China tightens border controls with N. Korea: U.S. diplomat

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE USA TODAY NEWSPAPER)

China tightens border controls with N. Korea: U.S. diplomat

BEIJING – Chinese officials have told the U.S. that they’ve tightened inspections and policing along the border with North Korea as part of U.N. sanctions aimed at halting Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile activities, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia said Friday.

Beijing’s action reflects a growing awareness about the urgent need for China to pressure North Korea into halting its testing of missiles and nuclear bombs, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton told reporters in Beijing. President Donald Trump’s administration has made a renewed push to enlist Beijing’s help in those efforts following a meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping last month.

Touching on other areas of the relationship, Thornton said the new administration has not changed its commitment to greater engagement with countries in the Asia-Pacific region or its approach to naval operations in the disputed South China Sea.

On North Korea, the U.S. has seen a “shift in emphasis” in China’s approach to its fellow communist neighbor, Thornton said.

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“They’ve said that they have stepped up border inspections, beefed up sort of the policing function on the border, stepped up customs inspections,” she said. Beijing has also done “a number of other things on companies” that have dealings with North Korea, Thornton said, without giving details.

The U.S. has been talking to Beijing about taking action against specific firms and is waiting to see what sort of action China will take, she said.

China has signed on to U.N. sanctions and suspended coal imports from North Korea through the rest of the year, but has been generally reticent about what other steps it may be taking to use its leverage as Pyongyang’s most important trading and diplomatic partner.

Lu also reiterated China’s call for a renewal of six-nation denuclearization talks that have been on ice since 2009, saying the parties should “be flexible, meet each other halfway, and return to the negotiating table as soon as possible.”

Thornton said the U.S., China and others were also in talks on a future U.N. resolution on North Korea in order to cut the time needed to take action following another nuclear or missile test.

“So we’re looking at trying to get going on the next set of major measures that would be taken in the wake of another provocation,” Thornton said. Such measures could include ratcheting up economic pressure on the North by targeting trade in consumer goods, possibly including textiles, she said.

Despite Lu’s comments later in the day, Thornton said Beijing officials now realize more pressure is needed before dialogue can be restored.

“And so they know now that they don’t have, I think, as much time to try to bring the North Koreans to the table, get their calculus changed and get them to the negotiating table as they may have previously thought,” she said.

Adding to that, Beijing also seems to have recognized that North Korea’s actions were “undermining China’s own security in pretty major ways,” Thornton said.

“They do recognize that it’s going to be pretty hard to have a dialogue while the North Koreans are shooting off missiles,” she said.

North Korea exploded two nuclear devices last year, one of which it claimed was a hydrogen bomb. Satellite imagery suggests it could be ready to conduct its next test — its sixth — at any time.

On Monday, Pyongyang said it is ready to start mass-producing a new medium-range missile after a weekend test-launch confirmed its combat readiness. The regime’s oft-stated goal is to perfect a nuclear warhead that it can put on a missile capable of hitting Washington or other U.S. cities.

Some outside the administration have been less sanguine about China’s willingness to work with the U.S. on North Korea, while Beijing officials say their influence with Pyongyang has been exaggerated. China maintains that while it wants to neutralize North Korea as a threat, it opposes harsh sanctions or other measures that could bring down young leader Kim Jong Un’s regime, leading to a potential outflow of refugees and South Korean and American troops on the Chinese border.

China continues to pay lip service to cracking down on North Korea but there’s been “little evidence of actual pressure,” said Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.

Cheng also criticized China for pressuring South Korea not to deploy a sophisticated U.S. anti-missile system aimed at countering North Korea. Beijing says the system threatens its own security with its ability to peer deep into northeastern China.

“In short, China has made clear that Seoul, even in the face of North Korean missile tests, should place Chinese concerns above the security of their own people,” Cheng said.

While there have been reports that the Trump administration was reconsidering Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia, Thornton said Washington has made no substantial changes.

That followed the U.S. Navy’s sailing a destroyer near a Chinese man-made island in the South China Sea on Thursday in a “freedom of navigation” operation aimed at challenging what the U.S. considers excessive territorial claims in the strategic waterway that Beijing claims virtually in its entirety.

Washington’s approach is “engagement with Asia to show that we’re still present in the region, that we’re going to keep our security commitments in the region, certainly support for our allies and with North Korea as a focal point on the security front,” Thornton said.

Intel Report: Iran Refining Nuke Delivery System in Flagrant Violation of Ban

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON FREE BEACON)

Intel Report: Iran Refining Nuke Delivery System in Flagrant Violation of Ban

Increased ICBM work offers pathway to long-range nuclear weapon

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats / Getty Images

BY:
May 12, 2017 2:45 pm

Iran continues to make critical technological strides in its efforts to perfect an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering nuclear weapons over great distances, efforts that violate international prohibitions, according to the director of national intelligence, who informed Congress this week that the Islamic Republic “would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons.”

The disclosure comes just days after Iranian leaders announced the upcoming launch of two new domestically produced satellites. Iran has long used its space program as cover for illicit missile work, as the know-how needed to launch such equipment can be applied to long-range ballistic missile technology.

Daniel Coats, America’s top spymaster, informed Congress this week in an intelligence briefing that Iran’s ballistic missile work continues unimpeded and could be used by the Islamic Republic to launch a nuclear weapon, according to unclassified testimony.

Iran’s ballistic missile work, particularly its focus on ICBMs, runs counter to United Nations resolutions barring such activity, though it remains unclear if the Trump administration plans to pursue new sanctions on Iran.

Iran continues to perform key research and development on nuclear missile capabilities despite the landmark nuclear agreement with Western powers, according to the last U.S. intelligence assessments.

“Iran is pursuing capabilities to meet its nuclear energy and technology goals and to give it the capability to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons, if it chooses to do so” Coats wrote in his written testimony to the Senate intelligence committee.

U.S. officials are unsure if Iran will build nuclear weapons, but it is likely this intention would dictate Tehran’s future adherence to the nuclear deal, which the administration of former President Barack Obama framed in such a way as to leave out the issue of ballistic missiles.

The United States assesses that Iran remains about a year away from a functional nuclear missile if it decides to build one in violation of the nuclear deal.

Iranian military leaders claim their missile work is unrelated to the nuclear agreement and permissible under it. The country’s refusal to abandon this work has caused concern on Capitol Hill, as well as among U.S. national security insiders who view the work as related to Iran’s aspirations for regional dominance.

The U.S. intelligence community maintains that Iran—which has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East—likely would use this technology to launch a nuclear weapon.

“We judge that Tehran would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons, if it builds them,” according to Coats. “Iran’s ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD, and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East.”

“Tehran’s desire to deter the United States might drive it to field an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM),” Coats wrote, referring to Iran’s covert missile work. “Progress on Iran’s space program could shorten a pathway to an ICBM because space launch vehicles use similar technologies.”

Iran “continues to leverage cyber espionage, propaganda, and attacks to support its security priorities, influence events and foreign perceptions, and counter threats—including against U.S. allies in the region,” Coats testified.

This includes cyber attacks “directly against the United States,” such as in 2013, when an Iranian hacker penetrated the computer systems of a U.S. dam.

Iran also is pursuing a massive buildup of its military, which observers have described as unprecedented.

 

The U.S. intelligence community has confirmed that Iran is developing “a range of new military capabilities to monitor and target U.S. and allied military assets in the region, including armed UAVs [drones], ballistic missiles, advanced naval mines, unmanned explosive boats, submarines and advanced torpedoes, and anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles,” according to Coats.

U.S. says time to act on North Korea, China says not up to Beijing alone

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

U.S. says time to act on North Korea, China says not up to Beijing alone

By Michelle Nichols and Lesley Wroughton | UNITED NATIONS

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned on Friday that failure to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile development could lead to ‘catastrophic consequences,’ while China and Russia cautioned Washington against threatening military force.

Washington has recently lavished praise on Beijing for its efforts to rein in its ally Pyongyang, but Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made clear to the U.N. Security Council it was not only up to China to solve the North Korean problem.

“The key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side,” Wang told the 15-member council in remarks contradicting the White House belief that it does wield significant influence.

The ministerial meeting of the council, chaired by Tillerson, exposed old divisions between the United States and China on how to deal with North Korea. China wants talks first and action later, while the United States wants North Korea to curtail its nuclear program before such talks start.

“It is necessary to put aside the debate over who should take the first step and stop arguing who is right and who is wrong,” Wang told the council. “Now is the time to seriously consider resuming talks.”

Tillerson responded: “We will not negotiate our way back to the negotiating table with North Korea, we will not reward their violations of past resolutions, we will not reward their bad behavior with talks.”

North Korea did not take part in the meeting.

In Tillerson’s first visit to the United Nations he scolded the Security Council for not fully enforcing sanctions against North Korea, saying if the body had acted, tensions over its nuclear program might not have escalated.

“Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences,” he said.

The United States was not pushing for regime change and preferred a negotiated solution, but Pyongyang, for its own sake, should dismantle its nuclear and missile programs, he said.

“The threat of a nuclear attack on Seoul, or Tokyo, is real, and it’s only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the U.S. mainland,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson repeated the Trump administration’s position that all options are on the table if Pyongyang persists with its nuclear and missile development, but Wang said military threats would not help.

‘FRIGHTENING’ CONSEQUENCES

Wang said dialogue and negotiations were the “only way out.”

“The use of force does not solve differences and will only lead to bigger disasters,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that a “major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov cautioned on Friday that the use of force would be “completely unacceptable.”

“The combative rhetoric coupled with reckless muscle-flexing has led to a situation where the whole world seriously is now wondering whether there’s going to be a war or not,” he told the council. “One ill thought out or misinterpreted step could lead to the most frightening and lamentable consequences.”

Gatilov said North Korea felt threatened by regular joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises and the deployment of a U.S. aircraft carrier group to waters off the Korean peninsula.

China and Russia both also repeated their opposition to the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system in South Korea. Gatilov described it as a “destabilizing effort,” while Wang said it damaged trust among the parties on the North Korea issue.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told the council that to bring North Korea back to the table the international community “must send a strong message that provocation comes at a high price.”

“There is no doubt that dialogue is necessary … however under the current situation where North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, meaningful dialogue is clearly not possible,” he said.

The Trump administration is focusing its North Korea strategy on tougher economic sanctions, possibly including an oil embargo, a global ban on its airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks doing business with Pyongyang, U.S. officials told Reuters earlier this month.

Since 2006, North Korea has been subject to U.N. sanctions aimed at impeding the development of its nuclear and missile programs. The council has strengthened sanctions following each of North Korea’s five nuclear tests.

(Editing by Frances Kerry and James Dalgleish)

Hezbollah And It’s Illegal Actions (According to the UN treaty) In South Lebanon

  • (THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR)
  • Correspondent

APRIL 25, 2017 The stated objective of the Hezbollah-coordinated press tour of southern Lebanon was to see new Israeli defensive installations on the border – indications, according to the powerful Shiite Lebanese militia, of Israeli fears of Hezbollah’s growing military might.

But as the convoy of vehicles carrying a large group of Lebanese and foreign reporters reached the outskirts of this village on the Mediterranean coast, around a dozen uniformed Hezbollah fighters came into view in an orange orchard on the side of the road. Clutching rifles, machine guns, and grenade launchers, their faces streaked in black cream, the fighters stood still and silent, in a frozen tableau.

The unprecedented spectacle appeared to be a deliberate and calculated breach of a UN Security Council resolution that bans non-state forces from bearing arms in southern Lebanon, and it illustrated the unmatched sway Hezbollah wields, and the impunity it enjoys throughout the country. That is the culmination of more than a decade in which Iran’s key ally amassed influence and power to defend its military priority against those who wish to see the group disarmed.

Viewing Hezbollah fighters in the field is rare enough, but this brief, subtly-delivered roadside display served to signal Hezbollah’s defiance and autonomy to multiple audiences. They included Israel, the Lebanese government, and UNIFIL, the United Nations peacekeeping force deployed in south Lebanon, whose headquarters lay less than a mile away from the orchard.

The display of defiance was staged at a time of growing Hezbollah-Israel tensions. Hezbollah’s main strategic objective, analysts say, and one of its guiding principles in the complex arena of Lebanese politics, is to preserve its right to bear arms and its military prerogatives vis-à-vis Israel.

“Hezbollah wants to protect its right to fight Israel at a time of its choosing, and to secure its Shiite base’s political and economic rights in an antiquated sectarian political system,” says Randa Slim, a Hezbollah expert at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “To do the former, it needs a secure strategic depth in Syria, maintain and fully control its weapons arsenal in Lebanon, and a home-front that is not at war with itself.”

On the border

Opponents of Hezbollah say the border tour was another example of the party behaving above the law and holding the country hostage to its anti-Israel agenda.

“The tour … is considered an insult to the Lebanese state’s standing and a new threat to Lebanon’s relationship with the international community,” said Sami Gemayel, leader of the Kataeb Christian party.

UNIFIL was clearly unaware of the nature of the tour, although it acknowledged that shortly before it began, the Lebanese Army had informed it of a media visit to the border.

The reporters, many of them laden with cameras and video equipment, marched along a narrow path that weaved through an old Israeli minefield to reach within 100 yards of a large Israeli Army listening post bristling with antennas and containing giant golf-ball-shaped radars.

The location is usually out of bounds to the public, and the sight of dozens of reporters entering the area to film the Israeli outpost caught nearby Italian peacekeepers by surprise.

“No, no, no,” admonished an Italian UNIFIL officer, running up to the reporters with his finger wagging in the air. But a Lebanese Army officer accompanying the tour took him by the shoulder and walked him back down the path. More stony-faced Italian soldiers looked on as the reporters departed the scene shortly afterwards in their vehicles.

“This was an assault on UNIFIL’s credibility and ability to operate along the Blue Line,” says Aram Nerguizian, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, referring to the UN’s name for Lebanon’s southern border.

Overture to the UN

Stung by Hezbollah’s bold display, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri hurried to Naqoura the next day to meet with UNIFIL officials and reassure them that it is Lebanon’s government that controls the southern border, not Hezbollah.

“What happened yesterday is something that we, as a government, are not concerned with and do not accept. So I came here to emphasize that our role as a government is to preserve Resolution 1701,” Mr. Hariri told reporters, referring to the UN Security Council resolution that helped end the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, in part by the ban on non-state weapons near the border.

Hariri, accompanied by the minister of defense and the commander of the Lebanese Army, added that his trip was intended “to tell the Lebanese armed forces that they and only they are the legitimate force in charge of defending our borders.”

The rare Hezbollah-arranged tour was held amid growing concerns in some quarters since January that a new war between Hezbollah and Israel may be imminent. The election of President Trump and his administration’s vow to roll back the influence of Iran, Hezbollah’s sponsor, across the Middle East has given rise to feverish speculation that the Lebanese group, which has gained invaluable battle-field experience in Syria’s civil war and amassed thousands of new surface-to-surface missiles, could come under attack by Israel.

Furthermore, Israel has repeatedly warned that the growing influence of Hezbollah in Lebanon since the two-month 2006 war means that in the next conflict the Jewish state will treat Lebanon as the enemy, rather than limit its operations to Hezbollah alone. With that threat in mind, Hariri, while at UNIFIL headquarters, called on the UN to help turn the current cessation of hostilities with Israel into a permanent cease-fire to offset the chances of another highly destructive war.

Hezbollah’s priorities

Ali Fayyad, a Hezbollah parliamentarian, nevertheless dismissed “exaggerated interpretations” of the tour and insisted in a statement that “the resistance [Hezbollah] is in a defensive position and that it is seeking to consolidate … stability in the south based on the equation of deterrence with the Israeli enemy.”

Hezbollah’s opponents say the party controls the levers of power over the Lebanese state in order to safeguard its own interests. While that is generally true, such criticism can ring hollow in a country where politicians of all political persuasions are widely seen as routinely exploiting state resources either for personal enrichment or to fund patronage networks on which their popular support rests.

And while Hezbollah’s influence within the Lebanese state today reaches into political, economic, security, and judicial spheres, analysts say its principle motive is less the acquisition of power but to defend and sustain what it calls its resistance priority – the anti-Israeli military component that lies at the heart of the party’s ideology.

Still, Hezbollah’s determination to hold onto its formidable military assets and the attempts by its opponents to de-fang the party have caused more than a decade of political divisions between the Hezbollah-led March 8 parliamentary coalition, oriented toward Iran and Syria, and the rival, pro-Western March 14 coalition, headed by Hariri. Sectarian tensions have soared and on occasions the country has come close to collapse.

When Hezbollah spent the 1990s battling Israel’s occupation of south Lebanon, its armed status was sanctioned by successive Lebanese governments and guaranteed by neighboring Syria, then the dominant force in Lebanon. After Israel withdrew its troops in May 2000, Syria continued to provide cover for Hezbollah’s military wing despite growing calls in Lebanon for its disarmament.

String of domestic victories

But that fig leaf was removed with Syria’s political disengagement from Lebanon in April 2005, two months after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the current premier’s father, for which Damascus was blamed by many.

With Syria gone, Hezbollah had to take a more proactive stance to defend its weapons even as its domestic enemies sniffed new opportunities to have it disarmed. Hezbollah struck alliances with Shiite and Christian parties, joined the government for the first time, and used its weight to block legislation that threatened its interests.

It even resorted to taboo-breaking violence in May 2008, storming the western half of Beirut in response to a government decision to shut down its private telecoms network. The action triggered several days of sectarian fighting that brought the country to the brink of civil war before the government was humiliatingly forced to rescind its earlier decision.

More recently, Hezbollah was able to secure the election of its Christian ally, Michel Aoun, as president. The previous incumbent left office in May 2014 and both sides submitted candidates. But Hezbollah and its allies refused to attend parliamentary sessions to elect a new president unless assured that Mr. Aoun would carry the vote. Hariri and his allies sought a compromise by dropping their own candidate and nominating another Christian ally of Hezbollah.

Still Hezbollah dug in its heels, insisting on Aoun. After a two-and-a-half-year deadlock, Hariri yielded to Hezbollah’s demand and Aoun was elected last November in a deal that saw Hariri appointed prime mininister. The result has effectively left the March 14 coalition shattered beyond repair, its leaders either marginalized or compelled into reluctant cooperation with Hezbollah.

That has left Hezbollah effectively the victor of the political battle that shaped post-2005 politics in Lebanon with no serious domestic challenge to its armed status.

“So far, Hezbollah’s assessment is that it can achieve its interests and the means to achieving them without ruling Lebanon – especially now that Michel Aoun is the president,” says Ms. Slim, the Hezbollah expert. “The moment any of these means are threatened, as we have seen in the case of [the anti-regime uprising in] Syria, Hezbollah will fight back.”

How to Defuse the Crisis with North Korea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

How to Defuse the Crisis with North Korea

WASHINGTON — I have been meeting with North Korean government officials for over two decades, first for almost 10 years as part of my job at the State Department, and then as a researcher working at universities and think tanks. This experience has made me familiar with the North Koreans’ views on safeguarding their country’s security. I believe that President Trump is making a big mistake if he thinks that the threat of a military strike and escalating sanctions will persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

Following a two-month review, the Trump administration has moved to implement a policy that emphasizes pressure — including the threat of military force and new sanctions against North Korea, as well as new restrictions intended to punish Chinese businesses with ties to Pyongyang. While the theory is that doing so will persuade North Korea to stop its provocative behavior, return to negotiations and give up its nuclear weapons, it won’t work that way. These threats will make the North Korean government only more likely to dig in its heels and move forward with its nuclear and missile programs, embroiling the United States in a festering crisis on the Korean Peninsula that could escalate out of control.

For more than 60 years, North Korea has successfully resisted not only pressure from great powers, mainly the United States, but also attempts at manipulation by its patrons, the Soviet Union and China. This reflects a strong nationalism but also a principle dear to the North Koreans: that as a small country in a life-or-death confrontation with the world’s most powerful nation, any display of weakness would amount to national suicide.

A longstanding, deeply ingrained view in Pyongyang is that Washington’s real agenda is to get rid of the North Korean regime because of the military threat it poses to American allies like South Korea and Japan, its widespread human rights violations and now its nuclear arsenal.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to reassure the North during his visit to Tokyo last month, saying, “North Korea and its people need not fear the United States or their neighbors in the region who seek only to live in peace with North Korea.” But Vice President Mike Pence’s assertion in Seoul this week that the United States seeks to end repression in North Korea, when viewed from Pyongyang, clearly translates into a policy of regime change.

Threats like these reinforce a view in Pyongyang that North Korea needs nuclear weapons to shield it against a much larger, much more powerful country. That’s a message I have heard repeatedly from the North Koreans, most recently in a private meeting I attended with government officials who stated that their country would not have developed nuclear weapons if it did not see the United States as a threat or had not been subjected to American and South Korean provocations. American actions in other countries — whether backing regime change in Libya or launching airstrikes against Syria for its use of chemical weapons — strengthen that view.

The Trump administration may also be mistaken if it believes that China will rein in North Korea. President Trump’s effort to establish cooperation with China, combined with the threat of American military action against the North, seems to be yielding some results, as China recently threatened to impose new sanctions on North Korea. But how far will China go?

There are legitimate concerns in Beijing that too much economic pressure on North Korea will trigger dangerous instability there. Moreover, the North Koreans are just as likely to resist Chinese strong-arm tactics as they are American pressure. Attempts by China to send top-ranking diplomats to Pyongyang over the past week were reportedly rejected out of hand by North Korea. Most observers forget that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is aimed at China as well as the United States and its allies.

In the weeks ahead, the combination of underestimating North Korean intransigence and overestimating China’s influence will expose the Trump administration’s inability to stop North Korea’s nuclear program and could escalate tensions. Pyongyang’s bellicose statements threatening thermonuclear war, the display of new missiles at a parade this past weekend and the failed test on Sunday of a missile able to reach targets in Northeast Asia could be North Korea’s opening moves.

If the Trump administration’s current course continues, it will lead to a dead end. Pyongyang will push forward with its nuclear and missile programs, American threats will ring increasingly hollow if force is not exercised because of the very real risks of triggering a North Korean military response against South Korea and Japan, and Beijing’s support will soften as it looks for a way out of the tensions. As a result, the administration will end up trapped in a policy no-man’s land, its only options to retreat back to the Obama administration’s failed policy of “strategic patience” (without, of course, saying so) or doubling down on sanctions aimed at China and deploying more missile defense and forces to the region.

Time is not on President Trump’s side. The administration should seriously consider pivoting away from pressure to soon resuming dialogue with North Korea. In fact, the United States government should already be quietly talking to the North Koreans, either through contacts with Pyongyang’s United Nations mission or elsewhere, emphasizing Washington’s resolve to defend American interests and making clear that the United States does not have hostile intentions toward North Korea. The Americans should also make clear that they want to explore peaceful paths forward.

The next step for the administration should be to initiate “talks about talks,” allowing both sides to raise their concerns — in the case of the United States, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. If common ground is found — and if the North is willing to address the objective of eventually achieving a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula — the two would then move on to the resumption of formal negotiations.

There are no guarantees that this approach will work. But the Trump administration’s constant refrain that “all options are on the table” should mean just that — not only a military strike but also a diplomatic offensive. In doing so, President Trump would avoid the policy quagmire just over the horizon, strengthen cooperation with China and give Pyongyang a face-saving way out of the current confrontation before it’s too late.

(The New York Times)

Egypt And U.S. Share Comprehensive Efforts To Combat Terrorism

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Cairo – Conflicts in the Arab region, most notably in Syria, Libya and Yemen, should be resolved, stressed Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry.

The minister added there is a possibility to contain terrorism through Western intelligence agencies, not just military operations.

Speaking to Asharq al-Awsat, the FM said that certain known factories are providing terrorist organizations with arms and equipment, calling for serious and effective cooperation to end this.

Shoukry pointed out that the US administration shares the same vision as Egypt in countering terrorism. He also discussed the situation in the region and the importance of giving people a chance to end their struggles and solve their problems.

When asked if there were any initiatives for a solution in Yemen, Shoukry replied that they are monitoring the UN envoy and other countries’ efforts to establish a resolution according to the agreed bases, such as the outcomes of the national dialogue, the Gulf initiative and supporting the legitimacy.

On terrorism, the FM stressed that Egypt will continue to fight it, especially after the two attacks on the Tanta and Alexandria Churches earlier in April.

Shoukry stated that he believes terrorism is expanding because the international effort that has been established did not succeed in containing terrorism, except in Iraq recently.

He added that the situations in Syria and Libya are complicated and terrorist organizations are spreading in Africa. He also cited the frequent attacks in Europe and Egypt that are evidence of the continued presence of these terror organizations.

According to the minister, the international community should “credibly tackle the matter because it is impossible that these organizations receive weapons and support unbeknownst to the western intelligence.”

Shoukry said: “If there a real international will to fight terrorism, then the international community should begin with determining how these terrorist organizations receive all these advanced weapons and equipment.”

The FM said it is “impossible” that intelligence agencies are unable to trace and determine the parties and states responsible for backing terrorist organizations. He added that this is crucial for the credibility of anyone who says they are fighting terror.

Commenting on Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi’s recent trip to the US, Shoukry explained that it took place shortly after US President Donald Trump came to office and when the US policy was still being shaped.

He did say however certain concepts were agreed upon, like fighting terrorism.

When asked whether Egypt will continue to unite all three Libyan parties, Shoukry stressed that his country never did and never will stop trying to unite Libyan parties. He explained that there are three institutions in Libya: presidential council, the parliament and the state’s council, which will form a committee to agree on the amendments needed to the Sukhayrat agreement.

He added that this constant effort with Libyan leaderships, which have met with Egyptian officials in Cairo, will continue until they are successful.

The minister stressed that Egypt aims to have natural relations with regional countries according to certain bases, which include mutual respect for sovereignties.

Furthermore, Cairo does not interfere in internal affairs and does not support organizations that back terrorism.

The FM was in Sudan recently on a visit, which he described as having “positive outcomes”.

He stated that it was an opportunity to review bilateral relations and the outcomes of the meetings of the joint high committee. He also explained that Egypt and Sudan agreed on a mechanism for political dialogue and discussed the regional situation.

The minister stated that bilateral relations might have had some misunderstandings or misinterpretations, which drove brotherly relations off their track.

When asked if the past has been forgotten, Shoukry stressed that Cairo is committed to a strategic ties with Sudan, which goes beyond any special relationships, adding: “Egypt does not conspire against or interfere in the affairs of any state.”

On Ethiopia, Shoukry said that both Cairo and Addis Ababa requested better coordination and asked for more frequent meetings. He explained that this could make it clearer to the public that issues are being discussed frankly and openly.

When asked about the Egyptian-Ethiopian relations, Shoukry said that Ethiopian FM Workneh Gebeyehu conveyed his country’s prime minister’s message to Sisi during his recent visit to Cairo. He added that the visit was an opportunity to discuss the importance of the mutual relations which are based on respect and common interests.

The Ethiopian FM stressed publically that his country will not take any move that could harm Egyptian interests. Meanwhile, Shoukry confirmed that Egypt is concerned with the Ethiopian development efforts, expressing Egypt’s willingness to be part of it through investments.

Shoukry said that the two countries agreed on dialogue to reach an ongoing mechanism to hold meetings every two months in order to discuss any misunderstanding or misinterpretation that could lead to wrong assumptions.

North Korean Official Threatens ‘Weekly’ Missile Tests as White House Condemns Launches

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME)

North Korean Official Threatens ‘Weekly’ Missile Tests as White House Condemns Launches

2:20 PM ET

A North Korean official said the country will continue to test missiles regularly, as both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence warned the country against such launches.

“We’ll be conducting more missile tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis,” North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Han Song-Ryol told the BBC, warning that an “all-out war” will result if the United States takes military action.

A North Korean test missile failed on Sunday. Last week, Trump dispatched a strike fleet toward the Korean peninsula.

During a visit to the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea this weekend, Pence warned North Korea to stop its “reckless” development of nuclear weapons.

“The era of strategic patience is over,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “President Trump has made it clear that the patience of the United States and our allies in this region has run out and we want to see change. We want to see North Korea abandon its reckless path of the development of nuclear weapons, and also its continual use and testing of ballistic missiles is unacceptable.”

“Gotta behave,” Trump said Monday at the White House when asked if he had a message for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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United Nations: North Korea Threatens U.S. With Nuclear War

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

United Nations (CNN) Only at a North Korean press conference at the United Nations, can you hear a diplomat say he hoped journalists had a good holiday weekend and then warn of possible thermonuclear war.

North Korea has consistently issued threats of war toward the United States in recent decades, but the Trump administration’s announced end of a “strategic patience” policy with Pyongyang has upped the ante in terms of warnings and bellicose rhetoric. North Korea’s UN deputy representative, Kim In Ryong, on Monday unleashed at a hastily called UN press conference a torrent of threats, war scenarios and rhetoric aimed at the United States.
The press event was held hours after US Vice President Mike Pence visited the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Pence warned North Korea not to test the resolve of the United States “or the strength of our military forces.”
In New York, North Korea returned verbal fire. North Korea’s UN ambassador condemned the US naval buildup in the waters off the Korean Peninsula, plus the US missile attacks on Syria.
Kim said, “It has created a dangerous situation in which thermonuclear war may break out at any moment on the peninsula and poses a serious threat to world peace and security.”
While reporters at the United Nations have heard similar rhetoric from North Koreans before, Monday’s forceful wording was on a higher level
The deputy ambassador, reading from a statement, told reporters, “The US is disturbing the global peace and stability and insisting on the gangster-like logic that its invasion of a sovereign state is ‘decisive, and just, and proportionate’ and contributes to ‘defending’ the international order in its bid to apply it to the Korean Peninsula as well.”
Kim said his country is ready to react to any “mode of war” from the United States. Any missile or nuclear strike by the United States would be responded to “in kind,” said the North Korea representative.
The USS Carl Vinson carrier-led Navy strike group was sent to the Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s UN representative said the maneuvers show the “US reckless moves for invading the DPRK (North Korea) have reached a serious phase.”
The United Nations is clearly worried. Spokesman Stephane Dujarric told journalists, “We’re obviously deeply concerned about the rising tensions that we’ve seen in the Korean Peninsula. We call on all to redouble their diplomatic efforts. “
The North Korean deputy ambassador was asked to respond to President Donald Trump’s comment that North Korea should “behave better.” He declined, instead wrapping up numerous questions about US policy and Pence’s visit to the DMZ into a long series of criticisms of the United States.
He denounced the United States for introducing into the Korean Peninsula — what he called “the world’s biggest hotspot” — its “huge nuclear strategic assets, seriously threatening peace and security of the Peninsula and pushing the situation there to a brink of war.”
North Korea staged a failed missile launch over the weekend. Dujarric said, “I think the latest launch that we saw over the weekend from the DPRK was troubling. We call on the DPRK to take all the steps necessary to deescalate the situation and return to a dialogue on denuclearization.”
North Korea is upset that the UN Security Council will hold a meeting on the situation later this month, with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson presiding.
Pyongyang again said it has sent letters demanding its own hearing at the Security Council for alleged US abuses, but they have been ignored by a council which has seen numerous council resolutions violated by North Korean missile and nuclear tests.
To add to the list of warnings, the North Korean diplomat said his country would hold the United States accountable “for the catastrophic consequences to be entailed by its outrageous actions.”
Journalists were asked to give their names on a sheet passed around by the North Koreans, but the sign-up sheet was left behind apparently when the news conference concluded.

5 Things We’re About to Learn About Syria, Putin and Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

5 Things We’re About to Learn About Syria, Putin and Trump

As a result of the US airstrikes against the Syrian regime forces last week, we are all about to learn a great deal. It is, surely, too soon to know precisely what impact the strikes ordered by President Donald Trump will have on the regime and where the Syrian civil war is heading. This is largely because key players including the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, Russia, Iran and the Syrian opposition — not to mention the US — are still plotting their next moves.

But it seems certain that the events of the coming weeks will help answer five crucial questions about the civil war and the various actors that are now struggling to shape the outcome of that conflict.

First, how much of a gambler is Vladimir Putin? The Russian president has gained a reputation over the past three years as a shrewd risk-taker, able to outmaneuver his opponents with the well-timed coup de main.

Now, the Trump administration has demonstrated that it is willing to use force against Putin’s ally in Damascus, and that it is prepared to risk significantly higher tensions with Moscow. During the Barack Obama presidency, in other words, Putin confronted a US that was predictably — if perhaps understandably — prudent. Now he faces a president whose risk calculus is far harder to discern.

So how will Putin respond? Will he double down on support for Assad — perhaps by helping the Syrian regime harass or target US aircraft — in hopes that he can still out-escalate the Americans? Or will he seek to reduce tensions — perhaps by shoving Assad toward renewed negotiations with the opposition — in hopes of avoiding a sharper showdown with Washington?

Second, how crafty is Assad? The Syrian leader was once seen as the mild-mannered ophthalmologist and a would-be reformer; now he is perhaps the greatest butcher of the young 21st century. Yet brutality aside, Assad’s strategic acumen has so far remained difficult to discern. He has proven a far more skillful survivor than nearly anyone would have predicted in 2011, but his heavy-handedness also helped turn what were at first peaceful protests into a zero-sum civil war; and he has now managed, through ghastly chemical attacks, to turn the initially friendly Trump administration against his remaining in power. So is Assad a shrewd if morally abhorrent statesman, or simply another dictator who substitutes savagery for strategy?

What he does next will tell us a great deal. If Assad confines himself to a symbolic and non-escalatory response, if he desists from using chemical weapons, if he at least feigns a willingness to negotiate with the opposition, he may be able to escape the noose once again — and perhaps even return to the less spectacular forms of murder that the international community has proven willing to tolerate for more than six years. If, however, he lashes out, whether by continuing to use chemical weapons or by seeking to extract revenge on the US, he may succeed in eliciting the decisive international intervention the has so far managed to avoid.

The answers to these first two questions will also bear heavily on the answer to a third: How slippery is the slope? The Obama administration’s go-to argument against military intervention was always that the options that could be executed at a tolerable cost were unlikely to alter the trajectory of the civil war in any meaningful way — and that a first step was thus likely to lead inexorably to pressures to take a second step and then a third.

Proponents of military intervention, in contrast, argued that a bold but limited American stroke could dramatically shift the psychology of the conflict and put Assad and his patrons on the defensive. No second or third step would be necessary, this argument went, because the first step — if executed with sufficient skill and resolve — would be sufficient.

We are about to find out which thesis is correct. Perhaps even the very limited American intervention undertaken to date will force Russia to rethink its support for Assad, or force Assad to accept that he cannot use the only weapons — his chemical arsenal — that might allow him to reconquer remaining rebel-held territories. Perhaps Trump’s limited engagement will thereby create a new strategic equilibrium more favorable to an acceptable political settlement or some other tolerable outcome.

Alternatively, perhaps the psychological impact of the strikes will be equivalent to their military impact — which is to say, not much. Perhaps the strikes will even cause Russia and Iran to redouble their own efforts to checkmate US intervention. In that case, Trump would soon be confronted with the question of whether to double down or risk looking the paper tiger, and the slope may come to seem slippery indeed. The first scenario would make Obama’s caution from 2011 through 2016 look excessive in retrospect; the latter would make it seem fairly wise after all.

These questions, in turn, relate to a fourth key issue: Is a negotiated settlement even possible? Over the past six years, myriad diplomatic and political processes have been launched in hopes of bringing about an end to the civil war. Every single one has failed. In the weeks preceding Assad’s latest chemical weapons attack, it did seem that the conflict was perhaps reaching a new equilibrium, with the regime largely having consolidated control over the western spine of the country, and various opposition forces controlling their own chunks of territory in other areas. But with Assad still determined — at least rhetorically — to retake the entire country, and with many opposition groups still vehemently opposed to his remaining in power, the prospects for turning that equilibrium into a sustainable settlement remain uncertain at best.

The question now is whether the strategic shock of US strike can create a new diplomatic context in which the parties — particularly the regime — are more amenable to compromise. Or, alternatively, will the aims of Assad and the opposition — not to mention the outside parties supporting them — remain so divergent and intractable that no negotiated settlement is possible?

Finally, as these issues come into sharper focus, we will also learn more about a fifth crucial question: Is the Trump administration capable of effective strategy?

Crises can be clarifying moments. They can cast new light on the contours of an ongoing conflict; they can lay bare the characteristics — and competence — of the parties involved. The Syria crisis is the acid test of the Trump administration: We are about to find out whether the president and his advisers can make the grade. Given the outsized role that the US plays not just in Syria but around the world, this may well be the most important question that the Syria crisis will help us answer.

Bloomberg View

Russia (Putin) is Defending itself not Assad

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Russia is Defending itself not Assad

Yesterday, we discussed Bashar al-Assad’s trouble following the US strike and his denial of the town of Khan Shaykhoun chemical attack by saying it was 100% fabricated.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the reports indicating there is a chemical attack in the town are fake. Lavrov’s statements came during a press conference in Moscow on Friday held jointly with the Assad’ regime FM and the Iranian FM.

Are Lavrov and Assad on the same page? Is Lavrov defending Assad? They may share the same understanding but surely the motives are different. It seems that Lavrov is not defending Damascus’ criminal as much as he is protecting Russia which vowed in 2013 to remove Assad’s chemical arsenal after using it against Syrians.

Moscow took that pledge so that Assad can evade crossing the red lines set by former US President Barack Obama who was lenient towards Assad’s crime and cast a blind eye as part of a Russian debunked trick.

Things are different today, precisely after the US strike. Russia can no longer be the honest mediator after Assad used chemical weapons once again. One can’t rely on the credibility of Russia in Syria.

It is astounding that Russia, Iran and Assad’s regime, are demanding via Lavrov a thorough and honest investigation into the chemical attack in Idlib.

It is “astounding” because Russia itself had used the veto for the 8th time during the security council’s session on Wednesday to protect Assad from being condemned for using the toxic gas and thus pressuring Assad to cooperate with an international investigation into that incident!

It is also “astounding” since Assad himself had told AFP: “Syria would only allow an impartial investigation into the poison gas incident involving unbiased countries in order to make sure that they won’t use it for politicized purposes.”

He added that during the days that followed the attack, they discussed with Russia the possibility of an international investigation.

So, who should do such an investigation? How can it be international without being under the umbrella of an international organization of the UN? Is it that they want Russia to do the investigation and thus repeat the charade of Arab observers in Syria?

This is quite strange and it gives away the fact that Russia is not defending Assad as much as it is trying to protect its credibility. That is why Moscow hindered the UN project and demanded a new definition of “impartial” investigation and outside the UN monitoring.

Russia is doing this to protect its credibility that was tampered by Assad, which is his game. By game here we mean lying. But who believes Moscow now?

Is using chemical weapons any different that explosive barrels? Or killing Syrians with Russian-Iranian weapons?

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin’s mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor’s degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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