Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Assad’s March East Compounds West’s Syria Dilemma

August 17, 2017

BEIRUT/AMMAN — Syria’s war has entered a new phase as President Bashar al-Assad extends his grip in areas being captured from Islamic State, using firepower freed by Russian-backed truces in western Syria.

Backed by Russia and Iran, the government hopes to steal a march on U.S.-backed militias in the attack on Islamic State’s last major Syrian stronghold, the Deir al-Zor region that extends to the Iraqi border. Damascus hailed the capture of the town of al-Sukhna on Saturday as a big step in that direction.

The eastward march to Deir al-Zor, unthinkable two years ago when Assad seemed in danger, has underlined his ever more confident position and the dilemma facing Western governments that still want him to leave power in a negotiated transition.

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The war for western Syria, long Assad’s priority, has shifted down several gears thanks to the ceasefires, including one organised by Moscow and Washington in the southwest.

But there is no sign of these truces leading to a revival of peace talks aimed at putting Syria back together through a negotiated deal that would satisfy Assad’s opponents and help resolve a refugee crisis of historic proportions.

Instead, Assad’s face has been printed on Syrian banknotes for the first time, and his quest for outright victory suggests he may retrain his guns on rebel pockets in the west once his goals in the east are accomplished. Attacks on the last rebel stronghold near Damascus have escalated this month.

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U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to end CIA support to rebels further weakened the insurgency in western Syria, while also depriving Western policymakers of one of their few levers of pressure.

They can only watch as Iranian influence increases through a multitude of Shi’ite militias, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, that have been crucial to Assad’s gains and seem likely to remain in Syria for the foreseeable future, sealing Tehran’s ascendancy.

Assad’s opponents now hope his Russian allies will conclude he must be removed from power as the burden of stabilizing the country weighs and the West withholds reconstruction support.

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With hundreds of thousands of people killed and militias controlling swathes of the country, Assad’s opponents say Syria can never be stable again with him in power.

“There is little doubt that the Russians would like a political solution to the war. The war is costly for them, and the longer it lasts, the less it will appear to be a success for Putin,” said Rolf Holmboe, Research Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and former Danish Ambassador to Syria.

“But the Russians want a solution on their terms, which is one where Assad stays in power,” he said.

“The ceasefires do two things. They allow the Russians to take control of the political negotiations and look good internationally. But more importantly, they allow Assad and the Iranian-backed militias to free troops to grab the territory that Islamic State is about to lose.”

THE WAR FOR DEIR AL-ZOR

The eastwards advance has on occasion brought government forces and their Iranian-backed allies into conflict with the U.S. military and the forces it is backing in a separate campaign against Islamic State.

But the rival campaigns have mostly stayed out of each other’s way. Government forces have skirted the area where Kurdish-led militias supported by Washington are fighting Islamic State in Raqqa. The U.S.-led coalition has stressed it is not seeking war with Assad.

Bisected by the Euphrates River, Deir al-Zor and its oil resources are critical to the Syrian state. The province is entirely in the hands of IS except for a government stronghold in Deir al-Zor city and a nearby air base. It is also in the crosshairs of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

SDF spokesman Talal Silo told Reuters on Wednesday there would be an SDF campaign towards Deir al-Zor “in the near future”, though the SDF was still deciding whether it would be delayed until Raqqa was fully captured from Islamic State.

But questions remain over whether the government and its allies, or the U.S.-backed militias, have the required manpower. IS has rebased many of its fighters and leaders in Deir al-Zor. The Syrian army is drawing on the support of local tribal militias in its advances, local tribal figures say.

A Western-backed Syrian rebel with detailed knowledge of the area said Deir al-Zor would be a tough prospect. “Deir al-Zor tribes are more intertwined with those of Iraq,” the rebel said, describing them as religious hardliners.

Andrew Tabler, a Syria specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think-tank, said Assad hoped to regain international legitimacy through the campaign against IS.

“They believe that by doing so they can get reconstruction money, and they believe that things are going to go back to the way they were before. That’s just not going to happen,” he said.

There has been no sign that Western states are ready to rehabilitate Assad, accused by Washington of repeatedly using chemical weapons during the war, most recently in April. Syria denies using chemical weapons.

RULING “ATOP RUINS”

The April attack triggered a U.S. missile strike against a Syrian airbase. But the U.S. response was calibrated to avoid confrontation with Moscow, and has not resulted in further such action.

Trump’s decision to shut down the CIA programme of support meanwhile played to Assad’s advantage and came as a blow to the opposition. Rebel sources say the programme will be phased out towards the end of the year.

Damascus has been pressing ahead with its strategy for pacifying western Syria, pursuing local agreements with rebellious areas that have resulted in thousands of rebel fighters being sent to insurgent areas of the north.

But significant areas of western Syria remain in rebel hands, notably Idlib province in the northwest, a corner of the southwest, an area north of Homs, and the Eastern Ghouta of Damascus.

In the southwestern province of Deraa, one of the areas in the U.S.-Russian truce, the government is seeking investment in reconstruction, the provincial governor told al-Watan newspaper, saying the “shelling phase” was over.

Shunned by the West, the government hopes China will be a major player in the reconstruction. Seeking to project an image of recovery, Damascus this week will host a trade fair.

“The regime is quite keen to imply by signals that it doesn’t care, that ‘we are fine, we are really utterly prepared just to sit atop ruins, and to speak to friends who will help us with our project’,” said a Western diplomat.

Mohanad Hage Ali, director of communications at the Carnegie Middle East Center, said the Assads have been “masters of the waiting game”. Time is on their side, he said. “But they have two challenges: political normalisation with the world, and the economic challenge, which is significant.”

(Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Giles Elgood)

Military leaders from Iran, Turkey meet to discuss Syria, Kurds, and counter-terrorism

August 16, 2017

ANKARA — Turkish and Iranian military leaders held talks on Wednesday over cooperation in the Syrian conflict and counter-terrorism, officials said, during a rare visit to NATO-member Turkey by the Islamic Republic’s military chief of staff.

Turkey’s ties with Washington have been strained by U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, and the visit by Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri is the latest sign that Ankara is increasing cooperation with other powers such as Iran and Russia.

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Iranian Chief of Staff Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri (R) in Ankara to hold talks with a number of high-ranking Turkish officials on cooperation in settling the crises in Syria and Iraq and other issues

Baqeri met his Turkish counterpart on Tuesday and Turkey’s Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli on Wednesday in what Turkish media said was the first visit by an Iranian chief of staff since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

He was due to meet President Tayyip Erdogan later on Wednesday.

Turkey and Iran have supported rival sides in Syria’s six-year-old conflict, with Iran-backed fighters helping President Bashar al-Assad to drive back rebels battling to overthrow him, including some supported by Ankara.

Turkey is concerned that the Syrian chaos has empowered Kurdish forces who it says are closely tied to the long-running insurgency in its southeastern regions, as well as Islamic State fighters who have waged attacks inside Turkey, and is working with Iran and Russia to reduce the fighting in some areas.

An Iranian source said Baqeri was accompanied by the head of the ground forces of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, Iran’s most powerful security entity.

“There have been no such visits between the two countries for a long time, but considering regional developments and security issues – border security and the fight against terrorism – there was a need for such a visit,” Baqeri told Iranian state television on arrival on Tuesday.

The Iranian source said that, in addition to the war in Syria, the two sides would discuss the conflict in Iraq as well as dealing with Kurdish militants in the Turkish-Iranian border region, where Turkish media say Turkey has started building a frontier wall.

RUSSIAN MILITARY CHIEF

Turkey, Iran and Russia agreed in May to set up “de-escalation zones” in Syria to try to stem the fighting in some parts of the country, including the northern province of Idlib, which borders Turkey and has since been overrun by jihadists linked to a former al Qaeda affiliate.

That has thrown into question any suggestion that the three countries could deploy a force to police the Idlib region.

“The negotiations regarding the Idlib issue are still ongoing,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Turkish broadcaster TRT Haber on Wednesday.

“After the Iranian chief of staff, the Russian chief of staff will also come to Turkey,” he added.

Turkey has said for months that it is close to buying an S-400 missile defense system from Russia, and Erdogan said in July that the deal had already been signed.

Cavusoglu said Russia understood Turkey’s sensitivities about arming Kurdish fighters better than the United States, although he said U.S. officials had informed Turkey that the most recent shipments to the YPG did not include guns.

“The United States gives us reports about how many weapons they have given to the YPG every month,” he said. The latest “said they gave armored vehicles and a bulldozer, but no guns.”

Turkey’s stepped-up military talks with Iran and Russia coincide with a major oil and gas deal involving firms from the three countries.

The Turkish firm Unit International said this week it has signed a $7 billion agreement with Russia’s state-owned Zarubezhneft and Iran’s Ghadir Investment Holding to drill for oil and natural gas in Iran.

Turkey is also discussing transporting more goods through Iran to the Gulf state of Qatar, which is locked in a dispute with its neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

(Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz and Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Editing by Dominic Evans and Alister Doyle)

Where did North Korea get its missile technology?

August 16, 2017

A new media report claims North Korea was able to develop its missile system after buying rocket engines on the black market in Ukraine. Kyiv denies the link. In this international mystery, the clues lead to Russia.

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko visits a rocket plant (picture alliance/dpa/epa/M. Markiv)

Anyone who asks Vitaly Zushtchevski about the allegations being made against his former employer is quickly interrupted. “It is a lie,” said the ex-deputy production manager for engines at Yuzhmash, the former Soviet rocket manufacturer based in the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro. According to a New York Times report published on Monday, North Korea’s surprising progress in missile technology may be linked to Yuzhmash.

The engineering plant is in financial difficulty, and this may be the reason why criminals and former employees reportedly smuggled old Soviet engines, or parts of them, into North Korea. The Times referred to a study conducted by Michael Elleman from the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London and assessments by US intelligence agencies. The newspaper did not provide evidence, only clues.

Read – German weapons makers profiting from Korea tensions

Aiding a technological leap

Elleman has analyzed North Korean medium-range and intercontinental ballistic missiles of the Hwasong 12 and 14 types, whose extended range holds the potential to hit the United States. He concluded that the surprisingly fast development in the last two years has only been possible with the help of foreign suppliers, meaning countries from the former Soviet Union. Even the German missile expert Robert Schmucker from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) agreed with Elleman’s analysis, although he avoided any explicit accusations.

Experts believe that the one-chamber engine used in the latest Hwasong missiles is reminiscent of the Soviet RD-250 rocket engine, which had two chambers and was developed in the 1960s.

It is difficult to prove whether the RD-250 was also manufactured by Yuzhmash. Vitaly Zushtchevski said that they received these engines from Russia, where they were “produced in low quantities.” Elleman suggested that they were also made in Ukraine. In his IISS study, he wrote that “hundreds, if not more” RD-250 engines have remained in Russia, as well as in Ukraine, adding it is also possible that Moscow is Pyongyang’s supplier.

North Korean rocket (picture alliance/AP Photo)Does North Korea’s Hwasong-14 missile contain old Soviet technology?

“We have never produced the types of engines that are shown in the New York Times article,” said Zushtchevski, who worked at Yuzhmash for almost five decades. The retired engineer confirmed that since the end of the company’s cooperation with Moscow, triggered by the annexation of Crimea, the rocket plant in Dnipro has been “virtually dead.” Smuggling technology into North Korea is unfathomable to him. Kyiv and Yuzhmash officials both denied the Times report. Elleman suspects the government in Kyiv knew nothing about the smuggling.

Read – North Korea: Who would have to go to war with Trump?

Shadow of the past

It is the first time that Yuzhmash, the former manufacturer of the giant Soviet SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missile, has been suspected of violating UN sanctions or any other international treaties. However, Pyongyang has shown its interest in Ukrainian expertise in the past. In 2012, two North Koreans were tried in Ukraine for spying on Yuzhmash.

In 2002, there were press reports claiming that Ukraine wanted to supply Iraq with modern radar systems. Kyiv denied the reports and no radar systems were found in Iraq. But there were cases of verified smuggling. In 2005, the then-prosecutor general of Ukraine admitted in a newspaper interview that a group of Ukrainians and Russians illegally sold 18 cruise missiles to China and Iran in 2001.

Kim Jong-un watches a rocket test (Reuters/KCNA)North Korean rocket technology has made significant strides in recent years

Oleg Uruski, former head of the State Space Agency of Ukraine, finds it improbable that the same could have happened in this case, saying that the state has a multistage monitoring system. However, Uruski did not rule out that the clues point to wrongdoing. “A crime is possible in every sphere,” he said.

Pointing the finger at Moscow

Observers in Kyiv believe that the Times article may be part of a targeted campaign by Russia. In an analysis published on Tuesday, the Center for Army, Conversion and Disarmament Studies (CACDS) in Kyiv wrote that the US publication shows “signs of an information attack on Ukraine.” Among other things, the aim of the article is apparently to divert attention from “their own missile technology shipments to North Korea” and to discredit Ukraine, especially in the eyes of the US.

“Russia shares a border with North Korea, so one can deliver anything, even entire engines,” said Mykhailo Samus, the CACDS deputy director for international affairs. Ukraine, on the other hand, would have logistical problems, he said.

TUM’s Robert Schmucker said that the latest story is about more than just the engines. “What about the missiles? The information itself is of no use; you need production facilities, technical equipment and above all, good quality control,” he said. “A lot more must have come from Ukraine than just a few engines.”

http://www.dw.com/en/where-did-north-korea-get-its-missile-technology/a-40107204

What Russia can teach the US about what to do with Confederate statues after Charlottesville

August 16, 2017

In Moscow there is Soviet detritus all over the place. Hammers and sickles are chiselled into buildings, bridges and other infrastructure. In the US, as in Russia, there is the question of whether – and how – to purge the past

By James Glaser

Independent Voices

Could Russia teach us something about how to deal with difficult aspects of US national history?

Many places in the US south – from New Orleans to Louisville – are in the process of bringing down statues that glorify the Confederacy. That process raises questions about what to do with these remnants of the past. Do we just toss them into the ash bin of history, purging them as if they never existed?

As a student of southern politics who recently travelled to Moscow, I wondered if we can look to the Russians and how they have treated their Soviet past. The situations are not perfectly analogous. Many Russian people lived through the Soviet experience. Not so for the Confederacy. That said, in both cases, there is the question of whether – and how – to purge the past.

From propaganda to kitsch

In Moscow, and in the former Soviet Union in general, there is Soviet detritus all over the place. Hammers and sickles are chiselled into buildings, bridges and other infrastructure. Sculptures of happy, heroic soldiers, workers and farmers sit on the platforms in the Moscow metro. Seven massive “Stalin buildings” dot the city.

The Russians have done more than just tolerate these leftovers. All the propaganda that the Soviets used to produce and disseminate – and there was a lot of it – is now kitsch. Kiosks sell Soviet T-shirts next to matryoshka dolls and amber jewellery as genuine Russian souvenirs. As one Russian gentleman said to me, “It’s our past and we embrace it. We lived it. We can’t just wish it away.”

It would not be very practical to knock down the buildings Stalin helped to build or hammer out all those hammers and sickles.

Statues, however, have no practical purpose and can be taken care of rather easily. Moscow has removed many of them from public spaces. It was one of the first impulses the Russian people had after the fall of the Soviet Union.

What is instructive is what the Muscovites have done with their statues, collecting them in a sculpture garden and giving them historical context.

A grove of Lenin statues

The statues and monuments now reside together in a section of Museon arts park, a lovely green space next to Gorky Park. Museon is also known as the “fallen monument park”, though “felled monuments” would be the more appropriate name. The park contains more than just felled Soviets. There are hundreds of other pieces sprinkled through the park. But walking through the grove of Lenin statues, sitting in the shade of a monumental Soviet coat of arms, or posing next to a large bust of Leonid Brezhnev or Mikhail Kalinin is the thrill for people like me.

Each statue or set of statues is accompanied by a panel that informs the viewer about the work, its composition and the history of its display. Notably, there is little about the leader being portrayed in the text. Each description ends with, “By the decree of the Moscow City Council of people representatives of Oct 24, 1991, the monument was dismantled and placed in the Museon arts park exposition. The work is historically and culturally significant, being the memorial construction of the soviet era, on the themes of politics and ideology.” The point, of course, is that the Moscow city council is careful to state that the display is not intended to glorify the past, but to document it.

What is even more powerful is how the statues are displayed. In some ways, the arrangements are reminiscent of a cemetery. White, granite “tombstones” line a path, an appropriate metaphor for the Soviet regime.

It is the large statue of Josef Stalin, however, that is most striking. Stalin has lost his nose and is in sad shape. Behind him is a monument to the “victims to the totalitarian regime.” The monument is a wall comprising stone heads cocked at different angles. The heads are held in place by a grid of bars and barbed wire that evoke a prison camp. Hundreds of these victims stare at Stalin. Indeed, because of their placement, one cannot look at him without looking at them.

Moreover, in front of Stalin is a contemporary statue of Russian physicist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov, one of the most notable dissidents of the Soviet era. The statue of Sakharov is seated, arms behind his back, legs and feet locked together, and head upturned to the sky. Is he staring at the stars, not an unreasonable thing for a scientist or a disarmament activist to do, or can he just not bear to look at Stalin directly in front of him? And what about those arms stretched behind his back, one of them twisted and unnatural, fist in a ball? Is Sakharov being detained, or tortured? That interpretation is suggested by the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the KGB, who faces Sakharov about 50 yards away. It is quite delicious to see a dog passing by and marking “Iron Felix.” Perhaps Sakharov is just having a good laugh.

Why do these scenes, these dead Soviet statues, work so well? I would assert that by locating them together, they can be put into “historical and cultural” context, as the markers suggest. Moreover, through strategic curation, these statues have been put into dialogue with each other and with the contemporary sculptures around them and been given new meaning. The statues in their old lives were meant to honour and glorify the Soviet leaders and their regime. In their new life, they have been turned into art. As pieces of art, their meaning can be changed or supplemented by how the viewer interprets them.

This suggests there would be real value to bringing felled Confederate statues together in one place. Putting them into historical context, they can give commentary on the Confederacy, the Civil War, slavery, Jim Crow, massive resistance and even present-day politics. And locating these statues with other monuments offers all kinds of opportunity to tell the whole story of the south.

James Glaser is a professor and dean of the school of arts and sciences at Tufts University. This piece was originally published on The Conversation.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/charlottesville-protest-confederate-statue-taken-down-what-to-do-a7892856.html

Sweden to raise military budget by SEK 6 billion through 2020: Swedish Radio

August 16, 2017

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Sweden’s center-left minority government said on Wednesday it had agreed with two opposition parties to boost military spending in the 2018 budget as the country faces increased tension with Russia in the Baltics.

Sweden’s armed forces will get around 2 billion crowns ($250 million) extra in the 2018 budget and around 6 billion crowns during the 2018-2020 period in the deal between the Social Democrat and Green party coalition and the opposition Moderate and Centre parties, Swedish Radio reported.

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Sweden’s military has said it needs the money to rebuild its strength after years of under investment and greater demands on its operational capabilities.

The armed forces called for 9 billion crowns in extra spending during 2017-2020 period.

Minister of Defence Peter Hultqvist will hold a press conference later on Wednesday.

The budget for 2018 – an election year – will be presented on Sept. 20.

Sweden has reintroduced conscription and restored troops to the strategically key Baltic island of Gotland as it looks to bolster its defenses.

It has also been drawing closer to NATO, although the government has ruled out becoming a member of the alliance.

Reporting by Johan Sennero; Editing by Simon Johnson and Toby Chopra

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China says N.Korea crisis faces ‘turning point’ — Time for a “less bellicose tone”

August 15, 2017

AFP

© KCNA VIA KNS/AFP/File | China, which is Pyongyang’s main diplomatic ally, has repeatedly called on the United States and North Korea to tone down their bellicose rhetoric in recent day

BEIJING (AFP) – China said Tuesday that the North Korean nuclear crisis had reached a “turning point” and it was time to enter peace talks.

The comments by foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying came as the verbal sparring between the United States and North Korea took a less bellicose tone on Tuesday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un said he would hold off on a threatened missile strike near Guam, though he warned the highly provocative move would go ahead in the event of further “reckless actions” by Washington.

Top US officials, meanwhile, said Washington was not interested in regime change in Pyongyang, and South Korean President Moon Jae-In warned that there could be no war without his country’s consent.

“It’s the turning point to make a resolute decision and return to peace talks,” Hua said when asked about Moon’s comments at a regular news briefing.

China, which is Pyongyang’s main diplomatic ally, has repeatedly called on the United States and North Korea to tone down their bellicose rhetoric in recent days.

“We now hope that all the concerned parties, in what they say and what they do, can contribute to extinguishing the fire (of the tense situation), rather than adding fuel to the fire,” Hua said.

Beijing has also pressed for a return of six-nation talks that have been dormant since 2009.

Hua applauded the “positive” article written by US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the The Wall Street Journal in which they say that America has “no interest” in regime change in Pyongyang.

“We hope the US can translate this positive statement into concrete DPRK-related policies,” Hua said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name. “At the same time, we call on the DPRK to respond” to the positive statement.

China says U.S., North Korea should ‘put brakes’ on irritating each other

August 15, 2017

Reuters

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Russian counterpart in a telephone call on Tuesday that it is urgent that the United States and North Korea “put the brakes” on mutually irritating words and actions, the ministry said.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie

Rouhani Says Iran Could Quit Nuclear Deal in ‘Hours’ if New U.S. Sanctions Imposed — Iran votes to boost military defence spending

August 15, 2017

DUBAI — Iran could abandon its nuclear agreement with world powers “within hours” if the United States imposes any more new sanctions, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday.

“If America wants to go back to the experience (of imposing sanctions), Iran would certainly return in a short time — not a week or a month but within hours — to conditions more advanced than before the start of negotiations,” Rouhani told a session of parliament broadcast live on state television.

Iran says new sanctions that the United States has imposed on it breach the agreement it reached in 2015 with the United States, Russia, China and three European powers in which it agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for the lifting of most sanctions.

The U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on six Iranian firms in late July for their role in the development of a ballistic missile program after Tehran launched a rocket capable of putting a satellite into orbit.

In early August, U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law new sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea passed by the U.S. Congress. The sanctions in that bill also target Iran’s missile programs as well as human rights abuses.

The United States imposed unilateral sanctions after saying Iran’s ballistic missile tests violated a U.N. resolution, which endorsed the nuclear deal and called upon Tehran not to undertake activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such technology.

It stopped short of explicitly barring such activity.

Iran denies its missile development breaches the resolution, saying its missiles are not designed to carry nuclear weapons.

“The world has clearly seen that under Trump, America has ignored international agreements and, in addition to undermining the (nuclear deal), has broken its word on the Paris agreement and the Cuba accord…and that the United States is not a good partner or a reliable negotiator,” Rouhani said.

Trump said last week he did not believe that Iran was living up to the spirit of the nuclear deal.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Angus MacSwan)

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BBC News

Iran votes to boost military defence by $500m

Sayyad-3 missiles on display at an undisclosed location in Iran, 22 July 2017
Iran said the funding for its missile defence was “not in violation” of a 2015 nuclear deal. Getty Images

Iran’s parliament has voted in favour of boosting investment in its missile defence and foreign operations programmes by more than $500m (£386m).

The bill, which received overwhelming approval, is in response to the latest round of US sanctions against Tehran.

The US imposed sanctions after a ballistic missile test in January.

Tehran says this violates the 2015 nuclear deal, which US President Donald Trump has called “the worst ever” and threatened to tear up.

The Iranian legislation must pass a second vote before submission for final approval.

Iranian MPs shouted “death to America” after Speaker Ali Larijani announced the result of the vote.

Of the members present, 240 parliamentarians out of 244 voted in favour of passing the bill.

It proposes that the government allocates an additional $260m for the “development of the missile programme” and the same amount to Iran’s Quds Force, a branch of the country’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, the official state news agency Irna said.

Mr Larijani said the move was meant to counter Washington’s “terrorist and adventurist activities” in the Middle East, AFP news agency reports.

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Abbas Araqchi

The 27-point bill will also impose sanctions on US military and intelligence officials in the region.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, said the new bill was not in violation of the 2015 agreement limiting the country’s nuclear programme.

The nuclear deal, between Iran and six world powers including China, Russia and the UK, is largely seen as the best way to prevent Iran getting a nuclear weapon.

The agreement saw crippling economic sanctions on Iran lifted in return for the country restricting its sensitive nuclear activities.

Mr Trump has recently backed away from his key campaign promise to withdraw from the nuclear agreement.

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned Mr Trump that he risks political suicide if he scrapped the nuclear deal with Tehran.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-40916827

China Appoints New Envoy for North Korea Issue

August 14, 2017

BEIJING — China has appointed a new special envoy for the North Korean issue, Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou, its foreign ministry said on Monday, after his predecessor, Wu Dawei, reached retirement age.

Kong, 58, is an ethnic Korean from the northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang, who has overall responsibility for Asian affairs at the foreign ministry, according to his resume.

He has held senior positions at the Chinese embassy in Japan and from 2011 to 2014 he was China’s ambassador to Vietnam, two countries with which China has often troubled relations.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that Kong had taken over from Wu, but that there was no connection between the appointment and the current situation on the Korean peninsula, where tensions have been rising in recent days.

There would be no change in China’s policy towards the Korean peninsula because of the new appointment, she added.

A Beijing-based foreign diplomat who is familiar with the matter said that Wu, who turns 71 in December, had reached retirement age.

Asked whether Kong had any immediate plans to visit Pyongyang, spokeswoman Hua said she had no information about that.

Tension on the Korean peninsula eased slightly on Monday as South Korea’s president said resolving the North’s nuclear ambitions must be done peacefully and key U.S. officials played down the risk of an imminent war with North Korea.

Concern that North Korea is close to achieving its goal of putting the mainland United States within range of a nuclear weapon has underpinned a spike in tension in recent months.

China is North Korea’s closest ally, but it has been infuriated by its repeated missile and nuclear tests and has signed up for increasingly tough U.N. sanctions on the isolated nation.

However, China says sanctions are not the final way to resolve the issue, and has repeatedly called for a return to diplomacy and the restart of a six-party talks process with North Korea, which includes China, the two Koreas, the United States, Russia and Japan, and which collapsed in 2008.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Netanyahu: Time for Kurds to have their own state

August 14, 2017

Israeli PM endorses Kurdish independence, telling Republican lawmakers Kurds ‘share our values’.

By Tzvi Lev, 14/08/17 11:02
Netanyahu

Netanyahu

Alex Kolomoisky/POOL

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu offered rare support for Kurdish independence, telling a visiting delegation of 33 Republican Congressmen last week that he was in favor of an independent state for the “brave, pro-Western people who share our values,” The Jerusalem Post reported.

Netanyahu has traditionally shied away from expressing sentiments in favor of the Kurds as to avoid offending Turkey, who has a large, restive Kurdish minority.

The previous time Netanyahu publically supported the Kurds was in 2014, when he said that “It is upon us to support the Kurds’ aspiration for independence,” and calling them a “fighting people that have proven political commitment and political moderation, and they’re also worthy of their own political independence.”

The Kurds are one of the world’s largest stateless ethnic minorities, and live in Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey.

An independence referendum for Iraqi Kurdistan will take place in September 2017. Former Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar, who many see as Netanyahu’s potential heir, has urged Israel to support Kurdish independence, saying in June that “they have proven themselves over decades to be a reliable strategic partner for us.”

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/233887