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Friday, August 17

A Rose is Still a Rose

U.S. Sanctions Mania, cont'd

The US is creating a so-called Iran Action Group, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced, adding that Brian Hook will lead the group in order to spur "international support for our efforts."
Speaking at the Thursday State Department briefing, Pompeo claimed that the world is demanding change in Iran's behavior, so that it "finally acts like a normal country."
He added that Hook will lead an Iran Action Group to "galvanize international support for our efforts."
Hook said the US wants to "promote a brighter future for the Iranian people," adding that the "Iran regime has been a force for instability and violence."
Hook went on to speak about the 12 requirements previously laid out by the US government, which Washington says Tehran must comply with. Those demands include Iranian withdrawal from Syria.
Pompeo previously stated that the US would impose the "strongest sanctions in history" if Iran failed to comply with the demands.
Hook said that if Tehran "changes its behavior" in those 12 areas, US President Donald Trump is "prepared to talk to the regime."
When it comes to other countries continuing to do business with Iran, Hook said the US is "prepared to impose secondary sanctions on other governments."
Sputnik, 8/17:
The United States has submitted proposals to the UN Security Council for new international sanctions against Pyongyang “to achieve complete and verifiable denuclearization of North Korea.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has condemned as “piratical” the international sanctions imposed on his country and promised that the North Korean people will stand united against “enemy forces,” the state-run news agency KCNA reported.
Tensions around North Korea started to ease after Pyongyang halted nuclear and missile tests earlier this year to focus on economic growth.
See also: 

Lira under further pressure after US warns of new sanctions, Financial Times, 8/16

Six US senators propose legislation to sanction Russia out of existence;
Pundita, 8/15


Erdogan regime orders attacks on civilian evacuation corridor in Idlib: report

"While some pro-government sources have claimed that the Idlib advance will be launched soon, much still depends on results of the ongoing behind the scenes negotiations between Russia and Turkey on the issue. The situation is developing." - SouthFront, 8/16

In recent days I've been relying so much on FARS for Syrian War news that my previous post explains why. With the launch of the Syrian army's Idlib Offensive drawing near, yesterday FARS published a report that suggests Erdogan will be a sore loser if the Turkish army is shoved back over the line -- and if I read Colonel Lang correctly, they will be shoved. 

Turkey Using Civilians as Human Shields for Terrorists in Idlib
August 16, 2018 - 4:31

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Turkish army prevented the Syrian army's decision to open a safe corridor in Idlib province before a massive military operation by the latter, making civilians a human shield for the terrorists.

The Arabic-language website of Sputnik news agency reported on Thursday that the safe corridor, which was due to open in Abu Zohour region in Southeastern Idlib for the civilians' passage from the terrorist-occupied regions, remained closed after Turkey showed a green light to the militants to attack it.

It added that the Syrian army's decision was called off after the Turkish officers held a meeting with commanders of the terrorist groups in Hama and Idlib near the town of Murak in Northern Hama, forcing civilians to remain in their homes.

Based on the report, the Turkish army has also declared that it will block any military operations in the province and protect the regions occupied by al-Nusra Front (Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at or the Levant Liberation Board), the ISIL, Horas al-Din and other terrorist groups.

Meantime, a Syrian field source said that the decision was called off after intelligence showed Turkey's green light for the ISIL and al-Nusra's suicide attacks against the passageway, adding that Ankara is trying to prevent military operations in the region by using civilians as human shields to protect the terrorists.

The [Russian government]-run Sputnik news agency reported on Wednesday that the Russian and Syrian forces were making final coordination on a major offensive against terrorists in Idlib.

The Sputnik Arabic report quoted a military source as saying that the Russian and Syrian armies have been coordinating to launch the long-waited assault in Idlib, adding that a vast joint reconnaissance operation has been underway by Russian and Syrian experts in the last few days as the zero hour is arriving for the operation in Northwestern Syria.

Sputnik Arabic further noted that monitoring the movements and gatherings of terrorists in villages and towns in Southeastern Idlib has been among [tasks for] the joint reconnaissance operation conducted by Russian and Syrian forces.

Sputnik added that in the meantime the Syrian army artillery units heavily shelled the positions of Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front) in the region, destroying their bases and positions.


See also:

Turkey Strengthens Positions in Hama to Prevent Syrian Army's Military Operations; FARS, 8/16

Tens of Civilians Kidnapped by Turkish Army in Afrin; FARS, 8/16

Russia sends naval reinforcements to Syria as SAA prepares to launch Idlib offensive (photos); Al Masdar News, 8/16

Syrian Army launches powerful attack across Idlib province; Al Masdar News, 8/16

Over 650 Idlib militants surrendered to government forces: Homs Governor; SouthFront, 8/16 - "The provincial government also revealed that during the reconciliation process backed by the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Warring Parties, about 80% of the armed groups in al-Rastan, Al-Dar al-Kabirah, Taldau, al-Ghantu, Tell-Bisa and Houla stayed, while 20% refused to surrender arms and were taken to Idlib."


Thursday, August 16

Iran's reporting on the Syrian War for English-speakers

Recently I've been posting a considerable number of war reports from FARS, first because it's the only English-language website to closely track the escalating violence in conflicts between Turkish and U.S.-backed militias and local Syrian populations. 

Secondly, in recent weeks Iran's state news agency has been increasingly translating reports about the Syrian War that are published at Sputnik's Arabic-language website -- reports unavailable at Sputnik's English language site -- then publishing English-language summaries of the translations at their FARS English-language website. 

Given that Sputnik is as much a Russian state news agency, the Iranian government has been performing an important  public service for English-speakers who're trying to keep abreast of war news from Syria -- and the Russian military's view of the war -- but can't read Arabic. 

They're also translating into English reports on the Syrian War from well-known Arabic-language news sources in Lebanon and Syria. 

As to how much propaganda these war reports represent, from what I've read since I started following FARS on a daily basis -- not long after the Russians entered the war -- I think they're careful to publish reports that Iranian field sources in Syria can verify as being it least 'in the ballpark.' The wording of the headlines can be misleading and smack of propaganda, which is why I'll often paraphrase a headline rather than post it verbatim.  And of course war reporting in general can contain inaccuracies. But when it comes to the 'trend' of reports on war situations in Syria, I've not known FARS to be wrong.

FARS can sometimes jump the gun, as I've mentioned before. There was the time they reported that the SAA had retaken East Aleppo. After I joyously posted the report, I became suspicious when no other Syrian War site was reporting this great victory. It turned out the SAA had retaken the 'Old City' in E. Aleppo. But a few days later the army did accomplish what by then was clearly inevitable.   

FARS' only real failing, if it can be called that, is that they don't like acknowledging that the enemy can on occasion win a battle. If the Syrian military or SAA-allied militia get pounded, FARS tends to grandly ignore the rout, which Al Masdar News, a pro-SAA war news site that is also an invaluable source on the war, will dutifully report. However, unfolding events showed that the trajectory of the war has been on the side of the SAA since the Russian intervention. So those who used FARS as a source on the war came out ahead of all the naysayers.  One can't ask for more from a war news site.   

In short, if I thought FARS was leading its readers down the garden path I wouldn't be featuring their reports at this blog -- and since they've taken to translating Sputnik's Arabic-language reports, I've been featuring them a great deal. 

As to why Sputnik isn't publishing the same reports on their English-language website, I don't know. I just know that in recent months the English-language Sputnik has gone increasingly 'dark' about the kinetic aspects of the Syrian War. The Idlib Offensive, whenever it gets fully underway, could reverse the trend.


Syria in past 24 hours: Aleppo, Idlib, Raqqa, Quneitra, plus my warning about Raqqa

I'm posting a link to the FARS 8/16 report Syrian Army in Full Control of Quneitra Province along with the 8/16 report from FARS, Syria in Past 24 Hours: Army Preparing for Large-Scale Anti-Terrorism Operation in Aleppo. As you can see by those headlines the SAA has been busy doing things in addition to preparing for the famous Idlib Offensive. 

A note regarding the last sentence in the segment on Raqqa, which isn't entirely clear in its wording. From earlier reports, I think FARS means that many of the attacks on the SDF are from unknown groups/individuals, although they're probably tribal Syrian Arabs and Raqqa residents who are furious about the treatment they've received from the U.S.-backed SDF in Raqqa. They're doubly furious because the U.S. has ignored or at least not responded to their reasonable demand that the U.S. rein in SDF 'excesses' in the region. During the past month the situation has been steadily escalating, with killings on both sides. 

Now to the FARS sitrep for the past 24 hours:   

The Arabic-language al-Watan daily [Syria, Arabic language] q
uoted well-informed sources as reporting that the army has forwarded a large number of forces and a large volume of military hardware to Aleppo province to launch an imminent operation against terrorists in Western, Southwestern and Northern Aleppo to reinvigorate Aleppo city's security.

It further said that the army operation will cover regions that are under the control of Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at (the Levant Liberation Board or the Al-Nusra Front) in the depth of Northern Aleppo from the town of Kafr Hamra and Qabtan al-Jabal up to the towns of Haraytan, Anadan, Hayan and Bayanoun.

The daily went on to say that the army is planning to purge terrorists from a large region from the towns of al-Mansoureh and Khan al-Asal up to the towns of al-Artab near Bab al-Hawa crossing at the border with Turkey.

Also on Wednesday, two main terrorist groups started infighting in Aleppo province amid reports on the Syrian Army's preparation to kick off a large-scale operation.

Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at and Syria's Liberation Front exchanged heavy fire in Northern and Northwestern Aleppo, after Tahrir al-Sham attacked the bases of the Liberation Front in the town of Kafr Hamra and seized the rival terrorists' arms and equipment and captured a number of the group's gunmen.

In the meantime, Tahrir al-Sham laid siege on the Liberation Front in the town of Hayan, which caused both terrorist groups to keep forces on alert.

Also in the past 24 hours, civilians in the town of Afrin in Northwestern Aleppo poured into the streets and opposed occupation of their town by the Turkish troops and their allied militants.

Tens of civilians took to the streets in Afrin and chanted slogans against Turkish occupiers and their militant allies.

The uprising came after Ankara-backed militants captured a number of young men in al-Mahmoudiyeh North of the town.

In the meantime, terrorists of Ahrar al-Sharqiyeh and Eastern Ghouta terrorists engaged in heavy fighting that inflicted several casualties on both warring sides.

Assassination of people and looting civilians' assets by the Ankara forces have enraged people in Afrin.


The Syrian Army dispatched more troops and military hardware to Northern Syria and pounded terrorists' positions in Northern Hama and Southern Idlib on Wednesday to pave ground for a swift advance against terrorists in Idlib.

The army sent fresh convoys of military vehicles and well-equipped soldiers to Northern Lattakia and al-Ghaab Plain, reinvigorating the government forces' combat capabilities and setting up new positions.

Also, a military convoy including hundreds of army men and a large volume of equipment left Southern Syria for Northern Hama.

In the meantime, the army's artillery and missile units opened heavy fire at the positions of Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at and other terrorist groups in the town of al-Latamina and the village of Ma'arkaba in Northern Hama and also in the villages of al-Mushayrafa, Um al-Khalalil, Badama, al-Tineh and al-Lubideh in Eastern and Western Idlib.

Terrorists suffered heavy casualties and their military hardware sustained major damage in the attacks.

Also on Wednesday, the Russian and Syrian forces are making final coordination on a major offensive against terrorists in Idlib, the Russia-run Sputnik news agency reported.

The Arabic-language website of Sputnik quoted a military source as saying that the Russian and Syrian armies have been coordinating to launch the long-waited assault in Idlib, adding that a vast joint reconnaissance operation has been underway by Russian and Syrian experts in the last few days as the zero hour is arriving for the operation in Northwestern Syria.

The Arabic Sputnik further said that monitoring movements and gatherings of terrorists in the villages and towns in Southeastern Idlib has been among the joint reconnaissance operation conducted by the Russian and Syrian forces.

In the meantime, the Syrian army artillery units shelled heavily the positions of Tahrir al-Sham Hay'at in the region, destroying their bases and positions, the website added.

In the meantime, a source in Idlib Peace Committee reported that a humanitarian corridor has been proposed by the Russian and Syrian Command to pave the ground for the evacuation of civilians before the operation in Idlib.


The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stormed civilians that had demonstrated against foreign occupiers in Raqqa city on Wednesday.

The SDF gunmen opened fire at civilians in Raqqa that had demonstrated against the occupiers in Baq Rashid neighborhood.

The SDF kept fighters on alert in Baq Rashid and seized over ten civilian vehicles.

In the meantime, the Arabic-language al-Manar TV [Lebanon] reported that three SDF militias were killed after a bomb planted by ISIL terrorists in the way of the SDF fighters went off in the village of Jadidah Baladiyah East of al-Karama in Eastern Raqqa.

A fresh wave of insecurity and tensions has covered Raqqa following the SDF measures against people and unknown attacks on them.



"Palmyra, Sukhnah residents fear returning because of US, ISIS presence nearby

[Pundita note: By "refugees" FARS could mean displaced persons; this on the assumption most if not all residents who fled stayed in-country]

August 16, 2018

TEHRAN (FNA)- The Syrian refugees are afraid of returning to the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria’s Homs province as long as the US forces are stationed nearby in at-Tanf as well as some ISIL terrorists in the neighboring desert, a local official said.

"Few people have returned - only 200 families. People are worried, they are afraid of returning to Palmyra, as well as to Sukhnah, because they are close to the US base at al-Tanf. There are US troops there, as well as several ISIL units, which are wandering in the desert," Governor-General of Homs province Talal Barazi said on Thursday.

He added that Syrians would feel secure only once the ISIL is eliminated, and the US servicemen leave al-Tanf.

Meantime, al-Barazi said that over 650 people who refused to surrender arms during the reconciliation process in Homs Province and left for Idlib have returned to the province to peaceful life, Governor Tal al-Barazi told reporters on Wednesday.

He said that during the reconciliation process administered by the Russian Center for Reconciliation of the Warring Parties, 80% of the population in al-Rastan, al-Dar al-Kabirah, Taldau, al-Ghantu, Tell-Bisa and Houla stayed, while 20% refused to surrender arms and were taken to Idlib. [emphasis mine]

Damascus and Kremlin both declared in early March 2017 that the Syrian army, backed by the Russian Air Force, had taken back the key city of Palmyra (Tadmur) from the ISIL terrorist group.

Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov stated that Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu had reported to the commander-in-chief, President Vladimir Putin, that the historic city of Palmyra in Homs province had been liberated.

Hours after Moscow declared the liberation of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Homs province, the General Command of the Syrian Army also confirmed the report.



"Turkish military vows to confront Syrian Army in Idlib, Hama provinces"

The headline is from an Al Masdar News report today. Whether the Turks are blowing hot air or not, I have no idea. All I know is that every Syrian War wonk on the planet has been opining on what Turkey is going to do next in Syria.
Me, I'm just waiting for this famous Idlib Offense to get off the ground. I thought it was already on last week but no, it's almost already on. Some fighting around the edges but the SAA is still getting their ducks in a row. Headline yesterday from FARS: Syria, Russia in Final Coordination over Idlib Operation

Meanwhile the U.S. is delivering a lot of materiel to their bases in E. Syria according to SOHR's sources as quoted by FARS yesterday. As to what that's about, a guess would be it's a signal to the Turks not to get any funny ideas about attacking the U.S.-backed SDF militia, which is stuffed with Kurds. But who knows? We are now in the pea soup fog- of- war phase in Syria. 

However, one thing is clear from reporting at FARS over the past several weeks: there are a lot of "popular uprisings" going on. This is all strung out near the Syria-Turkish border and in the Raqqa region. Some Syrians are mad at the Syrian air force for doing bombings in their neighborhood. Some are uprising against the Turkish army, and some are uprising against the SDF and U.S.

The U.S. command is caught in the middle of all this. 


China Trade Policy

Wednesday, August 15

Six US senators propose legislation to sanction Russia out of existence

"Tales of the New Cold War: One Hundred Years of Sanctioning Russia and what is to be done?" August 14 discussion between Dr Stephen F. Cohen, Professor Emeritus New York University and Princeton University and John Batchelor of the John Batchelor Show. Podcast Part 1 of 2. Podcast Part 2.   

Dr Cohen starts off with an overview of the history of U.S. sanctions against Russia. But soon the conversation turns to what Russia could do to retaliate against sanctions recently proposed by six American senators. Batchelor also brings out the ramifications of the Russia sanctions for many countries.

See the articles at CNBC and Intellinews for discussion of specifically how the proposed sanctions will affect Russia. As to the ostensible rationale for the sanctions -- from Republican Senator Lindsey Graham's website, August 2:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Ben Cardin (D-MD), John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) introduced the Defending American Security from Kremlin Aggression Act of 2018, comprehensive legislation that will increase economic, political, and diplomatic pressure on the Russian Federation in response to Russia’s continued interference in our elections, malign influence in Syria, aggression in Crimea, and other activities.
“The current sanctions regime has failed to deter Russia from meddling in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections,” said Senator Graham.
“Our goal is to change the status quo and impose crushing sanctions and other measures against Putin’s Russia until he ceases and desists meddling in the US electoral process, halts cyber-attacks on US infrastructure, removes Russia from Ukraine, and ceases efforts to create chaos in Syria.
The sanctions and other measures contained in this bill are the most hard-hitting ever imposed – and a direct result of Putin’s continued desire to undermine American democracy.
As to the actual rationale, I think it's to use legislation to formalize the claim that Russia is as much making war on the United States. In this way it would be a clear impeachable offense if President Trump went through with a state visit to Russia. I'd say the 'Get Russia' crowd on both sides of the Atlantic has strong reasons to want to prevent such a visit.   

As to sanctions, they've increasingly been used by the U.S. to force governments into accepting American parameters for negotiation. It's not brainwashing but it's close enough that people sense an attempt to force their minds into a certain way of thinking. No surprise, then, that they're uncooperative when it comes to adhering to agreements that come out such negotiations.

Working against this abuse of sanctions is simply the cumulative effect. The rest of the world is watching the American sanctions pile up, and recoiling. From an Express report yesterday:
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the White House-backed sanctions which sparked the [Turkish lira's] dramatic collapse were shattering America’s reputation around the world.
Speaking at a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Mr Çavuşoğlu said: “The era of bullying must end. If the US wants to continue being a reputable country, it cannot do so with these impositions. We are against the US or any country imposing sanctions.”
Mr Lavrov described the US sanctions against Turkey as "unlawful and illegitimate" and said they could not last for long.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry has sided with Turkey in its dispute with the US by attacking Washington's sanctions.
A spokesman said: "Pakistan, in principle, is opposed to the imposition of unilateral sanctions against any country.
"The solution to any and all issues should lie in dialogue, mutual understanding and goodwill."

Liechtenstein's Crown Prince Alois upset U.S. doesn't consider his country important enough to sanction

'Are we not the richest country on this planet by GDP per capita?' the Crown Prince snapped at an AP reporter -- actually the only reporter -- at a hastily convened press conference. Did we not expand the powers of the monarchy in our country? Those alone are two sound reasons for the U.S. to sanction Liechtenstein and I can think of several more. But no, we are snubbed because we are a very small country. This is flagrant bias, and we plan to bring a human rights complaint before the United Nations,' the Crown Prince explained in answer to the AP reporter's question about whether Liechtenstein planned to retaliate. 'Every country deserves to be sanctioned by the United States if some countries are sanctioned.'  


Ankara announces "huge"retaliatory tariffs on US. Ankara and Moscow team to condemn Washington's Sanctions Mania. Turkish lira still in trouble. Have a nice day!

Bonus! Germany's Deutsche Welle has published Turkish Lira Crisis for Dummies. "The Turkish lira crash is threatening to turn into a debt and liquidity crisis. DW explains how the lira got to this point."

Turkey ramps up US spat with huge tariffs on cars and other goods
by Jethro Mullen
August 15, 2018: - 2:03 AM EDT


Turkey on Wednesday intensified its clash with the United States, announcing heavy new tariffs on some American products including cars, alcohol and tobacco.

Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Twitter that the measures were in response to "the deliberate attack of the US administration on our economy."

The Turkish government has doubled its retaliatory tariffs on American cars to 120% and on alcoholic drinks to 140%, according to a notice published Wednesday. Other affected products include fruit, coal, paper and rice.

Relations between Washington and Ankara have rapidly soured in recent weeks over Turkey's detention of an American pastor. The Trump administration announced plans on Friday to double US tariffs imports of steel and aluminum from Turkey.

The political spat with Washington has added to pressure on Turkey's currency, the lira, which has plunged against the dollar.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the United States of stabbing Turkey in the back and on Tuesday called for a boycott of US electronics products.

Turkey already imposed new tariffs in June on a similar range of US goods, worth a total of $1.8 billion, in retaliation for President Donald Trump's initial tariffs on steel aluminum.

-- Isil Sariyuce contributed to this report.


The (U.K.) Express live blogged yesterday's dizzying chain of events regarding Turkey's currency and U.S. sanctions:

Erdogan and Putin join against US - Lira fails to recover fully
By Simon Osborne 
August 14, 2018

ANKARA and Moscow have joined forces to condemn Washington for imposing sanctions on their countries as the Turkish lira crisis threatens to spill over into an international financial crash.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said the White House-backed sanctions which sparked the currency’s dramatic collapse were shattering America’s reputation around the world.
Speaking at a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Mr Çavuşoğlu said: “The era of bullying must end.
"If the US wants to continue being a reputable country, it cannot do so with these impositions.
"We are against the US or any country imposing sanctions.”
Mr Lavrov described the US sanctions against Turkey as "unlawful and illegitimate" and said they could not last for long.
All eyes have been on Turkey ever since after the collapse in the value of the lira threatened to spark a global cash crisis.
The beleaguered currency found a moment's respite at [its] rise 2.6 percent to 6.70 against the US dollar after the Turkish central bank pledged liquidity and cut reserve requirements for banks. But the currency has lost almost 10 percent of its value since yesterday and has shed more than two-fifths of its value so far in 2018.
So far the the contagion has hit mainly emerging markets, spreading to the South African rand and the Argentine peso. [Pundita note: and the Indian rupee]
Argentina's central bank surprised by raising interest rates by 5 percentage points on yesterday, but it was still not enough to stop the peso hitting a record low.
Fears of exposure of European banks to Turkey pushed up bond yields in Spain and Italy and hobbled the euro.
The single currency was last at $1.1421, having touched its lowest since July 2017 on Monday.
But Asian share markets fought to regain their footing as tremors from the collapse of the Turkish lira ebbed.
Matt Sherwood, head of investment strategy at Perpetual, said: "The more significant emerging market concern relates to the risk that regional underperformance becomes a source of disruption through swings in capital flows and currencies.
"While the focus at present is on Turkey where currency depreciation and rising rates has translated into a marked tightening of financial conditions, it could spread to Mexico, Brazil and India."
7.11pm update: German think-tank's warning to Turkey
Clemens Fuest, head of Germany's Ifo Institute think-tank, has urged Turkey's government to tackle the economic crisis.
Mr Fuest said: "We have serious cause to worry. The crisis in Turkey is a classic economic and currency crisis.
"Erdogan's policies have been putting pressure on the country's economy for several years. The conflicts with the EU and the US are unsettling investors.
"Erdogan has responded with economic policy measures, especially in the form of state loan guarantees and very expansionary monetary policy.
"He put pressure on the central bank to cut interest rates, which undermined the independence of the central bank.
"In 2017, this led to high growth, but that was just a flash in the pan. Now it has burned out.
"The inflation rate has exploded, confidence is shaken."
3.44pm update: Pakistan attacks Washington's sanctions on Turkey
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry has sided with Turkey in its dispute with the US by attacking Washington's sanctions.
A spokesman said: "Pakistan, in principle, is opposed to the imposition of unilateral sanctions against any country.
"The solution to any and all issues should lie in dialogue, mutual understanding and goodwill."
Pakistan acknowledges and greatly appreciates Turkey's invaluable role towards regional and international peace and stability.
2.40pm update: 'We have serious cause to worry'
German economist Clemens Fuest, head of Berlin’s Ifo Institute, said there seemed little chance of Mr Erdogan regaining the confidence of the foreign markets.
Mr Fuest warned political and economic destabilisation of Turkey would be the last straw for Europe after Brexit, the transatlantic crisis and a looming global trade war.
He said: "We have serious cause to worry. The crisis in Turkey is a classic economic and currency crisis.
“Mr Erdogan's policies have been putting pressure on the country's economy for several years.
“The conflicts with the EU and the US are unsettling investors.
“Mr Erdogan has responded with economic policy measures, especially in the form of state loan guarantees and very expansionary monetary policy.”
2.20pm update: Turkish lira crisis 'will get worse before it gets better'
Economic experts do not believe the brief recovery of the embattled Turkish lira will bring an end to the threat of a global financial crisis and warn of worse to come.
Nick Brooks of asset management firm Intermediate Capital Group reckons things will get worse before they get better given Turkey’s weak economic position and has called for a sharp hike in interest rates to cool the overheating economy.
He said: “The fundamental problem in Turkey has been the build-up of unsustainable economic imbalances.
"Current account deficit is 6.3 percent of GDP, corporate foreign exchange debt is 35 percent of GDP and there's an inflation rate of 16 percent while the economy is now in a vicious downward spiral with the fall in the lira leading to concerns about corporate and financial sector solvency, further pushing down the currency and increasing capital outflows.
“Only a sharp hike in interest rates to halt capital outflows and incentivise inflows will halt the downward spiral.
“Capital controls, if implemented, will not be effective as Turkey needs foreign capital inflows to fund its current account deficit and to re-finance large foreign currency borrowing coming due this year.
“Investors will not bring new funds into the country if they don’t believe they will be able to get it back out.”
1.56pm update: Economist predicts possible bailout bid for struggling Turkey 
Former International Monetary Fund official Miranda Xafa said Turkey will soon be struggling to repay debts issued in foreign currencies unless it seeks a bailout.
She said: “The longer it waits, the harder it will get to overcome the crisis and the bigger the cost in terms of lost output, inflation, and financial distress.”
1.38pm update: US official visits pastor at centre of diplomatic row
Jeffrey Hovenier, the US charge d’affaires in Turkey, has visited Pastor Andrew Brunson, who remains under house arrest in the ancient Aegean coastal city of Izmir, and repeated demands for his case to be resolved.
1.10pm update: Turkish firms drop US advertising campaigns
Turkey's national airline and its main telecoms firm are pulling all advertising from US media as the rift between the two countries continues to widen.
Flag carrier Turkish Airlines and Turk Telekom made their announcements after a campaign on Twitter calling for an end to advertising in US media outlets.
The airline’s senior vice president for media relations Yahya Ustun said: "We as Turkish Airlines are taking our place alongside our state and people.”
12.20pm update: Turkey condemns US over sanctions
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov have launched a withering attack on the US at a joint press conference in Ankara.
Mr Çavuşoğlu said America was damaging its own global reputation by imposing sanctions against Turkey and Russia while Mr Lavrov dismissed the Washington measures as "unlawful and illegitimate”.
11.04am update: Andrew Brunson files fresh appeal bid with Turkish court
US evangelical Christian pastor Andrew Brunson pastor - the man at the centre of the bitter diplomatic row beweetn Ankara and Washington - has appealed again to a Turkish court to release him from house arrest and lift his travel ban.
Relations between Turkey and the US have spiralled into a full-blown crisis over Mr Brunson, who was held for 21 months in a Turkish prison until his transfer to house arrest last month - a move Washington dismissed as insufficient.
The appeal document said the court should halt any unlawful political interventions and lift judicial control provisions imposed on Andrew Brunson.
10.20am update: Erdogan hits out at Trump and calls for US goods boycott
President Erdogan has made a defiant speech to an audience in Ankara.
He said: “We will boycott US electronic products.
“If they have iPhone, the other side has Samsung. In our country there is Venus, Vestel [the Turkish smartphone brands].”
And he warned America and Donald Trump: “There is a price we’re paying for the period we’re in.
“But there will be a price [which] those who’re waging an economic warfare against Turkey will also pay.”
The Turkish president added he would take a firm stance and said switching to foreign currencies would be “giving in to the enemy”.
9.29am update: White House repeats demands for Andrew Brunson's release
Washington has told Turkey the diplomatic row between the two countries will not end until US pastor Andrew Brunson is released from house arrest.
White House National Security Adviser John Bolton met Turkey’s ambassador to the US, Serdar Kilic, yesterday and insisted that Mr Brunson - who was arrested in 2016 and charged with espionage - must be immediately released.
Experts fear Turkey’s financial meltdown will not end until the stand-off between the two countries over Mr Brunson is resolved.
9.10am update: European shares bounce back
European markets have bounced back after two days of heavy selling as anxieties over contagion from the Turkish currency crisis appear to have eased slightly amid reassurances from Ankara’s central bank and government.
The Turkish lira improved after the central bank had pledged to guarantee liquidity in response to the meltdown which has unsettled global markets.
Banks were  worst hit by concerns over Turkey, taking the pan-European STOXX 600 benchmark index to a 21-month low.
But Italy's FTSE MIB jumped 0.8 percent this morning with banks gaining as bond yields fell after the government said it had agreed to preserve the stability of state finances and lower public debt.
8:51am update: Turkish stock market rallies
Turkey’s stock market rallied this morning and was up more than 2 percent in early trading.
The initials gains mean most of yesterday’s heavy losses have been clawed back.
8.41am update: Turkish lira recovers some ground
The Turkish lira has risen by around 5 percent to take it back to 6.5 against the dollar from over 6.88 last night.
Analysts said it could mean investors are recovering their nerve but warned the lira remains in a precarious place bearing in mind it was worth 3.7 to the dollar at the start of the year.

Tuesday, August 14

Unprecedented solar behavior and what it means for humanity

"The Sun is Blank & What is to be Done?" (John Batchelor Show podcast)

Four minute Batchelor-Zimmerman discussion about the present solar minimum and what it portends. The discussion isn't longer because there's not much to be said, at least not in general terms.

As to what can be done if a coming Grand Solar Minimum is anything like the last one, which lasted for decades and here on Earth meant cooler temperatures and widespread crop failures and famines  -- nothing can be done. Nothing at all, except study the sun with the amazing instruments science has developed since the last Grand Solar Minimum and ponder the precariousness of life on a planet that has its own cycles of existence to deal with.

For those who might need to get in the mood for such pondering, I recommend listening to John Batchelor's talk with William Rosen about Rosen's book, "Climate 1314 AD: "The Third Horseman: A Story of Weather, War, and the Famine History Forgot." (Podcast)  Which goes to show that humans have been known to do something in the face of climate events over which they have no control: go to war.


"US Army Increasing Operational Bases in Northeastern Syria"

August 14, 2018

TEHRAN (FNA)- The US military has started developing and equipping its three operational bases in Hasaka and Aleppo provinces and is also building a new large base in regions that are under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Manbij, the London-based pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) disclosed on Tuesday.

SOHR said that the US-led coalition has started developing and equipping its military airports in Northeastern Syria after it sent a large military convoy to al-Shadadi airport in Southern Hasaka.

It went on to say that the US forces have also started developing Ein al-Arab (Kobani) base in Northeastern Aleppo and another base in Tal Tamar region in Northwestern Hasaka.

SOHR further disclosed that the US army is planning to build a large military base in Manbij region on the Western Bank of the Euphrates River in Northeastern Aleppo.

The Arabic-language Smart News website affiliated to the militants in Syria reported last week that a military convoy of the coalition crossed Iraq into Northeastern Syria via Simalka border-crossing.

It further said that the US military convoy, including 150 trucks with military vehicles on board, a number of oil tankers and other military equipment, was sent to regions that are under SDF's control in the province of Hasaka and Raqqa.

In the meantime, local sources in Hasaka city reported that an SDF commander was killed by unknown assailants in al-Nashwa neighborhood.

The sources further said that tensions between Syrian civilians and the SDF in Hasaka and Raqqa have gone high, adding that residents of the village of al-Hajiyeh Southeast of the town of Qamishli in Northeastern Hasaka engaged in heavy fighting with the SDF on Friday.


"Kurdish political group meets with Syrian gov’t in Damascus – report"

By Leith Aboufadel
August 14, 2018
Al Masdar News

BEIRUT, LEBANON (10:10 A.M.) – The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Council recently met with the Syrian government in Damascus city, the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper reported on Tuesday.

According to the Al-Watan report, a number of Kurdish officials traveled to Damascus to meet with the Syrian government, including a number of members from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).



"Opposition to Ankara's Policies in Syria Increasing among Turks"

[Pundita note: Still, about half those polled support their government's encroachments in Syria or have no opinion.]

August 13, 2018

TEHRAN (FNA)- Ankara's interference in Syria's affairs has been widely criticized by people in Turkey, a prominent journalist said, adding that the problems related to the Syrian refugees in Turkey will be resolved after the reopening of Ankara's embassy in Damascus.

"Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been severely criticized politically, even by the (ruling) Justice and Development Party, on Syria," Islam Ozkan told the Lebanese Arabic-language news website al-Ahd on Monday.

He added that all critics believe that such a policy on Syria will have consequences for Turkey because Ankara should have played a mediatory role between the militants and the Syrian government since the first days but instead it supported the militants by sending weapons and paved the ground for their traffic to Syria.

"According to the polls, 40% to 50% of Turkish people are opposed to Turkey's policies on Syria, among them supporters of the Justice and Development party," Ozkan said.

Turkey has supported the terrorist groups in Syria militarily and logistically.

Ankara has launched air and ground operations around the area of Afrin in Syria to oust the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara views as a terror organization and the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK).

Ankara opened a new front in Syria’s nearly seven-year-old war on January 20, launching airstrikes against Kurdish fighters in Afrin in Aleppo province.

According to reports, Turkish tanks are supporting the Free Syrian Army’s ground offensive on Kurdish positions in Syria’s Afrin region, as [since?] operation "Olive Branch" has started.

The Syrian government has condemned the “brutal Turkish aggression” against the Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin, rejecting Ankara’s claim about having informed Damascus of the operation.



"Unknown Assailants Intensify Attacks on US-Backed Militias in Manbij"

"In the meantime, the SDF threatened in a statement that the youth would be arrested and fined unless they joined the SDF voluntarily." 

August 13, 2018
TEHRAN (FNA)- Two more attacks on the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) by unidentified raiders were reported in the town of Manbij in Northeastern Aleppo on Monday.

A number of the SDF members, including a commander, were injured after a bomb planted in their vehicle of Manbij Military Council went off near al-Jazeera square in the town of Manbij.

They further said that another bomb went off on the way of the SDF militias near the Power Company in Manbij, injuring several gunmen.

In the meantime, the SDF threatened in a statement that the youth would be arrested and fined unless they joined the SDF voluntarily. 
On Wednesday, one of the notorious commanders of a Turkey-backed militant group was found dead in Afrin region in Northwestern Aleppo amid growing insecurity in occupied regions in Northern Syria, local sources reported.

The sources said that the body of Omar al-Kadro, a commander of the 51st Brigade affiliated to the Free Army, was found in the town of Jandaris in Southwestern Afrin.

The sources went on to say that militants of the Turkey-led Euphrates Shield were kept on alert five days ago after al-Kadro was kidnapped by unknown assailants from the main base of the Euphrates Shield forces in the town of al-Bab in Northeastern Aleppo.

They further said that heavy infighting erupted between the 51th Brigade and Sultan Morad Firqa in Akhtarin region after the attackers kidnapped al-Kadro.

Infighting and assassination of militant groups' commanders in Northwestern Syria has started a fresh wave panic covering the terrorist front.


See also: "Rifts Widening among Terrorists in Idlib ahead of Syrian Army Operation;" FARS, August 12


Just move right in, make yourself at home

In a related move by Turkey in Northern Syria on Friday, the Afrin Local City Council affiliated to the Ankara-backed Free Army embarked on renaming streets and squares in the town. 
The sources said that some of the streets and squares were named after Turkish figures, adding that the names of streets were written in both Arabic and Turkish alphabets.

They went on to say that the Ankara-backed militants changed al-Saraya Square to Recep Tayyip Erdogan Square and Kawa Square to Olive Branch Square, which was the codename of a military operation by the Turkish troops in the region.
The above is from an August 13 report from FARS headlined Civilians in Northwestern Syria Engage in Heavy Fighting with Turkish ArmyI think the Ankara-backed "Free Army" may also be called the "Syrian National Army" although it's a murky situation. From Wikipedia's article on the Free Syrian Army:
A formal organisation at its founding, its structure gradually dissipated by late 2012, and the FSA identity has since been used arbitrarily by various opposition groups.


After the Turkish military intervention in Syria in 2016, an informal group of Turkish-backed Arabs and Turkmen was established under the name "Free Syrian Army",[20] with on-ground support of an organised military backed by Turkish and British airpower.[21] The group closely cooperates with Turkish troops in Syria.[22]
Anyhow, it's unclear whether it was civilians or civilians with the help of one faction or another of the Free Syrian Army -- not to be confused with the Turkey-backed Free Army or Syrian National Army -- who reportedly fought with Turkish troops. 

What's clear is that the Turks are settling their butts into the Syrian side of the northwestern border. The report I linked to about a Syrian National Army mentions "At least five branches of the Turkish post office have opened in the area."


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