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February 8, 2016

North Korea launches long-range missile

North Korea launches long-range missile – Wikinews, the free news source

North Korea launches long-range missile

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Monday, February 8, 2016

The South Korean defense ministry said North Korea launched a long-range missile yesterday.

North Korea had announced a plan to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for a terrestrial observation satellite launch between February 8 and 25. North Korean state media reported the satellite launch was successful and was ordered by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with more plans to launch satellites.

The launch occurred at 09:31am local time (0031 UTC) and was detected by a South Korean warship, according to ministry spokesman Moon Sang Gyun. Nations including Japan and South Korea considered the launch a disguised ballistic missile test. Japan, South Korea, and the United States condemned the launch and called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to be held in New York yesterday at 11:00am local time (1600 UTC).

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe called the launch “unacceptable” and said, “We will take action to totally protect the safety and well-being of our people”. South Korean President Park Geun-hye also called the launch “unacceptable” and a “challenge to world peace”. Japanese public broadcaster NHK said the rocket passed in Japanese airspace over Okinawa without provoking use of anti-ballistic missiles.

North Korea claimed in January to have successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.



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January 24, 2015

UN Security Council heads to Haiti amid political instability

UN Security Council heads to Haiti amid political instability

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

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Representatives of the United Nations Security Council’s (UNSC) fifteen member states flew to Haiti yesterday. The nation is moving to hold new elections with President Michel Martelly presently ruling by decree.

President Martelly, seen here in 2012, is ruling by decree after the collapse of parliament.
Image: World Economic Forum.

Martelly swore in a new Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) of nine members yesterday. It is Martelly’s fifth CEP in four years. Last month a presidential commission recommended the prior CEP’s resignation as part of a package of measures to move the country towards new elections. The commission was Martelly’s response to widespread anti-regime protests that started in October. The sometimes-violent protests were triggered by failure to hold elections, some due since 2011.

On January 12 the Senate was reduced to a defunct ten members, with sixteen required for a quorum. Amendments to electoral law were required by the Senate before elections due in 2011 could be held. Rival political factions were unable to resolve disagreements. The lower level of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, also saw all 99 seats vacated.

Also due are municipal elections, with 4,000 local posts needing refilled. A presidential election is due this year and the constitution forbids a consecutive term for Martelly. CEP members were sworn in yesterday at the Supreme Court; the presidential commission also recommended a new head for the court.

This month Martelly installed a new cabinet including opposition members, amongst them appointing Evans Paul as Prime Minister. Paul replaces Laurent Lamothe who resigned last month at the request of Martelly’s commission. Paul was yesterday joined by foreign diplomats to welcome the new CEP in Petionville, the CEP headquarters.

Protests continued around the nation yesterday, with anger directed at foreign leaders who have supported Martelly as well as the local regime. Brazil, Canada, France, Spain, the United States, the European Union, and the Organization of American States expressed in a joint statement “support to the president of the republic in the exercise of his constitutional duty to ensure the regular functioning of institutions and the continuity of the state” as parliament’s terms lapsed and power passed to Martelly alone.

The UN is unpopular in Haiti where many blame their peacekeeping force for a 2010 cholera outbreak, which is ongoing with 9,000 deaths. The UN has extended the peacekeeping mission for another year but does plan to reduce troops from around 5,000 to around 2,400. Anti-peacekeeper protests have also focussed on sexual abuse allegations.



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August 18, 2014

Kurdish forces advance as international opposition to Islamic State grows

Kurdish forces advance as international opposition to Islamic State grows

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Monday, August 18, 2014

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Yesterday the Peshmerga, military of the autonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq, gained control of parts of the Mosul Dam, as part of their advance against insurgents of the Islamic State. International opposition to the Islamic militant group has grown this week.

The Peshmerga were supported this weekend by US airstrikes in their attempt to push back the Sunni insurgents, and Kurdish officials reported “good progress” in the face of “fierce resistance”. Reuters reported eyewitness accounts of Kurdish forces successfully retaking Batmaiya and Telasqaf, mostly Christian towns as close to Mosul — about 18 miles (30 km) — as they have come since June when government forces were forced out.

Mosul Dam, Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam, is vital to the region’s irrigation, as well as water and power supplies. It was seized by the insurgents of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, on August 7, as part of their advance across Northern Iraq.

International response

The advance of the Islamic State has prompted responses from many parts of the international community. On Friday the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution targeting the extremist group’s finances and leaders. Six individuals were named and now face travel bans, asset freezes, and arms embargoes. The resolution also warned of the possibility of other sanctions against anyone found to be trading with the Islamic State, in a move aimed at stopping their supply of weapons and economic gain from sale of oil being produced by the oil fields under their control.

UN security council chamber
Image: Bernd Untiedt.

On the same day as the Security Council’s resolution, foreign ministers of the European Union‘s member states issued a joint statement welcoming the efforts of those European states supporting Kurdish forces. This support includes the supply of military supplies from France, and humanitarian aid from the UK, with Eastern European countries providing military materials also being transported by the UK. Germany and the Netherlands were also reportedly considering the possibility of supplying aid where needed.

The US began launching airstrikes on August 8, and have continued to do so in support of the Kurdish forces and civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar.

The responses from the international community follow reports of brutality against religious minorities in Northern Iraq — such as Yazidis and Christians — accompanying the Islamic State advance across the region.

Local response

Rudaw reported from within Kurdistan that the local political parties have put aside their differences and are recruiting volunteers to send to the front. Many of these parties can trace their beginnings back to the 1960s–1990s struggle against the Iraqi army, many of whom continue to maintain militias which are now being deployed to reinforce the Kurdish army in the region. These are reported to have been joined by groups of ethnic Kurds from Iran.

Reports say hundreds of Yazidi volunteers are also being trained inside Kurdistan to help fight the Islamic State’s advance.



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September 23, 2013

Wikinews interviews specialists on China, Iran, Russia support for al-Assad

Wikinews interviews specialists on China, Iran, Russia support for al-Assad

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Over the past week, diplomatic actions have averted — or, at least delayed — military strikes on Syria by the United States. Wikinews sought input from a range of international experts on the situation; and, the tensions caused by Russia’s support for the al-Assad regime despite its apparent use of chemical weapons.

File:Ghouta chemical attack map.svg

Map of areas affected by chemical weapons in Ghouta, Syria.
Image: FutureTrillionaire.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Tensions in the country increased dramatically, late August when it was reported between 100 and 1,300 people were killed in an alleged chemical attack. Many of those killed appeared to be children, with some of the pictures and video coming out of the country showing — according to witnesses — those who died from apparent suffocation; some foaming at the mouth, others having convulsions.

Amongst Syria’s few remaining allies, Iran, China, and Russia continue to oppose calls for military intervention. In an effort to provide a better-understanding of the reasoning behind their ongoing support, the following people were posed a range of questions.

Interviewees

  • Stephen Blank, Senior Fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, D.C.
  • Kerry Brown, Professor of Chinese Politics from the University of Sydney, Australia
  • Farideh Farhi, an Affiliate with the Graduate Faculty of Political Science, and lecturer, at the ̣̣University of Hawai’i, Honolulu
  • Mehran Kamrava, Professor and Director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.
  • William Martel, Professor of International Security Studies at Tufts University near Boston, Massachusetts
  • Rana Mitter, Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at the University of Oxford, England
  • Walter Posch, an Iran expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, Germany; and,
  • Sam Roggeveen, a fellow of the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia

Wikinews Q&A

Iran, China, and Russia have remained as allies to the al-Assad government despite the alleged use of chemical weapons in Ghouta on August 21, 2013. Wikinews queried the listed subject-matter experts regarding the diplomatic relations between these nations, and the reasoning behind such.

China

File photo of United Nations Security Council Chamber in New York.
Image: Patrick Gruban.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png There are suggestions China wants to maintain its financial ties with Syria as its third largest importer in 2010. Would you agree with this?

  • Brown: I don’t think that is China’s key priority. China has a massive economy, and Syria is a very minor player in this. It has some, but not much, energy from Syria. Its real concerns in the current conflict are for stability, and geopolitical.
  • Farhi: China’s conduct in Syria has been similar to its conduct elsewhere. It has given support to Russia in international forum such as the UNSC [United Nations Security Council] and has acted opportunistically wherever its economic interest could be pursued. But, Syria is really not an area of interest for China. Its actions and support for the Russian position is derived from its general concerns regarding American imperialism and unilateralism.
  • Mitter: China will want, in general, to maintain financial ties with Syria as it does with many countries. China’s general position is that internal politics of countries should not interfere with economic ties.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think China is talking from experience when it says that foreign countries shouldn’t get involved with Syria’s internal affairs?

File photo of interviewee Sam Roggeveen.
Image: Sam Roggeveen.

  • Roggeveen: That stance reflects China’s history as a weak, developing country with a host of territorial disputes with its neighbours. Beijing does not want to set international precedents that will allow third parties to interfere with, for example, the Taiwan issue, Tibet, the East China Sea or the South China Sea.
But increasingly, China’s stance will conflict with its growing strength and growing responsibilities on the world stage. China is already the world’s second biggest economy and a major strategic power in the Asia Pacific [region]; and, it will increasingly be expected to take up responsibilities that come with such power. Also, as we saw in the case of Libya — where China sent a fleet of ships and aircraft to evacuate its nationals — China has interests and citizens all over the world, both of which need to be protected.
  • Brown: It [China] has always stood by non interference of other counties in the internal affairs of sovereign states; though, this position has changed over time since it was formulated on the back of China’s experience of colonisation in the early part of the twentieth-century. Its main priority now is to not see the escalation of issues, as was seen in Iraq and Afghanistan; where it runs the risk of being sucked into lengthy conflicts with no real gameplan, and no clear outcome that is relevant to it. It does not see the Syria[n] conflict [as] one where there is a an easy, viable, alternative option waiting to govern the country. And, it is very sceptical about US and others’ claims that they can control this problem.
  • Farhi: Yes, rejection of interference in the internal affairs of other countries — particularly of a military kind — is a principled Chinese position in areas where China doesn’t have an over-riding interest.
  • Mitter: China has been a hardline advocate of strong territorial sovereignty for decades. This is, in part, a product of its own history of being invaded and occupied by other countries.

File photo of interviewee Rana Mitter.
Image: Rana Mitter.


Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png China abstained from a UN Security Council resolution on Libya — do you think they are trying to reprise what happened in Libya in terms of regime change?

  • Roggeveen: China and Russia suspect the ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine, which was used by Western powers to justify the Libya intervention, was a smokescreen for regime change. So, they are wary of seeing something similar happen in Syria. China also prefers not to be on its own in the Security Council; so, if the Russians come down against a Libya-like resolution, [the] chances are that China will join them.
  • Brown: They felt there was clear mission-creep with Libya. What, however, has most emboldened them in opposing action in Syria is the position of Russia; which they have been able to stand behind. Diplomatically they dislike isolation, so this has proved the issue they have taken cover from.
  • Farhi: Libya has set a bad precedent for many countries who supported, or did not object to, NATO action. So, yes, the Libya example is a precedent; but, in any case, the Syrian dynamics are much more complex than Libya and both Russia and China — as well as Iran — genuinely see the attempt to resolve the imbroglio in Syria through military means as truly dangerous. In other words, they see the conduct of Western powers in the past two years as spawning policies that are tactically geared to weaken the Assad regime without a clear sense or strategy regarding what the end game should be. Particularly since at least part of the opposition to Assad has also elicited support from Islamic radicals.
  • Mitter: In general China is reluctant to take decisive action in international society, and [at] the UN. It prefers its partners, such as Russia, to take on confrontational roles while it tries to remain more neutral and passive.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you think a political solution is the only realistic means to resolve the Syrian issue?

File photo of interviewee Kerry Brown.
Image: Kerry Brown.

  • Roggeveen: At the moment, both sides [in Syria] evidently feel they can still obtain their objectives through force. Perhaps one of them will be proved right; or, perhaps there will be a long-term stalemate with Syria split between regime and opposition forces.
One important change is the chemical weapons agreement; which now makes it much more difficult for the US or Israel to intervene militarily. The deal also gives the regime some degree of status as a legal authority with which outside powers must negotiate. That weakens the hand of the opposition; but, it could open a door for an international diplomatic intervention to achieve — firstly — a cease fire. and perhaps then something more substantive.
  • Brown: There is no appetite for the kinds of expensive and very hard interventions [undertaken] in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, in any case, the US and its allies don’t have the money to fund this, and their publics evidently feel no case has been made yet for getting involved. People are weary of the endless arguments in the Middle-East, and feel that they should now be left to deal with their own issues. China, in particular, has tried to maintain as strong a […] network of benign support in the region as possible, while avoiding getting sucked into problems. There is no viable opposition in Syria that would make it easier to justify intervention; and, no easy way of seeing how this tragic civil war is going to be easily ended.
  • Farhi: Syria has become the arena for a proxy war among regional and extra-regional players and yes its civil war will not end until all key players and their external supporters develop a political will to end the conflict. For the conflict to end, the bankers feeding the conflict should agree to stop funding it.
  • Mitter: Yes. But, it will depend on Russia, China, and the US, being able to come up with a compromise solution. That looks [to be] a long way off.

Iran

Free Syrian Army soldiers involved in the civil war.
Image: Voice of America.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png For many years, Syria has been considered Iran’s “closest ally”. What vested interest does the Iranian government have in keeping Bashar al-Assad in power?

  • Kamrava: These interests are primarily strategic, with both countries sharing common interests in relation to Lebanon — particularly the Hezbollah group — and [as] deterrence against Israel[i intervention].
  • Martel: Iran’s interests align very closely with that of Russia in supporting Syria and opposing the United States. Further, during this last week, President Putin offered to help Iran build a second nuclear reactor. The policies of Russia, Iran, and Syria align quite closely; thus leading some — such as myself — to argue that we are seeing the rise of an “authoritarian axis” of states, whose policies are coordinated.
  • Posch: First, Syria was Iran’s only ally against Saddam Hussein and [an] indispensable partner in Lebanon since the early 1980s.

Kurdish supporters of Syria’s Democratic Union Party in Afrin.
Image: Scott Bobb.

Even before the fall of Saddam in 2003, Iran reinterpreted the basically pragmatic cooperation in the field of intelligence and security. Ever since Syria was part of a so called “axis of resistance” consisting of Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the sole common strategic denominator of these different actors is hostility against Israel, which is always depicted as an aggressor against whom the Muslims should resist — hence, the [designation as an] “axis of resistance”. Of course, forming an alliance ‘officially against Israel’ serves another purpose too: to take a stand against Saudi Arabia without naming it. Much of the current crisis in Syria has to do with this scheme.
  • Farhi: Syria supported Iran during the Iran–Iraq war; and, that dynamic forged a long-standing relationship between the two countries that includes economic, political, and military cooperation. In more recent years, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah have self-identified as [an] axis of resistance against Israeli–American involvement in the region. Despite this, Iran initially mostly followed the Russian lead in the Syria. However as other regional players — such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as extra-regional players such as the United States — began to see, and articulate the weakening of, the Assad regime as a first step to the weakening of Iran, this enhanced Iran’s threat perception, and gave it [an] incentive for further involvement in support of Assad.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Do you think Iranian support for the Syrian government is a way of standing up against UN sanctions imposed on them, and opposing American imperialism?

  • Kamrava: No. Iranian–Syrian relations are rooted in common strategic interests rather than in assumptions about US imperialism, or the role of the UN sanctions.
  • Martel: Both Iran and Syria share a strategic interest in undermining the influence of the US and the West.
  • Posch: Definitely not. The sanctions track is a different one, checking American “imperialism” — as you call it — is, of course. one aim.
  • Farhi: As has become evident in the past few weeks, the primary interactive dynamic regarding the Syrian imbroglio is being played out mostly in terms of US–Russian rivalry; and, Iran is following the Russian lead.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png The UN has “overwhelmingly” confirmed use of chemical weapons in Syria. Do you think both sides have used chemical weapons?

File photo of interviewee Mehran Kamrava.
Image: Mehran Kamrava.

  • Kamrava: It is undeniable that chemical weapons were used in Syria. But, I have not yet seen conclusive evidence for the responsibility of the use of chemical gas by one side or another. Until valid evidence is made available — proving who used chemical weapons — affixing blame to either the government forces, or to one of the fractious rebel groups, is only a matter of speculation.
  • Martel: I remain skeptical that anyone other than the Syrian government used chemical weapons. It is widely accepted that the Syrian government was behind the use of chemical weapons.
  • Posch: I think the Report is quite clear on that.
  • Farhi: I —as an academic, with no access to on the ground information — am in no position to know whether both sides have used chemical weapons.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Would you agree that part of Iran’s vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad is bound to two factors: religion and strategy?

Former President of Iran Mahmoud Ahmedinejad who stepped down earlier this year.
Image: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

  • Kamrava: No, I do not agree. Iran’s “vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad” is [a] product only of Iran’s strategic calculations.
While foreign policies anywhere may be expressed — and justified — through slogans and ideological rhetoric, they are based on strategic considerations and calculations. Despite common, journalistic misconceptions, religion has not played a role in Iranian foreign policy; whether in relation to Syria or anywhere else.
  • Martel: Iran’s vested interest in Syria is entirely geo-strategic. Iran’s support [for] Syria is designed to undermine US power and influence. For Iran, no policy objective is more important than to possess nuclear weapons. When the U.S. declared a “redline” if Syria “used or moved” chemical weapons, and then backed away from that redline, it is likely that Iran’s leadership drew one principal conclusion:
the US redline on Iran’s nuclear program is in doubt, the US commitment to preventing Iran from possessing nuclear weapons is in doubt,
and that Iran likely will test US resolve.
In strategic terms, doubts about the credibility of the US redline on Iran dwarfs any concerns about Syria’s chemical weapons.
The belief in Iran — that the US may not be willing to prevent Iran from possessing nuclear weapons — could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It is difficult to exaggerate just how dangerous a nuclear-armed Iran is for regional and global security.
  • Posch: No, it is strategy, and perhaps ideology. Religion doesn’t play too much [of] a role, even though the conflict has been thoroughly “sectarianised”. This happened a few years back when the Saudis baptised (if that term is appropriate) the “axis of resistance” to “shiite crescent”. The domination of the Syrian Baath Party by members of one sect plays no role in Iran’s security equation. Attempts to convert Syrian Alevites to Mainstream Shiites are initiatives of some individual Ayatollahs. I have already mentioned the strategic aspect, [an] axis of resistance against Israel and Saudi Arabia simultaneously; to this I would add Iranian concern over the Kurdish issue.
  • Farhi: The Assad government is a secular government, and Iran’s relationship with it has nothing to do with religion or religious affinities. The relationship is a complex one — and, as mentioned before — forged as a strategic bond during the Iran–Iraq War, when Saddam’s regime was deemed aggressively expansionist by both regimes.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Iran is home to the world’s most populous Shiite Muslim nation. The Syrian rebels are Sunni. Could this be a Sunni vs. Shiite alignment in the Middle East?

File photo of interviewee Farideh Farhi.
Image: Farideh Farhi.

  • Kamrava: No. While sectarianism may be the lens through which some of the Syrian rebels see their fight against the government, ultimately the contest is over state power and capitalizing on opportunities created by the Arab uprisings in general; and, the Syrian civil war in particular. Sunni–Shia ‘alignments’ have nothing to do with it.
  • Posch: Usually, the Sunni–Shia divide is something Iranians and Saudis play up in order to put pressure on one another; usually, they were also able to deescalate. Syria, however, is the game-changer — for the simple reason that nobody believes the Saudis would control the post Al-Qaeda Networks in Syria. What Iran fears is an increase of the most-radical Sunni anti-shiism, the so called takfiris, spilling over onto Iranian territory.
  • Farhi: The Sunni governments in the region are working hard to use sectarian tensions as an instrument to fan popular resentments, in the region, towards Shi’ite Iran. But, the rivalry is actually political; and, has to do with the fears rivals have of what they consider — I think wrongly — to be Iran’s hegemonic aspirations in the region.
Sectarianism is an instrument for shaping regional rivalries, and not the source of problems, in the region.

Russia

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, meeting Syrianan president Bashar al-Assad, on a visit to Syria in 2010.
Image: Russian Presidential Press and Information Office.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Russia is one of Syria’s biggest arms suppliers. Do you think this means Russia’s interest lies in economic benefit, as opposed to the humanitarian crisis?

  • Blank: Although Russia sells Syria weapons, Russia’s main interest has nothing to do with humanitarianism or economics.
Rather, its main interests are to force the US to accept Russia as an equal — so that Moscow has an effective veto power over any further American actions of a strategic nature there and elsewhere — and second, to restore Russia’s standing as an indispensable great power in the Middle East without whom nothing strategic can be resolved.
It should be noted that in neither case is Russia actively interested in finding solutions to existing problems. Rather, it seeks to create a bloc of pro-Russian, anti-American states and maintain simmering conflicts at their present level while weakening US power.

File photo of interviewee William Martel.
Image: William Martel.

  • Martel: Russia’s principal interests in Syria are twofold. First, Moscow’s support is geopolitical in design. It is designed precisely to undermine and weaken American influence in the Middle East and globally. The extent to which Russia can undermine American influence directly helps to bolster Russia’s influence. For now, Russia is such a vastly diminished power — both politically, economically, militarily, and technologically — that Russian policymakers are pursuing policies they believe will help to reverse Russia’s strategic decline.
Second, Syria is Russia’s strongest ally in the region, if not the world, while Syria is the home to Russia’s only foreign naval base.
  • Farhi: Syria is Russia’s only solid strategic ally in the Middle East. Syria, in effect, is a Russian client. Russia’s interests lie in maintaining that foothold, and perhaps extending it.
It also has a concern regarding the civil war in Syria spawning what it considers to be extremist Islamist activities, which it has had to contend with within its own borders.

File photo of interviewee Stephen Blank.
Image: Stephen Blank.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Do you believe Russia distrusts US intentions in the region — in the sense of countering the West on regime change?

  • Blank: It is clear that Russia not only does not trust US interests and judgment in the Middle East, it regards Washington as too-ready to use force to unseat regimes it does not like and believes these could lead to wars; more importantly, to the attempt to overthrow the present Russian government. That is critical to understanding Moscow’s staunch support for Assad.
  • Martel: Russia’s policymakers understand that American and Russia interests directly diverge. Russia seeks to undermine US geopolitical influence, and increase its own. It is using its support of the Syrian regime to accomplish that objective. American interests, by contrast, are largely to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons.
Appallingly, Russia is supporting Syria despite the fact that all evidence points to Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
One would think that American policymakers would be more critical of Russia; which is directly supporting a regime that used poison gas to slaughter its own men, women, and children.
  • Farhi: It is less about trust and more about protection of geopolitical interests and prevention of even more dire consequences if Assad goes. It is true that Russia feels that the United States and NATO went beyond the mandate afforded to them by the UN Security Council in going after regime change in Libya.
However, Russia’s geopolitical, and economic, interests in Syria are much more important; and, the relationship between the two countries [is] much deeper.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The Russian Government accepts that chemical weapons have been used in Syria. How does it come to claim that the rebels are behind the attacks even though it is widely accepted that the al-Assad government has stocks of weapons?

A BM-14 multiple rocket launcher, similar to the type likely to have launched the M-14 munitions found by UN Inspectors on August 26.
Image: Vlad.

  • Blank: It [Russia] simply intends to defend Assad to the hilt; and is hardly unwilling to lie — especially as its intelligence service is notorious for fabricating mendacious and biased threat assessments, and is not under any form of effective democratic control.
  • Martel: Russia’s claims that Syrian rebels were behind the chemical weapon attacks is, frankly, inexplicable. Worse, Russia’s basic credibility is undermined by such statements.
  • Farhi: Russia claims Syria has presented it [with] evidence that the rebels have used chemical weapons; and Russia, in turn, has given the evidence to the UNSC. It has also called the UN report one-sided and biased. The bottom line is — the claim that the opposition to the Assad regime is at least as culpable in the violence being committed in Syria, opens the path for Russia to continue calling for a political solution [which] brings to the table all parties to the conflict in Syria, including Assad and his supporters; something the multi-voiced opposition has so far refused.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Would you agree that Russia’s vested interest in Syria remaining under al-Assad is bound to two factors: economics and ideology?

  • Blank: As I said above, Russia’s interest in Assad is bound to two geopolitical factors: maintaining the security of its regime; and, equally important, weakening America in the Middle-East — if not globally — and ensuring that Russia’s great power status is thereby ensured.
  • Martel: Russia’s vested interest in protecting Syria’s al-Assad is driven by geopolitics.
To support Assad, is to counter US policy and influence; which is precisely what Putin’s government seeks to accomplish. In many senses, Russia’s support for Syria is entirely secondary to Russia’s strategy of reversing its two-decade long decline in every measure of power. With its weak economy, dependence on petroleum for half of its national income, and increasingly authoritarian government, Russia has relatively little to offer the world — other than to oppose the United States as part of its strategy of reversing its decline.
While Russia’s geopolitical influence clearly increased as a result of its support for Syria, its long-term economic prospects remain quite dim.
  • Farhi: It is economic as well as political.
Syria is a customer of Russian arms and goods; hosting a naval supply base in Tartus. But, as mentioned above, Russia has serious concerns regarding what comes after Assad. For Russia, the current regime is better than chaos or control by Islamists.
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September 8, 2013

Wikinews interviews Scott Lucas, Eyal Zisser, Majid Rafizadeh about risks of US military intervention in Syria

Wikinews interviews Scott Lucas, Eyal Zisser, Majid Rafizadeh about risks of US military intervention in Syria

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Politics and conflicts
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File:Prof. Scott Lucas 1.jpg

File photo of Prof. Scott Lucas.
Image: Scott Lucas.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

The United States President Barack Obama announced last Saturday he was seeking Congressional authorisation for military intervention in Syria.

Looking for more-qualified input, Wikinews interviewed: professor Scott Lucas, an expert in American Studies, from the UK’s University of Birmingham; the President of the International American Council on the Middle East, Majid Rafizadeh; and, professor Eyal Zisser, a Syrian expert, from Tel Aviv University.

Discussing the risks involved with US military intervention in Syria, Wikinews posed a range of questions to these experts on the region’s political climate.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png Is it possible for the US to take military action to deter further use of chemical weapons without getting dragged into the civil war?

  • Prof. Scott Lucas: The US is already involved in the civil war — the question is to what extent.
The US has given political support to the opposition and insurgency since late 2011, and from summer 2012, it has pursued covert support to the opposition fighters.
However, the Obama Administration has been hesitant about overt support for insurgents throughout the conflict, and that has affected co-ordination of covert efforts. In June, the Administration finally said it would provide overt military assistance, but then pulled back and failed to deliver any public aid.
Had it not been for the August, 21 chemical weapons attack, that position would have persisted.
  • Majid Rafizadeh: It depends on the scope of the military operation. If United States conducts limited military operation, as the adminstration argues, and if US only targets some of the Syrian government’s military installments, it is less likely that United States will be drawn into the Syria’s civil war. It would be a political suicide for Syria, Iran or Hezbollah to respond.
On the other hand, if Assad observes that the balance of power is tilting against him inside the country, he might use chemical weapons in the future despite US limited strikes.
  • Prof. Eyal Zisser: Yes, it[sic] the attack is limited. And If the Americans only use missiles. They can cause severe damage, but leave Assad in his palace, and not being dragged into the civil war.

The United States President Barack Obama with Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this year.
Image: Pete Souza.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Will military intervention from the US affect long term relations between the United States and Russia?

  • SL: Of course, significant military intervention by Washington will affect relations between the US and Russia, but the long-term effect cannot be predicted.
It is dependent on Russia’s reaction — so far, Moscow has been able to pressure the US into caution, but a decision for intervention by the US might call Russia’s bluff, so to speak, and force some caution by the Russians. Already, Moscow has said it will not join a fight against any US military action.
And, of course, the long-term relationship is dependent on the political and military success of any US intervention.
  • MR: Military intervention, in the classic sense of putting troops on the ground, will definitely affect US-Russian long term political relationships. It might heighten the diplomatic tensions. However, the limited military operation is less likely [to] change US-Russian long term economic, geopolitical, and political relationships.
  • EZ: No. They need each other in many other places of the world. Russia knows that the US is a super power and will not be interested in a real conflict with Washington.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The British Parliament voted against military intervention in Syria, do you think this has affected their relations with the United States?

  • SL: No — had the Obama Administration been united and decisive for intervention, there might have been some effect. But the Obama Administration’s divisions mean its first priority is getting some coherence in Washington, rather than blaming London.
  • MR: I don’t think so. I believe that [the] UK has been [the] staunchest ally of the United States for decades. One instance of opposing parliamentary vote will not have impact on US-UK relations.
  • EZ: Maybe. But Britain is not an important power any more, so the affect will be only in the symbolic field.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Russia could back Syrian intervention if there was conclusive proof of regime guilt. What sort of evidence would be needed and can this level of assurance be given?

  • SL: This is not a scientific question — we already have extensive evidence establishing the near-certainty of major regime attacks with chemical weapons on 7 towns on August 21.
Putin’s statement was a political move: it ostensibly re-confirmed the Russian opposition to US intervention while giving Moscow a way to step back if the UN inspectors return a damning report.
  • MR: It is difficult, if not impossible, to provide Moscow with the evidence that they are looking for. In order to provide that specific information several criterions should be met. First of all, the soil of the location where the alleged chemical weapons are used, should immediately be examined after the incident. The Syrian government has not allowed immediate access to these places and usually reports come out days after. Second, and more fundamentally, a concrete and observable evidence is needed for Russia showing that Assad’s government has used it as opposed to the rebels.
  • EZ: No the Russians are not after the truth but after their interests even if Assad admits that he used such weapon the Russians will be against any intervention.

Bombed out vehicles in Aleppo during the Syrian civil war.
Image: Voice of America.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Would US military intervention on Syria be a violation of International law?

  • SL: This is a grey area, especially as there will not be an endorsement by the United Nations Security Council. Supporters of the action say it can be justified under the recent doctrine of humanitarian intervention, but that is more a political rather than legal judgement.
  • MR: Legally speaking, it is [in] violation of [the] United Nations Charter. According to [the] UN Charter, use of force is permitted only in case of self-defense or UNSC’s [United Nations Security Council] approval. Neither of these two cases apply for US use of military force against Syria. However, this does not mean that our current international law is devoid of any shortcomings. The International system has some shortcomings because of the structure of the UNSC, where one member can veto a resolution and block actions.
  • EZ: Technically — yes because they did not get an approval from the UN.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Does the United States seem to be wanting to engage in regime change in Syria as opposed to preventing further chemical attacks?

  • SL: No, the Obama Administration has been uncertain about — and many of its members opposed to — regime change, and that is still the situation. The military, in particular, is opposed to significant, long-term intervention because of its concerns over a fragmented, diverse opposition and what happens if Assad falls.
  • MR: If there was an efficient alternative to Assad, US would have seen the regime change to its political benefits and interests. However, United States does not seem to have articulated any precise agenda towards Syria yet. The policy is more ” Wait and See” policy; observing and reacting as things unfold in Syria and the region.
  • EZ: No Obama does not want it, he finds himself being dragged into a war he has no interest in.
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May 28, 2012

UN Security Council condemns violence in Houla, Syria

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Monday, May 28, 2012

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  • 5 February 2012: UN resolution on Syria vetoed by Russia and China
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The United Nations Security Council has condemned the recent killing of civilians, including women and children, in the Syrian village of Houla.

The Security Council stated in a press release that it “condemned the killing of civilians by shooting at close range and by severe physical abuse”, and that the attacks “involved a series of Government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood”. Referring to the Syrian Government and the armed opposition groups, the Security Council emphasized that all forms of violence by all parties in Syria must stop. It reaffirmed the Council’s “strong commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Syria”.

The UN stated in a separate press release that “The circumstances that led to these tragic killings are still unclear”. The press releases by the UN or the Security Council have not directly accused any party, neither the Syrian Government, nor any of the various opposition groups, for this event.

The Syrian Government has denied any involvement in the killings. The spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Jihad Makdesi, described a “tsunami of lies” against the Government, and said “We unequivocally deny the responsibility of government forces for the massacre”. He said this event was not characteristic “of the heroic Syrian army”. He further stated “terrorists” were responsible for the killings, as there were “no Syrian tanks or artillery in the vicinity [of Houla]”.

The United Kingdom, a nation strongly opposed to the current Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, blamed the massacre on the Syrian Government. Britain’s ambassador to the UN, Lyall Grant, said that “The fact is it is an atrocity and it was perpetrated by the Syrian government”, without elaborating specifically the evidence that led to this conclusion.

Russia, an ally of Syria, questioned the extent to which the Syrian Government was involved in the killings. Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Alexander Pankin, said “There are substantial grounds to believe the majority of those who were killed were either slashed, cut by knives or executed at point-blank distance. It is difficult to imagine that the Syrian government would not only shell, but also use point-blank execution.”

Additionally, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov compared the Houla killings and Western blame of the Syrian Government to the early 1990 killings of 45 Albanians in the Kosovo village of Racak. The killings were used as a justification for NATO bombings of the former Yugoslavia. However, the pretext was not supported by international forensic experts, and the report produced by these experts was never released.

About 108 civilians, including 49 children and 34 women, are reported to have been killed in Syria in violence on May 25 and in the early hours of May 26. Hundreds of additional civilians are reported to have been wounded.



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May 15, 2012

Bush, aides convicted of Iraq war crimes in absentia by Malaysia

Bush, aides convicted of Iraq war crimes in absentia by Malaysia

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

This photo is believed to show Ali Shalal in Abu Ghrai; he testified before the tribunal.

The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal in Malaysia has found former President of the United States George W. Bush and seven prominent former colleagues guilty of war crimes. Though the tribunal has no authority to detain the convicted or enforce its verdict, it recommended payment of reparations to detainees from Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib who testified before the court, and recommended they take the matter to a suitable court for enforcement.

While largely symbolic, the tribunal plans to submit its findings to the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Security Council. In addition to Bush, the court also found complicit his Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, William Haynes, Jay Bybee, and John Yoo. Legal advisors for Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were also convicted.

The court heard Iraqi engineer Abbas Abid testify about removal of his fingernails by pliers. Ali Shalal recalled being made to stand on a box whilst hooded, with wires attached to him, and whilst hanging from a wall. Mozzam Begg explained how he was beaten, and Jameelah Hameedi described being stripped, and being used as a human shield. Witnesses described lasting effects.



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May 11, 2012

Bush, aides convicted of war crimes in abstentia

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Friday, May 11, 2012

Ali Shalal, who was tortured in this way and may be the hooded man here, testified before the tribunal.

The Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal in Malaysia has found former President of the United States George W. Bush and seven prominent former colleagues guilty of war crimes. Though the tribunal has no authority to detain the convicted or enforce its verdict, it recommended payment of reparations to detainees in Guantanamo Bay and who testified before the court, and recommended they take the matter to a suitable court for enforcement.

While largely symbolic, the tribunal plans to submit its findings to the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Security Council. In addition to Bush, the court also found complicit his Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, William Haynes, Jay Bybee, and John Yoo. Legal advisors for Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld were also convited.

The court heard Iraqi engineer Abbas Abid testify about removal of his fingernails by pliers. Ali Shalal recalled being made to stand on a box whilst hooded, with wires attached to him, and whilst hanging from a wall. Mozzam Begg explained how he was beaten, and Jameelah Hameedi described being stripped, humiliated, and being used as a human shield. Witnesses also explained their residual injuries.



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April 19, 2012

China, UN rebuke North Korea for rocket launch

China, UN rebuke North Korea for rocket launch

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

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The United Nations Security Council met behind closed doors Friday and issued tough statements right before North Korea’s holiday.
Video: Crtew & United Nations.

North Korea’s Unha-3 rocket ready to launch at Tangachai-ri space center on April 8.It was launched April 13.
Image: Sungwon Baik / VOA.

China has joined other members of the United Nations Security Council in openly warning North Korea against future provocations and took several diplomatic measures on Tuesday and Wednesday.

China’s foreign ministry released a statement Wednesday that urged a return to talks: “We believe that maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula is in the interest of all parties … Dialogue and negotiation is the only correct way out.”

The statement came after North Korea’s announcement Tuesday that it would no longer honor the testing agreements that have been made with the United States. The United States halted its food aid, which had been part of the agreements, after Friday’s failed launch.

Also on Tuesday, China delivered another stern warning to the nation through its party newspaper Global Times. In the statement, China expressed impatience with its neighbor and said China’s foreign policy toward North Korea would not be hijacked by North Korea’s leaders. Behind the scenes, China has ceased the repatriation of North Korean nationals on Chinese territory.

Diplomatic pressure on North Korea continued this week as the country remained defiant during its celebration Sunday. Kim Jong-un gave his first formal address on Sunday in the aftermath of Friday’s failed attempt to launch a multistage rocket into orbit and in honor of the anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday. North Korea publicly acknowledged that its rocket broke up in flight and over ocean waters before ever taking orbit Friday morning.

The United Nations criticized North Korea over the weekend for a satellite launch that member states saw as a “provocative” move, which followed shortly after the country’s launch. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the attempt “deplorable” and said it “threatens regional stability.” Corinne Momal-Vanian, UN spokesperson, said, “The Secretary-General urges the (North Korean government) not to undertake any further provocative actions that will heighten tension in the region.”

The UN Security Council met in a closed session Friday. Susan Rice, who is both the current UN Security Council president and US ambassador to the United Nations, said, “The United States’ view of this is quite clear, we have condemned the launch. We view it as a direct violation of resolution 1718 and 1874. We think it’s important that the Council respond credibly and we will be working in that direction.”

While China is being openly critical of North Korea, it has a veto right on the UN Security Council that has prevented further sanctions. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said China stood with other member nations of the Security Council in penalizing North Korea for future actions.

In a nation where speeches by leaders are rare, the young North Korean leader on Sunday said, “Superiority in military technology is no longer monopolized by imperialists.” The public event finished with the display of a new rocket and it further punctuated Kim Jong-un’s call for making the military the nation’s number one priority.



Related news

  • “Airlines modify flight routes amid North Korea rocket launch plans” — Wikinews, April 11, 2012
  • “Report: North Korea planning third nuclear bomb test” — Wikinews, April 8, 2012
  • “North Korea plans to launch long-range rocket” — Wikinews, March 18, 2012

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March 18, 2012

North Korea plans to launch long-range rocket

North Korea plans to launch long-range rocket

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

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On Friday, North Korea announced that the country will launch a satellite mounted to a long-range rocket into orbit, as a celebratory action for late leader Kim Il Sung‘s 100th birthday.

Kim Il Sung portrait (2007)
Image: Gilad.rom.

The statement caused international concern as North Korea agreed to stop its nuclear program and weapon testing just 16 days earlier. In return, the United States would give 240,000 metric tons of food to the famine-stricken North Korea.

The launch is scheduled to take place between April 12 through the 16.

Cquote1.svg Such a missile launch would pose a threat to regional security … Cquote2.svg

U.S. State Department

“Such a missile launch would pose a threat to regional security and would also be inconsistent with North Korea’s recent undertaking to refrain from long-range missile launches,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland. “We call on North Korea to adhere to its international obligations, including all relevant U.N. Security Council Resolutions. We are consulting closely with our international partners on next steps.”

If North Korea goes through with the launch, U.S. officials said that the food aid deal could be threatened.

South Korea claims that the launch is a “clear violation” of United Nations Security Council resolutions. North Korea launched a similar satellite over northern Japan in 2009.

Osamu Fujimura, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, stated that the country has “set up a crisis management taskforce,” and is working with the U.S. and South Korea on the issue.

“We believe a launch would be a move to interfere with our effort toward a dialogue, and we strongly urge North Korea not to carry out a satellite launch,” Fujimura said.

The U.S. and South Korean governments believe the satellite program is a disguise for long-range missile tests. The technology for launching both is similar and unrecognizable to outsiders.

The satellite, Kwangmyongsong-3, will be launched from the northwest near China’s border, at Solace Satellite Launching Station. A North Korean spokesman said that next month’s launch is an opportunity for “putting the country’s technology of space use for peaceful purposes on a higher stage.”



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