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Tag Archive: United Kingdom


Kerry’s cosy dinner with Syria’s ‘Hitler’: Secretary of State and the man he likened to German dictator are pictured dining with their wives at Damascus restaurant before civil war broke out

Kerry pictured around a small table with his wife and the Assads in 2009

  • Assad and Kerry lean in towards each other, deep in conversation 
  • Picture taken in February 2009 when Kerry led a delegation to Syria
  • Kerry yesterday compared Assad to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein

By Anthony Bond and David Martosko

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An astonishing photograph of John Kerry having a cozy and intimate dinner with Bashar al-Assad has emerged at the moment the U.S Secretary of State is making the case to bomb the Syrian dictator’s country and remove him from power.

Kerry, who compared Assad to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein yesterday, is pictured around a small table with his wife Teresa Heinz and the Assads in 2009.

Assad and Kerry, then a Massachusetts senator, lean in towards each other and appear deep in conversation as their spouses look on.

A waiter is pictured at their side with a tray of green drinks, believed to be lemon and crushed mint.

 

Cosy: This astonishing photograph shows the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his wife having an intimate dinner with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his wife in 2009

The picture was likely taken in February 2009 in the Naranj restaurant in Damascus, when Kerry led a delegation to Syria to discuss finding a way forward for peace in the region.

While President Barack Obama has softened his military threat against Syria by putting the question to Congress and guaranteeing at least a week’s delay, Kerry remains outspoken about the dangers posed by the Syrian regime.

He said that Assad ‘has now joined the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein’ in deploying chemical weapons against his own people.

Kerry said Sunday that the U.S. now has evidence that sarin nerve gas was used in Syria and that ‘the case gets stronger by the day’ for a military attack.

Speaking out: US Secretary of State John Kerry last week said the U.S. knows ‘with high confidence’ the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in an attack

Couple: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is pictured with his British-born wife Asma Assad

Under pressure: Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, is pictured in a meeting yesterday. Kerry has described him as a ‘thug and murderer’

During a passionate speech in Washington last Friday, he called Assad a ‘thug and murderer,’ and urged the world to act. ‘History would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator,’ Kerry insisted.

And today in a call to 120 Democratic congressmen Kerry called Assad a ‘two-bit dictator’.

The Obama administration has placed the Syrian chemical weapons death toll on the outskirts of Damascus at 1,429 people – far more than previous estimates – including more than 400 children.

SEVEN MILLION SYRIANS DISPLACED

The head of the U.N. refugee agency in Syria says seven  million Syrians, or almost one-third of the population, have been displaced by the country’s civil war.

Tarik Kurdi said that five million of the displaced are still in Syria while about 2 million have fled to neighboring countries.

He says two million children are among those directly affected by the war.

Kurdi says U.N. assistance has been a ‘drop in the sea of humanitarian need’ and that the funding gap is ‘very, very wide.’ He says international donors have sent less than one-third of the money needed to help those displaced by the war.

More than 100,000 Syrians have been killed since an uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad erupted in 2011.

Kerry has said he is confident that Congress will give Obama its backing for an attack against Syria, but the former Massachusetts senator also said the president has authority to act on his own if Congress doesn’t give its approval.

While Kerry stopped short of saying Obama was committed to such a course even if lawmakers refuse to authorize force, he did say that ‘we are not going to lose this vote.’

Congress is scheduled to return from a summer break on September 9.  House Speaker John Boehner has said a vote will likely take place that week.

Senator John McCain said on Sunday that Assad will be ‘euphoric’ about Obama’s decision to wait for Congress before scrambling his bombers.

And after a meeting with Obama at the White House today the senator said it would be ‘catastrophic’ if the vote was lost on the House of Representatives floor.

The French parliament could act sooner. A debate is scheduled Wednesday on taking action on Syria, as President François Hollande has come under increasing pressure to seek legislative approval for joining the U.S. in any attack.

On Saturday evening, centrist UDI party leader Jean-Louis Borloo insisted that ‘like the U.S. president, who decided to consult the U.S. Congress in the name of democratic principles, the French president must organize, after the debate, a formal vote in parliament.’

What was once considered a certain three-pronged attack on Syria from the U.S., France and the UK was reduced to a bilateral affair on Thursday, as Britain’s parliament shot down Prime Minister David Cameron’s request for involvement in a strike against Assad.

A day later, Kerry began flattering France as America’s ‘oldest ally,’ in hopes of ensuring that Paris didn’t follow London’s lead.
Hundreds died in the alleged chemical attacks on Wednesday, including many women and children Horrific: Hundreds died in the alleged chemical attacks, including many women and children

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault now says he will share top-secret intelligence with his nation’s parliament on Wednesday.

 
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New Docs Detail U.S. Involvement in Saddam’s Nerve Gas Attacks

Foreign Policy

Abby Ohlheiser Aug 25, 2013

The U.S. knew about, and in one case helped, Iraq’s chemical weapons attacks against Iran in the 1980’s, according to recently declassified CIA documents obtained by Foreign Policy. Their detailed timeline, also constructed with the aid of interviews with former foreign intelligence officials, indicates that the U.S. secretly had evidence of Iraqi chemical attacks in 1983. The evidence, FP writes, is “tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched.”

Ever since last week’s devastating evidence of chemical attacks in Syria, analysts have looked for benchmarks to predict the U.S.’s response. On Sunday, a U.S. official suggested that the U.S. is moving closer to possible military action in the country as the U.S. has “little doubt” that an “indiscriminate” chemical attack took place. Officials are reportedly looking to the 1998 air war on Kosovo for a precedent — a similar humanitarian crisis in the face of virtually no chance of a U.N. Security Council resolution to authorize use of force, thanks to dissent from Russia. And while Foreign Policy’s additional reporting places the Iraq situation in contrast to today’s debate over Syria, the details reveal just how sharply, in the past, the razor of U.S. interests in the Middle East has cut: “it was the express policy of Reagan to ensure an Iraqi victory in the war, whatever the cost,” the report explains. And apparently, that went up to and including helping Saddam Hussein gas Iran.

 

 

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Gaddafi, Britain and US: A secret, special and very cosy relationship

Classified files lay bare the ties between the nations

Britain helped to capture one of the leading opponents of the Gaddafi regime before he was sent back to be tortured in Libya, according to a secret document discovered by The Independent on Sunday in the offices of Moussa Koussa, then Muammar Gaddafi’s spymaster.

London’s involvement in the rendition of Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, currently the military commander of rebel forces in Tripoli, is revealed in the letter from an MI6 officer. In it, he reminds Mr Koussa that it was British intelligence which led to the capture of Mr Belhaj, then leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, before he was sent to Libya in the rendition process by the Americans.

The senior UK intelligence official, whose identity is not being revealed by The Independent on Sunday for security reasons, then sought information obtained from the Islamist leader by “enhanced interrogation technique”. Mr Belhaj had revealed that he was tortured during questioning.

The letter refers to Mr Belhaj by his nom de guerre, Abu ‘Abd Allah Sadiq, and reads in part: “The intelligence about Abu ‘Abd Allah was British. I know I did not pay for the air cargo [Mr Belhaj]. But I feel I have the right to deal with you direct on this and am very grateful to you for the help you are giving us.”

The senior UK intelligence official wrote: “This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over recent years… I was grateful to you for helping the officer we sent out last week. Abu ‘Abd Allah’s information on the situation in this country is of urgent importance to us.”

So close had the relationship become that several Western European intelligence agencies were using the services of MI6 to approach the Libyans for help with their own terrorist suspects. The Swedish, Italian and Dutch services sought the help of the UK agency in liaising with Tripoli. A sign of the warmth of the relationship between British intelligence and their Libyan counterparts is shown in the stream of letters from London to Tripoli, headed “Greetings from MI6” and “Greetings from SIS”.

Although the documents, which we have not been able to independently verify, relate to the years when Tony Blair’s government was in power, they threaten to undermine the UK’s relations with the new Libyan administration, the Transitional National Council (TNC). Last night one Conservative MP accused Blair’s government of “aiding and abetting” the Gaddafi regime.

Most of the papers were found at the private offices of Moussa Koussa, the foreign minister, regime security chief and one of Gaddafi’s chief lieutenants, on Friday afternoon. Rebel fighters had been inside the building and paperwork was strewn on desks and the floor amid broken glass. The building was locked up on the orders of the TNC yesterday morning.

Mr Koussa, who defected after the February revolution and spent time in the UK, left to take up residence in the Gulf after demands that he face police questioning over the murder of Libyan opposition figures in exile, the Lockerbie bombing and the killing of the policewoman Yvonne Fletcher. In a sign of the importance of the British connection, MI6 merited two files in Mr Koussa’s office, while the CIA had only one. UK intelligence agencies had played a leading role in bringing Gaddafi’s regime in from the cold.

The documents reveal that British security agencies provided details about exiled opposition figures to the Libyans, including phone numbers. Among those targeted were Ismail Kamoka, freed by British judges in 2004 because he was not regarded as a threat to the UK’s national security. MI6 even drafted a speech for Gaddafi when he was seeking rapprochement with the outside world with a covering note stressing that UK and Libyan officials must use “the same script”.

The Libyan government sought the services of British intelligence in attempting to block asylum applications by opponents of the regime. One document, regarding an application for refuge by a man with the initials SRA-Z (name withheld by The IoS for security reasons), led to a response from British officials. “It is not the practice of the UK government to comment on possible asylum cases.”

However, the intelligence agency then sought to gain information about the applicant. The letter, addressed to “Dear Friends”, said: “We are sorry we can’t be more helpful in this case but we must comply with this practice. We… would welcome hearing from your service why you are interested in Mr A-Z so we could consider what action we might wish to take should we become aware of him.”

Other documents show urgent requests for information about Abu Hamza al-Libi, said to be a senior al-Qa’ida operative who had travelled to the UK from Italy and the Netherlands to collect forged UK passports destined for Iran. Al-Libi was suspected of being involved in a plot to carry out a cyanide attack in Rome in 2002. He was detained in Britain, but freed in January 2010. He is believed to have died in a motorbike crash in London eight months later.

Ben Wallace, a Conservative MP, said the last government should be made to answer publicly for “conspiring” with Gaddafi’s regime. The former military intelligence officer said: “Giving countries like this information they can use to oppress their people and break international law amounts to aiding and abetting the Gaddafi regime. We need to get to the bottom of how far British officials and ministers went to assist the Libyans to do their job of suppressing their own people. We might hand information like this over to our allies, but we would be confident they would use it lawfully. You can’t have that confidence with Gaddafi.”

Britain’s extraordinary rekindling of relations with Libya did not start as Mr Blair sipped tea in a Bedouin tent with Gaddafi, nor within the walls of the Travellers Club in Pall Mall – although this “summit of spies” in 2003 played a major role. It can be traced back to a 1999 meeting Mr Blair held with the man hailed as one of the greatest to have ever lived: Nelson Mandela, in South Africa.

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By Daryl Lindsey

Protests against a possible military strike in Syria have been largely muted in Germany this week. Here, Left Party demonstrators hold a sign: "Bombs don't create peace." Zoom

REUTERS

Protests against a possible military strike in Syria have been largely muted in Germany this week. Here, Left Party demonstrators hold a sign: “Bombs don’t create peace.”

All eyes are on the international community this week as the US prepares to strike Syria. In Germany, political leaders are keen to avoid a repeat of the embarrassing mistakes made in the run-up to the Libya intervention. Experts say Berlin will offer political support but little else.

Will it come this weekend? Early next week? Or will it follow the G-20 summit in Russia, which begins on Thursday? Few in Germany doubt the likelihood that the United States will launch some kind of strike against Syria in the coming days. British Prime Minister David Cameron may have suffered a bitter defeat by a negative vote in his country’s parliament on Thursday, but that likely won’t stop the US from acting.

ANZEIGE

In comments made to the New York Times and the Washington Post published on Friday, White House officials began signalling that the US would act unilaterally if it has to. Pentagon officials also stated that a fifth US destroyer carrying dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles has been moved into the eastern Mediterranean Sea. A red line is a red line — and most expect Washington to respond in order to protect its credibility.

The growing calls for a military strike are in response to the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria — an attack that White House officials believe was conducted by dictator Bashar Assad’s forces. “The message the Americans are sending is that they are planning a small attack against Syrian army installations,” says Henning Riecke, the head of the trans-Atlantic relations program and expert on German and US security policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. “The goal here is to cause damage to demonstrate to Assad that if he deploys chemical weapons, then the costs will be greater to him than the benefits. That’s how deterrent is intended to work.”

‘Germany Will Stand in the Way’

Coming as it does just weeks before a national election, the developments create discomfort for incumbent Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Social Democrat challenger, Peer Steinbrück, given that two-thirds of Germans oppose an international military intervention against Syria. Worse yet, what would happen if the US were to ask for anything beyond political support from Germany?

“Election campaigns are a bad time to go to war, and Germany’s Western allies know that, too,” says Markus Kaim, a security policy expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), a Berlin-based think tank that advises the government on foreign policy matters.

More likely, he and other experts say — particularly given Berlin’s abstention from the United Nations Security Council vote on the Libya intervention in 2011 — Washington is unlikely to ask for much if anything at all.

“At the very most, the Germans will be asked to act friendly and cooperative from the sidelines,” says DGAP’s Riecke. “In other words, to provide political support for the mission, approach the critics in Moscow and Beijing diplomatically and not undertake any political countermeasures.” Earlier this week, Merkel’s spokesman called for punitive measures against Syria and “consequences” in the wake of the chemical weapons attack. Riecke said he interpreted this to be an announcement that, “Germany will not stand in the way.”

Germany Seeks to Avoid Embarrassment

In the corridors of power in Berlin, the international isolation Germany faced after its abstention from the Libya vote hangs over the current Syria debate like an 800-pound gorilla. At the time, the US, Britain and France moved ahead to establish a no-fly zone in the country without Germany’s support.

“It was a mistake and some in (Merkel’s) government readily admit that today,” says SWP’s Kaim. “The lack of coordination with our Western allies and the abstention put German on the same side as Russia and China. It was a meltdown for German politics and the government is now seeking to avoid that.”

It’s a position shared by General Harald Kujat, the retired former head of Germany’s Bundeswehr armed forces. He calls the abstention and subsequent “errors” made by the German government over Libya a “disaster,” both militarily and politically. This time around, he says, the only thing the German government will do is “seek to avoid making any major mistakes — but no more than that.”

When asked what Germany could provide if Washington moves to strike next week or after the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Kujat has few illusions. “When it comes to geopolitical issues,” he says, “Germany plays no role. We are merely extras, and if you’re an extra, then you need to make sure you don’t disrupt the performance taking place on stage. But disrupt is precisely what we did in Libya.”

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US sends fifth destroyer to eastern Med: official

The USS Stout (DDG 55) is seen in this file picture downloaded from the US Navy website, dated July 20, 2005

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The US Navy has deployed a fifth destroyer to the eastern Mediterranean, a defense official told AFP on Thursday, as expectations grow of an imminent strike on Syria.

The USS Stout, a guided missile destroyer, is “in the Mediterranean, heading and moving east” to relieve the Mahan, said the official, who said both ships might remain in place for the time being.

Other destroyers in the region — the Ramage, the Barry and the Gravely — criss-cross the Mediterranean and could launch their Tomahawk missiles toward Syria if so directed by US President Barack Obama.

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Syria: Obama Meets National Security Team

The talks come as the US considers options after Britain’s retreat and prepares to release intelligence on Syria’s gas attack.

 

Guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage operating in the Arabian Gulf

Video: US May Act Alone Against Syria

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President Barack Obama has been meeting his senior national security advisers at the White House to discuss plans for possible military action against Syria.

The meeting, which included US Secretary of State John Kerry, was expected to be followed by the public release of a report on intelligence the US has gathered about last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.

Washington may proceed with military action against President Bashar al Assad’s regime even without allied support, US officials have said.

But they stressed no final decision has been made on America’s response to the Syrian government’s suspected poison gas attack, which is said to have killed hundreds of people, including civilians.

Veto-holding members of the United Nations are at odds over a draft Security Council resolution that would authorise “all necessary force” in response to the alleged gas attack.

The UK’s traditional role as America’s most reliable military ally was called into question when David Cameron became the first British prime minister in history to be blocked by MPs over the prospect of military action.

A chastened-looking PM, struggling to make himself heard over calls of “resign” from the opposition benches, told them “I get it” as he abandoned hopes of joining any US strike on Syria.

US President Barack Obama
Mr Obama is under pressure to provide a legal rationale for military action

Speaking after the historic defeat, the White House said Mr Obama would decide on a response to chemical weapons use in Syria based on US interests, but that Washington would continue to consult with Britain.

British chancellor George Osborne acknowledged that the inability to commit British forces to any American-led operation against Assad would damage the special relationship between Westminster and Washington.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think there will be a national soul-searching about our role in the world and whether Britain wants to play a big part in upholding the international system, be that big, open and trading nation that I like us to be, or whether we turn our back on that.”

Sky’s Foreign Affairs Editor Tim Marshall said the relationship between Britain and the US was “bruised but not broken”. “I don’t think there’s a divorce on the cards, a bit of bickering perhaps,” he added.

US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking on a trip to the Philippines, said: “It is the goal of President Obama and our government … whatever decision is taken, that it be an international collaboration and effort.”

America is mulling whether to strike Syria without UN backing despite some of the more hawkish figures in the US cautioning against military action.

Former president, George W Bush, told Fox News Mr Obama had a “tough choice to make” but would not be drawn on what he should do.

He added: “I was not a fan of Mr Assad. He’s an ally of Iran and has made mischief.”

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Syria: Osborne Defends Cameron After Vote

The Chancellor hails the decision to recall Parliament, despite it leading to a major defeat as MPs rejected military action.

 

George Osborne

Video: Osborne denies vote hurt Cameron

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UK Government defeat over Syria

The UK has ruled out military action against Syria as David Cameron became the first British Prime Minister in history to lose a vote on war. Jon Craig reports.

Video: David Cameron loses the Syria Commons vote

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George Osborne has defended David Cameron’s decision to recall Parliament after the Prime Minister’s shock defeat over Syria.

The Chancellor hailed the move despite it leading to the rejection of the principle of military action and a serious blow to Mr Cameron’s authority.

The Prime Minister had urged MPs to support intervention, calling last week’s atrocity in Damascus “abhorrent” and the cause of “sickening human suffering”.

But he was left humiliated after 39 Tory rebels and nine Liberal Democrats joined with Labour to oppose the Government and won by 285 votes to 272.

Mr Osborne admitted the surprise result would prompt “national soul-searching” about Britain’s role on the world stage.

But he insisted talk of significant damage to Britain’s special relationship to the US was “hyperbole”, saying the White House had shown a “lot of understanding”.

Protesters outside Parliament as MPs debate action
Anti-war protesters outside Parliament during the debate

“David Cameron is, I think, pretty much the first prime minister who would ever have gone to the House of Commons to get consent for this kind of limited military action,” he said.

“There are plenty of prime ministers before him who didn’t. He didn’t have to, constitutionally, but he wanted to.

“That partly reflects the world we live in, post-Iraq, it’s a political reality, but it also reflects David Cameron’s very strong belief in the importance of Parliament and the importance of trying to achieve some kind of consensus rather than trying to divide opinion.”

Mr Osborne added that he understood the “deep scepticism” about intervention but said: “I hope this doesn’t become a moment where we turn our back on all of the world’s problems.”

One of the Tory rebels, former minister Crispin Blunt, described the effect on Mr Cameron’s reputation as a “temporary blip”.

“He has done a huge amount to repair the reputation of the institution of Parliament, having learned the lessons from Tony Blair and the experience of 2003 and Iraq,” he said.

“He exposed himself to the potential for defeat last night because of the way he manages Parliament. That is to his eternal credit.”

U.N. chemical weapons experts wearing gas masks carry samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus
UN inspectors investigating the attack this week

Former British Army chief General Lord Dannatt called the vote a “victory for common sense” and said the “drumbeat for war” had dwindled among the British public in recent days.

But a despondent Lord Ashdown told Sky News: “I fear as I wake up this morning that our country is a hugely, hugely diminished country.

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Syria: Russia And US Send Warships To Med

Russia is said to be deploying warships as the US boosts its military capacity in the region with a guided missile destroyer.

 

8:07pm UK, Thursday 29 August 2013
RAF Typhoon

Video: Syria: Talks As Military Prepares

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The USS Stout is seen in Georgia's Black Sea

The USS Stout is ‘in the Mediterannean’

Russia and the US have sent further warships to boost their military capacity in the Mediterannean as expectations grow of an imminent strike on Syria.

Syria’s ally Russia is sending an anti-submarine ship and a missile cruiser to the Mediterranean, according to Russian news agency Interfax.

An armed forces source reportedly said the planned deployment was in response to the “well-known situation” – a clear reference to the conflict in Syria.

The navy has denied the deployment is linked to events in Syria, saying it is part of a planned rotation of its ships in the Mediterranean.

U.N. chemical weapons experts wearing gas masks carry samples collected from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack while escorted by Free Syrian Army fighters in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus
UN inspectors continue their investigations but will leave on Friday

In the US, a defence official has said a fifth destroyer, the USS Stout,  has been deployed to the Mediterranean and is “heading and moving east”.

The guided missile destroyer is due to relieve the Mahan, but both ships might remain in place for the time being, the official said.

Other destroyers in the region – the Ramage, the Barry and the Gravely – criss-cross the Mediterranean and could launch their Tomahawk missiles toward Syria if so directed by US President Barack Obama.

President Assad of Syria
President Assad was shown on state TV meeting Yemeni politicians

As military action inched closer, Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces removed several Scud missiles and dozens of launchers from a base north of Damascus, possibly to protect them from bombardment, opposition sources claimed.

The White House said it is on track to release an unclassified intelligence report on Syria this week, although the information is not a “slam-dunk” that will make an open and shut case for military action.

A spokesman added that what the US is contemplating in terms of its response is “very discrete and limited”.

Russia and the US have taken part in an “urgent” meeting of the five permanent UN Security Council members in New York – the second such meeting in two days.

Russia is strongly against any military intervention in Syria, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov believing it would seriously destabilise the region.

Sergei Lavrov
Mr Lavrov has warned against an attack without Security Council approval

Mr Lavrov has said any attack without UN Security Council approval would be a “crude violation” of international law.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has spoken to German leader Angela Merkel by phone, with the pair agreeing the Syrian conflict can be solved politically, the chancellor’s spokesman said.

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Syria: Why China Is Against Intervention

Beijing has no interest in allowing Western powers, through the United Nations, to bomb Damascus.

Assad (L) and Jintao in 2004

Bashar al Assad with China’s former president Hu Jintao in 2004

Mark Stone

China Correspondent

Portrait of Mark Stone

China likes to take its time with its pronouncements on global issues.

Beijing doesn’t do surprises either: Its “official” foreign policy is consistent – “Don’t meddle in the internal affairs of other countries.”

Of course they break that policy when it suits them: Just look at China’s footprint in Africa, where it is propping up questionable regimes in return for their natural resources.

On Syria though, China genuinely has been consistent. Their message was repeated today by Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

“A political solution is the only realistic solution to solve the Syrian problem,” he writes on the Foreign Ministry’s website.

“External military intervention is contrary to the principle of the UN and the basic principles of international relations, and it will only intensify the turmoil in the Middle East.

“China calls on all parties to exercise restraint and remain calm and to remain committed to the correct track of political solutions.”

Of course if the “international community” (which isn’t all that international these days) wants to get UN support for military action, it needs China and Russia, which both have the power to veto any resolution.

The hotlines between London, Paris and Washington to Moscow and Beijing will be frantic.

Essentially, though, they will be one-way phone calls. The key players in the West will want to know if there are any circumstances under which Moscow and Beijing would not veto a new resolution on military action in Syria.

Xi Jinping (L) and Vladimir Putin
Xi Jinping (L) and Vladimir Putin (R) are against military action in Syria

“China will definitely veto military intervention in the UN Security Council,” Yin Gang, a senior official at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told Sky News.

Mr Yin is an expert in Arab affairs. He advises the Chinese government on Middle East issues. He has participated in the three meetings set up by the Chinese with Syrian opposition officials to try to end the civil war.

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U.S. ready to strike; Syria vows to repel attackers

by Associated Press

Posted on August 27, 2013 at 6:26 AM

Updated today at 12:26 PM

WASHINGTON D.C.(AP) – U.S. forces are now ready to act on any order by President Barack Obama to strike Syria, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Tuesday.

The U.S. Navy has four destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea positioned within range of targets inside Syria, as well as U.S. warplanes in the region, Hagel said in an interview with BBC television during his visit to the southeast Asian nation of Brunei.

Obama asked the Pentagon to give him “all options for all contingencies,” Hagel said, and “we have done that.”

Syria’s foreign minister said Tuesday his country would defend itself using “all means available” in case of a U.S. strike, denying his government was behind an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus and challenging Washington to present proof backing up its accusations.

The United Nations said that its team of chemical weapons experts in Syria delayed a second trip to investigate an alleged poison gas attack near Damascus by one day for security reasons.

Walid al-Moallem, speaking at a press conference in Damascus, likened U.S. allegations that President Bashar Assad’s regime was behind a purported poison gas attack to false American charges that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of that country.

“They have a history of lies – Iraq,” he said. Al-Moallem spoke a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was “undeniable” evidence of a large-scale chemical attack likely launched by Assad’s regime.

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France ‘ready to punish’ Syria over gas attack

]The Associated Press
]

— French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday that his country is prepared to take action against those responsible for gassing people in Syria.

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French President Francois Hollande delivers his speech during a conference with France's ambassadors, at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, Tuesday Aug. 27, 2013. Francois Hollande said France is prepared to take action against those responsible for gassing people in Syria.(AP Photo/Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool)

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French President Francois Hollande delivers his speech during a conference with France’s ambassadors, at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, Tuesday Aug. 27, 2013. Francois Hollande said France is prepared to take action against those responsible for gassing people in Syria.(AP Photo/Kenzo Tribouillard/Pool)

DAMASCUS, Syria – Momentum appeared to build Tuesday for Western military action against Syria, with the U.S. and France saying they are in position for a strike, while the government in Damascus vowed to use all possible measures to repel it.

The prospect of a dramatic U.S.-led intervention into Syria’s civil war stemmed from the West’s assertion — still not endorsed by U.N. inspectors — that President Bashar Assad’s government was responsible for an alleged chemical attack on civilians outside Damascus on Aug. 21 that the group Doctors Without Borders says killed 355 people. Assad denies the claim.

The Arab League also threw its weight behind calls for punitive action, blaming the Syrian government for the attack and calling for those responsible to be brought to justice.

British Prime Minister David Cameron recalled Parliament to hold an emergency vote Thursday on his country’s response. It is unlikely that any international military action would begin before then.

U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said U.S. military forces stand ready to strike Syria at once if President Barack Obama gives the order, and French President Francois Hollande said France was “ready to punish those who took the heinous decision to gas innocents.”

Obama is weighing a response focused narrowly on punishing Assad for violating international agreements that ban the use of chemical weapons. Officials said the goal was not to drive Assad from power or impact the broader trajectory of Syria’s bloody civil war, now in its third year.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday the West should be under no illusion that bombing Syrian military targets would help end the violence in Syria, an ally of Moscow, and he pointed to the volatile situations in Iraq and Libya that he said resulted from foreign military intervention.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said his country would use “all means available” to defend itself.

“We have the means to defend ourselves and we will surprise everyone,” he said.

At a news conference in Damascus, al-Moallem challenged Washington to present proof to back up its accusations and he also likened the allegations to false American charges in 2003 that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction before the U.S.-led invasion of that country.

“They have a history of lies — Iraq,” he said.

Vice-President Joe Biden said there was no question that Assad was responsible for the attack — the highest-ranking U.S. official to say so — and the White House dismissed as “fanciful” the notion that anyone other than Assad could be to blame.

“Suggestions that there’s any doubt about who’s responsible for this are as preposterous as a suggestion that the attack did not occur,” spokesman Jay Carney said.

A U.S. official said some of the evidence includes signals intelligence — information gathered from intercepted communications. The U.S. assessment is also based on the number of reported victims, the symptoms of those injured or killed, and witness accounts. The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the internal deliberations.

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Syria will surprise aggressors, Foreign Minister Muallem says

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Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem says Damascus will defend itself against any foreign military attack, adding that the country has capabilities that will surprise the aggressors.

“Syria is not an easy case. We have defenses which will surprise others,” Muallem said during a news conference on Tuesday in the capital Damascus.

“We have two options: either to surrender, or to defend ourselves with the means at our disposal,” he said. “The second choice is the best: we will defend ourselves.”

Muallem also stated that any military action against Syria would serve the interests of Israel and al-Qaeda-linked militants fighting against the Syrian government.

“The war effort led by the United States and their allies will serve the interests of Israel and secondly al-Nusra Front,” the Syrian foreign minister said.

In the last few days, US officials have repeatedly referred to “surgical strikes” on Syrian military installations while discussing US military options for the Arab country.

The call for military action against Syria intensified after the foreign-backed opposition forces accused the government of President Bashar al-Assad of launching a chemical attack on militant strongholds in the suburbs of Damascus last week.

On Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to set the groundwork for US military action against Syria by leveling chemical weapons accusations against the Assad government.

In Tuesday’s news conference, the Syrian foreign minister challenged the US and its allies to present evidence that the government had used chemical weapons.

“We are hearing war drums around us. If they want to launch an attack against Syria, I think using the excuse of chemical weapons is not true at all. I challenge them to show what proof they have,” Muallem said.

Meanwhile, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that President Barack Obama was still undecided about launching a military strike, saying that Washington was not considering “boots on the ground” option.

However, France, Israel and Saudi Arabia, among other opponents of the Syrian government, are pushing for a US offensive against Syria.

Russia urged the West not to jump to conclusions on the chemical weapons attack, and await the findings of a UN inspection team that on Monday examined the area in Damascus suburbs, where the alleged attack reportedly killed hundreds of people.

All countries should wait for the results of the probe and “show prudence and avoid tragic mistakes” by jumping to conclusions about the incident, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said on Sunday.

“Our American and European partners must understand what catastrophic consequences this kind of politics would have for the region, for the Arab and Islamic world as a whole,” Lukashevich said, advising the West to avoid military action against Syria.

GJH/MHB

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Naturalists urge British public to help wildlife survive the hot weather

 

Hot weather and dought at RSPB reserve : The plantation pond is drying up at The Lodge in Sandy

The plantation pond drying up at RSPB reserve, The Lodge in Sandy, Bedford. Photograph: Graham Turner for the Guardian

While many of us are enjoying the heatwave, naturalists have urged the British public to help wildlife struggling to survive as water and food supplies have dwindled in the heat.

After six consecutive days of 30C-plus temperatures and with rainfall at only around 15% of average monthly totals so far, wardens at The Lodge in Sandy, an RSPB nature reserve in Bedfordshire, are working to keep their animals, insects, pondlife and trees well hydrated.

Richard James, wildlife adviser for the RSPB at The Lodge reserve said ponds need to be constantly topped up, otherwise species such as natterjack toads will leave the water before they’re fully developed.

Gull chick taking a splash! Heatwaves and hot weather are affecting local wildlife too. Video: JennyBrighton via GuardianWitness

All flora and fauna, from bumblebees to bats, need water to stay alive, but some species are finding the heat more difficult than others. For example, house sparrows – who tend not to venture far from their nests – require a source of water nearby.

Conservationists suggest putting out a plate of water in the garden or balcony and filling up ponds. However water straight from the tap contains organic concentrates which can be toxic to certain animals, James said. Water left to stand for a day in a bucket is ideal.

Like humans, birds and animals need to keep their body temperature below lethal temperatures and most do so by panting. At high temperatures, they can rapidly become dehydrated and can die within a matter of hours.

Staff at a nature reserve in Kent this week even witnessed a chaffinch drop dead in front of them. Tim Webb from the RSPB said that although it was rare to witness birds dying from the heat, large numbers will have perished. “Most birds will die hidden in thick shrubbery so it’s very unusual to see a chaffinch collapse like that outside the shop. But this bird was one of hundreds, if not thousands, that won’t have made it through the heatwave.”

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british empire

On 16th July, Foreign Secretary William Hague answered questions in the British Parliament, from the Foreign Affairs Committee on Developments on UK Foreign Policy.

Ann Clwyd (Labour,  Cynon Valley) whose cheer-leading and misleading for the invasion of Iraq and whose numerous visits to Iraqi Kurdistan and alleged close friendship with Kurdish war lord, Jalal Talabani, led Iraqis and Iraq watchers to dub her “Mrs Talabani”, is seemingly on the war path again.

She asked the Foreign Secretary: “

… to what extent the UK government is prepared to hold the (Syrian) opposition to account, as well as Assad, for serious human rights abuses, war crimes, crimes against humanity and so on?”

Never mind that she is seemingly ignorant of the correct form of address to the President of a nation whose ”sovereignty and territorial integrity” is enshrined in fine legalese at the UN – as was Iraq’s prior to the illegal invasion.

The usually slithery Mr Hague’s answer, however, was surprisingly  illuminating:

“I think this is a very important point, and we must be prepared to do so … But this country will always have a position that war crimes and crimes against humanity must be rooted out, their perpetrators prosecuted, and it doesn’t matter who did it.”

 

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Smart Meters – Commons Select Committee Meeting (Clip 1 of 6)

SSITAorgUK SSITAorgUK·

Published on May 3, 2013

This video series shows the Commons Select Committee enquiry into the UK Smart Meter roll-out held on Tuesday 23rd April 2013. Witnesses appearing to give evidence to the Committee in the first session include Dr Elizabeth Evans and Mike Mitcham from Stop Smart Meters! (UK), alongside Dr Jill Meara, representing Public Health England, and Dr John Swanson, from the Biological Effects Policy Advisory Group for the Institute of Engineering and Technology.

The representatives from Stop Smart Meters! (UK) share their concerns about adverse health effects from wireless smart meters due to the pulsed microwave radiation that is emitted 24/7 by these meters, up to 190,000 pulses a day – acute effects (insomnia, headaches, nausea, anxiety and depression, fatigue and memory/concentration problems) and chronic effects (including increased risk of cancer, infertility, dementia, immune system dysfunction, damage to fetuses); environmental damage from wireless smart meters – RF radiation affecting bees, plants, trees, birds etc and the inherent energy-inefficiency of wireless technology: cybersecurity problems – leaving homes and communities vulnerable to hacking of their smart meters; privacy issues – concerning the masses of real-time data on energy usage collected by the utility company which gives a detailed picture of family life inside a home with a smart meter, who will have access to that data, and how that data will be used; and the specter of higher bills resulting from smart meters – as has been the experience in Canada where 80% of Smart Meter users complain of higher bills within a year of installation, often more that 50% higher.

Stop Smart Meters! (UK)
http://stopsmartmeters.org.uk/

  • Genetically modified food banned from Houses of Parliament
  • Environment Secretary Owen Paterson launched pro-GM campaign

By Sean Poulter

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GM foods are banned from restaurants in the Houses of Parliament despite government claims it is ‘probably safer’ than other meals.

Government ministers are demanding that ordinary families should abandon their reluctance to eat genetically modified food, however they are banned from MPs’ plates.

This week the food and farming secretary, Owen Paterson, launched an extraordinary propaganda campaign to encourage the nation to accept GM crops and farming.

Menu: Genetically modified food is banned in the Houses of Parliament, despite ministers insisting it is safe

Menu: Genetically modified food is banned in the Houses of Parliament, despite ministers insisting it is safe

He bolstered his campaign with claims that some seven million children in the Far East could have been saved from blindness or  death in the last 15 years if only people had opened the door to a new form of GM ‘Golden Rice’.

However, his efforts were unravelling today amid evidence that GM food is banned from the dinner tables of MPs, while his claims for the GM rice proved to be bogus.

The House of Commons Catering service today confirmed that the ban on GM ingredients which dates back to 1998 remains in place as a matter of ‘customer choice’.

It said: ‘In line with its procurement policy, the House of Commons Catering Service avoids, wherever identifiable, the procurement of foods that contain genetically modified organisms. 

Speech: Environment Secretary Owen Paterson this week urged Brits to eat GM

Speech: Environment Secretary Owen Paterson this week urged Brits to eat GM

‘To this end, as part of the tendering process, food suppliers are required to work to a strict GM organisms policy and give assurances that goods supplied be free from genetically modified materials.’

It added: ‘The decision to avoid GMs is seen as largely a matter of customer choice.’

Mr Paterson has set himself up as the chief cheerleader for so-called Frankenstein Foods, however it appears that he has been unable to convince fellow MPs to accept them in their restaurants.

As a result, the minister and fellow MPs leave themselves open to accusations of hypocrisy and complaints that they are telling people to ‘do as I say, not as I do’.

Speaking earlier this week, Mr Paterson said: ‘The use of more precise technology and greater regulatory scrutiny probably makes GM organisms even safer than conventional plants and food.

‘There is no substantiated case of any adverse impact on human health…An enormous amount of material has been eaten, not a single case has been brought to my attention.’

Mr Paterson’s most powerful argument for accepting GM was the development of Golden Rice, which has been genetically modified to boost levels of beta carotene and Vitamin A, which can protect eyesight.

In an extraordinary statement, he said: ‘Over the last 15 years, despite offering the seeds for free to those who would need them, every attempt to deploy this golden rice has been thwarted.

‘In that time seven million children have gone blind or died.’

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Sellafield beaches

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Sellafield fined for sending radioactive waste to landfill

 

The error was attributed to failures in leadership and management at the site.

The bags, which contained waste such as plastic, tissues and clothing, should have been sent to a specialist facility that treats and stores low-level radioactive waste. But instead a number of mistakes led to them being sent to Lillyhall landfill site which deals with conventional waste in Workington, Cumbria.

This breached the conditions of Sellafield’s environmental permit and the Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations.

At Carlisle Crown Court the firm was fined £700,000 and ordered to pay an additional £72,635.34 costs.

Sellafield found the error was caused by the wrong configuration of a new monitor which passed the bags as “general” waste, making them exempt from strict disposal controls.

The Environment Agency and the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) carried out an investigation and the bags were retrieved from the landfill and returned to Sellafield.

They were then disposed of correctly.

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