Posts Tagged ‘the United Arab Emirates’

Arab states send Qatar 13 demands to end crisis, official say

June 23, 2017

Reuters

Four Arab states boycotting Qatar over alleged support for terrorism have sent Doha a list of 13 demands including closing Al Jazeera television and reducing ties to their regional adversary Iran, an official of one of the four countries said.

The list, compiled by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain as the price for ending the worst Gulf Arab crisis in years, also demands the closing of a Turkish military base in Qatar, the official told Reuters.

Qatar must also announce it is severing ties with terrorist, ideological and sectarian organizations including the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Jabhat Fateh al Sham, formerly al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, he said, and surrender all designated terrorists on its territory,

The countries give Doha 10 days to comply, failing which the list becomes ‘void’, the official said without elaborating. The demands were handed to Qatar by Kuwait, which is mediating in the dispute, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The four Arab countries accuse Qatar of funding terrorism, fomenting regional instability and cozying up to revolutionary theocracy Iran. Qatar has denied the accusations.

U.S. President Donald Trump has taken a tough stance on Qatar, accusing it of being a “high level” sponsor of terrorism, but he has also offered help to the parties in the dispute to resolve their differences.

Turkey has backed Qatar during the three-week-old crisis. It sent its first ship carrying food aid to Qatar and dispatched a small contingent of soldiers and armored vehicles there on Thursday, while President Tayyip Erdogan spoke with Saudi Arabia’s leaders on calming tension in the region.

(Reporting by William Maclean; Editing by Rania El Gamal and Paul Tait)

Qatar Says Won’t Negotiate Until Economic Boycott Ends

June 19, 2017

DOHA — Qatar will not negotiate with Arab states that have cut economic and travel ties with it unless they reverse their measures, its foreign minister said, ruling out discussions over Qatar’s internal affairs including Al Jazeera TV.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said Qatar had still not received any demands from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which severed relations two weeks ago, triggering the worst Gulf Arab crisis in years.

Image result for Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, photos

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahmanal-Thani

The countries accuse Qatar of supporting Islamist militants and stirring up unrest, charges Doha denies.

“Qatar is under blockade, there is no negotiation. They have to lift the blockade to start negotiations,” Sheikh Mohammed told reporters in Doha. “Until now we didn’t see any progress about lifting the blockade, which is the precondition for anything to move forward.”

He said Kuwait’s ruler was the sole mediator in the crisis and that he was waiting for specific demands from Gulf states in order to take resolution efforts forward.

“We cannot just have (vague) demands such as ‘the Qataris know what we want from them, they have to stop this or that, they have to be monitored by a foreign monitoring mechanism,'” Sheikh Mohammed said.

Anything that relates to the affairs of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council is subject to negotiation, he said, referring to the body comprising Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.

“Anything not related to them is not subject to negotiation. No one has the right to interfere in my affairs. Al Jazeera is Qatar’s affairs, Qatari foreign policy on regional issues is Qatar’s affairs. And we are not going to negotiate on our own affairs,” he said.

Qatar’s Gulf critics have accused Al Jazeera of being a platform for extremists and an agent of interference in their affairs. The network has rejected those accusations and said it will maintain its editorial independence.

Image result for LNG, Qatar, photos

The crisis has hit civilian travel, some food imports, ratcheted up tensions in the Gulf and sown confusion among businesses. But it has not affected energy exports from Qatar, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar would rely on other states if the boycott continued, including Saudi Arabia’s arch regional foe Iran.

“We have a back-up plan which depends mainly on Turkey, Kuwait and Oman,” he said. “Iran has facilitated for us the sky passages for our aviation and we are cooperating with all countries that can ensure supplies for Qatar.”

(Reporting by Tom Finn; writing by Sylvia Westall; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Trump Urges Muslims to Fight Extremism in Saudi Speech — Plus Photos of Events in Riyadh

May 21, 2017

As he continues his first overseas trip as president, Trump aims to strike a conciliatory tone toward Muslims

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President Trump speaks at the Arab-Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Updated May 21, 2017 11:24 a.m. ET

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia—President Donald Trump called Sunday on Muslim leaders across the globe to confront “the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds,” in a conciliatory speech aimed at corralling Arab allies around a new, combined effort to combat terrorism.

His speech at an Arab-Islamic-American summit in the Saudi capital marked a dramatic departure from rhetoric during his presidential campaign, most notably was his deliberate decision not to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” as he pointedly did as a candidate.

Instead, Mr. Trump sought to draw a distinction between religion and terrorism carried out in its name. It “is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations” but “a battle between good and evil,” he said.

“Terrorists do not worship God. They worship death,” Mr. Trump said.

“Religious leaders must make this absolutely clear,” he added, if you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief and your soul will be fully condemned.”

Mr. Trump sought to underpin his pursuit of a renewed campaign against terrorism with new measures aimed at combating groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State, and countering Iranian aggression in the Middle East.

Arab leaders agreed take steps to target terrorism financing, and the U.S. and Saudi Arabia opened a center in Riyadh focused on that effort. The U.S. also agreed to some $400 billion in economic investments with Saudi Arabia including $110 billion in new arms sales to Riyadh.

As president, Mr. Trump issued two travel bans targeting Muslim-majority countries he deemed terrorism threats, fulfilling one of his signature campaign promises. Both executive orders were halted after being challenged and tied up in U.S. courts.

In a February speech to both chambers of Congress, Mr. Trump said his administration was “taking strong measures to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism,” stressing the last three words.

Roger Stone, a Republican operative who was closely involved with Mr. Trump’s campaign, responded to a photograph of King Salman placing a medal around the president’s neck by writing on Twitter: “Candidly, this makes me want to puke.”

Mr. Trump has repeatedly criticized his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, for refusing to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.” He also said his Democratic opponent in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton, was “afraid” to say it, though she had said she would.

While many Saudis have been delighted by Mr. Trump’s visit, and he received a warm welcome from the royal family, the reaction from Arabs across the region has been more critical.

From Islamists to pro-democracy advocates, many have responded harshly to a U.S. president who has spoken of a ban on Muslims. Others simply saw Mr. Trump’s elaborate reception from the Saudi monarchy as another sign that the administration wouldn’t push the region’s autocrats toward democratic reform any time soon.

U.S. officials didn’t publicly raise human-rights abuses by Saudi Arabia that the American government has criticized in the past.

For the White House, Mr. Trump’s speech on Islam was a chance for the new president to persuade a wider audience that his views aren’t hostile to the religion, as he tries to kick-start closer cooperation with Muslim leaders to combat terrorism.

Sunday’s summit could also help Saudi Arabia convey a message to the wider world about its commitment to fighting religious extremism. The country, which practices an austere interpretation of Sunni Islam, has struggled to shed its reputation as a hub of radical Islam since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America. The perpetrators were mostly Saudi citizens.

Since then, Riyadh has emerged as one of Washington’s closest counterterrorism allies, and under King Salman has sought to lead regional efforts against terrorism.

The Saudi monarchy—eager to cultivate better ties with the U.S. under Mr. Trump than it had under Mr. Obama—has largely overlooked some of new president’s past positions. Saudi Arabia sees the U.S. as a vital partner in efforts to counter the influence of rival Iran in the region, and has enthusiastically welcomed the new administration’s more hard-line stance toward Tehran.

The World Bank announced at an event with the president’s daughter and senior White House adviser, Ivanka Trump, that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have pledged a combined $100 million to a fund that will assist women entrepreneurs and small-business owners.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Egypt's President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi take part in a bilateral meeting in Riyadh on Sunday.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi take part in a bilateral meeting in Riyadh on Sunday. PHOTO:MANDEL NGAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
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Mr. Trump held individual meetings Sunday with leaders from Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt and Kuwait. The summit included representatives from the six Persian Gulf countries that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Noticeably absent from Sunday’s summit is the Sunni kingdom’s regional adversary: Shiite Iran, with whom Riyadh severed diplomatic relations in early 2016. Tensions between the two countries, which back opposite sides of conflicts in Yemen and Syria, have played out across the Middle East, heightening tensions between Sunnis and Shiites.

Mr. Trump is seeking warmer U.S. relations in the Middle East, in part to push for a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians and a broader thaw between Israel and its Arab neighbors. It also wants America’s Persian Gulf allies to take more of a leading role to counter Iran’s influence and help stabilize the volatile region.

Mr. Trump noted the tense relations as he met with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, saying “there won’t be strain with this administration.”

He told the king the two countries have “many of the same things in common.” The king replied that they have a “very good foundation of mutual understanding and strategy” that has “led to a great stability in the region.”

Write to Carol E. Lee at carol.lee@wsj.com and Margherita Stancati at margherita.stancati@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trumps-saudi-speech-to-mark-bid-to-ease-muslim-tensions-1495359283

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President Trump speaks at the Arab-Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
President Trump speaks at the Arab-Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Trump attended a meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders in Riyadh on Sunday.
President Trump attended a meeting with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders in Riyadh on Sunday. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS
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Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud waits to receive Mr. Trump for the Arab-Islamic-American Summit.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud waits to receive Mr. Trump for the Arab-Islamic-American Summit.JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS
Mr. Trump, flanked by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, meets with Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.
Mr. Trump, flanked by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, meets with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS
Mr. Trump pauses during a meeting with leaders at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit.
Mr. Trump pauses during a meeting with leaders at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit. EVAN VUCCI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
First lady Melania Trump plays with children during a visit to the American International School in the Saudi capital.
First lady Melania Trump plays with children during a visit to the American International School in the Saudi capital.GIUSEPPE CACACE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
A worker in Riyadh walks past a balloon with a U.S. flag on it as part of welcome celebrations ahead of the visit of Mr. Trump.
A worker in Riyadh walks past a balloon with a U.S. flag on it as part of welcome celebrations ahead of the visit of Mr. Trump. HAMAD I MOHAMMED/REUTERS
Mr. Trump and King Salman arriving for a reception ahead of a banquet at Murabba Palace in Riyadh.
Mr. Trump and King Salman arriving for a reception ahead of a banquet at Murabba Palace in Riyadh. BANDAR AL-JALOUD/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Mr. Trump is welcomed by Saudi King Salman on Saturday.
Mr. Trump is welcomed by Saudi King Salman on Saturday. BANDAR AL-JALOUD/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
King Salman gives Mr. Trump the kingdom’s highest honor, the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal.
King Salman gives Mr. Trump the kingdom’s highest honor, the Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal. SAUDI PRESS AGENCY/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
White House senior adviser Jared Kushnerr and his wife, Ivanka Trump, arrive at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushnerr and his wife, Ivanka Trump, arrive at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh. MANDEL NGAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGE
Mr. Trump greets diplomats at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh.
Mr. Trump greets diplomats at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh. SAUDI ROYAL PALACE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGE
Mr. Trump and King Salman stop for coffee.
Mr. Trump and King Salman stop for coffee. MANDEL NGAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
From left, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, President Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross take part in a bilateral meeting with King Salman in Riyadh.
From left, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, President Trump and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross take part in a bilateral meeting with King Salman in Riyadh. MANDEL NGAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
In the front row, from left, Abu Dhabi‘s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, U.S. President Donald Trump, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Jordan’s King Abdullah II at a summit in Riyadh on Sunday.
In the front row, from left, Abu Dhabi‘s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, U.S. President Donald Trump, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Jordan’s King Abdullah II at a summit in Riyadh on Sunday. JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS
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Trump calls for stamping out financing of terrorist groups to Muslim leaders — “Drive them out.”

May 21, 2017

President Trump Sunday in a highly-anticipated speech to Muslim leaders during his first foreign trip called for unity between the U.S. and Middle Eastern nations in the fight to “stamp out extremism.”

During his second day of his first trip abroad, Trump’s speech in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia addressed the leaders of 50 Muslim-majority countries to challenge extremism by cutting off the financing of terrorist groups.

Trump announced the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which is committed to prosecuting the financing of terrorism.

“Our goal is a coalition of nations who share the aim of stamping out extremism and providing our children a hopeful future that does honor to God,” Trump said.

The council comprises Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will sign the memorandum of understanding in Riyadh, according to Reuters.

“America is prepared to stand with you – in pursuit of shared interests and common security,” Trump said.

“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations,” the president added.

In his first overseas trip as president, Trump also pledged to work with Saudi Arabia leader King Salman to bring peace to the Gulf region and forge stronger economic ties, in large part through a roughly $10 billion arms deal.

“That was a tremendous day,” Trump said shortly after signing the arms deal. “Tremendous investments in the United States. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.”

The arms deal is part of large, $350 billion economic packages between the ally nations.

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/05/21/trump-calls-for-stamping-out-financing-terrorist-groups-to-muslim-leaders.html

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Trump Tells Muslim Leaders: ‘Drive out’ the Terrorists

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — President Donald Trump offered a message of unity Sunday as he called on the Arab world to confront extremism during a highly anticipated speech in the birthplace of Islam.

“Drive them out!” Trump said of terrorists to dozens of Arab leaders who attended his remarks. “Of your places of worship, drive them out of your communities, drive them out of your Holy Land, and drive them out of this Earth!”

“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations,” Trump said. “This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life, and decent people of all religions who seek to protect it.”

He added, “If we do not stand in uniform condemnation of this killing, then we not only will be judged by our people, not only will be judged by history, but we will be judged by God.”

The speech during the initial stop of the president’s first foreign trip is set to be a stark contrast to his previous comments on Islam. As a candidate, Trump frequently criticized the religion, saying, “I think Islam hates us” and “there’s a tremendous hatred there.”

The U.S.’s Middle Eastern allies have often complained about America’s focus on human rights, a stance Trump also seemed keen to make a break from.

“America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens,” the president said. “We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership — based on shared interests and values — to pursue a better future for us all.”

Introducing Trump, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman spoke of the responsibility and need “to stand united to fight the forces of evil and extremism.”

“There is no honor in committing murder,” Salman said, adding that Islam is “the religion of peace and tolerance.”

Trump defined the struggle against extremism as “a battle between good and evil.”

“Barbarism will deliver you no glory — piety to evil will bring you no dignity,” the president said. “If you choose the path of terror, your life will be empty, your life will be brief, and your soul will be condemned.”

Trump also offered a firm rebuke of Iran, a stark departure from the overtures of the Obama administration that had caused such a chill with the Saudi government.

Calling them out for funding arms, training terrorists, and “spreading destruction and chaos across the region,” Trump implored all nations to “work together to isolate” Tehran until the regime is “willing to be a partner for peace.”

“Pray for the day when the Iranian people have the just and righteous government they so richly deserve,” he said.

In the speech at the King Abdul Aziz Conference Center, Trump did not use the phrase “radical Islamic terror” — one he uttered repeatedly on the campaign trail, and lambasted his predecessor for saying. The president did say: “That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds.”

The president also said countries in the region must do the hard work themselves and not to expect the U.S. to fight terror for them.

“The nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them. The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries, and for their children,” Trump said. “Muslim-majority countries must take the lead in combating radicalization.”

Trump said he hoped the gathering of region leaders in Riyadh who attended his speech would mark the beginning of the end of terrorism and the start of peace in the Middle East.

“This region should not be a place that refugees flee, but to which newcomers flock,” the president said.

Trump came to office promising to disengage the U.S. from conflicts that have claimed thousands of U.S. lives, particularly in the greater Middle East, where it has been embroiled in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq among others.

Trump echoed his “America First” mantra from the campaign, which according to the White House does not mean isolation and instead is about U.S. citizens’ “safety and security.”

His presidential campaign was rife with anti-Muslim comments and promises, including support of surveillance of mosques, as well as an early proposal for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

As president, Trump made good on a version of that promise by signing a travel ban that has been stalled in the courts which would have barred citizens from a handful of Muslim-majority countries, although not Saudi Arabia.

On Saturday, Trump received a royal greeting after touching down in the country. The pomp and pageantry included a signing ceremony for a military arms deal to Saudi Arabia, worth $110 billion effective immediately and up to $350 billion over 10 years, and ended with a boisterous banquet filled with music and dancing.

“That was a tremendous day. Tremendous investments in the United States,” Trump told reporters Saturday. “Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Earlier Sunday before his speech, Trump held meetings with other regional leaders during which he touted “lots of beautiful military equipment” that U.S. workers manufacture

Includes video:

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/trumps-first-foreign-trip/trump-speech-muslims-we-are-not-here-lecture-n762631

South China Sea: What Does China Actually Want? And At What Cost?

October 28, 2016

By Nick Bisley

The complex disputes over islands, rocks and reefs in the South China Sea involve six countries: China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. They have a long history, with their origins in the interruption of traditional practices by European and Japanese colonialism, and compounded by the post-WWII conflicts in Southeast Asia. These disputes are among the most vexing issues in the region.

Despite this backstory the tensions associated with contestation have waxed and waned. The current spike in geopolitical temperature dates back to 2009, and in particular to China’s issuing of the decidedly ambiguous “dashed line” map. This map can now be found in passports, on inflight magazines and in every school book in the country. Since then, China has begun to take steps to defend what it portrays as its rights in the sea. Disputed features have been built upon and now boast 3 km runways and deep water ports. Sansha island in the Paracels, population 1200, has city status. And while Beijing is not the only country occupying or building on disputed features, its activities are the most widespread and destabilizing.

Yet in spite of its many activities, it is not clear precisely what it is that China wants. We can see plainly its methods of advancing its interests on a daily basis, but just what its larger strategic objective may be is uncertain. This is perhaps most obvious in the case of the dashed line map – it was presented accompanying a note in which China asserted its “indisputable” sovereignty over the islands and the adjacent waters of the Sea. But it lacked specificity about what the dashes meant, where, precisely on the map the lines are located or indeed what meaning they held.

This ambiguity is, in part, deliberate. It provides diplomatic leeway to manage events; it sows confusion in the minds of those who have a stake (however large or small) in the dispute; and, of course, it papers over the fact that Beijing may not be entirely set in its own mind as to what it wants to achieve. But this lack of clarity makes managing the dispute extremely difficult and the process of negotiating some kind of settlement acceptable to all virtually impossible.

There are ultimately three main things that China appears to seek. First, as with all the claimant states, China is a net energy importer. The Sea is thought to be rich in oil and gas, and China wants not only the economic benefit that comes from having sovereign rights over hydrocarbon reserves but also the security of supply that it would entail. Equally, the South China Sea is a significant fishery and as a country which consumes growing volumes of protein this is highly prized.

China also desires security for its maritime approaches. The country is dependent for its economic prosperity on trade flows – energy and commodities inbound and finished goods going to market. But this goes beyond protecting shipping lanes; in the nineteenth century China was brought low by foreign forces that tore the country apart and humiliated its people, at least so goes the Party’s nationalist mythology. The Party’s claim to legitimacy depends on its ability to protect China and it follows from this that it must secure the means through which others approach China. The South China Sea is, in many respects, the country’s front door and it does not want that door to be vulnerable.

Finally and perhaps most crucially the Sea is now presented by the Party-State as a fundamental part of China. It has long argued that China was once a great nation and that only through the tenacity and discipline of the Communists was it able to be made whole and once again sit at the top table in world affairs. The South China Sea thus has a nationalist and identity value above and beyond material resources and questions of strategy, and this value should not be understated given the importance of this matter to the Party’s legitimacy and sense of itself.

The problem is that these three goals make devising a negotiated settlement that involves anything but a maximalist vision of China’s claims over the sea extraordinarily difficult. More significantly, its vision is incompatible with the view that the United States and its allies have for Asia’s future. And it is for this reason that the South China Sea has become such a significant part of the region’s international politics and why the United States and its allies find managing the dispute so vexing.

Nick Bisley is Executive Director of La Trobe Asia and Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University, Australia.

Image: PLA Navy carrier battle group in formation in the South China Sea. Flickr/Creative Commons/Simon Yang

http://nationalinterest.org/feature/what-does-china-actually-want-the-south-china-sea-18211

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   (From July 12, 2016)

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Above Chinese chart shows China’s “Nine Dash Line.” China says it owns all ocean territory north of the Nine Dash Line. There is no international legal precedent for this claim.  On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid.

U.S. Navy Leads 30-Nation Maritime Exercise in Middle East

April 9, 2016

Reuters

ABU DHABI — The U.S. Navy is leading a 30-nation maritime exercise across Middle Eastern waters which it says will help protect international trade routes against possible threats, including from Islamic State and al Qaeda.

The exercise, which is partly being held in the Arabian Gulf, comes as tensions run high between Gulf Arab countries and Iran over its role in the region, including its support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war, for the Houthis in the Yemen conflict and for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) started on Monday with a symposium in Bahrain where the U.S Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based, in part as a bulwark against Iran.

Vice Adm. Kevin Donegan, commander, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said on Saturday the exercise was designed to stop militants from causing disruption to shipping as, “we know that they want to disturb trade lines”.

“This region provides a strong training opportunity for nations worldwide as three of the six major maritime chokepoints in the world are here: the Suez Canal, the Strait of Bab Al Mandeb and the Strait of Hormuz,” Donegan said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had praised security cooperation with Bahrain on Thursday during a visit to the Gulf monarchy calling it a “critical security partner”.

U.S. President Barack Obama will attend a summit in Riyadh on April 21 with the Gulf Cooperation Council states – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain – on Iran’s role in the region.

(Reporting By Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Toby Chopra)

 

Hezbollah Says Saudi Arabia, Turkey Obstructing Syria Peace Chances

March 21, 2016
Reuters

Hezbollah accused Saudi Arabia and Turkey on Monday of obstructing efforts to reach a political solution in Syria, saying Riyadh did not want to see any progress at Geneva peace talks aimed at ending five years of conflict.

Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Saudi Arabia have for years been on opposing sides of Syria’s civil war, but relations have worsened in recent months – mirroring the growing hostility between Riyadh and Tehran, the region’s two rival powers.”What is disrupting any progress towards a political solution is firstly Saudi Arabia, and secondly Turkey,” Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah told Al Mayadeen television in an interview.

Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah has sent fighters to Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad. Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which insist Assad must leave power, have been supporting Sunni Muslim insurgents fighting to overthrow him.

“Saudi Arabia doesn’t want any progress in the negotiations in Geneva,” Nasrallah said, adding Riyadh might be holding out until the U.S. presidential election in November to see whether a new administration might pursue a different policy on Syria.

“So I don’t expect progress in the political process or a political solution,” he said.

His criticism of Riyadh comes nearly three weeks after the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which groups Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, declared Hezbollah a terrorist organisation.

Saudi Arabia said last week it would punish anyone who belongs to Hezbollah, sympathises with it, supports it financially or harbours any of its members.

Several GCC countries have deported Lebanese nationals over suspected links to the group. A Kuwaiti newspaper said on Monday the emirate had expelled 11 Lebanese and three Iraqis.

But Nasrallah said that the allegations were either baseless or related to people Hezbollah did not know about.

“They said a group was arrested in Kuwait smuggling drugs (and) belonged to Hezbollah, they were contacting Hezbollah in Syria,” Nasrallah said. “That’s empty talk”.

“(There are reports) that there is a cell that’s been sentenced in the UAE. We don’t know anything about that, we don’t know who they are,” he said. He also denied that Hezbollah had sent any fighters or weapons to Bahrain.

Nasrallah warned Israel against trying to exploit Hezbollah’s deployment in Syria to launch military action in Lebanon, but said he believed a major conflict with Israel was unlikely – because of the heavy costs it would bring.

“In any war against Lebanon, which targeted Lebanon’s people, infrastructure – we would go into this war without limits or red lines,” he said.

Nasrallah said Hezbollah could hit any target inside Israel, including nuclear facilities and what he said were biological research centres and petrochemical plants.

Israel and Hezbollah fought an inconclusive war in 2006.

(Reporting by Dominic Evans and Laila Bassam; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

China’s One Belt One Road initiative

March 6, 2016

At the national People’s Congress in Beijing, the term “One Belt One Road” came up again and again.

Here’s a little background on “One Belt One Road.”

What is One Belt One Road? 

One Belt One Road refers to the “Silk Road Economic Belt” and the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road.” Chinese President Xi Jinping first brought up the concept during foreign visits in late 2013. It is Xi’s signature world economic strategy.

One Belt One Road is not an entity or a treaty. It is a development initiative whose name was inspired by the ancient land and maritime silk road.

The Chinese government aims to connect China with the rest of Asia, Africa and Europe via land and sea. The initiative maps out five areas of cooperation with Belt and Road countries and regions: policy, infrastructure, trade, finance and people.

silk road

Ancient land silk road (red line) and maritime silk road (blue line). Photo: Wikicommons.

What countries and regions are involved? 

Inside China, the “Silk Road Economic Belt” includes 12 provinces and one municipality, namely Xinjiang, Shaanxi, Gansu, Ningxia, Qinghai, Inner Mongolia, Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Guangxi, Yunnan, Tibet and Chongqing.

The “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” includes four provinces and one municipality, namely Fujian, Guangdong, Zhejiang, Hainan and Shanghai.

Outside of China, over 50 countries are along the “belt” and the “road.” They include:

Asia: Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Maldives, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, the Sultanate of Oman, Qatar, Israel and Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan.

Africa: Kenya, Sudan, Egypt and Djibouti.

Europe: Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Moldova, Germany, the Netherlands.

one belt one road routes

The “Silk Road Economic Belt” and “21st Century Maritime Silk Road.” Photo: HKFP.

What bothers people about One Belt One Road?

No country has spoken out against One Belt One Road but the West is generally wary of China’s effort to increase its clout over international affairs. The One Belt One Road initiative is seen by some as Beijing’s effort to change the world’s power dynamic and establish new rules to its standard. The initiative will help Chinese companies expand overseas and push the global use of the Chinese currency Renminbi.

Besides the China-centric concern, countries worry that Chinese companies may not uphold existing international standards of corruption prevention, environmental protection and human rights protection in carrying out Belt and Road projects.

What agreements and deals have been made under One Belt One Road?

  • Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: AIIB was established to support infrastructure construction in the Asia-Pacific region. So far 57 countries have signed the AIIB Articles of Agreement to be founding members: Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, UAE, United Kingdom, Uzbekistan, Vietnam.
  • The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: the 3,000-kilometre corridor spans from Kashgar in Xinjiang to Pakistan’s Gwadar port. The two governments plan to build highways, railroads, gas and oil pipelines as well as communication cables along the corridor. The two governments have signed projects worth US$46 billion.

one belt one road

Chinese workers building an elevated railroad in Kenya. Photo: news.163.com.

  • The Mombasa-Nairobi Railway: the railway in planning will connect Kenya’s capital with its southeastern coast. It will span 2,700 kilometres and is expected to cost US$25 billion. China sees Kenya as its Belt and Road strategy’s key strategic partner in Africa.
  • Other infrastructure projects include the Jakarta-Bandung Railway in Indonesia, the Moscow-Kazan Railway, the Kunming-Vientiane Railway, the Kunming-Bangkok Railway and the China-Belarus Industrial Park.

What does One Belt One Road mean for Hong Kong?

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in this year’s Policy Address said Hong Kong should proactively respond to the One Belt One Road initiative and grasp opportunities provided by its projects. However, analysts say Belt and Road means little to the average Hong Kong citizen. The most likely benefit for the city will be potential financial opportunities for infrastructure projects.

Because Belt and Road projects especially in Africa and Asia require huge amounts of money, Hong Kong can provide the financing via bonds, stocks and IPOs for Chinese companies seeking funding. Hong Kong can also provide international connections and legal expertise for Chinese firms when they sign contracts with overseas partners.

https://www.hongkongfp.com/2016/03/06/explainer-chinas-one-belt-one-road-initiative/

Related:

China President Xi Jinping meets Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, January 23, 2016. Photo by Reuters

A Chinese woman looks at a propaganda poster for the “China Dream”

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One Belt, One Road

Crimes Against Humanity in Syria Documented by More Than 28,000 Photos of Torture, Deaths in Government Custody

December 16, 2015

From Human Rights Watch

(Moscow) – Nine months of research reveals some of the human stories behind the more than 28,000 photos of deaths in government custody that were smuggled out of Syria and first came to public attention in January 2014.

The 86-page report, “If the Dead Could Speak: Mass Deaths and Torture in Syria’s Detention Facilities,” lays out new evidence regarding the authenticity of what are known as the Caesar photographs, identifies a number of the victims, and highlights some of the key causes of death. Human Rights Watch located and interviewed 33 relatives and friends of 27 victims whose cases researchers verified; 37 former detainees who saw people die in detention; and four defectors who worked in Syrian government detention centers or the military hospitals where most of the photographs were taken. Using satellite imagery and geolocation techniques, Human Rights Watch confirmed that some of the photographs of the dead were taken in the courtyard of the 601 Military Hospital in Mezze.

“Just about every detainee in these photographs was someone’s beloved child, husband, father, or friend, and his friends and family spent months or years searching for him,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “We have meticulously verified dozens of stories, and we are confident the Caesar photographs present authentic – and damning – evidence of crimes against humanity in Syria.”

Countries meeting about possible peace negotiations in Syria – including Russia, as the Syrian government’s biggest backer – should make the fate of the thousands of detained people in Syria a priority, Human Rights Watch said. Concerned countries should insist that the Syrian government give international monitors immediate access to all detention centers and that Syria’s intelligence services must stop forcibly disappearing and torturing detainees.

Meet the doctor who saw the horrors of the Caesar Photos first-hand in Syria. >> 

In August 2013, a military defector code-named Caesar smuggled 53,275 photographs out of Syria. Human Rights Watch received the full set of images from the Syrian National Movement, a Syrian anti-government political group that received them from Caesar. The report focuses on 28,707 of the photographs that, based on all available information, show at least 6,786 detainees who died in detention or after being transferred from detention to a military hospital. The remaining photographs are of attack sites or of bodies identified by name as of government soldiers, other armed fighters, or civilians killed in attacks, explosions, or assassination attempts.

cover syria report

© 2015 Human Rights Watch
Most of the 6,786 victims shown in the Caesar photographs were detained by just five intelligence agency branches in Damascus, and their bodies were sent to at least two military hospitals in Damascus between May 2011, when Caesar began copying files and smuggling them out of his workplace, and August 2013, when he fled Syria. The Syrian Network for Human Rights has documented the arrest and detention of more than 117,000 people in Syria since March 2011.
Human Rights Watch found evidence of widespread torture, starvation, beatings, and disease in Syrian government detention facilities. Researchers identified 27 people shown in the photographs and documented their arrest by Syrian intelligence agencies and, in some cases, their ill-treatment and torture in detention. They collected families’ accounts of how their relatives were arrested; compared identifying marks, scars, and tattoos; and sought evidence from former detainees held at the same time, sometimes in the same cell, as the victims. They compared this data to information contained in the names of files that Caesar collected, as well as the information shown on white cards on the victim’s body in each photograph for identification. The case verifications are not forensic or legal identifications; however, Human Rights Watch only included cases with verification from multiple sources in the report.
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 Syria Caesar photos warning

EXPAND

The following photographs of are of people Human Rights Watch understands to have died in government custody, either in one of several detention facilities or after being transferred to a military hospital.

Among the victims identified are a boy who was 14 at the time of his arrest, and a female activist in her 20s. All of the 27 families or relatives interviewed said they spent months or years searching for news of their loved ones, in many cases paying huge sums to contacts and middlemen employed in various government or security agencies. Only two eventually received death certificates which said the deceased had died of heart or respiratory failure. None received the bodies of their relatives for burial.

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Human Rights Watch shared a subset of the photographs, showing 19 victims, with a team of forensic pathologists from Physicians for Human Rights, who analyzed the photos for signs of abuse, as well as evidence of the cause of death. The forensic pathologists found evidence of several types of torture, starvation, suffocation, violent blunt force trauma, and in one case, a gunshot wound in the head, concluding that the victim had been shot in the head at close range.
The former detainees, held in the same places as most of the Caesar victims, told Human Rights Watch that guards kept them in severely overcrowded cells with very little air circulation, gave them so little food that they grew weak, and often denied them the opportunity to wash. Skin diseases and other infectious diseases proliferated, and detainees said that guards denied them adequate medical care.
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“We have no doubt that the people shown in the Caesar photographs were starved, beaten, and tortured in a systematic way, and on a massive scale,” Houry said. “These photographs represent just a fraction of people who have died while in Syrian government custody – thousands more are suffering the same fate.”
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Human Rights Watch researchers used satellite geolocation techniques and the evidence of defectors from the two military hospitals to confirm where the photos were taken and identified a coding system for the cards placed on the bodies.
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A map highlighting the 5 detention facilities where the largest number of the Caesar photos were taken.

A map highlighting the 5 detention facilities where the largest number of the Caesar photos were taken.

 

“The government registered these deaths, processing dozens of bodies at a time, while taking no action to investigate the cause of death or to prevent yet more people in their custody from dying,” Houry said. “Those pushing for peace in Syria should ensure that these crimes stop and that the people who oversaw this system ultimately face accountability for their crimes.”
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In addition to granting international monitors immediate access to all of its detention facilities, the Syrian government should release all arbitrarily detained and political prisoners, Human Rights Watch said. Russia and Iran, as the main backers of the government, have a particular responsibility to press Syria for immediate and unhindered access for recognized international monitors of detention.
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Countries that are members of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), which has been meeting in Vienna to push for a Syrian peace process, should support efforts to ensure accountability for the widespread abuses committed by all sides in Syria. Proposals to grant immunity to anyone implicated in serious crimes should be rejected. As a minimum part of any transitional process in Syria, individuals against whom there is credible evidence of involvement in torture or other serious crimes should not have positions of authority in the detention system, Human Rights Watch said.
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“Many of the former detainees who were held in these nightmarish conditions told us they often wished they would die, rather than continue suffering,” Houry said. “They begged countries involved in seeking a peace process to do everything they can to help the people still being held in Syria.”
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A Sample of Victim Profiles:Ahmad al-Musalmani (Child), Victim from the Photographs
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On August 2, 2012, when Ahmad was 14, he returned to Syria from Lebanon, where his family had sent him for safety reasons, to attend his mother’s funeral. He was traveling in a minibus with five other people.An officer at a checkpoint took the passengers’ phones and found an anti-Assad song on Ahmad’s. The officer dragged Ahmad into a small room at the checkpoint, a fellow passenger told the family a day later. The rest of the passengers continued on in the minibus without him.Ahmad’s uncle, Dahi al-Musalmani, was a judge for 20 years before he fled the country in March 2013. Dahi told Human Rights Watch that he went to see several government officials after Ahmad’s disappearance. He learned that Ahmad was likely in Air Force Intelligence custody, and paid more than US$14,000 in bribes attempting to secure Ahmad’s release, unsuccessfully. He eventually fled to Jordan after family members told him he was wanted for arrest.

When the Caesar photographs were released, Dahi searched for Ahmad among them:

I went directly to the folder of the Air Force Intelligence, and I found him. [he breaks down while talking] It was a shock. Oh, it was the shock of my life to see him here. I looked for him, 950 days I looked for him. I counted each day. When his mother was dying, she told me: ‘I leave him under your protection.’ What protection could I give?
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Rehab al-Allawi, Victim from the Photographs
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Rehab al-Allawi, a Damascus resident originally from Deir al-Zor, was an engineering student at Damascus University before the uprising in Syria. Hers was the only photograph of a woman, among the Caesar photographs of detainees’ bodies.Rehab was about 25 when the Raids Brigade, a special unit of the military police, arrested her on January 17, 2013. Rehab worked in one of Damascus’s local coordination committees – loose networks of activists – assisting internally displaced people who had fled Homs.After her arrest, the family sought information through personal contacts within the Syrian government. They paid more than US$18,000 to various officials in the Syrian military and security services to try to get information about her and to secure her release but their attempts did not succeed.A former detainee, Hanadi, told Human Rights Watch that she was detained with Rehab for more than three weeks in the 215 Branch Military Intelligence facility.

“We spent 24 days together in the cell, next to each other,” Hanadi said. “She wanted to see her parents. She would always speak about her brothers and sisters. She was scared for her family.”

Hanadi was transferred to Adra Prison after three and a half weeks. She never saw Rehab again.

In March 2015, after the Caesar photographs were published online, a cousin called the family and asked if Rehab’s photo might be among those released. “She looks just like Rehab,” the cousin said.

Though the family recognized Rehab, they asked former detainees who had seen Rehab in prison for confirmation, as her appearance had changed during her detention.

Hanadi said:

One day her brother called me and asked me if it was Rehab in the photographs that were published…. I recognized the pajamas she was wearing, and her face. Even the shape of her toes was the same.
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Quotes from Former Detainees in Same Facility as Many Caesar Victims
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“If you took pictures of the detainees now, you would see people who looked like those that are in the Caesar photographs, only they would be alive….The ones who died are the lucky ones.”
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–Dr. Sami, former 215 Branch detainee“When I went inside the cell, someone knew me. When he lifted his head, [I saw] his teeth were broken. He was severely, severely emaciated. He had very weak and short hair. I said, ‘You know me?’ He said, ‘Yes, I’m your nephew Mohammed. I’m the one with the supermarket next to your clinic.’ He started to cry. He hadn’t seen himself, he’d been detained for ten and a half months.”
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–Dr. Karim Mamoun, former 215 Branch detaineeQuotes from Defectors.
“I know this place from the photographs stone by stone, brick by brick. I lived there 24 hours a day. I had to carry [the bodies] myself.”
–Suleiman Ali (not his real name), former conscript who worked at the 601 Military Hospital

“When the corpses arrive, [the forensic doctor, who is also an army officer] asks how many corpses there are, and then she asks [conscripts] to wrap them up. She gives each body a third number on a bandage. She writes on the register: the number of detainee, the branch number, and the hospital number [examination number]. Then they are put in the [morgue] refrigerator.”

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–Fahed al-Mahmoud (not his real name), military defector who served at the Harasta Military Hospital in Damascus and witnessed bodies being registered

https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/16/syria-stories-behind-photos-killed-detainees

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From AFP

Nine months of research by Human Rights Watch has revealed some of the human stories behind the tens of thousands of photos of those who died in government custody that were smuggled out of Syria, the rights group said Wednesday.

In its 86-page report, “If the Dead Could Speak: Mass Deaths and Torture in Syria’s Detention Facilities”, Human Rights Watch (HRW) lays out new evidence of the authenticity of what are known as the Caesar photographs, some 28,000 photos smuggled out of Syria by a military defector codenamed Caesar that first came to public attention in January 2014.

The rights group said it had located and interviewed 33 relatives or friends of 27 victims whose cases its researchers had verified as well as 37 former detainees who saw people die in detention and four defectors, who either worked in a Syrian government detention centre or at the military hospitals where most of the photographs were taken.

“Just about every detainee in these photographs was someone’s beloved child, husband, father or friend, and his friends and family spent months or years searching for him,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement on the group’s website. “We have meticulously verified dozens of stories, and we are confident the Caesar photographs present authentic – and damning – evidence of crimes against humanity in Syria.”

The pictures appeared to show the bodies of some 6,000 Syrian detainees – often bearing marks of torture or starvation – who allegedly died in detention or after being transferred to military hospitals.

The watchdog said one of the victims, 14-year-old Ahmad al-Musalmani, died in government custody after being held for having an anti-regime song on his mobile phone in 2012.

Ahmad’s uncle, Dahi al-Musalmani, spent years trying to find his nephew as well as more than $14,000 in bribes to secure his release.

Dahi finally identified his nephew in Caesar’s photos.

“I went directly to the folder of the Air Force Intelligence, and I found him,” he told HRW, breaking down while talking.

“It was a shock. Oh, it was the shock of my life to see him here. I looked for him, 950 days I looked for him. I counted each day. When his mother was dying, she told me: ‘I leave him under your protection.’ What protection could I give?”

HRW called on the countries holding peace talks on the Syrian war to prioritise the release of the thousands of detainees who remain in government custody. Diplomats from the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar and Turkey met in Paris on Monday to seek a solution to the crisis.

Human Rights Watch said that Russia and Iran – as the top backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – have a “particular responsibility” to argue for international monitors to have immediate access to detention centres in Syria.

“The government registered these deaths, processing dozens of bodies at a time, while taking no action to investigate the cause of death or to prevent yet more people in their custody from dying,” Houry said.

“Those pushing for peace in Syria should ensure that these crimes stop and that the people who oversaw this system ultimately face accountability for their crimes.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

http://www.france24.com/en/20151216-human-rights-watch-syria-report-crimes-assad-syria-hrw

Related:

Report in The Daily Mail:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3257299/New-book-reveals-grotesque-torture-murder-meted-Syrian-dictator-Assad-man-Russia-s-Putin-helping-power.html

Why Saudi Arabia has lost faith in the US

May 19, 2015

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By

Barack Obama

One key sentence in President Barack Obama’s press conference at Camp David last week clearly illustrates the gulf between Washington and its allies on the Arabian Peninsula when it comes to Iran.

“We gave [our allies] our best analysis of the enormous needs that Iran has internally and the commitment that Iran has made to its people in terms of shoring up its economy and improving economic growth,” said President Obama, when asked about concerns that Iran would use the money from sanctions relief for nefarious aims in the region.

He added that “most of the destabilising activity that Iran engages in is low-tech, low-cost activity”.

It was just as well that Mr Obama gave the press conference on his own. The Gulf leaders had just departed after a full day of talks at the Maryland retreat or they would have had a hard time resisting a collective eye roll at what they perceive to be American naivety about Tehran.

As it pursues a nuclear deal with Iran, Washington has been trying hard not to adhere to the positions and fears of Arab countries vis-a-vis Iran.

At Camp David, the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council received assurances that Washington had their backs, with pledges about more military cooperation and hardware. But on the key issue it was hoping Washington would engage on – a regional strategy to contain Iran – it got little more than a suggestion that Gulf countries should ramp up on their own asymmetric challenge to Tehran’s influence. Nothing can bridge what are essentially opposing world views.

Gulf Cooperation Council

  • Six members: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain
  • Formed in May 1981 against the backdrop of the Islamic revolution in Iran and the Iraq-Iran war
  • Security is a major issue for the GCC, but finding a collective formula that satisfies all member states is a challenge

Profile: Gulf Cooperation Council

President Obama and Gulf leaders
Gulf leaders perceive the Americans to be naive when it comes to Iran

Riyadh has accepted that there is little it can do about stopping a nuclear deal, but it’s gearing up to push back more forcefully against its arch-nemesis, as Tehran boasts of a new Persian empire with influence over four capitals: Beirut, Baghdad, Damascus and Sanaa.

Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Saad Hariri was scathing on a recent visit to Washington about the administration’s assertion that the money from the sanctions relief would go to “building bridges and roads”.

It’s estimated that after a deal is reached and Iran is verifiably in compliance, Tehran would get access to at least $100bn (£64bn).

“I want to know how much of this money is going to Hezbollah,” said Mr Hariri, whose political camp is staunchly opposed to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia militant group backed by Iran, which has been fighting in Syria to help prop up President Bashar al-Assad.

American officials say the US cannot impose conditions on how Iran spends its own money.

Military edge

A UN official also recently estimated that Iran had been channelling as much as $35bn a year into Syria since the conflict started.

Earlier this month, Syria and Iran were discussing a $1bn credit line to help Mr Assad’s government, the second credit line since 2013.

Arab countries don’t see Iran’s efforts to expand its regional influence as a low-cost operation, though it could perhaps be characterised as low-tech.

When it comes to a military edge, Saudi Arabia is billions of dollars ahead of Iran.

Riyadh is now trying to deploy its hardware in the face of Iran’s asymmetric warfare and is looking beyond Yemen.

A senior Saudi Arabian official told me they were deeply concerned about the cash injection Iran would get after a nuclear deal.

When I asked him whether they were planning to make a move on Syria before a deal is reached, his response was a surprisingly forceful “Yes”.

Saad Hariri
Former Lebanon Prime Minister Saad Hariri fears money from sanctions relief may go to Hezbollah

Losing patience

Channelling his Saudi Arabian allies, Mr Hariri indicated that while replicating the Saudi military operation in Yemen was not an option in Syria, the kingdom had come to accept that the only way to get Washington more involved in the effort to push President Assad out was to take the initiative and hope the US followed.

After years of disconnected policies, Saudi Arabia is now working with  to better coordinate their support for the rebels opposing President Assad, and this has quickly translated into significant gains on the ground in recent weeks.

The strategy is likely to tip the balance of power on the battlefield enough that Iran will agree to a political negotiation and push Mr Assad out.

Exerting real leverage on Damascus would require further action, and Washington has made clear it is opposed to an outright win by the Syrian rebels.

But it’s unlikely anyone can micromanage advances on the ground – or that the Saudi Arabia has much patience left for Mr Obama’s approach.

Just as the American president’s pursuit of a deal with Iran upset the status quo that has prevailed in the region for the past three decades, Saudi Arabia’s decision to go to war caused a further tectonic shift.

Saudi Arabia has never really gone to war in this way, and the jury is still out on how it is managing.

Former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel described it as bordering on drink-driving.

But it’s clear that Riyadh is test driving its ability to lead military coalitions and wants to be the new military power of the region.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-32778185