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The Magog Invasion

 

 Introduction:

 

The ancient people called Magog are commonly believed to have been the ancestors of the Russian nation. The prophet Ezekiel spoke of an invasion of Israel by Russia, which has not yet been fulfilled. What could cause Russia to come against the tiny nation of Israel -- which has no oil and no real strategic value? This question has puzzled Bible scholars for centuries. However, recent developments in the Middle East have for the first time in history lent credence to this long-awaited prophecy.


[READ THE FULL INTRODUCTION]
 
 
 

Behold a Red Horse

 

 

Price R 249.00

 

 


•What does the Bible say about “wars”?
•How can the classic literature of centuries ago impact todays (and tomorrow’s) tactics and strategies?
•Which technologies are predicted in the Bible? Which ones have yet to be witnessed?
•In what ways have the economies of scale in violence been reversed?
•What is the threat assessment and risk analysis pending today?
•In what ways can a country be regarded as a “one-bomb target”?
•What are the likely implications of trans-humanism in the quests for the “Super-Soldier”?
•How could electromagnetic pulses emerge to become the “Great Equalizer”?
•Where is the safest place to be?
 Dr. Chuck Missler, an honor graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, with an international background including three decade’s experience in the board rooms of the defense industry, reviews the major Biblical references to warfare, the trends in modern weapons technology, and some of the current preparations for war among the major powers.
 

Behold a White Horse

 

 

Price R 249.00

 

 

 

The final world dictator seeking global domination will also be an “Assyrian” who is here characterized by a bow, riding a white horse. It is interesting how many confuse this counterfeit with the rider of the white horse in Revelation 19. In chapter 6, however, this rider is among some very bad company!
 “Behold a White Horse” explores the career of the first of these “Four Horsemen” who seems to have at least 33 titles in the Old Testament and 13 in the New Testament and the common term “AntiChrist” really isn’t one of them. We also explore the only physical description of him in the Scripture!
 • Why is he a “mistaken identity”?
 • How do we know this is NOT the Christ?
 • What is the precedent condition(s) for his appearance?
 • What is the precedent condition for the unsealing of the Seven Sealed Book? What is the Seven Sealed Book?
 • Is his “bow” a pun? How? Why?
 • How can he “go forth to conquer” if he is a “peace maker”?
 • Is the Church on the earth at this time? How do we know?
 • Is He alive today? How do we know?
 • How can he be the “Seed of the Serpent”?
 Join Chuck Missler as he looks at the first of the Five Horsemen.

 

This briefing pack contains 2 hours of teaching

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How impoverished but nuclear-armed North Korea earns money

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎08:27:35 AMGo to full article
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The closure of a factory park in North Korea jointly run by both Koreas has robbed the impoverished North of a rare source of legitimate hard currency. Seoul says it shut the Kaesong complex in response to the North's recent long-range rocket launch to keep its impoverished neighbor from using the money factories provided to fund its nuclear and missile programs.
 

Justin Rose has a day to remember in Pebble debut

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎02:40:39 AMGo to full article
Justin Rose follows his shot from the fourth tee of the Spyglass Hill Golf Course during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Pebble Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Justin Rose, a U.S. Open champion and the No. 7 player in the world, shot a 6-under 66 his first time playing Spyglass Hill and spent a gorgeous day listening to the fans call out his name. Except they weren't calling for him, and he knew it.
 
 

The Latest: Diplomats agree to Syria cease-fire in a week

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎02:12:14 AMGo to full article
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier briefs the media prior to the Syria talks in Munich, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest developments on the war in Syria, the refugee crisis and security talks in Munich, Germany. (all times local):
 
 

IMF says West Bank economy dips on slower aid, Israel blockade

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:03:14 PMGo to full article
Palestinians work at a construction site to rebuild houses which were destroyed during the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in the summer of 2014, in Gaza City's eastern suburb of Al-Shejaiya on July 22, 2015The International Monetary Fund said Thursday that economic growth in the Israeli-occupied West Bank slowed to an estimated 2.8 percent in 2015 and was likely to remain below 3.0 percent this year. In a statement concluding a week-long visit to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the IMF said Gaza rebuilding after the destruction of the 2014 summer war with Israel gave some boost to the coastal strip's economy. "Unemployment remains stubbornly high in the West Bank and higher still in Gaza, where two-thirds of young people are without a job," it added.
 
 

George Clooney hopes to meet Merkel to discuss refugees

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎09:03:01 PMGo to full article
Actor George Clooney attends a press conference for the film 'Hail Caesar' at the 2016 Berlinale Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Axel Schmidt)BERLIN (AP) — Actor George Clooney says he plans to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the situation in Syria, which has contributed to the surge in refugees coming to Europe over the past year.
 
 

Pentagon chief predicting 'tangible gains' in Iraq, Syria

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎08:26:51 PMGo to full article
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. NATO defense ministers met for a second day on Thursday to discuss Turkey’s request to help deal with Europe’s ongoing migrant crisis and the current situation in Iraq and Syria. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)BRUSSELS (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter predicted on Thursday that recent U.S.-led efforts to accelerate the fight against the Islamic State group would produce "tangible gains" in Iraq and Syria by March, even as coalition partners pledged to expand and deepen their military contributions.
 
 

AP appoints Zeina Karam news director for Lebanon and Syria

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎07:58:31 PMGo to full article
CAIRO (AP) — The Associated Press has named Zeina Karam as its news director for Lebanon and Syria, a new position that consolidates leadership in video, text and photo coverage.
 

NATO launches sea mission against migrant traffickers

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎07:26:50 PMGo to full article
Georgia's Minister of Defence Tinatin Khidasheli and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg address a NATO-Georgia Commission defense ministers meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in BrusselsBy Robin Emmott and Phil Stewart BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO ships are on their way to the Aegean Sea to help Turkey and Greece crack down on criminal networks smuggling refugees into Europe, the alliance's top commander said on Thursday. Hours after NATO defense ministers agreed to use their maritime force in the eastern Mediterranean to help combat traffickers, Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove said he was working quickly to design the mission. "We are sailing the ships in the appropriate direction," Breedlove told a news conference, and the mission plan would be refined during the time they were en route.
 
 

U.N. rights expert accuses Israel of excessive force against Palestinians

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎06:34:18 PMGo to full article
The mother of Palestinian youth Omar Madi, who was shot and killed by Israeli troops on Wednesday, mourns during his funeral in Arroub refugee camp, north of HebronBy Stephanie Nebehay GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. human rights investigator for Gaza and the West Bank called on Israel on Thursday to investigate what he called excessive force used by Israeli security against Palestinians and to prosecute perpetrators. Makarim Wibisono, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, also told Israeli authorities to charge or release all Palestinian prisoners being held under lengthy administrative detention, including children. "The upsurge in violence is a grim reminder of the unsustainable human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the volatile environment it engenders," he said in a final report to the Human Rights Council.
 
 

Gay imam helps young Muslims balance religion, sexuality

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎05:51:38 PMGo to full article
In this Wednesday, February 2, 2016 Imam Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, poses on the Old-Port, in Marseille, southern France. A gay imam from Algeria is working with an LGBT association in Marseille to counsel and protect young gay Muslims who make their way to the ancient port city. The Le Refuge group says it has helped 26 gays find shelter and start a new life in Marseille last year. Some eventually go back to their families. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)MARSEILLE, France (AP) — Growing up in Algeria, Shaira had almost everything a young man could wish for. But he also had a big secret.
 
 

Aleppo victory seen giving Russia first Syria exit ramp, if it wants it

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎05:39:19 PMGo to full article
By Andrew Osborn MOSCOW (Reuters) - Aleppo's return to full Syrian government control could give Russia an opportunity to scale back or suspend its air strikes, but Moscow is keeping its options open, experts close to the Kremlin and the defense ministry told Reuters. Russia's aim, which it believes it is close to achieving, is to decisively alter the balance of power so that the Syrian government, the Kremlin's closest Middle East ally, holds a strong set of cards if and when it negotiates with its enemies. The past two weeks have seen one of the biggest advances of the five year civil war by Syrian government forces, backed since the autumn by Moscow's military intervention.
 

NATO sends warships on Aegean migrant mission

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎05:23:03 PMGo to full article
NATO ships are to help secure Turkey's shoreline against people-smugglingNATO launched Thursday an unprecedented naval mission in the Aegean Sea to tackle people smugglers taking refugees and migrants from Turkey to Greece, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. The alliance will deploy at least three warships after alliance members Germany, Greece and Turkey called for help earlier this week to cope with Europe's biggest migrant crisis since World War II. The move came despite a threat by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to send millions more refugees to Europe amid a row with the European Union (EU) over responsibility for handling the crisis.
 
 

Greeks at frontline of migrant crisis angry at Europe's criticism

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎03:33:54 PMGo to full article
File photo of a Greek Coast Guard officer carrying a baby from the Agios Efstratios Coast Guard vessel following a rescue operation at open sea, at the port of the Greek island of LesbosBy Karolina Tagaris ABOARD THE AGIOS EFSTRATIOS, Aegean Sea (Reuters) - Greek Captain Argyris Frangoulis lifts his binoculars and with eyes fixed on the Aegean Sea horizon, steers his patrol boat out near the Turkish border to a dinghy full of stranded refugees. "Everybody safe, OK?" he yells at the passengers, mainly Syrians and Afghans, approaching the coast guard vessel bewildered and in near-silence. By midday, the Agios Efstratios, a gunboat with 29-member crew who work in shifts, had plucked more than 600 people from sea and ferried them to the port of Lesbos, the island on the frontline of Europe's migration crisis.
 
 

Russia proposes March 1 ceasefire in Syria; US wants it now

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎02:49:46 PMGo to full article
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrians gather in a street that was hit by shelling, in the predominantly Christian and Armenian neighborhood of Suleimaniyeh, Aleppo, Syria, April 11, 2015. Russia has proposed a March 1, 2016, ceasefire in Syria, U.S. officials said Feb. 10, but Washington believes Moscow is giving itself and the Syrian government three weeks to try to crush moderate rebel groups. The U.S. has countered with demands for the fighting to stop immediately, the officials said. Peace talks are supposed to resume by Feb. 25. The conflict has killed more than a quarter-million people, created Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II and allowed the Islamic State to carve out its own territory across parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq. (AP Photo/SANA)MUNICH (AP) — Russia has proposed a March 1 ceasefire in Syria, U.S. officials say, but Washington believes Moscow is giving itself and the Syrian government three weeks to try to crush moderate rebel groups.
 
 

Nigeria faces new rift over alleged Shi'ite massacre

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:53:04 AMGo to full article
The Wider Image: Nigeria's restive northBy Ulf Laessing ZARIA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Piles of rubble are all that remain of the residence of Nigeria's most prominent Shi'ite Muslim leader after it was demolished by bulldozers in the northern city of Zaria. Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky's compound was leveled after three days of clashes between the army and Shi'ite residents of the city in December in which rights groups say hundreds of Shi'ites were killed. The violence and its repercussions could further fracture a country battling a northern insurgency by hardline Sunni group Boko Haram, a secessionist movement in the southeast, militancy in the oil-rich Delta, as well as a growing economic crisis.
 
 

Australia mulls helping orphans of Islamic State couple

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎07:30:16 AMGo to full article
Up to 49 Australians have been killed in the conflict in Iraq and Syria, with an estimated 110 nationals currently fighting or working with militant groups, domestic spy chief Duncan Lewis told a parliamentary hearing this weekAustralia said Thursday it will "carefully consider" if it can help the orphans of an Islamic State fighter and their Sydney-born mother, who both reportedly died in Syria, warning the children could pose a threat later in life. Tara Nettleton, whose husband Khaled Sharrouf made headlines in 2014 when he posted an image on Twitter of his then seven-year-old son holding a severed head, died from appendicitis or a kidney condition, the Sydney Morning Herald and other media reported. Sharrouf is widely believed to have been killed in a drone strike last year in Iraq, an attack in which fellow Australian jihadist Mohamed Elomar also perished.
 
 

Iran seeks tourism millions as nuclear chill ends

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎06:38:24 AMGo to full article
Tourists from Hong Kong visit the "Gate of All Nations" at the ancient Persian city of Persepolis in southern IranLong seen as a destination strewn with shortcomings, Iran is making a fresh pitch for tourists, with the recent lifting of economic sanctions providing an opportunity to cash in. The tourism industry has been overlooked by successive governments in Tehran but the deal Iran struck with world powers over its nuclear programme last summer could change that. Along with nine companions including Americans and Germans, China-based Frenchman Yannick Lequelenec said he aims to make "one unique journey" every year.
 
 

Pope takes bridge-building mission to Mexico

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎12:09:55 AMGo to full article
A man rides a bicycle past a poster welcoming Pope Francis to Ecatepec, Mexico on February 5, 2016Prior to embarking on his long-planned February 12-17 tour of Mexico, the 79-year-old pontiff will stop over in Havana for a historic meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill. The son of Italian emigrants to Argentina, Francis was not under any pressure to go to Mexico, which was graced by the presence of previous pontiffs six times between 1998 and 2012. "I want to come as a missionary of mercy and peace," Francis said in a pre-trip video message.
 
 

Israeli opposition leader wants to begin separating from Palestinians

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎10:01:02 PMGo to full article
Israeli co-leader of the Zionist Union party and Labour Party's leader Isaac Herzog (C) listens to journalists during a press conference at the Jerusalem Press Club, on February 10, 2016Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog said Wednesday that no peace deal was possible for now and his country must begin unilaterally separating from the Palestinians "as much as possible" to restore security. Herzog made the comments while laying out his new security and diplomatic initiative that has caused waves in Israeli politics and sparked criticism from within his own party. The head of the Labour-led Zionist Union coalition said he still wants a two-state solution, but does not believe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas are capable of a breakthrough.
 
 

Pope on Ash Wednesday: charity's not to please ourselves

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎09:40:28 PMGo to full article
Pope Francis places ashes on the head of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone during the Ash Wednesday mass, in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. Pope Francis has smudged ashes on the bowed heads of prelates, nuns and ordinary Catholics during Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica. The ritual marks the start of Lent, a period of penitence, prayer and self-sacrifice as faithful prepare for Easter. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis rubbed ashes on the bowed heads of prelates, nuns and ordinary Catholics Wednesday, and had them smudged on his own head, too, to usher in the Lenten season of prayer and sacrifice he said must be done out of authentic love, not to satisfy one's conscience.
 
 

Poland to join fight versus Islamic State in return for NATO help in east

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎09:05:36 PMGo to full article
A WOMAN WALKS PAST THE NATO LOGO IN BRUSSELS.By Wiktor Szary WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland will join the fight against Islamic State, its defense minister said on Wednesday, though he signaled that the scale of its involvement would depend on NATO's response to Russia's renewed assertiveness on the alliance's eastern flank.     The announcement, made by Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz after a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter in Brussels, confirmed an earlier Reuters report that Poland would boost its Middle East involvement in an attempt to convince its allies to shift NATO forces eastwards. ...
 
 

NATO sends 'clear signal' to Russia with eastern presence

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎08:45:31 PMGo to full article
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg talks to the media at headquarters in Brussels on February 10, 2016NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday said the alliance had approved plans for an increased presence in eastern member states alarmed by a more assertive Russia, sending a "clear signal" to any aggressors. Stung into action by the Russian intervention in Ukraine and shock 2014 annexation of Crimea, NATO has boosted its resources and readiness to meet any new threat but its nervous former Soviet allies in the east are pushing for more. Former Norwegian premier Stoltenberg said the 28-nation alliance's defence ministers had agreed at a meeting in Brussels on plans for an "enhanced forward presence in the eastern part of our alliance".
 
 

Germany says would participate in NATO refugee mission

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎07:46:56 PMGo to full article
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen talks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a NATO defense ministers meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in BrusselsBy Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Germany would take part in a potential NATO mission to help slow refugee flows in the Aegean Sea, the country's defense minister said on Wednesday, a day before the alliance is due to discuss a request for help. Struggling to stop refugees streaming into Greece despite a deal between Ankara and the European Union to combat the flows, Germany and Turkey surprised partners this week by saying they would raise the issue with NATO. One idea could be for NATO to monitor the flow of migrants from Syria trying to reach Europe across the Aegean and pass the information on to Turkish authorities to go after people smugglers.
 
 

Middle East crises test donor support for Palestinians: UN

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎07:32:26 PMGo to full article
Palestinian children play in old damaged cars in Gaza City's eastern suburb of Al-Shejaiya on Febrauray 3, 2016Desperate humanitarian needs elsewhere in the Middle East are increasing "competition" for funding for Palestinian refugees, the UN warned on Wednesday. Bo Schack, Gaza director of the UN's body for refugees, admitted there was concern crises in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East meant donors have less money to spend. Negotiations between Palestinian factions over a unity government have stumbled, while Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza, leaving some governments to question whether funding for Palestinians is well spent.
 
 

North Korea satellite in stable orbit but not seen transmitting: U.S. sources

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎07:24:37 PMGo to full article
A passenger walks past a TV screen broadcasting a news report on North Korea's long range rocket launch at a railway station in SeoulBy Andrea Shalal and David Brunnstrom WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korea's recently launched satellite has achieved stable orbit but is not believed to have transmitted data back to Earth, U.S. sources said of a launch that has so far failed to convince experts that Pyongyang has significantly advanced its rocket technology. Sunday's launch of what North Korea said was an earth observation satellite angered the country's neighbors and the United States, which called it a missile test. It followed Pyongyang's fourth nuclear test in January.
 
 

Putin may benefit from meeting of pope and patriarch

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎07:23:11 PMGo to full article
Swiss Cardinal Kurt Koch talks during an interview with Reuters in RomeBy Philip Pullella and Maria Tsvetkova VATICAN CITY/MOSCOW (Reuters) - A meeting between Pope Francis and Russia's Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on Friday could not happen without a green light from President Vladimir Putin, diplomats and analysts say, and he may be one the beneficiaries. "There is no doubt the Kremlin took part in making this decision," said Gleb Pavlovsky, a political analyst and former Kremlin adviser in Moscow. "Otherwise the meeting would not have happened." Putin has aligned himself closely with the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), making Friday's two-hour private meeting not just a religious event but politically charged as well, especially when Russia is at odds with the West over Ukraine and Syria.
 
 

UAE picks woman to be first "happiness" minister

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎06:55:29 PMGo to full article
This undated image released by the Emirates News Agency, WAM, shows Ohood Al Roumi, the Minister of State for Happiness of the United Arab Emirates. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the seven-state federation's vice president and prime minister in addition to the hereditary ruler of Dubai, announced his new Cabinet in a series of Twitter posts Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. He named Al Roumi as its first minister of state for happiness and appointed a 22-year-old to a ministerial post overseeing youth affairs in a Cabinet shake-up designed to inject fresh thinking into the oil-rich country's government. (WAM via AP)DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Forget the negative headlines pouring from the Middle East. The United Arab Emirates thinks it's time to focus on something brighter instead.
 
 

Saudi Arabia says ready to send forces to Syria if coalition decides

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎05:44:12 PMGo to full article
Saudi Arabia would be willing to commit special forces to Syria should the international coalition decide to deploy ground troops against Islamic State, the country's foreign minister said on Wednesday. It was the Saudi minister's second reference to sending special forces since he met U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington on Monday for talks on the war in Syria and the crisis in Yemen. President Barack Obama, anxious to avoid being sucked into another Middle East conflict after the long and costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has been deeply reluctant to commit U.S. ground forces in Syria.
 

Syrian Kurds open Moscow office, amid Kremlin push

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎05:15:20 PMGo to full article
A Kurdish man waves a large flag of the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) political wing, the Democratic Union Party (PYD)Syrian Kurdish separatists on Wednesday opened a representation in Moscow amid a push by the Kremlin to have them included in Syria peace talks despite Turkey's objections. "This is a historical moment for the Kurdish people," Merab Shamoyev, chairman of the International Union of Kurdish Public Associations, said at the ceremony in an industrial neighbourhood in southeast Moscow. "Russia is a great power and an important actor in the Middle East.
 
 

Citing security, Davos organizers postpone Egypt conference

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎04:22:09 PMGo to full article
GENEVA (AP) — Organizers of the World Economic Forum, which holds an annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, have postponed a similar conference planned to take place in Egypt this spring over security concerns.
 

Iran to purchase Sukhoi-30 fighter jets from Russia

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎01:29:34 PMGo to full article
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran will sign a contract with Russia for the purchase of Sukhoi-30 fighter jets, Iran's defense minister said Wednesday.
 

Egypt activists recall Mubarak ouster as a distant dream

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎12:28:59 PMGo to full article
Egyptian anti-goverment demonstrators perform the Friday noon prayer during protests in Cairo's landmark Tahrir Square on February 11, 2011As the sun began to set on February 11, 2011, the protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square wavered between hope and despair, waiting for a signal that Egypt's autocrat would step down. Hosni Mubarak had been expected to resign the day before, after 30 years in power. Mubarak was gone, the army was now in control and Cairo exploded in euphoric celebration.
 
 

UN experts: North Korea continues to evade UN sanctions

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎06:49:49 AMGo to full article
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. experts say North Korea is continuing to evade U.N. sanctions, using airlines, ships, and the international financial system to trade in prohibited items for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs raising important questions about the sanctions regime.
 

Australia drops charge against suspected Kurdish militant

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎03:06:58 AMGo to full article
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The government has dropped a charge against an Australian man accused of preparing to fight with Kurdish militants against the Islamic State movement.
 

The Latest: FBI chief says encryption blocks investigations

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎12:52:57 AMGo to full article
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper listens on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, while testifying before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on worldwide threats. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the worldwide threat assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies (all times local):
 
 

West's advantage in military tech 'eroding': think-tank

 
‎09 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:57:28 PMGo to full article
International Institute for Strategic Studies stresses that 21st century military power was about technologies such as drone, like this MQ-1B Predator remotely piloted aircraft seen on October 21, 2015 in Nevada, as well as traditional meansWestern superiority in military technology is "eroding", notably at the hands of China and Russia, a leading think-tank said Tuesday in its annual report on the state of militaries around the world. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London said in its Military Balance report that increasingly easy access to technology by non-state groups means the world faces "an increasingly complex balance of military power". It also highlighted that Russia and China are pushing to modernise their militaries and are "increasingly active in the development and deployment of advanced military capabilities".
 
 

North Korean shipping firm skirts U.N. sanctions, gets port access

 
‎09 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎10:30:05 PMGo to full article
By Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N.-blacklisted North Korean shipping company continues to evade sanctions through its use of foreign-flagged ships, name changes and other means of obfuscation, according to a new report by United Nations monitors. The U.N. Security Council's Panel of Experts on North Korea, which monitors implementation of sanctions on Pyongyang, also said the reclusive communist nation has continued to export ballistic-missile technology to the Middle East and ship arms and materiel to Africa in violation of U.N. restrictions. "Given the stated intentions of (North Korea), it continued efforts to enhance the scope of its nuclear and missile programs ... there are serious questions about the efficacy of the current United Nations sanctions regime," the panel said in its latest confidential report, seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
 

EU executive to push Greece, Italy more on migration

 
‎09 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎09:47:30 PMGo to full article
Refugees and migrants are seen on a dinghy as they approach the Ayios Efstratios Coast Guard vessel, during a rescue operation at open sea between the Turkish coast and the Greek island of LesbosBy Gabriela Baczynska BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The EU executive will push Greece and Italy on Wednesday to do more to control migrants arriving across the Mediterranean, as time runs out for Athens to fix frontier chaos or be suspended from Europe's free travel zone. More than a million people reached Europe last year, putting pressure on security and social systems in some EU states and exposing deep rifts within the 28-nation bloc. "If half of the decisions and resolutions that have been taken by the European Union last year had been implemented, the situation now would be much better," William Spindler, a spokesman for the U.N. Refugee Agency UNHCR, said on Tuesday.
 
 

Palestinian government says willing to step down for unity

 
‎09 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎09:28:12 PMGo to full article
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, pictured on April 21, 2015, is "ready to resign to support the formation of a national unity government"The Palestinian government said on Tuesday it was ready to step down to enable a new national unity government, as rivals Fatah and Hamas engaged in a new reconciliation effort. Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah was "ready to resign to support the formation of a national unity government and to take every effort to achieve genuine reconciliation", a statement read. The government is the remnant of the cabinet of independent technocrats that the West Bank-based Fatah and Gaza rulers Hamas agreed on in 2014 when they announced their reconciliation.
 
 

Poland, courting NATO, plans to boost Middle East military involvement

 
‎09 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎09:19:31 PMGo to full article
By Wiktor Szary and Justyna Pawlak WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland signaled on Tuesday its willingness to play a more active role in tackling the Middle East security crisis, in an apparent attempt to persuade its NATO allies in return to boost their presence in eastern Europe. Alarmed by Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014 and its support for armed separatists in eastern Ukraine, Poland hopes NATO will agree at a summit in Warsaw in July to send more troops to former communist eastern Europe. "We have announced an increase in our participation, also military, in actions in the Middle East," Deputy Defense Minister Tomasz Szatkowski said at a panel discussion ahead of a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels later this week.
 
 

 

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Diplomats aim for temporary Syria truce in a week

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎08:37:48 AMGo to full article
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attend a news conference after the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in Munich, Germany, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. Talks aimed at narrowing differences over Syria and keeping afloat diplomacy to end its civil war have gotten under way in Munich. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)MUNICH (AP) — Diplomats trying to secure a cease-fire for the civil war in Syria fell short early Friday in organizing a truce but agreed to try to work out details and implement a temporary "cessation of hostilities" in a week's time. The deal appeared to be the result of a compromise between the United States, which had wanted an immediate cease-fire, and Russia, which had proposed one to start on March 1.
 
 

Three dead in Venezuela after contracting Zika: Maduro

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎06:27:54 AMGo to full article
A Health Ministry employee fumigates against the Aedes Aegypti mosquito inside a church in Caracas on February 5, 2016Three people have died in Venezuela from complications linked to Zika, President Nicolas Maduro said -- the first fatalities reported in the country in connection with the mosquito-borne virus. Maduro said 68 patients with complications "have been in intensive care," adding that the country had the necessary drugs to treat them. Without providing any details, he said that 5,221 suspected cases of Zika had been reported from November 5 until February 8.
 
 

World powers agree 'cessation of hostilities' in Syria

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎06:17:55 AMGo to full article
US Secretary of States John Kerry gestures beside the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a news conference after the International Syria Support Group meeting in Munich on February 12, 2016World powers on Friday agreed an ambitious plan to cease hostilities in war-racked Syria within a week and dramatically ramp up humanitarian access at talks in Munich aimed at reviving the struggling peace process. The 17 countries agreed "to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities to begin in a target of one week's time," said US Secretary of State John Kerry after extended talks co-hosted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The International Syria Support Group also agreed "to accelerate and expand the delivery of humanitarian aid beginning immediately".
 
 

The Latest: Clinton, Sanders wrap up Milwaukee debate

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎06:08:42 AMGo to full article
Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, and Hillary Clinton wait during a short break at a Democratic presidential primary debate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Latest from the 2016 campaign trail (all times local):
 
 

Saudi warns U.N., aid workers to leave rebel-held areas in Yemen

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎03:25:05 AMGo to full article
Houthi militant sits amidst debris from the Yemeni Football Association building, which was damaged in a Saudi-led air strike, in SanaaBy Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia, which is leading air strikes against rebels in neighboring Yemen, has warned the United Nations and international aid groups to protect staff by removing them from areas held by Yemen's Houthi rebels, according to a letter that was seen by Reuters on Thursday. The short note sent by the Saudi Embassy in London on Friday said the intention was to "protect the international organizations and their employees," presumably from coalition air strikes.
 
 

The Latest: Diplomats agree to Syria cease-fire in a week

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎02:12:14 AMGo to full article
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier briefs the media prior to the Syria talks in Munich, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest developments on the war in Syria, the refugee crisis and security talks in Munich, Germany. (all times local):
 
 

Leaders locked in Syria talks to rescue peace process

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎12:55:34 AMGo to full article
A man drives his motorbike past damaged buildings on February 10, 2016 in Harasta, east of the Syrian capital DamascusForeign ministers were locked in late-night talks in Munich on Thursday, seeking a way to revive a floundering Syrian peace process as Russia warned of the possibility of a "new world war". An onslaught on the key rebel stronghold of Aleppo by Syrian troops, backed by Russian bombers and Iranian fighters, derailed peace talks earlier this month and has triggered an exodus of over 50,000 refugees. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had "made propositions for a ceasefire that are quite specific" as he sat down for talks with US counterpart John Kerry.
 
 

Uncertainty at Syria talks as Russia backs government advance

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎12:32:41 AMGo to full article
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and U.S. Foreign Secretary Kerry attend the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in MunichBy Denis Dyomkin and Shadia Nasralla MUNICH (Reuters) - Major powers began a new round of Syria talks on Thursday focusing on calls for a ceasefire and access for aid, but the mood was dour with Moscow showing no sign of calling off its bombing in support of a massive new government advance. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev raised the specter of an interminable conflict or even a world war if powers failed to negotiate an end to the fighting in Syria, which has killed 250,000 people, caused a refugee crisis and empowered Islamic State militants. With the Syrian opposition saying it cannot accept a truce because it does not trust the Russians, diplomats saw little chance of progress at the meeting in the German city of Munich.
 
 

US official unsure of where Iran's uranium is stored

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:39:28 PMGo to full article
WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. ate Department official told lawmakers Thursday he was unsure of the precise location of tons of low-enriched uranium shipped out of Iran on a Russian vessel as part of the landmark nuclear agreement.
 

French govt reshuffle makes Ayrault the new foreign minister

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎10:51:50 PMGo to full article
FILE - In this Aug.19, 2013 file photo, former French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault addresses reporters at the Elysee Palace in Paris. French President Francois Hollande has named Thursday Feb.11, 2016 Ayrault as new foreign minister in a government reshuffle. Ayrault, a low-key veteran of the Socialist Party, replaces Laurent Fabius, who helped clinch a landmark climate accord in Paris last year and played a prominent role in negotiations on a nuclear accord with Iran.(AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere, File)PARIS (AP) — Former Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, a low-key veteran of the Socialist Party much acquainted with German culture, will become France's new foreign minister.
 
 

Iran's windfall from nuclear deal cut in half by debts: U.S. official

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎10:35:24 PMGo to full article
An Iranian flag flutters in front of the IAEA headquarters in ViennaBy Patricia Zengerle WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iran gained access to about $100 billion in frozen assets when an international nuclear agreement was implemented last month, but $50 billion of it already was tied up because of debts and other commitments, a U.S. official said on Thursday. Stephen Mull, the State Department's coordinator for implementing the agreement, also told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee there was no evidence Iran had cheated in the first few weeks since the deal was implemented. Mull and John Smith, acting director of the Treasury Department office that oversees sanctions, faced heated questioning from some members of the committee, where some Democrats joined Republican lawmakers in opposing the nuclear pact reached in July.
 
 

Iran's main opposition leaderless, but insists it's not a spent force

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎10:25:52 PMGo to full article
File photo shows women walking past a picture of then presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and former President Mohammad Khatami in TehranBy Parisa Hafezi ANKARA (Reuters) - Hope for change is dwindling but not gone among supporters of Iran's main pro-reform opposition, although its leaders remain under house arrest and pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani looks incapable of achieving the freer society he promised. Mass disqualifications of reformist candidates are further undermining the chances of political and social change to match Iranians' expectations of a better economic life after Rouhani fulfilled his other election promise - to end international sanctions on the country under a nuclear deal with major powers. In 2009, the disputed re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad plunged Iran into its biggest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
 
 

Obama, Netanyahu may agree defense deal in Washington next month, envoy says

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎09:30:03 PMGo to full article
U.S. President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres take their seats during an official welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel AvivBy Dan Williams JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might meet in Washington next month and complete a deal on future defense aid to Israel that has been dogged by disagreement, the U.S. ambassador to Israel said on Thursday. Current U.S. defense aid to Israel, worth about $3 billion annually, expire in 2018. Disputes over the value of a so-called Memorandum of Understanding setting out grants over the ensuing decade prompted Israel to signal this week it might wait for the next U.S. president in hope of better terms.
 
 

Russia boosts ties with Iraq in challenge to U.S. influence

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎09:11:07 PMGo to full article
Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (R) and Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (L) sign documents in BaghdadBy Saif Hameed BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Russia is ready to sell civil airliners to Iraq and keep providing it with military aid to fight Islamic State, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Thursday, accompanied on a trip to Baghdad by the biggest Russian delegation in years. The mission by nearly 100 government and business officials was part of a drive by Moscow to strengthen commercial and security ties with Iraq, potentially eroding U.S. influence in one of the world's most critical regions. Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said discussions had revolved around providing military assistance to defeat Islamic State militants, also known as Daesh, who seized a third of Iraq in 2014 and want to redraw the map of the Middle East.
 
 

A look at what's next for the major players in Syria's war

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎08:54:28 PMGo to full article
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov , left, and U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry , second left, attend the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in Munich, Germany,Thursday Feb. 11, 2016, together with members of the Syrian opposition and other officials. (Michael Dalder/Pool Photo via AP)The U.S., Russia and more than a dozen other countries met Thursday in Munich to discuss halting the fighting in Syria, while forces of President Bashar Assad are making some of their biggest gains against the opposition.
 
 

Pentagon chief predicting 'tangible gains' in Iraq, Syria

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎08:26:51 PMGo to full article
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. NATO defense ministers met for a second day on Thursday to discuss Turkey’s request to help deal with Europe’s ongoing migrant crisis and the current situation in Iraq and Syria. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)BRUSSELS (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter predicted on Thursday that recent U.S.-led efforts to accelerate the fight against the Islamic State group would produce "tangible gains" in Iraq and Syria by March, even as coalition partners pledged to expand and deepen their military contributions.
 
 

Iranians rally to celebrate anniversary of 1979 revolution

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎06:26:27 PMGo to full article
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers his speech under a portrait of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini during a rally to commemorate the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, at the Azadi (Freedom) Sq. in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. The nationwide rallies commemorate Feb. 11, 1979, when followers of Ayatollah Khomeini ousted U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranians held nationwide celebrations Thursday to commemorate the anniversary of the 1979 revolution that ousted a pro-Western monarchy and brought Islamists to power, with some making a point of taunting the U.S. despite Iran's landmark nuclear deal with world powers.
 
 

Iraqi PM discourages Kurdish independence referendum

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎06:07:40 PMGo to full article
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi arrives to attend a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Renzi at the end of a meeting at Chigi Palace in RomeIraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi urged the country's autonomous Kurdistan region not to go ahead with a proposed referendum on independence, saying it would be neither in its own interest nor Iraq's. Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said last week the time had come for the region to hold a non-binding referendum on independence from the rest of Iraq, despite being in the throes of political, economic and security crises. "I urge them not to go ahead with the referendum," Abadi said at a news conference in Berlin on Thursday. "If as they say they are not going to abide by its outcome, then why hold a referendum?" The chaos created by Islamic State's occupation of swathes of Iraq and Syria since in 2014 has given Iraq's Kurds a chance to further their long-held dream of independence.
 
 

Aleppo victory seen giving Russia first Syria exit ramp, if it wants it

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎05:39:19 PMGo to full article
By Andrew Osborn MOSCOW (Reuters) - Aleppo's return to full Syrian government control could give Russia an opportunity to scale back or suspend its air strikes, but Moscow is keeping its options open, experts close to the Kremlin and the defense ministry told Reuters. Russia's aim, which it believes it is close to achieving, is to decisively alter the balance of power so that the Syrian government, the Kremlin's closest Middle East ally, holds a strong set of cards if and when it negotiates with its enemies. The past two weeks have seen one of the biggest advances of the five year civil war by Syrian government forces, backed since the autumn by Moscow's military intervention.
 

What N. Korea's rocket test tells us about its military capability

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎05:10:09 PMGo to full article
North Korea’s weapons program is back in the spotlight after a long-range rocket launch on Feb. 7 that came just a month after a fourth nuclear test. Pyongyang characterized the rocket as part of a peaceful space program involving the placement of a weather satellite. The UN Security Council strongly condemned the launch, vowing to apply further sanctions against the already isolated country.
 

Death toll in Syrian civil war is 470,000: The Guardian

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎03:37:59 PMGo to full article
In five years of civil war, 400,000 Syrians have been killed and another 70,000 have perished due to a lack of basics such as clean water and healthcare, the Guardian newspaper reported on Thursday. A U.S.-led coalition is trying to destroy Islamic State militants in Syria and wants President Bashar al-Assad to go. About 400,000 of the deaths were directly due to violence, while 70,000 died because they didn't have proper healthcare, medicine, clean water or housing.
 

Turkey's Erdogan warns patience will run out on Syria

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎03:37:59 PMGo to full article
Turkey's patience may run out over the crisis in Syria and it could be forced to take action, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday, calling on the United Nations to do more to prevent what he said was "ethnic cleansing" in the country. Erdogan accused the United Nations of insincerity in calling on Turkey to do more to help Syrian refugees instead of taking action to prevent the bloodshed in its southern neighbor. Russian war planes have been bombing around the Syrian city of Aleppo in support of a Syrian government offensive to recapture the city, sending tens of thousands of people fleeing to the Turkish border.
 

Russia proposes March 1 ceasefire in Syria; US wants it now

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎02:49:46 PMGo to full article
In this photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrians gather in a street that was hit by shelling, in the predominantly Christian and Armenian neighborhood of Suleimaniyeh, Aleppo, Syria, April 11, 2015. Russia has proposed a March 1, 2016, ceasefire in Syria, U.S. officials said Feb. 10, but Washington believes Moscow is giving itself and the Syrian government three weeks to try to crush moderate rebel groups. The U.S. has countered with demands for the fighting to stop immediately, the officials said. Peace talks are supposed to resume by Feb. 25. The conflict has killed more than a quarter-million people, created Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II and allowed the Islamic State to carve out its own territory across parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq. (AP Photo/SANA)MUNICH (AP) — Russia has proposed a March 1 ceasefire in Syria, U.S. officials say, but Washington believes Moscow is giving itself and the Syrian government three weeks to try to crush moderate rebel groups.
 
 

Pro-government forces seize camp outside Yemen capital

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎02:25:08 PMGo to full article
A pro-government army soldier carries Yemen's national flag as he walks at the strategic Fardhat Nahm military camp, around 60km (40 miles) from Yemen's capital SanaaYemeni pro-government forces backed by Saudi-led air strikes seized control of a military camp 60km (40 miles) from Sanaa on Thursday, local officials and residents said, as troops advance toward the capital held by Iran-allied fighters. Forces loyal to Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi are battling the Houthi movement and loyalists of the country's former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The war has killed thousands of people and caused a humanitarian crisis in Yemen.
 
 

Iran's Rouhani calls for political unity before crucial votes: TV

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎01:19:41 PMGo to full article
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani waves as he delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the 37th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, in Tehran's Azadi (liberty) SquarePresident Hassan Rouhani urged Iran's faction-ridden elite on Thursday to seek consensus after a hardline watchdog body disqualified thousands of moderate candidates from two elections this month, state television said. Rouhani, a popular pragmatist now reestablishing ties abroad after last year's nuclear accord with global powers ended economic sanctions, spoke to crowds in Azadi Square in Tehran marking the anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. The anniversary came amid intense infighting after the powerful Guardian Council barred the moderate candidates from running for parliament and the Assembly of Experts, which will choose the country's next supreme leader.
 
 

Banners and selfies as Iranians mark revolution anniversary

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎12:47:49 PMGo to full article
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani waves to the crowd during a rally in Tehran's Azadi Square (Freedom Square) to mark the 37th anniversary of the Islamic revolution on February 11, 2016Iranians waved "Death to America" banners and took selfies with a ballistic missile Thursday as they marked 37 years since the Islamic revolution, weeks after Iran finalised a nuclear deal with world powers. In the capital, hundreds of thousands converged on the historic Azadi (Freedom) Square, where President Hassan Rouhani was set to make a speech. Many demonstrators carried the traditional placards reading "Death to America" ​​and "Death to Israel" while others carried the Iranian flag.
 
 

Nigeria faces new rift over alleged Shi'ite massacre

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:53:04 AMGo to full article
The Wider Image: Nigeria's restive northBy Ulf Laessing ZARIA, Nigeria (Reuters) - Piles of rubble are all that remain of the residence of Nigeria's most prominent Shi'ite Muslim leader after it was demolished by bulldozers in the northern city of Zaria. Sheikh Ibrahim Zakzaky's compound was leveled after three days of clashes between the army and Shi'ite residents of the city in December in which rights groups say hundreds of Shi'ites were killed. The violence and its repercussions could further fracture a country battling a northern insurgency by hardline Sunni group Boko Haram, a secessionist movement in the southeast, militancy in the oil-rich Delta, as well as a growing economic crisis.
 
 

North Korea feels global pressure but not completely ostracized

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:16 AMGo to full article
File photo of portraits of former leader Kim Jong-il and former president Kim Il-sung inside a North Korean flagged ship "Chong Chon Gang" docked at Manzanillo Container Terminal in Colon CityBy Ju-min Park SEOUL (Reuters) - From building statues and training police in Africa to trading with India and Thailand, North Korea is managing to maintain business ties and friendly diplomatic relations with a dwindling number of Cold War-era friends. Indeed, Pyongyang has been squeezed by layers of U.N. sanctions since 2006 targeting its once-lucrative arms trade and the flow of money that financed its weapons program. China, North Korea's most important ally, as well as Russia have signed up to U.N. Security Council sanctions over the missile and nuclear tests.
 
 

Refugees dream of England, at Belgian port

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎10:24:24 AMGo to full article
For months Iranian Christian migrants have been sleeping in a makeshift shelter outside a church in the Belgian port town of ZeebruggeFor months Iranian Christian migrants have been sleeping in a makeshift shelter outside a church in the Belgian port town of Zeebrugge, from where they hope to smuggle themselves over to Britain. The growing number in the North Sea port has prompted growing fears of another Calais "Jungle", with local authorities even warning residents not to feed the migrants in a bid to discourage them from staying. "This is where five or six of us sleep," he tells AFP, pointing to a stack of folded blankets in a corner of a makeshift shelter where he and the others have also stored food.
 
 

Iran seeks tourism millions as nuclear chill ends

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎06:38:24 AMGo to full article
Tourists from Hong Kong visit the "Gate of All Nations" at the ancient Persian city of Persepolis in southern IranLong seen as a destination strewn with shortcomings, Iran is making a fresh pitch for tourists, with the recent lifting of economic sanctions providing an opportunity to cash in. The tourism industry has been overlooked by successive governments in Tehran but the deal Iran struck with world powers over its nuclear programme last summer could change that. Along with nine companions including Americans and Germans, China-based Frenchman Yannick Lequelenec said he aims to make "one unique journey" every year.
 
 

Senate unanimously backs tougher North Korea sanctions

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎01:15:45 AMGo to full article
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a long range rocket launched into the air in this still image taken from KRT footage and released by YonhapThe U.S. Senate voted unanimously on Wednesday to toughen sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear program, human rights record and cyber activities, as U.S. lawmakers sought to crack down on Pyongyang for its nuclear tests. The House of Representatives passed a similar bill last month. Differences between the two are expected to be resolved quickly and Senate Democrats said they expected President Barack Obama would sign the measure into law.
 
 

With last flourish, veteran French politician Fabius bows out

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎12:30:00 AMGo to full article
Laurent Fabius pictured on February 10, 2016, bowed out as French foreign minister to take up a post at the Constitutional CouncilVeteran French politician Laurent Fabius bowed out of government Wednesday after a career spanning more than three decades that saw an early string of scandals but ended with him shepherding a complex climate deal as foreign minister. Fabius holds the distinction of being France's youngest-ever prime minister, a post he took up at 37, and has remained a Socialist heavyweight, ending his career in the ornate hallways of the Quai d'Orsay as his country's top diplomat.
 
 

Russia, pressed to end Syria bombing, proposes March truce

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎12:18:53 AMGo to full article
Stalls are seen on a street beside damaged buildings in the rebel held al-Shaar neighborhood of AleppoBy Michelle Nichols, Tom Perry and Humeyra Pamuk UNITED NATIONS/DAMASCUS/ONCUPINAR, Turkey (Reuters) - World powers pressed Russia on Wednesday to stop bombing around Aleppo in support of a Syrian government offensive to recapture the city and a Western official said Moscow had presented a proposal envisaging a truce in three weeks' time. Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing for a ceasefire and more aid access to Aleppo, where rebel-held areas are being cut off and the United Nations has warned a new humanitarian disaster could be on the way. Aid workers said on Wednesday the water supply to Aleppo, still home to two million people, was no longer functioning.
 
 

The Latest: Russia has held important talks with US on Syria

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:03:42 PMGo to full article
A Syrian woman holds a child and waits for information regarding the possible opening at the closed Turkish border crossing with Syria in the outskirts of the town of Kilis, in southeastern Turkey, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. A Russian-backed Syrian government offensive around the Syrian city of Aleppo has sent tens of thousands of people fleeing to the Turkish border in recent days. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest developments on the war in Syria and the tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing violence (all times local):
 
 

U.N. Security Council members push Russia to stop Aleppo bombing

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎10:55:48 PMGo to full article
Syrians wait with their belongings before heading to Turkey through the Bab Al-Salam border crossing, in Darat Izza, Aleppo countryside, SyriaBy Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Several United Nations Security Council members pressed Russia on Wednesday to stop bombing around Syria's Aleppo in support of a Syrian military offensive and allow humanitarian access ahead of a crucial meeting of major powers in Germany on the conflict. The 15-member Security Council met behind closed doors to discuss the situation after the U.N. warned that hundreds of thousands of civilians could be cut off from food if Syrian government forces encircle rebel-held parts of Aleppo. "Russia's air strikes have been a direct cause of this crisis around Aleppo," New Zealand's U.N. Ambassador Gerard van Bohemen told reporters after a briefing by U.N. aid chief Stephen O'Brien.
 
 

President: Czechs paid $6.2M ransom to Pakistan kidnappers

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎08:33:08 PMGo to full article
PRAGUE (AP) — The Czech Republic paid a ransom for the release of two Czech women who were kidnapped in Pakistan in 2013, President Milos Zeman said Wednesday.
 

AP Exclusive: Iranian drone first over US carrier since 2014

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎08:30:01 PMGo to full article
This Jan. 12, 2016, still image taken from video made available by the U.S. Navy shows Iranian drone" Shaheed " as it flies over the USS Harry S. Truman. That’s according to an internal U.S. Navy report on the Jan. 12 incident obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request. The Iranian drone was the first to conduct an overflight of an American carrier since 2014. (U.S. Navy via AP)DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An Iranian drone that flew over a U.S. aircraft carrier last month was the first to conduct an overflight of an American carrier since 2014, according to a U.S. Navy report obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.
 
 

Syrian war: It took time, but Russia was game-changer for Assad

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎07:46:22 PMGo to full article
With Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and former economic hub, on the verge of being surrounded by Syrian troops and their allies, President Bashar al-Assad appears to have finally gained an upper hand against an array of rebel forces. For that, Mr. Assad can thanks his allies – Iran, Hezbollah, Shiite militias from Iraq and Afghanistan, and, most of all, Russia, whose military intervention last August and intense aerial bombing campaign has allowed regime forces to recover valuable territory in the north of the country. Since the beginning of February, the Russian-backed offensive around Aleppo has killed more than 500 people, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
 

Wounded Syrian rebels say Russia crippling their insurgency

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎07:15:53 PMGo to full article
Five-year old Sheima, who lost both eyes when hit by a stray bullet in Syria, sits on her hospital bed in a small clinic near the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern city of Kilis, TurkeyBy Humeyra Pamuk KILIS, Turkey (Reuters) - In a field hospital in the Turkish border town of Kilis, wounded Syrian opposition fighters say Russian air strikes have brought their campaign against President Bashar al-Assad's forces and Islamic State militants to the brink of collapse. A major offensive in the countryside around Aleppo by Syrian government forces, backed by Russian bombardment and Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, has choked opposition supply lines and left the rebels at risk of losing their northern power base. A last-ditch intervention by Sunni Muslim backers including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar could save their insurgency, they say, in a strategically critical part of Syria divided for years between government and rebel control.
 
 

French Foreign Minister Fabius leaves office, wider reshuffle due

 
‎10 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎07:04:02 PMGo to full article
French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius arrives at the Elysee Palace in ParisBy Ingrid Melander and John Irish PARIS (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Wednesday he was leaving the government ahead of a reshuffle President Francois Hollande is set to announce in coming days to reshape his team ahead of the 2017 presidential elections. The reshuffle comes at a time when a beleaguered Hollande is suffering a fresh drop in popularity and deep discontent within his party over contested plans to strip French citizenship from people convicted of terrorism. "I will be leaving office," Fabius told reporters, adding that a wider reshuffle, which has been in the works for months, would be announced later this week.

 

 

 

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Diplomats aim for temporary Syria truce in a week

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎08:37:48 AMGo to full article
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attend a news conference after the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in Munich, Germany, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. Talks aimed at narrowing differences over Syria and keeping afloat diplomacy to end its civil war have gotten under way in Munich. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)MUNICH (AP) — Diplomats trying to secure a cease-fire for the civil war in Syria fell short early Friday in organizing a truce but agreed to try to work out details and implement a temporary "cessation of hostilities" in a week's time. The deal appeared to be the result of a compromise between the United States, which had wanted an immediate cease-fire, and Russia, which had proposed one to start on March 1.
 
 

Pope heads for historic encounter with Russian patriarch

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎08:34:34 AMGo to full article
A banner greeting Pope Francis is displayed in the Basilica de Guadalupe complex where he is due to hold a mass in Mexico City on February 10, 2016Pope Francis heads to Cuba on Friday looking to heal a 1,000-year-old rift in Christianity before embarking on a tour of Mexico dominated by modern day problems of drug-related violence and migration. The Argentinian pontiff is due to spend around two hours in private conversation with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill at Havana's Jose Marti airport. It will be the first meeting between the leaders of Christianity's two biggest churches since a 1054 schism that helped to shape modern Europe and the Middle East.
 
 

Major powers agree to plan for 'cessation of hostilities' in Syria

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎07:20:15 AMGo to full article
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura attend a news conference after the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in MunichBy John Irish and Warren Strobel MUNICH (Reuters) - Major powers agreed on Friday to a cessation of hostilities in Syria set to begin in a week and to provide rapid humanitarian access to besieged Syrian towns, but failed to secure a complete ceasefire or an end to Russian bombing. Following a marathon meeting in Munich aimed at resurrecting peace talks that collapsed last week, the powers, including the United States, Russia and more than a dozen other nations, reaffirmed their commitment to a political transition when conditions on the ground improved. At a news conference, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged the Munich meeting produced commitments on paper only.
 
 

Punch, counterpunch: GOP hopefuls bare knuckles in Carolina

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎07:03:21 AMGo to full article
Beverly Gail, of North Myrtle Beach, S.C., center, watches as Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks during a town hall meeting in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Thursday Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Jeb Bush says he was better at real estate than Donald Trump, and the former Florida governor is even embracing the "establishment" label.
 
 

CIA director says IS group has used, can make chem weapons

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎06:57:51 AMGo to full article
CIA director John Brennan testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats to America and its allies, in Washington, DC on February 9, 2016CIA director John Brennan has said that Islamic State fighters have used chemical weapons and have the capability to make small quantities of chlorine and mustard gas, CBS News reported. "We have a number of instances where ISIL has used chemical munitions on the battlefield," Brennan told CBS News, which released excerpts of an interview to air in full on the "60 Minutes" news program on Sunday. The network added that he told "60 Minutes" the CIA believes that the IS group has the ability to make small amounts of mustard or chlorine gas for weapons.
 
 

World powers agree 'cessation of hostilities' in Syria

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎06:17:55 AMGo to full article
US Secretary of States John Kerry gestures beside the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during a news conference after the International Syria Support Group meeting in Munich on February 12, 2016World powers on Friday agreed an ambitious plan to cease hostilities in war-racked Syria within a week and dramatically ramp up humanitarian access at talks in Munich aimed at reviving the struggling peace process. The 17 countries agreed "to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities to begin in a target of one week's time," said US Secretary of State John Kerry after extended talks co-hosted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The International Syria Support Group also agreed "to accelerate and expand the delivery of humanitarian aid beginning immediately".
 
 

The Latest: Clinton, Sanders wrap up Milwaukee debate

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎06:08:42 AMGo to full article
Democratic presidential candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, and Hillary Clinton wait during a short break at a Democratic presidential primary debate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Latest from the 2016 campaign trail (all times local):
 
 

Erdogan threatens to send refugees to EU as NATO steps in

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎05:47:37 AMGo to full article
Two Syrian women and a boy wait in front of Oncupinar crossing gate, near the town of Kilis, Turkey on February 9, 2016Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to send the millions of refugees in Turkey to EU member states, as NATO pledged to deploy ships to the Aegean Sea to ease the migrant crisis. Erdogan stepped up his denunciations of Western policy on migrants in a speech in Ankara, confirming he had threatened EU leaders at a summit meeting in November that Turkey could say "goodbye" to the refugees. Alarm is growing in EU capitals that thousands of migrants are still crossing the Aegean daily from Turkey after over a million made the perilous journey last year.
 
 

The Latest: Funeral arrangement for deputy announced

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎03:44:28 AMGo to full article
This undated photo provided by the Harford County Sheriff's Office shows Senior Deputy Patrick Dailey. David Evans, who had warrants for his arrest, fatally shot Dailey and another deputy in Abingdon, Md., Wednesday, Feb. 10, before he was killed himself, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (Harford County Sheriff's Office via AP)ABINGDON, Md. (AP) — The Latest on a gunman fatally shooting two sheriff's deputies and being killed in a shootout (all times local):
 
 

Debate Night Pits Judgment Against Experience

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎03:38:40 AMGo to full article
12:06 AM Link Who would have expected that the most hotly contested figure in a Democratic presidential debate in 2016 would be Henry Kissinger? The nonagenarian foreign-policy eminence was the subject of the biggest fireworks of Thursday night’s debate in Milwaukee, which came after some 75 minutes of a mostly earnest, dry debate. As Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders tangled over whether experience (she) or judgment (he, in not voting for the Iraq war) mattered more for a commander-in-chief, Sanders delivered a zinger. “I am proud to say that Henry Kissinger is not my friend,” Sanders declared, referring to Clinton’s praise for the former secretary of state during the last debate. Suddenly, all hell broke loose. In a surreal spectacle, Clinton—a child of the 1960s campus left and a leader of the nation’s liberal party—defended Kissinger, once a bogeyman to the Democratic Party. She tried to turn the argument back on Sanders, noting that he hadn’t managed to name who his own foreign-policy advisers are. He was ready: “It ain’t Henry Kissinger,” he replied. In a moment of peak, Sanders then attacked Kissinger for—of all things—backing free-trade agreements. (Alex Pareene wrote eloquently last week about why Kissinger is such a problem for Clinton.) It wasn’t the only attack Sanders leveled at Clinton on foreign policy. “You’ve got a bit of experience,” he said. “But judgment matters as well.” As usual, he invoked his vote against the war in Iraq, but Sanders also criticized Clinton’s leadership on U.S. intervention in Libya. His critique was very similar to Republican Senator Ted Cruz’s objection to the Libyan war: It’s all well and good to oppose dictators, but you shouldn’t back regime change if you don’t know what will come afterward. Those were doozies, blows that strike right at the heart of Clinton’s experience—her major qualification. But Clinton had tricks up her sleeve, too. For the final question, the candidates were asked what foreign-policy leaders they most respected. Sanders named Franklin Roosevelt, while hardly mentioning his global record, and Winston Churchill, whose morality was hardly more defensible than Kissinger’s. Clinton, going second, spotted a moment to pillory Sanders. She named Barack Obama, and blasted Sanders for his criticisms of the president, especially a call for a primary challenger to Obama in 2012. Sanders was livid and red-faced. “Madam Secretary, that is a low blow,” he said. “Have you ever disagreed with a president? I suspect you may have.” He added: “One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.” While she has brought these differences up before, it was perhaps Clinton’s most effective jab at Sanders yet, and he seemed genuinely rattled. It was especially striking because it came during a debate in which Clinton mostly hugged Sanders close. Throughout the campaign, she has tried to align herself with Obama, portraying herself as the guardian of his legacy. But after Sanders’s blowout win in the New Hampshire primary this week, Clinton is trying to adopt chunks of his platform. After Sanders’s conventional opening about how the economy is rigged, Clinton readily agreed: “Yes, the economy ​is​ rigged for those at the top.” Things went that way for most of the night. Thursday’s debate was wonkish, if you’re charitable—or dull, if you’re not. Just a few weeks ago, everyone was clamoring for more Democratic debates, but after watching this one, it’s a little tough to recall why. Clinton and Sanders’s electoral battle is hotter than ever, but their debates have mostly settled into a comfortable pattern and set of topics. They tend to delve deeply into issues, but if you’re looking for sharp contrasts, debates might not be the best place to find them. The candidates worked hard to differentiate themselves, but they agree on many things: universal health care, ending mass incarceration, abortion rights, helping working-class white communities, taxing the rich. Both candidates want to raise taxes, although Clinton is careful to say she would only do that for the wealthy, while Sanders would raise middle-class taxes while also providing more benefits, he says. Asked what part of the government they would cut, both resorted to promising to slash waste and fraud—an essentially meaningless answer. One notable exception to the comity came on immigration, where Clinton struck Sanders for not voting for the comprehensive immigration-reform bill in 2007. The night also featured a short discussion of women’s reproductive health, a topic that advocates had been complaining was absent from prior debates. But since the two candidates mostly agree, they moved on quickly. “I am not a single-issue candidate, and I do not believe we live in a single-issue country.”Deprived of major differences, the candidates retreated to familiar mantras. For Sanders, that’s the belief that the entire economy is rigged and that the ultimate solution is political revolution. As usual, he boasted that, unlike Clinton, he has no super PAC and relies on small donors, but he did not take the chance to reprise his very effective attack about her speeches to Goldman Sachs. Clinton missed a softball pitch from Judy Woodruff, who asked how wealthy donors to her campaign were different from wealthy donors to Republicans—didn’t they all want a quid pro quo? Rather than take the easy answer—that her policies would boost the middle class and hurt those donors—she tried instead to brag about her small-dollar donors, a metric on which she’ll never beat Sanders. Clinton’s mantra is execution. She repeatedly argued that Sanders owed voters a fuller explanation of how he’d get things done. She landed a direct blow on Sanders’s plan for free college tuition, which relies on states to cover one-third of the cost of tuition. Pointing to Wisconsin’s conservative Republican Governor Scott Walker, she said the plan was unrealistic: If red states wouldn’t accept Medicaid expansion that was 100 percent paid for, why would any GOP governors help Sanders out? She closed strong, saying, “I am not a single-issue candidate, and I do not believe we live in a single-issue country.” Neither politician had a dominant night, and each had his or her stumbles. It was Sanders’s strongest performance so far on foreign policy, typically his Achilles’ heel, and his well-rehearsed message on the rigged economy resonates with Democrats. Clinton was even better, though. After Sanders debated well last Thursday and then trounced her in New Hampshire, Clinton badly needed a strong performance tonight, and she got it. Clinton was competent, wonky, and pounced on Sanders’s weaknesses. But is this debate enough to stall Sanders’s momentum and help her to regain her footing, or is it just a brief respite for her? —David A. Graham
 

The Latest: Diplomats agree to Syria cease-fire in a week

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎02:12:14 AMGo to full article
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier briefs the media prior to the Syria talks in Munich, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest developments on the war in Syria, the refugee crisis and security talks in Munich, Germany. (all times local):
 
 

Leaders locked in Syria talks to rescue peace process

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎12:55:34 AMGo to full article
A man drives his motorbike past damaged buildings on February 10, 2016 in Harasta, east of the Syrian capital DamascusForeign ministers were locked in late-night talks in Munich on Thursday, seeking a way to revive a floundering Syrian peace process as Russia warned of the possibility of a "new world war". An onslaught on the key rebel stronghold of Aleppo by Syrian troops, backed by Russian bombers and Iranian fighters, derailed peace talks earlier this month and has triggered an exodus of over 50,000 refugees. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had "made propositions for a ceasefire that are quite specific" as he sat down for talks with US counterpart John Kerry.
 
 

George W. Bush to campaign with Jeb in South Carolina

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎12:48:11 AMGo to full article
George W. Bush will join his brother, Jeb, on the campaign trail in South Carolina as the struggling candidate seeks to shore up support in the race for the Republican nominationBig brother is watching -- and now, in George W. Bush's case, campaigning. The former US president will stump for his younger brother in South Carolina Monday as struggling candidate Jeb Bush seeks to shore up support in a state he sees as a lynchpin of his potential comeback in the Republican nomination race. Join us Monday in Charleston," Jeb Bush posted on Twitter Thursday, referring to next week's rally in the southern city.
 
 

Uncertainty at Syria talks as Russia backs government advance

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎12:32:41 AMGo to full article
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and U.S. Foreign Secretary Kerry attend the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in MunichBy Denis Dyomkin and Shadia Nasralla MUNICH (Reuters) - Major powers began a new round of Syria talks on Thursday focusing on calls for a ceasefire and access for aid, but the mood was dour with Moscow showing no sign of calling off its bombing in support of a massive new government advance. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev raised the specter of an interminable conflict or even a world war if powers failed to negotiate an end to the fighting in Syria, which has killed 250,000 people, caused a refugee crisis and empowered Islamic State militants. With the Syrian opposition saying it cannot accept a truce because it does not trust the Russians, diplomats saw little chance of progress at the meeting in the German city of Munich.
 
 

U.S. blacklists prominent Islamic State preacher, two others

 
‎12 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎12:16:04 AMGo to full article
The United States blacklisted three people on Thursday for working for Islamic State, including the militant group's most prominent ideologue and a senior oil official. Turki al-Bin'ali was sanctioned for helping Islamic State recruit foreign fighters, the U.S. Treasury said in a statement. Bin'ali, 31, was an early supporter of Islamic State and authored a frequently cited biography of the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
 

Ban, Trudeau mark Canada's renewed engagement at UN

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:02 PMGo to full article
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (R) and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in Ottawa, on February 11, 2016UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday marked Ottawa's renewed engagement on the world stage, which should translate into a larger role on climate change and in peacekeeping missions. Trudeau signaled ahead of Ban's arrival that he wanted to restore Canada's "voice and leadership role" at the United Nations, casting the first visit of a UN chief in years as recognition of the new Liberal government's commitment to working in concert with other nations. Whereas his Conservative predecessor, Stephen Harper, sought distance from the UN in order to carve out an independent and assertive foreign policy, Trudeau signaled that he intends for Canada to play an important and increased role beyond its borders through the New York-based global body.
 
 

US airstrikes target Islamic State in Afghanistan

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:36:38 PMGo to full article
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States has expanded its fight against the Islamic State group in Afghanistan, launching 20 airstrikes in the eastern part of the country in the last three weeks, U.S. officials said Thursday.
 

George W. Bush to make first appearance for brother Jeb

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:28:07 PMGo to full article
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush takes a picture with a young boy after speaking during a campaign event in SumterBy Steve Holland WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican George W. Bush on Monday will seek to generate a fresh burst of enthusiasm for his brother Jeb Bush's White House bid in South Carolina, marking the former president's first appearance on the campaign trail this year. George W. Bush will appear with his younger brother at a rally in North Charleston, S.C., the Jeb Bush campaign said on Thursday. The 6 p.m. EST event will be held at the North Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center.
 
 

Anti-IS coalition pledges stepped-up fight against jihadists

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:15:06 PMGo to full article
The proceedings during the Global Coalition meeting against The Islamic State group IS are being held at NATO headquarter in Brussels on February 11, 2016Defence ministers from the US-led coalition striking the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria vowed Thursday to redouble their efforts to defeat the jihadists and accelerate the difficult campaign. Discussions were "very successful and productive," Carter said, noting that the vast majority of the 27 nations he met with had either committed more assets or promised to ask their parliaments to do so. The contributions include a Saudi promise to renew its long-neglected air operations in Syria, a pledge from the Netherlands to carry out air strikes in Syria, and Canada's recent announcement it would send additional trainers to work with local forces.
 
 

Diplomacy or intervention: What can the US do to end conflict in Syria?

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎10:58:18 PMGo to full article
Amid endeavors to find a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian civil war, the United States is pushing its allies to bolster the military coalition it leads in the fight against Islamic State (IS), also referred to as ISIL. A meeting of more than 20 defense ministers aligned with the US, including representatives from Saudi Arabia, took place in Brussels Thursday, led by US Defense Secretary Ash Carter. The gathering was focused on the military strategy behind defeating IS in Iraq and Syria, specifically in the strategic cities of Mosul and Raqqa, which are currently held by the Islamic militant group's forces.
 

Kurdistan is 'part of Iraq' and should remain so: PM Abadi

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎10:43:54 PMGo to full article
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warns Kurdistan against declaring independenceIraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi urged Kurdistan on Thursday to drop any plans for independence, criticising a proposed statehood referendum and warning the autonomous region would not prosper on its own. Abadi also highlighted the economic crisis Iraq faces, saying that oil revenues had fallen by 85 percent compared to two years before -- a major challenge made worse by the country's costly war against the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group. "The Kurdistan region will not develop without Iraq, and Iraq must be united in all its components," Abadi said following talks in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
 
 

NATO orders warships into Aegean to help ease migrant crisis

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎10:21:58 PMGo to full article
FILE - In this photo take on Sunday Sept. 27, 2015, a Syrian refugee thanks god as he arrives with others from Turkey on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos, aboard a fishing boat. NATO's European commander on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, ordered three warships to move immediately to the Aegean Sea to help end the deadly smuggling of migrants between Turkey and Greece. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File)BRUSSELS (AP) — In a dramatic response to Europe's gravest refugee crisis since World War II, NATO ordered three warships to sail immediately Thursday to the Aegean Sea to help end the deadly smuggling of asylum-seekers across the waters from Turkey to Greece.
 
 

Turkey tries father, smugglers over Syrian toddler's death

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎10:18:13 PMGo to full article
The lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, found on a Turkish beach, became the symbol of the refugee crisisThe father of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler whose drowning shocked the world last year, went on trial on Thursday along with two alleged people smugglers accused of causing the death of migrants. The trial of Syrian nationals Muwafaka Alabash and Asem Alfrhad opened at the criminal court in the western Turkish resort of Bodrum, the Dogan news agency reported. Both of the defendants in court strongly incriminated Abdullah Kurdi as a well-known organiser of people smuggling in the Bodrum area, accusing him of being responsible for the deaths and driving the boat at the time of the disaster.
 
 

Treasury sanctions key Islamic State leaders

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎10:01:44 PMGo to full article
The Treasury Department is sanctioning three leaders of the Islamic State, including a senior oil official, who are instrumental in the group's finances and recruitment. Thursday's action is another step ...
 

Russia boosts ties with Iraq in challenge to U.S. influence

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎09:11:07 PMGo to full article
Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (R) and Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (L) sign documents in BaghdadBy Saif Hameed BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Russia is ready to sell civil airliners to Iraq and keep providing it with military aid to fight Islamic State, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Thursday, accompanied on a trip to Baghdad by the biggest Russian delegation in years. The mission by nearly 100 government and business officials was part of a drive by Moscow to strengthen commercial and security ties with Iraq, potentially eroding U.S. influence in one of the world's most critical regions. Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said discussions had revolved around providing military assistance to defeat Islamic State militants, also known as Daesh, who seized a third of Iraq in 2014 and want to redraw the map of the Middle East.
 
 

A look at what's next for the major players in Syria's war

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎08:54:28 PMGo to full article
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov , left, and U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry , second left, attend the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in Munich, Germany,Thursday Feb. 11, 2016, together with members of the Syrian opposition and other officials. (Michael Dalder/Pool Photo via AP)The U.S., Russia and more than a dozen other countries met Thursday in Munich to discuss halting the fighting in Syria, while forces of President Bashar Assad are making some of their biggest gains against the opposition.
 
 

Pentagon chief predicting 'tangible gains' in Iraq, Syria

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎08:26:51 PMGo to full article
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. NATO defense ministers met for a second day on Thursday to discuss Turkey’s request to help deal with Europe’s ongoing migrant crisis and the current situation in Iraq and Syria. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)BRUSSELS (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter predicted on Thursday that recent U.S.-led efforts to accelerate the fight against the Islamic State group would produce "tangible gains" in Iraq and Syria by March, even as coalition partners pledged to expand and deepen their military contributions.
 
 

NATO 'exploring possibility' of joining anti-IS coalition: US

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎08:20:11 PMGo to full article
US Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter (C) speaks as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (3-L) looks on during the Global Coalition meeting against the Islamic State group, held at NATO headquarter in Brussels on February 11, 2016NATO is considering joining the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State jihadists in Syria and Iraq, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Thursday. "Thanks to the leadership of NATO (head) Jens Stoltenberg we are exploring the possibility of NATO joining the coalition as a member itself," Carter said after a meeting of the coalition in Brussels to discuss increasing their contributions to the campaign. The coalition already includes all 28 NATO member states individually but not the alliance in its own right.
 
 

AP appoints Zeina Karam news director for Lebanon and Syria

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎07:58:31 PMGo to full article
CAIRO (AP) — The Associated Press has named Zeina Karam as its news director for Lebanon and Syria, a new position that consolidates leadership in video, text and photo coverage.
 

Islamic State fighters head south in Libya, threatening Sahel

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎07:50:55 PMGo to full article
An Islamic State flag hangs amid electric wires over a street in Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, near the port-city of Sidon, southern LebanonBy Emma Farge DAKAR (Reuters) - Groups of Islamic State fighters are quitting their bases in Libya fearing Western air strikes and heading south, posing a new threat to countries in Africa's Sahel region including Niger and Chad, officials and intelligence sources said. The ultra-hardline movement that has seized large areas of Syria and neighbouring Iraq has also amassed thousands of fighters along a coastal strip in Libya, where it has taken the city of Sirte and attacked oil infrastructure. "ISIS (Islamic State) are moving towards southern Libya to avoid the likely air strikes from the European coalition," said Colonel Mahamane Laminou Sani, director of documentation and military intelligence for Niger's armed forces.
 
 

U.S. tells allies campaign to defeat Islamic State must be accelerated

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎07:08:15 PMGo to full article
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks at a news conference during a NATO Defence Ministers meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in BrusselsBy Phil Stewart and Robin Emmott BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The United States pressed allies on Thursday to contribute more to a U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State that it says must be accelerated, regardless of the fate of diplomatic efforts to end Syria's civil war. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter started talks on Thursday in Brussels with more than two dozen defense ministers, including from key ally Saudi Arabia, which renewed its offer potentially to send troops into Syria.
 
 

5 Things to Know about the pope's trip to Mexico

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎06:31:09 PMGo to full article
A magazine cover welcoming Pope Francis to Mexico is displayed for sale alongside fashion and gossip magazines at a newsstand in Mexico City, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. The pontiff will arrive to Mexico on Friday, Feb. 12 for a week-long visit. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)VATICAN CITY (AP) — History's first Latin American pope travels to Mexico on Friday for a weeklong tour of some of the most violent, poverty-stricken and peripheral places in the Americas. He'll be bringing a message of hope and solidarity to victims of drug violence, trafficking and discrimination — a message the Vatican hopes will also resonate north of the border.
 
 

Iranians rally to celebrate anniversary of 1979 revolution

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎06:26:27 PMGo to full article
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers his speech under a portrait of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini during a rally to commemorate the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, at the Azadi (Freedom) Sq. in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. The nationwide rallies commemorate Feb. 11, 1979, when followers of Ayatollah Khomeini ousted U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranians held nationwide celebrations Thursday to commemorate the anniversary of the 1979 revolution that ousted a pro-Western monarchy and brought Islamists to power, with some making a point of taunting the U.S. despite Iran's landmark nuclear deal with world powers.
 
 

Iraqi PM discourages Kurdish independence referendum

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎06:07:40 PMGo to full article
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi arrives to attend a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Renzi at the end of a meeting at Chigi Palace in RomeIraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi urged the country's autonomous Kurdistan region not to go ahead with a proposed referendum on independence, saying it would be neither in its own interest nor Iraq's. Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said last week the time had come for the region to hold a non-binding referendum on independence from the rest of Iraq, despite being in the throes of political, economic and security crises. "I urge them not to go ahead with the referendum," Abadi said at a news conference in Berlin on Thursday. "If as they say they are not going to abide by its outcome, then why hold a referendum?" The chaos created by Islamic State's occupation of swathes of Iraq and Syria since in 2014 has given Iraq's Kurds a chance to further their long-held dream of independence.
 
 

Turkish security complete operations in Kurdish town: minister

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎05:58:36 PMGo to full article
Buildings which were damaged during the security operations and clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish militants, are pictured in Sur district of DiyarbakirTurkish security forces have completed operations against Kurdish militants in a border town after weeks of fighting, Interior Minister Efkan Ala said on Thursday, raising hopes that a lockdown could be lifted. Authorities imposed a round-the-clock curfew on Cizre, near Turkey's frontiers with both Iraq and Syria, on Dec. 14 in a bid to root out armed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants who had dug trenches and erected barricades. Fighting there has killed at least 79 civilians, according to the opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the biggest party in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast.
 
 

Gay imam helps young Muslims balance religion, sexuality

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎05:51:38 PMGo to full article
In this Wednesday, February 2, 2016 Imam Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, poses on the Old-Port, in Marseille, southern France. A gay imam from Algeria is working with an LGBT association in Marseille to counsel and protect young gay Muslims who make their way to the ancient port city. The Le Refuge group says it has helped 26 gays find shelter and start a new life in Marseille last year. Some eventually go back to their families. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)MARSEILLE, France (AP) — Growing up in Algeria, Shaira had almost everything a young man could wish for. But he also had a big secret.
 
 

Creator of popular military comic strip has book deal

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎05:41:34 PMGo to full article
NEW YORK (AP) — An Iraq War veteran who self-published a graphic novel based on his popular comic strip now has a book deal.
 

AUA Announces 2016 Annual Award Winners

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎05:30:00 PMGo to full article
LINTHICUM, Md., Feb. 11, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Urological Association (AUA) today announced the list of 2016 award recipients who will be honored at the Association's upcoming Annual Meeting in San Diego, CA this May. These physician, researchers and educators are being honored for their contributions to the field of medicine, the specialty of urology, and the AUA. Ramon Guiteras Award: The Ramon Guiteras Award is presented annually to an individual who is deemed to have made outstanding contributions to the art and science of urology. William Marston Linehan, MD, will receive this award for outstanding contributions to the art and science of urology, most notably in the identification of genes associated with different types of kidney cancers and developing new strategies for their management.
 

AJC Partners with IsraAID to Assist New Migrants in Germany

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎05:09:00 PMGo to full article
NEW YORK, Feb. 11, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- AJC is supporting a major initiative, led by the Israeli humanitarian relief group IsraAID, to assist Yazidi refugees, as well as other migrants from the Middle East who ‎have been coming in large numbers to Germany. "Our Jewish tradition beckons us to help," said AJC Berlin Director Deidre Berger. In the shelters, counselors and therapists fluent in Arabic will assist vulnerable families and children, as well as unaccompanied minors, in dealing with the trauma they have experienced in fleeing their countries and seeking to adapt to life in Germany.
 

Czechs propose to send pilot trainers to Iraq

 
‎11 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎05:08:29 PMGo to full article
PRAGUE (AP) — The Czech defense minister says he is planning to send about 30 instructors and military technicians to Iraq to train pilots for Czech-made planes.

 

 

US wants Mosul offensive on IS in April-May

 
‎20 ‎February ‎2015, ‏‎10:00:50 AMGo to full article
Smoke billows after an US air strike near the Mosul dam, Iraq's largest, on the Tigris river, on August 17, 2014The US wants Iraq to launch its offensive to retake the strategic northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State group in April or May, military officials said. Mosul is believed to be held by 1,000-2,000 IS fighters and 20,000-25,000 Iraqi troops are needed to carry out the offensive, an official with US Central Command said on Thursday. US-led coalition aircraft have recently focused air strikes in the area of Mosul and Kurdish forces have made inroads on the ground nearby. Kurdish peshmerga forces have also launched successful offensives against IS-held roads near Mosul, which is in the north of the country.

 

 


 

Nuclear Weapons, Proliferation and Policy Doctrine

 

 

S. Korea navy fires warning shots at North vessel

 
‎09 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎02:10:35 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) Feb 8, 2016 - The South Korean navy fired warning shots at a North Korean patrol boat that intruded over their disputed maritime border Monday, a day after the North's launch of a long-range rocket raised tensions.

The defence ministry in Seoul said the North Korean vessel crossed the Yellow Sea border just before 7:00am (2300 GMT Sunday).

"It quickly retreated after the South Korean navy fired warning shots," a ministry official said.

The de-facto maritime boundary between the two Koreas -- the Northern Limit Line -- is not recognised by Pyongyang, which argues it was unilaterally drawn by US-led United Nations forces after the 1950-53 Korean War.

Both sides complain of frequent incursions by the other and there were limited naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.

Incidents like Monday's intrusion are quite common and rarely escalate into anything more serious.

However, South Korea is on a high state of alert following Sunday's rocket launch, which Seoul insists amounted to a disguised ballistic missile test.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye has called for heightened vigilance against any further provocation following the launch and North Korea's fourth nuclear test last month.

 

 

UN condemns N. Korea rocket launch, vows sanctions soon

 
‎09 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎02:10:35 PMGo to full article
United Nations, United States (AFP) Feb 7, 2016 - The UN Security Council strongly condemned North Korea's rocket launch on Sunday and agreed to move quickly to impose new sanctions that will punish Pyongyang for "these dangerous and serious violations."

With backing from China, Pyongyang's ally, the council again called for "significant measures" during an emergency meeting held after North Korea said it had put a satellite into orbit with a rocket launch.

The launch, which violated multiple UN resolutions, was widely seen as an act of open defiance just weeks after Pyongyang carried out its fourth nuclear test.

"What is at stake after this inadmissible provocation is the future of the international non-proliferation regime," said France's UN Ambassador Francois Delattre.

"This is why weakness is simply not an option," he said.

A draft sanctions resolution prepared by Japan, South Korea and the United States has been in negotiations for weeks, but Beijing has been reluctant to back measures that would take aim at North Korea's already weak economy.

The 15-member council said it would "adopt expeditiously" the draft text, but there was no indication that China would yield to calls for tougher measures.

Chinese Ambassador Liu Jieyi said there should be "a new resolution that will do the work of reducing tensions, of working toward denuclearization, of maintaining peace and stability, and of encouraging a negotiated solution."

China can use its veto power to block any UN resolution that would significantly scale up sanctions by, for instance, barring North Korean ships from ports or restricting oil deliveries.

US Ambassador Samantha Power stressed that fresh sanctions should "break new ground."

"There cannot be business as usual after two successive acts," she told reporters.

"China calls for more dialogue. What we need is no longer dialogue but using the pressure," said Japan's Ambassador to the United Nations Motohide Yoshikawa.

While the United States turned up the pressure to reach agreement on sanctions, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin warned: "We should not be looking at an economic collapse of DPRK (North Korea)."

While infuriated by North Korea's refusal to curb its nuclear ambitions, China's overriding concern is avoiding a collapse of the regime in Pyongyang and the possibility of a US-allied unified Korea on its border.

- 'Epochal' launch -

Sunday's rocket, carrying an Earth observation satellite, blasted off at around 9:00 am Pyongyang time (0030 GMT) and, according to North Korean state TV, achieved orbit 10 minutes later.

There was no independent confirmation that the final stage of the satellite-bearing rocket had successfully achieved orbit, although the US Strategic Command said it had tracked "the missile launch into space."

In a special state TV broadcast, a female North Korean announcer, wearing a traditional Korean hanbok dress, hailed the "epochal" launch, personally ordered by leader Kim Jong-Un, as a major success.

North Korea insists the launch is part of its space exploration program but the United States and its allies view it as a disguised ballistic missile test.

A surge in military tensions on the Korean peninsula looked likely, with South Korean and US defense officials announcing talks on the deployment of an advanced US missile defense system in South Korea.

"It is time to move forward on this issue," said Thomas Vandal, commander of the Eighth US Army based in South Korea.

As well as North Korea, China and Russia are both strongly opposed to any such deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the region.

The South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said upcoming South Korea-US military exercises, which infuriate Pyongyang every year, would be the largest ever held.

The United States and its allies had warned Pyongyang it would pay a heavy price for pushing ahead with the launch, but analysts said the North's timing was intended to minimize the repercussions.

"North Korea likely calculates that a launch so soon after the nuclear test will probably only incrementally affect the UN sanctions arising from that test," said Alison Evans, a senior analyst at IHS Jane's.

At the United Nations, South Korea's Ambassador Oh Joon said it was "almost pathetic" to watch staged celebrations of the rocket launch on North Korean TV.

"The cost of this launch alone, estimated to be close to $1 billion, would have fed the entire North Korean population for a whole year," he said.

cml/bfm

IHS Global Insight

 

 

N. Korea triggers fresh fury with space rocket launch

 
‎09 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎02:10:35 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) Feb 7, 2016 - North Korea said Sunday it had successfully put a satellite into orbit, with a rocket launch widely condemned as a disguised ballistic missile test for a weapons delivery system to strike the US mainland.

The launch, which violated multiple UN resolutions, amounted to the North doubling down against an international community already struggling to punish Pyongyang for its nuclear test a month ago.

There was no immediate external confirmation that the final stage of the satellite-bearing rocket had successfully achieved orbit, although a US defence official said the launch vehicle "appears to have reached space."

In a special state TV broadcast, a female North Korean announcer, wearing a traditional Korean hanbok dress, hailed the "epochal" launch, personally ordered by leader Kim Jong-Un.

While stressing that it represented the legitimate exercise of North Korea's right to the "peaceful and independent" use of space, she also noted that it marked a breakthrough in boosting national "defence capability."

Condemnation was swift, with US Secretary of State John Kerry calling the launch a "flagrant violation" of UN resolutions and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saying it was "absolutely intolerable".

- UN emergency meeting -

In New York, diplomats said the UN Security Council would meet in emergency session later Sunday to discuss what UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described as a "deeply deplorable" development.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye said the Council should respond quickly with "strong punitive measures".

South Korean and US defence officials said they would immediately start formal discussions on the deployment of an advanced US missile defence system in South Korea to counter the growing threat from North Korea.

"It is time to move forward on this issue," said Thomas Vandal, commander of the Eighth US Army based in South Korea.

China has already voiced stiff opposition to any such deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system so close to its border.

Sunday's rocket, carrying an Earth observation satellite, took off at around 9:00 am Pyongyang time (0030 GMT) and, according to state TV, achieved orbit 10 minutes later.

Both South Korea and Japan had threatened to shoot it down if it encroached on their territory.

Multiple UN Security Council resolutions proscribe North Korea's development of its ballistic missile programme.

Despite Pyongyang's insistence on scientific space missions, its rockets are considered dual-use technology with both civil and military applications.

The United States, along with allies like South Korea and Japan, had warned Pyongyang it would pay a heavy price for pushing ahead with launch, but analysts said the North's timing was carefully calculated to minimise the repercussions.

"North Korea likely calculates that a launch so soon after the nuclear test will probably only incrementally affect the UN sanctions arising from that test," said Alison Evans, a senior analyst at IHS Jane's.

- China's 'regret' -

North Korea's chief diplomatic ally, China, which has been resisting the US push for tougher sanctions, reacted briefly to the launch with a simple expression of "regret".

While infuriated by North Korea's refusal to curb its nuclear ambitions, China's overriding concern is avoiding a collapse of the regime in Pyongyang and the possibility of a US-allied unified Korea on its border.

North Korea last launched a long-range rocket in December 2012, placing a similar Earth observation satellite in orbit.

Western intelligence experts say that satellite has never functioned properly, fuelling suspicion of the mission's scientific veneer.

Despite Pyongyang's bellicose claims to the contrary, the North is still seen as being years away from developing a credible inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM).

A key challenge it faces is mastering the re-entry technology required to deliver a payload as far away as the United States.

"An ICBM warhead, unlike a satellite, needs to come down as well as go up," said aerospace engineer John Schilling, who has closely followed the North's missile programme.

"North Korea has never demonstrated the ability to build a re-entry vehicle that can survive at even half the speed an ICBM would require," Schilling said.

"If and when they do, what is presently a theoretical threat will become very real and alarming," he added.

 

 

Global outrage over North Korea rocket launch

 
‎09 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎02:10:35 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) Feb 7, 2016 - North Korea hailed an "epochal event" but its latest long-range rocket launch Sunday prompted international anger and plans for talks on a missile defence system for the peninsula.

Pyongyang's state TV said it successfully put a satellite into orbit, "legitimately exercising the right to use space for independent and peaceful purposes".

Many others saw a clear defiance of multiple UN resolutions -- a disguised test of a ballistic missile which could one day deliver a weapon as far as the US mainland.

The United Nations labelled the launch "deeply deplorable" and Japan termed it "absolutely intolerable". Even the isolated state's sole major ally China expressed "regret".

The international community is still struggling to reach agreement on how to respond to Pyongyang's latest nuclear test -- of what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb -- on January 6.

After Sunday's launch, South Korean and US defence officials announced they would begin formal talks on deploying a US missile defence system in South Korea.

The US says the highly advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system would be a deterrent necessitated by the North's advancing ballistic missile programme.

But China and Russia fear it could trigger an arms race in a delicately balanced region.

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon called the North's actions "deeply deplorable" and demanded it "halt its provocative actions and return to compliance with its international obligations".

At Seoul's request the UN Security Council will hold emergency talks on the launch later Sunday.

The United States and its allies want to step up sanctions on the North, but Pyongyang's main trading partner and oil supplier China has in the past blocked tighter measures with its UN veto power.

Washington denounced the launch as "destabilising and provocative".

"North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons programs represent serious threats to our interests -- including the security of some of our closest allies -- and undermine peace and security in the broader region," National Security Advisor Susan Rice said in a statement.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called the North's actions "absolutely intolerable" and a "clear violation" of UN Security Council resolutions.

Russia termed the launch a serious blow to regional security including that of Pyongyang itself.

"It is obvious that such actions lead to a serious aggravation of the situation on the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia on the whole...(and) inflict serious damage to the security of the countries of the region, first and foremost North Korea itself," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

China, in a more muted reaction, "expressed regret".

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Pyongyang had "the right to the peaceful use of space, but that right is limited by the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions".

Hua called for "all relevant parties to deal with the situation calmly" and for "dialogue and consultations" about the Korean peninsula.

Relations between China and its neighbour have been strained by Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions in recent years and Beijing expressed opposition to the North's nuclear test last month.

On Friday, the US and South Korean presidents spoke with their Chinese counterpart in separate telephone calls to demand punitive measures in the UN against the North.

However China acts as a lifeline to North Korea and observers say it is concerned that cutting off trade could trigger a flood of refugees across its border. China also fears a wholesale collapse of the regime in Pyongyang may lead to a US-allied unified Korea on its doorstep.

 

 

UN Security Council to hold emergency talks on N. Korea

 
‎09 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎02:10:35 PMGo to full article
United Nations, United States (AFP) Feb 7, 2016 - The United Nations Security Council will hold an emergency meeting Sunday in New York over North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket, diplomats said.

The closed-door talks were requested by South Korea as well as council members Japan and the United States, which have both denounced the launch as a violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

They will begin at 11:00 am (1600 GMT).

Tokyo and Washington called the consultations over the launch of a "so-called 'satellite' by North Korea in violation of relevant Security Council resolutions," in a letter to the Venezuela mission, which currently holds the council presidency.

The resolutions bar Pyongyang from any ballistic missile or nuclear activity.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon condemned the launch as "deeply deplorable."

Ban "reiterates his call on the DPRK to halt its provocative actions and return to compliance with its international obligations," a spokesman said, referring to North Korea.

"He reaffirms his commitment to working with all sides in reducing tensions and achieving the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

The unpredictable hermit state made good on its threat to launch a satellite-bearing rocket, despite US and South Korean warnings, the South Korean military confirmed.

The launch took place as the international community was still struggling to reach consensus on how to respond to Pyongyang's detonation of what it claimed was a powerful thermonuclear bomb on January 6.

The White House and its allies want to respond with a UN resolution that would slap more sanctions on the North.

But they must first win the backing of China, which has veto power in the Council, and which in the past has shielded its neighbor and close ally.

The North is already subject to numerous UN sanctions over previous rocket launches and three nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

US denounces 'destabilizing, provocative' N. Korea rocket launch
Washington (AFP) Feb 7, 2016 - The United States on Saturday denounced North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket as "destabilizing and provocative."

The unpredictable hermit state made good on its threat to launch a satellite-bearing rocket, an operation widely seen as a covert ballistic missile test despite Pyongyang's insistence that it is part of a purely scientific program.

A US defense official said the launch vehicle "appears to have reached space."

Pyongyang had already detonated what it claimed was a powerful thermonuclear bomb on January 6.

The rocket launch "represents yet another destabilizing and provocative action and is a flagrant violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions," White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice said in a statement.

"North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons programs represent serious threats to our interests -- including the security of some of our closest allies -- and undermine peace and security in the broader region."

On Friday, the US and South Korean presidents spoke with their Chinese counterpart in separate telephone calls to demand punitive measures against Beijing's close ally.

"We will continue to work with our partners and members of the UN Security Council on significant measures to hold the DPRK to account," US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

"Now is the time to do so in a firm and united way, with measures that make clear the determination of the international community to address the pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities by the DPRK and this most recent destabilizing and unacceptable challenge to our common peace and security."

- 'All necessary steps' -

The White House and its allies want to respond with a UN resolution that would slap more sanctions on the North.

But they must first win the backing of UN veto power China, which has in the past shielded its neighbor.

"We condemn today's launch and North Korea's determination to prioritize its missile and nuclear weapons programs over the well-being of its people, whose struggles only intensify with North Korea's diversion of scarce resources to such destabilizing activities," Rice said.

"The United States is fully committed to the security of our allies in the region, and we will take all necessary steps to defend ourselves and our allies and respond to North Korean provocations."

She also urged the international community to "stand together and demonstrate to North Korea that its reckless actions must have serious consequences."

US Strategic Command said the missile launch took place at 0029 GMT Sunday and had a southerly trajectory over the Yellow Sea.

"NORAD determined that at no time was the missile a threat to North America," it added, referring to North American Aerospace Defense Command.

North Korea is already subject to numerous UN sanctions over previous nuclear and rocket tests, but South Korean President Park Geun-Hye said on Thursday its continued provocative behavior showed these had been ineffective.

The only solution, she argued, was to impose sanctions harsh enough "to make it realize that it will not survive unless it gives up its nuclear program."

 

 

China expresses regret over North Korea rocket launch

 
‎09 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎02:10:35 PMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) Feb 7, 2016 - China on Sunday "expressed regret" over North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket, after Pyongyang said it successfully put a satellite into orbit.

China is North Korea's sole major ally and main trading partner, but relations between the two have been strained in recent years by Pyongyang's ongoing nuclear programme.

"With regards to the DPRK's insistence on implementing a launch of missile technology in the face of international opposition, China expresses regret," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying was quoted as saying on the ministry's website.

"The DPRK has the right to the peaceful use of space, but that right is limited by the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions," she added.

Hua called for "all relevant parties to deal with the situation calmly" and for "dialogue and consultations" about the Korean peninsula.

China has been wary of provoking its neighbour by cutting off trade, and analysts say Beijing fears a possible influx of refugees across its border should the North Korean regime collapse.

China expressed "opposition" to North Korea's nuclear test last month.

 

 

US denounces 'destabilizing, provocative' N. Korea rocket launch

 
‎09 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎02:10:35 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Feb 7, 2016 - The United States on Saturday denounced North Korea's launch of a long-range rocket as "destabilizing and provocative."

The unpredictable hermit state made good on its threat to launch a satellite-bearing rocket, an operation widely seen as a covert ballistic missile test despite Pyongyang's insistence that it is part of a purely scientific program.

A US defense official said the launch vehicle "appears to have reached space."

Pyongyang had already detonated what it claimed was a powerful thermonuclear bomb on January 6.

The rocket launch "represents yet another destabilizing and provocative action and is a flagrant violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions," White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice said in a statement.

"North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons programs represent serious threats to our interests -- including the security of some of our closest allies -- and undermine peace and security in the broader region."

On Friday, the US and South Korean presidents spoke with their Chinese counterpart in separate telephone calls to demand punitive measures against Beijing's close ally.

"We will continue to work with our partners and members of the UN Security Council on significant measures to hold the DPRK to account," US Secretary of State John Kerry said.

"Now is the time to do so in a firm and united way, with measures that make clear the determination of the international community to address the pursuit of nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities by the DPRK and this most recent destabilizing and unacceptable challenge to our common peace and security."

- 'All necessary steps' -

The White House and its allies want to respond with a UN resolution that would slap more sanctions on the North.

But they must first win the backing of UN veto power China, which has in the past shielded its neighbor.

"We condemn today's launch and North Korea's determination to prioritize its missile and nuclear weapons programs over the well-being of its people, whose struggles only intensify with North Korea's diversion of scarce resources to such destabilizing activities," Rice said.

"The United States is fully committed to the security of our allies in the region, and we will take all necessary steps to defend ourselves and our allies and respond to North Korean provocations."

She also urged the international community to "stand together and demonstrate to North Korea that its reckless actions must have serious consequences."

US Strategic Command said the missile launch took place at 0029 GMT Sunday and had a southerly trajectory over the Yellow Sea.

"NORAD determined that at no time was the missile a threat to North America," it added, referring to North American Aerospace Defense Command.

North Korea is already subject to numerous UN sanctions over previous nuclear and rocket tests, but South Korean President Park Geun-Hye said on Thursday its continued provocative behavior showed these had been ineffective.

The only solution, she argued, was to impose sanctions harsh enough "to make it realize that it will not survive unless it gives up its nuclear program."

 

 

N. Korea launches space rocket in defiance of sanctions threats

 
‎09 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎02:10:35 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) Feb 7, 2016 - North Korea launched a long-range rocket on Sunday, violating UN resolutions and doubling down against an international community already struggling to punish Pyongyang for a nuclear test last month.

Pyongyang insists its space programme is purely scientific, but most of the world views its rocket launches as disguised ballistic missile tests aimed at developing a weapons delivery system capable of striking the US mainland.

There was no immediate confirmation that the final stage of the satellite-bearing rocket had successfully achieved orbit, and an unconfirmed report from South Korea's Yonhap news agency suggested the second stage may have malfunctioned.

A US defence official said the launch vehicle "appears to have reached space."

North Korean state television said it would make a special announcement at 0330 GMT.

Condemnation was swift, with the United States calling the launch "destabilising" and provocative, while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slammed it as "absolutely intolerable."

In New York, diplomats said the UN Security Council would meet in emergency session later Sunday.

Tough response urged
South Korean President Park Geun-Hye said the Council should respond quickly with "strong punitive measures" against what she called a grave challenge to global peace and security.

The rocket, carrying an Earth observation satellite, took off at around 9:00 am Pyongyang time (0030 GMT), according to the South Korean defence ministry which was monitoring the launch site.

Its pre-orbital flight arc was planned to traverse the Yellow Sea and further south to the Philippine Sea, with both South Korea and Japan threatening to shoot it down if it encroached on their territory.

Multiple UN Security Council resolutions proscribe North Korea's development of its ballistic missile programme.

Despite Pyongyang's insistence on a peaceful space mission, its rockets are considered dual-use technology with both civil and military applications.

The United States, along with allies like South Korea and Japan, had warned Pyongyang it would pay a heavy price for pushing ahead with launch, but analysts said the North's timing was carefully calculated to minimise the repercussions.

Good timing?
With the international community still struggling to find a united response to the North's January 6 nuclear test, the rocket launch -- while provocative -- is unlikely to substantially up the punitive ante.

"North Korea likely calculates that a launch so soon after the nuclear test will probably only incrementally affect the UN sanctions arising from that test," said Alison Evans a senior analyst at IHS Jane's.

North Korea's chief diplomatic ally, China, has been resisting the US push for tougher sanctions against Pyongyang.

While infuriated by North Korea's refusal to curb its nuclear ambitions, China's overriding concern is avoiding a collapse of the regime in Pyongyang and the possibility of a US-allied unified Korea on its border.

North Korea last launched a long-range rocket in December 2012, placing an Earth observation satellite in orbit.

Western intelligence experts said the satellite had never functioned properly, and argued that this proved the mission's scientific veneer was a sham.

ICBM challenge
Despite Pyongyang's bellicose claims to the contrary, the North is still seen as being years away from developing a credible inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Orbital rocket launches, experts say, are relatively straightforward compared to the challenge of mastering the re-entry technology required to deliver a payload as far away as the United States.

"An ICBM warhead, unlike a satellite, needs to come down as well as go up," said aerospace engineer John Schilling, who has closely followed the North's missile programme.

"North Korea has never demonstrated the ability to build a re-entry vehicle that can survive at even half the speed an ICBM would require," Schilling said.

"If and when they do, what is presently a theoretical threat will become very real and alarming," he added.

It is also unclear how far North Korea has progressed in miniaturising warheads to fit on the tip of an eventual ICBM.

The North said last month's nuclear test was of a miniaturised hydrogen bomb. Most experts dispute the claim, saying the yield was far too low for a full-fledged H-bomb.

 
 

N. Korea confirms imminent satellite launch

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:10 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) Feb 2, 2016 - North Korea confirmed Tuesday it was planning an imminent space rocket launch -- a move the US immediately condemned as "another egregious violation" of UN resolutions following Pyongyang's nuclear test last month.

The North sent formal notifications to three UN agencies, including the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), of its intention to launch an earth observation satellite between February 8-25.

The United States, which has been spearheading a diplomatic drive for harsher, more effective sanctions on Pyongyang over its latest nuclear test, condemned the launch plan.

This is "yet another egregious violation of (North Korea's) obligations," said Daniel Russel, the assistant US secretary of state for Asia-Pacific Affairs.

"This argues even more strongly for action by the UN Security Council and the international community to impose... tough additional sanctions," Russel said.

Although Pyongyang insists its space programme is purely scientific in nature, the United States and its allies insist such space launches are aimed at developing an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking the US mainland.

UN resolutions forbid the North from any use of ballistic missile technology, and sanctions were imposed after its last rocket launch in December 2012.

If the notified launch goes ahead, it would be a further slap in the face of the international community which is struggling to find a united response to the January 6 nuclear test.

- 'Defying the UN' -

"North Korea is defying the UN Security Council, it's defying its... neighbour China, it's defying the international community," Russel said.

The North's notification to the IMO said the launch would take place in the morning with a daily window of between 7:00am-midday Pyongyang time (2230-0330 GMT).

The dates suggest a launch aimed at coinciding with the birthday on February 16 of late leader Kim Jong-Il, father of current leader Kim Jong-Un.

There had been widespread speculation in recent weeks regarding an imminent rocket test, after satellite images showed increased activity at the North's main Sohae satellite launch station.

Since early 2013, North Korea has been upgrading the Sohae launch complex to handle larger, longer-range rockets with heavier payloads, but most experts say Pyongyang is still years from obtaining a credible ICBM capability.

"North Korea is still a long way off from being able to strike the US mainland," Siegfried Hecker, one of the foremost authorities on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme, said in a recent interview.

"It has only had one successful space launch. It needs a lot more, but it has made a large effort in that direction," Hecker said.

- Flight path -

The flight plan coordinates sent to the IMO were similar to those followed by the three-stage Unha-3 rocket launched in December 2012 -- suggesting the same carrier would be used again.

The separated first stage was predicted to fall in the Yellow Sea around 200 kilometres off the west coast of South Korea, followed by a second stage splashdown in the Philippine Sea.

Although the 2012 rocket launch was successful in putting a satellite in orbit, experts say the North still faces the technical challenge of developing a missile and warhead that can withstand the heat of re-entry.

Confirmation that the North is planning a fresh launch is likely to put more pressure on China, Pyongyang's chief diplomatic protector.

Beijing has been resisting Washington's push for tougher sanctions on the North, but a rocket launch would bolster calls for China to bring its maverick neighbour into line.

China's top envoy on the North Korean nuclear issue, Wu Dawei, arrived in Pyongyang for talks on Tuesday, just hours before the rocket launch notification was issued.

While its patience has been stretched to the limit by Pyongyang's refusal to curb its nuclear ambitions, China's overriding concern is a collapse of Kim Jong-Un's regime and the possibility of a US-allied unified Korea on its border.

US Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing last week and said they had agreed to mount an "accelerated effort" to resolve their differences over a UN resolution condemning the North's latest nuclear test.

But Kerry acknowledged that the two diplomats had not agreed on the "parameters of exactly what (a resolution) would do or say."

 

 

Chinese envoy in N. Korea amid sanctions push

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:10 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) Feb 2, 2016 - China's top envoy on the North Korean nuclear issue arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday, amid a US-led international effort to sanction the North over its recent nuclear test.

Wu Dawei's arrival was confirmed by the North's official KCNA news agency in a brief dispatch that gave no details of his itinerary.

It was the first known visit by a Chinese diplomat to the North since the January 6 nuclear test, which, according to Pyongyang, involved the successful detonation of a hydrogen bomb.

The United States has been pushing hard for a tough UN Security Council resolution that would impose punitive sanctions on the North, and has placed particular pressure on China to back such a move.

North Korea's chief diplomatic protector and economic benefactor, China has protected Pyongyang from harsher sanctions in the past.

Despite annoyance with the nuclear ambitions of its maverick neighbour, Beijing's priority is to prevent any action that could lead to the collapse of the North Korean regime and chaos on China's border.

US Secretary of State John Kerry urged China during talks in Beijing last week with his counterpart Wang Yi to do more.

Although the two sides agreed to mount an "accelerated effort" to try to resolve their differences on a new resolution, Kerry acknowledged that they had not agreed on the "parameters of exactly what it would do or say".

China, meanwhile, wants a resumption of the long-stalled six-party talks on North Korea, involving the two Koreas, China, the United States, Russia and Japan.

Wu's visit to Pyongyang comes amid intense speculation -- based on satellite images -- that the North is preparing a long-range rocket launch in further violation of UN resolutions.

North Korea successfully put a satellite into orbit with its Unha-3 carrier in December 2012.

Although Pyongyang insisted it was a purely scientific operation, that launch was condemned by the international community as a disguised ballistic missile test and resulted in a tightening of UN sanctions.

 

 

Embattled N. Korea sends top diplomats to Russia, China: reports

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:10 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) Jan 29, 2016 - Facing a US-led push for tough United Nations sanctions over its latest nuclear test, North Korea appeared to be looking for Security Council allies Friday, sending top diplomats to Moscow and possibly Beijing.

China and Russia, both veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council, have helped temper the international reaction to North Korean provocations in the past.

Although the patience of both has been tested to its limits by North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions, neither wants to see the chaotic collapse of a nuclear-armed state on its border.

The North's official KCNA news agency said a delegation led by Vice Foreign Minister Pak Myong-Guk had departed for Russia on Friday.

No details were given of the itinerary, but the visit comes as Washington is seeking to build a regional and international consensus on the need for harsh sanctions after the North carried out its fourth nuclear test earlier this month.

Meanwhile, South Korea's Yonhap news agency, citing unidentified sources, said a top North Korean foreign ministry official had been spotted arriving at Beijing's international airport.

The official, Choi Son-Hui, was a former deputy head of delegation to the long-stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programme, involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

There was no information on Choi's itinerary and it was not immediately clear if she was planning to visit China or transit to a third country.

Singapore shipping firm fined for North Korea-linked arms
Singapore (AFP) Jan 29, 2016 - A Singapore shipping firm was fined Friday for its role in an attempt to smuggle Soviet-era weapons and fighter jets from Cuba to North Korea in 2013.

Chinpo Shipping Company Pte Ltd was found guilty by a Singapore district court of paying for a North Korean freighter to transit through the Panama Canal, in violation of UN sanctions.

A UN report quoted in 2014 said Chinpo Shipping had acted as an agent for a Pyongyang-based company that operated the intercepted vessel.

Chinpo Shipping "transferred financial assets or resources that may reasonably be used to contribute to the nuclear-related programmes or activities of" North Korea, a charge sheet said.

This was in breach of UN sanctions aimed at curbing North Korea's nuclear programme.

Chinpo Shipping was found guilty in December of wiring $72,000 to a shipping agent in Panama on July 8, 2013 to facilitate the passage of the North Korean freighter, Chong Chon Gang, through the Panama Canal.

The Singapore court also convicted Chinpo Shipping of a second charge of conducting a remittance business without a licence.

The ship, bound for North Korea from Cuba, was intercepted and searched while navigating the Panama Canal on July 10, 2013.

Authorities discovered 25 containers of military hardware, including two Soviet-era MiG-21 fighters, air defence systems, missiles and command and control vehicles, buried under 200,000 bags of sugar.

Cuba had argued that the weapons were "obsolete" which the communist island had sent to Pyongyang for repair. But the find raised concerns about Cuba's military cooperation with North Korea.

In June last year, a court in Panama jailed two of the ship's North Korean officers for 12 years in relation to the smuggling attempt.

Captain Ri Yong-Il and first mate Hong Yong-Hyon were convicted of arms trafficking over the undeclared cache.

The rest of the crew of more than 30 on the Chong Chon Gang were earlier acquitted.

 

 

N.Korea apparently readying 'some kind of launch': US officials

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:10 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Jan 28, 2016 - North Korea appears to be readying some kind of a rocket launch, two US defense officials said Thursday, amid concerns Pyongyang is preparing to test a ballistic missile in violation of UN Security Council rules.

The officials' comments came after Japanese media reported that satellite images showed North Korea seemed to be setting up a long-range ballistic missile launch from the Dongchang-ri site in western North Korea.

"The indications are that they are preparing for some kind of launch," one US official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official did not say where in North Korea the preparations were taking place, but said people on the ground appeared to be readying "a regular space launch."

"Could be for a satellite or a space vehicle -- there are a lot of guesses. North Korea does this periodically -- they move things back and forth," the official said.

He added, however, that there was nothing to indicate the launch was "ballistic-missile related."

But a second US official, who said the launch was coming "soon," cautioned that North Korea typically uses a space launch as a pretext for developing ballistic-missile capabilities.

"Our concern is that when they do a space launch, it happens to be the same components that can be used in an ICBM," or intercontinental ballistic missile, the official added, also requiring anonymity.

The development parallels events in December 2012, when Pyongyang put a satellite into orbit with its Unha-3 carrier.

The international community condemned the launch as a disguised ballistic missile test, resulting in a tightening of UN sanctions, despite Pyongyang's claim it was a scientific mission.

Citing an anonymous government source, Kyodo News in Japan said the satellite imagery had been collected over the past several days.

Increased movements of people and vehicles were seen around the launch site, which has now apparently been covered over, Japanese national broadcaster NHK said, citing a source familiar with Japan-South Korea relations.

The United States regularly monitors North Korea from space, while Japan began satellite monitoring of the country in 2003.

North Korea is banned under UN Security Council resolutions from carrying out any launch using ballistic missile technology, although repeated small-range missile tests have gone unpunished.

- Fourth nuclear test -

The latest activity comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity over possible further sanctions against Pyongyang for conducting its fourth nuclear test earlier this month.

Pyongyang said the blast was a miniaturized hydrogen bomb, but experts have largely dismissed the claim.

Washington is pushing for a strong United Nations response, including enhanced sanctions.

But China, North Korea's chief diplomatic protector and economic benefactor, is reluctant, even if Beijing's patience has worn thin in recent years as its neighbor has pursued its nuclear weapons ambitions.

US Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing on Wednesday and said they had agreed to mount an "accelerated effort" to resolve their differences over a new resolution.

Kerry, who said nuclear-armed North Korea poses an "overt threat, a declared threat to the world," acknowledged that the two diplomats had not agreed on the "parameters of exactly what (a resolution) would do or say."

South Korean defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok declined to confirm or deny the Japanese media reports, but said the South's military was monitoring the site for any signs of a long-range missile launch.

"In the past, North Korea always fired a long-range missile ahead of a nuclear test. But since it didn't this time, we are concerned that it could launch one" afterward, Kim said.

Kim also stressed that Pyongyang in the past had notified China and the US before carrying out nuclear tests, though this time it did not.

"We believe that North Korea could launch grave provocations by surprise -- without pre-warning -- from now on."

The North said that it carried out a submarine-launched ballistic missile test in December.

Pyongyang hailed that test as a great success and released a video that researchers at the California-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies concluded had been heavily edited to cover up a "catastrophic" failure.

The North claims it has developed long-range missiles capable of hitting the United States, but many experts say Pyongyang is still years away from obtaining a credible intercontinental ballistic missile capability.

 

 

Speculation mounts of imminent N. Korea rocket launch

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:10 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Jan 29, 2016 - Speculation mounted Friday that North Korea is preparing a rocket or long-range missile launch to follow its recent nuclear test, with Japan reportedly ordering its military to shoot down any projectile that threatened its territory.

With existing UN Security Council resolutions banning North Korea from the use of ballistic missile technology, any launch would be a further slap in the face of the international community which is struggling to find a united response to the January 6 nuclear test.

Following a Japanese report that cited government sources as saying a rocket launch could come as early as next week, two US defence officials confirmed ongoing activity at the North's Sohae satellite complex.

"The indications are that they are preparing for some kind of launch," one US official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Could be for a satellite or a space vehicle -- there are a lot of guesses. North Korea does this periodically -- they move things back and forth," the official said.

The United States regularly monitors North Korea from space, while Japan began satellite monitoring of the country in 2003.

North Korea successfully put a satellite into orbit with its Unha-3 carrier in December 2012.

Although Pyongyang insisted it was a purely scientific operation, that launch was condemned by the international community as a disguised ballistic missile test and resulted in a tightening of UN sanctions.

- Disguised ICBM test -

"Our concern is that when they do a space launch, it happens to be the same components that can be used in an ICBM (inter-continental ballistic missile)," a second US official said.

Since early 2013, North Korea has been upgrading the Sohae launch complex to handle larger, longer-range rockets with heavier payloads, but most experts say Pyongyang is still years away from obtaining a credible ICBM capability that could threaten the US mainland.

Citing an anonymous government source, Kyodo News in Japan said satellite imagery showed increased movement at Sohae that could suggest a launch as early as next week.

The main launch site also appears to have been covered over -- a precursor for launches in the past.

Analysts at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said the activity at Sohae was low-level, suggesting any launch preparations were in the "early stages."

"However, it is important to note that there is a high level of uncertainty about this judgement for a number of reasons and Pyongyang may be further along in its preparations," they added.

Other observers have noted that North Korea has yet to issue a maritime shipping alert -- a standard procedure it has adhered to with previous long-range tests.

Separate Japanese press reports said Defence Minister Gen Nakatani had ordered the shooting down of any missile seen as threatening Japan.

Tokyo had issued a similar destroy order at the time of the 2012 rocket launch.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said he had discussed the situation in a phone call Friday morning with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

"We can't deny the possibility that North Korea will take further provocative action," Kishida told reporters afterwards.

- UN sanctions debate -

The prospect of a rocket launch comes with intense diplomatic efforts already under way to punish North Korea for its fourth nuclear test.

Washington is pushing for a strong UN response, including enhanced sanctions, but China, North Korea's chief diplomatic protector and economic benefactor, is reluctant.

Pyongyang said the blast was a miniaturised hydrogen bomb -- a claim dismissed by most experts who say the yield was far too low.

A US official quoted by CNN said the latest assessment, following further seismic analysis, suggested the test, while not of a full-fledged thermonuclear device, may have incorporated H-bomb "components" such as a detonator.

Kerry met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing on Wednesday and said they had agreed to mount an "accelerated effort" to resolve their differences over a new UN resolution condemning the test.

Kerry, who said nuclear-armed North Korea poses an "overt threat, a declared threat to the world," acknowledged that the two diplomats had not agreed on the "parameters of exactly what (a resolution) would do or say."

 

 

Marshalls to open March legal assault on nuclear powers

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:10 AMGo to full article
The Hague (AFP) Jan 29, 2016 - The tiny Marshall Islands will seek in March to persuade the UN's highest court to take up a lawsuit against India, Pakistan and Britain which they accuse of failing to halt the nuclear arms race.

The International Court of Justice -- founded in 1945 to rule on legal disputes between nations -- announced late Friday dates for separate hearings for the three cases between March 7 to 16.

In the cases brought against India and Pakistan, the court will examine whether the tribunal based in The Hague is competent to hear the lawsuits.

The hearing involving Britain will be devoted to "preliminary objections" raised by London.

A decision will be made at a later date as to whether the cases can proceed.

In 2014, the Marshall Islands -- a Pacific Ocean territory with 55,000 people -- accused nine countries of "not fulfilling their obligations with respect to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament."

They included China, Britain, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States.

The government based in the Marshall Islands capital of Majuro said by not stopping the nuclear arms race, the countries continued to breach their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) -- even if the treaty has not been by signed by countries such as India and Pakistan.

The Marshall Islands had decided to sue the world's nuclear heavyweights as "it has a particular awareness of the dire consequences of nuclear weapons," it said.

Between 1946 and 1958 the United States conducted repeated nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands, Majuro's representatives said in papers filed in court.

But the court only admitted three cases brought against Britain, India and Pakistan because they already recognised the ICJ's authority.

In March 2014, the Marshall Islands marked 60 years since the devastating hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll, that vapourised an island and exposed thousands in the surrounding area to radioactive fallout.

The 15-megaton test on March 1, 1954, was part of the intense Cold War nuclear arms race and 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Bikini Islanders have lived in exile since they were moved for the first weapons tests in 1946.

When US government scientists declared Bikini safe for resettlement, some residents were allowed to return in the early 1970s.

But they were removed again in 1978 after ingesting high levels of radiation from eating local foods grown on the former test site.

The Marshall Islands Nuclear Claims Tribunal had awarded more than $2 billion (1.4 billion euros) in personal injury and land damage claims arising form the nuclear tests, but stopped paying after a $150 million (110 million euros) US compensation fund was exhausted.

Eight of the nine countries originally targeted in the lawsuits have officially admitted to possessing a nuclear weapon. Israel has never acknowledged having one, but observers believe it is the sole nuclear-armed nation in the Middle East.

 

 

What Could the US Do to Stop a North Korean ICBM Attack?

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:10 AMGo to full article
Moscow (Sputnik) Jan 31, 2016 - The United States could employ a multifaceted missile defense system to defeat an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launched by North Korea, which is reported to be testing a long-range missile soon.

Citing an unnamed government official, Japan's Kyodo news agency this week reported that satellite imagery appears to show North Korea preparing to launch a long-range missile from its Tongchang-ri test site.

North Korea could use the same technology to develop an ICBM capable of reaching major cities in the continental United States. Pyongyang has bragged that it already has the capability to miniaturize a nuclear weapon to fit atop an ICBM - an assessment with which some US military officials agree.

US Senator Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, told Sputnik News that the reported missile tests are an attempt by North Korea to prove that it has the ability to launch a missile across the Pacific at the United States.

If North Korea did launch an ICBM, the United States could turn to the Missile Defense Agency's Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD). The system has the ability to destroy a limited number of incoming missiles in space. There are 30 interceptors currently in place between military bases in Alaska and California, with plans to add an additional 14.

The GMD was tested as recently as this month, but questions about its reliability persist.

The chief of US Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, on Wednesday called for placing an Aegis Ashore system on the Hawaiian Islands.

"I've gone on record as talking about the Aegis Ashore facility in Hawaii. My point on that is it is something that we should consider," Harris told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.

He also said that the US Army should permanently base a terminal high altitude area defense (THAAD) battery in Guam in case of a North Korean attack. Such a weapon, which can intercept missiles inside and outside the Earth's atmosphere, would also be useful against Chinese missiles. Eventually, a THAAD battery could also be stationed in South Korea.

Source: Sputnik News

 

 

Russia to Rearm Two More Missile Divisions With Yars ICBMs

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:10 AMGo to full article
Moscow (Sputnik) Jan 31, 2016 - Russia's Strategic Missile Forces (SMF) have started rearmament of two more missile divisions with advanced RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) systems, SMF Commander Col. Gen. Sergey Karakayev said Friday.

RS-24 Yars (NATO reporting name SS-27 Mod 2) carries ICBMs with multiple independently targetable nuclear warheads and has a range of 11,000 kilometers (some 6,800 miles.)

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, Yars entered service with the SMF in 2010.

"We are continuing on a regular basis the production and deployment on combat duty [of Yars missile systems]...and started the rearmament of two more divisions - the Yoshkar-Ola and the Irkutsk divisions," Karakayev said in an interview with Rossiya-24 television.

The general said six regiments of three missile divisions (the Novosibirsk, the Tagil and the Koselsk divisions) had already been rearmed with Yars systems.

earlier report
Choo, Choo! Russia RevivingElusive 'Nuke Trains' With30 Yars ICBMs
Russia finalized the project of a new Combat Railway Missile Complex (BZhRK) that will multiply its nuclear potential and counter the US Conventional Prompt Global Strike, RG.ru reported.

The two superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States of America, chose different structures for their nuclear arsenals. Washington gave preference to ballistic missile submarines as the basis of the US Strategic Nuclear Forces. Moreover, the West managed to cover the global ocean with acoustic stations that tracked the movement of Soviet subs.

Soviet subs tried every evasion trick and sometimes emerged in much unexpected places, but it was still insufficient to keep secrecy. Therefore launch silos remained the core of the Soviet Union's Strategic Missile Forces (SMF). As time passed, the Pioneer and Topol-M mobile complexes entered service, but they could hardly be called 'invisible'.

In 1987, the USSR decided to place its missiles on railways, taking the advantage of its giant and multipath railroad network, in which a train could hide from satellite reconnaissance. Each of the 12 Soviet 'nuke trains' was armed with three RT-23 Molodets (SS-24 Scalpel) intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) carrying 10 warheads. The trains looked like refrigerator cars from the space.

Russia completely decommissioned these trains in 2007 in accordance with the START II treaty. The new project, codenamed "Barguzin" after a strong Baikal wind, is not subjected to the treaty and surpasses its predecessors in capabilities.

Every "Barguzin" train will be armed with six ICBMs RS-24 Yars (a land equivalent of the submarine-launched Bulava).

The new "nuke train" is similar to a nuclear-capable submarine in its function. The cars are so hard that they can resist an explosion of a nuclear warhead just several hundred meters away. A train can run for a month autonomously and pass up to 1,000 kilometers daily.

The missiles are brought into firing position within minutes. Their engagement range is 10,000 kilometers and precision is 100 meters around the target. The warheads can maneuver to penetrate any existing missile defense system.

The trains will be protected with a cutting-edge stealth technology, electronic warfare systems and counterterrorism measures.

Five "Barguzin" regiments are expected to enter Russia's SMF by 2020.

Source: Sputnik News

 

 

Images suggest N. Korea may be preparing missile launch: reports

 
‎03 ‎February ‎2016, ‏‎11:41:10 AMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) Jan 28, 2016 - North Korea may be preparing a long-range ballistic missile launch, Japanese media said Thursday, following a nuclear test this month that raised international alarm and sparked a diplomatic clash between Washington and Beijing.

Imagery collected over the past several days suggested the launch from the western Dongchang-ri site could come in about a week, Kyodo News said, citing a Japanese government source it did not identify.

Increased movements of people and vehicles were seen around the launch site, which has now apparently been covered over, national broadcaster NHK said, citing a source familiar with Japan-South Korea relations.

However, a US defence official told AFP that while the North did seem to be readying a rocket launch, it did not appear to be a ballistic missile.

"Could be for a satellite or a space vehicle -- there are a lot of guesses. North Korea does this periodically, they move things back and forth... There's nothing to indicate it's ballistic-missile related," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The United States regularly monitors North Korea from space while Japan itself began its own satellite monitoring of the country in 2003.

North Korea is banned under UN Security Council resolutions from carrying out any launch using ballistic missile technology, although repeated small-range missile tests have gone unpunished.

The development parallels events in December 2012, when Pyongyang put a satellite into orbit with its Unha-3 carrier.

Eight days before the 2012 launch, the North also put up a covering over the facility to hide the work from the view of satellites, NHK said.

The international community condemned the 2012 launch as a disguised ballistic missile test, resulting in a tightening of UN sanctions, despite Pyongyang's claim that it was a scientific mission.

The reported preparation of a missile launch came amid a flurry of diplomatic activity over possible further sanctions against Pyongyang for conducting its fourth nuclear test earlier this month.

Pyongyang said the blast was a miniaturised hydrogen bomb, though experts have largely dismissed the claim.

Washington is pushing for a strong United Nations response, including enhanced sanctions.

But China, North Korea's chief diplomatic protector and economic benefactor, is reluctant, despite ties becoming strained in recent years as Beijing's patience wears thin with its neighbour's ambitions for nuclear weapons.

US Secretary of State John Kerry met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing on Wednesday and said they had agreed to mount an "accelerated effort" to try to resolve their differences on a new resolution.

But Kerry, who said nuclear-armed North Korea poses an "overt threat, a declared threat to the world", acknowledged that the two had not agreed on the "parameters of exactly what it would do or say".

- 'Provocations by surprise' -

South Korean defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok declined to confirm or deny the Japanese reports, saying the ministry did not comment on intelligence matters.

He added, however, that South Korea's military was monitoring for any signs of a long-range missile launch.

"In the past, North Korea always fired a long-range missile ahead of a nuclear test. But since it didn't this time, we are concerned that it could launch one" afterwards, Kim said.

Kim also stressed that Pyongyang used to notify China and the US before carrying out nuclear tests, though this time did not.

"We believe that North Korea could launch grave provocations by surprise -- without pre-warning -- from now on."

In Tokyo, deputy chief cabinet secretary Koichi Hagiuda also kept generally tightlipped, but said: "We will continue to gather information and carry on surveillance work so that we can deal with any and all situations."

The possible preparation of a missile launch also came after the North said it carried out a submarine-launched ballistic missile test in December.

Pyongyang hailed that test as a great success and released a video that researchers at the California-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies concluded had been heavily doctored and edited to cover up a "catastrophic" failure.

The North claims it has developed long-range missiles capable of hitting the United States, but many experts say Pyongyang is still years away from obtaining a credible intercontinental ballistic missile capability.

"North Korea is still a long way off from being able to strike the US mainland," one of the world's foremost authorities on North Korea's nuclear programme, Siegfried Hecker, said in an interview published after the North's last nuclear test.

hih/kgo/jom/kb/txw

KERRY GROUP

 

 

Russian Army rolls out strategic missile systems for drills

 
‎27 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎10:25:40 AMGo to full article
Moscow (Sputnik) Jan 27, 2016 - Ten Russian mobile strategic nuclear missile regiments have been deployed across the country for military exercises.

The systems deployed include Topol (NATO reporting name: SS-25 Sickle), Topol-M (NATO reporting name: SS-27 Sickle B), and RS-24 Yars (NATO reporting name: SS-27 Mod 2) missiles.

According to a Russian Defense Ministry statement cited by RIA Novosti, the missile systems' crews will engage in exercises that include field deployment and redeployment, the use of engineering equipment and camouflage, as well as protecting the missile launchers against potential threats.

Meanwhile, anti-sabotage troop detachments accompanying the missile launchers will conduct drills employing new Typhoon-M counter-sabotage vehicles outfitted with UAVs. The exercises will involve navigating the contaminated terrain, repelling simulated ground and airborne attacks, and carrying out mock missile launches.

Currently about 20 missile detachments across Russia are engaged in various military exercises.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Russia's Strategic Missile Forces will conduct over 100 tactical, special and CP exercises in 2016, as well as engage in snap drills.

++ Russia's Missile Forces Will Get New Combat Management System in 2016

Russia's Strategic Missile Forces (SMF) will receive a new c of the fifth generation in 2016, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

"Beginning from 2016, Russia's Strategic Missile Forces will proceed with supplying modernized SMF command centers and advanced strategic missile systems, which are under development, with integrated ASBU units," Dmitry Andreev said.

He added that the battle management system used in Yars mobile ground missile systems significantly enhances the performance of the missile system due to advanced communications equipment and modern telecommunication technologies.

Russia is planning to modernize up to 70 percent of its military hardware by 2020. The total modernization program cost is estimated to reach about 20 trillion rubles (some $274 billion at current exchange rates).

Source: Sputnik News

 

 

Kerry to urge China to put more pressure on North Korea

 
‎27 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎10:25:40 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) Jan 26, 2016 - US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Beijing Tuesday evening for meetings with senior government leaders, with North Korea top of the agenda following the reclusive state's fourth nuclear test earlier this month.

The top US diplomat will also raise concerns over Beijing's "problematic behaviour" in the South China Sea and the thorny issues of humans rights and civil freedoms, a senior State Department official said.

North Korea is expected to dominate the talks between Kerry with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi and other senior officials, as the international community seeks to squeeze Pyongyang with fresh sanctions following its latest nuclear test on January 6.

China is North Korea's chief diplomatic protector and economic benefactor, but those ties have been strained as Beijing loses patience with Pyongyang's unwillingness to rein in its nuclear weapons ambitions.

"The Secretary has made no secret... of his conviction that there is much more that China can do by way of applying leverage (on Pyongyang)," the US official said.

The South China Sea will also be discussed as tensions and territorial disputes in the vital waterway between Beijing and its neighbours in Southeast Asia -- backed by Washington -- threaten to degenerate into conflict.

"The continuing tensions and problematic behaviour by China in the South China Sea is very much on the Secretary's mind and something that he will certainly discuss in depth," the US official said.

Finally, Kerry will raise with his hosts "what we see as a very significant tightening of political space for civil society and for NGOs," the US official said.

Kerry's visit to Beijing is the last leg of a three-continent tour that began in Davos with stops in Saudi Arabia, Laos and Cambodia.

 

 

'Doomsday' clock remains at three mins to midnight

 
‎27 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎10:25:40 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Jan 26, 2016 - Nuclear threats and climate change pose strong threats to the planet and a symbolic "doomsday" clock will stay at three minutes to midnight, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists said Tuesday.

The clock serves as a metaphor for how close humanity is to destroying the planet, and was most recently moved closer to midnight in 2015.

"It remains the closest it has been over the past 20 years," said Rachel Bronson, executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, during a press conference in the US capital.

Global warming, terrorism, nuclear tensions between the United States and Russia, concerns over North Korean weapons, tensions between Pakistan and India, and cyber threats remain destabilizing influences, said Lawrence Krauss, a cosmologist and professor at Arizona State University.

The decision not to change the clock since 2015 is "not good news," he told reporters.

Despite some positive news last year, including the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate talks, experts expressed concern that global nuclear arsenals are growing and anti-pollution pledges lack teeth.

"The fight against climate change has barely begun, and it is unclear if the nations of the world are ready to make the many hard choices that will be necessary to stabilize the climate and avert possible environmental disasters," said Krauss.

The decision to move the clock or not is led by the a group of scientists and intellectuals, including 16 Nobel Laureates.

The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947. It has changed 18 times since then, ranging from two minutes to midnight in 1953 to 17 minutes before midnight in 1991.

The last time it was three minutes to midnight was in 1983, when the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was at its peak.

 

 

Rouhani in Rome as Iran comes in from the cold

 
‎27 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎10:25:40 AMGo to full article
Rome (AFP) Jan 25, 2016 - Iran President Hassan Rouhani flew into Italy on Monday looking to reap the economic and political dividends from the lifting of international sanctions imposed over the Islamic Republic's nuclear programme.

Rouhani will also visit the Vatican and France on his first overseas trip since the nuclear deal came into force earlier this month, clearing the way for Iran to rebuild its relationship with the West.

The Iranian leader touched down in Rome accompanied by more than 100 ministers, officials and businessmen who are expected to help him clinch deals worth billions in trade and investment, topped by a major order for new Airbus planes.

He smiled broadly for the cameras at Italy's presidential palace before being ushered away for a working lunch with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, the first appointment in a five-day trip.

The fight against the Islamic State group, whose attacks on Paris forced Rouhani to delay a trip originally scheduled for November, and the war in Syria are expected to feature highly in diplomatic contacts during the visit.

Rouhani, 67 and a former academic and diplomat, is seen as a pragmatist who was elected in 2013 on a pledge to end sanctions and improve relations with the West.

He was scheduled to meet Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Monday evening and will be received by Pope Francis on Tuesday and by French President Francois Hollande on Wednesday.

"We have had friendly relations with Italy and France in the past and we want to continue our good relations with them," Rouhani told reporters before his departure on Monday from Mehrabad Airport.

He also revealed that "important contracts" were in the works with French car makers Peugeot and Renault, adding to a burgeoning list of deals being struck as European companies scramble to get back into a $400-billion (370-billion-euro) economy with the fourth biggest reserves of oil in the world and a consumer market of 80 million people.

National carrier Iran Air said on Sunday it would be buying 114 Airbus planes to modernise an ageing fleet that has struggled to stay in the air as a result of the impact of sanctions.

- Billions up for grabs -

The deal, to be signed in Paris this week, underlines the huge economic stakes involved in Iran's re-opening, particularly for Europe's manufacturing and engineering sectors.

Iran's Transport Minister Abbas Akhoundi said the first Airbuses were earmarked for delivery by March and that Iran was in the market for a total of up to 500 planes.

Peugeot is tipped to forge a car assembly joint venture with Iran Khodro, reviving a partnership which generated Iranian sales of 473,000 units in its last year before the French company pulled out in 2012.

Iranian media reported the deal will involve investment of 500 million euros.

Iran's Central Bank governor said last week the country was counting on the nuclear deal unblocking some $50 billion worth of foreign investment.

Italian companies have been amongst the quickest off the blocks with a major business delegation having visited Tehran in November and some 500 entrepreneurs invited to a forum Rouhani will attend on Tuesday.

Italy was formerly Iran's biggest European trading partner but trade has dwindled to a fifth of its former volume as a result of the sanctions.

Italian media are predicting deals this week worth 17 billion euros, topped by a five-billion-euro contract for pipeline company Saipem.

National carrier Alitalia said Monday it was upgrading its Rome-Tehran service from four a week to a daily flights in anticipation of increased business and tourist travel.

Amid the scramble for slices of the Iranian pie, rights groups fear Tehran's repression of political dissent and extensive use of the death penalty will be forgotten.

Pope Francis is expected to reiterate the Vatican's concerns on both issues, as well as asking Rouhani to help protect Christians in the Middle East.

am/jm

SAIPEM

RENAULT

AIRBUS GROUP

PSA PEUGEOT CITROEN

 

 

S. Korean president wants N. Korea talks -- without N. Korea

 
‎27 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎10:25:40 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) Jan 22, 2016 - South Korean President Park Geun-Hye on Friday offered a "creative" solution to stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programme -- cut Pyongyang from the equation and make them five-party negotiations instead.

"We should find various and creative approaches, including attempting to hold five-way talks excluding North Korea," Park said during a policy briefing with top ministers.

The six-party talks, involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China, began in 2003 as an effort to dismantle North Korea's nuclear programme in exchange for aid.

The North quit the dialogue process in 2009, ostensibly to protest sanctions imposed after a long-range rocket test. The following month it conducted its second nuclear test.

North Korea's main ally, China, has repeatedly pushed for the talks' resumption, but Park said the North's fourth nuclear test on January 6 underlined Pyongyang's rejection of denuclearisation as a bargaining chip.

"Even if the talks are resumed, their effectiveness would certainly be called into question," she said.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se said excluding North Korea from the dialogue process would serve as a powerful signal of the international community's anger and frustration.

"If this takes place, it will send a very strong message to North Korea both substantially and symbolically," Yun said.

On top of the five-way talks, South Korea's top diplomat said his government was also considering a "diverse dialogue framework" that could kick-off with a "three-way cooperation body" involving South Korea, the US and China.

But when asked about Park's proposal, China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei insisted that bringing all parties together, including North Korea, was the only way forward.

"Six-party talks are the key to solving the root of the issues," Hong said.

Pyongyang's latest test triggered a flurry of diplomatic activity between the five non-North Korean members of the defunct talks process, with the US, Japan and South Korea urging China to take the lead in imposing stronger sanctions on its maverick neighbour.

"I expect China to take effective measures to make sure North Korea can recognise that the development of its nuclear programmes serves no purpose, and that it should re-join the international community as Iran did," Park said.

Beijing will have a crucial role to play in the wording of the resolution currently under discussion within the UN Security Council to punish Pyongyang for its latest test.

China is North Korea's chief diplomatic protector and economic benefactor, but Beijing's patience has worn thin with Pyongyang's behaviour and unwillingness to rein in its nuclear weapons ambitions.

However, Beijing's leverage over Pyongyang is mitigated by its overriding fear of a North Korean collapse and the prospect of a reunified, US-allied Korea directly on its border.

 

 

Iran's Rouhani says Peugeot, Renault deals possible on Europe trip

 
‎27 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎10:25:40 AMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) Jan 25, 2016 - Iran will probably sign contracts with automakers Peugeot and Renault, President Hassan Rouhani said Monday as he headed to Europe seeking to capitalise on Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.

"Important contracts will probably be signed on this trip including with Peugeot and Renault," Rouhani told reporters at Mehrabad Airport before leaving Tehran, according to state television's website.

The Monday-Wednesday tour takes place just over a week after the nuclear deal came into force, allowing the United States and the European Union to lift economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran curbing its nuclear activities.

A large delegation of 100 political and economic leaders, including the ministers of oil, transport, industry and health will accompany the president.

"We need to modernise our aviation fleet and buy locomotives," the Iranian president said.

Transport Minister Abbas Akhoundi said on Sunday Iran would buy 114 Airbus planes during the president's visit to Paris.

"This trip takes place ... at a historic moment" and "we should make best use of the post-nuclear- deal atmosphere for growth, development and youth employment," Rouhani added.

Iran needs annual foreign investment of $30-$50 billion to reach an eight percent growth target and cash in on sanctions relief, the president said last week.

In Italy on Monday and Tuesday, Rouhani will meet Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

After meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, he will be in France on Wednesday to meet President Francois Hollande.

On the European tour, Iran is to "review and agree on two important documents" that will act as "roadmaps" for mid- and long-term relations with Italy and France, Rouhani said.

"We have had friendly relations with Italy and France in the past, and we want to continue our good relations with them," he said.

 

 

Rouhani visits Italy, France on first post-sanctions tour

 
‎27 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎10:25:40 AMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) Jan 23, 2016 - Iran's President Hassan Rouhani is to visit Italy and France next week to boost economic ties, in his first European tour since a nuclear deal saw sanctions lifted against the Islamic republic.

The visit had been planned for last November but was cancelled after the deadly jihadist attacks in Paris.

The Monday-Wednesday tour takes place a week after Tehran's deal with world powers came into force, allowing the United States and the European Union to lift economic sanctions in exchange for Tehran curbing its nuclear activities.

Iran will seek to restore its economic relations with Rome and Paris, which were among Tehran's main economic partners before the tightening of international sanctions in January 2012.

Rouhani, heading a high-powered political and business delegation, is on Monday to meet Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, before speaking at an economic forum.

The moderate cleric is also to meet Pope Francis at the Vatican, in the first official visit of an Iranian president there since reformist leader Mohammad Khatami in 1999.

Since 2012, trade between Iran and Italy has slumped from 7 billion euros (around $7.6 billion) to 1.2 billion euros a year.

But now sanctions have been lifted, Italian businessmen are eager to renew ties.

Italy's Deputy Minister of Economic Development Carlo Calenda in November visited Tehran with representatives of 178 companies and 12 banking groups.

- Cars and planes -

After Italy, Rouhani will travel to France to meet French President Francois Hollande.

In Iran's booming automobile sector, French carmakers Renault and Peugeot hope to regain some of their pre-sanctions 30% share of the market.

But they face competition from German, South Korean, Chinese and Japanese manufacturers.

Iran manufactures more than 1.1 million vehicles a year but hopes to increase production to 1.6 million in 2016 and 3 million in the future, in collaboration with European and Asian carmakers.

"We will discuss Peugeot during the visit," the Iranian foreign ministry said.

The rate of car ownership in Iran is just 100 per 1,000 people -- six times less than in Europe -- and consumers have had limited access to new vehicles under Western sanctions.

Renault has already negotiated a minority stake in Iranian auto manufacturer Pars Khodro, according to Iranian officials.

A 150-strong French business delegation visited Iran in September.

Discussions are also underway to purchase French Airbus planes to modernise Iran's ageing civilian fleet, which has suffered over 36 years of US sanctions.

- 'Build trust' -

Hollande has said Tehran's return to the international scene was "now possible", describing Iran as "this great country".

He has also called for a "de-escalation" of tensions between Iran and regional rival Saudi Arabia, which severed diplomatic ties this month after Riyadh executed a Saudi Shiite cleric and protesters ransacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

Saudi Arabia and Iran stand on opposing sides of several regional conflicts, including in Yemen and Syria.

France -- like the United States -- has finally accepted that Iran, Syria's main regional ally, should be involved in peace talks to end nearly five years of civil war in Syria.

In November, Iran took part in talks in Vienna aimed at ending the conflict.

But Tehran and Paris have different positions, with Iran rejecting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's removal.

"Trust can be built," a French diplomat said.

"Relations have become more relaxed on the nuclear issue, but not on others. For the moment, Iran hasn't changed its line on regional issues."

But Rouhani's visit could "turn a new page", he said.

sgh-an/ah/hc

PSA PEUGEOT CITROEN

RENAULT

AIRBUS GROUP

 

 
 

US to Test First ICBM Intercept in 2016

 
‎22 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:16 AMGo to full article
Washington DC (Sputnik) Jan 21, 2016 - Russia has raised concerns that the US ballistic missile defense (BMD) architecture could be used to target Russia's strategic deterrent. Chinese authorities have raised similar concerns about US BMD systems targeting its nuclear deterrent under the guise of the North Korea threat.

"Later this year, meaning this calendar year, we will fly for the first time an ICBM with countermeasures, and that will be an intercept test," Syring stated on Tuesday

The United States has been working to develop missile defense systems capable of defeating the long-ranges and high velocities of an ICBM that "would be applicable from a North Korea or Iran type of scenario," Syring explained.

Following the ICBM intercept test in 2016, the MDA will run a similar test using two ground-based interceptors against one ICBM target. In the past five years, the United States has successfully intercepted short and medium-range ballistic missiles.

Source: Sputnik News

 

 

Iran's return to international stage 'now possible': Hollande

 
‎22 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:16 AMGo to full article
Paris (AFP) Jan 21, 2016 - French President Francois Hollande said Wednesday that Iran's return to the international scene was "now possible" after a nuclear deal saw sanctions lifted against the country.

"It depends only on this great country to succeed," Hollande said just days ahead of a visit by President Hassan Rouhani to Paris, the first by an Iranian president in 17 years.

Hollande said a "de-escalation" of tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia was necessary and France was willing to play a role in this.

"We must do everything to work together for stability in the region. It is with this in mind that I will soon visit Egypt, Jordan and Oman," he said.

Kerry spoke to Iran about Americans missing in Baghdad
Davos, Switzerland (AFP) Jan 21, 2016 - US Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday he had spoken to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif about the fate of three Americans missing in Baghdad.

Washington has not commented publicly on reports the three were kidnapped by an Iranian-backed Shiite militia, but Kerry confirmed he had raised the case with Tehran.

"I've raised it with Foreign Minister Zarif," Kerry told reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"I asked him ... if Iran knew any way to provide help or if there were some way they could have an impact on getting the right kind of outcome," he added.

"He said he would take that under advisement and try to do what he can. He didn't have any immediate knowledge whatsoever about it."

Iraqi authorities are searching for the three Americans, whom the Baghdad security command said were seized last week from a "suspicious apartment" in south Baghdad.

Iraqi officials have dubbed the case a kidnapping, but US officials still speak cautiously of a "disappearance," in what could become a politically explosive case.

The three were allegedly taken just as Kerry and Zarif were finalizing the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and the release of five US prisoners held in Iran.

If one of the Iranian-backed militias that operate in Iraq was responsible for a kidnapping this would feed the anger of US critics who see both deals as a capitulation.

Opponents of President Barack Obama's outreach to Iran argue he has been naive about the ongoing threat Tehran poses to US interests and its regional allies.

 

 

US envoy urges China 'leadership' in sanctioning N. Korea

 
‎22 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:16 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) Jan 20, 2016 - Calling North Korea the greatest source of instability in Asia, a top US diplomat urged China on Wednesday to "show leadership" in international efforts to sanction Pyongyang following its fourth nuclear test.

US Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who was in Seoul on a two-day visit, noted China had a particular role to play given its "special relationship" with its reclusive neighbour.

Blinken will meet with Chinese diplomats in Beijing on Thursday, ahead of a scheduled trip to China by US Secretary of State John Kerry next week, as Washington seeks to ramp up pressure on Beijing.

"We are looking to China to show leadership on the issue," Blinken said, after talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se.

China is North Korea's chief diplomatic protector and economic benefactor, but traditional ties have become strained as Beijing's patience has worn thin with Pyongyang's behaviour and unwillingness to rein in its nuclear weapons ambitions.

But China's leverage over Pyongyang is mitigated, analysts say, by its overriding fear of a North Korean collapse and the prospect of a reunified, US-allied Korea directly on its border.

"Every country in this region wants stability. North Korea is the greatest source of instability in the region," the visiting US envoy said. "Together, collectively, we have to deal with that," he added.

Yun echoed Blinken's view, saying it is now "North Korea versus the international community".

Blinken's trip is the latest in a flurry of diplomatic exchanges focused on Northeast Asia, as the international community seeks to squeeze North Korea with fresh sanctions for its latest nuclear test on January 6.

"Everything is on the table" at the UN Security Council, Blinken said about the sanctions being considered. "But (we are) also looking at this independently and in partnership with other countries."

 

 

Iran's Khamenei warns against US 'deceit'

 
‎22 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:16 AMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) Jan 19, 2016 - Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Tuesday against American "deceit", just days after the end of sanctions under a nuclear deal that the central bank said would unblock $32 billion.

The remarks underscored the still-strained relations between Tehran and Washington, which unveiled new missile-linked sanctions against Iran on Sunday almost as soon as the nuclear-related measures were scrapped.

In his first comments since the atomic agreement was implemented at the weekend, Khamenei told President Hassan Rouhani in a letter to "guard against deceit and violations of arrogant states particularly the United States".

Rouhani wrote to Khamenei on Monday to provide an update after the UN atomic watchdog declared Saturday that Iran had met conditions stipulated in the nuclear deal.

"We have to watch if the other parties fulfil their commitments," the supreme leader wrote in response.

Washington cut diplomatic ties with Iran in 1979, when its embassy in Tehran was stormed by students, months after the Islamic revolution, leading to a 444-day hostage crisis.

Khamenei has never endorsed repairing relations with the US and has largely followed a similar tack to Iran's late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who dubbed America the "Great Satan".

- Recession and unemployment -

Opening up to the world cannot completely fix the economy, Rouhani said Tuesday in a televised speech, warning the "difficult road has just begun".

"Today is just the start for an innocent human who was kept chained unjustly by the hands and feet for 12 years," said the president.

"Sanctions are gone but there is a long way between sanctions and development," he said, speaking to an economics conference in Tehran.

"Today, our main problem is unemployment and recession, the lack of a booming economy and many structural and economic deficiencies."

British Prime Minister David Cameron congratulated Rouhani on the nuclear deal during a "warm" telephone conversation on Tuesday, the premier's spokeswoman said.

"They talked about paving the way for developing stronger economic cooperation" including opportunities that could arise in areas like banking and technology, she said.

Iran hopes that steps to ease its isolation, including the re-admission of its banks to the SWIFT system of international transactions, will inject new vigour into the economy.

The central bank said that $28 billion (25.8 billion euros) of the unfrozen funds would go to it and $4 billion "will be transferred to the state treasury as the share of the government".

The assets, which had been held in foreign banks, will be kept "in centralised and safe accounts" abroad, central bank chief Valiollah Seif was quoted by state television as saying, adding that the money could be used to pay for imports.

Iran's economy suffered greatly under the international sanctions that since 2006 targeted the Islamic republic's nuclear programme and financial systems.

Under the previous hardline government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, inflation topped 40 percent.

But moderate Rouhani, whose election in 2013 heralded more than two years of nuclear negotiations with world powers, managed to curb inflation to 13 percent.

- Foreign investment -

Iran needs annual foreign investment of $30-$50 billion to reach an eight percent growth target and cash in on sanctions relief, the president said Sunday.

"Untapped potential in many industries indicates that domestic demand alone cannot drive the economy" towards that goal, he said, signalling a shift in policy.

Iran announced a major boost of 500,000 barrels per day in oil production on Monday -- a move Tehran had long planned for once its nuclear deal with world powers took effect.

The next budget starting in March is based on a projected oil price of $40 per barrel price and exports of 2.25 million barrels per day.

Iran, a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), now produces 2.8 million barrels of oil per day and exports just over one million barrels.

Low oil prices and years of US and European Union sanctions that barred much of Iran's foreign oil sales hammered its income from crude.

But despite global prices falling below $30, Iran intends to increase production to recoup lost market share.

 

 

Iran sees $32 bn of unfrozen assets as sanctions end

 
‎22 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:16 AMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) Jan 19, 2016 - Iran will receive $32 billion of unfrozen assets after sanctions were lifted under its nuclear deal, the central bank said Tuesday, in a boost to an economy sapped by years of isolation.

The unblocking of funds, which had been held in foreign banks, comes after the UN atomic watchdog confirmed at the weekend that Iran had complied with measures in the July atomic accord.

The assets will be kept "in centralised and safe accounts" abroad, central bank chief Valiollah Seif was quoted by state television as saying, adding that the money could be used to pay for imports.

Seif said that $28 billion (25.8 billion euros) would go to the central bank and $4 billion "will be transferred to the state treasury as the share of the government".

Iran hopes that steps to ease its isolation, including the re-admission of its banks to the SWIFT system of international transactions, will inject new vigour into the economy.

- Recession and unemployment -

But opening up to the world cannot completely fix the economy, President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday in a televised speech, warning that the "difficult road has just begun".

"Today is just the start for an innocent human who was kept chained unjustly by the hands and feet for 12 years," he said.

"Sanctions are gone but there is a long way between sanctions and development," he said, speaking to an economics conference in Tehran.

"Today, our main problem is unemployment and recession, the lack of a booming economy and many structural and economic deficiencies," he added.

Iran's economy suffered greatly under the international sanctions that since 2006 targeted the Islamic republic's nuclear programme and financial systems.

Under the previous hardline government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, inflation topped 40 percent.

But moderate Rouhani, whose election in 2013 heralded more than two years of nuclear negotiations with world powers, managed to curb inflation to 13 percent.

- Foreign investment -

Iran needs annual foreign investment of $30-$50 billion to reach an eight percent growth target and cash in on sanctions relief, the president said Sunday.

"Untapped potential in many industries indicates that domestic demand alone cannot drive the economy" towards that goal, he said, signalling a shift in policy.

Iran announced a major boost of 500,000 barrels per day in oil production on Monday -- a move Tehran had long planned for once its nuclear deal with world powers took effect.

The next budget starting in March is based on a projected oil price of $40 per barrel price and exports of 2.25 million barrels per day.

Iran, a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), now produces 2.8 million barrels of oil per day and exports just over one million barrels.

Low oil prices and years of US and European Union sanctions that barred much of Iran's foreign oil sales hammered its income from crude.

But despite global prices falling below $30, Iran intends to increase production to recoup lost market share.

Tehran aims to seize the momentum of its thawing relations with the outside world to attract foreign investment.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who was actively involved in the negotiations that led to the nuclear accord, said Monday that she planned to travel to Iran soon.

"This opens the way for a major European Union investment in our bilateral relations that we will need to explore with the Iranian authorities to make sure this covers their interests, our interests and that we coordinate well among Europeans," she said.

 

 

US vows it 'won't rest' until Iran frees ex-FBI agent

 
‎22 ‎January ‎2016, ‏‎07:53:16 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) Jan 18, 2016 - While five American citizens were freed from detention in Iran this weekend, the US government vowed Sunday to work tirelessly for the release of another missing for nine years.

Ex-FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in mysterious circumstances in March 2007 during a visit to the Iranian island of Kish. He was reportedly investigating cigarette counterfeiting in the region.

Levinson, 67, is considered to be the longest-held hostage in US history, if still alive.

"Even as we rejoice in the safe return of others, we will never forget about Bob," President Barack Obama said in a White House speech.

"Each and every day, but especially today, our hearts are with the Levinson family, and we will not rest until their family is whole again."

Of the US citizens who have been freed by Iran, four were part of a prisoner swap with America, while a fifth was released in a separate process, according to US officials.

Taking to Twitter, Secretary of State John Kerry said "For over a year, we have raised the cases of American citizens unjustly detained in #Iran at every opportunity."

He added: "Iran also agreed to deepen our coordination as we work to locate Robert Levinson. We won't rest until the Levinson family is whole again."

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has announced a $5 million reward for information leading to his return.

"The FBI expects our Iranian counterparts to fulfill their commitment to locate Bob and help bring him home safely," the agency said in a statement.

"Bob forever remains part of the FBI family, and we remain committed to bringing him home safely to the family who misses him so much."

The FBI said "we continue to investigate and follow up on all information we receive, no matter how insignificant it might seem."

In 2013, US media reports revealed that Levinson had been paid by the CIA to gather information during his visits to Iran.

He had been hoping to meet an informant during his trip who could provide information about Tehran's disputed nuclear program, they said.

The White House has denied Levinson was working for the US government when he vanished.

Washington has repeatedly requested information from Iran concerning Levinson. Iranian officials have denied all knowledge regarding his disappearance.

A father of seven, Levinson suffers from diabetes and hypertension, factors which have raised fears from his family that he may not be receiving proper healthcare.

Jason Rezaian in 'good spirits' after Iran ordeal: editors
Washington (AFP) Jan 18, 2016 - Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post journalist released by Iran over the weekend after 1.5 years in the country's notorious Evin prison, told his editors Sunday he feels "a hell of a lot better."

Rezaian is among four US citizens freed by Iran in a prisoner swap, and arrived in Germany on Sunday, a US official said.

A fifth American, Matthew Trevithick, was released in a separate process, according to a US official.

"Jason was in good spirits," his editors said in a memo to newsroom staff following brief telephone conversations with Rezaian.

"Asked how he was doing, he said, 'I'm a hell of a lot better than I was 48 hours ago.' He said that he feels better than he did several months ago and that his mind is sharp."

Rezaian's family reported that his health deteriorated in prison, where he lost weight and suffered from high blood pressure, and that he was held for months in isolation without access to a lawyer.

The Post also said he was subjected to physical mistreatment and psychological abuse before finally being convicted of espionage in what it called a sham trial.

"Isolation, as you might expect, was the most difficult thing. When told, well, you're a social person, he laughed and responded, 'Yes, I am!'" Post executive editor Martin Baron and foreign editor Douglas Jehl said.

"He found escape in the fiction he was allowed to read, and today he was avidly reading whatever he wanted... remarking on how strange it was to see himself being talked about so much," they added.

"We told him we've been talking about him for 545 days."

Above all, the editors said, Rezaian "wanted to express his deep appreciation for the strong and unwavering support from everyone at The Post."

"Jason said he'd been able to read some of the coverage of his release on his mom's iPad while on the plane to Germany," Baron and Jehl added.

"The support of the Post 'means everything,' he said."

And Rezaian expressed hope he could thank his colleagues personally in the newsroom in Washington as early as Monday.

"I hear there's going to be a big party," the editors quoted him as saying.

They added: "For now, we agreed, he just needed to get some sleep."

Rezaian, a dual US-Iranian citizen born in California, was detained in Iran on July 22, 2014.

He was arrested at the same time as his wife Yeganeh Salehi, an Iranian who at that time was a journalist for The National, an Abu Dhabi-based newspaper. She was released on bail a few months later.

Both Rezaian, 39, and his wife left Iran on a plane earlier Sunday.

The Post's editors said the reporter