Category - USA: Foreign Relations

U.S. Official: Saudis Have Used Cluster Bombs in Yemen

Deployment of the weapons comes as the U.S. has taken a more hands-off approach to conflicts in the region.

US News & World Report, By Paul D. Shinkman, August 19

The U.S. knows the Saudi government has employed cluster bombs in its ongoing war against Shiite Muslim rebels in neighboring Yemen, but has done little if anything to stop the use of the indiscriminate and deadly weapons during what has become a human rights catastrophe in one of the Arab world’s poorest countries.

With watchdog groups warning of war crimes and attacks striking civilians in Yemen, the Pentagon declined to comment publicly on whether it has discussed cluster bombs with Saudi Arabia or encouraged its military to cease using them, deferring all such questions to the State Department. But a Pentagon official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, tells U.S. News “the U.S. is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions in Yemen.”

Deferrals by the Pentagon on the topic are nothing new, though the use of the weapons by the Saudis – some of which were reportedly supplied by the U.S. – appears to be only a recent tactic. Former spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters in May the Defense Department was looking into claims the Saudis were using cluster munitions and called on all sides to “comply with international humanitarian law, including the obligation to take all feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians.” Warren’s successor, Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, was asked about similar reports in July and did not at that time have any new information.

Multiple groups are fighting in Yemen, but the heart of the conflict lies between forces loyal to U.S.- and Saudi-backed President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled from Yemen to Saudi Arabia earlier this year. They’re fighting against Shiite Houthi rebels aligned with, if not directly backed by, chief Saudi rival Iran. Deposed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has also re-emerged and allied himself with the Houthis.

Via Anti-War: US Confirms Saudis Using Cluster Bombs in Yemen

Obama authorises air strikes in Syria

FT, By Geoff Dyer, August 3

Washington – The Obama administration has decided to provide air cover to the Syrian rebels it has trained if they come under attack by the Assad regime, potentially deepening the US role in the four-year old Syrian conflict.

The Syrian fighters are being trained by the US to take on Islamist militants from Isis but there is also a chance that they could also come under attack from Assad regime forces.

The administration has been reluctant to discuss any military action against the Assad regime for fear that it could lead to greater US involvement in the civil war, but felt it was necessary to provide greater assurances to the fledgling rebel force it has been building up.

The decision, made by President Barack Obama, comes after some US-trained rebels were attacked on Friday by elements of the Nusra Front, a jihadi group in Syria that is allied with al-Qaeda. The US was forced to conduct air strikes to defend the troops.

Ha’aretz: Obama Green Lights U.S. Airstrikes in Syria to Protect Rebels Against Both ISIS and Assad
Russia says any support for Assad’s rivals hampers Damascus’ fight against ISIS.
IBT: Obama Authorizes Airstrikes To Defend US-Backed Syrian Rebels From Assad Forces: Report

National Endowment for Democracy is first ‘undesirable’ NGO banned in Russia

Washington-based nonprofit funded largely by US Congress, is the first banned group under a law against ‘undesirable’ international organisations.

The Guardian, By Alec Luhn, July 28

Moscow – The National Endowment for Democracy, a Washington-based nonprofit funded largely by the US Congress, has become the first group to be banned in Russia under a law against “undesirable” international nongovernmental organisations.

According to its website, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is “dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world” and has funded local non-governmental organisations in more than 90 countries. But in a statement on Tuesday, the prosecutor general’s office said it “poses a threat to the constitutional order of the Russian Federation and the defensive capability and security of the government”.

“Using Russian commercial and noncommercial organisations under its control, the National Endowment for Democracy participated in work to declare the results of election campaigns illegitimate, organise political actions intended to influence decisions made by the authorities, and discredit service in Russia’s armed forces,” the statement said.

Pando: What Pierre did next
After helping the State Department fund revolution in Ukraine, Omidyar is reportedly ready to invest in Gawker.

Turkey expands bombing raids to PKK targets in Iraq

PM’s office says jets bombed Kurdish targets in northern Iraq, hours after planes pounded ISIL positions in Syria.

Al Jazeera, July 25

Turkish fighter jets have bombed military positions of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in neighbouring Iraq.

The air raids came just hours after Turkish planes pounded Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) positions in Syria on Friday morning, marking a significant shift in Ankara’s position on how to deal with armed groups in Syria and Iraq.

“Strikes were carried out on targets of the Daesh [ISIL] terror group in Syria and the PKK terror group in northern Iraq,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement, adding that shelters and warehouses containing PKK weapons were hit in the northern Iraq operation.

[…]

Turkey also approved the full use of its airbases by the US-led coalition against ISIL, according to the foreign ministry, marking a major change in its policy following a suicide bomb attack in Suruc, bordering Syria.

“The cabinet of ministers has given approval for the stationing in our country’s bases of manned and unmanned aircraft of the US and other coalition countries … taking part in air operations against Islamic State,” the foreign ministry said, adding that Turkey’s own aircraft would also be deployed.


RT: Turkey attacks Kurdish militia & ISIS positions – PM’s office

Prime Minister Davutoglu told reporters that some 590 suspected members of IS and PKK and other militant groups had been arrested in raids across Turkey that began on Friday, according to AFP.

First contingent of U.S.-trained fighters enters Syria

McClatchyDC, By Roy Gutman, July 19

Istanbul – They arrived in Toyota Hilux pickup trucks, the favored vehicle of Islamist fighters in the Middle East and South Asia. But these men, the first graduates in the faltering U.S. train-and-equip program, were traveling into Syria to fight against an extremist insurgency, the Islamic State.

The U.S. military calls them the “New Syrian force” and disclosed that they are to coordinate with rebel forces already on the ground who have a different objective – to fight the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The goal, a spokesman said, is to expand the effectiveness of all moderate forces.

Turkish news media said 54 fighters crossed in Sunday in a convoy of 30 vehicles, commanded by an ethnic Turkman colonel who’d defected from the Syrian army. McClatchy obtained photos from an anti-regime activist in Syria that showed the trucks were Toyota Hiluxes.

[…]

The “New Syrian Force” is the first contingent of a $500 million program Congress approved last year to train and equip 15,000 fighters.

How a weaker Iran got the hegemon to lift sanctions

Middle East Eye, By Gareth Porter, July 15

Now that Iran nuclear deal is completed, the attention of western news media and political commentators is predictably focused overwhelmingly on the opposition to the agreement within the US Congress and from Israel and the Saudi-led Sunni Arab coalition.

That media lens misses the real significance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is that Iran succeeded in negotiating an agreement with the United States that upheld its national right to a nuclear programme despite the obvious vast disparity in power between the two states. That power disparity between the global hegemon and a militarily weak but politically influential regional “middle power” has shaped not just the negotiating strategies of the two sides during the negotiations but, more importantly, how they came about in the first place.

The news media have adopted the Obama administration’s view that negotiations were the result of Iran responding to international sanctions. The problem with that conventional view is not that Iran wasn’t eager to get the sanctions removed, but that it was motivated to do so long before the United States was willing to negotiate.

In fact, Iran had long viewed its nuclear programme not only in terms of energy and scientific advancement but also as a way of inducing the United States to negotiate an end to the extraordinary legal status in which Iran has been placed for so long. Even during the Bill Clinton administration Iranian strategists wanted to get the United States to move toward more normal relations, but Clinton was determined to be the most pro-Israeli administration in US history, and instead imposed a complete trade embargo on Iran.

Clinton eventually offered a “dialogue” with Iran but made it clear that he had no intention of giving up the sanctions against Iran. The lesson that Iranian strategists, including then secretary of the Supreme National Security Council and now President Hassan Rouhani, learned from the Clinton years was that the United States would only negotiate the end of its sanctions against Iran if was convinced that the cost and risk of refusing to negotiate was too high.

Counterpunch: Is the Iran Nukes Deal Aimed at Crushing Putin?


US set to be India’s biggest arms supplier

TNN, By Rajat Pandit, July 13

New Delhi – The US is fast consolidating its position as India’s largest arms supplier with a flurry of new defence deals and joint projects, after having inked the expansive new 10-year defence framework in June and bagging contracts worth $10 billion over the last eight years.

Sources said the Manohar Parrikar-led defence acquisitions council (DAC), in its meeting slated for Tuesday, is likely to clear the decks for acquisition of another four P-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft for almost $1 billion.

“The contract negotiation committee (CNC) has completed its work. Now, the DAC approval is needed for the offsets deviation. The proposed contract will then go to the finance ministry for vetting before the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for the final nod,” said a source.

This “follow-on contract” comes even as the Navy has now inducted seven of the eight P-8Is ordered from Boeing in the $2.1 billion deal inked in January 2009. Based at the Arakkonam naval air station in Tamil Nadu, these radar-packed aircraft serve as “intelligent hawk-eyes” over the Indian Ocean. They are also armed with deadly Harpoon Block-II missiles, MK-54 lightweight torpedoes, rockets and depth charges to take on enemy warships and submarines.

The Times of India: 10 yrs since nuke deal, India-US on cusp of sea change: Biden

Nuland: Macedonia, Bosnia to Toe US-EU Line or Face Decades in Isolation

The US government has told Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina to sign up with the European Union (EU) on its terms, or be isolated in Europe for 20 years, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland said.

Sputnik News, July 11

Washington – Nuland acknowledged that Bosnia-Herzegovina is seriously seeking association status with the EU and in June “activated its SAA [Stabilization and Association Agreement]” with the 28-nation Union.

“The United States joins the EU, the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the World Bank in urging Bosnia-Herzegovina’s leaders to make crucial reform decisions now, or risk being left behind for another twenty years,” Nuland said in prepared remarks delivered in Dubrovnik, Croatia on Friday.

“Our message to Macedonia is equally tough,” Nuland said. “[T]he major political forces must stop squabbling and get on the path to democratic reform sketched out by EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn with US support, and then move on to settle the name issue with Greece.”

However, Nuland continued, “politicians continue to put ethnic and party interests ahead of the basic social, economic and political reform needed to advance.”


US Steps-Up Pressure on Serbia to Sign Accord With Kosovo in 2015 – Nuland

The US government is putting new pressure on Serbia to cede more sovereignty to Kosovo by signing the Belgrade-Pristina Accord this year, US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland stated on Friday.

Sputnik News, July 11

Washington — The Stabilization and Association Agreement is an international treaty, which when signed, will give Serbia the status of an associated state to the EU.

Among the obligations that Serbia will have to accept under the SAA will be the establishment of a free trade area and the harmonization of state laws with EU law.

“We want 2015 to be the year that advances the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue so the EU [European Union] can open chapters for Serbia and sign the SAA [Stabilization and Association Agreement] for Kosovo.”

Nuland acknowledged that the Serbian government would have to make potentially unpopular concessions to meet EU terms on the SAA, which the United States supports.

“But that will take courageous decisions in both Pristina and Belgrade. Again, together with the EU, America says: seize this moment and we will help.”

Obama says US intensifying anti-ISIL campaign in Syria

US president says ISIL will be defeated as US-led coalition bombs 19 positions in Syria and Iraq in last 24 hours.

Al Jazeera, July 7

US President Barack Obama has said that the US-led coalition battling fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was “intensifying” its campaign against the armed group’s base in Syria.

Speaking at the Pentagon on Monday, Obama said that recent territory losses by the ISIL group show that the armed group will be defeated, but added that the fight will be long.

The US-led coalition has stepped up its efforts in Iraq and Syria, with some of the heaviest bombing since it began its strikes in September last year. At least 19 US-led coalition air strikes have been carried out in the last 24 hours.

Air raids have been carried out in 11 locations in Iraq: they are the oil town of Beiji, the cities of Fallujah, Haditha, Kirkuk, Makh-mur, Ramadi and Sinjar. Coalition strikes have also targeted eight ISIL positions in Syria: near Hasakah, Raqqa, Kobane and Aleppo.

The Conversation: Why defeating ISIL/ Daesh with military might is starry eyed idealism

US, Cuba to announce embassy openings after 50-year stalemate

RT, July 1

US President Barack Obama will announce on Wednesday that the United States has reached an agreement with Cuba to reopen embassies in their respective capitals of Washington and Havana, according to American officials.

The United States severed political ties with Cuba in 1961 after imposing an embargo on the island nation just 90 miles south of Florida a year before. Tourism to Cuba for Americans has been banned since that time. Though Cuba is still under communist rule, the Cold War mentality that has defined the relationship between the two countries over the last 50 years at last seems to be thawing.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, chief of the US interests section in Cuba, will meet Cuba’s Interim Foreign Minister Marcelino Medina in Havana on Wednesday to deliver a letter from President Obama to Cuban President Raul Castro regarding the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two nations, Cuba said in a statement on Tuesday.

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