.

“We want to see Myanmar succeed,” he told reporters at a joint press briefing alongside Suu Kyi. “You can’t just impose sanctions and say therefore the crisis is over.”

But he said Washington was “deeply concerned by credible reports of widespread atrocities committed by Myanmar’s security forces and vigilantes” and urged Myanmar to accept an independent investigation into those allegations.

“The scenes of what occurred out there are just horrific,” he added.

Suu Kyi’s administration has dismissed reports of atrocities and has refused to grant entry to UN investigators charged with probing those allegations.

– Powerless or complicit? –

But Washington has been careful to draw a distinction between Suu Kyi’s fledgling civilian administration and the military, who controls all security policy.

While she lacks power over the army, Suu Kyi has become a punching bag for rights groups disappointed by her failure to publicly criticise the military or defend Rohingya against rising Islamaphobia.

Suu Kyi, who rarely holds press conferences, addressed those criticisms on Wednesday.

“I have not been silent… what people mean is what I say is not interesting enough,” she told reporters.

“What I say is not meant to be exciting, it’s meant to be accurate… not set people against each other.”

The US was a major ally in the democratic transition that eventually led to Suu Kyi taking office in 2016 in a power-sharing arrangement with the army, ending five decades of brutal junta rule.

Under a junta-drafted constitution the military still controls key security ministries, including border and defence, and retains a de facto veto on any constitutional change.

Suu Kyi’s defenders say she must tread lightly to avoid provoking an army that could roll back democratic gains at any time.

As anger over the plight of Rohingya mounts abroad, Myanmar’s army has dug-in with its denial of abuses — while also curbing access to the conflict zone.

Ahead of Tillerson’s arrival the commander-in-chief published an internal probe that exonerated soldiers of all allegations, saying there was no evidence troops had killed civilians, raped women or used “excessive force” in Rakhine.

Rights groups blasted the report as an attempt to “whitewash” atrocities by a military with a long history of abuses, especially against ethnic minorities in border regions.

by Richard SARGENT, Hla Hla Htay