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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]

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Putin Rules

 

NATO ups military presence amid Russian threat

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:17:04 PMGo to full article
BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO is strengthening its military footprint along its eastern border immediately in response to Russia's aggression in Ukraine, the alliance's chief said Wednesday.
 

Ukraine says investigating Russia's Sberbank for financing separatists

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:04:11 PMGo to full article
Ukraine has launched a criminal investigation against Russia's biggest lender Sberbank for facilitating financing of pro-Russian separatists, acting Attorney General Oleh Makhnitsky said on Wednesday. Makhnitsky said the Attorney General's office was investigating 14 banks for helping to finance separatists who have taken over a number of buildings in eastern Ukraine, but he did not say whether all the investigations were criminal. "A criminal investigation has been launched against, for example, Sberbank Russia, and work is underway in that direction ... for financing terrorism," Makhnitsky said in an interview on Fifth Channel television.
 

Geneva talks on Ukraine face steep hurdles

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:01:43 PMGo to full article
Soldiers from the Ukrainian Army sit atop combat vehicles as they are blocked by people on their way to the town of Kramatorsk, Wednesday, April 16, 2014. Pro-Russian insurgents commandeered six Ukrainian armored vehicles along with their crews and hoisted Russian flags over them Wednesday, dampening the central government's hopes of re-establishing control over restive eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)MOSCOW (AP) — Thursday's high-level talks in Geneva on Ukraine come as the country's eastern regions are awash in turmoil and pro-Russian insurgents have seized police stations and government buildings in at least nine cities.
 
 

Iranian negotiators reject hardline criticism of nuclear talks

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎08:41:20 PMGo to full article
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during an event to mark Nawroz, the Persian New Year, in KabulBy Michelle Moghtader ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Iranian hardliners stepped up criticism of Tehran's negotiations with world powers over its nuclear program on Wednesday, but negotiators defended the planned deal that could lead to an end to economic sanctions. The hardliners, unsettled by the shift to a more moderate foreign policy since President Hassan Rouhani took office in August, have repeatedly criticized the talks in recent months but Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei backs them. Iran and six world powers - the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China - struck an interim deal in November under which Tehran agreed to limit some of its nuclear work in return for the easing some sanctions imposed on Iran for its disputed atomic program.
 
 

Pro-Russia separatists take armor, humiliating Ukraine forces

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎08:40:00 PMGo to full article
An armed man stands guard in SlavianskBy Gabriela Baczynska and Thomas Grove KRAMATORSK/SLAVIANSK, Ukraine (Reuters) - Separatists flew the Russian flag on armored vehicles taken from the Ukrainian army on Wednesday, humiliating a Kiev government operation to recapture eastern towns controlled by pro-Moscow partisans. Six armored personnel carriers were driven into the rebel-held town of Slaviansk to waves and shouts of "Russia! Russia!". The military setback leaves Kiev looking weak on the eve of a peace conference on Thursday, when its foreign minister will meet his Russian, U.S. and European counterparts in Geneva. Moscow has responded to the overthrow of its ally Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich in February by announcing its right to intervene militarily to protect Russian speakers across the former Soviet Union, a new doctrine that has overturned decades of post-Cold War diplomacy.
 
 

Ukraine operation to retake east unravels ahead of talks

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎08:32:45 PMGo to full article
Pro-Russian activists block a collumn of Ukrainian men riding on Armoured Personnel Carriers in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk on April 16, 2014Slavyansk (Ukraine) (AFP) - An operation by Ukrainian forces to reassert control over the country's eastern regions collapsed in disarray Wednesday in the face of pro-Russian resistance, a day ahead of international talks on the escalating crisis. A concerned NATO said it planned to deploy more forces in eastern Europe and called for Russia to stop "destabilising" the former Soviet republic, which has been in deep turmoil since the ouster of pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych in February. Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that the Ukrainian government's decision to send in troops this week to put down a separatist uprising in its industrial heartland has dragged the country to the brink of civil war. In a sign that its plan was backfiring, Ukraine's defence ministry said Moscow-backed militants blocked and seized six armoured vehicles that had been deployed Tuesday in a bid to oust the separatists.
 
 

An orange-black ribbon holds a clue to eastern Ukraine's chaos

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎08:24:45 PMGo to full article
As pro-Russia protests spread in eastern Ukraine, a strip of striped orange-and-black fabric has become as ubiquitous as the armed men in unmarked military fatigues. Its name is the Ribbon of Saint George. Imbued with history, it’s a powerful symbol in the ongoing information battle over Ukraine. For Russians it's a mark of allegiance to the state – both the fearsome, expansionist Russian state of old and its modern successor under President Vladimir Putin.
 

NATO to bolster security of eastern allies worried over Ukraine

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎08:21:11 PMGo to full article
By Adrian Croft BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO said on Wednesday it would send more ships, planes and troops to eastern Europe to reassure allies worried by Russia's annexation of Crimea but shied away from new permanent bases in the east as Poland wanted. "You will see deployments at sea, in the air, on land to take place immediately, that means within days," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference after NATO ambassadors agreed the measures. NATO has made clear it will not intervene militarily in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, despite Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and a buildup of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border.
 

Obama looks to salvage Asia 'pivot' as allies fret about China

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:51:37 PMGo to full article
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a Civil Rights Summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act at the LBJ Presidential Library in AustinBy Matt Spetalnick and Manuel Mogato WASHINGTON/MANILA (Reuters) - When a Philippine government ship evaded a Chinese blockade in disputed waters of the South China Sea last month, a U.S. Navy plane swooped in to witness the dramatic encounter. The flyover was a vivid illustration of the expanding significance of one of Asia's most strategic regions and underscored a message that senior U.S. officials say President Barack Obama will make in Asia next week: The "pivot" of U.S. military and diplomatic assets toward the Asia-Pacific region is real. Washington's Asian allies, however, appear unconvinced. During Obama's four-nation tour of Asia that begins on April 23, his toughest challenge will be to reassure skeptical leaders that the United States intends to be more than just a casual observer and instead is genuinely committed to countering an increasingly assertive China in the region.
 
 

Russian military activity increases near Ukraine border since last week

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:22:45 PMGo to full article
By Maria Tsvetkova and Anton Zverev VALUYKI, Russia (Reuters) - Russia has increased its military activity near the border with Ukraine markedly since late last week, a Reuters reporting team said after making return visits to the frontier zone where NATO says Moscow has amassed 40,000 troops. Russia's military moved equipment and weaponry around the border area on Wednesday but there was no clear evidence they were preparing either to pull back or advance. Russia has put thousands of troops near the border for what Moscow says are routine exercises but which NATO says is an attempt to intimidate Ukraine's Western-backed government by holding out the threat of an incursion. U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday called on Russian leader Vladimir Putin to pull back the forces, saying diplomatic efforts to end the crisis in Ukraine "cannot succeed in an environment of Russian military intimidation on Ukraine's border." A Reuters team went independently to three locations where Russian units are temporarily deployed, first visiting at the end of last week and again on Wednesday.
 

Iran foreign minister to visit Russia next week

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:20:08 PMGo to full article
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on March 9, 2014 in TehranIran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will travel to Russia next week for a meeting of the countries that border the Caspian Sea, the official IRNA news agency reported. "Mr Zarif will arrive in Russia on Tuesday,' for the gathering of the Caspian Sea littoral states, Iran's ambassador to Russia, Mehdi Sanaei, wrote on his Facebook page. Since the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, the nations that border the Caspian (Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) have failed to agree on the sea's legal status.
 
 

US working on non-lethal aid package for Ukraine

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:18 PMGo to full article
WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is working on a package of non-lethal aid for Ukraine that could include medical supplies and clothing, but would stop short of providing body armor and other military-style equipment, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
 

Pro-Russian insurgents seize armored vehicles

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎06:43:31 PMGo to full article
A combat vehicle with pro-Russian gunman on top runs through downtown Slovyansk on Wednesday, April 16, 2014. The troops on those vehicles wore green camouflage uniforms, had automatic weapons and grenade launchers and at least one had the St. George ribbon attached to his uniform, which has become a symbol of the pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)SLOVYANSK, Ukraine (AP) — Pro-Russian insurgents commandeered six Ukrainian armored vehicles along with their crews and hoisted Russian flags over them Wednesday, dampening the central government's hopes of re-establishing control over restive eastern Ukraine.
 
 

Syria at 'critical moment', China tells opposition chief

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎06:01:22 PMGo to full article
Syrian National Coalition chief Ahmad Jarba (left) shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi before their meeting in Beijing, on April 16, 2014Syria has reached a "critical moment" as the world awaits news of fresh peace talks, China's foreign minister told the warring nation's opposition leader Ahmad Jarba in Beijing Wednesday. Wang Yi was speaking at the start of four days of talks with a delegation led by the head of the Syrian National Coalition, as Beijing attempts to portray a neutral stance in the three-year conflict.
 
 

EU lays out impact of financial sanctions on Russia

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:50:20 PMGo to full article
By Luke Baker BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission handed documents to EU member states on Wednesday explaining the potential impact on their economies of imposing stricter trade and financial sanctions on Russia over its actions in Ukraine, diplomats said. Worried about potential leaks of the sensitive data, the Commission informed each country only about the risks it would face, rather than sharing full details with all 28 member states. The documents examine several categories of sanctions, including on energy, finance and trade, setting out the impact imposing the restrictions would have on the bilateral economic relationship between Russia and each country. "We can't have a situation where a set of sanctions ends up having a retaliatory impact on one member state or two or three member states.
 

Russian economy hit by Ukraine turmoil

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:27:08 PMGo to full article
A man passes by the car painted in the colors of Russian flag near a Soviet-era monument to Vladimir Lenin in the central square in Donetsk, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 15, 2014. Several government buildings have fallen to mobs of pro-Moscow loyalists in recent days as unrest spreads across the east of the country. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's economy slowed sharply at the start of the year as the crisis in Ukraine spooked investors into pulling money out of the country. But with Russian President Vladimir Putin still enjoying high popularity ratings, the economic damage is not yet likely to soften his politics in the region, analysts say.
 
 

Rivals flex muscles on streets of east Ukraine

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:07:36 PMGo to full article
Map of Ukraine locating eastern cities hit by separatist actions as Ukraine sends more troops to the regionSlavyansk (Ukraine) (AFP) - Ukrainian and pro-Russian forces flexed their military muscles in the restive east of the country on Wednesday, a day ahead of high-level international talks on the escalating crisis. A concerned NATO said it planned to deploy more forces in eastern Europe and called for Russia to stop "destabilising" the former Soviet satellite, which has been in deep turmoil since the ouster of the pro-Kremlin leadership in February. Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned that Kiev's decision to send in troops this week to put down a separatist uprising in its industrial heartland had dragged the country to the brink of civil war. An AFP reporter in the flashpoint town of Slavyansk saw at least six APCs and light tanks, some flying Russian flags, in the city centre with dozens of armed men in camouflage stationed around them claiming to be volunteers and Ukrainian army defectors.
 
 

Canada central bank keeps key lending rate at 1%

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:51:29 PMGo to full article
A woman walks past the Bank of Canada building in Ottawa on April 12, 2011The Bank of Canada kept its key lending rate at the near-historic low of one percent Wednesday, while forecasting an uptick in the global economy. The central bank predicted a strengthening of the world's economy over the next three years "as headwinds that have been restraining activity dissipate," but warned tensions in Ukraine could scuttle Europe's fragile recovery. "Europe's economy is growing modestly, but inflation remains too low and the nascent recovery could be undermined by risks emanating from the Russia-Ukraine situation," the bank said in a statement. An economic recovery in the United States -- Canada's neighbor and largest trading partner -- meanwhile remains on track despite a recent slip blamed on bad weather.
 
 

Combat vehicles in east Ukraine fly Russian flag

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:51:04 PMGo to full article
SLOVYANSK, Ukraine (AP) — A column of armored vehicles flying Russian flags drove into a Ukrainian city controlled by pro-Russian insurgents Wednesday, dampening the central government's hopes of re-establishing control over restive eastern Ukraine.
 

Ukraine upends Poland's EU election campaign

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:48:10 PMGo to full article
Prime Minister of Poland, Donald Tusk, addresses delegates at the Dublin Convention Centre in Dublin, Ireland, on March 7, 2014 during The European People’s Party (EPP) conferenceThe Ukraine crisis has shifted Poland's campaign for next month's European elections, boosting the governing centre-right party's chances as its prime minister reassures voters nervous about Russia's next move. "Issues relating to Ukraine and Poland's security have become essential in this EU election campaign, pushing matters of domestic politics into the background," political marketing specialist Eryk Mistewicz told AFP. Emigration, unemployment, pension and healthcare reform, education system issues and the spending of EU funds have all been overshadowed by talks with NATO allies and criticism of Russia in the run-up to May's European Parliament vote, he said. Appearing on television against the backdrop of a F-16 fighter jet and facing a row of Polish and US troops at the Lask air base in western Poland, Prime Minister Donald Tusk offered reassurance on Monday.
 
 

Merkel: Russia should withdraw from Ukraine border

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:28:14 PMGo to full article
BERLIN (AP) — Germany has called on Russia to withdraw its troops from the border with Ukraine and tone down reports in Russian state media that Berlin says are fueling separatist sentiment among ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine.
 

Russia mulls lawsuit against U.S. in WTO over sanctions

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:25:46 PMGo to full article
Russian President Putin speaks with Economy Minister Ulyukayev during their meeting in Novo-OgaryovoRussia is looking at the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the United States in the World Trade Organisation over sanctions hitting Russian banks, Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said on Wednesday, according to Russian news agencies. St Petersburg-based Bank Rossiya was sanctioned alongside its chairman and largest shareholder Yuri Kovalchuk in March as part of punitive measures by Washington over Russia's annexation of Crimea. Russian bank SMP was also indirectly affected as co-owners Boris Rotenberg and his older brother Arkady fell under U.S. sanctions. SMP chief executive Dmitry Kalantyrsky has said that an estimated 9 billion rubles ($249 million) had been withdrawn after the sanctions were imposed.
 
 

Behind Assad's victory boasts, a recalibration of success in Syria

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:19:23 PMGo to full article
A slew of battlefield successes by the Syrian Army and its allies has prompted upbeat assessments from President Bashar al-Assad that his forces are headed for victory in the war against his rebel opponents. Mr. Assad predicted on Monday that the major battles could be over by the end of the year, while his ally, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, claimed that the Syrian leader no longer faced the risk of being overthrown. “This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the Army’s achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the [attacks] targeting our country,” Assad said. But a regime victory is unlikely to look anything like pre-war Syria. With vast tracts of northern and eastern Syria remaining in the hands of rebel groups, “winning” could simply mean retaking and holding parts of western Syria that are vital to the regime’s survival.
 

Syrian opposition chief meets Chinese foreign minister in Beijing

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:00:01 PMGo to full article
China's foreign minister Wang Yi met Syria's opposition leader Ahmad Jarba this week and said Beijing supported a political settlement to the Syrian conflict, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. Wang said China continued to stay in communication and dialogue with all parties.
 

NATO sees no change in Russian force near Ukraine border

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:44:59 PMGo to full article
NATO sees no significant change in the size or positioning of Russian forces close to the Ukrainian border, the alliance's top military commander said on Wednesday. "The force posture of the Russian forces along the Ukrainian border has not significantly changed since the last time I've spoken to the press," U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, told reporters. He said the Russian force was large and the numbers of troops remained the same.
 

Ukraine says pro-Russian separatists seize six of its troop carriers

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:21:55 PMGo to full article
Pro-Russia separatists on Wednesday seized six armored personnel carriers from the Ukrainian armed forces with the help of Russian agents, Ukraine's defense ministry said. "As a result of the blocking, extremists seized the equipment." The statement said the troop carriers were now in Slaviansk, guarded by "people in uniforms who have no relation to Ukraine's armed forces." (Reporting by Conor Humphries;
 

Ukrainian military defections boost pro-Russia militia as unrest spreads

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎02:32:00 PMGo to full article
Ukrainian troops appear to be defecting to join pro-Russia separatist forces in Ukraine's restive east, one day before a planned summit in Geneva to discuss the growing crisis. The divided loyalties of Ukrainian forces are another blow to Kiev's efforts to regain control over the region.  According to various media reports, a set of six armored personnel carriers flying pro-Russia colors arrived today in the protester-occupied town of Slovyansk, in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland. Reuters reports that the second vehicle in the column bore "the emblem of the Donetsk People's Republic which a group of separatists proclaimed last week and which the Kiev authorities see as a first step to seeking to break from Ukraine and join with Russia." 
 

EU struggles to unpick the knot of Russia-Ukraine gas logistics

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎02:28:58 PMGo to full article
(This April 14 story was corrected to change year of previous supply cuts in third paragraph to 2006 from 2007) By Jan Lopatka and Christoph Steitz VELKE KAPUSANY, Slovakia/FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Unprecedented talks across the European Union on Tuesday showed it scrambling for solutions on the ground to break its dependence on Russian gas and help supply Ukraine. The EU faces a daunting task in quickly overcoming a mountain of logistical challenges, avoiding breaking binding contracts and making sure Ukraine does pay up for gas. Russia supplies 30 percent of Europe's gas needs. It has threatened to cut off supplies to Ukraine because of debts, reviving fears of a repeat of supply cuts of 2006 and 2009.
 

NATO agrees steps to bolster security of eastern allies

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎02:23:59 PMGo to full article
NATO said on Wednesday the military alliance had decided on immediate steps to reinforce its forces in eastern Europe because of the Ukraine crisis. NATO has made clear it will not intervene militarily in Ukraine despite Russia's annexation of Crimea and a buildup of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border. But the 28-nation alliance has bolstered its military presence in eastern European member states, including the ex-Soviet republics in the Baltics. NATO ambassadors agreed on Wednesday on further military steps.
 

Oil nears $105 as conflict in east Ukraine deepens

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎02:11:41 PMGo to full article
The price of oil approached $105 a barrel Wednesday as concerns grew over the crisis in Ukraine, which took military action against separatists in its east. Gains were temporarily tempered by slower Chinese growth.
 

Gay rights group sends petition to IOC

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎01:37:55 PMGo to full article
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — More than 100,000 members of an international gay rights group have sent messages to the IOC urging changes to ensure that future Olympic host countries do not have discriminatory laws on their books.
 

Crimea on bumpy road to becoming a Russian province

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:09:41 PMGo to full article
By Alissa de Carbonnel SIMFEROPOL, Crimea (Reuters) - Natalia Rudenko's ears were still ringing from being shouted at by a father demanding that the Ukrainian-language school she has run for 17 years in Crimea's capital now teach in Russian when local officials turned up at her office to dismiss her. Their message: Rudenko and her school dedicated to sending students to Ukrainian universities no longer have a place in a society that voted to secede from Ukraine and join Russia last month after Moscow deployed troops across the Black Sea peninsula. Rudenko's dismissal is part of a colossal reshuffling managed from the Kremlin in the wake of Crimea's annexation to hurriedly remake the Ukrainian region of some 2 million people into a Russian territory populated by Russians. Since President Vladimir Putin formally annexed Crimea on March 21, confusion has reigned.
 

Russian economy slows amid Ukraine crisis

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:08:13 PMGo to full article
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's economy minister says growth slowed to 0.8 percent in the first quarter due to uncertainty over the crisis in Ukraine.
 

Pro-Russians take two Ukrainian soldiers 'hostage'

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:05:45 PMGo to full article
Men wearing military fatigues ride on an armoured personnel carrier (APC) in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, on April 16, 2014Ukraine's defence ministry said on Wednesday that pro-Russian militants had taken two of its soldiers "hostage" in the separatist eastern region of Lugansk. It said several branches of Ukraine's armed forces were involved in a search for the missing soldiers, and vowed a "firm response" against those who attack Ukrainian troops. Ukraine's security service said on Wednesday it had intercepted communications showing that Russian commanders in the separatist east had issued pro-Kremlin militants with "shoot-to-kill" orders. The intercepted communications "show that sabotage operations in the east of Ukraine are being openly led by regular officers from the Russian military intelligence, who have issued cynical shoot-to-kill orders against Ukrainian soldiers," the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) said in a statement.
 
 

Ukraine PM says Russia erecting new 'Berlin Wall'

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎11:24:39 AMGo to full article
Armed men stand guard outside the regional state building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk, on April 16, 2014Kiev (AFP) - Ukraine's Western-backed prime minister on Wednesday accused Russia of erecting a new "Berlin Wall" that threatened European security.
 
 

Ukraine prime minister demands Russia stop 'exporting terrorism'

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:35:13 AMGo to full article
KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine's prime minister on Wednesday accused Russia of "exporting terrorism" to Ukraine by using covert forces to organize armed separatists who he said had attacked Ukrainian forces and occupied state buildings. "The Russian government must immediately call off its intelligence-diversionary groups, condemn the terrorists and demand that they free the buildings," Arseny Yatseniuk told a government meeting. "That is, if the Russian Federation is interested in stabilizing the situation, which I have significant doubts about," he added. ...
 

Troop carriers enter east Ukraine town bearing Russian, separatist flags

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:24:31 AMGo to full article
Armed men drive an armoured personnel carrier with a Russian flag seen on the top in SlavianskBy Thomas Grove SLAVIANSK, Ukraine (Reuters) - Six armored troop carriers entered the eastern Ukrainian town of Slaviansk on Wednesday carrying the Russian national flag and the banner of pro-Russian separatists, a Reuters eyewitness said. The vehicles stopped outside the town's city hall which has for several days been occupied by separatists. The second vehicle carried the emblem of the Donetsk People's Republic which a group of separatists proclaimed last week and which the Kiev authorities see as a first step to seeking to break from Ukraine and join with Russia. The men on top of the troop carriers, some of whom were masked, were armed with Kalashnikov rifles, grenade launchers, knives and pistols.
 
 

Oil price gain tempered by China growth slowdown

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:21:48 AMGo to full article
The price of oil rose Wednesday as Ukraine took action against pro-Russian separatists in its east but slower Chinese growth tempered gains.
 

Russian FM: Russia still to meet with Ukraine

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:11:36 AMGo to full article
HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Russia is still planning to meet with Ukrainian officials at an international conference in Geneva on Thursday.
 

Security Council sees grim images of Syrian dead

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:10:07 AMGo to full article
UN Syria Torture PhotosUNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council fell silent Tuesday after ambassadors viewed a series of ghastly photographs of dead Syrian civil war victims, France's ambassador said. The pictures showed people who were emaciated, with their bones protruding, and some bearing the marks of strangulation and repeated beatings, and eyes having been gouged out.
 
 

Syria army launches assault in besieged Homs

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:56:54 AMGo to full article
Civilians leave the besieged district of the central Syrian city of Homs ahead of being evacuated by United Nations (UN) staff to a safer location, on February 9, 2014Syrian troops and pro-regime militiamen fought their way into rebel-held neighbourhoods of the central city of Homs after besieging them for nearly two years. The assault on Homs comes a day after the army recaptured the Christian town of Maalula in the strategic Qalamun region and as state media reported the country would soon move into election mode. It follows a UN operation to evacuate some 1,400 people trapped inside army-besieged neighbourhoods of Homs in February. France will table a proposal before the United Nations Security Council authorising the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes against humanity in Syria, French ambassador to the UN Gerard Araud said Tuesday.
 
 

China stresses need for stability at first meeting of new security council

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:42:51 AMGo to full article
China's President Xi Jinping speaks at the College of Europe at the Concert Hall in Bruges, northern Belgium(This story corrects Xi's comments in the eighth paragraph to clarify he meant building up China's military power to make the country rich) BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping held the first meeting of a new national security commission on Tuesday, saying China needed a coordinated approach to domestic and foreign challenges, including social unrest, in "the most complex time in history". China announced the formation of the commission in November at the end of a key party meeting to map out reforms. Experts say it is based on the National Security Council in the United States and will increase coordination among the various wings of China's security bureaucracy, split now among the police, military, intelligence and diplomatic services. Possible international flashpoints for China include Japan, North Korea and the South China Sea.
 
 

Ukraine launches 'gradual' operation, action limited

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎01:19:29 AMGo to full article
The crisis in UkraineBy Gabriela Baczynska and Thomas Grove KRAMATORSK/SLAVIANSK, Ukraine (Reuters) - Ukrainian forces launched a "special operation" on Tuesday against separatist militia in the Russian-speaking East, authorities said, although aside from a landing by airborne troops the action was limited. In Kiev, acting President Oleksander Turchinov declared a much-needed victory over pro-Russian rebels by saying the air base had been "liberated." But there was no sign of militants. A senior Ukrainian officer told the unarmed crowd that he had come to direct an "anti-terrorist operation" that Turchinov announced earlier in the day, after more than a week of missed deadlines set by Kiev for armed pro-Moscow activists to end occupations of public buildings in some 10 places in the east. Ukraine's state security service said an "anti-terrorist" operation was also in progress against separatists in the nearby town of Slaviansk but there was no immediate evidence of action.
 
 

U.S., China in 'productive' talks after North Korea test threat

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎01:10:52 AMGo to full article
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Davies shakes hands with China's special representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs Wu in New YorkBy David Brunnstrom WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and China have held "productive" talks on North Korea, the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday, part of stepped up international diplomacy after Pyongyang warned of plans to conduct a new type of nuclear test. U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Policy Glyn Davies met with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei in New York on Monday and Tuesday. "The United States and China agree on the fundamental importance of a denuclearized North Korea," it said, adding that the meetings were part of a series of high-level U.S.-China discussions on how to achieve that in a peaceful manner. The talks follow meetings last week between the United States, Japan and South Korea, the countries that along with China and Russia were trying to negotiate a nuclear deal with North Korea until Pyongyang declared the so-called six-party talks dead in 2008.
 
 

Canada boycotts Arctic Council meeting in Moscow

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:49:45 AMGo to full article
A pro-Russia activist guards a barricade outside the regional police building in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 15, 2014Canada boycotted Arctic Council meetings in Russia this week in protest of Russia's "illegal occupation" of Ukraine, Minister Leona Aglukkaq said Tuesday. Aglukkaq is responsible for the Canadian Northern Development Agency and currently chairs the Arctic Council. She said the boycott of the working-group level meetings in Moscow was "as a result of Russia's illegal occupation of Ukraine and its continued provocative actions in Crimea and elsewhere.
 
 

Russian aircraft buzz US Navy destroyer: How big a deal?

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:34:20 AMGo to full article
When Russian attack aircraft buzzed the USS Donald Cook in the international waters of the Black Sea, even as tensions in the region ratchet up, Pentagon officials decried the move as “provocative.” How big a deal are these “provocative” actions on the part of the Russian military – or were these just a couple of rogue Russian pilots out for a joy ride? During the cold war, these sorts of flybys “happened all the time,” says Christopher Harmer, a retired Navy officer who served as deputy director of future operations for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet. In fact, these kinds of incidents happen more often than ever makes it into the press, says Mr. Harmer, now a senior naval analyst with the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.
 

Ukraine bares teeth against eastern uprising

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:26:28 AMGo to full article
Pro-Russian activists attack Ukraine's security services anti-terrorist unit chief, Gen. Vasyl Krutov, center, after he spoke outside Kramatorsk airport, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, April 15, 2014. In the first Ukrainian military action against a pro-Russian uprising in the east, government forces clashed Tuesday with about 30 armed gunmen at a small airport in Kramatorsk. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)KRAMATORSK, Ukraine (AP) — In the first Ukrainian military action against a pro-Russian uprising in the east, government forces repelled an attack Tuesday by about 30 gunmen at an airport, beginning what the president called an "anti-terrorist operation" to try to restore authority over the restive region.
 
 

Gunmen kidnap Jordan's ambassador to Libya

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:13:20 AMGo to full article
A view of the front of the Jordanian embassy in TripoliMasked gunmen kidnapped Jordan's ambassador to Libya as he rode to work in Tripoli on Tuesday, shooting at his car and wounding his driver, officials said. The incident was the latest targeting Libyan leaders and foreign diplomats in the increasingly lawless North African country, three years after NATO-backed rebels ended autocratic leader Moamer Kadhafi's four-decade rule. "The Jordanian ambassador was kidnapped this morning. Security and medical officials in Tripoli said the ambassador's driver -- reportedly a Moroccan -- suffered two gunshot wounds but that his life was no longer in danger after surgery.
 
 

AP NewsBreak: Iran cuts nuke weapons ability

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:11:57 AMGo to full article
European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif, from left, arrive to address the media after closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, April 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)VIENNA (AP) — The United Nations will release a report this week certifying that Iran's ability to make a nuclear bomb has been greatly reduced because it has diluted half of its material that can be turned most quickly into weapons-grade uranium, diplomats said Tuesday.
 
 

For east Ukraine, Kremlin adapts Crimea playbook

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:03:45 AMGo to full article
A pro-Russian resident stands at a barricade in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, April 15, 2014. In the first Ukrainian military action against a pro-Russian uprising in the east, government forces clashed Tuesday with about 30 armed gunmen at a small airport in Kramatorsk. (AP Photo/Alexander Ermochenko)By Thomas Grove SLAVIANSK, Ukraine (Reuters) - There are important differences between Russia's intervention in Crimea and the events unfolding this week in eastern Ukraine which suggest Moscow has adapted its Crimea playbook and may be pursuing a different outcome. Unlike the Black Sea peninsula, where thousands of Russian troops were already based at ex-Soviet naval facilities leased from Ukraine, there is little clear evidence of Moscow deploying significant forces on the ground in the east of the country. In eastern towns where armed, pro-Russian rebels have seized public buildings and raised the Russian flag, some gunmen identify themselves to journalists as "Russians" - but that says little about citizenship in Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine.

 

 
Military Space News, Nuclear Weapons, Missile Defence

 

 

 

 

Russia launches its new ICBM from Plesetsk space centre

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:27:18 AMGo to full article
Moscow (Voice of Russia) Apr 16, 2014
The Russian Strategic Missile Troops have successfully test fired an RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missile with a multiple re-entry vehicle from the Plesetsk cosmodrome, a Russian Defence Ministry press service official for the Strategic Missile Troops, Colonel Igor Yegorov, told a news briefing earlier this Monday. The experimental warheads arrived in the designated area on the Ku
 

Raytheon awarded first international contract for Paveway IV

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:27:18 AMGo to full article
Harlow, UK (SPX) Apr 16, 2014
Raytheon Company received a contract from an international customer for Paveway IV precision guided bombs valued at more than $200m. As part of the sale Raytheon will deliver hundreds of the advanced munitions, which are regarded as the 'weapon of choice' for the Royal Air Force. The contract represents the first sale of Paveway IV outside the U.K. "This contract is an export boost t
 

DPRK vows self-defense measures against US hostility

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:27:18 AMGo to full article
Pyongyang, NKorea (XNA) Apr 16, 2014
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) vowed to take self-defense countermeasures against Washington's "hostile policy," official news agency KCNA said Friday. "As long as the U.S. persists in its hostile policy toward the DPRK, according to its high-handed, arbitrary and gangster-like double standards, Pyongyang will push ahead with the countermeasures for self-defense, as it ha
 

Russia should be ready for non-contact war

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:27:18 AMGo to full article
Moscow (Voice of Russia) Apr 16, 2014
The future of the Russian armed forces lies in developing high-precision 'smart' weapons and boosting the capacity to conduct no-contact warfare, a Russian deputy prime minister in charge of the defense industry said on Saturday. "Old-fashioned army and fleet, organized in accordance with 20th century examples, will lose a war before they are face to face with the enemy. The era of high-pr
 

China's maritime area being carved up

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:27:18 AMGo to full article
Beijing (XNA) Apr 16, 2014
China is facing serious challenges to its maritime rights, with its resources being plundered and seas carved up, a senior oceanic official said Friday. Some islands have been encroached on and the security of strategic thoroughfares is threatened. Various conflicts have occurred in China's waters, said Liu Cigui, director of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), according to the SOA's o
 

Fire aboard US missile cruiser, no one hurt

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:27:18 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) April 15, 2014
A fire broke out aboard a US Navy guided missile destroyer as it was crossing the Atlantic, but no one was injured in the blaze, the Pentagon said Tuesday. Flames erupted Monday in one of the USS Hue City's gas turbine generators, and later spread to other decks of the ship, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren told reporters. "There were no injuries. The ship continues to operate un
 

S. Korea spurns North's call for joint drone probe

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:27:18 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) April 15, 2014
South Korea on Tuesday rejected Pyongyang's proposal for a joint investigation into three crashed drones that Seoul believes originated in North Korea. "The proposal is not worth considering," defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok told reporters. He accused North Korea, which has flatly denied having anything to do with the drones, of distorting basic facts "to cover up its provocation
 

Royal Navy chief warns of threat posed by Scottish independence

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:27:18 AMGo to full article
London (AFP) April 15, 2014
Britain's Navy chief on Tuesday warned that an independent Scotland would "damage the very heart" of the service, hitting Scots the most. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, First Sea Lord Admiral George Zambellas highlighted the pivotal role played by Scotland throughout the history of the Royal Navy, pointing out that almost a third of Admiral Nelson's men at the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar were
 

Syria rebels get US-made missiles: source

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:27:18 AMGo to full article
Beirut (AFP) April 15, 2014
Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad for the first time received at least 20 US-made TOW anti-tank missiles from a "Western source," a rebel official told AFP Tuesday. "Moderate, well-organised fighters from the Hazm movement have for the first time received more than 20 TOW anti-tank missiles from a Western source," the source said on condition of anonymity, and withou
 

'Criminal' use of force by Ukraine would imperil talks: Lavrov

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:27:18 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) April 15, 2014
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday warned Kiev against using force to quell pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine, saying the "criminal" act would undermine talks planned in Geneva. The four-way meeting set for Thursday involving top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union is the latest step in a flurry of diplomacy aimed at easing the wor
 

N.Korea privatizing illicit economic activity: US group

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:27:18 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) April 15, 2014
A growing black market economy in North Korea is increasingly allowing private citizens to engage in illicit activity that funnels hard currency to the regime, a US-based group said Tuesday. In a new report, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) pointed to mounting evidence that Pyongyang's notorious monopoly on such activity is loosening. And while the activities are stil
 

Iran's foreign minister holds talks in UAE

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:27:18 AMGo to full article
Dubai (AFP) April 15, 2014
Iran's foreign minister held talks Tuesday in the United Arab Emirates in Tehran's latest effort to mend fences with Gulf states suspicious of its nuclear programme and regional ambitions. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met the UAE Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also the ruler of Dubai, home to a sizable Iranian community, the WAM state
 

US actor Michael Douglas fronts disarmament initiative

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:27:18 AMGo to full article
United Nations, United States (AFP) April 15, 2014
Hollywood actor Michael Douglas urged young people to use social media to push for arms control on Tuesday, as he launched a United Nations educational booklet on proliferation aimed at school and college students. The book "Action for Disarmament: 10 Things You Can Do" offers a list of ways grass-roots activists can get involved in arms control efforts, such as organizing film screenings
 

Comtech continues Blue Force Tracking support

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:27:18 AMGo to full article
Melville, N.Y. (UPI) Apr 15, 2013
A real-time battle command and situational awareness system is to continue to receive sustainment support from Comtech Mobile Datacom Corporation. Support of the U.S. Army's Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below - Blue Force Tracking program, or BFT-1, will be for one year with two option years. The base year is estimated to be worth $13.6 million. If all options are exercis
 

Xi urges China to build up joint space and air power

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:27:18 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) April 15, 2014
Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged further integration of air and space defence capabilities, in what experts described Tuesday as a response to the militarisation of space by rivals including the United States. China says its ambitious space programme is peaceful, but such claims were first questioned in 2007 when the military used a ground-based missile to destroy one of its own satell
 

India's opposition rules out major change to nuke policy

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:10:18 PMGo to full article
New Delhi (AFP) April 14, 2014
The head of India's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), tipped to win ongoing national elections, has ruled out any change in the country's "no-first-use" nuclear weapons policy. The BJP sparked speculation about an end to the doctrine last week when its manifesto said that the party would "revise and update" India's policy. "The no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons was a well th
 

French test fire new cruise missile

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:10:18 PMGo to full article
Paris (UPI) Apr 14, 2013
A second qualification firing of a naval cruise missile for the French Navy has been successfully completed, the French defense procurement agency said. The Missile de Croisiere Naval, or MdCN, is by European missile-maker MBDA and will be deployed this year on FREMM multi-mission frigates and on Barracuda-class nuclear submarines beginning in 2018. This test, carried out from DG
 

Harris, Exelis win Army radio contract

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:10:18 PMGo to full article
Melbourne, Fla. (UPI) Apr 14, 2013
Two indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity awards have been given by the U.S. Army to the Harris Corporation for wideband tactical radio systems. The Soldier Radio Waveform applique systems, which will deliver tactical voice and data, are for installation in vehicles and will expand the service's tactical communications network. "The network remains one of the Army's highest pri
 

Russia fighter jet buzzed US destroyer: Pentagon

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:10:18 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) April 14, 2014
A Russian fighter jet made several passes at low altitude near a US destroyer cruising in international waters in the Black Sea at the weekend, the Pentagon said Monday, branding it "provocative and unprofessional." The incident close to the Romanian coast further heightens tensions already inflamed by Russia's actions in Ukraine, where Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula and stands accused
 

Shades of the Cold War at NATO HQ

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:10:18 PMGo to full article
Brussels (AFP) April 14, 2014
The Ukraine crisis is turning the clock back 30 years for NATO and Russia with the return to propaganda methods and suspicions last seen during the Cold War. "NATO and Moscow have suddenly remembered they used to be the world's best worst enemies," said a Brussels-based officer at NATO's headquarters, speaking on condition of anonymity. "And our older colleagues are using the same reflex
 

N. Korea vows Seoul will pay 'dear price' for insults

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:10:18 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) April 14, 2014
North Korea on Monday warned South Korea it would pay a "dear price" for recent criticisms of Pyongyang's nuclear programme and political system, saying they violated a no-slander agreement. The warning from the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) came days after Pyongyang blasted South Korean President Park Geun-Hye's proposals for Korean reunification as the "daydreams
 

Attack on NATO trucks in Pakistan kills driver: officials

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:10:18 PMGo to full article
Peshawar, Pakistan (AFP) April 14, 2014
Gunmen in restive northwest Pakistan on Monday attacked container trucks carrying supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan, killing a driver, officials said. The violence took place around 25 kilometres (15 miles) west of Peshawar, the main city of the northwest, according to security officials. Ali Sher, a local administration official, confirmed the incident. "Three trucks were atta
 

Israeli killed in West Bank shooting

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:10:18 PMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) April 14, 2014
An Israeli was killed and two others wounded in a shooting near the southern West Bank city of Hebron on Monday, the army said. The incident at the start of the Jewish Passover holiday was the first deadly attack on an Israeli in the occupied West Bank since the start of the year, and came as tensions were soaring over the near-breakdown of US-brokered peace talks. "Fire was opened at Is
 

Ukraine in the balance

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:10:18 PMGo to full article
Washington DC (UPI) Apr 13, 2014
Only the most gloomy pessimists think Russian President Vladimir Putin will launch a military invasion of Ukraine to bring it back into Moscow's fold. But even the most cheerful optimists can envisage no scenario that does not leave Ukraine crippled, destabilized and a constant hostage to the Kremlin. A highly dangerous week lies ahead. The Ukraine government in Kiev is preparing milita
 

Google buys solar-powered drone maker Titan Aerospace

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:10:18 PMGo to full article
New York (AFP) April 14, 2014
Google Monday announced that it is acquiring Titan Aerospace, a maker of solar-powered drones that could be used to boost Internet access to remote areas. "It's still early days, but atmospheric satellites could help bring Internet access to millions of people, and help solve other problems, including disaster relief and environmental damage like deforestation," said a Google spokesman in an
 

N. Korea denies link to drones recovered by South

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:10:18 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) April 14, 2014
North Korea on Monday flatly denied any connection to three crashed drones recovered in the South, and accused Seoul of "fabricating" a link in order to smear Pyongyang. South Korea's defence ministry said last week it was convinced that three rudimentary unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) recovered in recent weeks were of North Korean origin. Wreckage of the drones was found in three differ
 

Global military spending drops, led by US: SIPRI

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:10:18 PMGo to full article
Stockholm (AFP) April 14, 2014
World military expenditure fell in 2013 as the United States and other Western countries cut back, but spending in emerging economies grew, a Swedish think tank said on Monday. The 1.9 percent global decline followed a 0.4 percent drop in 2012, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said. "The increase in military spending in emerging and developing countries contin
 

Navy gets new class of amphibious assault ship

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:10:18 PMGo to full article
Pascagoula, Miss. (UPI) Apr 14, 2013
The first America-class amphibious assault ship has been delivered to the U.S. Navy by Ingalls Shipbuilding. America-class ships are 844 feet long and 106 feet wide and displace 44,971 tons. They have a top speed of more than 20 knots. They will be capable of carrying a Marine Expeditionary Unit, including Marine helicopters, MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft and F-35B Joint Strike Fighte
 

Taiwan hails first US cabinet-level visit for 14 years

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:10:18 PMGo to full article
Taipei (AFP) April 14, 2014
Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou on Monday met Gina McCarthy, the first US cabinet-level official to visit the island in 14 years, and hailed her trip as important for ties with Washington. "This is the first time since 2000 for a cabinet-level official to visit Taiwan from the United States. It is of great significance for bilateral ties," Ma said while meeting McCarthy, administrator of the
 

Israel minister warns Kerry over 'surrender' to Iran

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:21:38 PMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) April 14, 2014
Israel's intelligence minister Monday slammed as unacceptable comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry on negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme which he said indicated a "surrender" to Tehran. "The things Kerry said in the Congress are worrying, they are surprising and they are unacceptable," Yuval Steinitz, who is also strategic affairs minister, told public radio. "We w
 

Ma's pro-China drive hits trouble as Taiwan students come of age

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:59 PMGo to full article
Taipei (AFP) April 11, 2014
The last time Taiwanese students mobilised en masse, they brought about an end to decades of martial rule. Now, they are scenting victory in a new battle for the island's soul as they repel government plans to embrace China ever closer. For both sides, the debate about strengthening trade ties with the giant mainland is an existential one. President Ma Ying-jeou says that without his mooted
 

Iraqis in resort town face return to Anbar unrest

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:59 PMGo to full article
Shaqlawa, Iraq (AFP) April 13, 2014
When fighting erupted in Iraq's Anbar province in December, Abu Mohammed fled with his family to a virtually empty summer resort far to the north to take advantage of its off-season rates and wait out the conflict. But high season is about to begin in Shaqlawa, nestled beneath the Safin Mountains nearly 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) up, a place where Iraqis seek to escape scorching summer temper
 

North Korea denounces US 'double-standards'

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:59 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) April 11, 2014
North Korea on Friday accused the United States of hypocrisy for remaining silent over a South Korean missile test while condemning Pyongyang's recent launches. "The US double-dealing attitude and despicable mode of action has been brought to light," a spokesman for the North's powerful National Defence Commission (NDC) said in a statement. The statement, carried by the North's official
 

S. Korea says drones were from N. Korea

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:59 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) April 11, 2014
South Korea's defence ministry said Friday it was convinced that three crashed drones recovered in recent weeks were of North Korean origin. Wreckage of the rudimentary drones was found in three different places, including Baengnyeong island near the rivals' disputed sea border. "By inspecting the three aircraft and their loaded devices, we've secured various pieces of circumstantial evi
 

Row over Iran UN pick not impacting nuclear talks: US

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:59 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) April 13, 2014
The United States' refusal to issue a visa to Iran's pick for UN ambassador is not impacting talks over the country's disputed nuclear program, Washington's envoy to the United Nations said Sunday. Washington has said it won't issue a visa to newly appointed Hamid Aboutalebi, who has been linked to the 1979 US hostage crisis. Iran, in response, has insisted the objection is unacceptab
 

Swiss voters set to sink Swedish jet fighter deal: poll

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:59 PMGo to full article
Geneva (AFP) April 11, 2014
Swiss voters are set to sink a massive defence deal with Swedish firm Saab to buy 22 fighter planes, an opinion poll showed Friday ahead of a referendum next month. The survey by the gfs.bern polling institute showed that 52 percent of voters opposed the plan, while 42 percent were in favour. With just six percent of voters still to make up their minds, a turnaround by supporters of the
 

NSA denies exploiting 'Heartbleed' vulnerability

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:59 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) April 11, 2014
The US National Security Agency on Friday denied a report claiming it was aware of and even exploited the "Heartbleed" online security flaw to gather critical intelligence. The stern denial came amid growing panic among Internet users the world over about the newly exposed flaw, after a report by Bloomberg News said the spy agency decided to keep quiet about the matter and even used it to sc
 

Navy contracts General Dynamics to develop weapons-related software

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:59 PMGo to full article
Fairfax, Va. (UPI) Apr 11, 2013
The U.S. Navy has issued a contract for software for modeling the effects of the release of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials. The software is to be developed and integrated by General Dynamics Information Technology and will serve as the foundation for the Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command's Joint Effects Model Increment 2 System. "General Dyn
 

Philippines aims for US defence deal before Obama visit

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:59 PMGo to full article
Manila (AFP) April 11, 2014
The Philippines said Friday it hopes to complete a new defence accord with the United States ahead of a visit by President Barack Obama this month, as a territorial dispute with China simmers. The chief Philippine negotiator, defence undersecretary Pio Lorenzo Batino, said in a statement the latest round of discussions about an increased US military presence in the country was "very producti
 

Russia's top diplomat to discuss Ukraine in China visit

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:59 PMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) April 13, 2014
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing next week and will discuss with him the situation in Ukraine, the Russian foreign ministry said Sunday. Lavrov will visit China on Tuesday, ahead of four-way talks between diplomats from the European Union, United States, Ukraine and Russia planned in Geneva on Thursday. Those talks are now in doubt ami
 

Pakistan's talks with militants in comprehensive phase: minister

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:59 PMGo to full article
Islamabad (AFP) April 13, 2014
Pakistan on Sunday announced its talks with the Taliban militants to reach an accord will enter a "comprehensive" phase in days, with both sides set to put forward formal agendas, after weeks of negotiations. The announcement came from the country's Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan days after the infighting between the Taliban groups killed more than 60 people and a ceasefire deadli
 

13 dead as Syria planes hit rebel bastions near Damascus: NGO

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:59 PMGo to full article
Beirut (AFP) April 13, 2014
Syrian warplanes on Sunday launched an offensive against a string of opposition bastions on the edges of the capital, including the besieged Eastern Ghouta area, a monitoring group said. "Warplanes carried out two air strikes against areas of Douma," northeast of Damascus, killing 13 people, including three women and three children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. One of th
 

Sri Lanka troops kill emerging Tiger leaders: official

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:59 PMGo to full article
Colombo (AFP) April 11, 2014
Sri Lanka's military on Friday shot dead three men they believed were trying to revive the separatist Tamil Tiger movement five years after its defeat, a spokesman said. Military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya said troops killed the three, including a man they identified as a local leader of the Tigers, as they tried to escape a military cordon in a jungle area of the former war zon
 

Israeli, Palestinian negotiators meet on crisis-hit peace talks

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:59 PMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) April 13, 2014
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met on Sunday in a fresh bid to save their teetering US-brokered peace talks, a Palestinian official said. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat met in Jerusalem with his Israeli opposite number, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's special envoy Yitzhak Molcho, he told AFP. There was no immediate word from the Israe
 

Croatia now operates former U.S. military vehicles

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:59 PMGo to full article
Zagreb, Croatia (UPI) Apr 11, 2013
More than two dozen U.S.-made armored vehicles are now operational with the Croatian military following their donation by the U.S. government. The 30 vehicles are MaxxPro mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles by Navistar Defense. The Croatian Ministry of Defense said the MRAPs are part of a larger donation of 212 armored vehicles and will be used for patrolling, convoy securit
 

German space research centre under espionage attack: report

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎02:09:53 AMGo to full article
Berlin (AFP) April 13, 2014
Germany's aeronautics and space research centre has for months been the target of a suspected cyber attack by a foreign intelligence service, a German news weekly reported Sunday. Der Spiegel said that several computers used by scientists and systems administrators at the Cologne-based DLR centre had been infiltrated by spy programmes. "The government classes the attack as extremely seri
 

China's booming military spending belies caution

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎02:09:53 AMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) April 11, 2014
With the world's biggest military, China far outnumbers rival Japan in manpower, ships, aircraft and defence spending, but analysts say underlying weaknesses leave it still wary of a fight. The two Asian powers are embroiled in simmering territorial and historical rows, with the tensions highlighted this week in consecutive visits to each by US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. Beijing's la
 

Israel launches cutting-edge satellite to spy on MidEast adversaries

 
‎13 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:38:54 PMGo to full article
Moscow (Voice of Russia) Apr 11, 2014
Israel's Defense Ministry has successfully launched Ofek 10, a next-generation satellite that will provide highly-targeted surveillance of specific locations - such as Iran's nuclear sites. "We continue to increase the vast qualitative and technological advantage over our neighbors," said Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon at the launch at a test site in central Israel, Israeli media reported.
 

45th Space Wing launches NRO Satellite on board Atlas V

 
‎13 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:38:54 PMGo to full article
Cape Canaveral AFB FL (SPX) Apr 11, 2014
The 45th Space Wing successfully launched a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 here at 1:45 p.m. April 10 carrying a classified national security payload. The payload was designed and built by the National Reconnaissance Office. It will be the second Atlas V from the Cape this year and ULA's 81st launch overall. The 45th Space Wing commander was pleased with
 

NGC Ships Payload Module For 4th Advanced EHF Protected ComSat

 
‎13 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:38:54 PMGo to full article
Redondo Beach CA (SPX) Apr 11, 2014
Northrop Grumman has continued its record of shipping Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellite payload modules ahead of schedule when the fourth arrived Feb. 11, nearly two months early, at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Sunnyvale, Calif., AEHF system prime contractor. Complex phased array and nulling antennas, along with the advanced crosslinks, will be shipped later this year t

 

Nuclear Weapons, Proliferation and Policy Doctrine

 

 

India's opposition rules out major change to nuke policy

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:02 AMGo to full article
New Delhi (AFP) April 14, 2014 - The head of India's opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), tipped to win ongoing national elections, has ruled out any change in the country's "no-first-use" nuclear weapons policy.

The BJP sparked speculation about an end to the doctrine last week when its manifesto said that the party would "revise and update" India's policy.

"The no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons was a well thought out stand... We don't intend to reverse it," BJP President Rajnath Singh told the Hindustan Times newspaper in an interview published Monday.

The policy was adopted after a series of nuclear tests in 1998 during the last BJP-led coalition government which led to international condemnation and an embargo being placed on the country by Western powers.

The policy was intended to gain India greater acceptability as a nuclear power, despite it not being a signatory of the 1970 UN Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty which aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

The BJP is predicted to clinch power under elections which began on April 7 and end with results on May 16.

Any BJP government under hardline prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, a proud nationalist promising strong leadership, is expected to have a more muscular foreign policy.

Any change in nuclear policy would be of most significance to India's rivals Pakistan and China.

Neither reacted to news of the possible review and analysts have pointed out that the "no-first-use" policy is a mere promise that could be ignored by New Delhi in a conflict situation.

China was the first country to adopt the "no-first-use" nuclear policy in 1964, but nuclear-rival Pakistan, with whom India has fought three wars, does not have a similar position.

 

 

N. Korea vows Seoul will pay 'dear price' for insults

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:02 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) April 14, 2014 - North Korea on Monday warned South Korea it would pay a "dear price" for recent criticisms of Pyongyang's nuclear programme and political system, saying they violated a no-slander agreement.

The warning from the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) came days after Pyongyang blasted South Korean President Park Geun-Hye's proposals for Korean reunification as the "daydreams of a psychopath".

Park was again the focus of the North's anger, with the CPRK denouncing comments she made during a recent tour of Europe.

"Our servicemen and people ... will never tolerate the enemy forces' attempts to insult our system and will make sure they pay a dear price for their madcap comments," the committee said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

During her tour, Park had warned that Pyongyang's nuclear material could end up in terrorist hands and warned of a possible Chernobyl-style disaster at the North's main nuclear complex.

The CPRK also took issue with Park's "viciously slanderous remarks" regarding political repression and human rights abuses in North Korea.

"This shows Park is the true kingpin and major culprit of slanderous insult," it said.

Under an agreement reached during rare, high-level talks in February, the two Koreas had resolved -- at Pyongyang's insistence -- to cease trading verbal insults.

The "no-slander" clause was always going to prove problematic, with North Korea insisting it should extend to the South Korean media as well as private groups and individuals.

Pyongyang saw Park's comments in Berlin and elsewhere as violating the agreement, and in recent weeks has directed increasingly personal attacks on the president, describing her at one point as "a peasant woman babbling to herself".

Monday's CPRK statement also criticised Park's defence, unification and foreign affairs ministers, as well as the "human scum" who testified before a UN-appointed panel investigating rights abuses in the North.

"Inter-Korean relations collapsed due to the ugly fantasies and vicious smear campaigns of the South's authorities ... and wicked conservative media," the CPRK said.

"We will never tolerate the mean smear campaigns by the South and will respond resolutely," it said.

The statement also included the first flat denial that North Korea was linked to three crashed drones found in the South.

Seoul's defence ministry said last week it was convinced the North was behind the three camera-equipped drones recovered in different parts of the country.

"The enemy forces are further stepping up their slander and smear campaigns by fabricating the ridiculous drone incident," the CPRK said.

 

 

Israel minister warns Kerry over 'surrender' to Iran

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:02 AMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) April 14, 2014 - Israel's intelligence minister Monday slammed as unacceptable comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry on negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme which he said indicated a "surrender" to Tehran.

"The things Kerry said in the Congress are worrying, they are surprising and they are unacceptable," Yuval Steinitz, who is also strategic affairs minister, told public radio.

"We watch the negotiations with concern. We are not opposed to a diplomatic solution but we are against a solution which is entirely a surrender to Iran and which leaves it a threshold nuclear state," Steinitz said.

In remarks to US lawmakers last week Kerry warned that the Islamic republic was two months away from breakout capability to produce enough nuclear material for a bomb should they resume their mothballed enrichment process.

Responding to reports that international negotiations with Iran should focus on extending the time it would take for Iran to produce nuclear weapons to between six and 12 months Kerry said the ultimate goal was assurance that Iran never build an atomic bomb but slowing the process would be an improvement on the current situation.

"I think it is fair to say, I think it is public knowledge today, that we are operating with a time period for a so-called breakout of about two months," Kerry said.

"So six months to 12 months is -- I'm not saying that's what we'd settle for -- but even that is significantly more," he added.

Steinitz insisted that Israel would not allow such a scenario.

"We will not be able to adopt and accept any agreement which leaves Iran months or a year from a nuclear weapon," he insisted.

Israel, like the United States, has refused to rule out military action to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear arms.

Under an interim agreement reached last year that expires on July 20, Iran froze key parts of its nuclear programme in return for limited sanctions relief and a promise of no new sanctions.

Talks on a permanent agreement are under way between Iran and UN Security Council permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, along with Germany.

After a session in Vienna last week the powers' chief negotiator, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the next round from May 13 would see negotiations "move to the next phase".

The West and Israel have long suspected Iran of using its nuclear energy programme as a cover for developing atomic weapons, a charge denied by the Islamic republic.

Israel is widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the region, though it has never officially confirmed or denied having such an arsenal.

 

 

North Korea denounces US 'double-standards'

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:02 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) April 11, 2014 - North Korea on Friday accused the United States of hypocrisy for remaining silent over a South Korean missile test while condemning Pyongyang's recent launches.

"The US double-dealing attitude and despicable mode of action has been brought to light," a spokesman for the North's powerful National Defence Commission (NDC) said in a statement.

The statement, carried by the North's official KCNA news agency, comes at a time of elevated military tensions, with Pyongyang threatening a "new" type of nuclear test.

"As long as the US persists in its hostile policy... according to its high-handed, arbitrary and gangster-like double standards, (North Korea) will push ahead with countermeasures for self-defence to put an end to the policy," the spokesman said.

His remarks were triggered by South Korea's test-firing last month of a new ballistic missile capable of carrying a one-tonne payload to any part of North Korea.

The missile was developed under an agreement reached in 2012 with the United States to almost triple the range of the South's ballistic missile systems.

The NDC spokesman said the silence that greeted the South Korean launch was in sharp contrast to the US and UN condemnation of the North's recent test of two medium-range ballistic missiles.

UN Security Council resolutions prohibit any ballistic missile tests by North Korea.

"If the ballistic missile launched by the South Korean puppet forces is not problematic, the (North's) launch of satellites or rockets should be no problem either," the spokesman said.

North Korea successfully put a satellite into orbit in December 2012 on a rocket that Pyongyang said was designed for purely scientific missions.

The international community said it was a disguised ballistic missile test and the UN Security Council tightened existing sanctions as a result.

S.Korea, US launch largest-ever air drill
Seoul (AFP) April 11, 2014 - South Korea and the United States kicked off their largest-ever joint air drill on Friday at a time of elevated military tensions with North Korea.

The so-called "Max Thunder" exercise, which is held twice a year, will last until April 25 and involve 103 aircraft and 1,400 service personnel, a South Korean air force spokesman said.

"In numerical terms, it's the largest exercise of its kind that we've done," the spokesman told AFP.

The last Max Thunder drill held in October-November last year involved 97 aircraft and some 1,000 troops.

Seoul's F-15K jet fighters will take part along with US Air Force F-15 and F-16s and US Marines' FA-18 and EA-18 aircraft.

"The combined air forces will strengthen their battle readiness under the current situation when tension rises over the Korean peninsula," a South Korean air force statement said.

The exercise will focus on "practical scenarios" involving precision attacks on enemy positions and supply-drop missions for troops infiltrating enemy territory.

It comes as the allies are winding up separate annual military drills which began late February, and have been denounced by Pyongyang as rehearsals for invasion.

In a pointed protest at the exercises, Pyongyang carried out a series of rocket and missile launches, capped by its first mid-range missile test since 2009 on March 26.

The two Koreas also traded artillery fire across the tense Yellow Sea border on March 31, after the North dropped around 100 shells across the maritime boundary during a live-fire drill.

The exchange followed a North Korean warning that it might carry out a "new" form of nuclear test -- a possible reference to a uranium-based device or a miniaturised warhead small enough to fit on a ballistic missile.

The United States, South Korea and Japan, meeting in Washington on Monday, condemned the ballistic missile tests and urged the North "to refrain from further threatening actions".

 

 

Row over Iran UN pick not impacting nuclear talks: US

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:02 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) April 13, 2014 - The United States' refusal to issue a visa to Iran's pick for UN ambassador is not impacting talks over the country's disputed nuclear program, Washington's envoy to the United Nations said Sunday.

Washington has said it won't issue a visa to newly appointed Hamid Aboutalebi, who has been linked to the 1979 US hostage crisis.

Iran, in response, has insisted the objection is unacceptable and threatens to cloud a gradual thaw in relations between the two enemies after decades of mistrust.

The spat comes as Tehran and world powers engage in negotiations aimed at transforming a temporary accord on Iran's nuclear program into a permanent agreement.

In an interview with ABC's "This Week" program, the US envoy to the UN said Washington was focused on continuing those so-called P5+1 talks involving the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

"Nothing in this quite public confrontation so far has had any impact on that," Ambassador Samantha Power said.

"Again, so far we had talks just last week. We'll have more high level talks in the next month," she added when prodded about potential harm.

"And our experts are meeting every day. We have not seen this issue influence those talks in any way. And the urgency, of course, of that issue is plain to everyone."

Under a November deal, which took effect on January 20, Iran froze certain nuclear activities for six months in exchange for minor relief from sanctions hurting its economy.

Now the powers want Iran to reduce permanently, or at least long-term, the scope of its program in order to make any dash to create an atomic bomb extremely difficult and easily detectable.

Iran in return wants all sanctions lifted.

"We would expect that Iran's own interest in getting out from under economic sanctions, which is what it says it wants -- our interests, certainly, in making sure that Iran doesn't possess or develop a nuclear weapon, that that's what is going to be paramount here," Power said.

Tehran denies it has any ambitions to develop nuclear arms, but has failed to allow verifications that would satisfy the West in particular.

As the host government, the United States is obliged to issue visas to diplomats who serve at the United Nations, headquartered in New York.

Iran economy stabilizing, to soar if deal reached: IMF
Washington (AFP) April 11, 2014 - Iran's economy is stabilizing and will post substantially stronger growth if the Islamic republic reaches a comprehensive deal with world powers on its nuclear program, the IMF said Friday.

The International Monetary Fund estimates that Iran's economy shrank by 1.7 percent in 2013, the second straight year of contraction after the United States and its allies imposed sweeping sanctions.

But the IMF projects that Iran's economy will rebound by 1.5 percent in the current year -- even if sanctions relief under a temporary deal proves short-lived -- as Tehran undertakes reforms.

Masood Ahmed, director of the IMF's Middle East and Central Asia department, said that Iran's economic woes were "beginning to level off" but that much depends on whether the country reaches a comprehensive nuclear deal.

"We do think that if there is a permanent improvement in that international environment... this should have an impact in terms of generating growth rates in the medium term that are substantially higher," Ahmed told reporters at the IMF/World Bank spring meetings in Washington.

Ahmed said that Iran has been benefitting from foreign exchange market reforms and a dramatic calming of once-soaring inflation. But he said that Iran needed further structural reforms and to tighten monetary policy.

Iran's new reform-minded government under President Hassan Rouhani in November reached a deal with six world powers to freeze its nuclear program, which some Western officials and Israel charge is aimed at building nuclear weapons.

The United States and European powers in return offered temporary relaxation of sanctions. But President Barack Obama has said that the sanctions would resume if talks on a comprehensive agreement fail.

 

 

S. Korea, US to hold largest-ever joint air drill

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:02 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) April 10, 2014 - South Korea's military said Thursday it would hold its largest-ever joint air drill with the United States as tensions mount over a series of threats from North Korea.

The twice-yearly Max Thunder exercise -- to be held from Friday to April 25 -- will be the largest-ever involving 103 aircraft and 1,400 troops, the air force said.

Seoul's F-15K jet fighters will take part along with US Air Force F-15 and F-16s and US Marines' FA-18 and EA-18 aircraft, it said in a statement.

"The combined air forces will strengthen their battle readiness under the current situation when tension rises over the Korean peninsula," it said.

The exercise will focus on "practical scenarios" involving precision attacks on enemies or supply drop missions for troops infiltrating enemy territory, it said.

Separately, the allies are also holding annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises which last from late February to April 18.

North Korea has slammed the drills as a rehearsal for invasion. In a pointed protest, Pyongyang has launched a series of rockets and missiles in recent weeks, capped by its first mid-range missile test since 2009 on March 26.

The two Koreas also traded fire across the tense Yellow Sea border on March 31, after the North dropped some 100 shells across the border during a live-fire drill, prompting the South to fire back.

The rare exchange of fire came a day after the North warned that it might carry out a "new" form of nuclear test -- a possible reference to a uranium-based device or a miniaturised warhead small enough to fit on a ballistic missile.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye this week called for tighter vigilance against the North, days after its leader Kim Jong-Un warned of a "very grave situation" on the peninsula.

 

 

Iran nuclear talks 'moving to next phase'

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:02 AMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) April 09, 2014 - Iran and world powers said Wednesday that their nuclear talks were now moving up a gear, with Tehran's foreign minister saying both sides agreed on "50-60 percent" of issues.

Speaking after the latest round of talks in Vienna, the powers' chief negotiator, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the next round from May 13 would see negotiations "move to the next phase".

A senior US official said that the next meeting, also in Vienna, would see Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany "begin actually drafting the text".

But in a statement repeated by Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Ashton said a "lot of intensive work will be required to overcome the differences which naturally still exist".

"I can say we agree on 50-60 percent of issues, but the remainders are important ones and diverse," Zarif told Iranian media. "Even two percent can torpedo all of it".

And in a sign of the difficulties ahead, the US official said that one issue remained Iran's ballistic missile programme, which Tehran has said is not up for discussion within the nuclear talks.

Zarif said also that Iran's negotiators have "put forward our stance that none of our (nuclear) facilities would be dismantled", one of the West's probable main demands.

"I would caution everyone from thinking a final agreement is imminent or that it will be easy. As we draft, I have no doubt this will be quite difficult at times," the US official said.

China's envoy Wang Qun said the latest round had been "fruitful" and that the talks were "building momentum".

In November the two sides reached an interim deal under which Iran froze certain parts of its nuclear activities in return for minor relief from painful Western sanctions.

But Iran has not permanently dismantled any of its nuclear equipment and can fully reactivate its facilities if it wishes when the deal expires on July 20, the deadline for agreeing a final deal.

US Secretary of State John Kerry told US lawmakers Monday that the theoretical period needed for Iran to produce a weapon's worth of bomb material -- if it chose to do so -- was "about two months".

In order to greatly extend this "break-out" time, the six powers want the final deal to see Iran reduce permanently, or at least long-term, the scope of its programme.

This may involve Iran slashing the number of centrifuges -- used to enrich nuclear material -- changing the design of a new reactor at Arak and giving UN inspectors more oversight.

Other outstanding thorny issues include Iran's research and development of new nuclear machines, which November's deal allowed the Islamic republic to continue.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Wednesday "that Iran's activities in nuclear research and development as well as its nuclear achievements will never be stopped".

Any agreement will need to be sold to sceptical hardliners both in the United States and Iran as well as to Iran's arch enemy Israel, widely assumed to have a nuclear arsenal itself.

- US-Iran spat -

Threatening to throw a spanner in the works is the crisis over Ukraine which has led to the biggest standoff between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

Russia's chief negotiator, Sergei Ryabkov, having fired a warning shot last month, backtracked Tuesday, telling ITAR-TASS it would "not be wise" to turn Iran into a "bargaining chip".

Wang said that Ryabkov was "utterly constructive".

Moscow and Iran are said to be eyeing an oil-for-goods deal that would undermine US sanctions efforts, which Washington credits with getting Tehran to talk in the first place.

Another issue casting a cloud over the talks is the spat over Iran's selection of a new UN ambassador allegedly linked to the 1979 US hostage crisis, with Washington saying he was "not viable".

 

 

Iran, world powers try to move nuclear talks up a gear

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:02 AMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) April 08, 2014 - Iran and world powers held a new round of nuclear talks Tuesday hoping to move to the next level and start drafting a historic and highly ambitious final deal next month.

Threatening to drive a wedge between the powers, however, is the crisis over Ukraine, which has led to the biggest standoff between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

Iran and the five UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany want to transform a temporary accord struck in November into a permanent agreement before it lapses on July 20.

Doing so is a tall order, however, requiring both sides to tackle thorny issues that will severely test their willingness and ability to give ground.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday that he has formed a group of legal experts to help in the "complicated, difficult and slow work" of drafting a deal.

A spokesman for the powers' chief negotiator, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said this round, expected to last two days, was to "explore our respective positions on each topic".

A senior US official involved in the talks said Friday she was "absolutely convinced" a deal could be reached and that both sides were "looking toward beginning drafting in May".

Under the November deal, which took effect on January 20, Iran froze certain nuclear activities for six months in exchange for minor relief from sanctions hurting its economy.

But it has not permanently dismantled any of its nuclear equipment and could any moment stop the freeze, although this would invite new sanctions.

US Secretary of State John Kerry told US lawmakers Monday that the theoretical period needed for Iran to produce a weapon's worth of bomb material -- if it chose to do so -- was "about two months".

In order to greatly extend this "break-out" time, the six powers want the final deal to see Iran reduce permanently, or at least long-term, the scope of its programme.

The deal may involve Iran slashing the number of centrifuges -- machines "enriching" nuclear material -- changing the design of a new reactor at Arak and giving UN inspectors more oversight.

Iran in return wants all sanctions lifted.

- Hardliners -

If Iran gives away too much this risks losing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani -- who since taking office last year has sought to improve ties with the West -- the support of the supreme leader.

But leaving too much -- or indeed any -- of Iran's nuclear infrastructure intact would be hard to sell with sceptical US lawmakers and Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power.

So far, the six powers have shown a united front. But Moscow's annexation of Crimea last month has sent relations between Russia and the West into a tailspin.

Following the latest unrest in the east this weekend, with pro-Russian activists storming government buildings, the White House on Monday warned Moscow against efforts to "destabilise Ukraine".

The Kremlin swatted the accusations aside, warning the pro-Western government in Kiev against any use of force and saying Tuesday there was a "risk of unleashing civil war".

Russia's chief negotiator, Sergei Ryabkov, fired a warning shot last month, saying Moscow might "take the path of counter-measures" on Iran if pushed too far.

On Tuesday however Ryabkov sounded a more conciliatory note, telling ITAR-TASS it would "not be wise" to turn Iran into a "bargaining chip".

Russia was not involved in the Iran talks "to please the Americans or Iranians" but because it "meets the national interest" to find a solution, he said.

Moscow and Iran are said to be negotiating an oil-for-goods barter deal that would undermine Washington's sanctions efforts, a strategy the US credits with getting Iran to talks in the first place.

 

 

US says open to N.Korea talks, cites Iran

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:02 AMGo to full article
New York (AFP) April 08, 2014 - The United States on Tuesday asked North Korea to look at Iran's example, saying it was willing to negotiate with a hostile nation when it is "serious" about its promises.

Amid high tensions between North Korea and its neighbors, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns said that the United States remained firmly opposed to North Korea's nuclear weapons program but was open to diplomacy.

"We have consistently said we are willing to engage when countries show a credible and serious interest in abiding by their obligations. This was true in Burma, it's the case with Iran, and it can be the case with North Korea as well," Burns said at the Asia Society in New York.

But echoing other US officials, Burns said that the United States will not "buy the same horse twice."

"We are not going to talk for the sake of talks or respond to North Korean provocations with inducements and concessions," he said.

North Korea has called on the United States to resume six-nation talks that involve its ally China. But leader Kim Jong-Un has refused commitments from previous agreements to give up nuclear weapons in return for aid and security guarantees.

The United States and five other powers are negotiating with Iran and have reached a preliminary agreement under which the Islamic republic has frozen sensitive nuclear work in return for sanctions relief.

Iran, an arch-enemy of the United States since its 1979 revolution, denies charges by Israel and some Western officials that it is seeking nuclear weapons, unlike North Korea which has carried out three nuclear tests in response to what it describes as US hostility.

Myanmar, earlier known as Burma, opened talks with the United States in 2009 to end its longtime pariah status and has since taken sweeping democratic reforms. President Barack Obama has responded by ending most sanctions on Myanmar, despite concerns over treatment of minorities.

Obama took office in 2009 with an offer to speak to US adversaries if they "unclench" their fists. North Korea has mostly been an exception, with the Obama administration repeatedly frustrated by the regime's actions.

In recent weeks, North Korea has conducted live-fire drills near the disputed border with South Korea, test-fired ballistic missiles capable of hitting Japan, flown rudimentary drones into the South and threatened to carry out a "new" type of nuclear test.

 

 

Iran aims to move ahead to drafting nuclear deal

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:02 AMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) April 07, 2014 - Iran said Monday it aims at talks with world powers this week to wind up the negotiating phase and move on to drafting a final accord on its nuclear programme.

"We will try to finish the discussions in this round and start writing the draft of the comprehensive agreement from the Iranian month of Ordibehesht," which starts April 21, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying by state-run television upon arrival in Vienna for the Tuesday-Wednesday talks.

Zarif was to hold a dinner meeting later Monday with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is leading the negotiations on behalf of six world powers -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.

The Vienna meeting is the third round of negotiations aimed at reaching a lasting accord to end the decade-long standoff over Iran's nuclear programme.

Western nations and Israel have long suspected Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability alongside its civilian programme, charges denied by Tehran.

Under an interim agreement reached last year that expires July 20, Iran froze key parts of its nuclear programme in return for limited sanctions relief and a promise of no new sanctions.

Reeling from double-digit inflation, high unemployment, stagnation and mismanagement, Iran's oil-reliant economy has struggled under US-led sanctions aimed at curtailing its nuclear ambitions.

 

 

Iran's Zarif says legal experts advising nuclear negotiators

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:01:43 AMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) April 08, 2014 - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Tuesday that Tehran's negotiators were being assisted by experts in international law during the "difficult" nuclear talks being held in Vienna.

The Vienna meeting, which began on Tuesday, is aimed at reaching a lasting accord to end a decade-long standoff over Iran's nuclear programme.

"In the next round, we will start writing the text of a final agreement which will be a complicated, difficult and slow task," Zarif, who leads the Iranian negotiating team, wrote on his Facebook page.

"Therefore, I formed an advisory group in legal affairs which comprises many prominent and well-known professors specialised in international law ... to assist the negotiating team in that important matter," he said.

Western nations and Israel have long suspected Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability alongside its civilian programme, charges denied by Tehran.

Iran and the five UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany want to transform a deal struck in November into a permanent agreement by the time this temporary accord lapses on July 20.

Under the November deal, which took effect on January 20, Iran froze certain nuclear activities for six months in exchange for minor relief from sanctions hurting its economy.

As part of the deal, Iran was given greater access to civilian aircraft parts and on Monday Washington said that Boeing had been issued with a temporary licence to do business with the Islamic republic.

Now the powers want Iran to reduce permanently, or at least long-term, the scope of its programme in order to make any dash to make the bomb extremely difficult and easily detectable.

Zarif had on Monday expressed hope to round up the negotiating phase with world powers during this week's talks and move on to drafting a final accord on the nuclear programme.

 

 

Iran nuclear talks to intensify

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:01:43 AMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) April 08, 2014 - Iran and world powers begin a new round of nuclear talks Tuesday hoping to make enough progress to move up a gear and start drafting a historic final deal next month.

This will however require Iran and the five UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany to delve ever deeper into issues that will severely test their willingness to give ground.

Both sides want to transform an interim deal struck in November by foreign ministers in Geneva into a permanent agreement by the time this temporary accord lapses on July 20.

So far the mood music has been good, with the powers' chief negotiator, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, hailing the last monthly round in mid-March as "substantive and useful".

"There are signs that an understanding is possible that respects the rights of the Iranian nation," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iranian media afterwards.

A senior US official involved in the talks said Friday she was "absolutely convinced" a deal could be reached and that both sides were "looking toward beginning drafting (a deal) in May".

But "the real issue is not about whether you can write the words on paper, do the drafting. It's about the choices that Iran has to make, and some of them are very difficult."

Under the November deal, which took effect on January 20, Iran froze certain nuclear activities for six months in exchange for minor relief from sanctions hurting its economy.

Now the powers want Iran to reduce permanently, or at least long-term, the scope of its programme in order to make any dash to make the bomb extremely difficult and easily detectable.

This may involve Iran slashing the number of centrifuges -- machines "enriching" nuclear material -- changing the design of a new reactor at Arak and giving UN inspectors more oversight.

One issue is proving to be particular thorny -- that of Iran's desire to research and develop newer and faster centrifuges, something which November's deal allowed them to continue, one diplomat said.

- Hardliners -

Any deal that gives too much away risks losing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani -- who since taking office last year has sought to improve ties with the West -- or the supreme leader.

But leaving too much of Iran's nuclear infrastructure intact would also be a hard sell to sceptical US lawmakers and to Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear power.

Threatening to blow the whole process out of the water by driving a wedge between Russia and the United States and other Western powers is the crisis over Moscow's annexation of Crimea.

Russia's chief negotiator, Sergei Ryabkov, fired a warning shot last month, saying Moscow might alter its position on the Iran talks if pushed too far.

"We would not like to use these talks as an element of a stakes-raising game," Ryabkov told Interfax.

"But if we are forced, here we will take the path of counter-measures, because when it comes down to it, the historic value of what has happened (over Ukraine) ... is incomparable with what we are doing" on Iran.

Moscow and Iran are said to be negotiating a oil-for-goods deal that would undermine Washington's sanctions efforts, a strategy it credits with getting Iran to talk in the first place.

 

 

S. Korean president calls for tighter vigilance against North

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:01:43 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) April 07, 2014 - South Korean President Park Geun-Hye called Monday for tighter vigilance against North Korea, days after its leader Kim Jong-Un warned of a "very grave situation" on the peninsula.

At a meeting with top aides, Park noted North Korea had recently threatened a fresh nuclear test, test-fired missiles and lobbed artillery shells across the sea border.

Three drones suspected to have flown from the North to scout South Korea's military facilities were also found in the South over the past month.

"We have to take it seriously that North Korea has been continuously firing missiles and intensifying reconnoitring," Park was quoted as saying by a media pool report.

"We must prepare ourselves for possible further provocative acts by North Korea and take measures to stop and repel such provocative acts."

Park said the infiltration by drones had exposed "loopholes in our anti-air defence and on-ground surveillance system".

"Countermeasures must be swiftly taken and the defence of key facilities must also be bolstered."

Defence Minister Kim Kwan-Jin said the North would be able to develop drones for terrorism.

"If (North Korea) developed the small unmanned aerial aircraft for reconnaissance purposes to enhance its relatively weak surveillance capability, it is expected to develop drones for infiltration and terrorism purposes in the future," Kim said during a video conference at the Joint Chiefs of Staff headquarters in Seoul.

"We should strengthen our military readiness to be able to monitor, detect, identify and strike (the drones) with existing military assets along the border", he was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.

The defence ministry on Monday ordered military units across the country to search for other drones that may have crashed, a spokesman said.

The North's young leader Kim said last week a "very grave" situation existed on the Korean peninsula.

Military tensions have risen in recent weeks, with a spate of missile and rocket tests by the North. The two sides have also traded artillery fire into the sea across their border and Pyongyang has threatened a new nuclear test.

In a meeting with his top military leaders, Kim blamed Washington and Seoul for the current frictions, saying they had trampled on peace overtures from Pyongyang.

He said that despite the North's conciliatory gestures, South Korea and the United States had pushed ahead with joint military drills that Pyongyang views as rehearsals for an invasion.

The annual military exercises, which began in February, are to end on Friday next week.

On March 31 North Korea conducted a live-fire artillery drill along the disputed sea border with the South.

After some shells crossed the line, South Korea responded and the two sides fired hundreds of artillery rounds into each other's territorial waters.

The exchange of fire came a day after North Korea warned that it might carry out a "new" type of nuclear test -- a possible reference to a uranium-based device or a miniaturised warhead small enough to fit on a ballistic missile.

Although South Korean intelligence reports say there are no signs of an imminent test, analysts note that the North is treading a similar path to that preceding its earlier tests.

 

 

US, allies warn N. Korea amid reactor fears

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:01:43 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) April 08, 2014 - The United States and its allies warned North Korea on Monday against provocations as researchers reported potential radiation risks due to problems at the regime's main nuclear complex.

The United States, South Korea and Japan, meeting in Washington after a new period of tension, condemned North Korea's recent ballistic missile tests and called again for an end to the regime's nuclear weapons program.

The three nations "urged the DPRK to refrain from further threatening actions," said a US statement, referring to the North by its official name of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

South Korea has been on guard after North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-Un warned last week of a "very grave" situation on the divided peninsula as he accused Seoul and Washington of trampling peace gestures through joint exercises.

In recent weeks, North Korea has test-fired medium-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting Japan, conducted a live-fire drill along its disputed border with South Korea and apparently flew three rudimentary drones over the border to peer at Seoul's military facilities.

- Fears for reactor -

A US think tank, reviewing recent satellite images, said Monday that North Korea's main Yongbyon nuclear site appeared to have suffered water supply problems due to heavy rain and floods last summer.

An unstable supply could pose radiation risks, especially at North Korea's first light water reactor, which is near completion, according to the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

The regime does not have experience operating the light water reactor and "the rapid loss of water used to cool the reactor could result in a serious safety problem," analyst Nick Hansen wrote on the institute's blog, 38 North.

North Korea has more experience with its restarted plutonium production reactor at Yongbyon but its "lack of airtight containment could lead to the escape of some radioactivity even in small accidents."

The published analysis comes after South Korean President Park Geun-Hye warned that Yongbyon could witness a Chernobyl-style disaster, one of a series of comments that enraged North Korea, whose official media accused her of speaking "nonsense gibberish."

The 38 North analysis downplayed the risks of a Chernobyl-scale disaster, saying Yongbyon was smaller than the Soviet-built station in Ukraine where a 1986 accident killed 30 people in an explosion and another 2,500 afterward in related illnesses.

"However, a radioactive release into the atmosphere or river would cause an expanded local area of contamination," the analysis said.

"Also, Pyongyang's likely lack of transparency could create a regional crisis, panicking the public in surrounding countries and raising tensions with governments anxious for further information."

North Korea knocked down a vital cooling tower in 2008 as part of a US-backed six-nation disarmament agreement. It has more recently vowed to boost its nuclear "deterrent" and conduct a "new" type of test in response to what the regime describes as US hostility.

- Concern on rights -

The US pointman on North Korea, Glyn Davies, held the talks with his counterparts Junichi Ihara of Japan and Hwang Joon-Kook of South Korea.

The three also pledged to focus on the "deplorable" human rights situation in North Korea after a UN commission said that Kim's regime was carrying out violations unprecedented in the modern world.

The three-way talks mark the latest return to diplomacy between South Korea and Japan, whose own relations are tense due to disputes related to wartime history.

US President Barack Obama recently held a breakthrough three-way meeting with Park and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of a summit in The Netherlands.

 

 

South Korea finds 'drone' suspected from N. Korea: army

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:01:43 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) April 06, 2014 - South Korean military said Sunday it had found an unidentified "drone" suspected to have flown from North Korea, following the discovery of two similar objects near the border in recent weeks.

The South earlier found two unsophisticated unmanned aerial vehicles -- about one metre long, two metres wide and painted pale blue -- that had crashed near the border with the North.

The two camera-equipped vehicles took hundreds of pictures -- albeit of low quality -- of border areas and the capital Seoul, including the presidential palace, according to the South's defence ministry.

The military found Sunday another drone of similar design and size in the eastern county of Jeongseon, about 130 kilometres (80.7 miles) south of the heavily fortified border, Seoul's defence ministry spokesman said.

"We ... will conduct investigations on the object on the suspicion that the North may be behind it," Kim told reporters.

Seoul's military saw the drones as "substantial threats" and would come up with ways to detect them, Kim said without elaborating further.

The first drone was discovered in the border city of Paju on March 24 and the other one was found in the border island of Baengnyeong on March 31, when the two Koreas traded fire across the tense sea border.

The North dropped 100 shells across the maritime border during a live-fire drill, prompting Seoul to fire back about 300 volleys into North Korean waters.

The military said Wednesday it had evidence suggesting the vehicle found in Paju was of North Korean origin, citing unique North Korean words typed on its batteries.

North Korea displayed a set of very basic-looking drones during a huge military parade held in Pyongyang last July to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War.

And in March last year, state media reported leader Kim Jong-Un overseeing a military drill using "super-precision drone planes."

The North on Saturday jeered at the discovery of drones that apparently flew freely over key areas in Seoul -- but offered no clear denial or confirmation as to its involvement.

The drone cases "occurred all of a sudden, more badly tarnishing the image of the (South's) forces which had fallen to the ground," state-run KCNA quoted the North's army spokesman as saying.

 

 

S. Korea tests missile bringing entire North in range

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:01:43 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) April 04, 2014 - South Korea said Friday it had successfully test-fired a new ballistic missile capable of carrying a one-tonne payload to any part of North Korea.

The launch was carried out March 23, just two days before North Korea test fired two medium-range ballistic missiles capable of striking Japan.

The announcement of the test is likely to fuel the current tensions on the Korean peninsula which saw the two rivals fire hundreds of live shells into each other's territorial waters earlier this week.

The new South Korean missile, capable of carrying a one-tonne payload up to 500 kilometres (310 miles), was developed under an agreement reached in 2012 with the United States to almost triple the range of the South's ballistic missile systems.

The United States stations 28,500 troops in South Korea and guarantees a nuclear "umbrella" in case of any atomic attack.

In return, Seoul accepts limits on its missile capabilities and had previously operated under a range and payload ceiling of 300 kilometres and 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds).

Given the ambitions of nuclear-armed North Korea's own missile programme, the South had long argued for the limits to be extended.

The 2012 agreement, which was denounced as a provocation by Pyongyang, allows the South to deploy missiles with a maximum range of 800 kilometres.

While the maximum payload for that range remains 500 kilograms, the two parameters are inversely linked, so that for shorter ranges corresponding payload increases are allowed.

Just one month ago, inter-Korean relations appeared to be enjoying something of a thaw.

In February the two rivals had rare, high-level talks, after which they held the first reunion in more than three years for families divided by the 1950-53 Korean War.

Even when annual South Korean-US military exercises began at the end of February, the protests from Pyongyang were relatively muted, and there was talk of further high-level meetings and greater cooperation.

But the mood soon soured, and recent weeks have seen North Korea conduct a series of rocket and missile tests, culminating last month in the test-firing of the two medium-range ballistic missiles.

On Monday, North Korea conducted a live-fire drill along the disputed maritime border. After some shells crossed the boundary, South Korea responded and the two sides fired hundreds of artillery rounds into each other's waters.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un warned this week that the situation on the peninsula was "very grave" and vowed to "thoroughly crush" what he called a US-engineered policy of hostility.

N. Korea slams South's missile test 'farce'
Seoul (AFP) April 06, 2014 - North Korea has slammed the South's recent ballistic missile test, calling it a "farce" aimed at showing off Seoul's military strength in the face of threats from Pyongyang.

Seoul said Friday it had successfully test-fired a new ballistic missile capable of carrying a one-tonne payload up to 500 kilometres (310 miles), suggesting it could hit any part of the North.

The launch was carried out on March 23, just three days before the North test-fired two medium-range ballistic missiles capable of striking Japan.

A spokesman for the North's military heaped derision on Seoul's rocket test late Saturday, pointing to its range of "just 500 kilometres."

"Great irony is that (the South is) claiming that they did a great job by conducting a test-fire of a ballistic missile with a range of just 500 kilometres," state-run KCNA quoted the official as saying.

Tensions between the two Koreas were heightened further by rare exchanges of fire across the tense Yellow Sea border on March 31.

The North dropped more than 100 shells across the sea border during a live-fire drill, prompting Seoul to fire back about 300 volleys.

The North's spokesman claimed the South's "poor military reaction" to the drill drew criticism at home, leading it to carry out the missile test to "calm the mounting accusation and derision".

"This farce only brought disgrace to them," said the spokesman.

The isolated and nuclear-armed North is known to have mid-range Rodong-class missiles capable of hitting targets 1,000-1,500 kilometres away.

Pyongyang's test-firing of two Rodong missiles on March 26 -- its first launch of a mid-range missile since 2009 -- followed a series of rocket and short-range missile tests by the North in recent weeks.

The launches were seen as an angry protest at Seoul-Washington joint army drills ongoing in the South, which the North habitually slams as a rehearsal for invasion.

South Korea's new missile was developed under an agreement reached with the US in 2012 to near-treble the range of the South's ballistic missile systems.

In return, Seoul accepts limits on its missile capabilities.

The 2012 agreement -- denounced as a provocation by Pyongyang -- allows Seoul to deploy missiles with a maximum range of 800 kilometres.

The US also stations 28,500 troops in the South and guarantees a nuclear "umbrella" in case of atomic attack.

The United States said Sunday it plans to send two more missile defence warships to Japan to counter the threat posed by North Korea's "provocative" actions.

 

 

Chinese man, Iranian indicted in US over Iran exports

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:01:43 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) April 05, 2014 - A Chinese man, an Iranian and two Iranian firms were charged in the United States with conspiring to export devices to Iran that can serve to enrich uranium, an indictment unsealed Friday said.

Sihai Cheng, 34, was arrested on February 7 at London's Heathrow Airport.

London's Metropolitan Police force said Cheng had already appeared at a court in the capital and was awaiting his next appearance.

US prosecutors say Shanghai-based Cheng conspired with Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili of Tehran and the Iranian companies Nicaro Eng. Co. and Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing Co. to export US-made pressure transducers.

The devices, which are a type of sensor, can be used in gas centrifuges to "convert natural uranium into a form that can be used for nuclear weapons," the indictment said.

MKS Instruments Inc. in Andover, Massachusetts produced the parts. According to the indictment, Cheng would ship the transducers to Iran upon receiving them in China.

Publicly available photographs of Iran's Natanz enrichment facility show "numerous" MKS pressure transducers attached to Iran's gas centrifuge cascades, the indictment said.

Cheng began doing business with Jamili and Nicaro around November 2005 and had since sold the Iranian national thousands of Chinese-manufactured parts with nuclear applications, according to US prosecutors.

Jamili, in turn, informed Cheng via email that the customer for the parts was in fact Eyvaz, which was supplying the material to the Iranian government. Cheng subsequently sent the parts directly to Eyvaz at times.

The conspiracy to obtain the MKS pressure transducers began around February 2009 following a query from Eyvaz.

Between April 2009 and January 2011, Cheng then placed orders for more than 1,000 MKS pressure transducers for a value of more than $1.8 million.

Most orders included 30 to 100 units, as Jamili warned Cheng of "critical control condition and boycott by USA government," the indictment said.

Western powers and Israel suspect Iran is covertly pursuing a nuclear weapons capability alongside its civilian program, charges adamantly denied by Tehran.

Iran's oil-reliant economy has struggled under US-led sanctions aimed at curtailing its nuclear ambitions.

The so-called P5+1 group -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany -- hopes to reach a final accord with Iran by July 20 to lift all sanctions in exchange for Iran scaling back its program to the point where it would be difficult if not impossible to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran says nuclear expert talks 'useful'
Vienna (AFP) April 05, 2014 - Nuclear talks between technical experts from Iran and world powers preparing for a third round of talks next week on a lasting deal were "useful", Iran's lead negotiator said Saturday.

"The technical positions help us to understand better our respective positions," Hamid Baeedinejad told the IRNA news agency after three days of discussions in Vienna.

The meeting came ahead of talks between political directors from Iran and the six powers -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany -- in Vienna from Tuesday, the third such round this year.

These negotiations are aimed at turning an interim deal from November that expires on July 20 into a lasting accord that ends once and for all the decade-old standoff over Iran's nuclear programme.

A senior US administration official involved in the talks said Friday that Washington hoped to begin drafting such an agreement at the following meeting in May.

Baeedinejad said the process would begin in the Iranian month of Ordibehesht, which runs from April 21 to May 21, echoing Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif last month.

"We are looking to ensure we have the right combination of measures in place to ensure Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon and that its program is exclusively peaceful," the US official said.

"As we work to bridge the gaps that exist to see if we can find that right combination, the pace of our work will intensify even more than it is today."

The official also warned that an oil-for-goods deal reportedly being negotiated between Russia and Iran would be "inconsistent" with the November agreement and "could potentially trigger US sanctions against the entity and individuals involved".

Such a deal between Moscow and Tehran would undermine Washington's efforts to cut off Iran's main source of revenue -- a strategy which the US credits with forcing Tehran to the negotiating table in the first place.

Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons and wants all UN and Western sanctions lifted.

 

 

US to meet allies on N.Korea

 
‎07 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:16:08 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) April 03, 2014 - The United States said Thursday it will meet next week with allies South Korea and Japan to plan strategy on North Korea amid high tensions after the regime's live-fire drills.

The US pointman on North Korea, Glyn Davies, will meet Monday in Washington with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea, Junichi Ihara and Hwang Joon-Kook.

The talks will look at ways to seek "verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner," the State Department said in a statement.

North Korea in recent weeks has threatened a new nuclear test, test-fired medium-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting Japan and, on Monday, conducted a live-fire drill along its disputed border with South Korea.

The three-way talks come after US President Barack Obama met on the sidelines of a summit in The Netherlands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South President Park Geun-Hye, a breakthrough after friction between the two US allies over historical disputes.

Robert King, the US special envoy on human rights in North Korea, is also visiting South Korea and Japan this week amid growing calls for international action over the totalitarian state's treatment of its own people.

 

 

N. Korea leader warns of 'very grave' situation

 
‎07 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:16:08 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) April 02, 2014 - North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has warned of a "very grave" situation on the Korean peninsula, where a surge in military tensions has seen the two Koreas trade artillery fire and Pyongyang threaten a new nuclear test.

In a meeting with top military leaders on Tuesday, Kim blamed Washington and Seoul for the current frictions, saying they had trampled on peace overtures from Pyongyang.

"The current situation is very grave," Kim was quoted as saying by the North's official KCNA news agency on Wednesday.

Kim, the supreme commander of the Korean People's Army (KPA), told his most senior officers that despite the North's conciliatory gestures, South Korea and the United States had pushed ahead with joint military drills that Pyongyang views as rehearsals for an invasion.

"The United States and other hostile forces, ignoring our magnanimity and goodwill, are viciously stepping up their manoeuvres in order to annihilate our republic politically, isolate it economically and crush it militarily," he said.

The North Korean military and people will never tolerate the "US policy of hostility" and will "crush it thoroughly", Kim added.

The rhetoric seemed largely aimed at a domestic audience and Kim's more combative remarks were not translated in the English version of the KCNA dispatch.

Just one month ago, inter-Korean relations appeared to be enjoying something of a thaw.

In February the two rivals held rare, high-level talks, after which they held the first reunion in more than three years for families divided by the 1950-53 Korean War.

Even when the annual South Korean-US military exercises began at the end of February, the protests from Pyongyang were relatively muted, and there was talk of further high-level meetings and greater cooperation.

But the mood soon soured, and recent weeks have seen North Korea conduct a series of rocket and missile tests, culminating last month in the test-firing of two medium-range ballistic missiles capable of striking Japan.

On Monday, North Korea conducted a live-fire drill along the disputed maritime border. After some shells crossed the boundary, South Korea responded and the two sides fired hundreds of artillery rounds into each other's territorial waters.

The exchange of fire came the day after North Korea sounded an ominous warning that it might carry out a "new" type of nuclear test -- a possible reference to testing a uranium-based device or a miniaturised warhead small enough to fit on a ballistic missile.

Although South Korean intelligence reports say there are no signs of an imminent test, analysts note that the North is treading a familiar path that has previously ended in an underground bunker.

"The most disturbing possibility is that recent steps might conform with a pattern: missile test, UN condemnation, nuclear threat, nuclear test," said Stephan Haggard, professor at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego.

The UN Security Council condemned the North's mid-range missile launches -- a violation of UN resolutions prohibiting North Korean ballistic missile tests -- and said it would consider "appropriate" action.

That could include asking the council's North Korean Sanctions Committee to consider expanding its list of designated individuals and entities.

"That step would provide an excuse -- if one were needed -- for a fourth nuclear test," Haggard wrote in a regular blog post.

North Korea has conducted three nuclear tests -- in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

Last year's was by far the largest and prompted speculation that the North may already have switched to testing a uranium device rather than plutonium.

A basic uranium bomb is no more potent than a basic plutonium one, but the uranium path holds various advantages for the North, which has substantial deposits of uranium ore.

A uranium enrichment programme is easy to hide. It does not need a reactor like plutonium, and can be carried out using centrifuge cascades in relatively small buildings that give off no heat and are hard to detect.

North Korea revealed it was enriching uranium in 2010 when it allowed foreign experts to visit a centrifuge facility at its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

 

 

Argentine leader claims Falklands a NATO nuclear base

 
‎07 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:16:08 AMGo to full article
Buenos Aires (AFP) April 02, 2014 - Argentine President Cristina Kirchner claimed Wednesday that the Falkland Islands serve as a nuclear base for the NATO alliance in the South Atlantic.

Argentina, which calls the archipelago the Malvinas, claims the British overseas possession as its own, and fought a brief but bloody war for it in 1982.

The islands, she said, "constitute a NATO military nuclear base in the South Atlantic -- this is the truth that they can't continue to hide."

She alleged the archipelago is "among the most militarized areas in the world," saying some 1,500 soldiers and 2,000 civilian military personnel are stationed there amid a population of just 1,000.

Kirchner, who has a track record of controversial statements about the islands, said the British military manages its entire South Atlantic deployment and its electronic intelligence systems from there.

Britain called the claims "wholly false" and said UK forces numbers have declined to the "minimum necessary to defend the Islands."

"With regard to nuclear weapons, the UK's position is clear," said a Foreign Office statement.

"The United Kingdom ratified the protocols to the Nuclear Weapons Free Zone covering Latin America and the Caribbean in 1969, and it fully respects these obligations.

"The UK will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states parties to, and in compliance with, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," it added.

Kirchner made the claims during a ceremony honoring the Argentine dead on the 32nd anniversary of the start of the conflict.

Argentine forces invaded the islands on April 2, 1982 but were forced to surrender 74 days later after a British expeditionary force recaptured them.

The fighting left 649 Argentine soldiers -- many of them conscripts -- dead, along with 255 British personnel and three civilian islanders.

 

 

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Israeli killed in West Bank shooting

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:38 AMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) April 14, 2014 - An Israeli was killed and two others wounded in a shooting near the southern West Bank city of Hebron on Monday, the army said.

The incident at the start of the Jewish Passover holiday was the first deadly attack on an Israeli in the occupied West Bank since the start of the year, and came as tensions were soaring over the near-breakdown of US-brokered peace talks.

"Fire was opened at Israeli civilian vehicles on Route 35, near Hebron, and we're conducting widespread searches for the perpetrators... An Israeli civilian was killed in the attack," a spokeswoman told AFP.

A separate army statement said two other Israelis were wounded.

The man who was killed was a police officer from the town of Modiin in central Israel, an Israeli security source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The policeman's wife and nine-year-old child were wounded and transferred to hospital. Three other children were in the vehicle, according to Israeli military radio.

Israelis in another car said they saw a man wearing a helmet and firing a Kalashnikov assault rifle on the side of the road, it said.

Dozens of army vehicles fanned out into nearby Palestinian villages, and a security barrier was erected at the main entrance to Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank, according to an AFP photographer.

The flashpoint city of Hebron is home to nearly 200,000 Palestinians. There are some 80 settler homes in the centre of town housing about 700 Jews who live under Israeli army protection.

The Palestinian Hamas movement ruling Gaza, and fellow Islamist movement Islamic Jihad praised the attack, linking it to recent unrest in the flashpoint Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem's Old City.

"Hamas praises the heroic Hebron operation and considers it a result of the (Israeli) occupation's oppression and crimes against our people and holy places, including the Al-Aqsa mosque," a statement said.

Islamic Jihad released a similar statement, hailing the attack and linking it to "settlers appropriating the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque."

But neither group claimed responsibility for the attack.

-- Clashes in Jerusalem --

On Sunday, Israeli police arrested five people after Palestinians clashed with security forces at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

Police said "stones and Molotov cocktails" were thrown at officers, who responded using stun grenades and entered the compound.

An AFP journalist said Hamas members were among the protesters.

The compound, in the walled Old City, houses the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques, and is the third most sacred site in Islam.

It is also the holiest place in Judaism, venerated as the site where King Herod's temple stood before it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Clashes frequently break out there between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

Muslims are intensely sensitive to any perceived threat to the status of the compound and many believe Jews are determined to build a new temple on the wide esplanade.

Jews are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount, but often try to enter the compound.

Monday's shooting took place as the seven-day Jewish Passover holiday began.

In September, an Israeli soldier was shot dead by a suspected Palestinian gunman in the centre of Hebron during the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Nine Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since January 1 in the West Bank, where around 350,000 Israelis live in settlements considered illegal by the international community.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have meanwhile been trying to save collapsing US-backed peace talks, and were scheduled to meet again Wednesday with US envoy Martin Indyk.

 

 

Syria chemical arms handover nearly two-thirds complete: watchdog

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:38 AMGo to full article
The Hague (AFP) April 14, 2014 - Syria has surrendered almost two-thirds of its chemical weapons with the resumption of transfers from the war-torn country, the global chemical watchdog said Monday, although it again pressed Damascus to step up efforts.

"The Syrian government has completed the delivery of the 13th consignment of chemicals," the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said.

"The deliveries have raised the overall portion of chemicals removed from Syria to 65.1 percent, including 57.4 percent of priority chemicals," it reported in a statement in The Hague.

Damascus had temporarily halted the transfer of its chemical stockpile, citing security reasons, but resumed the operations earlier this month.

Under the terms of the US-Russia brokered deal reached last year, Syria has until the end of June to destroy its chemical weapons if it wants to ward off the threat of US air strikes.

The agreement was reached after deadly chemical attacks outside Damascus last August that the West blamed on President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

Sigrid Kaag, who coordinates a combined UN-OPCW mission in Syria to oversee the transfer, told the UN Security Council on April 3 that Damascus could still make the June 30 cut-off.

But she warned any delay would make it "increasingly challenging" to stick to the deadline, diplomats in New York said.

OPCW chief Ahmed Uzumcu said the latest shipment out of Syria was "necessary and encouraging," but again warned that efforts had to be stepped up if the deadline was to be met.

In a statement, he said "both the frequency and the volumes of deliveries have to increase significantly" if the transfers are to be finished "against the projected time frame".

Norwegian as well as Danish naval vessels are involved in the process of removing the materials from the port of Latakia in western Syria, the most dangerous of which are to be transferred to a US Navy vessel specially fitted with equipment to destroy them at sea.

 

 

Gaza cops trade bullets for laser-tech in training

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:38 AMGo to full article
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP) April 14, 2014 - Security forces in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip are using technology to practice shooting on laser simulators, saving money spent on ammunition in the cash-strapped Palestinian territory.

In a converted gym, four uniformed officers aim at targets with Kalashnikov assault rifles converted to fire beams of laser light, whose path is recorded on a computer in a control room and monitored by an instructor.

"Electronic shooting has great advantages," said Colonel Mohammed al-Nakhala, head of training in Gaza's National Security organisation.

"This is a leap forward in training provided by the interior ministry which saves a great deal of ammunition, money and work," he told AFP.

The ministry's training director, Mahmud Shubaki, says the simulators allow trainees to practise extensively before graduating to use of live fire.

"On a real shooting range we are limited by the number of rounds we can fire," he said.

Shubaki said four Kalashnikovs had been converted to fire electronically and fitted with an air-powered mechanism to simulate the recoil of shooting live rounds.

The 32-year-old Shubaki, who received military training in Algeria, said the new system had cut the cost of a firearms course from $20,000 to $1,000 (14,500 to 720 euros).

But trainee Omar al-Halabi, a 32-year-old lieutenant, said he prefers live fire exercises over the simulator which "feels like a video game".

Hamas, shunned as a terrorist movement by Israel, the United States and the European Union, seized control of Gaza from the rival Fatah after a week of fierce fighting in 2007 but is undergoing a worsening budget crisis.

The Strip's borders with Israel are tightly controlled by land sea and air, and passage across the frontier with neighbouring Egypt has been severely restricted since last July when its army deposed Hamas's ally, president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Last month a Cairo court barred the militant Islamic group from operating in Egypt and said it would seek to seize the movement's assets there.

After Morsi's overthrow, the army destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the border, reducing the flow of cash to Hamas coffers.

It is now struggling to pay the wages of 51,000 civil servants and budget cuts will no longer be able to spare the security services.

Hamas officials and security personnel, whose fuel bills were in the past paid in full by the government are now being asked to pay half from their own pockets, security sources say.

And police are moving over more and more to using motorcycles rather than cars because of constant fuel shortages.

The destroyed tunnels were widely used for the import of fuel, food, construction materials and military supplies.

 

 

13 dead as Syria planes hit rebel bastions near Damascus: NGO

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:38 AMGo to full article
Beirut (AFP) April 13, 2014 - Syrian warplanes on Sunday launched an offensive against a string of opposition bastions on the edges of the capital, including the besieged Eastern Ghouta area, a monitoring group said.

"Warplanes carried out two air strikes against areas of Douma," northeast of Damascus, killing 13 people, including three women and three children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

One of the strikes on Douma, an opposition stronghold since early in the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, hit a crowded marketplace, said the Syrian Revolution General Commission, a network of activists on the ground.

Douma and other towns and villages in Eastern Ghouta have been under army siege for a year.

The Observatory also reported air strikes against Hammuriyeh, east of Damascus, and highly destructive barrel bomb attacks on Daraya, an opposition bastion southwest of the capital.

The air raids came as fighting raged on the edges of Daraya between rebels and the army, which for more than a year has battled to secure the capital.

Other air strikes targeted Mleiha, also in Eastern Ghouta, while clashes on the town's edges pitted rebels and their jihadist Al-Nusra Front allies against the army and its Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah, the Observatory said.

Mleiha has suffered heavy bombing for 10 consecutive days, as the army and Hezbollah attempt to break through rebel lines.

The Observatory said regime forces on Sunday took control of areas on Mleiha's edges.

North of the capital, the army overran a string of hills overlooking Rankus, a former opposition stronghold in the strategic Qalamun mountains that fell to the regime last Wednesday, state television reported.

State news agency SANA, meanwhile, reported "the death of a young man and the wounding of 22 others" in a mortar attack launched by "terrorists" in central Damascus.

State media uses the regime's term "terrorists" to refer to rebels fighting to topple Assad's regime.

Damascus comes under frequent mortar fire. Sunday's attack hit Beirut Street, located near the army command headquarters.

The Observatory said two people were killed in the attack.

In northern Syria's Aleppo, fighting raged around the intelligence headquarters, which rebels have been trying to seize from regime hands, said the Observatory.

It said helicopters pressed the regime's months-old aerial offensive on Aleppo's rebel districts, killing two children and a man on Sunday.

The latest deaths come a day after 11 people including three children were killed in helicopter attacks using barrel bombs packed with explosives on opposition areas of Aleppo, according to the Observatory.

More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria's war and nearly half the population have been forced to flee their homes.

'Poison' attack on central Syria town: NGO
Beirut (AFP) April 12, 2014 - A regime air strike in Hama province of central Syria caused "suffocation and poisoning", an NGO said Saturday, while state media accused rebels of releasing chlorine gas.

Elsewhere, fighting raged all day in Aleppo near an air force intelligence base, with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights labelling it "the most violent since the beginning of the battle" in the northern city in mid-2012.

And a bomb blast and shelling in areas of Damascus killed four people, the official news agency SANA reported.

In the rebel-held town of Kafr Zita in Hama province, residents choking from poisoning were hospitalised after raids with barrel bombs on Friday, the Observatory quoted medics as saying.

"Regime planes bombed Kafr Zita with explosive barrels that produced thick smoke and odours and led to cases of suffocation and poisoning," the monitoring group's head Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Anti-government activists in the area posted on Facebook that "the regime bombarded Kafr Zinta with toxic products, (with) 'chlorine gas', causing more than 100 cases of suffocation".

But state television said that Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, a key force in Syria's three-year armed revolt, had released chlorine in a deadly attack on the town.

"There is information that the terrorist Al-Nusra Front released toxic chorine... leading to the death of two people and causing more than 100 people to suffer from suffocation," it said.

"There is information that Al-Nusra Front is preparing to hit Wadi Deif in Idlib province and Morek in Hama province with toxic chlorine or sarin," the state broadcaster added.

Videos circulated by opposition activists on YouTube showed men and children in a field hospital coughing and showing symptoms of suffocation, while three young men are wearing oxygen masks.

- 'Chlorine smell' -

In one video posted online, a man who appears to be a doctor said "the bombardment left a yellow-coloured product, and a smell like chlorine gas, wounding more than 100 people including women and children."

There was no independent verification of either of the claims made by state media or opposition activists.

The opposition and much of the international community blamed the Syrian regime for a chemical attack last August outside Damascus that reportedly killed as many as 1,400 people.

The government denied responsibility, in turn blaming rebels, but agreed under threat of US military action to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile for destruction.

In Aleppo, fierce fighting raged Saturday for the first time near a government intelligence centre in the Zahra neighbourhood, said Abdel Rahman.

He added that both government and opposition fighters had suffered "losses" and a large number of people fled the fighting.

Government warplanes pounded the nearby area of Lamrayun and the edges of the intelligence base.

The Observatory, which relies on a vast network of activists on the ground and medics for its information, said another 10 people were killed when Islamist rebels shelled regime-held areas of Aleppo, once Syria's economic capital.

More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria since mid-March 2011, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

 

 

Sri Lanka troops kill emerging Tiger leaders: official

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:38 AMGo to full article
Colombo (AFP) April 11, 2014 - Sri Lanka's military on Friday shot dead three men they believed were trying to revive the separatist Tamil Tiger movement five years after its defeat, a spokesman said.

Military spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya said troops killed the three, including a man they identified as a local leader of the Tigers, as they tried to escape a military cordon in a jungle area of the former war zone to the south of Jaffna.

"They tried to break the cordon and we opened fire and killed three people," Wanigasooriya said. He did not say if there were any troop casualties.

However, he said the military believed two of those killed were suspects wanted in connection with the shooting and injuring of a police officer last month in the island's north.

One of the men killed Friday was named as Kajadeepan Ponniah Selvanayagam, 31, who is better known as Gopi, Wanigasooriya told reporters in Colombo.

The government's information department separately described Gopi as a leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the north of the island, confirming he was among the three killed on Friday.

Wanigasooriya said the army had been able to locate the men's jungle hideout after the recovery on Thursday of three backpacks with food rations and medicines that the trio had abandoned nearby.

He confirmed it was the first major shooting since government forces wiped out the Tiger leadership in May 2009 and declared an end to the 37-year-long war over a homeland for the ethnic Tamil minority.

- Pre-dawn raid -

The military carried out the pre-dawn operation in the sparsely populated jungles of Nedunkerni based on information from the police Terrorist Investigation Department, which was looking for the three men who were believed to be remnants of the Tamil Tigers, he said.

Wanigasooriya said that a soldier had also been killed in the island's north, but that death was unrelated to the jungle shootings.

Before the latest incidents, police had already appealed for information on Gopi who was accused of trying to reignite the Tigers movement.

They had offered a reward of a million rupees ($7,600) for information leading to his arrest.

He and another man identified as Nawaratnam Navaneethan, 36, had been accused of opening fire and injuring a police officer in the north of Sri Lanka last month. Navaneethan was also believed to be among those killed in Friday's army shooting.

The latest incident came a day after police announced they had detained 60 people, including 10 women, in connection with attempts to reactivate the Tiger movement.

The UN has estimated that at least 100,000 people were killed in Sri Lanka's Tamil separatist conflict between 1972 and 2009.

The UN rights body last month called for an international probe into allegations that thousands of civilians were killed by government forces as well as Tamil Tiger rebels.

Colombo has rejected the UN Human Rights Council resolution and made clear it will not cooperate with any probe after insisting that its troops did not kill a single civilian.

Sri Lanka is also under intense foreign pressure to scrap draconian anti-terror laws, but Colombo maintains that they need the extra ordinary powers to deal with a possible resurgence of terrorism.

 

 

Israeli, Palestinian negotiators meet on crisis-hit peace talks

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:38 AMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) April 13, 2014 - Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met on Sunday in a fresh bid to save their teetering US-brokered peace talks, a Palestinian official said.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat met in Jerusalem with his Israeli opposite number, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's special envoy Yitzhak Molcho, he told AFP.

There was no immediate word from the Israeli side, which observes the seven-day Jewish holidays of Passover from sunset on Monday.

A Palestinian source close to the talks said a new meeting between the negotiators was set for Tuesday or Wednesday evening, with US envoy Martin Indyk due to attend.

Indyk, who presided over a meeting last Thursday, has since returned to Washington for consultations but is due to return on Tuesday, the source added.

The peace process has since last week suffered a new blow when Israel said it would freeze the transfer of duties it collects on the Palestinians' behalf, in retaliation for their diplomatic offensive against Israel at the United Nations.

The monthly 80 million euros ($111 million) in taxes collected by Israel represents about two-thirds of the Palestinian Authority's income.

Israel also reportedly plans to suspend its participation with the Palestinians in developing a gas field off the Gaza Strip and to put a cap on Palestinian deposits in its banks.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in a meeting with ambassadors posted in Tel Aviv on Sunday, blamed the Palestinians for the rapid deterioration in the peace process.

"We were very close to an agreement with the Palestinians, a complex transaction which was being examined by the (Israeli) cabinet, but at the last moment the Palestinians broke their promises and submitted applications" to join international treaties, he charged.

"We are ready to discuss and negotiate but we will not accept unilateral steps," Lieberman said.

A senior Palestinian official, Nabil Shaath, said the Palestinians still had "several options" and would not be deterred.

"Israel's sanctions will not deter Palestinian steps to join international treaties and organisations," he said, quoted by the Palestinian news agency WAFA.

The Israeli reprisals have sparked concern in Washington.

"We've seen these press reports, but we have not seen an official public announcement by the government of Israel," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday.

"That said, we would regard such a development as unfortunate.

"We believe that the regular transfer of the Palestinian Authority's tax revenues and economic cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has been beneficial and is important to the well-being of the Palestinian economy."

The talks hit an impasse two weeks ago when Israel refused to release as agreed a group of Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinians retaliated by seeking accession to several international treaties.

Israel sanctions Palestinians in new blow to peace talks
Jerusalem (AFP) April 10, 2014 - Israeli and Palestinian officials held fresh US-mediated talks Thursday, but the crisis-hit peace process was dealt a new blow as Israel unveiled sanctions against the Palestinians.

Israel, which collects about 80 million euros ($111 million) in taxes on behalf of the Palestinian Authority -- two-thirds of its revenues -- has decided to freeze the transfer of that money, an official told AFP.

Israel was also suspending its participation with the Palestinians in developing a gas field off the Gaza Strip and putting a cap on Palestinian deposits in its banks, the Israeli official said, asking not to be named.

However, the official said "discussions under the aegis of the United States to overcome the talks crisis will continue".

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat lashed out at the move, calling it an act of "Israeli hijacking and the theft of the Palestinian people's money".

The decision is a "violation of international law and norms by Israel" in revenge for the Palestinians' move to join a raft of international treaties as a state, Erakat told AFP.

Earlier State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed a new round of talks between the Israeli, Palestinian and US negotiators had been held Thursday. But she downplayed reports of a deal in the works.

"The gaps are narrowing, but any speculation about an agreement are premature at this time," said Psaki.

Washington remains in "intensive negotiations" with both sides, she told reporters.

"We're working, as you know, to determine what the path forward is for these negotiations, and that is up to the parties."

The talks hit a new impasse last week after Israel refused to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinians retaliated by seeking accession to several international treaties.

US Secretary of State John Kerry blamed Israel this week for the deadlock as Washington mulled how much more time and effort to put into the faltering negotiations.

American envoy Martin Indyk presided over Thursday's meeting in Jerusalem between Israel's chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and her Palestinian counterpart, Saeb Erakat, said a Palestinian source close to the talks.

Also present were Palestinian intelligence chief Majed Farah and Yitzhak Molcho, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Palestinians were pushing for the release of a final batch of prisoners, a commitment Israel reneged on in a move that sparked the crisis.

Israeli television reported that the two sides were on the verge of a deal to extend peace talks beyond their April 29 deadline.

The deal would see the Palestinian prisoners released in return for Washington freeing American-born Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, Channel 2 television said.

- Pollard reports 'incorrect' -

But insisting there was no deal yet, Psaki said "no decision has been made about Jonathan Pollard", who is eligible for release next year.

Meanwhile Israel's Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the far-right Jewish Home party, threatened to pull his party out of the coalition if there was a deal on the release of Palestinian prisoners.

"If the government proposes this deal to us, the Jewish Home party will pull out of the coalition," he said.

The Israelis have repeatedly asked Barack Obama and previous US presidents to release Pollard, sentenced to life in 1987 for passing US secrets on Arab and Pakistani weapons to Israel.

Psaki revealed that Indyk would return to Washington this week for consultations with Kerry and the White House.

He would then go back to the region some time next week.

A Palestinian official also denied any deal was yet on the table, telling AFP there was still a "deep chasm" between the two sides.

When Israel refused to release 26 long-time Palestinian prisoners, it went back on a pledge it made at the launch of the peace talks.

The Palestinians responded by abandoning their own commitment not to seek international recognition until the nine months of talks ended, applying for accession to 15 treaties.

The United Nations said Thursday it had accepted the deposit of the request, but Psaki said that was merely "a technical step... so I don't think it changes, necessarily, what we're negotiating now".

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Israel, Palestinians meet on peace talks stalemate

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:38 AMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) April 10, 2014 - Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held US-mediated talks Thursday to try to revive their crisis-hit peace process, a Palestinian official said, as a report of a possible breakthrough was played down.

Peace talks sponsored by Washington hit a new impasse at the end of March when Israel refused to release a final batch of Palestinian prisoners and the Palestinians retaliated by seeking membership of several international treaties.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who fought hard to kick-start the talks last July, this week blamed Israel for the latest deadlock as Washington mulled how much more time and effort to put into the faltering negotiations.

American envoy Martin Indyk presided over Thursday's meeting in Jerusalem between Israel's chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, and her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erakat, a Palestinian source close to the talks told AFP.

Also present were Yitzhak Molcho, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian intelligence chief Majed Farah, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Palestinians were pushing for the release of a final batch of prisoners, a commitment Israel reneged on at the end of last month in a move which sparked the crisis.

Israeli public radio confirmed Thursday's meeting was taking place but gave no details.

An Israeli official told AFP, also asking not to be named, that "Israel wants to return to talks and overcome the current crisis".

Israeli television later reported that the two sides were on the verge of a deal to extend peace talks beyond their original April 29 deadline.

The deal, which could be finalised within "a few days", would see a final batch of Palestinian prisoners released in return for Washington freeing American-born Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard, Channel 2 television said.

- Pollard reports 'incorrect': US -

It cited "sources in Washington" as saying that "the parties are to sign an agreement to extend negotiations beyond April 29."

"According to the source, the agreement will include the release of Palestinian prisoners, including Arab-Israelis, in exchange for the release of Jewish American spy Jonathan Pollard," the report said.

In Washington, however, a US official, asking not to be named, told AFP that the "reports are incorrect", without going into details.

And a Palestinian official denied any deal was on the table, telling AFP on condition of anonymity that there was still a "deep chasm" between the two sides.

The Israelis have repeatedly asked Barack Obama and previous US presidents to release Pollard, who is serving his sentence in North Carolina for passing US secrets on Arab and Pakistani weapons to Israel during the mid-1980s.

Pollard, who was given a life sentence in 1987, is eligible for release from November next year.

When Israel refused to release 26 long-serving Palestinian prisoners, it went back on a pledge it made at the launch of the peace talks.

The Palestinians responded by abandoning their own commitment not to seek international recognition until the nine months of talks ended, applying for membership of 15 international treaties.

Kerry on Tuesday blamed Israel for the crisis, saying its April 1 approval of 708 Jewish settlement homes in east Jerusalem derailed plans for the prisoner release.

While he cited intransigence on both sides, Kerry said the delayed release was sabotaged by the settlements move.

"In the afternoon, when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem and, poof, that was sort of the moment," Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

 

 

UN deposits Palestinian request to join 13 treaties

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:38 AMGo to full article
United Nations, United States (AFP) April 10, 2014 - The United Nations said Thursday it had accepted for deposit, in keeping with international procedure, a request from the Palestinians to join 13 international conventions and treaties.

The requests were submitted to UN headquarters on April 2 by Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour.

The treaties include the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, the convention on the rights of the child, the convention against torture, and the one against corruption.

"The secretary general has ascertained that the instruments received were in due and proper form before accepting them for deposit," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

In keeping with procedure, all member states had been informed.

"It is important to emphasize that it is for states to make their own determination with respect to any legal issues raised by instruments circulated by the secretary general," Dujarric said.

The requests, in principle, take effect 30 days after the secretary general receives the letter of accession.

The Palestinian Authority has also asked Switzerland if it can join the Fourth Geneva Convention from August 1949 and the first additional protocol.

And it has asked the Netherlands if it can join the Hague Convention of 1907 on laws and customs governing war.

The requests came as peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis were close to collapse, with Israel making a new bid to expand settlements in annexed Arab east Jerusalem and the Palestinians taking fresh steps towards seeking recognition of their promised state.

The Palestinians had pledged to freeze all moves to seek membership in UN organizations during the talks in return for Israel's release of the veteran Arab prisoners.

 

 

British Gurkha war hero fights one last campaign

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:38 AMGo to full article
London (AFP) April 09, 2014 - Rambahadur Limbu is one of Britain's greatest living war heroes, yet the 74-year-old veteran feels dishonoured by the way the country has treated Gurkha soldiers like him.

Standing with his walking stick outside the Houses of Parliament in London, few who pass the old Nepalese warrior would recognise his name or the Victoria Cross (VC) on his chest.

Fewer still would know the short, stocky farmer is among just four people alive who won the highest possible military honour serving in the British armed forces -- an award given only for extreme bravery in the face of the enemy.

Feeling his age, Captain Limbu is in London for perhaps the last time to wage one final campaign: a push for retired Nepalese Gurkhas to receive the same pensions and welfare as their British comrades.

He gave heartfelt evidence to the Gurkha Welfare Inquiry, a panel of lawmakers examining veterans' grievances, which holds a final hearing on Wednesday.

In an interview with AFP, Limbu said: "I enlisted in the army in 1957 and for the first 18 years of my career, I always regarded the British and the Gurkhas as equal, and I thought the British were the best friends we could ever have."

But from then on, he saw "discrimination in every area of life in the army, and that included accommodation, food, pay -- anything you name".

Limbu proudly wears his VC, an award bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II in 1966 for his actions in Borneo during the Indonesian-Malaysian Confrontation. Its crimson ribbon is fraying at the edges.

"I feel very honoured because this nation honoured me with a medal. But when I look back (on) my service, I feel very dishonoured," he said.

His Gurkha captain's pension and VC allowance combined came to "way less" than the pension of a (lower-ranked) British non-commissioned officer.

"Isn't that an insult to me and my bravery?" he asked.

"What do I do with this honour when that honour does not give me a dignified life to live?

"You cannot eat a debt of honour. You have to give equality so that people feel the debt of honour is given."

The Gurkhas are renowned for their ferocity, loyalty, bravery and razor-sharp kukri fighting knives. They first served as part of the Indian army in British-run India in 1815. Around 3,100 currently serve in the British army.

Limbu won the VC for his exceptional valour in the jungles of Sarawak on November 21, 1965.

In a five-man uphill vanguard assault on an entrenched Indonesian platoon, he twice went back into the front line during a 20-minute spell to rescue fatally-wounded comrades while under continuous fire from machine guns -- at point-blank range.

He then rejoined his platoon, which forced the Indonesians to abandon the position, and killed four as they attempted to escape.

"Because of the intensity of the situation, there was no fear in me," he said. "I just thought that I must do anything in my capacity to stop the enemy and to take the bodies and the injured back to safety.

"I don't really consider myself as a hero.

"Those who died, when I think of them, they were more heroes than I am."

The day after his return from Sarawak, 10 weeks later, his first wife died, leaving him with two children aged eight months and five years to look after.

Since retiring in 1985, his life has been filled with social and charitable work for ex-servicemen, invitations to events, and building a temple for Gurkhas.

He lives in Damak, a remote town in the southeast corner of Nepal, and occasionally visits Kathmandu.

"I've got seven grandchildren who look after me and my little farm and that is my day-to-day activity," he said.

Given his VC, "everybody thinks I'm a very high flier, a big shot -- but because of the pension and the economic conditions, my life is very modest.

"There's nothing really to look forward to.

"I know that I will not live very long," he said with a chuckle.

Limbu is on tablets, suffers from high blood pressure and gout and has difficulty with steps.

He said Nepalese medical facilities were "non-existent" and offered "only basic primary care".

"Britain should take that responsibility of looking after the Gurkha veterans, even if they choose to live in Nepal."

The Gurkha welfare parliamentary inquiry is looking at medical care in Nepal, benefits and allowances, adult dependents and Gurkha communities in Britain.

When its findings are published in the coming months, it is hoped they will trigger a parliamentary debate and an official government response.

"I gave Britain the prime years of my life," Limbu said. "We sacrifice our lives for this country.

"When we fight for one country... we must be paid equal value."

 

 

Mideast: Ad absurdum

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:09:38 AMGo to full article
Washington (UPI) Apr 8, 2013 - Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Palestinian interlocutor President Mahmoud Abbas, most pundits say, are now the main obstacles to peace as neither one is politically strong enough to make the required concessions. Wrong.

The roadblock to peace is clearly marked. It's Quincy Magoo, the protagonist of a cartoon series, an old man whose most notable trait is myopia close to blindness. His stubborn refusal to admit having a problem translates into a refusal, bordering on paralysis, to wear glasses.

Magoo is so stubborn about everything that when he realizes the truth of what he is experiencing he will still keep his specs hidden from all but himself.

This, in turn, leads to ludicrous situations -- like the Mideast peace process. Thousands write about it all over the world, but facts are still hard to come by.

Netanyahu knows that if he concedes an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Abbas, now nearing the end of his political career, will be pushed aside by Hamas, the extremist group now ruling the Gaza strip that already commands the loyalty of a majority of Palestinians in the West Bank.

Such a Hamas-controlled regime in charge of the West Bank would then have the ultimate prize in its sights: a new western frontier of Palestine on the Mediterranean Sea.

For many Israelis, it's the Masada complex, the 1,300-foot cliffs on the eastern edge of the Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea, where 960 Jewish rebels committed suicide by stabbing themselves in 74 AD to avoid surrender to the Romans.

The only way for Israel to avoid the oubliette of history is to make sure Hamas never inherits the West Bank as a Palestinian state.

This is done by stepping up Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem -- all in violation of the 1967 armistice. Fifty-five percent of the Israeli Lands Authority's most recent published tenders are for 3,059 residential units in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Palestinians demand Israel recognize as their capital.

There are now half a million Israelis settled in the West Bank and East Jerusalem with a network of modern roads Palestinians are not allowed to use. In the latest Palestinian retaliatory action, President Abbas signed his government on to 15 international conventions and agreements.

What U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hoped to achieve after 12 roundtrips to the Middle East in almost as many weeks is not clear -- though his ardor cooled perceptibly as he made clear he was not going for a 13th. April 29 marks the end of the nth time period for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The PA still stubbornly refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and negotiations are at the proverbial impasse. President Abbas even talks of martyrdom for the sake of Jerusalem. His position still clings to the pre-1967 war borders with limited land swaps and the deployment of foreign peacekeeping forces, such as NATO contingents.

When speaking to foreign reporters, Abbas sticks to a demilitarized West Bank. And when addressing Palestinians, he makes clear he is demanding a totally demilitarized state "without leaving a single Israeli soldier behind."

With a civil war next door in Syria, now in its 4th year, which has claimed 160,000 lives and driven 2 million into exile in neighboring countries (one in four inhabitants in Lebanon is now a homeless Syrian), Netanyahu would rather incur the wrath of "apartheid" in the West Bank than surrender to Palestinian "terrorists."

Meanwhile, Israel's illegal expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem continues at the rate of several houses and apartments per week.

Iran, as assessed from Israel, has not shut down its covert nuclear weapons program. It has also dispatched to the U.N. in New York as its new permanent representative one of Iran's most strident anti-U.S. and anti-Israel voices: Hamid Aboutalebi. He was part of the "student" movement that took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held all U.S. personnel captive for 444 days -- until Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President.

Hanging over the entire Middle East is the specter of U.S. isolationist sentiment following two trillion dollar geopolitical mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The U.S.' success as a hegemon has traditionally been about magnifying its power through friendship," wrote the Financial Times' Edward Luce. "Yet its ability to rally existing friends behind it and make new ones to replace them is diminishing."

Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea triggered hand wringing and little else. Editorial commentaries began questioning -- a generation late -- the expansion of NATO up against Russia's borders, instead, as some suggested at the time, of inviting Russia to join NATO as the nation that shed the evil Soviet Union.

The lack of Western resolve appears to have sharpened Putin's geopolitical appetite. The Russian-speaking half of Ukraine, already the scene of staged pro-Russian demos and bloody clashes, appears to be next on Putin's hit parade.

NEWSMAX, the conservative monthly, put Putin on its April cover, walking briskly from inspecting a fighter-bomber. The cover caption: "Vladimir Putin's New Cold War -- By John Bolton." For many conservatives on the hard right, the Cold War never ended.

The Baltic nations are members of NATO but isolated and nervous. What would happen if Russia moved back into one of them or all three? Officially, the U.S. and its allies would have to treat such an attack as tantamount to an invasion of Germany or France. And the world would be on the verge of World War III.

In the flush of victory, post-Cold War policies were not thought through too carefully.

 

 

Kerry: Israeli settlements led to peace talks stalemate

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:20 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) April 08, 2014 - US Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday blamed approval of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem for derailing peace talks with Palestinians, a charge that pricked Israeli officials and sent aides into damage control.

The Israeli government announced a major expansion of settlement construction in the West Bank last month, just as Washington was scrambling for a way to get the two sides to extend US-sponsored peace talks beyond an April 29 deadline.

While Kerry blamed intransigence on both sides, he told US lawmakers that a delayed Israeli plan to release several Palestinian prisoners as part of a good faith effort was sabotaged by the settlements move.

"In the afternoon, when they were about to maybe get there, 700 settlement units were announced in Jerusalem and, poof, that was sort of the moment," he testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have teetered on the brink of collapse, with Washington fighting an uphill battle to get the two sides to agree to a framework proposal to extend the negotiations to the year's end.

A Palestinian spokesman last month blamed the impasse on Israel's West Bank settlement plans.

Kerry's remarks were met with a crisp response from Israel's Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the far-right Jewish Home party.

"Israel will never apologize for building in Jerusalem," Bennett said.

"I hear that the (building) program in Jerusalem was defined as 'poof.' For many years (the Palestinians) tried with explosions and bombs to stop us being in the eternal capital of the Jewish people, it will not happen."

The State Department, perhaps assessing the potential impact Kerry's comments could have in the Middle East, rushed to explain that the secretary of state was fairminded in apportioning blame.

"John Kerry was again crystal clear today that both sides have taken unhelpful steps and at no point has he engaged in a blame game," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Twitter.

"He even singled out by name (Israeli) Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu for having made courageous decisions throughout process."

Kerry was also drawn into a heated exchange with Senator John McCain, who declared the peace talks "finished."

While Kerry insisted that Israelis and Palestinians were keen on continuing the process, McCain cut in: "It is stopped," he told Kerry. "Recognize reality."

Kerry refused to see it that way.

"My hope is the parties will find a way back. We're working with them to try to do so," Kerry said.

He stressed there has been "a narrowing of differences" between the two sides, although he would not elaborate.

- Kerry on defensive -

Meanwhile, the two sides met US envoy Martin Indyk late on Monday and are to see him again on Wednesday, a Palestinian source told AFP.

Kerry faced a grilling over US foreign policy on several fronts, particularly Syria, where strongman Bashar al-Assad's forces have made gains against rebel positions in recent days in the three-year civil war that has left 150,000 people dead.

"We have no policy, from what I can tell, other than... allowing people to kill each other off" and Washington failing to honor its commitments to support opposition groups, Republican Senator Bob Corker said.

Kerry argued that the Obama administration was focused intently on resolving the Syria crisis.

And while he conceded Assad forces have made gains, "I think there's a capacity to change Assad's calculation, and so does the president," Kerry said.

"The key is, how do you get the parties to understand there isn't a military solution?"

 

 

Syria opposition chief to visit China

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:20 AMGo to full article
Beirut (AFP) April 08, 2014 - The head of Syria's opposition National Coalition, Ahmad Jarba, is to hold talks later this month in China, a Syrian government ally, his office said on Tuesday.

"National Coalition president Ahmad Jarba will make an official visit to China on April 14," the media section of his office told AFP.

Jarba will discuss "the prospects for a political solution," and explain "the positions of the Syrian people," it added.

Along with Russia, China has given key diplomatic backing to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, using its veto in the UN Security Council to block several draft resolutions against his regime.

Jarba's visit to China comes two months after he travelled to Russia following two abortive rounds of peace talks in Switzerland.

During the peace talks, Jarba met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who invited him to Beijing.

 

 

Israelis, Palestinians try to salvage peace talks

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:20 AMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) April 07, 2014 - Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to meet again on Monday in a new effort to salvage the teetering US-brokered peace talks, US and Palestinian officials said.

The meeting came as US Secretary of State John Kerry scrambled to rescue negotiations he kick-started in July, and a week after a fresh impasse saw both sides renege on commitments they made nine months ago.

Kerry has warned there are "limits" to the time and energy the United States can devote to a process which appears to have made no progress amid bitter recriminations and moves Washington has described as "unhelpful".

"Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met last night to discuss ways to overcome the crisis in the talks," a US official said Monday.

"The meeting was serious and constructive, and both sides requested that the United States convene another meeting today to continue the effort."

A Palestinian official confirmed to AFP that a meeting was scheduled, but neither side gave a time or location.

Accompanied by US envoy Martin Indyk, the two sides met Sunday evening, but Palestinian sources told AFP the session ended without any breakthrough and an Israeli official was quoted by local media as saying the process was on the edge of collapse.

Israel's parliament was also meeting in a special session on Monday, during its spring recess, for a debate on the peace negotiations, called by opposition MPs critical of the government's handling of the talks.

"This is a government of failure, it is a government that does not give hope but only depression," Labour party leader Isaac Herzog told the almost empty house.

- 'No communication' -

Herzog said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas shared blame for the impasse.

"There is not even minimal dialogue between Abu Mazen and Netanyahu. There is no communication between them," he said, using Abbas's nickname.

"They have been blaming one another since the day the negotiations started, and they don't meet and don't talk."

Netanyahu on Sunday threatened to retaliate if the Palestinians proceed with applications they lodged with the United Nations last week to sign up to 15 international treaties.

"Any unilateral moves they take will be answered by unilateral moves at our end," the premier said.

Israel says Abbas's move was a clear breach of the commitments the Palestinians gave when the talks were relaunched, to pursue no other avenues for recognition of their promised state.

The Palestinians say Israel had already reneged on its own undertakings by failing to release a fourth and final batch of prisoners as expected a week ago, and that the treaty move was their response.

Israel has been seeking to get peace talks extended beyond their April 29 deadline.

Former Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh said that to achieve that they would have to free the prisoners and stop building in the occupied West Bank.

"These negotiations with Israel are the last chance for bilateral talks," he told reporters in Ramallah.

- 'Farce' -

The Palestinian diplomatic initiative won support Monday from former US president Jimmy Carter.

"The decision by the Palestinians to exercise their right to join international organisations should not be seen as a blow to the peace talks," he said in a statement by a panel of senior statesmen known as the Elders.

"I hope that, on the contrary, it will help to redress the power imbalance between Israelis and Palestinians."

But Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that governs the Gaza Strip, rejected a continuation of any contact between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, having long opposed talks altogether.

"That meetings are carrying on between the PA and Israel with US mediation... shows that the talks with the occupation have stopped publicly but are continuing in secret," Hamas said in a statement.

"We reiterate our total rejection of talks... Hamas will not be a part of any such farce."

Kerry warned Friday there were "limits" to the time and energy Washington could devote to the talks, as his appeals to both sides to step back from the brink were ignored.

Abbas rejected Kerry's plea to withdraw the treaty applications, and Netanyahu rejected US appeals to refrain from tit-for-tat moves, instead asking for a range of retaliatory options.

 

 

Kerry in danger of losing big bet on Middle East peace

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:20 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) April 05, 2014 - John Kerry's high-stakes gamble that he could finally achieve the dream of generations and bring peace to the Middle East seems to be collapsing as easily as a house of cards.

Despite a dozen visits to Israel and the West Bank since he became US secretary of state 14 months ago and many more late-night meetings with his recalcitrant partners in capitals around the world, it appears after all that he may have been trumped.

While there was always a certain hubris to his mission impossible, the political dangers facing wily Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conspired this week with decades of pent-up anger among Palestinians to throw up the most serious crisis to the fragile peace negotiations since they resumed in July.

Yet at the start of Kerry's latest overseas trip there was little to suggest he would return to the US 13 days later with his peace effort in trouble and a blunt admission that he and the White House needed to "evaluate" the next steps.

Indeed, Kerry had not visited Israel in three months in a tacit recognition that each trip raised expectations and usually triggered some kind of provocative move from one of the parties.

His monthly commute between Washington and Jerusalem had also begun to raise eyebrows with little tangible progress to show and an April 29 deadline looming.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon had called Kerry "obsessional" and "messianic" and at home some critics said he was "delusional."

- 'Reality-check time' -

All roads to Jerusalem are littered with past failed peace negotiations which have wound through places such as Madrid, Oslo and Camp David.

But this time Kerry felt there was something within his grasp, a deal under which both sides would agree to keep talking into next year, as some of the nitty-gritty contours of a pact began to emerge.

He deeply believes that a comprehensive peace treaty is the only way to secure Israel's future and build a better tomorrow for Palestinians, with both peoples having suffered too much.

So the 70-year-old former senator, the son of a diplomat, stepped willingly into the quagmire that is Middle East peace.

He has invested huge amounts of energy, setting a punishing schedule which would defeat many half his age and remaining eternally optimistic and unflappable even after hours locked in tense negotiations.

It was sobering therefore on Friday as he prepared to head home -- after the Israelis canceled the last prisoner releases and the Palestinians said they would seek statehood at 15 agencies at the UN -- that in a rare moment of frankness and frustration he admitted "it's reality-check time."

"There are limits to the amount of time and effort that the United States can spend if the parties themselves are unwilling to take constructive steps in order to be able to move forward," Kerry told reporters in Rabat.

With the war in Syria, Iran's nuclear program and the crisis in Ukraine, "we have an enormous amount on the plate," he said.

- No-one walking away yet -

Exactly what Kerry's next move will be remains uncertain, and he has insisted that the negotiators remain at work on the ground.

But it's more than possible that he'll give both sides a little space to figure out what they want to do, as he huddles with the White House.

There will be another three-way meeting likely on Sunday in the region to assess the way forward, officials close to the talks say, and the US insists the negotiations are not dead.

Only a few months ago, Kerry's stock had been rising with his brand of face-to-face diplomacy winning praise.

He had helped kick-start the peace talks after a three-year gap, sealed a deal with Russia to rid Syria of its chemical weapons, and negotiations with Iran over its suspect nuclear program had made the first progress in a decade.

Now critics will be sharpening their pencils in glee.

But he has three more years in office, and almost boundless patience.

The White House Friday defended the "tireless" Kerry, saying his long-odds Middle East peace bid had not been a waste of time because the stakes were so high.

But Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, admitted that the chances of Kerry succeeding when he embarked on his Middle East peace quest a year ago had never been high.

"I don't know if people in Las Vegas are betting on these kinds of things these days, but I'm sure the odds... would be very long."

Earnest refused to say that Washington had given up.

"That presupposes an additional step here, that at some point somebody throws up their hands and walks away. Secretary Kerry's certainly not willing to do that."

 

 

No breakthrough seen in last-ditch Mideast talks

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:20 AMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) April 06, 2014 - Last-ditch talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators on salvaging a teetering, US-brokered peace process ended without a breakthrough Sunday, Palestinian sources told AFP.

"The crisis continues. During the whole meeting, the Israelis threatened the Palestinians and no solution to the crisis was found," a Palestinian official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Warning that the peace process was on the edge of collapse, an Israeli official close to the talks said that even US Secretary of State John Kerry, its tireless sponsor, was cooling off.

"The way it's looking now, the talks as they were several weeks ago are no longer relevant," the source told Israeli news website Ynet.

"Israel is preparing to return to routine dealings with the Palestinians as they were before the negotiations started nine months ago.

"We are noticing a real coolness in the way the Americans are treating (the peace process), and it's obvious that today's Kerry is not the same Kerry from a few weeks ago," the official added.

A second official, however, said another chance needed to be given to the efforts of Israel's chief negotiator Tzipi Livni.

"We have to wait a few more days... A lot of efforts are being done to salvage the situation," the official said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, threatened to retaliate if the Palestinians proceed with applications to adhere to 15 international treaties.

"These will only make a peace agreement more distant," he said of the applications the Palestinians made on Tuesday.

"Any unilateral moves they take will be answered by unilateral moves at our end."

Netanyahu's remarks, made at the beginning of the weekly cabinet meeting, came hours before Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met US envoy Martin Indyk in an attempt to save the peace process.

The three-way meeting began in the afternoon and ended in the evening in Jerusalem.

Kerry, the driving force behind the peace push, warned on Friday that there were "limits" to the time and energy Washington could devote to the talks process, as his appeals to both sides to step back from the brink fell on deaf ears.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas rejected Kerry's plea to withdraw the treaty applications, and Netanyahu ignored US appeals to refrain from tit-for-tat moves, asking for a range of retaliatory options.

Israel says Abbas's move was a clear breach of the commitments the Palestinians gave when the talks were relaunched in July to pursue no other avenues for recognition of their promised state.

The Palestinians say Israel had already reneged on its own undertakings by failing to release a fourth and final batch of prisoners a week ago, and that the treaty move was their response.

"They refused to free the prisoners and that's why there's no progress," said the Palestinian source.

- 'Facts on the ground' -

"The Palestinians have much to lose from a unilateral move. They will get a state only through direct negotiations and not through empty declarations or unilateral moves," Netanyahu said.

"We are prepared to continue talks, but not at any price."

Netanyahu noted the Palestinian application to the international institutions came "the moment before agreeing on the continuation of the talks" beyond their April 29 deadline.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, general secretary of the Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee, blamed the latest talks crisis on Israel, which "wants to extend the negotiations for ever" as it creates "more facts on the ground."

"Israel always implements unilateral steps," he told Voice of Palestine radio, saying the Palestinians were already being punished by Israel.

Officials from Netanyahu down have been cautious not to specify the exact nature of punitive measures Israel might take.

But media reports mention preventing Wataniya Palestine Telecom from laying down mobile phone infrastructure in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, and halting Palestinian construction projects in parts of the West Bank.

Israel's chief negotiator, Justice Minister Livni, suggested that Washington scale down its "intensive" involvement in the process with the Palestinians.

"Part of what took place in the past months was primarily negotiations between us and the US, and less with the Palestinians," she told Channel 2 television on Saturday.

"We need bilateral meetings between us, including between the prime minister and Abu Mazen (Abbas)."

 

 

Deadline risk over Syria weapons delay: official

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:20 AMGo to full article
United Nations, United States (AFP) April 03, 2014 - Syria can still meet a June deadline for getting rid of its chemical weapons, but to do so must resume stalled weapons transfers now, an international coordinator told the UN Security Council Thursday.

Syria has suspended the transfers for what it says are security reasons, but on Sunday said it planned to resume them in the "coming days."

Sigrid Kaag, coordinator for the international operation to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, warned the council any further delay would make it "increasingly challenging" to stick to the June 30 deadline, according to diplomats.

"Assuming that operations restart immediately, operations could be achieved on time," diplomats quoted her as saying.

"I have repeated to Syrian authorities the need for a swift resumption of the removal operation. Operations have to restart immediately," she said.

Damascus agreed to give up its chemical weapons in September under a deal to ward off the threat of US air strikes.

The agreement was reached after deadly chemical attacks outside Damascus last August that the West blamed on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Kaag said there were 72 containers filled with chemical weapons ready to be transferred to the main Syrian port of Latakia for shipment out of the country.

Their removal from Syria would account for 90 percent of the country's stockpile, she said.

So far nearly 54 percent of the Syrian chemical arsenal has been disposed of.

A UN spokesman, Farhan Haq, urged Damascus "to resume movements as soon as possible to meet the timeline for the complete removal and destruction of chemical weapons."

Syria, which has missed a number of key deadlines, has blamed the delays on a lack of security caused by its three-year-old civil war.

Diplomats said US Ambassador Samantha Power and her French counterpart Gerard Araud also insisted that Damascus accelerate the removal of the remaining weapons, and cannot use security issues as an "excuse."

"Security should not be an excuse for delay. It should be a motive for speeding up removal," Power was quoted as saying.

Russia, however, said Syria had already given up more than half its arsenal and that the Syrian forces protecting the convoys moving the weapons had been the target of attack north of Latakia.

Bashar Jaafari, Syria's representative to the United Nations, called the situation around Latakia "alarming" and blasted the "terrorist groups" fighting his nation's military.

"Fights continue between the Syrian Army and terrorist groups who crossed the border from Turkey," said Jaafari, who said the combatants also have the support of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Al Qaeda and its affiliate Al-Nusra Front.

"The deadline set up by the Syrian government and OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) can not be respected fully unless the security situation evolves in the right direction," Jaafari said.

"Those with influence on those terrorist groups should do their best to guarantee that the convoys carrying the chemical material and the port at Latakia will not be attacked."

 

 

Two guerrillas, one sergeant killed in Paraguay clash

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:20 AMGo to full article
Asuncion (AFP) April 03, 2014 - Two members of a guerrilla group and an armed forces sergeant have been killed in a confrontation in central Paraguay, the interior ministry said Thursday.

The clash late Wednesday occurred in a cotton silo that was taken over by 15 members of the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP) who had kidnapped the Brazilian owner's 16-year-old son.

The skirmish occurred in the department of Concepcion, which along with neighboring San Pedro forms the turf of the Marxist-leaning EPP that has alleged ties to Colombia's FARC rebels and area marijuana dealers.

One of the killed guerrillas was identified as Bernardo Bernal Maiz, or "Coco," whom Interior Minister Francisco de Vargas categorized as "one of EPP's key figures."

The second was identified as Claudelino Silva.

"We've extended the search operation for the missing boy," the minister added.

A resident of the Azotey area, where the clash occurred, alerted authorities to the presence of insurgents.

The sergeant was killed after military and police arrived on the scene.

In operation since 2007, the EPP's 30 to 50 guerrillas are responsible for the death of 35 people, according to official reports.

 

 

Israel stops Palestinian prisoner release amid talks crisis

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:20 AMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) April 03, 2014 - Israel has called off the planned release of 26 Palestinian prisoners, placing already embattled peace talks in further jeopardy after both sides took steps Washington called "unhelpful".

Israel's chief negotiator with the Palestinians has told them that the planned release cannot go ahead, a source close to the embattled talks told AFP on Thursday.

A frustrated US Secretary of State John Kerry earlier demanded that recalcitrant Israeli and Palestinian leaders demonstrate leadership in the crisis-hit peace process.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told a meeting with her counterparts on Wednesday that the prisoner release could not happen because the Palestinians had resumed a diplomatic campaign meant to challenge Israel more fully in the international arena.

The talks hit a new impasse when Israel failed to free the prisoners as expected at the weekend.

In response, the Palestinians formally requested accession to several international treaties.

The source said Livni told the Palestinians that her government had been seeking to expedite the release when the Palestinians submitted their accession request to UN bodies, and that they had therefore breached their commitments under the terms of peace talks restarted under US auspices last July.

Livni urged the Palestinians to cancel the move and return to talks, the source said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney called Israel's decision a further "challenge" to peace efforts.

"The decision by the Israelis to delay the release of the fourth tranche of prisoners creates challenges," he said.

Shortly after news of the cancellation broke, four rockets fired from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip slammed into southern Israel, a military spokesman told AFP.

He said there were no casualties and army radio said all the rockets fell in open countryside.

US officials said that Kerry, who has pursued more than a year of intensive shuttle diplomacy, spoke by phone to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday afternoon, and to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas later, but they gave no details.

Kerry said in Algiers that Israelis and Palestinians made "progress" in lengthy overnight talks in Jerusalem, also attended by the Americans.

His efforts appeared to be on the brink of collapse this week after Israel announced a fresh wave of settlement tenders and the Palestinians resumed international recognition moves.

Settlements and international recognition are two of the touchiest issues dividing the two sides.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem are a source of much bitterness for Palestinians, who want these areas for their long-promised state.

Palestinian moves to join international treaties and organisations are meanwhile seen as a bid to unilaterally further their statehood claim.

Washington described the latest moves as "unhelpful, unilateral actions", but insisted diplomacy still had a chance.

Kerry threw down the gauntlet, telling both sides it was time for compromise at what he called a "critical moment" in the peace process.

"You can facilitate, you can push, you can nudge, but the parties themselves have to make fundamental decisions to compromise," he said.

"The leaders have to lead, and they have to be able to see a moment when it's there."

- Marathon overnight meeting -

He said, however, that progress was made at a meeting between Livni, US special envoy Martin Indyk and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat that lasted until 4:00 am Thursday.

The overnight marathon "focused on the necessity of releasing the prisoners", a Palestinian official told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that the applications for accession to several international treaties were "irreversible".

Each side accused the other of violating undertakings given when the talks began.

"Israel has a habit of evading agreements and conventions it has signed," Yasser Abed Rabbo, general secretary of the PLO executive committee, told AFP.

"That is why conditions for future negotiations must change radically."

The moves dealt a hammer blow to Kerry's frenetic efforts to broker an extension of the negotiations beyond their original April 29 deadline.

UN Middle East peace envoy Robert Serry confirmed receiving the Palestinian applications, with a spokesman for the secretary general saying they would consider the "appropriate next steps".

The first treaty the Palestinians applied to was the Fourth Geneva Convention, which holds huge symbolic importance as it provides the legal basis of their opposition to Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

In Israel, there was surprise and anger over the Palestinian move.

"The Palestinians have returned to a diplomatic intifada," one political official told Yediot Aharonot newspaper, using the Arabic word for uprising.

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UN receives Palestinians' requests to join treaties

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:20 AMGo to full article
United Nations, United States (AFP) April 02, 2014 - The UN's special envoy on Mideast peace, Robert Serry, has received requests from Palestinian officials to join 13 international conventions and treaties, the UN confirmed Wednesday.

The treaties include the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, the convention on the rights of the child, the convention against torture, and the one against corruption.

Once these applications have been officially received at the UN headquarters, "we will be reviewing them to consider the appropriate next steps," said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the secretary general.

The requests come as peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis were close to collapse, with Israel making a new bid to expand settlements in annexed Arab east Jerusalem and the Palestinians taking fresh steps towards seeking recognition of their promised state

The Palestinians had pledged to freeze all moves to seek membership in UN organizations during the talks in return for Israel's release of the veteran Arab prisoners.

"We hope a way can be found to see the negotiations through," UN spokesman Haq said, noting that Serry had met with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzipi Livni.

Envoys from the "quartet" -- the US, EU, UN, and Russia -- also spoke by telephone he said.

But Palestinian envoy to the UN Riyad Mansour said the requests were "a formality" and that their membership in the treaties would come into effect "30 days after the Secretary General receives the letter of accession."

"What we did is legal," he insisted, saying "it is our right" to join UN treaties and agencies, since the Palestinians obtained the status of an observer state in November 2012.

The Palestinian Authority has also asked Switzerland if it can join the Fourth Geneva Convention from August 1949 and the first additional protocol. And it has asked the Netherlands if it can join the Hague Convention of 1907 on laws and customs governing war.

"Our inclusion in the Geneva convention will be effective immediately because we are under occupation," Mansour claimed, adding that these applications are just a first wave, with more coming depending on "the interest of the Palestinian people" as well as "the behavior of Israel."

 

 

US criticises Israel, Palestinians for jeopardising talks

 
‎09 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:20 AMGo to full article
Ramallah, Palestinian Territories (AFP) April 03, 2014 - Israel and the Palestinians both drew criticism from the White House on Wednesday for tit-for-tat moves that have brought US-sponsored peace talks close to collapse.

More than 15 months of shuttle diplomacy by Secretary of State John Kerry were in jeopardy after Israel made a new bid to expand settlements in annexed Arab east Jerusalem and the Palestinians took fresh steps towards seeking recognition of their promised state.

White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest expressed disappointment at "unhelpful, unilateral actions both parties have taken in recent days".

He added that "tit-for-tat" actions were counterproductive but despite ominous signs, the US administration still believed diplomacy had a chance.

"There is a path for us to diplomatically find a way for there to be a safe, secure Jewish state of Israel existing alongside an independent, secure Palestinian state as well," Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were to hold late-night talks with US mediators in a bid to break the deadlock, a source close to the talks said.

The trigger for the crisis was Israel's refusal to release 26 Palestinian prisoners by a weekend deadline, prompting a Palestinian move to sign 15 international treaties as a way of unilaterally furthering their claim for statehood.

Both sides regarded the other's move as a violation of the undertakings they had given when the current round of peace talks were launched last July under Kerry's sponsorship after a three-year hiatus.

The moves left in tatters Kerry's frenetic efforts to broker an extension of the negotiations beyond their original April 29 deadline.

- 'Real process without tricks' -

Despite the treaty move, a senior Palestinian official insisted president Mahmud Abbas remained committed to the US peace efforts.

"The Palestinian leadership... wants the political process to continue. But we want a real political process, without tricks," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee.

Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Malki echoed the support for talks, but said the membership request for the international conventions had been submitted.

The United Nations confirmed its special envoy on Middle East peace, Robert Serry, had received Palestinian requests to join 13 international conventions and treaties.

"We will be reviewing them to consider the appropriate next steps," said Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the UN secretary general.

The treaties include the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, the convention on the rights of the child, the convention against torture, and one against corruption.

The Palestinian Authority has also asked Switzerland if it can join the Fourth Geneva Convention from August 1949 and the first additional protocol. And it has asked the Netherlands if it can join the Hague Convention of 1907 on laws and customs governing war.

- 'Everything has changed now' -

Palestinian envoy to the UN Riyad Mansour said the requests were "legal" and just a first wave, with more possible depending on Israel's behaviour.

In Israel, there was surprise and anger over the Palestinian move.

"Is this a partner for peace?" asked a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Everything has changed now. Is there even a deal now? We don't know."

One hardline minister warned it would cost the Palestinians dearly.

"They will pay a heavy price," Tourism Minister Uzi Landau told public radio, warning Israel could "apply sovereignty" over unspecified areas of the occupied West Bank.

In November 2012, the Palestinians won the status of an observer state in the United Nations, which allows them access to a number of conventions and international organisations.

But as part of a reciprocal arrangement that facilitated the resumption of peace talks last year, they pledged to freeze all moves to seek membership in UN organisations in return for Israel's release of the veteran Arab prisoners.

The Palestinians have repeatedly said when the nine-month peace talks end on April 29, they would resume moves to join UN agencies to further legal claims against Israel over its settlement construction on land they want for a future state.

Abbas said the first of the treaties he had applied to adhere to was the Fourth Geneva Convention, which holds huge symbolic importance for the Palestinians as it provides the legal basis of their rejection of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

 

 

 

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Pohang into 2nd round in Asian Champions League

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:28:57 PMGo to full article
OSAKA, Japan (AP) — South Korean club Pohang Steelers beat Japan's Cerezo Osaka 2-0 to secure a second-round spot in the Asian Champions League on Wednesday.
 

Geneva talks on Ukraine face steep hurdles

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:01:43 PMGo to full article
Soldiers from the Ukrainian Army sit atop combat vehicles as they are blocked by people on their way to the town of Kramatorsk, Wednesday, April 16, 2014. Pro-Russian insurgents commandeered six Ukrainian armored vehicles along with their crews and hoisted Russian flags over them Wednesday, dampening the central government's hopes of re-establishing control over restive eastern Ukraine. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)MOSCOW (AP) — Thursday's high-level talks in Geneva on Ukraine come as the country's eastern regions are awash in turmoil and pro-Russian insurgents have seized police stations and government buildings in at least nine cities.
 
 

Iranian negotiators reject hardline criticism of nuclear talks

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎08:41:20 PMGo to full article
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during an event to mark Nawroz, the Persian New Year, in KabulBy Michelle Moghtader ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Iranian hardliners stepped up criticism of Tehran's negotiations with world powers over its nuclear program on Wednesday, but negotiators defended the planned deal that could lead to an end to economic sanctions. The hardliners, unsettled by the shift to a more moderate foreign policy since President Hassan Rouhani took office in August, have repeatedly criticized the talks in recent months but Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei backs them. Iran and six world powers - the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China - struck an interim deal in November under which Tehran agreed to limit some of its nuclear work in return for the easing some sanctions imposed on Iran for its disputed atomic program.
 
 

Iran foreign minister to visit Russia next week

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:20:08 PMGo to full article
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on March 9, 2014 in TehranIran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will travel to Russia next week for a meeting of the countries that border the Caspian Sea, the official IRNA news agency reported. "Mr Zarif will arrive in Russia on Tuesday,' for the gathering of the Caspian Sea littoral states, Iran's ambassador to Russia, Mehdi Sanaei, wrote on his Facebook page. Since the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union, the nations that border the Caspian (Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan) have failed to agree on the sea's legal status.
 
 

Behind Assad's victory boasts, a recalibration of success in Syria

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:19:23 PMGo to full article
A slew of battlefield successes by the Syrian Army and its allies has prompted upbeat assessments from President Bashar al-Assad that his forces are headed for victory in the war against his rebel opponents. Mr. Assad predicted on Monday that the major battles could be over by the end of the year, while his ally, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, claimed that the Syrian leader no longer faced the risk of being overthrown. “This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the Army’s achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the [attacks] targeting our country,” Assad said. But a regime victory is unlikely to look anything like pre-war Syria. With vast tracts of northern and eastern Syria remaining in the hands of rebel groups, “winning” could simply mean retaking and holding parts of western Syria that are vital to the regime’s survival.
 

Official: Iran will not discuss missile program

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:26:28 AMGo to full article
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Tehran will not discuss its ballistic missiles as part of ongoing talks with world powers on a final agreement to curb the Iranian nuclear program, the country's defense minister said Wednesday.
 

Sanctions-hit Iran triumphs in football's RoboCup

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:58:06 AMGo to full article
A robot of Iran's Parand Azad University prepares to kick the ball during a match against 'Mechatronics Research Laboratory; from Iran's Azad University of Qazvin, during the RoboCup Iran Open 2014, in Tehran, on April 10Iran may be lumbered with economic sanctions but that did not stop a local team of robotics experts from sweeping aside German and Dutch rivals in football's RoboCup. On a green felt carpet, five teams -- three German, one Dutch and the other Iranian -- contested RoboCup's 9th edition in Tehran, with the robots trying to prod a red ball into the back of their opponent's net over two 10-minute halves. "The robots are completely autonomous -- we don't have any control on the game and they make their own decisions," said Novin Sharhoudi, 20, a student of software and computer engineering at Qasvin Azad University, northwest of Tehran. And unlike professional sport in which money can buy the best players, the RoboCup teams used identical machines designed by Aldebaran Robotics, a French company that also provided raw technical data for the programmers.
 
 

AP NewsBreak: Iran cuts nuke weapons ability

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:11:57 AMGo to full article
European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif, from left, arrive to address the media after closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, April 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)VIENNA (AP) — The United Nations will release a report this week certifying that Iran's ability to make a nuclear bomb has been greatly reduced because it has diluted half of its material that can be turned most quickly into weapons-grade uranium, diplomats said Tuesday.
 
 

US: No visa for Iran UN envoy over hostage crisis 'role'

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎11:58:32 PMGo to full article
An undated handout picture released by the official website of the Iranian president on April 11, 2014 shows Tehran's newly appointed UN ambassador Hamid AboutalebiThe United States said Tuesday it will not issue a visa to Iran's chosen UN envoy Hamid Aboutalebi because he was involved in the 1979 hostage crisis at the US embassy in Tehran. "Given his role in the events of 1979, which clearly matter profoundly to the American people, it would be unacceptable for the United States to grant this visa," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. It was the first time that Washington has publicly linked Aboutalebi to the hostage crisis when some 52 American diplomats and staff were held for 444 days by radical Iranian students. The protracted standoff profoundly shocked the United States and led to the severing of all diplomatic ties between the US and Iran for the past three decades.
 
 

Iran cuts proliferation-prone uranium stock

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎11:41:03 PMGo to full article
European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif, from left, arrive to address the media after closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna, Austria, Wednesday, April 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)VIENNA (AP) — Diplomats say the U.N. will certify later this week that Iran's ability to make a nuclear bomb has been reduced because it has neutralized half of its material that can be turned quickly into weapons-grade uranium.
 
 

Tickets for two-thirds of World Cup games sold out

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:37:52 PMGo to full article
A general view of the still unfinished Itaquerao stadium in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, April 15, 2014. The stadium that will host the World Cup opener match between Brazil and Croatia on June 12, will hold nearly 70,000 people in the opener, but after the World Cup its capacity will be reduced to about 45,000. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)SAO PAULO (AP) — Tickets for nearly two-thirds of the World Cup matches were sold out within hours of FIFA opening the final online sales phase on Tuesday.
 
 

Iran protests UN ambassador ban to United Nations

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:36 PMGo to full article
In this Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 photo provided by the office of the Iranian President, Hamid Aboutalebi, an Iranian diplomat, who was recently named as Iran's ambassador at the United Nations, speaks at his office in Tehran, Iran. Iran has no plans to name a new diplomat to the United Nations, its Foreign Ministry said Saturday, after the United States blocked its pick in a rare rebuke that could stir fresh animosity at a time when the two countries have been seeking a thaw in relations. The Obama administration said Friday that the U.S. had informed Iran it would not grant a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, a member of the group responsible for the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. While U.S. officials had been trying to persuade Iran to simply withdraw Aboutalebi's name, the announcement amounted to an acknowledgement that those efforts had not been successful. (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno)UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Iran has formally protested Washington's refusal to grant a visa to its new U.N. ambassador, saying the move damages international diplomacy and sets a "dangerous" precedent.
 
 

Rebel videos show first U.S.-made rockets in Syria

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:34:27 PMGo to full article
By Peter Apps LONDON (Reuters) - Online videos show Syrian rebels using what appear to be U.S. anti-tank rockets, weapons experts say, the first significant American-built armaments in the country's civil war. They would signal a further internationalization of the conflict, with new rockets suspected from Russia and drones from Iran also spotted in the forces of President Bashar al-Assad. None of that equipment, however, is seen as enough to turn the tide of battle in a now broadly stalemated war, with Assad dominant in Syria's central cities and along the Mediterranean coast and the rebels in the interior north and east. Some analysts suggested they might have been provided by another state such as Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, probably with Washington's acquiescence.
 

Saudi spy chief, architect of Syria policy, replaced

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:29:57 PMGo to full article
By Angus McDowall RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabian intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the architect of Riyadh's attempts to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has been removed from his post, state media reported on Tuesday. His departure, months after he was quoted warning of a "major shift" from the United States over its Middle East policy, may help to smooth relations with Washington as Riyadh pushes for more U.S. support for Syrian rebels. Prince Bandar, who has recently spent time in the United States and Morocco for medical treatment, was replaced on an interim basis by a deputy. "Prince Bandar was relieved of his post at his own request and General Youssef al-Idrissi was asked to carry out the duties of the head of general intelligence," state news agency SPA said, citing a royal decree.
 

Melbourne Victory upsets Guangzhou 2-0 in ACL

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:23:51 PMGo to full article
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Melbourne Victory sealed a 2-0 win over defending champion Guangzhou Evergrande on Tuesday to ensure a tense finish in Group G in the Asian Champions League.
 

U.S. adopts harsher tone in U.N. envoy dispute with Iran

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:05:15 PMGo to full article
The United States adopted a harsher tone toward Iran's proposed U.N. ambassador on Tuesday, calling Tehran's choice of Hamid Abutalebi "unacceptable" and tying him to the 1979-1981 U.S. hostage crisis in Tehran. While it did not detail what the veteran diplomat may have done during the period, when radical Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy and held 52 U.S. hostages for 444 days, the State Department for the first time linked the U.S. decision not to issue him a visa to those events. "He himself has said he was involved and, given his role in the events of 1979, which clearly matter profoundly to the American people, it would be unacceptable for the United States to grant this visa," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters at her daily briefing. Previously U.S. spokespeople used softer language, saying the choice was not "viable." The United States on Friday said it had told Iran it would not give Abutalebi a visa.
 

Iran's foreign minister holds talks in UAE

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:23:19 PMGo to full article
A picture made available by the United Arab Emirates' official news agency WAM shows Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum (C-R), ruler of Dubai, receiving Iranian FM Mohammed Javad Zarif (C-L) in Dubai on April 15, 2014Iran's foreign minister held talks Tuesday in the United Arab Emirates in Tehran's latest effort to mend fences with Gulf states suspicious of its nuclear programme and regional ambitions. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met the UAE Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also the ruler of Dubai, home to a sizable Iranian community, the WAM state news agency reported. The two discussed "bilateral relations... and ways to enhance peace and stability," WAM said, adding that Zarif delivered an invitation from President Hasan Rouhani to visit Tehran. Zarif delivered a similar invitation to the UAE president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, back in December, when he toured several Gulf countries.
 
 

'Syria rebels get US-made missiles'

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:08:46 PMGo to full article
Soldiers man mobile launchers of the US-made TOW anti-tank missiles during a drill held in the northern Taoyuan county on April 18, 2012Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad for the first time received at least 20 US-made TOW anti-tank missiles from a "Western source," a rebel official told AFP Tuesday. "Moderate, well-organised fighters from the Hazm movement have for the first time received more than 20 TOW anti-tank missiles from a Western source," the source said on condition of anonymity, and without specifying who had supplied the rockets. The Hazm movement, part of the opposition Free Syrian Army, brings together mainly ex-army officers and soldiers who defected from the military to join the revolt.
 
 

Tickets for two thirds of World Cup games sold out

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎06:07:46 PMGo to full article
SAO PAULO (AP) — Tickets for nearly two thirds of the World Cup matches have been sold out within hours of FIFA opening the final online sales phase.
 

Rouhani says Iran sanctions will unravel in months

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:31:09 PMGo to full article
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during an event to mark Nawroz, the Persian New Year, in KabulPresident Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday international sanctions on Iran would unravel in months following negotiations with world powers on its nuclear program, the official IRNA news agency reported. Some international sanctions imposed over Iran's nuclear program have been eased temporarily after a deal was reached last year with world powers, but Washington has said the lifting of sanctions can only happen "in total" after a comprehensive deal is reached. "Today we already see the sanctions unraveling," he said, according to IRNA, referring to the modest easing of sanctions in return for concessions made by Rouhani's government in nuclear talks with world powers. World powers want Iran to curb its nuclear activity, which Western nations fear is aimed at giving Tehran the capability to make a nuclear weapon.
 
 

Saudi renews demand for 'stern' world action on Syria

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:56:29 PMGo to full article
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud bin al-Faisal speaks to reporters during a joint press conference with his Algerian counterpart Ramtane Lamamra (unseen) following their meeting in Riyadh, on April 15, 2014Saudi Arabia Tuesday urged "stern" world action against Syria after the regime's decision to hold presidential elections and its alleged use of toxic gas against civilians. Saudi Arabia is one of the main backers of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war increasingly seen as a proxy battle between it and regional rival Iran. Syria's plan to hold elections is "an escalation and undermines Arab and international efforts to peacefully resolve the crisis based on the (outcomes of) the Geneva I conference," said Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. Syrian daily Al-Watan reported Tuesday that the date for the presidential elections will be announced next week and is expected to be around June.
 
 

Iran envoy visits Emirates in sign of warming ties

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:32:18 PMGo to full article
In this image released by the Emirates News Agency, WAM, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif, left, meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Prime Minister and ruler of Dubai to discuss bilateral relations and regional developments, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, April 15, 2014. (AP Photo/ WAM )DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — State media in the United Arab Emirates says Dubai's ruler has welcomed the Iranian foreign minister at his palace, a sign of warming ties between the two countries.
 
 

Concerned for stability, Saudi Arabia tightens curbs on dissent

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:29:50 PMGo to full article
Clouds move over the Riyadh skylineBy Sami Aboudi and Angus McDowall DUBAI/RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia, rattled by regional turmoil that has destabilized the Middle East, is intensifying a crackdown on domestic dissent, raising fears that a more open space for public debate that emerged in recent years is under threat. Social media, and what analysts describe as King Abdullah's efforts to foster a more open atmosphere since the turn of the century, have given Saudis greater scope than ever before to criticize the authorities and discuss topics once seen as taboo. But it believes it is under attack as never before, say analysts with close ties to the kingdom's elite, and sees Syria's civil war and Egypt's political crisis as posing a domestic threat as well as a foreign policy challenge. Responding to these perceived threats, Saudi Arabia has passed a set of laws that banned citizens from fighting abroad, donating money to any faction in Syria or sympathizing with militant ideologies.
 
 

Iran start World Cup camp in S. Africa with only 11 players

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:04:13 PMGo to full article
Iran's Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz attends his team's 2015 AFC Asian Cup qualifying match against Lebanon at the Azadi Stadium in Tehran on February 6, 2013Iran took off to South Africa on Tuesday for their first pre-World Cup training camp with only 11 players and no goalkeeper, local media reported. The camp, set to last until May 7, is Iran's first significant gathering since qualifying for the 2014 tournament last June and comes just 57 days ahead of the team's first match in Brazil. But four Iranian clubs -- Esteghlal, Sepahan, Foulad and Teraktor-Sazi, who are still involved in the Asian Champions League -- refused to let players join the national team. The poor turnout can only be considered a severe setback for the national side's prospects as a previous training camp was cancelled in September, due to a lack of funds.
 
 

Saudi Arabia: reported poison gas use by Syria is challenge to world

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:41:26 PMGo to full article
A wreckage of a car is seen amid damage at a site in Kaheel villageRIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on Tuesday said the "grave news" that President Bashar al-Assad's forces had carried out two poison gas attacks last week was a challenge to "international will". Rebels and the Syrian government have blamed each other for the alleged poison gas attacks on Friday and Saturday on rebel-held Kfar Zeita village in the central province of Hama. Both sides said chlorine gas had been used. ...
 
 

Iran asks for U.N. committee meeting on U.S. ban on envoy

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:29:29 AMGo to full article
By Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iran requested on Monday a special meeting of a U.N. committee on the United States' refusal to grant a visa to Tehran's new U.N. ambassador appointee, describing the decision as a dangerous precedent that could harm international diplomacy. The United States said on Friday it would not grant a visa to Hamid Abutalebi because of his links to the 1979-1981 Tehran hostage crisis when radical Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. "This decision of the U.S. government has indeed negative implications for multilateral diplomacy and will create a dangerous precedence and affect adversely the work of intergovernmental organizations and activities of their Member-States," Iran's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Hossein Dehghani wrote to the U.N. Committee on Relations with the Host Country. Cyprus U.N. Ambassador Nicholas Emiliou, who chairs the 19-member committee dealing with issues including immigration and security, said a meeting would likely be held next week.
 

Iran asks for U.N. committee meeting on U.S. ban on envoy

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎11:16:47 PMGo to full article
By Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iran requested on Monday a special meeting of a U.N. committee on the United States' refusal to grant a visa to Tehran's new U.N. ambassador appointee, but it has so far refrained from calling for any specific action, the committee's chairman said. The United States said on Friday it would not grant a visa to Hamid Abutalebi because of his links to the 1979-1981 Tehran hostage crisis when radical Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Iran has asked for a meeting of the U.N. Committee on Relations with the Host Country, said Cyprus U.N. Ambassador Nicholas Emiliou, who chairs the 19-member group which deals with issues including visas, immigration and security. Iranian Foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham was quoted by state news agency IRNA earlier on Monday as saying: "The official mechanisms for following up the complaint have been activated and we are going to follow up the case." President Barack Obama had come under strong pressure not to allow Abutalebi into the country to take up his position in New York.
 

Curitiba survives to watch world champion Spain

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎08:44:08 PMGo to full article
FILE - This Feb. 18, 2014 file photo shows a view of the Arena da Baixada from the field in Curitiba, Brazil. The southern Brazilian city will host matches during this year's World Cup. (AP Photo/Denis Ferreira Netto, File)CURITIBA, Brazil (AP) — Widely considered the most advanced city in Brazil, Curitiba was in serious danger of being excluded from the World Cup because of delays at its stadium.
 
 

Canadian company charged with breaching Iran sanctions law

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎08:21:38 PMGo to full article
By Nia Williams CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - A Canadian company will appear in court on Monday charged with violating international sanctions by trying to export components to Iran that could have nuclear applications. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said they launched an investigation into manufacturing company Lee Specialties Ltd after customs officers at Calgary International Airport intercepted Viton O-rings in May 2011 that were in a cargo shipment bound for Iran.
 

Iran asks UN chief to intervene in envoy row

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:05:24 PMGo to full article
An undated handout picture released by the official website of the Iranian president on April 11, 2014 shows Tehran's newly appointed UN ambassador Hamid AboutalebiIran on Monday urged United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to intervene directly in a row sparked by America's refusal to give Tehran's chosen UN envoy a visa. The spat over Hamid Aboutalebi has undermined a cautious thaw in relations after decades of enmity following the storming of the US embassy in 1979 and the subsequent hostage crisis. "We ask Mr Ban Ki-moon to step in and take the necessary action for resolving this issue," deputy foreign minister Majid Takht-Ravanchi told the official IRNA news agency. "The foreign ministry fully supports its pick and considers him an efficient, experienced and qualified person for this post and does not intend to nominate a new person," he said of Aboutalebi, who is a former ambassador to Australia, Italy and Belgium.
 
 

Turkey accuses Twitter of 'tax evasion', calls for local office

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎06:55:44 PMGo to full article
Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in AnkaraBy Orhan Coskun ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey urged executives from Twitter to open an office and start paying Turkish tax on Monday in the first direct talks since a two-week ban imposed on the site as the government battled a corruption scandal. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's government blocked Twitter and YouTube in March, drawing international condemnation, after audio recordings, purportedly showing corruption in his inner circle, were leaked on their sites. YouTube remains largely blocked in Turkey. The prime minister on Saturday accused Twitter of being a "tax evader", repeating his combative stance ahead of the talks between his government and the San Francisco-based company.
 
 

3 journalists for Hezbollah TV killed in Syria

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎06:46:30 PMGo to full article
Syrian tank arrives to take positionBEIRUT (AP) — Three journalists working with Hezbollah-owned Al-Manar TV were killed Monday after the car they were traveling in came under a hail of bullets in the Syrian town of Maaloula, the station said.
 
 

Belo Horizonte avoids World Cup delays

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎06:05:05 PMGo to full article
BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil (AP) — Belo Horizonte was one of the first Brazilian cities to be ready for the World Cup, avoiding the delays that marked the preparations of nearly all other host cities.
 

Party city of Salvador hosts 6 World Cup matches

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎06:03:42 PMGo to full article
SALVADOR, Brazil (AP) — Salvador is Brazil's party capital, and it's also known for its passionate football fans.
 

UN expert urges Iran to halt woman's execution

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:22:06 PMGo to full article
GENEVA (AP) — A United Nations human rights investigator is urging Iran to stop the planned execution of a woman said to be the victim of a sexual assault over concerns that she didn't receive a fair trial.
 

Israel says close to forging new ties across Arab world

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:06:35 PMGo to full article
Avigdor LiebermanBy Dan Williams JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel is holding secret talks with some Arab states that do not recognize it, looking to establish diplomatic ties based on a common fear of Iran, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Monday. Amongst the countries he was in contact with were Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Lieberman told newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth - the first such disclosure by a senior Israeli official. The two nations swiftly denied the existence of any talks with Israel. Both these states, along with most other Arab nations, have traditionally been highly hostile towards Israel, which has only signed peace deals with two neighbors - Egypt and Jordan.
 
 

Iran says oil barter deal with Russia very hard to seal

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎02:54:25 PMGo to full article
Iran and Russia will find it hard to agree any oil or gas trade deal because they are rivals in both markets, Iran's deputy oil minister for international trade said on Monday. Iran and Russia have been discussing various ways of increasing bilateral trade, including Moscow possibly taking up to 500,000 barrels a day of Iranian oil in exchange for Russian goods that Iran needs. Washington says such a deal would go against the terms of the interim nuclear deal between world powers and Iran.
 

Nuclear export group debates ties with Israel: document

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎02:43:53 PMGo to full article
Israel's PM Netanyahu addresses the 68th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New YorkBy Fredrik Dahl VIENNA (Reuters) - The United States and three European allies want a global body controlling nuclear exports to consider whether to establish closer ties with non-members including Israel, despite its assumed atomic arsenal, a confidential document showed. The issue is sensitive as Israel is outside a 1970 international pact designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and the Jewish state is widely believed to be the only country with such arms in the volatile Middle East. Arab states and Iran often criticize Israel for not signing up to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel and Washington say it is Iran, which is in the 189-nation NPT, that poses the region's most urgent proliferation threat, although Tehran says its program is for peaceful uses only.
 
 

Iran lodges complaint against United States over U.N. envoy ban: IRNA

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎01:11:40 PMGo to full article
Iran's delegation seats remain empty in the UN general assemblyIran has complained to the United Nations about the United States refusing to grant a visa to its newly appointed U.N. ambassador over his role in the 1979 hostage crisis, state news agency IRNA said on Sunday. Hamid Abutalebi has said that he acted only as a translator during the 444-day crisis when radical Iranian students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham was quoted by IRNA as saying that the issue had been "referred to the UN committee".
 
 

Israel says Kerry remarks on Iran nuclear threshold 'not acceptable'

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:40:44 PMGo to full article
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testifies at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while on Capitol Hill in WashingtonIsrael described as "unacceptable" on Monday remarks by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggesting cautious openness to negotiating a nuclear deal that would keep Iran six to 12 months away from bomb-making capability. "In the past, and also recently, what we heard from the Americans, including publicly, and from the Europeans and even from the Russians, was that Iran must be distanced years - not months but years - from nuclear weaponry," said Yuval Steinitz, the Israeli cabinet minister in charge of nuclear affairs. Iran, which denies seeking nuclear arms, is in talks with Washington and five other world powers on rolling back its work on uranium enrichment and a potentially plutonium-yielding reactor.
 
 

Hezbollah shifts tactics, narrative for Syria fight

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:13:21 PMGo to full article
A file picture taken on November 14, 2013 shows the head of Lebanon's militant Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah giving a speech during a massive Shiite Muslim commemoration in southern BeirutLebanon's Hezbollah movement is gaining new combat experience in Syria, shedding its guerrilla tactics to fight alongside an army, and shifting its narrative to explain the battle against "Sunni extremists". Its forces, who used their homeground advantage and methods such as underground tunnels against Israel's army in Lebanon, are now the targets of unconventional warfare on unfamiliar terrain in Syria. And the mothers of many of its fighters, who once sent their sons to battle the "Zionist enemy," now pray for them to be martyred fighting extremist Sunnis who make up part of Syria's opposition. The engagement in Syria has given the Shiite group a chance to initiate new recruits, experts say.
 
 

Iran official concerned for nuclear power plant

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎11:17:36 AMGo to full article
In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaks to a group of officials and scientists of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Iran's Supreme Leader urged Iran's negotiators Wednesday not to give in to "coercive words" from world powers at talks over Tehran's nuclear program. Iran is celebrating its National Nuclear Technology Day as talks with world powers over its contested program continue in Vienna. A Portrait of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini hangs in background.(AP Photo/Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader)TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's nuclear chief has raised concerns for the fate of the country's only running atomic power plant amid talks with the West about a final deal to curb Tehran's controversial nuclear program, a newspaper reported on Monday.
 
 

Israel minister warns Kerry over 'surrender' to Iran

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:34:20 AMGo to full article
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz arrives to attend an official dinner at the Royal Palace Huis ten Bosch in The Hague on March 24, 2014 on the first day of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS)Israel's intelligence minister Monday slammed as unacceptable comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry on negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme which he said indicated a "surrender" to Tehran. "The things Kerry said in the Congress are worrying, they are surprising and they are unacceptable," Yuval Steinitz, who is also strategic affairs minister, told public radio. We are not opposed to a diplomatic solution but we are against a solution which is entirely a surrender to Iran and which leaves it a threshold nuclear state," Steinitz said. Responding to reports that international negotiations with Iran should focus on extending the time it would take for Iran to produce nuclear weapons to between six and 12 months Kerry said the ultimate goal was assurance that Iran never build an atomic bomb but slowing the process would be an improvement on the current situation.
 
 

Iran says would be reliable gas supplier for Europe

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:18:20 AMGo to full article
View of phases 3 and 4 of the South Pars gas field in the southern Iranian port of Assaluyeh, pictured on January 27, 2011Frankfurt (AFP) - Iran could be a "reliable, secure and long-term" supplier of gas to Europe, Tehran's industry minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh said on Monday.
 
 

Family of ex-Marine in Iran sees hope of freedom

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:52:30 AMGo to full article
FILE - This undated file photo released by his family via FreeAmir.org shows Amir Hekmati. Hekmati, a former U.S. Marine being held in Iran over the past two years on accusations of spying for the CIA. The semiofficial ISNA news agency reported Saturday, April 12, 2014 that an appeals court has overturned a death sentence of an American man convicted of working for the CIA, instead sentencing him to 10 years in prison. Iran charged Hekmati with receiving special training and serving at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before heading to Iran for his alleged mission. Hekmati's father, a professor at a community college in Flint, Michigan, has said his son is not a CIA spy. (AP Photo/Hekmati family via FreeAmir.org, File)DETROIT (AP) — The family of a former U.S. Marine imprisoned in Iran since his 2011 arrest on spying charges is hopeful that he could be released soon because of recent developments in his case, including his conviction for a lesser offense, a family spokesman said Sunday.
 
 

Syria's Assad says war turning in regime's favour

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:24:51 AMGo to full article
A handout picture released on April 13, 2014 by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows President Bashar al-Assad at the Faculty of Political Sciences in DamascusPresident Bashar al-Assad said Sunday that the war that has torn Syria apart for three years and cost more than 150,000 lives is turning in the government's favour, state news agency SANA reported. Syria's army has made a series of advances in recent months, overrunning opposition bastions near the Lebanese border and in the central province of Homs. Syrian warplanes on Sunday launched fresh strikes on rebel strongholds on the edge of Damascus, some of which used highly destructive barrel bomb attacks, a monitoring group said. "Warplanes carried out two air strikes against areas of Douma," northeast of Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said adding that 13 people, including three children and three women, were killed in that particular raid.
 
 

Iran needs 30,000 new centrifuges for fuel

 
‎13 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎08:28:30 PMGo to full article
An unidentified IAEA inspector disconnects the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium production at the nuclear power plant of Natanz on January, 20, 2014Iran will need 30,000 of its new generation centrifuges to meet domestic fuel demands, far more than the current number, its nuclear chief said Sunday. Ali Akbar Salehi's comments came just days after the latest round of international talks in Vienna aimed at securing a long-term deal over Iran's disputed nuclear programme. The capability and number of centrifuges at Tehran's disposal has been a key concern among countries which suspect the Islamic republic's eventual goal is to build an atomic bomb. Iran currently has nearly 19,000 centrifuges, including 10,000 of the so-called first generation being used to enrich uranium.
 
 

The big test facing Iraq

 
‎13 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎06:54:03 PMGo to full article
Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister, looks out the cockpit window of a military helicopter at the thin blue waterway below – the site of one of the fiercest battles in modern history. The Russian-made chopper, part of Iraq's tiny Air Force, winds its way along the Shatt al-Arab waterway, on the border with Iran, which has shaped the two countries' tumultuous past. They are rusting relics from a devastating eight-year war three decades ago that began over access to the shallow ribbon of water – Iraq's only lane to the deep-sea waters of the Gulf. "When you see it on the ground, you see how sensitive these issues are ... and how stupid decisions destroyed this country," says Mr. Zebari, a onetime Kurdish guerrilla who fought Saddam Hussein's regime from the mountains and has been foreign minister throughout the life of postwar Iraq.
 

US ambassador: Talks with Iran continuing

 
‎13 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:58:22 PMGo to full article
In this Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 photo provided by the office of the Iranian President, Hamid Aboutalebi, an Iranian diplomat, who was recently named as Iran's ambassador at the United Nations, speaks at his office in Tehran, Iran. Iran has no plans to name a new diplomat to the United Nations, its Foreign Ministry said Saturday, after the United States blocked its pick in a rare rebuke that could stir fresh animosity at a time when the two countries have been seeking a thaw in relations. The Obama administration said Friday that the U.S. had informed Iran it would not grant a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, a member of the group responsible for the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. While U.S. officials had been trying to persuade Iran to simply withdraw Aboutalebi's name, the announcement amounted to an acknowledgement that those efforts had not been successful. (AP Photo/Iranian Presidency Office, Mohammad Berno)WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States' ambassador to the United Nations says talks about Iran's nuclear program are continuing undisturbed by Washington's decision to block Tehran's ambassador to the diplomatic body.
 
 

Saudi Arabia says seizes drugs worth $267 million, arrests six

 
‎13 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:55:24 PMGo to full article
Saudi Arabian police have arrested six people and seized illegal drugs worth 1 billion riyals ($267 million) that were being smuggled into the country from neighboring Bahrain, the Interior Ministry said on Sunday. Spokesman Major General Mansour Turki said five Saudi citizens and one Bahraini had been detained in the operation after police uncovered 22.6 million amphetamine pills hidden inside coils of barbed wire and rolls of plastic. All narcotics and alcohol are illegal in Saudi Arabia, which has a young population and applies sharia (strict Islamic law). In 2010 Saudi Arabia received around 7 tonnes of Captagon tablets, one of the most popular forms of amphetamine in the Middle East, representing around a third of total world supply, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

 

 

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Iraq's draft child marriage law seen as political stunt - and sign of times

 
‎17 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:54:57 PMGo to full article
Based on Shi'ite Islamic jurisprudence, the Ja'afari Law's advocates say it would bring regulation of personal status - comprising family law, wills and inheritance - into line with sharia religious law. Iraq's own clerical establishment does not back the bill, making its chance of success very slim. Critics say the draft is all about short-term political advantage, as Shi'ite Islamist parties compete with each other for votes in the run-up to April 30 elections in a highly-charged sectarian atmosphere. "It's a completely shameless political stunt," said Haider Ala Hamoudi, associate professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh who writes on Iraqi, Middle Eastern and Islamic Law.
 

Jordanian jihadis returning from Syria war rattle U.S.-aligned kingdom

 
‎17 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:43:47 PMGo to full article
Handout photo of a pickup truck on fire after it was hit by a Jordanian warplane following failure to heed warnings not to cross into Jordan from SyriaBy Suleiman Al-Khalidi AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordanian Islamist Ahmad Mahmoud fought with rebels in Syria for six weeks earlier this year, then slipped back across the border to seek treatment for a war wound - even though the authorities had warned him not to return. Within a week the bearded 23-year-old fighter found himself in the dock at a military court, facing terrorism charges filed by authorities who are taking an increasingly tough stance against homegrown militants fighting in Syria's civil war. Amman treats returning jihadists as a security threat to be nipped in the bud and, with an eye to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's potential to tough out the uprising against him, wants to keep channels open to a government with which it retains diplomatic and trade ties. Three years into Syria's civil war a growing number of Jordanian jihadists are coming home, some disillusioned by infighting within rebel ranks, others seeking a break from a draining and largely inconclusive conflict.
 
 

GSK, facing bribery claims, battles to build new sales model

 
‎17 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:41:23 PMGo to full article
The GlaxoSmithKline building is pictured in Hounslow, west LondonFollowing a decision to cut commercial ties with outside doctors, GSK expects to increase its in-house team of physicians by 10-20 percent over the next year or so from around 1,500 at present, Chief Medical Officer James Shannon told Reuters. GSK is now investigating claims that bribes were paid to doctors in Poland, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, following a much larger case of alleged bribery in China. Chinese authorities in July accused GSK of funneling up to 3 billion yuan ($483 million) to doctors and officials to encourage them to use its medicines in a case that the company has described as "shameful". The firm aims to become the first in the industry to stop paying outside doctors to promote its products, end payments for medics to attend conferences and delink incentives for sales representatives from individual sales targets.
 
 

Refugee crisis threatens to topple Jordan's economy

 
‎17 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:20:22 PMGo to full article
Over the last two years, Jordan's budget deficit has risen by two-thirds, to $19 billion and 80 percent of gross domestic product. The bad news only gets worse with an explanation: Jordan is buckling under the burden of accepting more than half a million Syrian refugees in just three years' time. The way our correspondent in Amman sees it, Jordan faces two choices: "either economic collapse, or the country shuts its border" to the 800 or so Syrians who cross each day. Closing the border would cause less direct damage to the economy, but would make Jordan a pariah and dry up what little funding it is receiving for its humanitarian efforts.
 

A year after marathon bombs, Boston hospitals apply lessons learned

 
‎17 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎02:03:03 PMGo to full article
Professor Herr, who heads the Biomechatronics research group at the MIT Media Lab, stands amid mannequins displaying various bionic limbs his lab has developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in CambridgeBy Svea Herbst-Bayliss BOSTON (Reuters) - The homemade bombs that ripped through the crowd at the finish line of last year's Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring 264, showcased the city's medical talent but also taught valuable lessons in responding to a mass disaster. By all accounts, Boston's hospitals performed well after the attacks on April 15, 2013. Looking back, a year after their hospitals were packed with blast victims, Boston officials have tweaked how they prepare for a disaster, now requiring city emergency medical personnel to carry tourniquets and developing a standard method for one city agency to track disaster victims in hospitals.
 
 

Putin says trust lost in ties with U.S. before Ukraine crisis

 
‎17 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎01:54:33 PMGo to full article
President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that trust between Russia and the United States had been damaged before the crisis in Ukraine, but that he wanted to restore their cooperation. "To a certain extent trust has been lost, but we do not think we are to blame," Putin said in a televised phone-in with the nation. He said it was U.S. hypocrisy that had brought relations to their worst level since the Cold War: "The United States can act in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya but Russia is not allowed to defend its interests." The two countries have been at odds over a range of issues, from U.S. missile defense plans to NATO expansion and the civil war in Syria. To improve ties, Putin said, the United States should respect others' interests and international law.
 

Gunmen attack Iraq military base, kill 10 soldiers

 
‎17 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:16:00 PMGo to full article
In this Friday, April 11, 2014 photo, masked anti-government gunmen hold their weapons in combat position in Fallujah, 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad, Iraq. Al-Qaida-linked fighters and their allies seized the city of Fallujah and parts of the Anbar provincial capital Ramadi in late December after authorities dismantled a protest camp. Like the camp in the northern Iraqi town of Hawija whose dismantlement in April sparked violent clashes and set off the current upsurge in killing, the Anbar camp was set up by Sunnis angry at what they consider second-class treatment by the Shiite-led government. (AP Photo)BAGHDAD (AP) — Militants launched a brazen attack on a military base in a restive area in northern Iraq on Thursday, killing at least 10 soldiers and wounding 12, officials said.
 
 

Militants kill 12 soldiers in north Iraq

 
‎17 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:10:21 PMGo to full article
Iraqi Shiite mourners carry the coffin of a soldier killed in the northern city of Mosul during his funeral procession in Najaf, on February 24, 2014Mosul (Iraq) (AFP) - Militants armed with automatic weapons attacked a military position in northern Iraq on Thursday, killing 12 soldiers, police and a morgue employee said.
 
 

Little government response to bombing a year later

 
‎17 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:01:54 PMGo to full article
FILE - This April 15, 2013 file photo shows medical workers aid injured people following an explosion at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon in Boston. In the days after the Boston Marathon bombing, the nation’s political leaders pledged resources and support for a city grappling with the first terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001. But nearly a year after homemade bombs ripped through the marathon's finish line, there is little evidence of any lasting impact on the political world. Federal funding that helps cities prepare for terrorism may be cut. And state and federal officials have enacted virtually no policy changes in response to the attack, a dramatic departure from previous acts of terrorism that prompted a wave of government action. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)BOSTON (AP) — A year after homemade bombs ripped through the Boston Marathon, state and federal officials have enacted virtually no policy changes in response to the attack, a dramatic departure from previous acts of terrorism that prompted waves of government action.
 
 

Syria most dangerous country for journalists

 
‎17 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:21:26 AMGo to full article
A young Syrian journalist carries a camera and a gun to protect himself, on February 9, 2014 in a street in AleppoSyria is the world's most dangerous country for journalists a US-based watchdog said Wednesday as it published its annual impunity index tracking unsolved killings of reporters. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reported a "rising number of targeted killings" of reporters in Syria as a recent threat to journalists operating in the war-torn country. "With unprecedented numbers of abductions and high rates of fatalities in combat and crossfire, Syria was already the world's most dangerous country for journalists," CPJ said.
 
 

NYPD Spying Is Alive and Well

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎11:35:00 PMGo to full article
NYPD Spying Is Alive and WellUndercover officers and informants will continue to provide intelligence on members of the Islamic community, police officials say.

 

Iraq: Abu Ghraib prison closure not permanent

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎08:46:15 PMGo to full article
FILE - This is a 2003 file image obtained by The Associated Press which shows an unidentified detainee standing on a box with a bag on his head and wires attached to him in late 2003 at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq. An Iraqi Justice Ministry official said Wednesday, April 16, 2014 that this week's closure of the infamous Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad is temporary and that it will be reopened once the security situation in the surrounding area is stable. The closure is the latest chapter in the history of the prison, which during Saddam Hussein's rule was one of the main facilities for jailing and executing his opponents. After the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam, Abu Ghraib became notorious once again, for a 2004 scandal over abuses of detainees by American guards. (AP Photo, File)BAGHDAD (AP) — An Iraqi Justice Ministry official said Wednesday that this week's closure of the infamous Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad is temporary and that it will be reopened once the security situation in the surrounding area is stable.
 
 

Government says Iraqi murder allegations against its troops a conspiracy

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎08:35:03 PMGo to full article
Soldiers from 12 Regiment Royal Artillery mark their return from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as they process through the streets of BlackpoolAllegations British troops unlawfully killed up to 20 Iraqi men at an army camp in 2004 were part of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, the British government told a public inquiry into the deaths on Wednesday. "The untruthful allegations cannot be attributed to honest mistakes or misunderstandings," lawyers for Britain's Ministry of Defence said in a closing submission to the inquiry, which has cost at least 27 million pounds. "They are the product of a conspiracy between a number of the Iraqi core participants to pervert the course of justice." Almost three years after the final British troops left Iraq in 2011, costly inquiries about the war have helped keep alive a public debate about why Britain got involved in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and how the war was conducted. Despite their allegations, lawyers for relatives of the dead Iraqis said last month there was insufficient evidence to back their clients' main claim of unlawful killing, which relates to events during and after a battle in southern Iraq on May 14, 2004.
 
 

UK says Iraqi murder allegations against its troops a conspiracy

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎08:16:10 PMGo to full article
Mizal Karim Al-Sweady holds a photograph of his dead son Hamid Al-Sweady after giving evidence to the Al-Sweady Inquiry in LondonAllegations British troops unlawfully killed up to 20 Iraqi men at an army camp in 2004 were part of a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, the British government told a public inquiry into the deaths on Wednesday. "The untruthful allegations cannot be attributed to honest mistakes or misunderstandings," lawyers for Britain's Ministry of Defence said in a closing submission to the inquiry, which has cost at least 27 million pounds ($45 million). "They are the product of a conspiracy between a number of the Iraqi core participants to pervert the course of justice." Almost three years after the final British troops left Iraq in 2011, costly inquiries about the war have helped keep alive a public debate about why Britain got involved in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and how the war was conducted. Despite their allegations, lawyers for relatives of the dead Iraqis said last month there was insufficient evidence to back their clients' main claim of unlawful killing, which relates to events during and after a battle in southern Iraq on May 14, 2004.
 
 

Al-Nusra chief killed by rivals in Syria

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎08:14:10 PMGo to full article
Members of the jihadist group Al-Nusra Front fire homemade mortar rounds during fighting on February 8, 2014 in the Syrian village of AzizaBeirut (AFP) - Jihadist militants of the Islamist State of Iraq and the Levant have killed the head of the Al-Nusra Front and his family in northern Syria, a monitoring group said Wednesday.
 
 

Medal of Honor for 'uncommon valor' high in the Hindu Kush

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎08:09:18 PMGo to full article
In the hours before a vicious ambush in which Sgt. Kyle White’s heroic actions would earn him the Medal of Honor, a platoon of US soldiers from Chosen Company, 173rd Airborne, were on their way to a meeting with the elders of a small village in a violent border region of far eastern Afghanistan.  Sergeant White’s platoon was traveling under cover of darkness, accompanied by a squad of Afghan soldiers, from its own COP to the village. It would be shortly afterward that the US soldiers would be deceived by the villagers, prompting the battle that cost the lives of six Americans and three Afghan soldiers and for which White is being recognized for his “uncommon valor and perseverance” that November day in 2007.
 

Obama looks to salvage Asia 'pivot' as allies fret about China

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:51:37 PMGo to full article
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a Civil Rights Summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act at the LBJ Presidential Library in AustinBy Matt Spetalnick and Manuel Mogato WASHINGTON/MANILA (Reuters) - When a Philippine government ship evaded a Chinese blockade in disputed waters of the South China Sea last month, a U.S. Navy plane swooped in to witness the dramatic encounter. The flyover was a vivid illustration of the expanding significance of one of Asia's most strategic regions and underscored a message that senior U.S. officials say President Barack Obama will make in Asia next week: The "pivot" of U.S. military and diplomatic assets toward the Asia-Pacific region is real. Washington's Asian allies, however, appear unconvinced. During Obama's four-nation tour of Asia that begins on April 23, his toughest challenge will be to reassure skeptical leaders that the United States intends to be more than just a casual observer and instead is genuinely committed to countering an increasingly assertive China in the region.
 
 

Watchdog: Rise in targeted media killings in Syria

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:31:31 PMGo to full article
Watchdog: Rise in targeted media killings in SyriaA spike in targeted murders of journalists in Syria landed the war-shattered country for the first time on the Committee to Protect Journalists' annual Impunity Index, joining a list of countries where ...
 
 

Rand Paul Will Not Be Tricked Into Telling Voters How He Would Deal With Iran

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎06:43:45 PMGo to full article
Rand Paul Will Not Be Tricked Into Telling Voters How He Would Deal With IranKentucky Sen. Rand Paul wrote a column for The Washington Post on Wednesday in which he clarified a position that has come under fire: He opposes allowing Iran to get nuclear weapons and he opposes statements meant to demonstrate to America's opposition to its getting nuclear weapons. His 2010 Senate campaign drew some attention to his foreign policy positions, in large part as he tried to differentiate his views from his father's. On the 2008 campaign trail, then-Rep. Ron Paul became popular with younger voters by advocating a staunchly isolationist worldview, opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — and pretty much everywhere else. In an interview on ABC that aired Sunday, Paul stepped outside of the mainstream entirely, indicating to Jonathan Karl that a policy of containment on Iran — accepting the country's nuclear weapons without resorting to military conflict — could work. "We woke up one day and Pakistan had nuclear weapons.
 
 

GlaxoSmithKline discloses new bribery inquiries

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎06:30:51 PMGo to full article
NEW YORK (AP) — British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline is looking into allegations of bribery within its operations in Jordan and Lebanon.
 

UN deploys Ugandan guard unit in Somali capital

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:51:51 PMGo to full article
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — About 400 Ugandan troops will be deployed to Somalia under a new United Nations guard unit charged with protecting U.N. staff and installations in the violence-prone Somali capital, Ugandan military officials said.
 

Bombers kill five at Iraq provincial govt compound

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:16:53 PMGo to full article
An Iraqi security officer walks past a crater at the site of twin suicide bombing the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, on April 16, 2014Ramadi (Iraq) (AFP) - Two suicide bombers blew up vehicles rigged with explosives outside a government compound in the Iraqi city of Ramadi on Wednesday, killing five people, police and a doctor said. The twin attacks come as Iraq struggles to regain control of Anbar province, where anti-government fighters have held parts of Ramadi and all of the city of Fallujah, to its east, since early January. The bombers each attacked one of the two entrances to the compound, which includes the governor's office, provincial council building and a military headquarters, a police lieutenant colonel and an army captain said. The crisis in the desert province erupted in late December when security forces dismantled Iraq's main Sunni Arab anti-government protest camp just outside Ramadi, the provincial capital.
 
 

Behind Assad's victory boasts, a recalibration of success in Syria

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:19:23 PMGo to full article
A slew of battlefield successes by the Syrian Army and its allies has prompted upbeat assessments from President Bashar al-Assad that his forces are headed for victory in the war against his rebel opponents. Mr. Assad predicted on Monday that the major battles could be over by the end of the year, while his ally, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, claimed that the Syrian leader no longer faced the risk of being overthrown. “This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the Army’s achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the [attacks] targeting our country,” Assad said. But a regime victory is unlikely to look anything like pre-war Syria. With vast tracts of northern and eastern Syria remaining in the hands of rebel groups, “winning” could simply mean retaking and holding parts of western Syria that are vital to the regime’s survival.
 

Officials say attacks kill 8 in western Iraq

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎01:08:13 PMGo to full article
In this Friday, April 11, 2014 photo, masked anti-government gunmen hold their weapons in combat position in Fallujah, 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of Baghdad, Iraq. Al-Qaida-linked fighters and their allies seized the city of Fallujah and parts of the Anbar provincial capital Ramadi in late December after authorities dismantled a protest camp. Like the camp in the northern Iraqi town of Hawija whose dismantlement in April sparked violent clashes and set off the current upsurge in killing, the Anbar camp was set up by Sunnis angry at what they consider second-class treatment by the Shiite-led government. (AP Photo)BAGHDAD (AP) — Officials in Iraq say suicide attacks against security forces in a restive western city have killed at least eight security personnel.
 
 

Obama’s Tax Rate Hypocrisy

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎11:45:00 AMGo to full article
Obama’s Tax Rate HypocrisyHe says it’s ‘not right’ for multimillionaires to pay less in taxes than their secretaries, but he’s done just that for years. It’s just another way Obama has lost his moral authority.
 
 

Today in History

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎06:01:09 AMGo to full article
Today is Wednesday, April 16, the 106th day of 2014. There are 259 days left in the year.
 

Former Army sergeant to receive Medal of Honor

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:46:28 AMGo to full article
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will award the Medal of Honor to former Army Sergeant Kyle J. White, who put his own life at risk in an hours-long effort to save fellow service members during a 2007 ambush in Afghanistan.
 

Ex-U.S. defense secretary knows accuracy of his tax return is unknown

 
‎16 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:00:46 AMGo to full article
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld arrives at the 46th annual Academy of Country Music Awards in Las VegasBy Bill Trott WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Donald Rumsfeld has a new addition to his list of known unknowns - the accuracy of his 2013 tax filing. Rumsfeld, who was U.S. defense secretary under President George W. Bush, posted a picture on Twitter of the letter he sent to the Internal Revenue Service, saying he had submitted his tax return by Tuesday's deadline but that he had "absolutely no idea whether our tax returns and tax payments are accurate." That was despite his being a college graduate and having paid an accounting firm to prepare his return, he said.
 
 

Militia leader pleads guilty to ID theft

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎11:41:16 PMGo to full article
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A self-described militia commander from Minnesota who was charged with stealing identification information from members of his former Army unit at Fort Bragg in North Carolina has pleaded guilty to identity theft.
 

FYI: Your Political Opponents Don't Want Their Taxes Paying for Your Stuff, Either

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎08:22:45 PMGo to full article
FYI: Your Political Opponents Don't Want Their Taxes Paying for Your Stuff, EitherIt is Tax Day in these United States, a good time to remind American citizens that taxes 1) aren't super fun to pay, 2) are used to pay for things you're not happy with, and 3) this is the cost of being an American citizen in these United States. 
 
 

Officer dies in helicopter crash as Iraq violence kills 7

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎08:14:43 PMGo to full article
Rescuers carry away victims following a mortar attack in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, on April 15, 2014A senior army officer died when his helicopter crashed due to a malfunction, the defence ministry said, as violence in Iraq killed seven people on Tuesday. Iraq is suffering a protracted surge in violence that has claimed more than 2,550 lives this year. The heightened unrest has been driven mainly by widespread anger among the Sunni Arab minority, who say they are mistreated by the Shiite-led government and security forces. Lieutenant General Hassan Karim Khudayr was killed when his helicopter experienced a "technical defect" during landing north of Baghdad, the defence ministry said in an emailed statement, without specifying when the incident occurred.
 
 

Media group names award after AP's Niedringhaus

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:53:01 PMGo to full article
Media group names award after AP's NiedringhausA women's media group has created a new award for courage honoring Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus, who was killed on assignment in Afghanistan, the group announced Tuesday. The International ...
 
 

'Syria rebels get US-made missiles'

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:08:46 PMGo to full article
Soldiers man mobile launchers of the US-made TOW anti-tank missiles during a drill held in the northern Taoyuan county on April 18, 2012Syrian rebels fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad for the first time received at least 20 US-made TOW anti-tank missiles from a "Western source," a rebel official told AFP Tuesday. "Moderate, well-organised fighters from the Hazm movement have for the first time received more than 20 TOW anti-tank missiles from a Western source," the source said on condition of anonymity, and without specifying who had supplied the rockets. The Hazm movement, part of the opposition Free Syrian Army, brings together mainly ex-army officers and soldiers who defected from the military to join the revolt.
 
 

First women move into Army platoon artillery jobs

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎06:29:01 PMGo to full article
In this photo taken Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 1st Lt. Kelly Requa is interviewed at Ft. Bragg, N.C. Requa is breaking new ground at Fort Bragg. She’s one of a small number of female lieutenants brought into lead a cannon platoon at the North Carolina base. By January 2016, the U.S. military must open all combat jobs to women or explain why any must remain closed. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — Under a canopy of trees on the edge of a large field, soldiers from Bravo Battery are lying in a circle as they pore over targeting charts. Nearby, others are preparing the howitzer cannons as helicopters swoop overhead. At the edge of the circle, the platoon leader watches as the field artillerymen go through their training exercise.
 
 

Alabama man sentenced in murder-for-hire plot to kill neighbor

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎05:06:34 PMGo to full article
(This April 14 story was corrected to say "raping" instead of "having an affair" in paragraph 3, and changes "trial" to "hearing" in paragraph 4) BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) - An Alabama man who tried to hire members of the Ku Klux Klan to torture and murder his African-American neighbor was sentenced on Monday to six years in prison. Allen Wayne Densen Morgan, 30, pleaded guilty in October to charges of using interstate facilities in an attempt to commit a murder for hire. Prosecutors said Morgan spoke with an FBI agent posing as a Ku Klux Klan member and offered to pay him if he killed his neighbor. Morgan falsely suspected the neighbor of raping his wife.
 

In Ukraine, NATO sticks to a war of words against Russia

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:57:46 PMGo to full article
By Luke Baker BRUSSELS (Reuters) - From the moment Russia first moved on Ukraine and seized Crimea, NATO has not lost an opportunity to admonish Moscow for its actions, warning that peace in Europe is under threat and the sovereignty of a friend being violated. Yet between NATO's tough rhetoric and its ability and willingness to act, there is now a substantial gap, one that Russia is exploiting. The 28-country alliance - on paper the world's most powerful military organization - has no intention of getting militarily involved in Ukraine. The risks of escalation with Russia are far too great, and neither President Barack Obama nor his European allies have any appetite for war.
 

Saudi renews demand for 'stern' world action on Syria

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:56:29 PMGo to full article
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud bin al-Faisal speaks to reporters during a joint press conference with his Algerian counterpart Ramtane Lamamra (unseen) following their meeting in Riyadh, on April 15, 2014Saudi Arabia Tuesday urged "stern" world action against Syria after the regime's decision to hold presidential elections and its alleged use of toxic gas against civilians. Saudi Arabia is one of the main backers of the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war increasingly seen as a proxy battle between it and regional rival Iran. Syria's plan to hold elections is "an escalation and undermines Arab and international efforts to peacefully resolve the crisis based on the (outcomes of) the Geneva I conference," said Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. Syrian daily Al-Watan reported Tuesday that the date for the presidential elections will be announced next week and is expected to be around June.
 
 

Concerned for stability, Saudi Arabia tightens curbs on dissent

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎04:29:50 PMGo to full article
Clouds move over the Riyadh skylineBy Sami Aboudi and Angus McDowall DUBAI/RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia, rattled by regional turmoil that has destabilized the Middle East, is intensifying a crackdown on domestic dissent, raising fears that a more open space for public debate that emerged in recent years is under threat. Social media, and what analysts describe as King Abdullah's efforts to foster a more open atmosphere since the turn of the century, have given Saudis greater scope than ever before to criticize the authorities and discuss topics once seen as taboo. But it believes it is under attack as never before, say analysts with close ties to the kingdom's elite, and sees Syria's civil war and Egypt's political crisis as posing a domestic threat as well as a foreign policy challenge. Responding to these perceived threats, Saudi Arabia has passed a set of laws that banned citizens from fighting abroad, donating money to any faction in Syria or sympathizing with militant ideologies.
 
 

Iraq Kurds dig trench on Syria border to block militants

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:39:43 PMGo to full article
A member of Iraqi security forces looks on during the digging operations to build a trench on the northern Iraqi border with Syria to prevent people from crossing over into Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region, on April 13, 2014 in ZakhoArbil (Iraq) (AFP) - Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region is digging a trench along its border with Syria to prevent the infiltration of militants and smuggling from the war-racked country, officials say. "The trench is designed to prevent the infiltration of members of terrorist groups and stop smugglers," Halkurd Mullah Ali, the spokesman for the Kurdish region's peshmerga security ministry, told AFP. The trench is 17 kilometres (10 miles) long, two metres (yards) deep and three metres wide, and is "part of an Iraqi (federal) government strategy" to protecting the country's 600 kilometre border with Syria.
 
 

Iraq shuts infamous Abu Ghraib prison over security fears

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:33:46 PMGo to full article
A file picture taken on August 1, 2003 shows US Captain David L. Phillips, of the 94th Engineer Combat Battalion, taking pictures during a media tour of the renovated cells at Abu Ghraib prison, 15 kilometeres west of BaghdadIraq has closed Abu Ghraib prison, made infamous by Saddam Hussein's regime and US forces, due to security concerns following a mass breakout last year, the justice ministry said Tuesday. The country is suffering a protracted surge in violence that has claimed more than 2,550 lives this year, and the area west of Baghdad where the prison is located is particularly insecure. The ministry announced online the "complete closure of Baghdad Central Prison, previously (known as) 'Abu Ghraib,' and the removal of the inmates in cooperation with the ministries of defence and interior." The statement quoted Justice Minister Hassan al-Shammari as saying 2,400 inmates arrested or sentenced for terrorism-related offences have been transferred to other facilities in central and northern Iraq.
 
 

Poland: NATO should send troops to east Europe, ignore Russia's objections

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎01:42:36 PMGo to full article
By Marcin Goettig and Marcin Goclowski WARSAW (Reuters) - Russia's military intervention in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula makes it vital that NATO station significant numbers of troops in eastern Europe and ignore any objections Russia might have in this respect, Poland's defense minister said. Tomasz Siemoniak, in an interview with Reuters, said western Europe was safe thanks to the U.S. military presence there, adding that Russia's military was ready to intervene in Poland's neighbor, Ukraine.
 

First women move to Army platoon artillery jobs

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎01:13:50 PMGo to full article
In this photo taken Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 1st Lt. Kelly Requa is interviewed at Ft. Bragg, N.C. Requa is breaking new ground at Fort Bragg. She’s one of a small number of female lieutenants brought into lead a cannon platoon at the North Carolina base. By January 2016, the U.S. military must open all combat jobs to women or explain why any must remain closed. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — Under a canopy of trees on the edge of a large field, soldiers from Bravo Battery are lying in a circle as they pore over targeting charts. Nearby, others are preparing the howitzer cannons as helicopters swoop overhead. At the edge of the circle, the platoon leader watches as the field artillerymen go through their training exercise.
 
 

Iraq closes notorious prison over security issues

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎11:29:26 AMGo to full article
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's justice minister says authorities have closed down a notorious prison west of Baghdad over security concerns.
 

The End of Ideology?

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:00:00 AMGo to full article
And President Obama is widely blamed for the perceived decline in worldwide respect for the United States. Yet, still, one hears no clamor from Middle America for "Action This Day!" to alter the perception that America is in retreat. If Japan and China fight over islets 10,000 miles away, islets that few Americans can find on a map, why should we get into it? One explanation for America's turning away from these wars is that we see no vital interest in these conflicts — from Syria to Crimea, Afghanistan to Iraq, the South China Sea to the Senkaku Islands.
 

Alabama man sentenced in murder-for-hire plot to kill neighbor

 
‎15 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:52:16 AMGo to full article
An Alabama man who tried to hire members of the Ku Klux Klan to torture and murder his African-American neighbor was sentenced on Monday to six years in prison. Allen Wayne Densen Morgan, 30, pleaded guilty in October to charges of using interstate facilities in an attempt to commit a murder for hire. Prosecutors said Morgan spoke with an FBI agent posing as a Ku Klux Klan member and offered to pay him if he killed his neighbor. Morgan falsely suspected the neighbor of having an affair with his wife.
 

Ooredoo Launches Series of Initiatives to Enable Arab Youth to Reach their Aspirations

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎11:33:00 PMGo to full article
DOHA, Qatar, April 14, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Ooredoo's support for "human growth" has seen its companies roll-out a number of new initiatives in recent months, aiming to enable young people to fulfill their hopes and aspirations. One of Ooredoo's most successful programmes has been the Najja7ni ("Make Me Succeed") platform of mobile services in Tunisia, launched in collaboration with Silatech, which supports youth employability and financial inclusion in a country where young people face 30 percent unemployment.
 

Manning's conviction, 35-year sentence upheld

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎10:28:57 PMGo to full article
FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, file photo, Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who now wishes to be known as Chelsea Manning, is escorted to a security vehicle outside a courthouse in Fort Meade, Md., after a hearing in his court-martial. The lawyer representing Chelsea Manning in her appeals says the soldier’s 35-year sentence for leaking classified information is out of proportion with her offenses. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)An Army general has upheld Private Chelsea Manning's conviction and 35-year prison sentence for giving reams of classified U.S. government information to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, the Army said Monday.
 
 

Militants close dam as Iraq violence kills 15

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:51:13 PMGo to full article
Iraqi men move a boat that was stuck on the banks of the Euphrates river in Twairij after supplies were blocked by anti-government fighters who control access to a dam further upstream, on April 8, 2014Militants have closed all gates of a Euphrates River dam they control in Iraq, blocking a major water source, a minister said on Monday, while violence killed 15 people. The latest unrest comes amid a protracted surge in nationwide bloodshed that has claimed more than 2,550 lives so far this year and sparked fears of Iraq slipping back into the all-out sectarian killings of 2006 and 2007. The unrest has been driven principally by widespread anger among the Sunni Arab minority over claims of mistreatment at the hands of the Shiite-led government and security forces, as well as by the civil war in neighbouring Syria. Militants have "completely closed the gates of the Fallujah dam since yesterday (Sunday) morning," Water Resources Minister Muhanad al-Saadi said in a statement.
 
 

Army general upholds Manning's prison sentence in WikiLeaks case

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎09:46:30 PMGo to full article
A U.S. Army general has denied clemency for Chelsea Manning and upheld the former soldier's 35-year prison sentence for providing secret files to WikiLeaks in the biggest breach of classified materials in U.S. history, the Army said Monday. Major General Jeffrey S. Buchanan's decision to uphold the findings of Manning's 2013 court-martial will automatically send the case to the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, an Army statement said. The soldier, formerly known as Bradley Manning, was working as an intelligence analyst in Baghdad in 2010 when she gave the pro-transparency site WikiLeaks 700,000 documents, videos, diplomatic cables and battlefield accounts.
 

U.S. lawmakers visit Afghanistan to press case for troops to stay

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎07:32:09 PMGo to full article
U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner answers a question during his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in WashingtonThe Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, is leading a delegation of Republican lawmakers on a trip to Afghanistan to underscore their call for U.S. forces to remain there and also to review the country's presidential election, Boehner's office said on Monday. Boehner and seven other House Republicans met with U.S. troops, the U.S. ambassador and the commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan during the two-day visit that began on Sunday. The April 5 vote is meant to usher in Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power as President Hamid Karzai steps down after 12 years and Western forces prepare to depart after more than a decade of war. Democratic President Barack Obama plans to withdraw most, or possibly all, U.S. forces from Afghanistan this year, winding down a conflict that began following the September 11, 2001, attacks.
 
 

Torture 'routinely' used in Syria, UN rights chief says

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:53:42 PMGo to full article
A Syrian man shows marks of torture on his back, after he was released from regime forces, in the Bustan Pasha neighbourhood of Syria's northern city of Aleppo on August 23, 2012The UN's human rights chief on Monday condemned the "routine" use of torture in Syrian detention facilities, as a new report said victims were raped, beaten and had their teeth and toenails pulled out. Navi Pillay said torture was routinely used in government detention facilities as well as by some armed groups in Syria, where more than 150,000 people have been killed in a bloody civil war. "In armed conflict, torture constitutes a war crime," said the UN rights commissioner. "When it is used in a systematic or widespread manner, which is almost certainly the case in Syria, it also amounts to a crime against humanity."
 
 

Report: Glaxo bribed doctors in Poland

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎03:02:36 PMGo to full article
LONDON (AP) — The BBC reports that pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline is accused of bribing doctors to prescribe medicines in Poland.
 

Global military spending drops, led by US: SIPRI

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:56:08 PMGo to full article
A sailor guards a Russian navy ship in the Bay of Sevastopol on March 9, 2014World military expenditure fell in 2013 as the United States and other Western countries cut back, but spending in emerging economies grew, a Swedish think tank said on Monday. The 1.9 percent global decline followed a 0.4 percent drop in 2012, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said. "The increase in military spending in emerging and developing countries continues unabated," said Sam Perlo-Freeman, director of SIPRI's Military Expenditure Programme. The world spent $1.75 trillion (1.26 trillion euro) on the military in 2013, according to SIPRI's data, which accounted for inflation.
 
 

Hezbollah shifts tactics, narrative for Syria fight

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:13:21 PMGo to full article
A file picture taken on November 14, 2013 shows the head of Lebanon's militant Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah giving a speech during a massive Shiite Muslim commemoration in southern BeirutLebanon's Hezbollah movement is gaining new combat experience in Syria, shedding its guerrilla tactics to fight alongside an army, and shifting its narrative to explain the battle against "Sunni extremists". Its forces, who used their homeground advantage and methods such as underground tunnels against Israel's army in Lebanon, are now the targets of unconventional warfare on unfamiliar terrain in Syria. And the mothers of many of its fighters, who once sent their sons to battle the "Zionist enemy," now pray for them to be martyred fighting extremist Sunnis who make up part of Syria's opposition. The engagement in Syria has given the Shiite group a chance to initiate new recruits, experts say.
 
 

Ft. Hood Fallout: Mental Screening for Military Recruits

 
‎14 ‎April ‎2014, ‏‎12:00:00 PMGo to full article
Military recruits might have a new hurdle to overcome before joining the armed forces: a mental health test. Lawmakers from both parties in Washington are coalescing around legislation that would require military recruits to undergo a mental screening, much like they have to pass medical and physical exams, before starting boot camp. Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) introduced his measure on March 27, a week before the Fort Hood shooting left four soldiers dead and 16 injured. Since then, the bill’s cosponsors nearly doubled, and the measure has the support of House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), whose district includes Fort Hood.