Thursday, May 31

Interview with President Assad on the Syrian War's endgame and the country's future UPDATED


SANA has posted the entire transcript in English. Here's my version, which makes light edits for readability and omits SANA's distracting introduction.


The interview is in English. Unlike all the other reporters who've interviewed President Assad for major press in a host of countries since Russia entered the Syrian War, RT's Murad Gazdiev is a war correspondent. And he's been covering the war from Syria, not from the safe distance of Turkey or Lebanon. So he was already well informed about the allover situation in Syria and the status of the war when he sat down to interview Assad.

The RT site has the video of the 30 minute interview, which is not yet posted to YouTube. The report accompanying the video provides excerpts from the interview, as does Sputnik. My hope is that SANA has published the entire transcript today but right now the site is down and it's been down all night, U.S. eastern time.

The RT report and video, headlined "'We were close to direct conflict between Russia and US inside Syria' – Bashar Assad;" May 31, 2018

Sputnik's May 31 report on the interview is headlined: "Assad: Syria to Beef Up Air Defenses Amid Threat From Israel"

I don't have comment at this time because I haven't watched the entire interview yet. 


Wednesday, May 30

American machinations abroad come home

From Nick Turse's May 29 report for TomDispatch:
... An examination of the threats from international and domestic terror groups, as imagined in JLASS-SP, offers unique clues to the Pentagon’s fears for the future. “Increasingly,” reads the war game’s summary, “transnational organizations, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and violent extremist organizations challenge the traditional notions of boundaries and sovereignty.” ...
What?! The Pentagon is worried about sovereignty? After how many national borders the U.S.  has ignored in the name of defending democracy?

From The Hill's May 25 report Trump lawyer touts petition to stop 'soft coup' against Trump:
... In a tweet, the attorney [Jay Sekulow] linked to a petition from the right-leaning American Center for Law and Justice, which Sekulow has run since 1992, that accuses the Obama State Department, run in part by former Secretary Hillary Clinton, of being part of a "shadow government" involved in a "soft coup" against the Trump administration. ...
Well! In that case I'm sure Mr Sekulow is all broken up about U.S.-backed attempts at 'regime change' in Syria.

Democratic Party leaders, for their part, claim that Donald Trump conspired with the Kremlin to interfere with America's presidential election processes.  

So how does it feel to be concerned that a foreign government is using covert means to influence your country's political system? Here's how Tony Cartalucci feels: 

From his May 18 report for Land Destroyer, Washington Post Denies US Meddling in Cambodia, Cites US Meddlers
Washington is attempting to seize on momentum produced by a sweeping victory for US-backed opposition in Malaysia by ratcheting up pressure across the rest of Southeast Asia through US-funded opposition groups, US-funded media, and US-funded and directed fronts posing as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). ...
From his May 18 report, Extensive US Meddling in Malaysia's General Election Revealed
After two years of accusations and constant headlines regarding allegations of still unproven "Russian influence" in the 2016 US presidential election, it is difficult to imagine that real political meddling or election interference anywhere around the globe could go unnoticed.
This is especially true regarding the Western corporate media, which has portrayed itself as deeply aware of the unethical and undemocratic nature of one nation interfering in the elections of another. Yet during Malaysia's recent general election -- hailed by the Western media as a "historic win" for an opposition the Western media clearly favored -- not a single story covering foreign interference during the election was written by media organizations like Reuters, AFP, CNN, the BBC and many others. 
Despite the lack of Western attention to foreign election meddling, it is revealed that Malaysia's opposition is almost entirely comprised of US government-funded fronts ranging from opposition leaders to political street fronts and organizers, to media posing as 'independent' Malaysian journalism, and to 'rights advocates' leveraging human rights advocacy to support the opposition and compromise Malaysia's Barisan Nasional (BN) party. ...
The only good news about the reports is the author himself; Tony Cartalucci is an American -- one who deserves the honor of being an American, one who lives by the principles on which the Declaration of Independence and Constitution rest. The principles do not include the strategies and tactics of a colonizing power, which is exactly what the United States of America has become.

How many more of our chickens must come home to roost before Americans such as Tony are not in the minority anymore?


Tuesday, May 29

Rumors continue about whether MbS was killed, wounded, etc. during April 21 palace ruckus

I can't believe I'm spending so much of my time on this story. For the two earlier installments at my blog, see here and here. Now to the latest installment. From FARS -- that's Iran's state news agency -- on May 28:
US, British Sources Confirm Saudi Crown Prince's Injury
TEHRAN (FNA)- An Arab media outlet quoted US sources as saying that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been wounded in the April 21 coup and shootings in his palace.
The Arabic-language Sawt al-Arab news website [Egypt] quoted the American sources as saying that the Saudi crown prince has been injured during the shooting incident in al-Khazami region, adding that he was taken out of the scene with a helicopter.
According to the website, although the Saudi media have released a number of images of bin Salman after the incident whose date cannot be confirmed, it is not yet clear if he has been treated or is still hospitalized for his injuries. [...]
Let me interrupt FARS to present a Reuters report dated April 28 -- that's a week after a ruckus at the royal palace that may or may not have been a coup attempt or just palace guards shooting at a toy drone that strayed:
Saudi Arabia launches multi-billion dollar entertainment resort by Marwa Rashad, Stephen Kalin 
QIDDIYA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attended the ground-breaking ceremony on Saturday of a vast entertainment resort that is at the heart of an ambitious strategy to open the economy and ease social restrictions.
Qiddiya, about an hour’s drive from Riyadh, is being built on a 334 sq km (8,400-acre) site, making it 2-1/2 times the size of Disney World. [...]
I'm a little ticked off at FARS for not doing their homework. Here's a picture of MbS along with his father, the king, at the ceremony, which Pakistan Today posted.

Now does Sawt al-Arab want to argue with Marwa Rashad, who was very likely at the ceremony, and who routinely reports for Reuters from Saudi Arabia on news about the kingdom?

As to the American sources -- were these unnamed sources 'officials' or a friend of a friend of somebody's next-door neighbor in Cairo? 

As to the British sources mentioned in the FARS headline: they're quoting The Observer, a British newspaper, whose source on the story is -- wait for it -- a Pakistani news site quoting an Iranian newspaper:
[On May 23] Iran's Kayhan newspaper claimed: 'At least two bullets have hit bin Salman in April 21 clashes in Riyadh and it is even possible that he is dead.' The paper questioned why the crown prince was not pictured when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid his first visit to Saudi Arabia Riyadh in late April - but King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir were pictured.
'There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the absence of nearly 30 days of Muhammad bin Salman , the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, is due to an incident which is being hidden from the public,' Kayhan claimed.
But now the prince's press spokesman has tweeted pictures of him chairing a meeting of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs. [...]
It's within the realm of possibility that there was an armed attack on the palace on April 21 and the subsequent night (remember there was an unconfirmed report about more gunfire around the palace on April 22.) If such occurred and the prince was at the palace at the time, it's possible that he was wounded. Yet in that case obviously by April 28th MbS was recovered enough to take part in a very public ceremony attended by many people -- and to be standing for the photographers.

I set aside what happened at the palace on April 21/22 because the only people who know the truth were directly involved in the incident(s). But I can understand the great interest and ongoing speculation and rumors about the incidents. I myself continue to pay attention to the story.

However, to claim that MbS hasn't been seen in public since before the April 21 ruckus is lazy reporting, or a news website just trying to wring clicks out of the story. C'mon. He's been seen, and while other photos of him might not be verified as to when they were taken, the one of him at Qiddiya is as verified as it can get by a mainstream news organization. 

As to why he didn't meet with Mike Pompeo, I myself would try to avoid meeting with Pompeo, but moving along he had his reasons although, granted, very influential people aren't allowed to have reasons that the public can't figure out.  

The one thing I would take from this royal mess is that MbS could simply be keeping a low profile after his global media blitz if there is truth to the rumor that his father will soon step down from the throne, perhaps as early as June. In that case MbS would be wise to make himself as scarce as possible until he's king. This would be particularly the case given claims that powerful members of the Saudi royal family and among the country's security forces do not want him as king. (1)

However, any such disgruntled Saudis could well decide to go along with MbS out of justifiable concern that a blowup in the line of succession would be very damaging to Saudi Arabian interests at this time. One of those interests is the Aramco IPO, which Oil Price reported on May 25 seems to have been pushed forward from the second half of 2018 to maybe sometime in 2019.

The need is to project to powerful governments and the global financial community that Saudi Arabia is very stable and would remain stable with MbS as king. As to whether it really is stable enough to weather MbS as king -- that is a matter of debate, which I'm not qualified to analyze.

But even if the country is as steady as a rock, down through history there's always a great amount of palace intrigue when the time for a new king is drawing near. Heck, this is true even for a democracy when political power changes hands.

There are long-running rumors that King Salman suffers from dementia, although he looks to me to be pretty much in control of his mental faculties. If I'm correct, then given all the palace intrigue at this juncture, he might decide to stay on the throne longer than he'd wanted. This would give MbS more time to solidify his own position.

Just my two cents.  

All right. That's enough for this installment from the rumor mills.

1) See the Observer report and links about the claims or go directly to the May 21 Middle East Eye articles here and here. The FARS report I quoted above also rehashes the MEE articles, one of which I discussed not long ago on my blog. ) 


Monday, May 28

But Ms Cafarella, Syria is not the property of the United States!

Jennifer Cafarella, Director of Intelligence Planning for ISW 

On April 12, two days before the Trump regime lobbed more than 100 cruise missiles at Syrian government installations, the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of war published Jennifer Cafarella's America's Interests in Syria Beyond Deterring Chemical Weapons Use. The six listed interests completely ignore that Syrians are not vassals of the United States and that their country is not American property:
... The U.S. has vital national security interests in Syria beyond deterring chemical weapons use. These include:
1. Defeating al Qaeda, as well as ISIS, and facilitating the emergence of a viable and legitimate Sunni Arab leadership that will prevent the re-emergence of jihadist actors.
2. Expelling Iranian military forces and most of Iran’s proxy forces from Syria in order to secure American allies and partners in the region, to deny Iran access to Syrian economic resources, to reduce the regional sectarian conflict that is driving Sunni jihadist recruitment, and to constrain Russia’s ability to project force through Iranian basing; 
3. Limiting Iranian influence over the Syrian government and territory;
4. Facilitating the emergence of a Sunni Arab armed force and governance structures that are: seen as legitimate by the Sunni Arab communities in Syria; willing and able to expel ISIS and al Qaeda and keep them out; and willing and able to serve as interlocutors for Syria’s rebelling Sunni community in negotiations with the pro-regime Alawite community and others;
5. Bringing the war in Syria to a stable and enduring end in a negotiated settlement acceptable to all sides that allows refugees to return in a manner that ensures jihadist actors do not gain sanctuary within a resettled and insecure population; and 
6. De-escalating the competition among Turkey, Russia, Iran, and the Gulf States that risks regional war and is setting conditions for a great-power conflict in the Middle East. 
The list is clearly an attempt to rationalize American colonization of Syria. Yet from the short bio at ISW Ms Cafarella is ostensibly an American; in that case I would have no idea how she came to see political sectarianism as desirable, or why she believes Syrians don't deserve national sovereignty. 

I do know she's better off directing her points about al Qaeda and ISIS to the Trump regime, which is protecting factions of both terrorist groups in Syria -- a precedent set by the Obama regime.  


Sunday, May 27

American livestock and antibiotic use run amok

The costly experience propelled Mr. Lewis, an intense, cranky and compulsive former Wall Street arbitrageur, on a two-year investigative journey into the use of antibiotics on American animal farms. 

Sandy Lewis at his cattle ranch

Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times

The F.D.A. banned the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in animals last year. One organic cattle farmer is sure the ban is being flouted.

By William D. Cohan
May 25, 2018
The New York Times

In 2015, Sandy Lewis, a small-time organic cattle farmer in upstate New York, bought 13 bulls, for around $5,000 each, from a breeder in Oklahoma. A few weeks after the animals were trucked to his farm near the Vermont border, Mr. Lewis discovered that two of the bulls had died. He could see holes in their abdomens from where they had gored one other.

A field autopsy proved inconclusive. When two more bulls among the new herd fell sick, Mr. Lewis shipped them off to Cornell University to be examined. One died along the way, but a blood test on the living bull provided the answer: It had anaplasmosis, a bacterial illness that destroys red blood cells and deprives the animals of oxygen, causing them at times to act violently. The disease is relatively rare in the Northeast, yet a quarter of Mr. Lewis’s herd ended up becoming infected. He lost another six animals to the disease and spent more than $100,000 trying to save the rest. Ultimately, another 100 animals had to be culled.

The costly experience propelled Mr. Lewis, an intense, cranky and compulsive former Wall Street arbitrageur, on a two-year investigative journey into the use of antibiotics on American animal farms. Now he is asking a question he believes government regulators and the meat industry urgently need to grapple with: Are pig, cattle and poultry farmers misusing antibiotics, allowing too much of the drug to get into our food?

It has long been common knowledge in farming that antibiotics can help cause animals to grow fatter faster. Time is money, particularly in the food industry, and for many years ranchers used antibiotics not just for treating diseases but also for promoting growth so that animals would be ready for the slaughterhouse sooner. (Mr. Lewis says his grass-fed steers require 27 months to get to market without antibiotics, more than twice as long as it takes cows pumped full of antibiotics.)

In early 2017, the Food and Drug Administration enacted rules banning the use of human antibiotics purely for growth promotion in animals and requiring ranchers to get a prescription from a veterinarian for antibiotics that once could be purchased over the counter. The F.D.A. enacted the restrictions out of growing concern about the breeding of drug-resistant bacteria from antibiotic overuse. Those resistant bacterial strains can be transferred to humans by contact with animals or raw meat and possibly through the consumption of undercooked meat.

The growing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics causes some 23,000 American deaths a year and $34 billion in financial losses annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The C.D.C. also estimates that more than 400,000 United States residents become ill with infections caused by antibiotic-resistant food-borne bacteria every year, with about one in five resistant infections caused by germs from food and animals.

“Antibiotic resistance is of great public health concern because the antibiotic-resistant bacteria associated with the animals may be pathogenic to humans, easily transmitted to humans via food chains, and widely disseminated in the environment via animal wastes,” South African researchers observed in a recent article published in the journal Molecules.

Despite the ban, Mr. Lewis is convinced that some ranchers continue to use antibiotics for growth purposes — a claim that is difficult to document. But experts agree that the F.D.A. rules have a “giant loophole” that allows farmers to continue to use antibiotics to prevent diseases even if animals aren’t showing symptoms.

“You don’t even need a sick animal in the herd to use antibiotics in the feed and water as long as the justification is ‘disease prevention’ not ‘growth promotion,’ ” Avinash Kar, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told me.

Veterinarians working for certain feedlots — industrial-style farms where chickens, pigs and cattle are fattened — seem more than happy to continue writing prescriptions for antibiotics that end up in livestock feed. “They’ve got their veterinarians on retainer,” Mike Callicrate, a cattle rancher in Kansas and Colorado, told me. “They tell them what they want, and the veterinarian darn well provides what they want.”

Veterinarians deny this. Dr. Lloyd Barker, the veterinarian to the rancher who sold animals to Mr. Lewis, said vets are “toeing the line” and added, “Our primary goal is prevention.”

Mr. Kar said that of all the “medically important” antibiotics sold in the United States — that is, those used to treat human disease — about 70 percent goes into the feed and water of animals, indicating to him that overuse on the farm is still rampant.

It is difficult to document antibiotics abuse, however, because the F.D.A. does not collect data on the reason for the use of the drugs. But the agency says that it is working to obtain better data to help monitor potential misuse.

Beyond the threat of drug-resistant illness, there is evidence of another risk from antibiotic overuse in pigs, poultry and cattle: the possibility that people who consume antibiotic-laced meat will get some of the drugs, as well as resistant bacteria, into their own digestive tracts — with potentially harmful results.

A growing body of scientific research also shows that the antibiotics we take as medicine can disrupt our so-called gut microbiome, the bacteria that live happily in our stomach and intestines and that are the key to our ability to properly digest food and process fats. This disruption has been linked to the rise of noncommunicable diseases such as obesity, juvenile diabetes, asthma and allergies. Some researchers also believe that alterations in the gut microbiome have led to an increase in the incidence of autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

“Antimicrobials or antibiotics given early in life can have significant implications upon obesity, on diabetes, upon the propensity for other diseases,” explained Jack Gilbert, the faculty director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago.

Mr. Lewis, 79, and the son of the onetime managing partner of the now-defunct Bear Stearns investment bank, grew up on Park Avenue, though he says he never quite fit in. Still, after studying at the Orthogenic School with Bruno Bettelheim, who taught him to “never care what others think,” Mr. Lewis made a fortune on Wall Street. He ran afoul of the law there, pleading guilty to stock manipulation in 1989 and receiving three years probation. (He argues — and a federal judge agreed — that he never made a dime on the manipulation and was only trying to punish traders who reaped profits at the public’s expense.) In 2001, President Bill Clinton gave him a full pardon, and in 2006 the Securities and Exchange Commission vacated his lifetime ban from the securities industry.

In 2004, Mr. Lewis decamped with his wife, Barbara, to Essex, N.Y., to try his hand at farming, acquiring a 1,100-acre farm just west of Lake Champlain. He has 520 head of grass-fed cattle that he raises and sells for beef to customers like Middlebury College and Deerfield Academy. (I met him a decade ago while researching a book on Bear Stearns.)

Much of his time these days is spent trying to persuade ranchers, veterinarians, agriculture experts and environmental groups — really, anyone who will listen — of the dangers of antibiotic misuse. He has called on the F.D.A. to close the loophole that allows ranchers to feed antibiotics to their animals prophylactically, and for violations to be a criminal offense.

Mr. Lewis also said there is another way to prevent antibiotic drugs from possibly harming the human gut microbiome: injecting them rather than ingesting them in pill form. Some researchers believe that injections get the drug into the body with little or no damage to the gut microbiome, while ingested antibiotic pills go straight into the digestive tract. Shots can also deliver lower doses of antibiotics and work faster than pills.

The effectiveness of the approach is widely disputed. Getting big animals like cows and pigs to cooperate long enough for a shot is expensive, time consuming and plain hard work. (Few farmers have Mr. Lewis’s resources.) It’s also much easier for a doctor to prescribe a course of antibiotic pills to people battling infection than to arrange for a series of shots.

Dr. Hua Helen Wang, a professor in the microbiology department at Ohio State University who has done pioneering research into the benefits of taking antibiotics by injection, told me that while more studies need to be done, there is no question that taking antibiotics in pill form should be limited to treating infections in the gastrointestinal tract. In a 2013 paper published by the American Society for Microbiology, Dr. Wang and her team determined that injected antibiotics reduced the spread of antibiotic-resistant genes in the guts of mice better than orally administered drugs. The injections also protected the integrity of the gut microbiota, they found.

“This is a landmark breakthrough,” Dr. Wang said.

But Dr. Martin J. Blaser, a professor of microbiology at New York University, the author of “Missing Microbes” and the nation’s leading authority on the risks of antibiotic use on the microbiome, says that even if antibiotics are administered by injection, some of the drug still finds its way into the digestive tract.

Dr. Blaser’s bigger concern is doctors’ reluctance to change ingrained behavior regarding the prescription of antibiotics to both humans and animals. “People worry that if we use less antibiotics there will be more bad infections, uncontrolled infections,” he said. He points to Sweden, where on a per capita basis people use about 40 percent of the antibiotics we use in this country. “There are no epidemics of infections in Sweden,” he said.

Mr. Kar, at the N.R.D.C., notes that Denmark uses about 30 percent less antibiotics a year on a per-kilogram of meat basis than American farms do. But he applauds the fact that big chicken producers like Perdue, Tyson and Foster Farms have reduced or eliminated antibiotic use in the feed, perhaps under pressure from their biggest customers, including KFC, McDonald’s and Subway, which now claim in their advertising that all or some of the chicken they serve has been raised without antibiotics. He thinks beef and pork producers should follow suit.

Mr. Lewis, meanwhile, argues that the continued destruction of the smallest bacteria in our gut biomes risks deadly epidemics of chronic or drug-resistant diseases. That may be hyperbole, but there is wide agreement that antibiotic overuse in both livestock and in people is destroying our ability to fight certain diseases and infections.

And he’s got a message for his fellow cattle ranchers. Their misuse of antibiotics, he says, makes “arbitrage look honest.”


William D. Cohan, a special correspondent at Vanity Fair, is the author, most recently, of “Why Wall Street Matters.”

Thursday, May 24

Reports on US-led bombing of Syrian Army are incorrect – Russian military

Reports on US-led bombing of Syrian Army are incorrect – Russian military source
Published time: 24 May, 2018 06:18
Edited time: 24 May, 2018 07:52

Overnight reports on US-led coalition strikes on Syrian Army positions are not “consistent with the reality,” according to a military source. Earlier, the Pentagon said it has no information on the operation.

Early Thursday, Syrian state media reported that US-led coalition warplanes targeted Syrian Army positions in the eastern Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor. The allegations, however, appear to not be completely accurate.

The information about the alleged attack on Syrian positions by the US-led coalition “is not consistent with the reality,” a military source said.

Shortly after reports on the attack emerged, a Pentagon spokesman said the US military has “no operational reporting” about any operation against the Syrian government.

Though the reports on the strike appear to be untrue this time, the US-led forces have repeatedly hit Syrian Army positions or allied forces. In one infamous case, a US-led strike killed 60 Syrian troops near the city of Deir ez-Zor in 2016. The US military later admitted it was a mistake.

However, that was not the only attack on pro-government forces gaining ground against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorists in Syria. In February, US forces launched a drone strike that destroyed a tank of the pro-government forces in eastern Syria, and earlier that month, a separate attack killed around 100 pro-government fighters. The Pentagon claimed both bombings came in retaliation for alleged attacks on the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – US allies in the region.

The presence of the US contingent and its operations in Syria have not been sanctioned by either Damascus or the UN Security Council. The Syrian government has repeatedly called their presence an illegal aggression against a sovereign state.


What is to be done about Russian oligarchs laundering money in London?

The question was posed by John Batchelor in response to a report for his audience by the Wall Street Journal's Mary Kissel. (Podcast: "The Kremlin lets London as a laundromat & What is to be done?")

I think I can see how the Wall Street Journal would consider Russian oligarchs laundering money in London to be a newsworthy problem for Americans. But I'd say a bigger problem for Americans is that by 2016 the U.S. was becoming the world's largest tax haven for wealthy foreigners. 

Here's a more recent report on the issue: The peculiarities of the US financial system make it ideal for money laundering, published March 16, 2018. 

As for the corruption of the Russian government that Mary decried in her report, the United States of America is now the second most corrupt nation

It could be argued that the lack of transparency cited by the Tax Justice Network doesn't necessarily equate to corruption, but I think my point is clear enough. The answer to John's question is tend to your own fences.  

As for believing what the British Parliament says about Russian money laundering in London, what year does Mary Kissel think this is? Time was, the British regime could tell whoppers with assurance that the public would be none the wiser for at least a generation. Today it's more like 15 minutes.

Speaking of the Skripal case, tell us again, Mary and John, how the Skripals were poisoned with a nerve agent that is supposed to be about 8 times more deadly than VX. 

For the those who haven't been keeping track of the British investigation, suspicion has now fallen on the Persian cat. The Iranians, of course, if the cat was really Persian. If not, well, it must have been a Russian cat. 

Anyhow after petting the cat the Skripals drove to a cemetery to pay their respects to a deceased member of the family.  Then they went to a restaurant for lunch. After lunch they went to a pub. Then for a walk in a park. There they finally had the sense to notice they'd been poisoned with a deadly nerve agent. Then they collapsed on a park bench. 

As to how the cat managed to convey the poison on its fur without dropping dead -- well obviously the cat had the antidote. So don't you believe there's no antidote for that poison. Of course there's an antidote because the Skripals wouldn't have petted a cat who'd been acting pretty damn strange.   

All right Pundita that's enough.      


Merkel: Germany to stay in the Iran nuclear deal

German FM: Germany and U.S. "are pursuing two entirely separate paths."

Angela Merkel, who is visiting China, said it would be up to Beijing to fill in the trade vacuum after the United States announced historic, tough sanctions on Tehran ... 

May 24, 2018 - 07:25 (updated 08:04

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said her country will stay in the nuclear deal with Iran following the US decision to pull out.

"As for the Iran deal, it is far from ideal but other options are even less stable," Merkel admitted. "That is why we will continue to respect this agreement," she told reporters in Beijing on Thursday after meeting China's Premier Li Keqiang.

The German chancellor, however, emphasized some EU businesses will be forced to wind down operations in Iran to avoid US sanctions. "Sanctions will likely lead some European companies to pull out of Iran," she told reporters.

Angela Merkel, who is visiting China, said it would be up to Beijing to fill in the trade vacuum after the United States announced historic, tough sanctions on Tehran over its alleged violation of a 2015 nuclear deal.

On Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, that both countries "are pursuing two entirely separate paths."

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on an earlier occasion, laid out a list of demands for EU signatories of the nuclear pact, failing which Tehran could restart its atomic program.

Khamenei has accused Germany, France and the United Kingdom of staying silent over the course of two years while the United States violated the 2015 agreement.

US President Donald Trump earlier this month said his country would quit the agreement with Iran in a bid to negotiate a wider pact. The European Union, China and Russia have vowed to abide by the deal, which saw Iran wind down its nuclear activities in return for sanctions easing.



"How can reach Shirdi by train?" Practice.

"By Train: Kopergaon Railway Station, 16 kilometres away, is the nearest railway station to Shirdi. Kopergaon is well-connected to major cities of India through rail. State-run buses, cabs, taxis and private buses are available from the station for Shirdi."
He'll be waiting for you.



Wednesday, May 23

SouthFront SYRIAN WAR REPORT:May 23, 2018

Biggest ISIS attack near Palmyra in months
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On May 22, ISIS attacked positions of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) near the T3 pumping station, near the city of Palmyra, in the province of Homs. The attack started with the explosion of a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. Then, ISIS infantry stormed the SAA positions. However, the advance was repelled.
According to pro-government sources, at least 16 SAA soldiers were killed, 14 others were injured and a few vehicles were damaged or destroyed. Pro-militant sources claim that the number of killed soldiers was at least 30.
These were probably the biggest ISIS attacks on government positions since the formal defeat of ISIS in the Euphrates Valley. ISIS units in the Homs-Deir Ezzor desert are still a notable security threat.
Considering that a group of the ISIS terrorists evacuated from southern Damascus will likely end up route in this desert area. The security threat will grow even further.
After the liberation of Yarmouk, the Syrian military has started redeploying its forces, including battle tanks, artillery pieces and rocket launchers, from the Damascus countryside to southern Syria. These reports as well as alleged arrival of the one of the most prominent Syrian military commanders, General Suheil ‘the Tiger’ al-Hassan, have already caused a disagreement among militant groups in the province of Daraa.
Militants operating in the villages of Nahaj and Mahjeh have requested negotiations with the Syrian government and its Russian backers on the terms of a possible reconciliation deal.
Some pro-government sources speculated that some Nahaj militants have even started surrendering weapons. But this is still unconfirmed.
According to Syrian experts, if Daraa militant groups reject a reconciliation deal and refuse to surrender weapons, a military operation in the area will become inevitable.
F-35I stealth fighters from the Israeli Air Force (IAF) have participated in strikes on Syria, IAF commander Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin said at the IAF Senior Air Force Conference in Herzilya on May 22.
“We are flying the F-35 all over the Middle East. It had become part of our operational capabilities. We are the first to attack using the F-35 in the Middle East and have already attacked twice on different fronts,” he said.
According to Maj. Gen. Norkin, the F-35I stealth fighter did not participate in the last strike in Syria but did in two previous ones.
Currently, Israel has nine F-35I warplanes. The IAF is expected to receive a total of 50 jets to make two full squadrons by 2024.

"Syria says withdrawal of Iran, Hezbollah is not on the agenda"

via Daily Mail
PUBLISHED: 06:56 EDT, 23 May 2018 | UPDATED: 06:56 EDT, 23 May 2018

Syria's deputy foreign minister said Wednesday Damascus did not envisage Iran and Hezbollah participating in the withdrawal of foreign forces from the war-torn country as announced last week by Russia.

Asked whether the removal of Iranian and Hezbollah forces could end Israel's strikes on Syria, Faisal Mekdad told RIA Novosti state news agency that "this topic is not even on the agenda for discussion."

"All these forces oppose terrorism. They are not making an attempt to violate the sovereignty and territory of Syria," he said in comments translated into Russian.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad met Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Thursday, with the Russian leader saying "foreign armed forces will withdraw from Syrian territory" although he gave few details.

But Russia's chief Syria negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev later told journalists that the withdrawal of foreign troops should be done "as a whole" and include Iranians and Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese group that is an ally of Iran and Assad.

"We are talking about all the foreign troop divisions which still have troops in Syrian territory. That includes the Americans and the Turks and Hezbollah, of course, and the Iranians," Lavrentyev said on Friday, quoted by RIA Novosti.

Mekdad, however, suggested Russia had not meant to say this.

"I don't think that our Russian friends meant the forces that entered Syria in agreement with the Syrian government," he said.

"Russia demanded the withdrawal of forces that are here without agreement: that is the forces of the US, France, Turkey and other forces that are here illegitimately."

Russia and Iran are both allied with Assad. Together with rebel-supporting Turkey, they have been brokering peace talks in Astana, the Kazakh capital, running in parallel to talks supervised by the United Nations.

Last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was acting on the basis that both Hezbollah and the Iranians, "just like the Russian air forces, are in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate government."



(UPDATE 5:15 AM ET 5/24: RU military says reports incorrect) US coalition bombs Syrian army positions in E. Syria


Reports on US-led bombing of Syrian Army are incorrect – Russian military source
Published time: 24 May, 2018 06:18Edited time: 24 May, 2018 07:52


03:04 - 24.05.2018

According to the SANA News Agency [Arabic version], US-led Coalition Air Forces struck several positions of the Syrian army in the eastern Syrian desert.
According to Reuters and AFP, the strikes allegedly took place near an energy installation located near the Iraqi border, about 100 km (60 miles) west of the Euphrates river where the US-led Coalition is fighting against Daesh militants.
"Some of our military positions between Abu Kamal and Hmeima were hit this morning in an aggression by American coalition warplanes," a Syrian military source was quoted as saying by AFP citing state news agency SANA.
The attack was first reported by the press office of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant movement, an ally of the Syrian government. It said warplanes had targeted army positions near the T2 oil facility in the eastern Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor.
May 24, 2018

BEIRUT, LEBANON (3:00 AM) – The U.S. Coalition bombed the Syrian Arab Army’s (SAA) positions in the vast Badiya region located between Deir Ezzor and Homs.

According to an official military source in Damascus, the coalition bombed at least two positions belonging to the SAA near the T-2 Pumping Station and Ma’ezleh Dam.

No casualties have been reported thus far.

The U.S. reason for the attack is unclear at the moment.


Published time: 24 May, 2018 00:09 Edited time: 24 May, 2018 01:35

US-led coalition warplanes have bombed several Syrian army positions in the eastern Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor, state media outlet SANA reports, citing a military source.

The attack took place shortly after midnight on Thursday. SANA reported that the US-led coalition aircraft inflicted limited material damage and no casualties. The airstrikes, which hit near the city of Al-Bukamal, were reportedly coordinated with anti-government militants.

Earlier, Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, an ally of the Syrian forces in the fight with Islamic State (IS, former ISIS/ISIL) said the coalition jets targeted two Syrian army outposts, including an energy installation near the Iraqi border.

The area has seen rapid advances by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) pushing against IS militants near Al-Bukamal and moving towards the eastern bank of the Euphrates River.

Last week, the SDF announced they took control over a former IS base on the Euphrates River near the Syrian-Iraqi border, moving closer to territory controlled by the Syrian government.



Breaking News: WSJ's Mary Kissel refers to Syria's government as a government

Actually the news is from last night, during Mary Kissel's discussion with John Batchelor about Russians in the U.K. She may have said, "the Assad government" rather than "Syria's government." Anyhow I was so surprised to hear a Wall Street Journal reporter refer to the government of Syria as a government I might have fallen down if I hadn't been sitting down. As everyone who reads the WSJ knows, Syria has a regime, not anything that could be called a government.

So what could prompt a loyal WSJ employee to substitute the word "government" for "regime?" Was it tiredness due to the time difference between New York and London? (Mary was reporting from London.) Was she perhaps tipsy?

Another possibility is that Mary is being polite because her  bosses at WSJ heard of the tack Israel's defense chief had taken recently. He made an offer that Assad is not supposed to refuse: Get rid of the Iranians and "maybe it will be possible to have a different kind of life.”

That isn't quite as thuggish as it sounds. The Israeli leadership accepted a deal when Saudi and Emirati rulers made them an offer they couldn't refuse. I'd venture Israel's defense chief doesn't see why Assad shouldn't take the same kind of deal.

Is this the defense chief who said he preferred Islamic State running Syria instead of Assad? I don't remember. The years run together, the names change. All that stays constant is the valiant stand of Bashar al-Assad against armies of demons.


Americans only learn enough from their mistakes abroad to keep making different mistakes

Study this photograph of President Donald Trump with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and tell me what you see. 

Photo: AFP

Here's what I see. Trump is propping an illustration board on his knee and gesturing at photos of military hardware that the U.S. is proposing to sell to Saudi Arabia or has already contracted to sell. The Prince is looking down at the board and smiling. 

The scene in the photograph is completely unremarkable to my eyes. It shows Trump engaging in the kind of act that routinely occurs when businessmen in the West are discussing proposals.  

Now here is what Prince Khaled bin Farhan, an exiled member of the Saudi royal family, told Middle East Eye he saw in the photograph:
For example, the last visit for Mohammed bin Salman to the United States, President Trump put a board on his chest. I’m criticising even the president himself, Trump. He’s got a board on Mohammed bin Salman’s chest and by doing that he’s not only putting it on the chest of Mohammed bin Salman, but on the chest of every Arab, Saudi or Muslim. This is humiliating to us all.
Unfortunately, he was representing the country. I felt like I was watching a car crash. The leader of the greatest country in the world, and they put a board and describing items as if they’re in a supermarket.
Until bin Farhan pointed it out, I didn't notice that the board could've been resting against MbS's chest -- and I don't think the angle of the photograph allows certainty that it was.

But bin Farhan saw an outrageous insult to all Arabs and Muslims not to mention the Saudi royal family. And yet he's obviously not a 'primitive.' He lives in Germany; from his clothing and mien we can see he's a cosmopolitan Saudi.

And while it's not entirely clear from the brief excerpt I quoted from the MEE interview, I think bin Farhan was also directing anger at MbS for getting into a humiliating position. Bin Farhan's anger at the ruling Saudi royals is part of a long story, which the complete interview reveals is also a very complicated story about an opaque society.

But when billions of dollars in weapons and American entanglements with Middle Eastern wars are involved, this is not about cultural gaffes. It's about the government of the United States getting into alliances with governments it understands not at all, such as Saudi Arabia, in order to remake societies it understands not at all, such as Syria. The upshot invariably piles more death and destruction onto whatever havoc existed in the societies in the first place. 

Every time this happens we say that we must learn from our mistakes. Often we do learn lessons. But then we make new horrific mistakes when we invariably run into yet more situations in other foreign societies we've gotten tangled up with and don't understand.

So it's not about whether Americans should be 'engaged' with the rest of the world or become isolationist. Nor is this about Americans learning to make smarter foreign policies. It's about recognizing that it's no use learning from our mistakes if we don't limit our foreign engagements to doing the least harm.


Tuesday, May 22

Well well. It turns out Donald Trump is the Red Queen

Off with everybody's head if you trade with Iran!

At least it's a relief to learn Russia isn't responsible for all the world's evils. It's Iran.

I'll tell you what really bothers me about all this. Trump is only doing what Al Saud tells him but it's not the Saudis who will be left holding the bag. No, it will be us -- the American people. It's always us. 

Lord, how much longer? Until the world stops using petroleum?