Posts Tagged ‘Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’

China scores diplomatic coup in sea row — China pushes for new six-party talks on N. Korea — “It’s a slam dunk diplomatic victory for China”

August 6, 2017



China on Sunday scored a diplomatic coup in its campaign to weaken regional resistance against its sweeping claims to the South China Sea when Southeast Asian nations issued a diluted statement on the dispute and agreed to Beijing’s terms on talks.

After two days of tense meetings on the dispute in the Philippine capital, foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued a joint communique that diplomats involved said was carefully worded to avoid angering China.

The release of the statement came shortly after the ministers met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and agreed on a framework for conducting negotiations on the decades-long row that included key clauses advocated by China.

“This is an important outcome of our joint effort,” Wang told reporters as he celebrated the agreement.

China claims nearly all of the strategically vital sea, through which $5 trillion in annual shipping trade passes and is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits.

Its sweeping claims overlap with those of ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan.

China has dramatically expanded its presence in the contested areas in recent years by building giant artificial islands that could be used as military bases, raising concerns it will eventually establish de facto control over the waters.

In what two diplomats involved said was another victory for Beijing on Sunday, ASEAN members declined to say in their joint statement that the hoped-for code of conduct with China be “legally binding”.

Vietnam, the most determined critic of China on the issue, had insisted during two days of negotiations that ASEAN insist the code be legally binding, arguing otherwise it would be meaningless.

The ASEAN ministers failed to release the joint statement as expected after meeting on Saturday because of their differences on the sea issue, with Vietnam pushing for tougher language and Cambodia lobbying hard for China.

“Vietnam is adamant, and China is effectively using Cambodia to champion its interests,” one diplomat told AFP on Sunday as negotiations extended into overtime.

– Consensus struggle –

Tensions over the sea have long vexed ASEAN, which operates on a consensus basis but has had to balance the interests of rival claimants and those more aligned to China.

Critics of China have accused it of trying to divide ASEAN with strong-armed tactics and chequebook diplomacy, enticing smaller countries in the bloc such as Cambodia and Laos to support it.

The Philippines, under previous president Benigno Aquino, had been one of the most vocal critics of China and filed a case before a UN-backed tribunal.

The tribunal last year ruled China’s sweeping claims to the sea had no legal basis.

But China, despite being a signatory to the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea, ignored the ruling.

The Philippines, under new President Rodrigo Duterte, decided to play down the verdict in favour of pursuing warmer ties with Beijing. This in turn led to offers of billions of dollars in investments or aid from China.

“It’s clear that China’s pressure on individual ASEAN governments has paid off,” Bill Hayton, a South China Sea expert and associate fellow with the Asia Programme at Chatham House in London, told AFP.

Hayton and other analysts said the agreement on a framework for talks on Sunday came 15 years after a similar document was signed committing the parties to begin negotiations

The 2002 document was more strongly worded against China.

China used those 15 years to cement its claims, while continuing to get ASEAN to issue ever-weaker statements of opposition, according to the analysts.

“It would appear China has never lost in terms of seeing the language of ASEAN forum statements being toned down,” Ei Sun Oh, adjunct senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told AFP.

Philippine academic and security analyst Richard Heydarian expressed stronger sentiments as he summarised Monday’s developments: “Overall it’s a slam dunk diplomatic victory for China”.

by Ayee Macaraig, Martin Abbugao

China pushes for new six-party talks as N. Korea


© Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, AFP | UN Security Council members vote on a resolution toughening sanctions on North Korea at UN headquarters in New York on August 5.

Video by Elizabeth WALSH

Text by Khatya CHHOR 

Latest update : 2017-08-06

A day after the UN imposed strict new sanctions on North Korea, China’s foreign minister called Sunday for the resumption of six-party talks to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear programme and warned that the crisis was entering a “critical” new phase.

In a 15-0 vote on Saturday, the UN Security Council imposed tough new sanctions on North Korea that could slash its exports by as much as $1 billion a year – a third of its export revenue – in response to two intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests Pyongyang carried out last month. The July tests heightened fears that North Korean missiles were now capable of hitting the continental United States.

“After the UN resolution is passed, the situation on the peninsula will enter a very critical phase,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang, quoted by China’s CGTN state broadcaster. “We urge all parties to judge and act with responsibility in order to prevent the tensions from escalating.”

The UN resolution imposes a total ban on exports of coal, iron, lead, iron and lead ore as well as seafood. It also prohibits new investment in, or the establishment of, joint ventures with North Korean companies. Nine North Korean officials and four entities were added to the UN’s blacklist while foreign permits for North Korean workers have been suspended.

Wang warned Pyongyang that it should make “smart” decisions going forward, while counselling Washington and Seoul not to respond with “provocative” actions.

Speaking to reporters after talks with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Hong-Yo on the sidelines of an ASEAN summit in Manila, Wang said he had urged Pyongyang to stop testing “the international community’s goodwill” with its ICBM launches and nuclear tests.

Wang noted that the new UN resolution also calls for a return to negotiations, saying diplomatic measures were needed to prevent the stand-off from escalating further.

Earlier on Sunday, Wang said that all sides should work toward restarting long-stalled six-party nuclear talks between China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States.

“The aim is to bring the peninsula nuclear issue back to the negotiating table and seek a solution through negotiations until the denuclearisation of the peninsula and the stability of the peninsula are achieved,” he said.

North Korea pulled out of the six-party talks in 2009 after the UN Security Council condemned it for launching a long-range rocket.

A deputy spokeman for the Japanese foreign ministry on Sunday welcomed the UN sanctions but added that more “effective pressure” was needed in dealing with Pyongyang and that it was not yet time to restart talks.

“Now is not the time for dialogue but the time to increase effective pressure on North Korea so that they will take concrete actions towards de-nuclearisation,” Toshihide Ando told a press conference in Manila.

US pressure on Beijing

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly urged China to take a more aggressive role in reining in Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. As North Korea’s largest trading partner, China is uniquely positioned to apply economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

“This is the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley said after the Security Council vote.

The US led resolution passed by the SC on N. Korea will be a loss of 1/3 of their exports = over $1 billion in hard currency 

But she warned that the international community “should not fool ourselves into thinking we have solved the problem – not even close”.

“The threat of an outlaw nuclearised North Korean dictatorship remains … [and] is rapidly growing more dangerous,” Haley said.

China urges US concessions

In an interview with the MSNBC news channel on Saturday, US National Security Adviser HR McMaster was asked if the United States was gearing up for a pre-emptive “first strike” against North Korea.

Trump “has been very clear” that “he will not tolerate” Pyongyang being able to threaten the United States with a nuclear weapon, McMaster said, and that entails keeping all options – including a “preventive war” – on the table.

But he acknowledged that any military solution would mean “a very costly war, in terms of the suffering of mainly the South Korean people”.

McMaster said the US seeks instead to do “everything we can” to pressure Kim and his entourage into concluding that “it is in their interest to denuclearise”.

In his statements on Sunday, Foreign Minister Wang reiterated Beijing’s proposal for what it calls a “double suspension” – a halt to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for an end to the joint US-South Korean military exercises that alarm Pyongyang.

“This is currently the most realistic and plausible initiative, and it is the most reasonable and friendly solution,” Wang said.

But speaking to MSNBC, McMaster said Beijing’s plan to offer a freeze on joint training in return for a freeze on Pyongyang’s nuclear programme was no longer viable.

“They are at a threshold capability now. ‘Freeze for freeze’ doesn’t work anymore,” he said, adding: “The goal is denuclearisation of the peninsula.”


Ri Yong Ho, Wang Yi

North Korea Shrugs Off Sanctions Despite China’s Push to End Missile Tests — Has China Bested the Trump Administration?

August 6, 2017

U.S. lauds China for supporting latest U.N. sanctions, but Pyongyang has no plans to change

The bespectacled North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi after their meeting in Manila on Sunday.
The bespectacled North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi after their meeting in Manila on Sunday. PHOTO: BULLIT MARQUEZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS

MANILA—The U.S. praised China for backing new economic sanctions by the U.N. Security Council against Pyongyang over the regime’s weapons program, but North Korea indicated to its most important economic partner that there would be no change in policy.

“The fact that the Chinese were helpful and instrumental in setting up this really sweeping set of international sanctions shows they realize that this is a huge problem they need to take on, that it’s a threat to them and their region,” Susan Thornton, the U.S. State Department’s acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told journalists on the sidelines of regional security meetings in the Philippines on Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is attending the forum bringing together 27 nations, including China, Russia, South Korea and North Korea, described the sanctions as “a good outcome” as he works to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons program.

The Security Council on Saturday unanimously passed a resolution that would slash about $1 billion from North Korea’s annual foreign revenue. Ms. Thornton called the sanctions the strongest against the regime in a generation. China and Russia, two permanent council members who had previously resisted fresh sanctions against Pyongyang, said the rogue nation’s recent provocations were unacceptable.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday met his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho, in Manila and urged Pyongyang to halt its missile tests and other actions that violate Security Council resolutions, according to the People’s Daily Online, an official Chinese state media website.

“The China side pressed the North Korea side to deal calmly with the new UN Security Council resolution regarding North Korea, and to stop the missile tests, and even nuclear research, which violate UN Security Council resolutions and the wishes of the international community,” the People’s Daily Online said.

The North Korean minister restated Pyongyang’s policy on the nuclear weapons issue, but indicated a “willingness to maintain communications with the China side on this point,” according to Chinese state media. North Korea says it needs such weapons and maintains the right to build them to defend itself from the U.S.

The nine-page U.N. resolution steps up trade restrictions with Pyongyang by aiming to cut off a third of its $3 billion annual export revenue. It bans North Korea from trading coal, iron, lead, iron and lead ore, and seafood, and prohibits countries from hiring North Korean laborers and from entering or investing into new joint ventures with Pyongyang.

The resolution came after a months-long drive by the U.S. to pressure nations to isolate the North Korean regime in response to an unprecedented pace of missile testing in its ambitions to become a nuclear power. Last month, North Korea fired two missiles that appeared capable of reaching the continental U.S. and Europe. Diplomats said this raised the stakes and elevated North Korea’s military and nuclear threat from regional to global.

Before meeting with the North Korean minister in Manila, Mr. Wang said the sanctions were a necessary reaction to the launches, but urged countries to resume the negotiations known as the six-party talks, stalled since 2008. The talks included China, the U.S., South Korea, North Korea, Japan and Russia.

Mr. Wang repeated China’s call for a “dual freeze,” in which North Korea would halt its missile and nuclear programs in exchange for the U.S. and South Korea stopping major military exercises. The U.S. and South Korea rebuffed that proposal previously, and Ms. Thornton did so again Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in Manila on Sunday.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in Manila on Sunday. PHOTO: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

The U.S. will also focus on ensuring China follows through on fully implementing the new sanctions, Ms. Thornton said, suggesting China had in the past acted initially, before “slipping back” over time. “We want to make sure China…is working actively to continue putting pressure on North Korea,” she said.

Ms. Thornton also praised Saturday’s “really strong” statement by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which hosts the annual security meetings. The countries condemned North Korea’s weapons testing and called on the regime to comply with U.N. measures.

Mr. Tillerson doesn’t have a scheduled meeting with North Korea’s Mr. Ri, but both men are expected during the meeting of all 27 participants Monday.

The U.S. Secretary of State did meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for more than an hour late Sunday, ahead of a gala dinner. Neither official made any public comment.

Write to Ben Otto at


Ri Yong Ho, Wang Yi

Amid US-Russia feuding, chief diplomats Tillerson and Lavrov stay tight-lipped over talks

August 6, 2017

Neither responded to a shouted question about how new sanctions might affect their discussions


The Associated Press
August 6, 2017

The United States and Russia are feuding, expelling diplomats in what Washington calls a new post-cold war low. But that did not stop US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov from meeting for the first time since the Trump administration imposed new sanctions against Moscow.

The two held talks on Sunday on the sidelines of an Asian regional gathering in the Philippines, and as investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election push ahead. They smiled and exchanged pleasantries but made no substantive remarks to journalists, who were briefly permitted to observe the start of the meeting.

Neither Tillerson nor Lavrov responded to a shouted question about how the new US penalties might affect their discussions. More than an hour later, Tillerson emerged from the meeting and boarded his motorcade without commenting.

Tillerson and President Donald Trump opposed the sanctions package, passed by Congress in July, which makes it harder for Trump to ever ease penalties on Russia. Trump signed the bill last week, but called it “seriously flawed”.

The White House said Trump’s opposition stemmed from the bill’s failure to grant the president sufficient flexibility on when to lift sanctions. Trump’s critics saw his objections as another sign that he is too eager to pursue closer ties to Russia, or to protect the former cold war foe from penalties designed to punish Moscow for its actions in Ukraine, election meddling and other troublesome behaviour.

Even so, Trump’s administration has argued there’s good reason for the US to seek a more productive relationship. Tillerson has cited modest signs of progress in Syria, where the US and Russia recently brokered a cease-fire in the war-torn country’s southwest, as a sign there’s fertile ground for cooperation.

Yet Russia continues to dismiss any suggestion it interfered in the US election. The former Russian ambassador in Washington, Sergey Kislyak, denied the allegations in an interview screened on Russian state television on Saturday. He said he was merely carrying out his duties as a diplomat when he met with members of Trump’s campaign team.

“Any diplomat, Russian or not, works to better understand the policy of a country he’s posted to, figure out what the new administration’s course is and understand where cooperation is possible,” Kislyak said.

Still, a US Justice Department investigation is moving ahead into Russia’s election interference and potential Trump campaign collusion.

Trump denies any collusion and has repeatedly questioned US intelligence about Moscow’s involvement. Trump has tried to turn the issue into a political rallying cry, arguing that the controversy is an attempt by Democrats and the media to undermine the many millions of Americans who voted for him.

Tillerson, Russia’s Lavrov Hold Talks in Manila: Interfax

August 6, 2017

MOSCOW — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov began talks on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations forum in Manila, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported on Sunday.

The meeting is their first face-to-face talks since President Donald Trump reluctantly signed into law new economic sanctions that Russia said amounted to a full-scale trade war and ended hopes for better ties.

(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Kurds working to convince the world that an independent Kurdistan will bring stability

August 5, 2017

 AUGUST 3, 2017 22:08

The question for the Kurds is whether they can overcome all the challenges and leverage to the referendum, and show the world they have a right to seek independence.

A BULLET and the Kurdistan flag are seen on a Peshmerga fighter’s vest during a battle with ISIS.

A BULLET and the Kurdistan flag are seen on a Peshmerga fighter’s vest during a battle with ISIS near Bashiqa, Iraq, last year.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Since June 7th, when Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani announced that the region had set September 25th as the date for a referendum on independence, the Kurds in northern Iraq have been on a roller- coaster ride.

On July 24, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with Kurdish TV channel Rudaw that, while the referendum represents the “legitimate aspirations of the Kurds,” they must work within the “framework of existing international legal norms.” The KRG’s closest ally, the US, wants the referendum postponed until after the Iraqi parliamentary elections.

The Kurds face a catch-22. Many states agree that, in theory, they have the right to seek a referendum and independence, but they must seek it within the Iraqi constitution and in agreement with Baghdad. It’s like telling a couple that, although they may seek a divorce, they need the agreement of the other person to do so. This puts all the cards in the hands of Baghdad, and Baghdad opposes not only Kurdish independence, but the referendum itself.

Kurdish politicians and commentators in Erbil say there is something hypocritical in this. Independence referendums have been held in Scotland, Quebec, Southern Sudan and elsewhere. East Timor, Kosovo and other states have successfully sought independence. The Czech Republic and Slovaks divorced in 1993.

In the past, the US and other countries have sanctified the right to “self-determination.” America was even born in a war of independence. But what was right, legitimate and just in 1776 or the 1960s seems to have faded in 2017 into reliance on “frameworks” and a devotion to keeping states intact.

The devotion to Iraqi unity was on display in 2008 when Barzani met with US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and provided him a laundry list of violations by the Iraqi Army in areas disputed with the KRG. Under the post-2003 constitution, the Kurds have a unique form of autonomy, running their own airports and with their own armed forces called the Peshmerga.

There are many regions Kurds claim, such as Kirkuk and Sinjar, whose disputes with Baghdad have never been resolved. One of these concerned the city of Khanaquin near the Iranian border. Crocker warned Barzani that any confrontation with Baghdad could lead to Kurds “losing everything” they had achieved.

This is the general carrot-and-stick approach from Washington. During the war against Islamic State after August 2014, the US deepened its commitments to Erbil, signing direct memorandums for military and financial assistance. The US-led anti-ISIS coalition set up the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center to train Kurdish units directly.

The international community thus recognizes Erbil as separate from Baghdad, but it fears the next step. Turkey, the main economic lifeline of the KRG, has included Kurdish flags at meetings with Kurdish officials – an unprecedented signal of recognition of autonomy – but even Turkey verbally objects to the referendum. Iran, a key ally of Baghdad, has viscerally opposed the referendum and Iraq’s defense minister has warned of confrontation over it.

The first hurdle the Kurds face is internal. The war with ISIS led to the postponement of elections and the parliament has not been reconvened. However, Barzani was joined by members of the other leading parties of the region.

These included his own Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Kurdistan Islamic Union, Kurdistan Islamic Movement and other small parties – including those representing Assyrian and Turkmen minorities – when he announced the referendum.

In Erbil, billboards tout the vote.

According to sources there is still friction with the large Gorran Party over the plans. Gorran wants elections to parliament to coincide with the referendum.

To convince the international community of their right to hold a referendum, the KRG has dispatched diplomats and delegations to sell their case. In Brussels in early July, Barzani said there is no going back on the decision to hold the referendum and asked EU states to remain neutral if they could not openly support the Kurds.

US State Department spokesman Heather Nauert has called the referendum an “internal matter.” Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the KRG representative in Washington, laid out the region’s rights to Canadian media last month: “We have done our best to be partners in Iraq. It has not worked. We believe this is the right time to allow the people of Kurdistan to exercise their democratic right, a right that people across the world have to express their right to self-determination.”

Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan reportedly said he supports a “unified Iraq” as the best “long-term solution. But ultimately these decisions have to be made by the Iraqi people and the Kurds themselves.”

Swedish Ambassador to the UN Olof Skoog was quoted in Rudaw as saying his country does not support the vote, rather “the country to our mind should stay together.” He also said Iraq should be an inclusive democracy.

The international community’s reaction is predicated on two main narratives. One is that Iraq should remain “unified,” because this is good for stability. Secondly, the vote is an internal matter and Baghdad must agree on the right of Kurds to have the vote.

In conversations with Kurdish insiders (who asked to remain anonymous), they present a series of points to counter this group-think. They say that Kurdistan has tested decentralization, autonomy and federalism in an attempt to be part of Iraq.

However, they argue that after 14 years under this system the same problems that existed under Saddam Hussein exist today, namely authoritarianism in Baghdad. That means Baghdad has cut the budget that is supposed to flow to Erbil and has taken other measures.

The KRG argues that instead of increasing instability, the referendum and independence will bring stability to an unstable Iraq. The Middle East has not seen stability over the hundred years since European colonial powers drew its modern borders on maps.

For the Kurds, that meant being forced into an Iraq they did not want to be part of in the 1920s and suffering genocide under Saddam’s regime in the 1980s in which 180,000 people were killed and 4,500 villages destroyed. Since 2003 Iraq has been rocked by sectarian tensions, terrorism and ISIS.

Today Iranian-backed Shia militias have power in Baghdad and are part of the central government. The Kurds argue that an independent Kurdistan would, in the words of one insider, “stand for democracy, pluralism, power-sharing, an open society, the empowerment of women, respect for religious and ethnic minorities and a strong civil society.”

To get to that point, the KRG says it is continuing major economic and military reforms and overhauling government institutions. This involves streamlining budgets and professionalizing the Peshmerga, as well as reducing the role of political parties in its ranks.

Traditionally, fighting units were often divided along party lines, a legacy from the years of resistance in the 1980s that eventually led to Kurdish civil war in the 1990s. The concept today is to turn the army into a professional one, and the KTCC and international aid has helped to achieve that.

However, critics will argue that the KRG is still very divided on party lines that are geographically and family based. The independence vote, where most Kurds are expected to vote yes, would transcend that, but the question is whether subsequent election and other disputes can overcome these divisions.

Pro-referendum Kurds recall that other new states had growing pains. Iran, Turkey, Baghdad, and other powers have interests in the KRG, including economic interests, and each works through different allied groups. The question for the Kurds is whether they can overcome all the challenges and leverage to the referendum, and show the world they have a right to seek independence.


Israel wary of permanent Iranian presence in Syria

July 18, 2017


 JULY 18, 2017 01:07

Israel remains skeptic over Iran’s manipulation of the Syrian cease-fire.

An IDF soldier stands atop a tank near Alonei Habashan on the Golan Heights, close to the ceasefire

An IDF soldier stands atop a tank near Alonei Habashan on the Golan Heights, close to the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Both the US and Russia said on Monday that they understand Israel’s concerns about a future Iranian presence in Syria, as Israeli officials spoke about the possibility that Israel might need to take military action to prevent Tehran from setting up permanent bases, ports and arms factories in Syria and Lebanon.

The threats came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters in Paris that Israel was opposed to a cease-fire for southwestern Syria brokered by the US and Russia earlier this month, because it would allow a permanent Iranian presence in Syria, a distance of 20 kilometers from Israel’s border.

The Trump administration shares Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s concerns over Iran’s presence in southern Syria, and is working with Israel to prevent it, a White House official told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

“Both governments – the United States and Israel – are rightly concerned about Iran’s malign influence in the region,” the official said. “A core goal of US policy in Syria is to ensure that no vacuum is created which Iran can fill.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that Russia and the United States would do all they could to address Israeli concerns about the creation of de-escalation zones in Syria, the RIA news agency reported.

The Tass news agency quoted Lavrov as saying Moscow and Washington carried out preparatory work on a cease-fire in southern Syria with all parties concerned, including Israel.

“I can guarantee that the American side, and we, did the best we can to make sure that Israel’s security interests are fully taken into consideration,” he was quoted as saying.

Trump officials claim the cease-fire is a successful diplomatic achievement that has prevented Syrian bloodshed and demonstrated the value of cooperating with Moscow.

Trump himself said that he is negotiating a second cease-fire that would govern another section of the war-torn country.

But critics question whether Russia and Iran are using the pause in fighting to consolidate their gains and regroup for a new offensive.

Another administration official told the Post last week that Israel was “not a party to [the negotiations], but were consulted,” after a national security adviser to the president claimed on CNN that Israel was directly involved in the cease-fire negotiations.

A State Department official acknowledged that Israel was indeed consulted “at each step of this important process.” In a phone call with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday, Netanyahu reportedly expressed his concerns with the cease-fire and its consequences.

“We have stayed in close touch with Israel throughout this effort,” the official told the Post on Monday. “The secretary made clear that we are committed to pursuing an agreement that de-escalates violence and saves lives, while also addressing the very real security concerns of Syria’s neighbors, including Israel. Those efforts and our intensive consultations with Israel will continue.”

But Iranian inroads into Syria are not Israel’s only concerns, with Israeli diplomatic sources maintaining that Iran is working to establish air, land and sea bases in Lebanon as well – a development Jerusalem has made clear it will not tolerate.

One member of the security cabinet said on Monday that Israel will need to do something about the Iranian presence in Lebanon.

According to the minister, Israel is carefully tracking Iran’s presence there, and that it seemed the Iranians were only in the “initial stages” of establishing bases in the country.

The minister said Iran was taking advantage of the instability in Syria to create a corridor along Israel’s northern border to strengthen its presence in Lebanon as well.

Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren told the Post it was critically important for Netanyahu to reiterate Israel’s position that it “will not countenance the building of Iranian bases or ports” anywhere in Syria or Lebanon, and that Israel will not accept a cease-fire that does not take its interests into account.

Oren said Netanyahu’s message to everyone was: “You can have a cease-fire, but we will continue to act according to our red lines. We are going to stop Iran from building bases, ports and factories.”

Yaakov Amidror, a former head of the National Security Council who remains in contact with Netanyahu, echoed these remarks, saying Israel may need to take military action to prevent Iran or Hezbollah from setting up permanent bases in Syria.

If Israel’s interests are not taken into account by those determining what the future arrangements will be in Syria – the Americans, Russians or others – “that might lead the IDF to intervene and destroy every attempt to build [permanent Iranian] infrastructure in Syria,” he said.

Amidror, a fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, made his comments during a conference call with journalists organized by The Israel Project.

“We will not let the Iranians and Hezbollah be the forces that will win the very brutal war in Syria,” and then move their focus onto Israel, he said.

Until now, Israel has been very careful to stay out of the war in Syria, saying it will only intervene – and indeed only has intervened – to protect the red lines Netanyahu established: that game-changing weaponry is not transferred to Hezbollah via Syria; that Hezbollah and Iranian troops are not on the border with Israel; and that the Iranians do not establish permanent bases in Syria.

Amidror said that the ceasefire plan was completed without taking into sufficient consideration Israel’s need to defend itself.

“At the end of the day it is our responsibility, not the responsibility of the Americans or the Russians, to guarantee ourselves, and we will take all the measures that are needed for that,” he said.

Explaining how the Americans and Russians – with which Israel has good ties and a dialogue – agreed to a deal that could allow for a permanent Iranian presence in Syria, Amidror said the Russian strategic goal in the cease-fire was to ensure that Assad’s regime remains, and the American strategic goal was to destroy Islamic State.

Israel, he said, needs to “take care of its strategic goal,” which he defined as “keeping Iran and Syria from building launching pads in Syria.”

Amidror said that while Israel obviously wants to see the killing in Syria end, “the price can’t be having Iran and Hezbollah on our borders.”

He said that Israel has both diplomatic and military options to keep this from happening, and that “both options should be used.”

Amidror attributed Iran’s current success in the region to the Iranian nuclear deal signed two years ago. Iran, he said, is implementing a strategy that for the first time in modern history places them on the cusp of establishing a land corridor from Tehran, through Baghdad to Damascus and the Mediterranean.

“The ability of the Iranians to do what they are doing now in Syria and Iraq, and be involved in both Syria and Iraq, and their relations with Hezbollah, it is all built on the legitimacy they gained from this [nuclear] agreement,” he said.

Amidror said that it is very much in the Iranian interests to abide by the agreement, since in the meantime they are changing the contours of the entire Middle East. After the period of the agreement ends, they can then dash to the nuclear finish line, with their strategic situation in the region considerably improved, as well as their ability to withstand any new wave of sanctions.

“The agreement is the source of all the problems,” he said. “It is even more dangerous than we imagined when signed.”


Russia’s Lavrov: Show Me at Least One Fact Moscow Meddled in U.S. Election

July 12, 2017

MOSCOW — Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday he wanted to be shown at least one fact proving Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

“I don’t know anything about this fact. It’s amazing that serious people are making a mountain out of a molehill,” Lavrov told a news conference during a visit to Belgium. His comments were broadcast live by Russian state Rossiya 24 TV channel.

Lavrov was reacting to reports that U.S. President Donald Trump’s eldest son was blamed for meeting a Russian lawyer that emails show might have had damaging information about Hillary Clinton last year.

(Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Maria Kiselyova)

U.S.-Russian Ceasefire Takes Effect in Southwest Syria

July 9, 2017

BEIRUT — A U.S.-Russian brokered ceasefire deal for southwestern Syria took effect at noon (0900 GMT) on Sunday, the latest international attempt at peacemaking in the six-year war.

The United States, Russia and Jordan reached a ceasefire and “de-escalation agreement” this week with the aim of paving the way for a broader, more robust truce.

The announcement came after a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit of major economies in Germany.

Several ceasefires have crumbled since the onset of the conflict and it was not clear how much the combatants – Syrian government forces and the main rebels in the southwest – were committed to this latest effort.

No automatic alt text available.

 Free Syrian Army fighter stand near an anti-air craft machine gun in Quneitra, Syria July 8, 2017. REUTERS – Alaa al-Faqir

With the help of Russian air power and Iranian-backed militias, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government has put rebels on the back foot over the last year. The wide array of mostly Sunni rebels include jihadist factions and other groups supported by Turkey, the United States and Gulf monarchies.

Earlier talks between the U.S. and Russia about a “de-escalation zone” in southwest Syria covered Deraa province on the border with Jordan and Quneitra, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

A senior State Department official involved in the talks said further discussions would be necessary to decide crucial aspects of the agreement, including who will monitor its enforcement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the deal includes “securing humanitarian access and setting up contacts between the opposition in the region and a monitoring center that is being established in Jordan’s capital.”

The multi-sided Syrian conflict, which grew out of popular protests against Assad’s rule in 2011, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and created the world’s worst refugee crisis.

(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Russia To Target U.S. and Coalition Aircraft Over Syria

June 19, 2017

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


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

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

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

“In regions where the…



Russia warns US-led coalition over downing of Syrian jet


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russia’s Lavrov calls on U.S. to respect Syria’s integrity — After U.S. Shoots Down Syrian Jet

June 19, 2017

The United States should respect Syria’s territorial integrity and refrain from unilateral actions in this country, Russian news agencies quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Monday.

Lavrov made his remarks after a U.S. warplane shot down a Syrian army jet on Sunday in the southern Raqqa countryside, with Washington saying the jet had dropped bombs near U.S.-backed forces and Damascus saying the plane was downed while flying a mission against Islamic State militants.

Lavrov also said that a new round of peace talks on Syria in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana would tale place on July 10.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov)


U.S. Says It Shot Down Syrian Aircraft

Move marks the first time coalition forces have struck a regime plane in the nation’s civil war


Updated June 18, 2017 11:01 p.m. ET

An American warplane shot down a Syrian government jet on Sunday, the Pentagon said, marking the first time in Syria’s civil war that a U.S. pilot has struck a regime plane and signaling an increased willingness by the Trump administration to directly challenge President Bashar al-Assad and his allies.

On Sunday, the U.S. military said it had shot down the Syrian SU-22 after regime forces twice attacked members of American-backed…



Pentagon: US shoots down Syrian aircraft for first time

In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows warplanes inside the Kweiras air base, east of Aleppo, Syria, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. (SANA via AP)


The U.S. military on Sunday shot down a Syrian Air Force fighter jet that bombed local forces aligned with the Americans in the fight against Islamic State militants, an action that appeared to mark a new escalation of the conflict.

The U.S. had not shot down a Syrian regime aircraft before Sunday’s confrontation, said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman. While the U.S. has said since it began recruiting, training and advising what it calls moderate Syrian opposition forces to fight IS that it would protect them from potential Syrian government retribution, this was the first time it resorted to engaging in air-to-air combat to make good on that promise.

The U.S.-led coalition headquarters in Iraq said in a written statement that a U.S. F-18 Super Hornet shot down a Syrian government SU-22 after it dropped bombs near the U.S. partner forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces. The shootdown was near the Syrian town of Tabqa.

The U.S. military statement said it acted in “collective self defense” of its partner forces and that the U.S. did not seek a fight with the Syrian government or its Russian supporters.

According to a statement from the Pentagon, pro-Syrian regime forces attacked the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces-held town of Ja’Din, south of Tabqah in northern Syria, wounding a number of SDF fighters and driving the SDF from the town.

Coalition aircraft conducted a show of force and stopped the initial pro-regime advance toward the town, the Pentagon said. Following the pro-Syrian forces attack, the coalition called its Russian counterparts “to de-escalate the situation and stop the firing,” according to the statement.

A few hours later, the Syrian SU-22 dropped bombs near SDF fighters and, “in collective self-defense of coalition-partnered forces,” was immediately shot down by a U.S. F/A-18E Super Hornet, the Pentagon said.

“The coalition’s mission is to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria,” the Pentagon said, using an abbreviation for the Islamic State group. “The coalition does not seek to fight Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them, but will not hesitate to defend coalition or partner forces from any threat. ”

U.S. forces tangled earlier this month with Syria-allied aircraft in the region. On June 8, U.S. officials reported that a drone likely connected to Iranian-supported Hezbollah forces fired on U.S.-backed troops and was shot down by an American fighter jet. The incident took place in southern Syria near a base where the U.S.-led coalition was training Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State group.

An Army spokesman at the Pentagon said at the time that the drone carried more weapons and was considered a direct threat, prompting the shootdown.


Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.