Monday, September 30, 2013

A Syrian solution to civil conflict? The Free Syrian Army is holding talks with Assad's senior staff; Secret approach to the President could reshape the whole war

    Monday, September 30, 2013   No comments
Six weeks ago, a two-man delegation arrived in secret in Damascus: civilians from Aleppo who represented elements of the Free Syrian Army, the rebel group largely composed of fighters who deserted the regime’s army in the first year of the war. They came under a guarantee of safety, and met, so I am told, a senior official on the staff of President Bashar al-Assad. And they carried with them an extraordinary initiative – that there might be talks between the government and FSA officers who “believed in a Syrian solution” to the war.

The delegation made four points: that there must be an “internal Syrian dialogue”; that private and public properties must be maintained; that there must be an end to – and condemnation of – civil, sectarian, ethnic strife; and that all must work for a democratic Syria where the supremacy of law would be dominant. There was no demand – at least at this stage – for Assad’s departure.

The reply apparently came promptly. There should indeed be “a dialogue within the Syrian homeland”; no preconditions for the dialogue; and a presidential guarantee of safety for any FSA men participating. And now, it seems, another remarkable development is under way: in seven rebel-held areas of Aleppo, most of them under the control of the FSA, civil employees can return to work in their offices, and government institutions and schools can reopen. Students who have become militiamen over the past two years will be disarmed and return to their classrooms.

Some members of the FSA have formed what they call the “National Union for Saving Syria”, although members of the political opposition in areas outside government control disrupted meetings by condemning the government army and, according to those involved in the “Union”, making sectarian comments and condemning Shiites and Iran. Last week there were several defections of FSA units to the al-Qa’ida-linked al-Nusra Front, which has complicated matters still further. If the FSA is prepared to talk to the regime, how many are now left to take part in future agreements between the two sides?


Friday, September 27, 2013

Obama and Rouhani make history with phone call, thawing three decade freeze between US and Iran

    Friday, September 27, 2013   No comments
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President Barack Obama revealed Friday that he talked with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, marking the first time leaders from the U.S. and Iran have directly communicated since the 1979 Iranian revolution.
"Just now I spoke on the phone with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic of Iran," he said from the White House.

Rouhani has been engaged in a publicity blitz as of late, a streak that began with his sit-down with NBC News' Ann Curry last week. Rouhani spent the last few days at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, making a number of public addresses indicating that Iran was open to a deeper relationship with the U.S. and the West, and resolving conflict around his country's nuclear program.
"The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran's nuclear program," Obama said. "I reiterated to President Rouhani what I said in New York: While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward, and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive agreement."


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Syria rebels reject Syrian National Coalition, call for Islamic leadership

    Thursday, September 26, 2013   No comments

Thousands of Syrian rebels have broken with the Western-backed coalition and called for a new Islamist front, undermining international efforts to build up a pro-Western military force to replace President Bashar al-Assad.

Ever more divided on a battlefield where Assad's better armed troops have been gaining ground, allies of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) were among 13 disparate rebel factions to disown the exile leadership and build an Islamic alliance that includes the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, commanders said on Tuesday.

Details of the numbers of fighters involved and of how they would cooperate remained unclear. But, in an online video, a leader of the Islamist Tawheed Brigade said the bloc rejected the authority of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and the Western- and Saudi-backed exile administration of Ahmad Tumeh.

A spokesman for Coalition president Ahmed Jarba, who was attending the United Nations general assembly in New York, said Jarba would head for Syria on Thursday to respond: "We are not going to negotiate with individual groups. We are going to come up with a better structure for organizing the fighting forces," the spokesman, Loay Safi, said.

The move is a setback for foreign leaders trying to bolster more secular rebel groups and to reassure voters skeptical of deeper involvement in Syria's civil war. Some may think again about help for the fighters, which ranges from weaponry from the Gulf to non-lethal aid from Europe and the United States.

For Assad, already cheered by Russian diplomatic assistance that undermined U.S. plans to bomb his forces following a poison gas attack, any more powerful rebel coalition could challenge his army's resurgence in the field. But that could be more than offset by a weakening of international backing for his enemies.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Declassified NSA files show agency spied on Muhammad Ali and MLK; Operation Minaret set up in 1960s to monitor anti-Vietnam critics, branded 'disreputable if not outright illegal' by NSA itself

    Wednesday, September 25, 2013   No comments
The National Security Agency secretly tapped into the overseas phone calls of prominent critics of the Vietnam War, including Martin Luther King, Muhammad Ali and two actively serving US senators, newly declassified material has revealed.

The NSA has been forced to disclose previously secret passages in its own official four-volume history of its Cold War snooping activities. The newly-released material reveals the breathtaking – and probably illegal – lengths the agency went to in the late 1960s and 70s, in an attempt to try to hold back the rising tide of anti-Vietnam war sentiment.

That included tapping into the phone calls and cable communications of two serving senators – the Idaho Democrat Frank Church and Howard Baker, a Republican from Tennessee who, puzzlingly, was a firm supporter of the war effort in Vietnam. The NSA also intercepted the foreign communications of prominent journalists such as Tom Wicker of the New York Times and the popular satirical writer for the Washington Post, Art Buchwald.

Alongside King, a second leading civil rights figure, Whitney Young of the National Urban League, was also surreptitiously monitored. The heavyweight boxing champion, Muhammad Ali, was put on the watch list in about 1967 after he spoke out about Vietnam – he was jailed having refused to be drafted into the army, was stripped of his title, and banned from fighting – and is thought to have remained a target of surveillance for the next six years.


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Speech of H.E. Mr. Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran (Islamic Republic of)

    Tuesday, September 24, 2013   No comments
H.E. Mr. Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran (Islamic Republic of)

English Text of speech of President Hassan Rouhani at UN General Assembly;  24 September - 1 October 2013

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François Hollande, President of the French Republic at the general debate of the 68th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations

    Tuesday, September 24, 2013   No comments

Address by His Excellency François Hollande, President of the French Republic at the general debate of the 68th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations (New York, 24 September-1 October 2013).


Abdullah Gül, President of the Republic of Turkey at the general debate of the 68th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations

    Tuesday, September 24, 2013   No comments

Address by His Excellency Abdullah Gül, President of the Republic of Turkey at the general debate of the 68th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations (New York, 24 September-1 October 2013).

Barack Obama, President of the United States of America at the general debate of the 68th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations

    Tuesday, September 24, 2013   No comments
 Address by His Excellency Barack Obama, President of the United States of America at the general debate of the 68th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations (New York, 24 September-1 October 2013).

Monday, September 23, 2013

In an exclusive interview to CCTV correspondent Wang Weiwei, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has confirmed that Syria plans to honor its commitment to the chemical weapons disarmament deal

    Monday, September 23, 2013   No comments
In an exclusive interview to CCTV correspondent Wang Weiwei, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has confirmed that Syria plans to honor its commitment to the chemical weapons disarmament deal.
But he warned that rebels could throw a spanner in the works when UN weapons inspectors arrive to oversee the destruction of the weapons. Al-Assad gave more details in the exclusive interview.
Reporter: "According to the US-Russia's agreement, after the list is handed in to the OPCW, UN inspectors will enter Syria again this November. And all weapons should be removed from Syria or destroyed by mid-2014. Is the Syrian government able to meet the timeline?"

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said, "For the Syrian government, right now we need to ensure two things: one is to submit necessary information and data to the OPCW. This has been done days ago. It has been completed last week and the information is credible. Second is to facilitate the work of the UN inspectors who will visit the production and restoration sites of the chemical weapons in the coming month. There is no question to that. Now the only obstacle is the security conditions in some areas, which will make it difficult for the inspectors to enter. We know that those terrorist militants in these areas take orders from some countries, who may instigate them to block the visit of the inspector. And they may even shift the blame on to the government."


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Iranians united in their support to president Hassan Rouhani's diplomatic initiatives

    Sunday, September 22, 2013   No comments
Iranian hardliners appear to have given their tacit support to president Hassan Rouhani as the moderate cleric prepares to travel to New York on what could be a critically important visit to the United Nations, which may include a historic meeting with his American counterpart.

Hawkish fundamentalists, including the elite Revolutionary Guards close to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have refrained from demonstrating opposition to Rouhani's new bid to pursue "constructive engagement" with the international community. This could include talks over Iran's controversial nuclear programme and the Syrian conflict. The Iranian president is keen to show the world that he has a united country behind him.

Khamenei, long a fierce critic of the US, has thrown his weight behind Rouhani, apparently giving his blessing for direct talks between Rouhani and President Barack Obama, which could take place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly this week. And Iran's opposition activists and politicians, given new heart after Rouhani's victory in June, appear to share support for the new president in his attempt to improve relations with the west.

Saturday's headlines in Tehran reflected the mood of growing optimism in Iran, where even the hardline press such as Keyhan, an ultra-conservative newspaper whose director is directly appointed by Khamenei, appears to be welcoming the possibility of a historic meeting that can put an end to Tehran and Washington's three decades of animosity. "I have no plans, but it's possible," was Keyhan's headline, quoting Rouhani on the possibility of a meeting with Obama. In a further sign that Rouhani has full authority, the Revolutionary Guard issued a statement offering support for his administration.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Rocket attack targets police social facilities building in Ankara

    Friday, September 20, 2013   No comments
An attack involving three rockets targeted a police social facilities building in Ankara’s Dikmen neighborhood in the evening of Sept. 20, Anadolu Agency reported.

According to immediate reports, there were no casualties, however the attack left some material damage to the building.

Police officers were dispatched to the scene.

Interior Minister Muammer Güler arrived at the scene to assess it himself a few minutes after the attack.

An operation has been launched to find the perpetrators of the attack. Two people were seen running from the scene a few moments after the incident took place, witnesses said.


Why Iran seeks constructive engagement: ‘Gone is the age of blood feuds’

    Friday, September 20, 2013   No comments
by Hassan Rouhani

Three months ago, my platform of “prudence and hope” gained a broad, popular mandate. Iranians embraced my approach to domestic and international affairs because they saw it as long overdue. I’m committed to fulfilling my promises to my people, including my pledge to engage in constructive interaction with the world.

The world has changed. International politics is no longer a zero-sum game but a multi-dimensional arena where cooperation and competition often occur simultaneously. Gone is the age of blood feuds. World leaders are expected to lead in turning threats into opportunities.
The international community faces many challenges in this new world — terrorism, extremism, foreign military interference, drug trafficking, cybercrime and cultural encroachment — all within a framework that has emphasized hard power and the use of brute force.

We must pay attention to the complexities of the issues at hand to solve them. Enter my definition of constructive engagement. In a world where global politics is no longer a zero-sum game, it is — or should be — counterintuitive to pursue one’s interests without considering the interests of others. A constructive approach to diplomacy doesn’t mean relinquishing one’s rights. It means engaging with one’s counterparts, on the basis of equal footing and mutual respect, to address shared concerns and achieve shared objectives. In other words, win-win outcomes are not just favorable but also achievable. A zero-sum, Cold War mentality leads to everyone’s loss.

Sadly, unilateralism often continues to overshadow constructive approaches. Security is pursued at the expense of the insecurity of others, with disastrous consequences. More than a decade and two wars after 9/11, al-Qaeda and other militant extremists continue to wreak havoc. Syria, a jewel of civilization, has become the scene of heartbreaking violence, including chemical weapons attacks, which we strongly condemn. In Iraq, 10 years after the American-led invasion, dozens still lose their lives to violence every day. Afghanistan endures similar, endemic bloodshed.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Rouhani: said his country will never develop nuclear weapons

    Thursday, September 19, 2013   No comments

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Unlike his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rouhani struck a moderate tone on many issues, but he deflected a question from NBC News' Ann Curry about whether he believed that the Holocaust was "a myth."
"I'm not a historian. I'm a politician," he replied. "What is important for us is that the countries of the region and the people grow closer to each other, and that they are able to prevent aggression and injustice."
Rouhani's comments came in his first interview with a U.S. news outlet since his June election. The interview was broadcast Thursday on TODAY.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Intelligence Sources: President Hassan Rohani could be willing to make concessions in the country's long-running standoff with the West over its nuclear program

    Tuesday, September 17, 2013   No comments
Nothing -- not even Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons -- is a source of such deep concern for the West and Israel as Iran's nuclear facilities, such as Natanz, Isfahan and Fordo. The installation at Fordo, not far from the holy city of Qom, is viewed as a particularly grave threat.

Researchers working underground there are using 696 centrifuges to enrich uranium to 20 percent. Afterwards, it only takes a relatively small step to create the material required to build nuclear bombs. Fordo, which didn't go into operation until late 2011, is reportedly the most modern plant in the Iranian nuclear program which -- despite all denials from Tehran -- the world believes is designed to give the Islamic Republic the ultimate weapon. What's more, Fordo is believed to be virtually indestructible. Even bunker-buster bombs would hardly be powerful enough to disable the facility -- the enrichment cascades lie 70 meters (230 feet) under the surface.

But the long-smoldering nuclear dispute with Tehran may be about to take a sensational turn. SPIEGEL has learned from intelligence sources that Iran's new president, Hassan Rohani, is reportedly prepared to decommission the Fordo enrichment plant and allow international inspectors to monitor the removal of the centrifuges. In return, he could demand that the United States and Europe rescind their sanctions against the Islamic Republic, lift the ban on Iranian oil exports and allow the country's central bank to do international business again.

Rohani reportedly intends to announce the details of the offer, perhaps already during his speech before the United Nations General Assembly at the end of the month. His foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, will meet Catherine Ashton, the European Union's top diplomat, in New York next Sunday and give her a rough outline of the deal. If he were to make such wide-ranging concessions, President Rohani would initiate a negotiating process that could conceivably even lead to a resumption of bilateral diplomatic relations with Washington.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Nearly half the rebel fighters in Syria are now aligned to jihadist or hardline Islamist groups according to a new analysis of factions in the country's civil war

    Monday, September 16, 2013   No comments
Opposition forces battling Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria now number around 100,000 fighters, but after more than two years of fighting they are fragmented into as many as 1,000 bands.

The new study by IHS Jane's, a defence consultancy, estimates there are around 10,000 jihadists - who would include foreign fighters - fighting for powerful factions linked to al-Qaeda..
Another 30,000 to 35,000 are hardline Islamists who share much of the outlook of the jihadists, but are focused purely on the Syrian war rather than a wider international struggle.

There are also at least a further 30,000 moderates belonging to groups that have an Islamic character, meaning only a small minority of the rebels are linked to secular or purely nationalist groups.

The stark assessment, to be published later this week, accords with the view of Western diplomats estimate that less than one third of the opposition forces are "palatable" to Britain, while American envoys put the figure even lower.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Syria rebels' form of justice: captives are dragged to their doom and butchered like animals in some of the most brutal scenes to emerge from Syria's civil war

    Sunday, September 15, 2013   No comments
The sword rests briefly on his neck as a blindfolded man kneels under a clear blue sky.
Moments later, the executioner raises his right arm, slashes downwards and the prisoner is dead.
The whole barbaric episode is watched by a crowd of jeering men, many of them armed.
And sitting on a low wall only a few feet from where the wretched captive died so violently is a line of young boys.
They were still there as the dead man’s head was dumped on his body. Another child, even younger, was led by the hand past the corpse.
Warning: Graphic content


Saturday, September 14, 2013

U.S. and Russia reach a deal on Syria's chemical weapons: A plan that Kerry initially said "can’t be done, obviously," is now "the plan"

    Saturday, September 14, 2013   No comments
GENEVA — The United States and Russia have reached an agreement that calls for Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons to be removed or destroyed by the middle of 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday.

Under the agreement, Syria must submit a “comprehensive listing” of its chemical weapons stockpiles within a week.

American and Russian officials also reached a consensus on the size of Syria’s stockpile, an essential prerequisite to any international plan to control and dismantle the weapons.

“If fully implemented,” Mr. Kerry said, “this framework can provide greater protection and security to the world.”

If President Bashar al-Assad of Syria fails to comply with the agreement, the issue will be referred to the United Nations Security Council.

Mr. Kerry said that any violations would then be taken up under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, which authorizes punitive action. But Mr. Lavrov made clear that Russia, which wields a veto in the Security Council, had not withdrawn its objections to the use of force.

The joint announcement, which took place on the third day of intensive talks here, eased the United States’ confrontation with Syria.

Arms control officials on both sides worked into the night, a process that recalled the treaty negotiations during the cold war.

The issue of removing Syria’s chemical arms broke into the open on Monday when Mr. Kerry, in a news conference in London, posed the question as to whether Mr. Assad could rapidly be disarmed only to state that he did not see how it could be done.

“He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that,” Mr. Kerry said. “But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.”

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Turkey left out of diplomatic loop on chemical weapons debate; is Turkey becoming even more irrelevant?

    Friday, September 13, 2013   No comments
Ahmet Davutoğlu has not spoken to Kerry or Lavrov in four days...
Ankara, which has continued to liaise with world leaders on the Syrian crisis and other international issues, now seems left out of diplomatic traffic between officials from the US and Russia, two camps on the ongoing conflict in Syria that have been discussing the issue of Syria's chemical weapons for the last two days at a conference in Geneva.

Russia proposed a plan last week, accepted by both Syria and the United States, that would put the Syrian regime's chemical weapons stockpile under international control, to eventually be destroyed.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, have been discussing the Russian proposal in Geneva for the last two days. The proposal appears to offer a way out of the chemical weapons crisis, at the same time shelving the possibility of US-led military action in Syria in retaliation against an alleged chemical weapons attack last month.

Turkey, however, believes that the Russian initiative is a tactical move to prevent outside action being taken to end the conflict in Syria, thus buying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad more time to stage massacres.

Sources from the Foreign Ministry say that Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has not spoken to Kerry or Lavrov in four days.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A French report claims that Turkey encouraged the formation of a jihadist brigade called “Katibat al-Taliban” (KaT)

    Thursday, September 12, 2013   No comments
France's Intelligence Online claimed in a story in its latest issue published on Wednesday that Turkey encouraged the formation of a jihadist brigade called “Katibat al-Taliban” (KaT), which is reportedly made up almost exclusively of Kurds, to fight with the Democratic Union Party (PYD). The story also claimed that some fighters of the alleged group were "members of the PKK who converted to Islam in Turkish prisons,” while others come from schools established by followers of Gülen.
The lawyer of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen has strongly dismissed claims by a French publication that followers of Gülen are among members of an alleged jihadist formation encouraged by Turkey to fight a political offshoot of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Syria as baseless slanders.
“The claim in question is first of all a blatant and baseless slander that is based on no evidence.  Mentioning the name of my client, who based his entire life on tolerance, dialogue, peace, love for people and one's country, is, to say the least, ruthless and shows a lack of intelligence,” said lawyer Nurullah Albayrak in a statement on Thursday.


The problems with political bias in the culture of think tanks: Syria expert Senator McCain cited is not an expert after all

    Thursday, September 12, 2013   No comments

Dr. Elizabeth O’Bagy, Syria expert, made quite an impression on Senator John McCain. During Senate hearings, the former Presidential candidate quoted at length from her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed painting a rosy picture of a mostly secular, pro-Western anti-Assad insurgency.

“John, do you agree with Dr. O’Bagy’s assessment of the opposition?,” the Senator asked the Secretary of State John Kerry. “I agree with most of that,” he replied.

Except Dr. O’Bagy wasn’t actually a doctor. Her PhD was fabricated, a lie she told her employers at the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), an influential neoconservative-aligned think tank, to get hired. Ironically, it ended up being the lie that got her fired Wednesday. This postmodern reenactment of the Icarus myth also provides a bizarrely informative window into the way that Washington’s foreign policy sausage gets made.

O’Bagy got her start last year, when she interned for ISW’s Iraq portfolio while completing a Master’s in Arab Studies at Georgetown University. Kimberly Kagan, the President of ISW, was so impressed that she hired O’Bagy to start even before the young analyst finished her degree. “Her insights and her [Arabic] linguistic skills were tremendous,” Kagan said.

But O’Bagy had already begun to misrepresent her credentials. Kagan told me that she “knew [O'Bagy] was a student at Georgetown in a combined masters/PhD program,” and that new hire was writing a dissertation on “female militancy in Islamic extremist organizations.” Several media outlets have repeated this account as fact in their write-ups of O’Bagy’s firing, all maintaining that she is still in the process of completing a Georgetown doctorate.

This is almost certainly false. Either O’Bagy was at one point enrolled a PhD program and dropped out, or she has been lying the entire time. Some evidence points to the latter.


What Putin Has to Say to Americans About Syria: A Plea for Caution From Russia

    Thursday, September 12, 2013   No comments
Recent events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders. It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies.
Relations between us have passed through different stages. We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.

My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States' policy is "what makes America different. It's what makes us exceptional". It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord's blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal..

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

NSA shares raw intelligence including American citizens' data with Israel

    Wednesday, September 11, 2013   No comments
The National Security Agency routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens, a top-secret document provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.

Details of the intelligence-sharing agreement are laid out in a memorandum of understanding between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart that shows the US government handed over intercepted communications likely to contain phone calls and emails of American citizens. The agreement places no legally binding limits on the use of the data by the Israelis.

The disclosure that the NSA agreed to provide raw intelligence data to a foreign country contrasts with assurances from the Obama administration that there are rigorous safeguards to protect the privacy of US citizens caught in the dragnet. The intelligence community calls this process "minimization", but the memorandum makes clear that the information shared with the Israelis would be in its pre-minimized state.

The deal was reached in principle in March 2009, according to the undated memorandum, which lays out the ground rules for the intelligence sharing.

The five-page memorandum, termed an agreement between the US and Israeli intelligence agencies "pertaining to the protection of US persons", repeatedly stresses the constitutional rights of Americans to privacy and the need for Israeli intelligence staff to respect these rights.

But this is undermined by the disclosure that Israel is allowed to receive "raw Sigint" – signal intelligence. The memorandum says: "Raw Sigint includes, but is not limited to, unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content."

According to the agreement, the intelligence being shared would not be filtered in advance by NSA analysts to remove US communications. "NSA routinely sends ISNU [the Israeli Sigint National Unit] minimized and unminimized raw collection", it says.


Police fire tear gas to disperse crowds gathered to denounce protester's death in Turkey

    Wednesday, September 11, 2013   No comments
The police staged a fresh crackdown on demonstrators in the early evening hours of Sept. 10, after groups had gathered in Istanbul's Taksim Square to denounce the death of a protester in Antakya during an intervention.

After the crowd swelled in numbers in Taksim Square, police pushed them down through the pedestrian İstiklal Avenue in order to prevent the demonstration from taking place.

Once again tear gas and water cannons were resorted to, with police chasing protesters down İstiklal Avenue and the many narrow side streets in the area.

Police also used tear gas to disperse a crowd that had arrived by ferry at the Karaköy docks, downhill from İstiklal Avenue, in order prevent them from reaching the Taksim area.

The police intervention continued for more than four hours around İstiklal Avenue's side streets.

The Istanbul bar association has stated that 41 people have been detained in Istanbul alone.

Another protest was staged in the district of Kadıköy, on Istanbul's Asian side.

Witnesses and activists claimed that Atakan was hit in the head by a gas canister fired by the police. However, the Turkish police released a statement saying footage from a police camera indicated that Atakan had fallen from a building, and that no intervention by the police was visible.

A doctor present during the protester's preliminary autopsy said there was no evidence to prove that the latter had fallen from a building.

Shortly earlier, police had sealed off Gezi Park next to the square following calls on social media for a demonstration.

The Taksim Solidarity Platform, which initiated the first protests against the destruction of trees in Gezi Park months ago, scheduled a public rally in Taksim Square at around 7 p.m. “We will gather at Taksim with carnations to commemorate Ahmet Atakan and denounce police violence,” the group said via its social media account.

Meanwhile, the under-21 football match between Turkey and Sweden at the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Stadium in the Kasımpaşa district was temporarily interrupted due to tear gas drifting over from the nearby Taksim area.


Syrian American Woman tells McCain "do not bomb Syria"

    Wednesday, September 11, 2013   No comments
Syrian American Woman tells McCain "do not bomb Syria; minorities are not collateral damage."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Unbelievably John Kerry: Once again, John Kerry’s created an unbelievably big problem out of one little phrase

    Tuesday, September 10, 2013   No comments
By: Edward-Isaac Dovere

Throughout his career, Kerry’s had a problem with words. Monday, with just two of them, he managed to illustrate the Obama administration’s overall ambivalence toward a Syria strike, the latest shift in arguments from a man whose case for action has been changing almost with the days of the week.

Saying that any Syria action would be “unbelievably small” was supposed to reassure voters that the White House isn’t hatching a new Iraq-level invasion and occupation. Instead, he just bolstered skeptics who believe the administration’s either only looking for a symbolic move against Syrian President Bashar Assad to be able to claim action or for those who believe that President Barack Obama’s about to blunder into a long-term engagement in yet another fractured Arab nation.

That’s distinct from the new international policy Kerry at first seemed to have stumbled into, but as subsequent comments from White House officials and the president showed through the day, was actually a concerted — but heavily conditional — float, that Assad could stop an attack if the Syrian president somehow turned over his entire chemical weapons arsenal immediately.


Pierre Piccinin: Assad not Responsible for Ghouta Gas Attack, rebels used gas in Ghouta to trigger Western intervention

    Tuesday, September 10, 2013   No comments
A Belgian writer held hostage for five months in Syria has said that his own rebel captors denied that President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the Ghouta massacre.

Pierre Piccinin said that he and fellow hostage Domenico Quirico, an Italian war reporter, heard their jailers talking about the chemical weapon attack and saying that Assad was not to blame.

Quirico confirmed to La Stampa newspaper that they had eavesdropped such a conversation through a closed door but added that he had no evidence to substantiate what he heard.

Piccinin said the captives became desperate when they heard that the US was planning to launch a punitive attack against the regime over the gas attack in the Damascus suburb.

"It wasn't the government of Bashar al-Assad that used sarin gas or any other gas in Ghouta," Piccinin told Belgian RTL radio after he was released.

"We are sure about this because we overheard a conversation between rebels. It pains me to say it because I've been a fierce supporter of the Free Syrian Army in its rightful fight for democracy since 2012," Piccinin added.


Monday, September 09, 2013

If Obama is not willing to target both the regime and the terrorists in Syria, then Congress should not approve military action

    Monday, September 09, 2013   No comments
by Marc A. Thiessen

Senator Ted Cruz says that in Syria, the United States military should not “serve as al-Qaeda’s air force.” He’s right.

Al-Qaeda has two major strategic objectives: to get control of a nation-state and to get control of weapons of mass destruction. President Obama’s inaction in Syria has brought them closer to accomplishing both objectives.

After announcing that Assad must go in August 2011, Obama dithered for two years. This created a power vacuum, which al-Qaeda has filled — pouring weapons and fighters into Syria, and carving out new safe havens where it controls territory and operates with impunity.

If the United States were to employ military force sufficient to topple Assad, there is now a danger that such an attack could help al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic radicals come to power in Damascus. This may be one reason why the administration is proposing limited, rather than decapitating, strikes against Assad.

But Assad does not have to fall for the terrorists to get their hands on his chemical stockpiles. He simply needs to be weakened enough that he cannot protect them. Al-Qaeda has successfully overrun government prisons in Iraq and military airfields in northern Syria. What is to stop them from overrunning Assad’s chemical weapons facilities? The United States has a vital national interest in making sure that does not happen.


Who are the Syrian rebels: al-Qaeda in Syria leaders think that Americans are threatening war in Syria to target them, not the regime; other rebels wish U.S. will bomb jihadists

    Monday, September 09, 2013   No comments
The four men around him, jihadists from elsewhere in the Arab world, laughed among themselves and looked around to see another group enter. They too had come from far away for jihad — first against the Assad regime and now the US, again.

At a table down the hall, a group of Free Syrian Army fighters were enjoying a late lunch beside an olive grove, wondering out loud what regime targets the US would go for and revelling in the discomfort of the jihadists, whom they felt had ridden roughshod over their war in recent months. "I don't care if the Americans attack them too," said one of the men, whose unit has been joined by the jihadists in several battles. "I'd like that in fact. They need to be scared of someone." The table erupted in laughter, before the men calmed themselves. "I hope the Americans know where their headquarters are," said one.
Business is better at the restaurant than at any point since the start of the civil war, said the owner, who did not want to be named. "They are always polite and they always leave a tip. They just don't want the narghilas (water pipes smoked by locals) anywhere near them."

Outside a recently empty car park is crawling with trucks. The highway, for much of the past year as long, straight and empty as an airport runway, is a bustling thoroughfare of dilapidated trucks and clapped out motorbikes – the favourite form of transport for jihadists and regular fighters alike, who ride in pairs, guns slung across their backs.

The highway leads past a bomb-pocked concrete plant to the town of al-Bab, roughly 25 miles north-east of Aleppo and an opposition stronghold for the past 14 months. Here the evolution of Syria's civil war is written in paint on the walls of schools, civic buildings and advertising hoardings, hijacked by myriad players intent on leaving their mark.

The black banner of al-Qaida, adopted by ISIS, is more prominent in al-Bab than the gold-edged flag of the other al-Qaida-linked group, Jabhat al-Nusra, or the regular units of the Free Syrian Army.

"We don't like it this way," said a local man, Abu Nashat, pointing at a school wall that had been white-washed and then emblazoned with two giant al-Qaida logos. "But who is going to take them on over a tin of paint? We already have a big fight on our hands against the regime. Opening a new battle is not something to do lightly."

Behind two wrought-iron gates was the ISIS command centre, emptied of most of its men before the anticipated air strikes. Two young boys stood guard, their heads swathed in bandanas, their pants cut at ankle length in the manner of the men they emulate.

New-found authority resonates from the commandeered schoolyard. And ISIS members have not been shy in asserting their will here, or elsewhere in northern Syria, where an internecine struggle is in danger of eclipsing the reason for the war. "They think everyone who doesn't think and act like them is an infidel who needs to be punished," said a young fighter from the Liwa al-Tawheed Brigade – a mainstream militia – who ran a clothes shop before the conflict. "While they may have learned how to fight the Americans, they haven't learned anything else from Iraq."

One lesson from Iraq, however, is embraced by many Syrians: the Awakening Movement, also known as the Sahawa, that drove al-Qaida out of Anbar province in 2007.

"We need the same thing here," said a senior member of the Liwa al-Tawheed. "They want to kidnap this revolution. Maybe they already have. But don't mistake all the black flags you see for community support. We just don't have the stomach to fight them now. And who could we hope to support us even if we did? America? Europe? Shame on them. Do they not see that Syria will drag down the whole Middle East?"

Israel: A powerful Middle Eastern axis of Sunni states has taken form in the region, which “does not view Israel as a sworn enemy”

    Monday, September 09, 2013   No comments
Speaking before the Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s international summit in Herzliya, Amos Gilad, who is director of the Political-Military Affairs Bureau at the Defense Ministry, said that Israel “won’t ever be accepted as a formal member” of the Sunni axis, but that the states that make it up all view the US as the sole superpower and that their regional policies are indirectly beneficial for Israel.

Had the Muslim Brotherhood succeeded in its plot for regional domination, a ring of hostility would have been formed around Israel, Gilad noted. From the perspective of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, there are two threats to his country: Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood.
This was reflected in the billions of dollars donated to Egypt by Saudi Arabia and the UAE after Sisi took power, Gilad argued.

“Sisi didn’t act against them [the Muslim Brotherhood] on behalf of the West or Israel, but only for the good of Egypt. He simply saw that Egypt was falling into the abyss, in terms of repression and the economy...

He wishes to save Egypt,” Gilad said.

Jordan, for its part, excels at counter- terrorism due its own interest in combatting radical Islamist interests.

As a result, there are no terrorist attacks in Jordan or attacks from Jordan on Israel, Gilad said. “Their existence as an independent kingdom is impressive,” he added.


John Kerry gives Syria a week to hand over chemical weapons or face attack

    Monday, September 09, 2013   No comments
The US secretary of state has said that President Bashar al-Assad has one week to hand over his entire stock of chemical weapons to avoid a military attack. But John Kerry added that he had no expectation that the Syrian leader would comply.

Kerry also said he had no doubt that Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack in east Damascus on 21 August, saying that only three people are responsible for the chemical weapons inside Syria – Assad, one of his brothers and a senior general. He said the entire US intelligence community was united in believing Assad was responsible.

Kerry was speaking on Monday alongside the UK foreign secretary, William Hague, who was forced to deny that he had been pushed to the sidelines by the House of Commons decision 10 days ago to reject the use of UK force in Syria.

The US Senate is due to vote this week on whether to approve an attack and Kerry was ambivalent over whether Barack Obama would use his powers to ignore the legislative chamber, if it were to reject an attack.

The US state department stressed that Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the one-week deadline and unlikelihood of Assad turning over Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. In an emailed statement, the department added: "His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That's why the world faces this moment."


Sunday, September 08, 2013

How has the West responded to ‘gassing’ in West Asia?

    Sunday, September 08, 2013   No comments
Actually the first to use chemical weapons [gas] in the Middle-East were the British. Soon after the First World War when the British created the state of Iraq consisting of the three former Turkish Vilayats [provinces] of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul; the southern Kurds much to their dislike had been added to the new state of Iraq and in protest broke out in open rebellion. Faced with the prospects of a prolonged conflict, with added financial costs and loss of British life; the British decided that the ‘best method’ for putting down the revolt was to use gas. As the then Colonial Secretary, Sir Winston Churchill had remarked, “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas.” The then RAF Chief Sir Hugh Trenchard in a report to the British Cabinet admitted that this was a “cheaper form of control.” Even the redoubtable Lawrence of Arabia wrote to the London Observer that “it is odd we do not use poison gas on these occasions.” The poor Kurds were the first to receive the ‘gas’ treatment and as history would prove not the last time!

Let us move ahead in time and come to Saddam Hussein. Iranian official history records that Iraq first used chemical weapons against its soldiers on January 13, 1981. It is reported that between December 28, 1980 and March 20, 1984 Iranians list 63 separate gas attacks by the Iraqis. There is no doubt that the US was acutely aware of what was going on. In a Memorandum on November 1, 1983, officials of the State Department warned the then Secretary of State George Shultz that they had information that the Iraqis were using chemical weapons on an ‘almost daily’ basis. Equally blunt was the warning that Iraq had acquired chemical weapons capability from Western firms, including possibly from a US subsidiary. The US was also aware that chemical weapons were being used against ‘Kurdish insurgents’. At the same time the US, according to a media report, continued to provide Iraq with critical battle planning assistance and satellite data on Iranian military movements, knowing very well that Iraq was using chemical weapons against Iran as also Kurdish insurgents.


Saturday, September 07, 2013

In Turkey, 72% of respondents to the Transatlantic Trends 2013 survey, which was conducted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), said their country should stay out of Syria

    Saturday, September 07, 2013   No comments
A majority of Turks disapprove of any potential military intervention in Syria, much like their European and American counterparts, a survey has revealed.

In Turkey, 72 percent of respondents to the Transatlantic Trends 2013 survey, which was conducted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF), said their country should stay out of Syria, up 15 percentage points from last year, while only 21 percent – down 11 percentage points – favored intervention.

The respondents were told that there had recently been discussion about intervening in Syria, where the government has been using military force to suppress an opposition movement. They were then asked whether their government should stay out completely or intervene.

Apart from Turkey, 11 European Union member states were surveyed: France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, as well as the United States. Polling was conducted between June 3 and June 27.


Friday, September 06, 2013

Refugees Pour Out of Syria, but Number Entering Jordan Slows to Trickle

    Friday, September 06, 2013   No comments

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we come back to Syria with two takes on reaction to the conflict in the Arab world.

We begin with a look at how the crisis has spilled beyond Syria's borders. Earlier this week, the United Nations Refugee Agency announced that more than two million people have fled the fighting.

NewsHour foreign affairs producer Dan Sagalyn was in neighboring Jordan recently on a trip sponsored by CARE, the development and humanitarian organization. His story begins in the remote far eastern corner of the country.

Ray Suarez narrates our report.

RAY SUAREZ: These Syrian men, women and children are stepping into safe territory in Jordan. Some are carrying all their possessions in one suitcase.

These refugees are just a few of the now more than two million who have poured out of their homeland since fighting began in Syria more than two years ago. Jordanian soldiers provided them with food and water, and also stood guard, ready to protect them if Syrian forces opened fire. Their journey out of war was dangerous and often deadly.


Washington Post: A majority of House members are now on the record as either against or leaning against authorizing President Obama to use military force against Syria

    Friday, September 06, 2013   No comments
As of Friday afternoon, there were 223 members in the “no” or “leaning no” category, more than the 217 that would be needed to sink the resolution. (The threshold for passage in the House is 217 votes, rather than the usual 218, since there are currently two vacancies.)

While the opposition is led by Republicans, the 106 opponents include 25 Democrats. Another 37 Democrats lean against supporting the use of force, meaning more than 30 percent of the House Democratic caucus is negatively predisposed toward the resolution.
The resolution remains in much better shape in the Senate, where just 15 senators have expressed outright opposition – four of them Democrats – and another 10 lean no. A majority of senators are currently undecided.

To be clear, this count is a moving target. While it’s hard to imagine many of the hard “no’s” reversing course, those leaning no or undecided could well come around to the president’s side by the time the actual vote in the House is held — which is expected to be in two weeks time. President Obama is set to address the country on Tuesday night, a speech the White House hopes will reverse the tide on the resolution in Congress.


Obama assembles fragile alliance blaming Assad for chemical attacks

    Friday, September 06, 2013   No comments
Barack Obama left a fractious G20 summit in St Petersburg on Friday after assembling a fragile alliance of countries accusing Bashar al-Assad of being responsible for using poison gas against civilians. However, the US president left behind a defiant Russian counterpart threatening unspecified military support for Syria if America attacks.

Vladimir Putin claimed that a majority of the G20 opposed any US-led intervention, and gave no ground by continuing to insist that the chemical weapons attacks were a provocation by Syrian rebels designed to win international backing for an attack on the Assad regime. David Cameron described Putin's position as impossible.

Putin revealed that he and Obama had had a one-to-one meeting lasting around 30 minutes in which they had discussed Syria. Both men had listened to the other's position but they had not agreed, he said.

British sources suggested that Obama, struggling to put together a majority in the US Congress for military strikes, may have to wait for up to a fortnight for a vote in the House of Representatives, where opposition is strong.

Echoing that timing, the French president, François Hollande, the only definite European supporter of a military strike, said he did not expect a congressional vote in the US until the UN weapons inspectors had reported on whether there had been a chemical attack on 21 August. Cameron added that no one doubted there had been an attack, not even Syria; the dispute was over culpability, he said.


Thursday, September 05, 2013

Stratfor: U.S. military intervention in Syria could actually benefit Tehran

    Thursday, September 05, 2013   No comments
Conventional wisdom says that a weakened Syria would undermine Iran's regional influence, but a U.S. military intervention in the country could actually benefit Tehran. The government there has devised a sophisticated strategy for responding to a U.S. attack. Of course, Tehran would activate its militant proxies in the region, including Hezbollah, in the event that the United States launches an attack, but it would also exploit Washington's visceral opposition to Sunni jihadist and Islamist groups to gain concessions elsewhere.

Iran already has engaged diplomatically with many of those involved in the Syrian conflict. Over the past weekend, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the foreign affairs and national security head for the Iranian parliament, led a delegation to Damascus, presumably to discuss the potential U.S. attack. Earlier on Aug. 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani over the phone. Their conversation followed U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman's visit to Tehran, where he and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif likewise discussed Syria. Even the Omani sultan paid a rare visit to Iran, reportedly carrying with him positive messages from the Obama administration for Iran's new government.

Notably, the rhetoric from Tehran -- particularly from its military leadership -- has been relatively tame. Typically the government antagonizes Washington when U.S.-Iranian tensions heat up, and indeed the Syria situation has aggravated tensions. Syria is a critical Iranian ally, and the survival of the al Assad regime is a national security interest for Tehran. Iran cannot afford to directly retaliate against the United States, but it is widely expected to retaliate indirectly through militant proxies.


Emboldened Mr Putin changed the G20 agenda – which was originally focused on trade and tax matters – to include a dinner discussion about Syria

    Thursday, September 05, 2013   No comments
... His move brought the conflict to the heart of the summit, possibly in the hope that Mr Obama would be seen to have no majority support for military strikes on the Assad regime, which he favours in retaliation for the chemical attack on the Ghouta suburb of Damascus on 21 August.

Mr Putin – who has supported President Assad throughout the two-year civil war – was judged to have won the first round of his showdown with Mr Obama. A number of leaders sounded cool, and in some cases hostile, to the US President’s call for action. China’s Deputy Finance Minister, Zhu Guangyao, told a briefing: “Military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on oil prices.”

The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is at the G20, added: “A political solution is the only way to end the bloodshed in Syria.” Even the Pope appealed for G20 leaders to “lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution”, writing in a letter to Mr Putin that there should be a renewed commitment to seek … a peaceful solution … unanimously supported by the international community”.

The emerging positions left the Russian President looking pleased as he waited outside the ornate Constantine Palace to greet guests who together represent two-thirds of the world’s population. None of the guests was more eagerly anticipated than Mr Obama, who emerged from of his armour-plated limousine and extended a stiff handshake. Looking stern at first, Mr Obama praised the beauty of the palace and then grinned for the cameras as he and Mr Putin shook hands vigorously. The Russian President smiled, but the 20-second exchange was anything but warm. The White House went out of its way to say that Mr Obama would not be holding any one-on-one sessions with the Russian leader at the summit.

Obama faced growing pressure from world leaders on Thursday not to launch military strikes in Syria at a summit on the global economy that was hijacked by the conflict

    Thursday, September 05, 2013   No comments

The Group of 20 (G20) developed and developing economies met in St. Petersburg to try and forge a united front on how to revive economic growth, but failed to heal divisions over a U.S. plan to wind down a program to stimulate the world economy.
The club that accounts for two thirds of the world's population and 90 percent of its output looked as divided over therapy for the economy as it is over possible military action following a chemical weapons attack in Syria.

Obama arrived in Russia's former imperial capital with a showdown looming at a dinner hosted by President Vladimir Putin, with a debate on Syria the main course on the menu.
Obama wore a stiff smile as he approached Putin and grasped his hand. Putin also wore a businesslike expression and it was only when they turned to pose for photographers that Obama broke into a broader grin. There was no clutching of arms or hugs.
The first round at the summit went to Putin, as China, the European Union, the BRICS emerging economies and Pope Francis - in a letter - warned of the dangers of military intervention without the approval of the U.N. Security Council.
"Military action would have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price - it will cause a hike in the oil price," Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said.
The BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - echoed that remark, and the Pope, who leads the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, urged the G20 leaders to "lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution".
European Union leaders described the August 21 attack near Damascus, which killed up to 1,400 people, as "abhorrent" but said: "There is no military solution to the Syrian conflict."


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