Syrian Army seizes most of Ayn Tarma Valley in East Ghouta, pushes to outskirts of suburb – By Leith Aboufadel


BEIRUT, LEBANON (1:50 P.M.) – In response to the militant counter-offensive in the Harasta suburb, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) launched a big assault at the nearby ‘Ayn Tarma Valley.

According to an Al-Masdar field correspondent in Damascus, the Syrian Army seized most of the ‘Ayn Tarma Valley, following a short battle with the militants in the area.

The correspondent added that the Syrian Army’s 4th Division has now reached the southeastern outskirts of the ‘Ayn Tarma suburb.

‘Ayn Tarma is a heavily-fortified East Ghouta suburb that neighbors Jobar; it is currently under the control of Faylaq Al-Rahman and Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham.

The Syrian Army has attempted to capture ‘Ayn Tarma on a number of occasions in the past; however, all of their attacks were ultimately repelled by the militants.

Syrian Army Advances in Its Operations against Terrorists in Ein Tarma Valley

March 20, 2018

Syrian army in Eastern Gouta

Syrian Army units continued their operations to liberate Eastern Gouta of the remaining Nusra Front terrorists and the groups affiliated to them.

SANA’s correspondent in Eastern Gouta said that army units began at dawn on Tuesday precise operations in Ein Tarma valley, employing tactics and weapons that suit the nature of the area in order to protect civilians’ lives and preserve the properties and farmlands in it, achieving new advances in the area after inflicting losses upon terrorists.

The correspondent said that this advance is achieved in parallel with military operations against terrorists in the towns of Hazza, Zamalka, and Erbin after fortifying army positions in the towns of Saqba and Kafr Batna, securing the citizens in those towns, and delivering aid to them in cooperation with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.

The army also repelled infiltration attempts by terrorists coming from the direction of Douma towards the outskirts of Mesraba, clashing with them and leaving many terrorists dead or injured, while the remaining ones fled towards Douma.

The correspondent said that the army is continuing to secure corridors to allow citizens to exit Gouta.

Source: SANA

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Commentaries in Guardian and Financial Times say that Russia can be declared guilty without being given chance to defend itself – By Alexander Mercouris (THE DURAN)

Now British media admits it in Skripal case: due process ‘does not apply’ to Russia

It is becoming increasingly difficult for the British authorities and for the British media to deny that ‘due process‘ – ie. the well-established system of rules for conducting fair and impartial trials and investigations in order to determine questions of guilt or innocence – are not being followed by the British authorities in the Skripal case.

Here are some of the violations of due process the British authorities which in my opinion the British authorities are committing:

(1) The British government is interfering in the conduct of a criminal investigation, with Prime Minister Theresa May and especially Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson pointing fingers at who they say is the guilty party (Russia) whilst the criminal investigation is still underway;

(2) The British government has said that unless Russia proves itself innocent within a specific time the British government will conclude that it is guilty.  As I have explained previously this reverses the burden of proof: in a criminal case it is the prosecution which is supposed to prove the defendant’s guilt, not the defendant who must prove his innocence;

(3) The British government refuses to share with Russia – the party it says is guilty – the ‘evidence’ upon which it says it has concluded that Russia is guilty, the evidence in this case being a sample of the chemical with which it says Sergey and Yulia Skripal was poisoned.  This violates the fundamental principle that the defendant must be provided with all the evidence against him so that he can properly prepare his defence;

(4) The British government is not following the procedure set out in Article IX (2) of the Chemical Weapons Convention to which both Britain and Russia are parties.  This reads as follows

States Parties should, whenever possible, first make every effort to clarify and resolve, through exchange of information and consultations among themselves, any matter which may cause doubt about compliance with this Convention, or which gives rise to concerns about a related matter which may be considered ambiguous. A State Party which receives a request from another State Party for clarification of any matter which the requesting State Party believes causes such a doubt or concern shall provide the requesting State Party as soon as possible, but in any case not later than ten days after the request, with information sufficient to answer the doubt or concern raised along with an explanation of how the information provided resolves the matter.

This says clearly that in a case like the Skripal case the British authorities should have sent a request for information to the Russian authorities, who would then have had up to ten days in which to respond.

Instead the British demanded a Russian reply within 36 hours, and said they would assume Russian guilt unless one was provided which they were satisfied with.

There has been an attempt to argue that the British disregard of the procedure set out in Article IX (2) does not breach the Chemical Weapons Convention, and I will set it out the British position as it appears in an article in The Conversation

The process set out in Article IX(2) cannot be the exclusive remedy in all cases where doubts arise surrounding compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. For example, it would be absurd to suggest that a state which has suffered an armed attack involving chemical weapons may not defend itself against that attack, but instead must issue a request for information to the attacking state and then patiently await its response within ten days.

In fact, on a closer reading, it’s clear that the obligation set out in Article IX(2) is not of an absolute character. It requires state parties to “make every effort” to clarify and resolve doubts. This duty is framed in the language of “should”, rather than “shall”, and is engaged only “whenever possible”. The terms of the clause therefore enable a state to adopt alternative measures should the circumstances so warrant.

After the Salisbury incident, one of the UK’s responses was to call a meeting of the UN Security Council. While Russia vehemently opposed this move as being contrary to the Chemical Weapons Convention, none of the other members of the Security Council, all of which are also signatories of that treaty, shared this view.

It is also important to be clear about the scope of Article IX(2). The provision deals with the clarification of doubts surrounding compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. However, the British government had already concluded that it was highly likely that Russia was responsible for the incident. Based on the identification of the nerve agent involved, named as Novichok, the fact that Russia has produced the agent in the past and in the light of Russia’s past conduct and current intent, it was not unreasonable for the UK government to come to this conclusion, in line with the standards of proof applicable in international law in similar circumstances.

I find this wholly unconvincing and I am sure the vast majority of international lawyers would do so also.

What this argument essentially says is that the British are entitled to disregard the procedure set out in Article IX (2) because they had already concluded in advance of their enquiry to the Russians on the basis of evidence which they are not prepared to share with the Russians that Russia is ‘highly likely’ to have been guilty of carrying out the attack on Skripal.

That effectively admits that the ‘request for information’ – ie. Theresa May’s ultimatum to Russia – was not made in good faith and it was not really a genuine ‘request for information’ at all, but was rather a rhetorical device intended to make it easier for the British government to say without providing further proof that Russia is guilty.

Far from providing a justification for ignoring the procedure set out in Article IX (2), this looks to me more like an admission that the British have not been acting in good faith, which of course is not merely a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention but of due process.

(5) The British authorities are denying the Russians consular access to Yulia Skripal, though she is a Russian citizen who the British authorities say was subjected to a criminal assault on their territory.

This is a potentially serious matter since by preventing consular access to Yulia Skripal the British authorities are not only violating the interstate consular arrangements which exist between Britain and Russia, but they are preventing the Russian authorities from learning more about the condition of one of their citizens who has been hospitalised following a violent criminal assault, and are preventing the Russian authorities from carrying out their own investigation into the assault on one of their citizens which the British authorities say has taken place.

I would add that this obstruction of Russian consular access to Yulia Skripal has gone almost entirely unreported in the British and Western media.

Needless to say, if the situation were reversed and it was the Russian authorities who were denying the British consular access to a British citizen who had been hospitalised following a criminal assault in Russia, I have no doubt that the British and Western media would be far less reticent about it.

In truth the violations of due process are so egregious that sections of the British media have been in effect forced to admit that they are happening, and are now trying to justify them.

Here for example is what Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian has said

On the face of it, Jeremy Corbyn’s position, as set out in the Guardian yesterday, seems eminently reasonable. Anxious to learn the lessons of the Iraq catastrophe of 2003, he suggested we exercise patience: let’s wait and see where the investigation leads, let’s not “rush way ahead of the evidence”. After all, said his spokesman, the intelligence agencies had been wrong before……

But those pleas to delay judgment point to a wider error: a misreading of the nature of the contemporary Russian state…..

The error here is to assume that Moscow’s attitude to evidence and due process is the same as that of nations still governed by the rule of law. But in Putin’s Russia, lying has long been a routine and integral part of statecraft. No matter how copious the evidence, Putin will think nothing of denying it….

What meaning does “due process” have when dealing with such a regime? Moscow would not cooperate in good faith with an investigation by the international chemical weapons watchdog, offering up evidence that might be incriminating. They would see such an inquiry instead as a useful delaying tactic, one that would allow them to issue yet more denials, wild counter-accusations (“Salisbury was an MI5 plot to distract from Brexit”) and obfuscation – disseminated either through their RT propaganda TV station or by their army of bots and online enablers. That way they could generate yet more of the fog of doubt and confusion that they believe undermines the west’s confidence and strengthens them. This is the Putin modus operandi: spread doubt until the public grows exhausted and concludes that the truth is unknowable.

(bold italics added)

More pithily an editorial the Financial Times says the same thing

President Vladimir Putin’s government uses a well-worn playbook after it commits an international outrage. The first Russian response is denial mixed with the propagation of a variety of implausible alternative explanations….

The Kremlin then tries to blunt the response by wrapping its accusers up in procedure. The game is to confuse the narrative, delay the international response — and demonstrate to the Russian people and the wider world that the Kremlin can act with impunity.

(bold italics added)

The first thing to say about these articles is that they are an admission that in the Skripal case due process – ie. proper procedure in a case like this – is not being followed.

The second thing to say is that they show a startling failure to understand the purpose of due process.

Due process in a criminal investigation is not a favour to the defendant.  It is the way to arrive at the truth.

That is why in England in criminal appeals judges say that convictions in cases where due process has not been followed are ‘unsafe’.  What they mean is that because due process was not followed the court cannot be sure that the case which has been made against the defendant has been made out.

It follows that defendant’s alleged lack of good faith (the reason Jonathan Freedland and the Financial Times are giving for disapplying due process in cases involving Russia) is not a reason for disapplying due process since using due process.

It is in fact ridiculous to say – as Jonathan Freedland and the Financial Times are in effect saying – that due process should be disapplied because they believe the defendant in this case – ie. Russia –  is lying and is never going to admit its guilt.

Defendants often lie when cases are brought against them.  If they did not there would be no reason to have trials.  Defendants very often go on denying their guilt even when courts have convicted them after trials.  That is not a reason for not having trials.

Stripped of their bogus arguments, what Jonathan Freedland and the Guardian are saying is that when Russia is accused of something it has no right to defend itself.

That is an astonishing and deeply troubling thing to say.

It also looks to me rather like an admission that in the Skripal case the British authorities do not have the evidence to prove that their accusation against Russia is true.

That does not surprise me because the British authorities have apparently been unable to provide even their closest allies with evidence which proves that their accusation against Russia is true.

Here is what Der Spiegel says the British have told the Germans about the evidence – or lack of evidence – they have in the case

The key to the Skripal case is to be found in the toxin that was used. When the British briefed their German colleagues this week, they didn’t go into great detail, according to sources in German security circles. Intelligence services suspect that could be because the British no longer completely trust the Americans and are particularly wary of Donald Trump.

The British didn’t even tell their German counterparts which variation of the nerve agent they believe was used. Western intelligence experts suspect that it was Novichok of the A-232 variety, which is fluid enough to be used as a spray.

The vocabulary used by the UK and its allies indicates that British intelligence officials are highly confident in their assessment. Yet although it is clear which substance was used and that it very likely came from Russian stockpiles, there is no definitive proof that the Russian state was behind the attack, according to a senior German official on Thursday evening. The official has read through all of the documents that have thus far been presented. He said that intelligence officials are viewing the evidence laid out in those documents — several tightly printed pages — as a “compelling chain of clues.”

(bold italics added)

In other words the British case against Russia in the Skripal case is no more than surmise (a “compelling chain of clues”).

It is not based on evidence because as of Thursday 15th March 2018 (when the Germans were given the facts) there was none.

What of the argument Jonathan Freedland and the Financial Times both make – echoing things the British government has said – that concrete ‘proof’ of Russian guilt in the Skripal case is not needed because Russia’s guilt can be presumed from Russia’s previous conduct.

Putting aside that there are conflicting opinions about Russia’s previous conduct, it is actually a further breach of due process to declare someone guilty not on evidence but on the basis of their previous conduct.

Putting that aside there have been at least three cases since The Duran was founded in May 2016 when declarations of Russian guilt which were confidently asserted proved on proper examination of the evidence to be untrue.

(1) On 19th September 2016 an attack on a humanitarian convoy in Syria was widely blamed by Western governments and by the Western media on Russia.  Yet a UN inquiry headed by an Indian military officer effectively cleared Russia of responsibility for the attack.

(2) In a succession of reports Professor Richard McLaren has claimed to have found proof of a gigantic government organised state sponsored doping conspiracy amongst athletes in Russia.

These claims have been enthusiastically repeated by the Western media, and led to partial bans on Russian participation in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, on the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, and to a complete ban on Russian participation in the 2016 Summer Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

However the Schmid Commission, which on behalf of the International Olympic Committee, carried out a thorough review of Professor McLaren’s claims of a government organised state sponsored doping conspiracy in Russia, concluded that those claims had not been proved to be true.

(3) The third case is more controversial, but I personally have no doubt that the same applies.

Since at least the summer of 2016 it has been repeatedly and confidently claimed that there was a vast conspiracy between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign to steal the US Presidential election from Hillary Clinton and to swing it to Donald Trump.

The House Intelligence Committee, having investigated this claim in detail, now says it is untrue.

Though the Mueller investigation, which is also looking in this claim, has yet to report, none of the indictments it has issued suggest that this claim is true, whilst it seems the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating the claim, is also going to report that the claim is untrue.

Here we have three examples of claims of wrongful activity confidently made against Russia proving to be untrue.  Why then assume that the claim of wrongful activity made against Russia in the Skripal case is true?

Obviously presumptions of guilt based on claims of previous Russian misconduct are wrong and unsafe, and that whole approach must be abandoned as both flawed and ethically wrong.

I would finish by repeating a point I have before.

Underpinning the regular allegations made in the West about Russian misconduct including the ones now being made in connection with the Skripal case is the intense Western prejudice against Russia and against all things Russian.

I discussed this Western prejudice against Russia and Russians in detail in a long article The Duran published on 12th October 2016, and I discussed it again more recently in articles I have written about a recent report by a group of US Democratic Party Senators targeting Russia, and about the Hollywood film Red Sparrow which is currently on general release.

Now we see further examples of this prejudice with the demand in the Skripal case that Russia be denied the right to defend itself, a right which every other defendant accused of a crime has.

Personally I cannot see a more straightforward example of prejudice against Russia than that.

The Duran



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Australia & China on Pacific Ocean collision course & no one’s talking about it – By RT

Australia & China on Pacific Ocean collision course & no one’s talking about it
Australia has ramped up anti-Chinese rhetoric, challenging Beijing over its growing influence in the Pacific. Trump’s pick for ambassador to Australia, stalwart anti-Chinese Adm. Harris, paints a clear picture of what’s to come.

In 1900, then-Senator Albert Beveridge famously said to lawmakers in Washington that “the power that rules the Pacific, is therefore the power that rules the world.

As recent developments will demonstrate, this imperialist sentiment continues over 100 years later to the present day. The battle for control over the Pacific is taking place right before our very eyes and is placing both Australia and China in a precariously confrontational position, though the mainstream media refuses to pay due focus to the issue.

Australia’s recent attacks on China

It all went downhill at the end of last year when Australia went out of its way to accuse China of “foreign interference,” with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull stating that Australia would “stand up” to China against meddling in its national affairs. 

Later, Australia strained its relationship with China even further, after Australia’s Minister of International Development Concetta Fierravanti-Wells accused China of building “roads to nowhere” in the Pacific. She also claimed that China was constructing “useless buildings” throughout the region, and berated it for allegedly loading Pacific Island countries with mounting debt that they cannot afford to pay.

Not surprisingly, these verbal attacks were not necessarily received well by the countries that matter the most. Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele found Australia’s critical remarks against China “insulting,” saying he did “not really know that Australia is able to finance the kind of assistance provided by China.

At the end of last year, China signed a series  of infrastructure deals with Papua New Guinea (PNG), as part of China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative. Australia immediately responded negatively to this development, with opposition MPs voicing their concern that Australia had lost its “leadership role” throughout the Pacific – whatever that means.

In a pre-emptive attempt to stifle China’s relationship with PNG, Australia agreed to sponsor PNG’s ambitious plan to host the APEC summit set to take place this year. In other words, Australia’s only real desire to involve itself further in the region is to combat China’s expanding influence in the region. As of right now, Australia still maintains its position as the region’s largest donor.

China’s growing friendships in the Pacific has rattled Australia in more ways than one. In September 2016, Fiji’s Prime Minister Bainimarama called for New Zealand and Australia to be kicked out of the Pacific Islands Forum as “they are not Pacific Islanders,” with strong indications that Fiji would rather they be replaced by China instead.

Australia’s close friend and ally, New Zealand, for its part, just this past week went on a tour of the Pacific as well, pledging money left, right and center. As noted by the Samoan Observer, it was no secret that New Zealand, too, is equally concerned by China’s growing role in the region.

Prior to their arrival on Sunday evening, the New Zealand government had been talking about re-sharpening their focus on the Pacific amidst concerns about China’s growing dominance,” the paper said.

China’s Belt-Road initiative

The US has long had a containment strategy specifically targeting China, famously dubbed the ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy under the Obama administration. As a key ally of Washington, it makes sense that Australia holds similar views as to the perceived threat of China’s rise on the global stage.

Make no mistake, however, that Washington’s issue with China’s mounting influence in the region is purely economic. In fact, the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) was undoubtedly an attempt for the US to unite its transpacific allies against China, so it makes little sense that Trump wanted to discontinue it, given his known animosity towards China prior to his election.

Right now, China is in the process of uniting much of the world under its One Belt, One Road initiative, a monumental project which will endeavor to connect China, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Pacific and largely leave the United States out of its profit-sharing completely.

As it stands, all that is left blocking China from injecting itself into the rest of the global sphere is a chain of islands known as the ‘first island chain’, a term that refers to the Kuril Islands of Russia, the Japanese archipelago, Taiwan, the northern Philippines and Borneo. China has traditionally been blocked from injecting its military influence eastward into the Pacific Ocean by America’s strong control of this chain, but this control is already being challenged.

Just recently, China flew an intelligence aircraft near these southern outlying islands of Japan. Russia is also reportedly looking to build a naval base in the area, which will further complicate Washington’s ability to exert its control over the islands.

China has also allegedly been exercising its air force around Taiwan at least 16 times in the last year or so, demonstrating its intent to one day bring Taiwan to heel and bring it under the control of the “motherland.”

Role of the US

The extent of America’s direct role in this particular debacle is less obvious. Writing in the Asia-Pacific Journal, Andre Vitchek explains that the reason America’s role is less forceful in some Pacific Island nations is because New Zealand, Australia and the US have divided the Pacific between themselves, with New Zealand controlling Polynesia, Australia in charge of Melanesia and the US charged with maintaining Micronesia.

However, in early February, US President Donald Trump said he planned to nominate Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., the commander of the US Pacific Command and an outspoken critic of China, as ambassador to Australia. This is a man who described China’s artificial island project as “a Great Wall of sand,” and has repeatedly called China’s policy in the South China Sea “provocative and expansionist.” He also openly stated in 2014 that he believes the most volatile and dangerous threat facing the world to be North Korea, a current ally of China. According to the New York Times, Chinese media has already labeled Harris a US hawk.

Unsurprisingly, Harris celebrated Trump’s nomination by immediately advising the United States Congress that Washington should prepare for the possibility of a war with China in the South China Sea, adding that “China’s impressive military build-up could soon challenge the United States across almost every domain.

“Australia is one of the keys to a rules-based international order,” Harris also said. “I look to my Australian counterparts for their assistance, I admire their leadership in the battlefield and in the corridors of power in the world… a key ally of the United States and they have been with us in every major conflict since World War I.

Just over a week ago, Harris met with Australia’s defense minister in Canberra to discuss the two countries’ “amazing alliance.”

Australia “sleep-walking into confrontation with China”

Speaking in regard to Harris’ appointment, Euan Graham, director of the international security program at the Lowy Institute said what Harris “needs to be aware of is the sensitivity around looking like Australia is doing America’s bidding.” 

Unsurprisingly, Australia is viewed as the “right hand of the United States” in the part of the Pacific region under discussion, and it seems overtly likely that Australia is acting in its capacity as an American client state, carrying out America’s interests by vehemently confronting China’s expanding influence.

Perhaps Australia’s recent demeaning remarks towards China are a mark of a change in posture in the Asia-Pacific region and go far beyond that of mere verbal saber-rattling. Former colonial overlord Britain will send a warship from Australia through the South China Sea this month, a direct attempt to provoke and let China know that Australia and its allies will not go down without a fight.

She’ll be sailing through the South China Sea … and making it clear our navy has a right to do that,” British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson reportedly told the Australian.

Whether or not the mainstream media pays this issue the respect it so desperately demands, the reality is that Australia is “sleepwalking into a confrontation with China,” as acclaimed journalist John Pilger described the current conundrum. There’s a reason Australia is playing an increasingly militaristic role in the region, joining in navy and military drills with the United States and its close Asia-Pacific allies. Aside from the fact that Australia has joined in almost every US-led military adventure from Vietnam to Iraq; in 2016, Australian warplanes assisted the US-led coalition in Syria to strike and kill over 60 Syrian troops in direct contravention of international law. Australia is far from a passive player in US-led conflicts, and the pending appointment of the hawkish Harris as ambassador to Australia should be a horrifying sign of things to come.

Darius Shahtahmasebi for RT

Darius Shahtahmasebi is a New Zealand based legal and political analyst. Follow him on Twitter @TVsLeaking

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Trump’s Latest “Deal”: Sell Syria to Saudi Arabia for $4 Billion – By Whitney Webb (MINT PRESS)

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis stands in front of a map of Syria and Iraq ISIS, during an update to the media, Friday, May 19, 2017, at the Pentagon. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON DC – This week, as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) meets with top White House officials, reports have surfaced that Syria will be a key part of foreign policy discussions between the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.

According to the Washington Post, President Trump – in a bid to remove the estimated 4,000 U.S. soldiers illegally stationed in Syria – has offered to remove U.S. troops from Syria’s occupied northeast if Saudi Arabia agrees to pay $4 billion to “rebuild” and “stabilize” the areas the U.S. coalition and its proxies took from Daesh (ISIS) last year.

As the Post noted, the plan is meant to allow Trump to minimize an overt U.S. military presence in the region while accomplishing his postwar goal “to prevent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian partners from claiming the areas, or the Islamic State from regrouping.”

The Trump administration’s stated goals for America’s presence in Syria betrays the fact that the mission originally professed by the U.S. was the defeat of Daesh. As the threat posed by Daesh has all but passed, administration officials “have convinced Trump that the U.S. military cannot remove its troops from northern Syria in part because of Iran,” suggesting that the U.S. presence in Syria is now relegated to containing Iran as well as the long-standing goal of removing Syria’s president from power. The strategy of Iran containment through occupying Syria has been clear for some time and has been stated openly by U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and the now former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Last September, Haley remarked, “the [U.S.] efforts in Syria have been remarkable. And I can tell you, Iran is not going to be in charge, and Iran is not going to have any sort of leadership in that situation to where they could do more harm.” She also stated that the U.S. is not “going to be satisfied until we see a strong and stable Syria. And that is not with Assad in place.”

Then, in January, Tillerson told an audience at Stanford University that only “the departure of Assad through the UN-led Geneva process will create the conditions for a durable peace within Syria and security along the borders” and that “US disengagement from Syria would provide Iran with the opportunity to further strengthen its own position in Syria.”

Given past statements of top officials in his administration and his often-stated desire to share the burden of nation-building with U.S. allies, Trump is now offering Saudi Arabia control of the Syrian territories the U.S. has illegally occupied, but at a hefty price.

According to U.S. officials cited by the Post, when Trump first floated this deal to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, it was positively received, leading the president to believe that “he had a deal” with the monarch which would keep Syria’s oil-rich northeast in the hands of U.S. allies and out of the hands of the Syrian government his administration seeks to topple.

However, Saudi officials have reportedly sought to lower the price and have questioned the $4 billion price tag, but not the deal itself. MBS’ meetings in Washington this week will likely reveal if Trump’s latest “deal” is a success.


Endgame: partition Syria

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Jamie Jarrard left, thanks Manbij Military Council commander Muhammed Abu Adeel near the town of Manbij, in northern Syria, Feb. 7, 2018. (AP/Susannah George)

Though the U.S. attempts to involve Saudi Arabia in the “reconstruction” of Northeastern Syria are now getting public attention, they are not new. Last October, MintPress reported that Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL – a project launched by the State Department in 2014 to ‘degrade and defeat ISIS’ – was negotiating with controversial Saudi minister Thamer al-Sabhan over Saudi funding for the reconstruction of Raqqa. Now, the plan for the city of Raqqa is now being touted as a solution for “reconstructing” the entire territory that the U.S. is occupying in Syria.

Furthermore, if the Saudis agree to the president’s latest deal, Raqqa, which was all but destroyed by the U.S.-backed effort to “liberate” it from Daesh, and the rest of U.S. occupied Syria will – perhaps ironically – be rebuilt by the very country that has long funded Daesh and is home to the extremist politically funded ideology of Wahhabism it was dedicated to spreading.

Indeed, as leaked emails show, the U.S. government has known for years that the Saudis, along with other Gulf monarchies, have consistently provided “clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL [Daesh] and other radical Sunni groups in the region” as these groups seek to establish an “Islamic state” modeled after Wahhabi ideology, much like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself – a theocracy known for its persecution of religious minorities and its penchant for public beheadings.

The Saudi monarchy’s practice of persecuting religious minorities could spell disaster for those groups in Northeastern Syria that have already suffered greatly after Daesh. Though many of these minorities are no longer in the region as most were forced into refugee status or killed, it bodes a particularly unpleasant future for the Kurds, who are religiously diverse and are relatively supportive of gender equality in great contrast to Saudi Arabia. The Kurds’ alliance with the U.S. military is unlikely to aid them if Northeastern Syria comes under Saudi control as this alliance has done little to help the Kurds elsewhere in Syria, particularly in Afrin.

However, the U.S.’ goal in the region is not to ensure stability, democracy or any of the other humanitarian buzzwords frequently used to justify its military adventurism. Instead, passing the baton to the Saudis in Syria would further the goal of partitioning Syria along sectarian lines and would serve as a fountainhead of Wahhabi extremism in the future, key to destabilizing the Assad-led government and allies of the Syrian state, namely Lebanon’s resistance group Hezbollah and Iran.

Top Photo | Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis stands in front of a map of Syria and Iraq ISIS, during an update to the media, Friday, May 19, 2017, at the Pentagon. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News who has written for several news organizations in both English and Spanish; her stories have been featured on ZeroHedge, the Anti-Media, and 21st Century Wire among others. She currently lives in Southern Chile.

Republish our stories! MintPress News is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

US smooths Israel’s path to annexing West Bank Israel/Palestine – By Jonathan Cook (MONDOWEISS)

Seemingly unrelated events all point to a tectonic shift in which Israel has begun preparing the ground to annex the occupied Palestinian territories.

Last week, during an address to students in New York, Israel’s education minister Naftali Bennett publicly disavowed even the notion of a Palestinian state. “We are done with that,” he said. “They have a Palestinian state in Gaza.”

Later in Washington, Bennett, who heads Israel’s settler movement, said Israel would manage the fallout from annexing the West Bank, just as it had with its annexation of the Syrian Golan in 1980.

International opposition would dissipate, he said. “After two months it fades away and 20 years later and 40 years later, [the territory is] still ours.”

Back home, Israel has proven such words are not hollow.

The parliament passed a law last month that brings three academic institutions, including Ariel University, all located in illegal West Bank settlements, under the authority of Israel’s Higher Education Council. Until now, they were overseen by a military body.

The move marks a symbolic and legal sea change. Israel has effectively expanded its civilian sovereignty into the West Bank. It is a covert but tangible first step towards annexation.

In a sign of how the idea of annexation is now entirely mainstream, Israeli university heads mutely accepted the change, even though it exposes them both to intensified action from the growing international boycott (BDS) movement and potentially to European sanctions on scientific co-operation.

Additional bills extending Israeli law to the settlements are in the pipeline. In fact, far-right justice minister Ayelet Shaked has insisted that those drafting new legislation indicate how it can also be applied in the West Bank.

According to Peace Now, she and Israeli law chiefs are devising new pretexts to seize Palestinian territory. She has called the separation between Israel and the occupied territories required by international law “an injustice that has lasted 50 years”.

After the higher education law passed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his party Israel would “act intelligently” to extend unnoticed its sovereignty into the West Bank. “This is a process with historic consequences,” he said.

That accords with a vote by his Likud party’s central committee in December that unanimously backed annexation.

The government is already working on legislation to bring some West Bank settlements under Jerusalem municipal control – annexation via the back door. This month officials gave themselves additional powers to expel Palestinians from Jerusalem for “disloyalty”.

Yousef Jabareen, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, warned that Israel had accelerated its annexation programme from “creeping to running”.

Notably, Netanyahu has said the government’s plans are being co-ordinated with the Trump administration. It was a statement he later retracted under pressure.

But all evidence suggests that Washington is fully on board, so long as annexation is done by stealth.

The US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a long-time donor to the settlements, told Israel’s Channel 10 TV recently: “The settlers aren’t going anywhere”.

Settler leader Yaakov Katz, meanwhile, thanked Donald Trump for a dramatic surge in settlement growth over the past year. Figures show one in 10 Israeli Jews is now a settler. He called the White House team “people who really like us, love us”, adding that the settlers were “changing the map”.

The US is preparing to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May, not only pre-empting a final-status issue but tearing out the beating heart from a Palestinian state.

The thrust of US strategy is so well-known to Palestinian leaders – and in lockstep with Israel – that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is said to have refused to even look at the peace plan recently submitted to him.

Reports suggest it will award Israel all of Jerusalem as its capital. The Palestinians will be forced to accept outlying villages as their own capital, as well as a land “corridor” to let them pray at Al Aqsa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

As the stronger side, Israel will be left to determine the fate of the settlements and its borders – a recipe for it to carry on with slow-motion annexation.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has warned that Trump’s “ultimate deal” will limit a Palestinian state to Gaza and scraps of the West Bank – much as Bennett prophesied in New York.

Which explains why last week the White House hosted a meeting of European and Arab states to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

US officials have warned the Palestinian leadership, who stayed away, that a final deal will be settled over their heads if necessary. This time the US peace plan is not up for negotiation; it is primed for implementation.

With a Palestinian “state” effectively restricted to Gaza, the humanitarian catastrophe there – one the United Nations has warned will make the enclave uninhabitable in a few years – needs to be urgently addressed.

But the White House summit also sidelined the UN refugee agency UNRWA, which deals with Gaza’s humanitarian situation. The Israeli right hates UNRWA because its presence complicates annexation of the West Bank. And with Fatah and Hamas still at loggerheads, it alone serves to unify the West Bank and Gaza.

That is why the Trump administration recently cut US funding to UNRWA – the bulk of its budget. The White House’s implicit goal is to find a new means to manage Gaza’s misery.

What is needed now is someone to arm-twist the Palestinians. Mike Pompeo’s move from the CIA to State Department, Trump may hope, will produce the strongman needed to bulldoze the Palestinians into submission.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

About Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is

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A Log in Your Own Eye: Decades of US Meddling in Foreign Elections – By Sputnik

The obsessive condemnation of still unconfirmed Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election is a classic case of “do as I say, not as I do,” where the US politicians and media seem to have developed both long and short-term memory loss when it comes to American meddling in foreign elections.
Photo: US President Bill Clinton (R) laughing with Russian President Boris Yeltsin during a press conference after their meeting at Hyde Park 23 October 1995. AFP, Don Emmert
With Russia’s presidential election coming up on Sunday, March 18, all eyes are on Moscow where eight candidates will be on the ballot this year. In turn, the Russian Central Election Commission (CEC) is busy in its preparation to administer the vote, ensuring fair and free procedure, as well as prevention of illegal interference in the election process.

Concerns regarding foreign meddling in the nation’s pivotal vote shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering it was not that long ago when the US interfered in Russia’s internal matters, influencing the outcome of the 1996 presidential election.

Spinning Boris
The popularity rating of then incumbent president Boris Yeltsin plunged to 6% and his chances of winning were next to nothing. In what later was released as Hollywood’s depiction of events, characters of the Spinning Boris film described the president’s standing:

“Stalin is dead. Not as dead as Yeltsin.”

2003 American comedy starred Jeff Goldblum, Anthony LaPaglia and Liev Schreiber, who portrayed a team of US spin doctors sent to salvage Yeltsin’s image and secure him another four-year term in the office.

The whole ‘rescue effort’ was reportedly orchestrated by Felix Bryanin, a Russian-American businessman who did not relish the prospects of Yeltsin’s chief rivals – the Communist party – winning the election and steering the country back to socialism.

The US didn’t bother covering its tracks, as political consultants Joe Shumate, George Gorton, Richard Dresner and Steven Moore detailed their exploits in an exclusive interview to Time magazine. The article was published on July 15, 1996 under the headline “Yanks to the Rescue – the secret story of how American advisers helped Yeltsin win.”

Photo: Former Russian president Boris Yeltsin. Sputnik, Alexander Makarov
According to the Guardian, in 2003 Yeltsin’s former head of staff Sergei Filatov denied the involvement of US spin doctors in the election, claiming that he “never saw them” but “as they had been paid we decided to let them sit quietly in the President Hotel and not interfere.”
‘In the Interests of Democracy’
To some the fact of US interference in foreign politics may come as an eye-opening revelation but definitely not to former CIA director James Woolsey, who just recently admitted that American meddles in other countries “only for a very good cause in the interests of democracy.”
The majority of the Russian public are not dumbfounded by the practise either, as new poll revealed that in 2016 almost eighty percent of Russians thought the United States meddled “a great deal” or “a fair amount” in Russian politics.
Photo: Viewers during a holiday concert devoted to Russia Day on Red Square. Sputnik, Ramil Sitdikov
The US attempts at steering the political processes abroad were neither limited to Russia alone nor did they begin in the 1990s. Moreover, it won’t come as a surprise if the US “policy of interference” continues in the future, considering the rich history of such activity by Washington in the past.

The “impressive” record of forcing their political agenda on foreign governments by the US reveals a list of numerous cases, which include but are not limited to the following.

In their effort to support non-Communist forces in post-war Italy, the US administration under Harry Truman flexed its political and financial muscle to influence the outcome of Italian elections in 1948.

The US threw their weight behind the Christian Democracy party, who defeated the left-wing coalition of the Popular Democratic Front, through generous monetary support, which former CIA officer F. Mark Wyatt simply described as “bags of money that we delivered to selected politicians.”

Photo: Italy’s Premier Alcide de Gasperi, at microphone, addresses a huge crowd from the balcony of the Christian Democrat Party Headquarters in Rome, Italy, on April 21, 1948. AP
“And, we did many things to assist those selected Christian Democrats, Republicans and… and the other parties… that could keep the secret of where their funds came from,” Wyatt said in a 1996 interview.
“Stay out of this hemisphere and don’t try to start your plans and your conspiracies over here,” Henry Cabot Lodge, US ambassador to the UN, warned his Soviet counterpart during a UN emergency session on June 18, 1954.
But US activity didn’t stop at finger-wagging and in 1954 the democratically elected leader of Guatemala Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was overthrown by the CIA-backed coup and forced into exile. The Eisenhower administration portrayed the coup as a revolt meant to clear the region of a perceived Communist threat – something that was facilitated by the US corporation the United Fruit Company (UFC).
“Once he took power, he was implanting this policy. The UFC didn’t like that very much and they hired a PR firm to convince the US that Arbenz was a Soviet puppet… Out of this PR campaign came a commitment by the CIA and the military to take this man out and in fact we did,” the author of the book Confessions of an Economic Hitman, John Perkins explained.
The fire of impending unrest in 1958 Lebanon, fuelled by confrontation between Maronite Christians and Muslims, was put out by Washington’s ‘helping hand’, which backed the pro-western Christian President Camille Chamoun against perceived threats posed by Syria and Egypt.
Photo: Former Lebanese President Camille Chamoun conducts business over the telephone at his National Liberty Party headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, July 9, 1963. Chamoun stated: “If Lebanon’s independence were threatened as in 1958, I would certainly appeal to any Nation”. AP
Around the same time the CIA used the US government money and donations by American oil companies to help Christian politicians in Lebanon win the elections.
Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s the US secretly supported the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), providing covert financial support to its candidates without hesitation. The LDP have been in power in Japan since 1995 till modern days with minor gaps in between.
Photo: Socialist party members rough up a plain-clothes policeman during a scuffle between left wingers and riot police near the parliament building in Tokyo, Nov. 6, 1965. The demonstrators, supporting the Socialist and Communist parties, opposed the normalization pact which they contended is aimed at a Japan-South Korea-U.S. military alliance, after ruling Liberal-Democratic party rammed the ratification bill for the treaty through the special ad hoc committee of parliament’s Lower House. AP Photo, Nobuyuki Masaki
In 1950s their main opposition were the left-wingers – the Japan Socialist Party and the Japanese Communist Party. Interested in preserving LDP’s authority, the CIA provided financial backing to the party to ensure its dominance over its Communist counterparts.
In 1999, the US and their NATO allies have intensified their efforts in ‘fighting for democracy’ – this time in then Yugoslavia. Thanks to their considerate assistance, the democratically-elected Yugoslav government had been toppled and millions of US dollars were poured into what Washington called “democratic opposition.”
Photo: Still from Serbian TV from April 4, 1999 showing a bridge over the Danube in Novi Sad, northern Serbia, some 70 km (40 miles) north of Belgrade, which was destroyed a day earlier by NATO warplanes. AFP, Serbian TV
“In post-cold war Europe no place remained for a large, independent-minded socialist state that resisted globalisation,” George Kenney of the US state department kindly explained.
Manuel Zelaya was ousted as Honduras’ president in a military coup on June 28, 2009. His post was taken over by parliament Speaker Roberto Micheletti. Hillary Clinton who held the post of the US Secretary of State at the time cemented Micheletti’s position, according to an article citing inquiry conducted by Robert Naiman, Mark Weisbrot and Alexander Main, following the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails by the Department of State in March 2015.
Photo: A masked supporter of Honduras’ ousted President Manuel Zelaya demonstrates as soldiers stand guard outside Congress in Tegucigalpa, Friday, July 31, 2009. AP, Arnulfo Franco
It is further alleged that she deliberately delayed the suspension of US non-humanitarian aid to Honduras, under the excuse that the situation in the country was “still unclear.” Clinton’s action reportedly ensured that Zelaya wouldn’t be restored, despite the fact that the coup was officially opposed by the Obama administration and the UN.
Photo: Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. AP, Patrick Semansky
A number of questions arise around America’s role in the 2014 coup in Ukraine, when the democratically elected president Viktor Yanukovych was ousted, following a series of violent protests.

The US Senator John McCain was in Kiev during the start of the unrest. A leading Republican voice on US foreign policy, McCain told thousands of Ukrainian protesters camped on Kiev’s main square in December 2013:

“We are here to support your just cause, the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently. And the destiny you seek lies in Europe.”

Photo: US Senators Chris Murphy and John McCain cheer up the supporters of Ukraine’s European integration at Maidan square in Kiev, Ukraine, Dec 12, 2013. Sputnik, Ilya Pitalev
Later, a leaked phone conversation between then US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt and US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland hinted at extensive involvement.

They spoke about the need to “midwife this thing” and said Ukrainian politician Arseniy Yatsenyuk was “the guy”, shortly before he became prime minister.

Commenting on Washington’s attitude towards foreign meddling, Frederick A. O. Schwarz Jr., former staff director of the US Senate’s Church committee told the New York Times in 1997 “the United States has certainly engaged in these things, but we get all up in arms when someone else does.”

”The things the CIA cited as successes really weren’t successes. ‘They were an arrogant exercise of our power to intervene in domestic affairs,” he added.

Mariya Zakharova schools West in correct way to deal with Skripal assassination attempt [VIDEO] – By Seraphim Hanisch The Duran (SOTT)

Maria Zakharova

© Russia Insight
Maria Zakharova speaking about the British behavior towards the Russian Federation in relation to the assassination attempt on Sergey and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury, Great Britain

However, it is unlikely her very reasoned process will fall on receptive ears as the West accuses Russia for the use of Novichok and yet refuses to listen

Maria Zakharova is a powerhouse for the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry. She is the go-to for all matters concerning sanctions against Russia, other accusations and slanderous attacks against Russia and less virulent affairs as well.

Here on video with English subtitles, she clearly, carefully and SANELY lays out the process and rationale for how to solve the matter of the alleged Novichok-utilizing assassination attempt on ex-spy Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia.

Unfortunately, it is likely not to be considered, as the Western nations continue to ramp up very bellicose rhetoric against Russia.

It would make sense if Russia actually did something, but there simply is no logic to the argument that President Vladimir Putin would order an assassination to be carried out right before the Russian Presidential elections which are to be held this Sunday, March 18th.

While people who live in the West might try to go on the idea that Putin is “showing his strength” to either inspire or cow the Russian people into voting for him, this is simply not true. Since I live in Russia and interact with people here every day, I have talked to them often enough about politics and they are very free with expressing their opinions. There is no doubt here that Putin will win, but even some of the most cynical of Russian people who say this also admit that the problem is not Putin’s bullying or coerciveness, because this is nonexistent. What is the case is that no other presidential candidate has shown any significant ability that would lead the nation in any more effective a manner than what President Putin has done.

So, even those people who do not believe his personal integrity (and there are quite a number of them that freely say so) or his Christianity, which are some major selling points this election, still usually admit that he is effective as a leader, and solves problems that no one else yet has given a better idea how to solve.

Russians are, in my experience, very practical and pragmatic people. They are as emotional as anyone, but they do a pretty good job at not being hysterical and making blind accusations simply because of emotion. Not that these levels, anyway.



Lavrov: Partition Syria must be foiled, West is ‘on the ground’, Haley remarks irresponsible – By Sputnik


© Al-Masdar News
Russian FM, Sergey Lavrov

During an interview with the television and radio company of Kazakhstan’s President, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has commented on a wide range of issues: from the situation in Syria to Skripal’s poisoning and beyond.

While stressing that the level of violence in Syria has significantly decreased, the foreign minister emphasized that “the process of deescalation in Eastern Ghouta could start only if the militants stopped shelling Damascus. This process has not been underway for a very long time, now there seems to be some hope that these armed formations will separate from Jabhat al-Nusra, ” Lavrov said.

According to Lavrov, any plans on Syria’s partitions should be abandoned. “I do not think that we should even talk about a potential partition of Syria, but it is our duty to demand that these plans be immediately foiled, some bear it,” the minister said in an interview with the television and radio company of the president of Kazakhstan.

The decrease of violence in the country was discussed during a ministerial meeting on Syria between the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey as part of the Astana reconciliation process.

“Those armed groups that could be a part of the negotiating process are, unfortunately, operating under the umbrella of Jabhat Fatal al Sham. They created a joint command and in fact three groups: Faylaq al-Rahman, Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham – became allies of Jabhat Fatal al Sham, which is designated by the UN Security Council as a terror organization,”

Lavrov said, adding that Russian servicemen were urging the three groups to distance themselves from the terrorists.

He has also condemned illegitimate presence of foreign forces in Syria, saying that it “contradicted international law and the UN Charter.”

“US, French, UK special forces are ‘on the ground’ in Syria. So it is not a ‘proxy war’ anymore, but direct engagement in the warfare,” Lavrov added.

Furthermore, the foreign minister said that the Americans are “planting local authorities” on the eastern shore of the Euphrates River.

“What is happening on the eastern shore of the Euphrates River, where Americans have indeed liberated vast territories from terrorists with the help of the Kurds, but plant local authorities, who are intentionally isolating themselves from Damascus, and declare that they will support these authorities without any contacts with the Syrian government,” he said.

Earlier this week, the minister stated that the progress achieved at the Astana talks on Syria, including due to Russia’s efforts, was not being welcomed by those striving to divide the country into small territories under their control.

“Those who, in violation of all norms of international law, in violation of Resolution 2254, obviously seek to divide Syria, to replace the regime so that this important Middle Eastern country is replaced by small principalities, controlled by external players, certainly do not welcome what we are doing in Astana, we are trying to achieve in Astana,”

Lavrov said in a welcoming speech before the talks with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts in Astana.

Since 2014, the US-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes against terrorists in Syria without any authorization from the Damascus government or a UN mandate.

UK, Russia Diplomatic Standoff Over Skripal’s Poisoning

Commenting on the case of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal’s poisoning, Lavrov said that “western propaganda is becoming more brazen and primitive.”

“We are living in the world where one had better not read Western newspapers. All events are covered in an exceptionally simplistic, crudely propagandist way. The manipulation of public opinion is under way… On the one hand, the Western propaganda is getting more primitive, but it is also becoming more brazen, on the other,” he said.

On March 4, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found collapsed after being exposed to a chemical substance, later identified by UK police as the military-grade nerve agent Novichok, allegedly developed in Russia. British authorities have accused Moscow of “attempted murder,” although declined Russia’s request to provide samples of the substance in question.

As a response to the alleged attack, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced the largest expulsion of Russian diplomats from the country since the Cold War. Moscow, in turn, has declared 23 British diplomats personae non gratae, with the Foreign Ministry revoking its agreement on the UK General Consulate’s operation in St. Petersburg.

Russia-US Relations

The interview has also touched upon relations between Russia and the United States, with Sergei Lavrov insisting that Russia would not sign the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

“We will not sign it because we believe that prohibition of nuclear weapons in such a directive manner is impossible. Five official nuclear powers as well as non-official ones will not do that,” he said, adding that the US plans to expand its missile defense system and the fact that the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty had not entered into force yet, “mainly due to Washington’s reluctance, influence strategic stability as much as nuclear weapons do.”

As for the role of the United States in the UN, Lavrov said that ultimatums during the Security Council’s sessions were “unacceptable.”

“When our American colleagues bring any resolution to the UNSC, and we suggest holding talks on the matter because there are alternative views, we are being accused of blocking the proceedings, and they decide to do it solo. Immediate ultimatums, sanctions, etc are absolutely unacceptable according to the UN Charter,” he added.

The Russian Foreign Minister has also commented on the statement made by the US Envoy to the UN Nikki Haley on Washington’s “readiness to strike Damascus,” calling it “absolutely irresponsible.” “I don’t know who has empowered the US permanent representative to UN Nikki Haley to declare that the United States will be ready to bomb Damascus… […] It’s an absolutely irresponsible statement,” he concluded.

Comment: Fair and direct comments from Mr. Lavrov. The US and its Western allies are conforming reality to meet their mindset — insanity.

UK, Slovakia, Sweden, Czech Republic among most probable source of ‘Novichok’ – Moscow – By RT

UK, Slovakia, Sweden, Czech Republic among most probable source of ‘Novichok’ – Moscow
The substance used in the poisoning of Sergei Skripal may have originated from the countries studying the “Novichok” nerve agent, including the UK, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Sweden, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“The most likely source of origin of the toxin are the countries which have been carrying out intense research on the substances from the ‘Novichok’ program, approximately since the end of the 1990s until the present time, and this project is not the creation of Russia or the Soviet Union,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Saturday. She listed the UK, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Sweden among the countries involved.

The US should also “be put under question,” Zakharova said in an interview with the state broadcaster VGTRK.

“How did they come to the conclusion about a Russian ‘footprint’ if they didn’t give us those samples? Logically they shouldn’t have this substance. Which samples have they compared with to draw such a conclusion?” she went on. “Questions arise: then, they should have samples, which they conceal, or it is a lie from start to finish.”

“If the UK prime minister and other British experts give the formula, then it will be clear which countries have been developing these agents,” Zakharova said.

Zakharova’s remarks echo those of Russia’s representative at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Aleksandr Shulgin, who said the ‘Novichok’ research was taken out of the Soviet Union following its collapse. While Shulgin didn’t name where the program was smuggled, he said the source of the substance used in Salisbury is “concealed in one of the countries where this research continued and achieved certain success.”

Earlier, the OPCW said none of its member states has declared possession of the Novichok group of nerve agents.

The Russian-UK double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned on March 4. Prime Minister Theresa May has accused Russia of being responsible, with a major diplomatic row deepening.

Iran, Russia, Turkey reaffirm commitment to Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity after talks in Astana – By SOTT

Iranian delegation to Syria

Picture taken in the Kazakh capital Astana on March 16, 2018 shows the Iranian delegation to Syria talks featuring Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (3rd L)

Iran, Russia and Turkey, guarantors of the Syria ceasefire, have reaffirmed their strong commitment to the Arab country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity after a tripartite foreign ministerial meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Russian and Turkish counterparts, Sergei Lavrov and Mevlut Cavusoglu, convened in the Kazakh capital to address the situation in Syria on Friday.

The city has been hosting talks aimed at finding a peaceful solution to the seven-year crisis in Syria.

The talks have featured the Syrian government and opposition’s representatives, with the three states serving as guarantors. Tehran and Moscow side with Damascus, while Turkey takes part on behalf of the Syrian opposition.

At a turning point last year, the negotiations led to establishment of four de-escalation zones across Syria.

In a joint statement issued after the meeting, Tehran, Moscow and Ankara “reaffirmed their strong and continued commitment to the sovereignty and independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic.”

They also expressed satisfaction with the “concrete contribution of the Astana process to improvement of the situation in Syria during the last year, calling for continued “coordinated efforts” to make sure the reduction in violence in Syria would be “irreversible.”

The guarantor states further “reiterated their conviction that there was no military solution to the Syrian conflict.”

They underlined the need for a political solution to the crisis “through an inclusive, free, fair, and transparent Syrian-led and Syrian-owned process leading to a constitution enjoying the support of the Syrian people, and free and fair elections with the participation of all eligible Syrians under appropriate UN supervision.”

The meeting is expected to lay ground for a summit involving the presidents of the three countries in Istanbul on April 4.

The ministers were slated to focus on the situation in Eastern Ghouta, in the Idlib de-escalation zone and setting up a constitutional commission, among other issues.

The situation in Eastern Ghouta was expected to take center stage at the talks. The Syrian army, backed by Russian air cover, is conducting an operation against the terrorists holed up in the Damascus suburb and, at the same time, evacuating civilians through humanitarian corridors.

Comment: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Astana process has proved its important and it helps in resolving the crisis in Syria.

In a welcoming speech before the talks with his Iranian and Turkish counterparts in the Kazakh Capital on Friday, Lavrov said that the progress achieved at Astana platform gives a positive impetus to the political settlement of the crisis in Syria.

Lavrov clarified that those who violate all norms of international law and the UN Security Council Resolution No.2254 obviously seek to schemes that threaten Syria’s unity and territorial integrity adding that whoever wants to do so will not agree to the Astana talks.

“I hope that the US-led coalition realizes the necessity of not fencing off terrorists, as it’s happening now in Eastern Ghouta, but will fight terrorist groups consistently and on principle,” Lavrov said.

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