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Damascus security compounds hit in deadly bomb attack

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Battles between the Syrian regime and opposition fighters has left parts of the capital destroyed. (File photo: AFP)

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Al Arabiya

Syrian opposition fighters attacked two security compounds in Damascus on Sunday, killing at least five people, opposition activists in the capital told Reuters news agency.

Fighters attacked a compound in the district of Rukn al-Din with explosives and another in Bab Musalla with mortar rounds, they said.

The compound in Rukn al-Deen served as a base for shabbiha militia loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, the activists said.

Syrian state television reported had earlier reported a suicide attack, citing an unknown number of casualties.

“A terrorist suicide explosion… hit the Rukn al-Din neighborhood of Damascus. There are reports of victims,” the broadcaster said.

Rukn al-Din adjoins the flashpoint district Barzeh, scene of fierce fighting pitting rebels against troops after the army recently escalated its efforts to crush the insurgency around Damascus.

It was unclear if those killed were police officers, opposition fighters or civilians.

(With Reuters and AFP)

Hagel to land in Israel, will discuss Iran, Syria and arms sales

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

Chuck Hagel

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 17, 2013. Photo by AP

Haaretz.com

U.S. Defense Secretary to meet with President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ya’alon, and discuss anticipated sale to Israel of advanced military equipment.

By Gili Cohen | Apr.20, 2013 | 10:24 PM
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is due to arrive in Israel on Sunday for a Middle East trip to discuss Iran, the Syrian civil war and weapons sales to Israel and Gulf states. The Mideast trip will last about a week.

In Israel, Hagel is scheduled to meet with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. On Sunday he is expected to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem, while Sunday night he will be Ya’alon’s dinner guest at the David Citadel Hotel.

On Monday, Hagel and Ya’alon are expected to discuss the anticipated sale to Israel of U.S. military equipment including an undisclosed number of Bell Boeing V-22 transport helicopters and Boeing KC-135 inflight refueling planes, as well as advanced radar systems for fighter planes and antiradiation missiles.

Israeli officials say the arms deal aims in part to preserve Israel’s military superiority in light of weapons contracts with other countries in the region.

Ayalon and Hagel are expected to hold a press conference after their meeting Monday. In the afternoon, Hagel is scheduled to meet with Peres to discuss military issues and ways to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

The U.S. Defense Department has called Hagel’s visit a continuation of contacts following President Barack Obama’s trip here last month. The Iranian nuclear issue will be front and center in Hagel’s defense-related meetings, along with the changing situation in Syria. On Monday, an honor guard will be on hand at Tel Aviv’s Kirya army base to honor Hagel.

From Israel, the defense secretary will travel to Amman to discuss the implications of Syria’s civil war on Jordan, before proceeding on to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. In the UAE Hagel is expected to move to finalize the sale of 25 F-16 fighter planes. The deal is set to include training in the United States of UAE combat pilots.

Clueless on North Korea, paralyzed on Iran

Monday, April 8th, 2013

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un (David Guttenfelder /Associated Press)

washingtonpost.com

Posted by Jennifer Rubin on April 8, 2013 at 11:45 am

In the wake of the Benghazi attacks it was U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice. On Sunday in the midst of the North Koreans’ show of bombast it was senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer’s turn. In each case someone with no operational responsibility for the foreign policy blow-up made the Sunday morning talk shows. In Rice’s case she conveyed misleading information. Pfeiffer merely appeared clueless; far worse he revealed that the administration he serves is entirely hapless.

This exchange with Chris Wallace was telling:

WALLACE: The Pentagon has delayed a test-firing of a Minuteman ICBM, intercontinental ballistic missile, this week, fearing that it would ratchet up tensions with North Korea and its young dictator, Kim Jong Un.

Does the Obama administration risk looking like it is caving to threats from Kim?

PFEIFFER: Absolutely not, Chris. Let’s take a step back and look at the whole picture here. We have a situation where North Korea is engaging in the kind of behavior we have seen for many, many years, provocative actions and bellicose rhetoric and the onus is on North Korea to take the step back and meet their international obligations so they can undertake what they say is their number one goal, which is economic development.

That can only happen if they rejoin the international community, which can only happen if they meet their international obligations.

WALLACE: Well, having said that, North Korea moved a medium range missile to its east coast. Jay Carney said he would not be surprised if they fired the missiles. The South Koreans seemed to expect it. It is within range of Guam.

How would the president regard it, given the fact that you have delayed the U.S. missile test by the U.S., if North Korea goes ahead and fires its missile?

PFEIFFER: Well, you know, we have seen the reports you cite there. As Jay Carney said, we wouldn’t be surprised. Missile launches have been, you know, part of this repeated pattern of behavior for the North Koreans and like I said, the onus is on the North Koreans to do the right thing here. This only — they are the source of the problem, and, the only way to solve it is for them to take a step back.

WALLACE: When you say –

PFEIFFER: And that’s the case we’re continuing to make.

WALLACE: When you say the onus is on them, what if they don’t?

 

PFEIFFER: Well, they’re going to be able to continue to further isolate themselves in the world. They will continue to further hurt themselves. You know, the North Korean people are starving because of the actions like the ones North Koreans are taking right now.

This was the same story on ABC’s This Week. (“And the key here is to — is for the North Koreans to stop their actions, start meeting their international obligations, and put themselves in a position where they can achieve what is their stated goal, which is economic development, which will only happen if they re-join the international community.”)

Was Pfeiffer given only one notecard of talking points or does the administration lack any coherent approach to Kim Jong Un’s aggression? It’s frightful, but one assumes it is the latter. The entirely of the administration’s policy is that Kim Jong Un must knock it off. But how do we get him to? And when we halt a planned test, how could that do anything but convey reticence?

The problem of nuclear blackmail from tyrants is not limited to North Korea. As grave as the situation is on the Korean Peninsula, Pyongyang’s behavior has more dire repercussions for Iran and the Middle East. ABC’s reporters explained (goodness knows what Pfeiffer would have said if the question was asked of him):

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And Martha, you have to think while this is all going on, the nuclear talks with Iran basically failed again. And you have to believe Iran is watching this as well, and says, he’s got nuclear weapons, he has a stronger hand.

MARTHA RADDATZ: Not only watching it, but I think there’s cooperation between North Korea and Iran. In fact, that’s something else General Thurman and other U.S. officials have told me.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What kind of cooperation?

RADDATZ: Cooperation on a nuclear program. Certainly North Korea wants money. And Iran wants nukes.

And, of course, this comes in the wake of yet another round of nuclear talks with Iran in which absolutely nothing was accomplished. The centrifuges continue to spin while the West dawdles.

To recap: 1) We facing a growth threat from North Korea both in aggression against the South and in proliferating nuclear weapons material; 2) The White House has no effective policy for dealing with that; 3) The White House’s effort to stop Iran’s nuclear program through a combinations of sanctions and diplomacy is a complete failure; and 4) In the midst of this they sent a political flak, a know-nothing on foreign policy, out to stumble through TV appearances.

The result is the appearance of confusion and fickleness. Sitting in Pyongyang and Tehran, the rogue dictators must think we are exceptionally indecisive and disinclined to challenge them. And on his they would be right. (There is bipartisan failure here, certainly. The Bush administration did no better with Iran and North Korea than its successors.)

One can feel a tinge of sympathy for Secretary of State John Kerry. He was handed a chaotic mess when he assumed office. In four years Hillary Clinton could not devise a reasonable approach to dealing with these two hot-spots. (To the contrary she helped to embolden North Korea by another round of feckless negotiations headed by Wendy Sherman and to seal the mullahs’ control by remaining mum during the Green Revolution). But act he must. As my colleague Michael Gerson points out, we’ve done nothing to respond to the Iranian regime’s clear and repeated incitements to genocide; the administration’s obsession with “international law” and multilateral bodies sure doesn’t extend to our enemies.

No, Kerry won’t have the help of a competent secretary of defense. To make matters worse, the White House national security team has perfected the art of insulating the president from decision-making and ducking conflicts even at the expense of U.S. interests and grave humanitarian crises. Kerry would do well to develop for himself a cadre of outside experts (e.g. Michele Flournoy, Michael O’Hanlon, Robert Kagan) who have credibility with Democrats to provide him with some sound counsel. He will need it.

And finally he should stop obsessing about something he can do nothing about (the “peace process”) and start pressuring North Korea (both economically and with expulsion from international bodies from which Kim Jong Un derives legitimacy and stature) and in making our military threat more credible to Tehran. Weakness in one arena will make it more difficult to address the threat in the other.

North Korea says it will launch nuclear attack on America

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

03/07/2013

TheSun.co.uk

By HARRY HAWKINS

NORTH Korea led by tyrant Kim Jong-un has sensationally vowed to launch a NUCLEAR attack on the USA.

The provocative statement comes weeks after the country conducted underground nuclear tests which caused a massive earthquake.

America’s west coast cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco are feared to be in Kim’s sights.

A foreign ministry spokesman said: “Since the United States is about to ignite a nuclear war, we will be exercising our right to pre-emptive nuclear attack against the headquarters of the aggressor in order to protect our supreme interest.”

The UN today has voted implement its toughest restrictions yet on North Korea in a bid to halt its nuclear ambitions.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “The international community will not tolerate its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

North Korea nuclear Test

Blast off … North Korea tested missile last year

The announcement comes on the day North Korea launched a chilling new propaganda film via its official Youtube channel.

The footage shows missiles, armed soldiers, tanks and military parades.

The UN sanctions imposed today include a list of luxury items the country’s rulers will be banned from importing.

“These sanctions will bite and bite hard,” said US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.

She added: “North Korea will achieve nothing by continued threats and provocations. These will only further isolate the country and its people and undermine international efforts to promote peace and stability in northeast Asia.”

The nuke warning from North Korea was put out by the country’s official news agency and accused the US of leading the calls for the crippling sanctions.

However experts doubt the country’s ability to produce a warhead capable of being fitted to a long-range missile.

On Tuesday North Korea threatend to scrap the armistice that ended the 1950-53 war with South Korea.

And it criticised military exercises between the US and South Korea. Pyongyang said it was shutting off a military hotline with the US and South Korea.

North Korea’s KCNA agency quoting a military source said: “We will completely nullify the Korean armistice”.

Last month the world was put on high alert when North Korea carried out its biggest nuclear blast yet.

The giant underground explosion caused an earthquake with a magnitude of 4.9.

Obama

The banned blast – which took place in the remote, snowy, north-east of the country – drew global outrage, even from Pyongyang’s only major ally China.

The actual device was thought to be smaller than those in two earlier tests — raising fears that the crackpot Communist state is close to its aim of perfecting a missile capable of hitting its number one enemy the US.

United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon condemned the explosion, as an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council began drawing up “fresh measures” to punish the rogue country.

In Britain, Foreign Secretary William Hague threatened boy dictator Kim Jong-Un with more “isolation”.

In February North Korea poached Michael Jackson’s peace anthem We Are the World to soundtrack a chilling video showing a US city under missile attack.

The bizarre footage was uploaded on the secretive state’s official webpage.

The propaganda movie depicts a smiling lad dreaming of a regime rocket being launched into the air and travelling to America.

The three-and-a-half minute vid then showed a mystery city full of skyscrapers being attacked with multiple explosions, while the Stars and Stripes flag flutters in the background.

 

Obama supports Israeli right to defend itself amid Gaza truce talk

Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Sunday, 18 November 2012

By AFP

The U.S. president said the "precipitating event" of the Gaza crisis was a string of extremist rocket attacks on Israeli territory. (AFP)

The U.S. president said the “precipitating event” of the Gaza crisis was a string of extremist rocket attacks on Israeli territory. (AFP)

U.S. President Barack Obama Sunday said it was “preferable” for the Gaza crisis to be ended without a “ramping up” of Israeli military activity, but squarely blamed militants for causing the showdown.

“Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory,” Obama said, adding, “if that can be accomplished without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that is preferable.”

“That is not just preferable for the people of Gaza, it is also preferable for Israelis because if Israeli troops are in Gaza, they are much more at risk of incurring fatalities or being wounded,” he said.

Obama spoke, in Thailand, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was ready to “significantly expand” its operation against militants in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, sparking fears of a new Israeli invasion.

The U.S. president said the “precipitating event” of the Gaza crisis was a string of extremist rocket attacks on Israeli territory, which he said no nation in the world would tolerate.

He also backed the Jewish state’s right of self defense, on a day in which the crisis deepened, with two rockets shot down over Tel Aviv and the death toll from retaliatory strikes by Israel hit around 50 people.

Truce?

Israeli President Shimon Peres said in an interview on Sunday he welcomed efforts by his Egyptian counterpart to secure a ceasefire in the Gaza conflict but accused Hamas of rejecting the proposals.

He also said he could forsee a scaling back of the situation and stressed that Israel was taking great pains not to hit civilians in the Gaza Strip.

Asked by Britain’s Sky News television if he saw any possibility of a de-escalation of the conflict, he replied from Jerusalem: “As far as we are concerned, the answer is yes.

“We also appreciate the efforts of the president of Egypt (Mohammed Mursi) to introduce a ceasefire. But until now, Hamas has rejected the proposal of the Egyptian president.”

Hamas “don’t even listen to their Arab brothers,” he said.

“We don’t escalate at all. What Israel is doing is self defense.

“We don’t have any purpose to conquer Gaza.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday threatened to expand the assault on Hamas-run Gaza as the Jewish state pressed ahead with a fifth day of strikes, killing six people including four children as truce efforts intensified.

“Basically our purpose is peace; their purpose is to destroy Israel. It’s not an easy situation,” Peres said.

The 89-year-old said Israel was making a “supreme effort” to avoid civilian casualties but “unfortunately they use their homes, even their mosques to hide the arms, to make them headquarters of shooting.

“In spite of it, and until now I believe, almost no civilians were hit.

“We shall keep on with our principles. We are not being carried away by anger or misconception. The government is behaving as a responsible government that has to defend their citizens, young and old.”

Meanwhile, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday that Israel would not negotiate a truce with Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers as long as rocket fire continues from the Palestinian enclave.

“The first and absolute condition for a truce is stopping all fire from Gaza,” he said before meeting French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, adding that all militant factions in Gaza would have to commit to cease rocket fire.

“We want a long-term arrangement,” Lieberman said.

Gaza rockets ‘very significant development’: Hezbollah

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Friday, 16 November 2012

By AFP 
BEIRUT
Israeli police with the remains of a rocket fired by Palestinian fighters. (Reuters)

Israeli police with the remains of a rocket fired by Palestinian fighters. (Reuters)

Palestinian militants firing long-range rockets from Gaza into Israel represents a “very significant development” in the conflict with the Jewish state, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has said.

“The firing of Fajr 5 rockets on Tel Aviv today shows the maturation, the wisdom and strength, and the courage of the Palestinian resistance in the Gaza Strip,” Nasrallah said in a speech on Thursday night.

“The Israeli enemy was surprised and forced to acknowledge that its capital had been hit,” said the leader of Lebanon’s most powerful military force, adding that the Iranian-made rockets have a range of 70 kilometres (44 miles)

Gaza militants defied a major Israeli bombing campaign on Thursday, firing off volleys of rockets, one of which hit the sea near Tel Aviv, the farthest distance ever attained by fire from Gaza.

This was the first time rockets had been fired at Tel Aviv since the 1991 Gulf War, when the city was hit by Iraqi Scud missiles.

“This is a very significant development in the history of the conflict between the resistance and the Israeli enemy,” Nasrallah said.

The Shiite movement Hezbollah is an ally of the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad, which has long provided it support.

But Nasrallah called on Arab leaders, many of demanding Assad step down, to “put aside their differences on the Syrian issue and make every effort to deter, prevent and stop the aggression on the Gaza Strip and protect the people of Gaza.”

The only thing that can change the equation, is for the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation “to take a genuine stand” and use oil as a weapon to push the United States to pressure its ally Israel.

“We are all concerned in Lebanon to do everything in our power to help the situation,” he concluded.

“This is not Gaza’s battle to fight alone, but belongs to all of us.”

In 2006, Israel and Hezbollah fought a devastating war after Hezbollah militia captured four soldiers in a cross-border raid. More than 1,200 people died in Lebanon, most of them civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Israeli continued its offensive in Gaza on Friday for the third day.

The escalating conflict, which has so far killed 20 Palestinians and three Israelis, has drawn expressions of deep concern internationally and sparked anger in the Arab and Muslim world.

Obama’s Iran non-deal

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

washingtonpost.com

Posted at 09:15 AM ET, 10/22/2012

By Jennifer Rubin

Saturday night the New York Times reported : “The United States and Iran have agreed in principle for the first time to one-on-one negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, according to Obama administration officials, setting the stage for what could be a last-ditch diplomatic effort to avert a military strike on Iran.” Negotiations, the Iranians purportedly insisted, wouldn’t start until after the election. How convenient.

The report, timed just before tonight’s final debate on foreign policy smacked of an October Surprise gambit by the administration. But then the administration denied there was such a deal.

In any event Iran promising to talk to the United States is nothing new. It has been playing rope-a-dope with President Obama and his team for almost four years. It agrees to talks or to have talks about talks, all the while moving closer to a nuclear weapons capability. Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (and a Romney adviser and surrogate) John Bolton told me, “Iran has always been prepared to negotiate — when it suits them. That is the history of the last 10 years.” He also noted the impact of potentially dumping the P5 +1 negotiation format for the one-on-one negotiations the mullahs would dearly love to obtain. “If the Obama administration has in fact been pursuing bilateral talks with Iran from the outset, it has done two things: (1) enhance Iran’s view of the strength of its own negotiating position; and (2) completely undercut the administration’s incantation that ‘all options are on the table.’ Iranians sense administration desperation, so no wonder they’re not worried.” He cautioned against taking this all that seriously: “At most, Iran wants temporary relief from the sanctions. They will never negotiate away the nuclear weapons program. This is simply another effort to buy time and space.” Referring to Obama’s promise of “flexibility” after the election to Russia’s president last spring, Bolton cracked: “Maybe Medvedev clued them in.”

Other observers were likewise underwhelmed by the report. Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies has been involved in sanctions policy. But he, too, warns, via e-mail: “It is not a surprise that Iran is floating the idea of new talks — especially because we’re less than three weeks before the election. People need to know how to distinguish a sincere offer from a fraud.” He also explained that the idea that sanctions could bring the mullahs to their knees has run up against the Iranians’ nuclear timeline. He explains:

They are floating this offer because sanctions are clearly hurting the regime and this will be another Iranian attempt to trade minimal concessions for sanctions relief. American negotiators need to determine whether an economic cripple date — when Iran faces economic collapse — occurs before or after it becomes a nuclear threshold state.

An economic cripple date must come at least six months before Iran reaches its nuclear threshold date since the prospect of imminent economic collapse will need time to crack the nuclear will of Iran’s supreme leader — if that’s even possible.

[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu established his nuclear red line as late spring or early summer 2013, when the regime will have sufficient 20 percent enriched uranium to make one bomb. So the economic cripple date would have to occur within the next three months for the regime to be staring at imminent economic collapse before Israel’s red line in June or July.

FDD’s recent analysis, though limited by the availability of reliable information on the Iranian economy, suggests that Tehran likely has sufficient reserves to last well beyond that date, perhaps for two years or more. Massively intensifying the sanctions in the ways currently under consideration by Congress could change that timeline.

Before sitting down for direct negotiations with Iran, the administration needs to develop a reliable economic model for Iran’s economy, and an equally reliable nuclear red line, in order to better understand how long they have. And they should share that analysis with Congress, Israel and other important allies.

The greatest risk is another round of protected negotiations allowing Iran to buy more time to develop its nuclear capacity while extracting sanctions concessions from a divided international community that blames America for the failure of diplomacy

Obama’s sanctions came too late (after he wasted 18 months on “engagement”), were watered down too much and were unaccompanied by a credible threat of force. If anything, the latest “deal” highlights just how preposterous the entire Obama policy has been. At the debate tonight Romney should make clear that any negotiations should demand Iran give up its nuclear enrichment claims and should entail no weakening of sanctions. Instead of pooh-poohing military force the president and our allies should start planning for military action. It is only the credible threat of force that is likely to deter the regime at this late date.

MP calls for accountability in fatal field trip

Monday, October 22nd, 2012
Sun, 10/21/2012 – 23:26

The death of 26 students on a field trip to southern Iran has drawn fire from the media and the Iranian Parliament, with an MP calling for the Basij chief to be accountable for the accident.

Iranian media reported on Saturday that the victims had been on their return trip from the “Rahian-e Noor” (light sojourners) caravan, an annual event designed to teach high school students the history of Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq and the southern regions of the country chiefly affected by it. Their bus overturned on the road, causing the death of 26 students and injuring 18 others.

The bus was en route to Borujen on Friday night, and the driver was reportedly speeding when he lost control and the bus overturned.

The accident was widely covered by the media, and on Sunday a member of Parliament blamed the Minister of Education as well as the head of Basij forces for the tragedy.

Hamidreza Azizi Farsanin said in Parliament: “It is regrettable that our students are killed in this manner and no one takes responsibility for it. A similar thing happened to students from the Mashhad Ferdowsi University last year, and the year before we saw 22 young students losing their lives on this road… Be certain that if someone does not take responsibility for these events and apologize for them, they are bound to keep repeating.”

The MP reportedly directly called on Education Minister Hamidreza Haji Babayi and the head of the Basij forces, Commander Naghadi, to acknowledge their responsibility in the affair, emphasizing that the country’s roads are not safe for such trips.

The Mehr News Agency has reported that the Minister of Education and a Basij Commission have been summoned by Parliament to offer their report on the incident.

The city of Borujen observed a public day of mourning on Saturday and laid to rest the bodies of the 26 students.

The “Rahian-e Noor” field trip has seen many fatal accidents in recent years, but the Basij Organization continues to coordinate the trips, with the stated aim of keeping alive the “culture of resistance” and the remembrance of martyrs and war veterans.

Olympic Alarm Bells Ringing

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

RFE/RL

July 25, 2012

Iran’s Fars news agency decided to illustrate an online report about the thousands of cellphones that will be either stolen or lost during the upcoming Olympic Games in London with a graphic of the Olympics’ iconic rings.

But not just any graphic. These five Olympic rings were, unmistakably, multicolored condoms.

The graphic, which has since been replaced, has been making the rounds on Iranian social media, sparking more than a few chuckles.

There’s no clear indication of why the Fars editor originally decided to use the provocative graphic. Or why Fars has a graphic of the Olympic rings as condoms in its graphic database in the first place.

The International Olympic Committee — which is very protective of its Olympic trademarks – may have had something to say about its ultimate removal.

Iran Has Set Up Alternative To Swift, Press TV Says, Citing Bank

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

Bloomberg

By Ladane Nasseri - May 27, 2012

Iran put in place a system for international transactions after being cut off by Swift, the global bank-transfer messaging service, Press TV reported, citing Central Bank Governor Mahmoud Bahmani.

Iran already activated the system, Bahmani said yesterday, according to a report published by the state-run news agency. He didn’t provide further details.

On March 17, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, known as Swift, halted service for about 24 Iranian lenders sanctioned by the European Union, including the central bank. The cutoff was a response to EU regulations issued a day earlier that ban financial-messaging services for entities subject to an EU asset freeze.

Iran is under United Nations, European Union and U.S. punitive measures to force it to curb its nuclear activities, which the U.S. administration and its allies accuse of being aimed at developing weapons. Iran denies the charges, saying its intentions are purely civilian.

Iran talks with world powers hit snag over sanctions

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Asharq

05/24/2012

BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Iran accused world powers on Thursday of creating “a difficult atmosphere” that hindered talks on its atomic energy programme, signaling a snag in diplomacy to defuse fears of a covert Iranian bid to develop nuclear bombs.

The nub of the dispute was not immediately clear as the high-stakes talks went into a second day in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

But Iran had served notice that it wanted immediate relief from economic sanctions as part of any deal to scale back uranium enrichment, whereas Western powers insisted Tehran must first rein in its activity.

Pro-government Iranian media said Tehran’s negotiators were demanding a principle of “reciprocity” of concessions, which they said was not on the table in the Baghdad talks.

The United States had voiced cautious hope on Wednesday that Iran was finally engaging the powers on practical, transparent ways of showing its nuclear work, marked by years of secrecy and evasions of U.N. inspections, would be for peaceful ends only.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, heading the powers’ delegation in Baghdad, met her Iranian counterpart on Thursday before the full plenary session commenced, a Western diplomat said.

But an Iranian delegate poured cold water on suggestions that progress towards an outline deal, seen as crucial to heading off the danger of a new Middle East war, was being made.

“What we heard in Istanbul was more interesting,” he said, referring to exploratory talks that ended a 15-month diplomatic deep freeze during which the West escalated sanctions to target Iran’s oil exports.

“We believe the reason (the powers) are not able to reach a result is America,” the official said, asking not to be named. “(They) came to Baghdad without a clear mandate so we think the atmosphere is difficult.”

A senior U.S. official said earlier the six powers had put specific gestures to lessen sanctions pressure on the table as part of a step-by-step confidence-building process.

A Western diplomat said that one element of the offer was an easing of restrictions to exports of aircraft parts to Iran – a relatively modest step unlikely to unblock the broader standoff.

After the Iranian criticism, another diplomat at the talks said none of the six powers – the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – were “‘rolling back’ on anything.

“By coming to Baghdad and putting on the table a forward-looking package, we are being pro-active, engaging and building on Istanbul. Any negotiation on an issue like this is never going to be straightforward, but it’s far too early to give a clear read-out of how things are progressing.”

Under the scrutiny of nervous global oil markets and Iran’s arch-enemy Israel – believed to be the only Middle East country with nuclear weapons – the two sides met for a full day on Wednesday, negotiating deep into the night.

Officials said while there were no breakthroughs, enough evidence of “common ground” emerged to keep talking on Thursday.

The U.S. official said the dialogue revealed a “fair amount of disagreement”.

“But still we have to come to closure about what are the next appropriate steps.”

In previous meetings, the two sides could not even agree on an agenda, with each largely repeating known positions and Tehran refusing any dialogue on changes to its nuclear path.

International energy markets remain nervous, unsettled by extended Western sanctions imposed on Iran’s crude exports and the specter of a Middle East conflict arising from possible Israeli strikes on Iran’s fortified nuclear installations.

The overall goal of the six countries jointly negotiating with Tehran is an Iranian agreement to curb uranium enrichment in a transparent, verifiable way to ensure it cannot be diverted to bombmaking. The Islamic Republic’s priority is to secure a swift end to sanctions isolating the country.

The powers’ main proposal was for Iran to halt its uranium enrichment to the higher fissile concentration of 20 percent.

That is the Iranian nuclear advance most worrying to the West since it largely overcomes technical obstacles to reaching 90 percent, or bomb-grade, enrichment.

Iran, the world’s No. 5 oil exporter, says it is enriching uranium only for electricity to serve needs of a burgeoning population, and for a medical research reactor.

It has hinted at flexibility on higher-grade enrichment, although analysts say it would be unlikely to compromise much while sanctions remain in place.

In the absence of diplomatic compromise, Iran appeared to be putting “more facts on the ground” to boost its position.

A U.N. nuclear agency report due in the next few days is expected to show that Iran has installed more uranium enrichment centrifuges at an underground site, potentially boosting output capacity of nuclear work global powers want it to stop.

Tehran has repeatedly ruled out suspending all enrichment as called for by several U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Iranian media said Tehran’s chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, presented its own five-point package of proposals covering a comprehensive range of nuclear and non-nuclear issues.

But a European diplomat said: “We are not quite sure what these five points are. We are trying to find out. There are no details.”

North Korea Claims To Have ‘Modern’ Weapons Capable Of ‘Defeating’ US

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

ibtimes.com

By AMRUTHA GAYATHRI

April 25, 2012

A senior North Korean military officer has claimed that Pyongyang is equipped with “powerful modern weapons” capable of “defeating” the US. This declaration coincides with speculation that the reclusive Asian nation may be planning to conduct a nuclear test, following its failed rocket launch on April 13.

Vice Marshal Ri Yong Ho has claimed his nation is a nuclear and military power and that its 20-something leader Kim Jong Un is a “military strategist.”

“The Korean People’s Army is armed with powerful modern weapons… that can defeat the imperialists (US) at a single blow,” he told in a meeting attended by party and military officials Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. The chief didn’t disclose any further details about the weapons.

The closed meeting at the House of Culture, attended by Kim Jong Un, the third from the Kim dynasty to rule North Korea, marked the 80th anniversary of the army’s founding.

Pyongyang drew heavy international criticism when it decided to test a long-range missile on April 13, reportedly aimed at boosting its defense to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the US. North’s ambitious attempt to launch the Unha-3 rocket failed when it broke apart shortly after takeoff.

Speculation is rife that North Korea is nearing completion of preparations to test a nuclear device for the third time after two attempts in 2006 and 2009, an unnamed source with close ties to Pyongyang and Beijing told Reuters.

Observers have said that North Korea may have developed the capabilities to test a nuclear weapon using highly enriched uranium, which has raised concerns in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo.

The source didn’t specify whether uranium or a limited supply of plutonium would be used in the test.

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, speaking to reporters during a trip to Brasilia, said he had no specific information on whether North Korea would go ahead with a test, Reuters reported.

“But I again would strongly urge them not to engage in any kind of provocation – be it nuclear testing or any other act – that would provide greater instability in a dangerous part of the world,” he said.

Beijing has, meanwhile, shifted its stance regarding Pyongyang’s widely panned rocket launch. China‘s senior-most diplomat showered praise on Kim Jong-Un and promised to strengthen ties with North Korea in a meeting with Kim Yong-il, the Korean Workers’ Party director of international affairs, Sunday.

“The traditional friendship between China and North Korea is a precious treasure for our two parties, two countries and our peoples,” Dai told Kim Yong-il, who visited Beijing. “China is willing to work with North Korea to take friendly cooperation to new heights.”

China, considered North’s biggest ally, had condemned the launch along with other world powers in a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) statement, but has been ignoring calls for harsher sanctions on the North Korean regime.

Panetta told US lawmakers last week that China had assisted in North Korea’s missile program, but said he did not know the “exact extent of that.”

However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin denied the US claims, saying that “China is always against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the carrier equipment of such weapons.”

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