Sunday, January 22, 2017

Mideast expects big changes under Trump | Trump, Netanyahu Discuss Iran and Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process | Amid Syrian chaos, Iran’s game plan emerges: a path to the Mediterranean | Iran Still Leading State Sponsor of Terrorism, U.S. State Department Reports | Iran Has Changed, But For The Worse | Iran's Position Complicating Astana Talks on Syria – Kremlin Spokesman

Image result for Tehran’s road to the sea
Tehran’s road to the sea

Martin Chulov

Saturday 8 October 2016 15.30 EDT

Amid Syrian chaos, Iran’s game plan emerges: a path to the Mediterranean - The Guardian 

Militias controlled by Tehran are poised to complete a land corridor that would give Iran huge power in the region. 

The strip of land to the west of Mosul in which the militias will operate is essential to that goal. After 12 years of conflict in Iraq and an even more savage conflict in Syria, Iran is now closer than ever to securing a land corridor that will anchor it in the region – and potentially transform the Islamic Republic’s presence on Arab lands. “They have been working extremely hard on this,” said a European official who has monitored Iran’s role in both wars for the past five years. “This is a matter of pride for them on one hand and pragmatism on the other. They will be able to move people and supplies between the Mediterranean and Tehran whenever they want, and they will do so along safe routes that are secured by their people, or their proxies.”
Turkey has been especially opposed, fearful of what such a development means for Iran’s relationship with the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ party), the restive Kurds in its midst, on whom much of the plan hinges.

Maj Gen Qassem Suleimani

The plan has been coordinated by senior government and security officials in Tehran, Baghdad and Damascus, all of whom defer to the head of the spearhead of Iran’s foreign policy, the Quds force of the Revolutionary Guards, headed by Major General Qassem Suleimani, who has run Iran’s wars in Syria and Iraq... 

[See also: Hossein Dehghan]

The groups, Asa’ib ahl al-Haq, Keta’ib Hezbollah and their offshoots, accounted for close to 25% of all US battlefield casualties, senior US officials have said. They have become even more influential since US forces left the country. And in one of modern warfare’s starkest ironies, in the two years since US troops have returned to Iraq to fight Isis they have at times fought under US air cover.

Those who have observed Suleimani up close as he inspects the frontlines in Syria and Iraq, or in meetings in Damascus and Baghdad, where he projects his immense power through studied calm, say he has invested everything in Syria – and in ensuring that Iran emerges from a brutal, expensive war with its ambitions enhanced. “If we lose Syria, we lose Tehran,” Suleimani told the late Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi in 2014. Chalabi told the Observer at the time that Suleimani had added: “We will turn all this chaos into an opportunity.” 

Securing Aleppo would be an important leg in the corridor, which would run past two villages to the north that have historically been in Shia hands. From there, a senior Syrian official, and Iraqi officials in Baghdad, said it would run towards the outskirts of Syria’s fourth city, Homs, then move north through the Alawite heartland of Syria, which a year of Russian airpower has again made safe for Assad. Iran’s hard-won road ends at the port of Latakia, which has remained firmly in regime hands throughout the war. 

Ali Khedery, who advised all US ambassadors to Iraq and four commanders of Centcom in 2003-11 said securing a Mediterranean link would be seen as a strategic triumph in Iran. “It signifies the consolidation of Iran’s control over Iraq and the Levant, which in turn confirms their hegemonic regional ambitions,” he said. “That should trouble every western leader and our regional allies because this will further embolden Iran to continue expanding, likely into the Gulf countries next, a goal they have explicitly and repeatedly articulated. Why should we expect them to stop if they’ve been at the casino, doubling their money over and over again, for a decade?”


Tehran high-rise collapses

50 firefighters killed in Iran as burning high-rise collapses

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A historic high-rise in the heart of Tehran caught fire and collapsed Thursday in a giant cloud of smoke, killing dozens of firefighters who were battling the blaze, Iranian news media reported.
At least 50 firefighters were killed in the collapse of the 17-story Plasco Building, a symbol of modernity that was constructed in the early 1960s, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said.
Local news media quoted emergency operations officials as saying at least 70 people were believed trapped under the wreckage. More than two dozen had been hospitalized.
Rescue dogs were helping the hunt for survivors as police cordoned off several blocks in an area populated with embassies just north of the capital’s main bazaar.
President Hassan Rouhani issued a statement asking the Interior Ministry to investigate the cause of the fire, which broke out on the top floors shortly after 8 a.m. while garment merchants were doing business and tour guides were leading visitors through the building.
Videos on television and social media captured the shock of Iranians at the scene, some bursting into tears, others holding their heads.
“This landmark of modernity is gone,” said Siavash Ramesh, a tour guide who was working in the building Thursday morning.
The building was a familiar and beloved part of the low-slung capital’s scattered skyline, erected during a decade of rapid economic growth under Iran’s former monarchy and attached to a large shopping mall.
A rectangular block that seemed drab by today’s standards, it was for a generation of Iranians the tallest and most magnificent high-rise in the country.
It also stood out for its builder: a Jewish plastics tycoon, Habib Elghanian, who was executed in the months after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iran’s ruling mullahs accused Elghanian, the head of a prominent association of Jewish Iranians, of spying for Israel, and that triggered an exodus of Jews from the country.
For some Iranians, the building’s collapse was akin to losing a family member.
“Our landmark monument is gone, right before our eyes,” said Nasrin Sadvand, a Tehran resident who was near the site.
Others saw deeper meaning in the building’s collapse. Ramesh, the tour guide, recalled the story of how a political activist who opposed the ruling theocracy was allegedly dropped from the top of the building by security agents for refusing to disclose sensitive information. 
“The building took revenge from the people who misused it,” Ramesh said.
Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India

3:55 a.m.: Updated with Times reporting and a death toll of 50 firefighters.
2:35 a.m.: Updated with 75 injured.
1:35 a.m.: Updated with state-run media reporting 30 deaths.
12:55 a.m.: Updated with details and background on the tower.
This article was first published at 12:40 a.m.
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Trump, Netanyahu Discuss Iran and Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

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President Donald Trump spoke Sunday by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about ways to strengthen relations between their two countries and “threats posed by Iran,” according to the White House.
Mr. Netanyahu’s office described the conversation as “very warm” and Mr. Trump invited the prime minister to come to Washington to meet sometime in February. Relations between Israel and the U.S. grew strained under former President Barack Obama and his administration abstained from a United Nations resolution in December that declared settlement construction in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank illegal.
“The President and the Prime Minister agreed to continue to closely consult on a range of regional issues, including addressing the threats posed by Iran,” the White House said after Sunday’s call. “The President affirmed his unprecedented commitment to Israel’s security and stressed that countering ISIL and other radical Islamic terrorist groups will be a priority for his Administration,” it said, referring to Islamic State.
Mr. Trump also emphasized that peace could only be negotiated directly between Israelis and Palestinians, the White House said. That remark came after attempts earlier this month by France and the international community to convene a peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Previously, Mr. Trump has pledged to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which would be an unprecedented and politically charged move effectively recognizing the city as Israel’s capital. Palestinian officials have condemned the idea and warned they won’t be held responsible for violence that might erupt as a result of an embassy shift.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. They maintain that the status of Jerusalem should be decided as part of broader Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
“We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Sunday of the possible embassy relocation.
Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which negotiates with Israel in peace talks, has said such a move would signal the end of the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.
Mr. Abbas met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Sunday in Amman and the two leaders agreed to take measures in response to a potential U.S. decision to move the embassy, a statement on official Palestinian news agency Wafa said late Sunday. It didn’t disclose details about the measures.
The White House said a date for Messrs. Trump and Netanyahu to meet in February would be set soon. The meeting will be closely watched by Israelis, Palestinians and the international community as Mr. Trump has indicated he will significantly shift U.S. policy on the Middle East peace process while the Israeli prime minister has said he is open to discussing new ideas.
The two leaders also are expected to consider the landmark nuclear deal Iran reached with six world powers including the U.S. in 2015. Mr. Trump has vowed to dismantle it.
“Stopping the Iranian threat, and first and foremost the threat reflected in the bad nuclear agreement that was signed with Iran, continues to be a supreme goal of the State of Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu’s office said ahead of the call.
Hours before the two leaders spoke, Jerusalem officials approved construction of hundreds of new settlement units in East Jerusalem.
Mr. Trump, who took office on Friday, has in the past indicated Israel should continue to build settlements in the occupied territories, a departure from past U.S. policy and major point of contention for Palestinians living there.
Jerusalem officials on Sunday approved building permits for 566 units in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and another 105 in Arab neighborhoods.
“We had eight difficult years of Obama who pressured for freezing of construction,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said. “I hope that the era is concluded and from now on we will continue to build and develop Jerusalem for the good of its citizens, both Jewish and Arab.”
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, criticized the decision, calling it “an obvious challenge” to the U.N. resolution.
Israeli lawmakers from Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition planned to discuss new legislation to annex a major settlement in the West Bank and impose Israeli law there, a spokesman for one of the bill’s proponents said Sunday. The lawmakers had been waiting for Mr. Obama to leave the White House before discussing the bill.
On Sunday, Israel’s intelligence and transport minister Yisrael Katz said he would propose an initiative to annex the major settlement of Ma’ale Adumim as well as other settlements in and around Jerusalem.
Mr. Katz, who is considered a senior leader in Mr. Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, said Israel should annex at least four major settlements to establish a greater Jerusalem metropolis and coordinate the steps with the U.S. administration.
Palestinian officials have called on Israel not to unilaterally annex West Bank territory.
Hundreds of Palestinians last week marched in the West Bank to protest against the possibility of the U.S. moving its embassy and the Israeli government’s treatment of Arabs living in Israel.
Write to Rory Jones at
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Ynetnews Opinion - Trump’s Iranian challenge is an opportunity for Israel too

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When Donald Trump entered the White House, he will have found a number of important missions on foreign affairs waiting on his desk. The Iranian issue is one of them. The discussion of a recommended strategy vis-à-vis Iran is just around the corner, and the decision must be made between alternatives that are more sophisticated than “supporting” or “opposing” the nuclear agreement. This is also an opportunity for Israel to fix the failures of its conduct in the summer of 2015. During the election campaign, Trump blatantly opposed the nuclear agreement, threatening to “rip it to shreds,” but in the Senate hearings his nominees for the new administration expressed a more moderate ton. The secretary of defense-designate, Gen. James Mattis, for example, argued that although the agreement was not a good one, the United States had to fulfil its commitments. The designated secretary of state and CIA director emphasized the shortcomings of the agreement but vowed to tightly supervise its implementation and not to take any steps to annul it.
Iranian nuclear reactor in Bushehr. The new US administration is an opportunity for Israel to fix the failures of its conduct in the summer of 2015 (Photo: Reuters)
Iranian nuclear reactor in Bushehr. The new US administration is an opportunity for Israel to fix the failures of its conduct in the summer of 2015 (Photo: Reuters)
The question, therefore, is not whether the new administration should stick to the agreement or tear it up, but rather how it should maintain the agreement’s achievements in the near future in order to fix its difficult strategic flaws in the long run. An immediate annulment of the agreement could isolate the US from its allies that support it and affect the two leverages of pressure that led Iran to the agreement: imposing effective international sanctions and giving legitimacy to a valid military option. Even if there is some logic in cancelling the agreement, it would be best to wait for a good opportunity in the form of a significant Iranian violation of the agreement or a line crossed in Iran’s policy in the region in different aspects. In the short run, the agreement has some advantages. It has extended, in its first years, the Iranian pathway to a bomb from several months to a year, while maintaining a tight supervision regime on important elements in the nuclear program. Nevertheless, the agreement is problematic on two other aspects: Giving a free hand to Iran’s negative activity in non-nuclear areas, and the approval of a legitimate, advanced and unlimited nuclear program in the second half of the agreement period. Furthermore, the agreement includes no restrictions on the Iranian missile program, which is critical for building an operational nuclear ability. From an overall point of view, it would be wrong to give up the agreement’s achievements, particularly in the first years, before the main restrictions on the nuclear program start becoming invalid. At the same time, it would be wrong to allow the radical regime in Iran to reach advanced nuclear capabilities which are made possible in the later years of the agreement. With the arrival of the new administration, Israel has been given a second chance to influence the US policy towards the Iranian nuclear program: an opportunity for joint action against Iran and advancing a parallel agreement, an Israeli-American one, aimed at changing the strategic reality without violating the agreement. First of all, the two countries must agree on a new public red line. While the Obama administration was unwilling to act as long as Iran was not trying to produce a nuclear weapon in practice, Israel should aspire to influence the Trump administration and respond undauntedly to Iranian attempts to take advantage of breaches in the agreement. Second, the two leaderships must agree on the intelligence system that will be operated to discover Iranian violations, and on a basket of responses to any such violation. It is also necessary that the understandings with the US will put Israel’s military option back on the table as a last resort in order to prevent a nuclear Iran. Finally, Washington and Jerusalem must come up with a plan of action against the Iranian support for terror organizations in the region and enforce United Nations Resolution 2231, which prohibits Iran from developing the program involving ballistic missile carrying nuclear warheads. As part of the attempts to restore relations between Israel and the US, there is an urgent need for a strategy that will restore the deterrence against Iran and prevent it from taking advantage of the nuclear agreement’s weak spots. If the deterrence and diplomacy fail, the American-Israeli partnership will be the way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin is the director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS, which will hold the Strategic Assessment for Israel international conference next week.
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We Are Your Friend, Not Your Enemy

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Israel's leader has recorded a conciliatory message to the people of Iran, saying, "We are your friend, not your enemy."
In a video uploaded to his Facebook page Saturday, Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the people of Iran in English, with Farsi subtitles.
Netanyahu said he will soon discuss with U.S. President Donald Trump how to counter the threat of an Iranian regime that calls for Israel's destruction, but that he distinguishes between the regime and the people.
"You have a proud history. You have a rich culture. Tragically, you are shackled by a theocratic tyranny," he said.
Israel regards Iran as its most dangerous adversary because of its nuclear program, development of long-range missiles and continued support for militant groups.
Netanyahu considers a nuclear-armed Iran a threat to his country's very existence.

After Trump inauguration, Benjamin Netanyahu wastes no time putting Iran back on agenda - Israel News

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Just 24-hours after US President Donald Trump spoke in his inaugural address about the need to eradicate radical Islamic terrorism, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put a brief video clip on social media aimed at placing the Iranian threat squarely back on the international agenda.
“I plan to speak soon with President Trump about how to counter the threat of the Iranian regime, which calls for Israel's destruction,” Netanyahu said in the two-and-a-half minute video addressed directly to the Iranian people.

“This ruthless regime continues to deny you your freedom,” Netanyahu said in the English video, accompanied by Farsi subtitles.  “It prevents thousands of candidates form competing in elections, it steals money from your poor to fund a mass murderer like [Syrian President Bashar] Assad. By calling daily for Israel's destruction, the regime hopes to instill hostility between us. This is wrong. We are your friend, not your enemy.”
This was the first video of this sort Netanyahu has put out in months, after putting out several in the spring and summer that addressed issues such as Palestinian incitement and the settlements. It is also the first time in a while that he has exclusively addressed the Iranian issue, other than in a  couple of sentences in public appearances here and there.
The release of the video now, just 24-hours after Trump took over from Barack Obama, is an obvious effort to get the world's leaders – first and foremost Trump – to one again focus on the Iranian regime.
Trump has come out squarely against the Iranian nuclear deal.  The sense among sources close to Netanyahu is that when dealing with the new administration, Netanyahu will not only have a more receptive ear regarding the dangers that the Iranians pose, but also find an administration more willing to shine the light on Iran’s part in the spread of radical Islamic terrorism, and more vigilant in ensuring that Tehran lives up to its commitments under the nuclear deal.
"We've always distinguished between the Iranian people and the Iranian regime,” Netanyahu said in the video. 
“The regime is cruel, the people are not; the regime is aggressive, the people are warm. I yearn for the day when Israelis and Iranians can once against visit each other freely – in Tehran and Isfahan, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv,” he said. “The fanatics must not win, their cruelty must not conquer our compassion. Our two peoples can work together for a more peaceful and hopeful future for both of us. We must defeat terror and tyranny, and we must ensure that freedom and friendship win the day.”
Netanyahu referenced the Iranian student protests of 2009, which some say was a golden opportunity for change in Iran which was squandered by a lack of unequivocal moral and material support by Obama in the early days of his presidency.
“I will never forget the images of brave young students , hungry for change, gunned down in the streets of Tehran in 2009,” Netanyahu said. “And I will never forget beautiful Neda Soltan – gasping for her last breath on that sidewalk.”
This was a reference to Iranian student Neda Agha-Soltan, whose shooting-death during the protests was caught on video and went viral.
“You have a proud history, you have a rich culture,” Netanyahu said. “Tragically, you are shackled by a technocratic tyranny. In a free Iran you will once again be able to flourish without limit , but today a cruel regime is trying to keep you down.”
While Netanyahu said he will speak to Trump about Iran soon, no announcement has yet been made about when their first meeting will be held, though there have been recent reports it could be as early as the first week in February. Government officials said that the issue will be determined in the coming days.
Netanyahu congratulated Trump on his inauguration in a tweet Friday afternoon: “Congratulations to my friend President Trump,” he wrote. “I look forward to working closely with you to make the alliance between Israel and America stronger than ever. Shabbat Shalom.”
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Iran Still Leading State Sponsor of Terrorism, U.S. State Department Reports

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An obscure court in The Hague will soon issue a ruling likely to inflame tensions in the South China Sea and force Washington to clarify how far it is willing to go to defend its allies in Manila.
The international tribunal is due to issue a decision this month over territorial disputes in the strategic waterway that have pitted China against its smaller neighbor, the Philippines. Most experts believe the court will side with Manila on the key issues.
But China has already rejected the court’s authority and vowed to stick to its far-reaching claims over the contested shoals, reefs, and rocks that the Philippines also asserts are its own. With a minuscule navy and coast guard, Manila will be looking to the United States for both diplomatic and military support. But, so far, Washington has stopped short of promising to come to the rescue of the Philippines if its ships clash with Chinese vessels in the South China Sea.
“We’ve had a number of uncomfortable senior-level engagements with the Filipinos over the past few years where they have pressed us, quite hard at times, to make our commitments clear,” a former senior U.S. government official, who was present at some of the discussions, told Foreign Policy. But the United States always declined to clarify its stance, the ex-official said.
The showdown in the South China Sea has been heating up for years, thanks to China’s large-scale land reclamation and aggressive use of fishing fleets and coast guard ships to bully other countries to steer clear of what Beijing considers its territory.
But the real spark threatening to ignite that tinderbox is 6,000 miles away, in the wood-paneled, stained-glass chambers of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The five-person tribunal has been wrestling with a host of tricky legal questions, poring over centuries-old maps, parsing legal terminology, and studying satellite images of the disputed outcrops since the Philippines filed its complaint in 2013.
From the beginning, China refused to acknowledge the tribunal’s jurisdiction in the case, or even the Philippines’s right to seek arbitration, and did not participate in the proceedings that concluded late last year.
The Philippines had argued that China’s so-called “historic” claims to the waters of the South China Sea — outlined in a sweeping “nine-dash line” that purports to show Chinese control over nearly all of the waterway — date only to 2009 and lack all basis in the historical record and in international law. Lawyers noted in particular that none of the features in dispute — from Fiery Cross Reef to Gaven Reef — had any Chinese-language names until recently, belying Beijing’s claims of a long, documented, historical relationship with those rocky outcrops.
Further, the Philippines argued, the reefs and atolls that China has occupied aren’t islands at all and thus don’t entitle Beijing to claim the surrounding 200 miles of water — and no amount of dredging and land reclamation can make them islands. Moreover, Manila said that some of the features are not even rocks, as they are underwater at high tide, and do not qualify for a boundary of 12 nautical miles. Finally, the Philippines argued that China’s aggressive behavior, including forcing Philippine fishermen and coast guard ships out of their own waters, violates the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea that China ratified.
While China never formally responded to The Hague tribunal, Chinese officials have repeated their own counterarguments in speeches, essays, and statements. They simply claim that the rocks and reefs in those waters are Chinese territory and always have been and that China has “historic rights” over the vast expanse of the South China Sea, even though the U.N. convention grants no such rights. Recently, China launched a public relations counteroffensive to discredit the tribunal and its ruling before any decision has been made public.
Most legal experts expect the tribunal will rule in favor of the Philippines on most, if not all, of the questions, and a decision is expected this month.
James Kraska, a professor of international law at the U.S. Naval War College, is one of those expecting a big win for the Philippines. And China, he said, which was bound to submit to the arbitration, “is legally bound to comply with the decision.”
But Beijing has vowed it will not respect the panel’s ruling, regardless of what it decides, and that is almost certain to raise temperatures across Asia. Chinese officials say they respect international law but argue that panels like the one in The Hague have no authority.
“All the islands, where we are doing reclamation, are Chinese islands, are Chinese territory,” Wang Xining, a deputy director-general at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a recent interview. “So on the South China Sea, I think there is a huge misunderstanding. We wish to act based on international law.”
Inside China, Kraska said, a legal defeat would be a slap in the face to leadership in Beijing, which has against all evidence and law insisted that the disputed areas are sovereign Chinese territory.
“China’s costs from losing will be great. Through its conduct, Beijing already has killed the meme of its ‘peaceful rise,’ so most of the damage has already been done,” he said. But “the decision will be embarrassing and have its greatest impact regionally in the coming decades, and internally, trying to explain to its people how it lost.”
Analysts and former U.S. government officials say China has a range of options as to how to respond. It could issue a diplomatic protest, send more ships to the disputed waters, step up dredging and land reclamation activities at contested reefs, or even implement an “air defense identification zone” (ADIZ) around all the islets it lays claim to. Under an ADIZ, Beijing would demand foreign aircraft seek Chinese permission to fly through the area.
But few expect China to seek a military clash with the United States, and even an accidental escalation is less likely than a few years ago, said retired Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the U.S. Navy’s former chief of naval operations, thanks to new communications protocols he helped put in place.
For the Philippines, a legal win would be, above all, a moral victory and could well inspire other countries in the region to also seek arbitration; indeed, Japan and Indonesia have toyed with doing just that in their own disputes with China.
“The Philippines maintains that the decision of the tribunal, once rendered, will be legally binding and should be accorded due respect by everyone, including China,” Jose Cuisia, the Philippine ambassador in Washington, told FP.
But the biggest question is how the United States will respond to the panel’s ruling and especially to any uptick in tension between the Philippines and China.
If the waters around those disputed atolls are determined to be international waters — rather than Chinese turf — then Washington will likely be under pressure to conduct more freedom-of-navigation operations with naval ships. By sailing within 12 miles of those disputed features, the United States would make clear that those waters are open to all — and can’t be fenced off by Chinese forces. That’s a crucial point to underscore in a waterway that moves more than $5 trillion worth of goods annually.
“I think it’s incumbent on us to insist we’re not going to recognize” the Chinese claims, said Greenert, who stepped down as Navy chief last year. However, the sluggish U.S. response a few years ago allowed Beijing to create facts on the ground with its large-scale reclamation and construction of military harbors and airfields, he said, a view shared by other former officers and diplomats.
“We did not get out ahead of it,” Greenert said. “It’s a fait accompli; they are there. It is unfortunate.”
An even bigger looming question is whether Washington will defend the Philippines if it gets into a scrap with China over those rocks and reefs. Since 1951, the Unites States and the Philippines have maintained a mutual defense treaty. During the Cold War, U.S. officials made clear that the treaty commits the United States to defend the Philippines not just in the event of an attack on its home islands, but also in the event of a military challenge in the waters of the South China Sea. In recent years, the U.S. administration has not specified whether that interpretation still stands.
“As President Obama has said, our commitment to the Philippines is ironclad,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Anna Richey-Allen said.
But the nature of the U.S. commitment in the event of a showdown on one of those disputed shoals is still not entirely clear. Richey-Allen told FP that the State Department does not “speculate about hypothetical situations” with respect to the defense treaty.
Experts and former U.S. officials say the ambiguity in Washington’s stance potentially reins in both Manila and Beijing from taking rash action, because they don’t know how the United States might respond.
“The basic logic of the U.S. government position is that strategic ambiguity provides us more maneuvering space than might otherwise be the case,” the former official said.
But in the case of another territorial dispute involving China and a U.S. ally, Washington has been crystal clear about its alliance commitments. In the East China Sea, where Beijing is at loggerheads with Tokyo, top American officials and President Barack Obama himself have promised that the United States would honor its treaty obligations and come to the defense of Japan if a conflict erupted over the disputed Senkaku Islands, known in China as the Diaoyu.
The different approaches to Japan and the Philippines are partly due to the language of the defense treaties, experts say, and partly a calculation that Tokyo has a more capable military that could deter possible provocations by Beijing.
When Asian and Western defense officials, including U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, gather in Singapore for an annual security conference this weekend, the imminent court ruling from The Hague — and America’s potential response — will be the main topic of discussion. Carter’s scheduled speech will be closely followed for any hints of a change in Washington’s policy.
When it comes to maritime tensions between China and the Philippines, one potential flash point that could draw a U.S. response is the Second Thomas Shoal. A team of less than a dozen Philippine Marines are stationed at the shoal on a rusting, World War II-era ship, the BRP Sierra Madre, which was run aground deliberately to safeguard Manila’s claims in the area.
If the Philippine troops run into trouble, the Obama administration could be forced to make a difficult call. But U.S. officials have privately discouraged Manila from taking any action that could trigger a crisis.
Or, as another former senior administration official put it: “Does the U.S. really want to get into a war over the Second Thomas Shoal?”
FP’s Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian contributed to this article. 
Photo credit: Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images
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Iran Has Changed, But For The Worse

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The pro-Iran engagement policy camp long advocated how a nuclear agreement with Iran would lead to a slate of numerous changes sought in the regime, rendering benefits to go around for everyone. More than one year down this road, the world has witnessed many changes in Iran. However, they are nothing to boast about.
The nuclear accord, while it should have never been supported or discussed by the international community in the first place, has been successively violated by the Iranian regime. Tehran continues its atrocious executions, human rights violations and ongoing oppression of ordinary citizens inside the country. And the mullahs in Tehran have continued their mantra of exporting “Islamic Revolution” by engulfing the entire Middle East, and beyond, into mayhem, as we are unfortunately witnessing so vividly today in Syria.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gives a press conference in Tehran on Jaunary 17, 2017, to mark the first anniversary of the implementation of a historic nuclear deal. (ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
The main “change” we have witnessed in Iran has been the numerous instances where the regime has either stretched or actually violated the flaw-riddled Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the heavy water-level limit aggression being the latest such case.
The reinstatement of the Iran Sanctions Act with 99 votes in favor was a very important first step. This move has set an example of what is needed to guarantee Iran understands there will be consequences for agreement violations. And yet we need to go beyond and build upon this momentum.
Watch On Forbes: Donald Trump Pledges To Rip Up Iran Deal; Israelis Say Not So Fast
This is the time to counter Iran’s terrorism in the region and the world. Iran is and has been, of course, the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism. Iran is busy destabilizing Syria with an incredible human catastrophe, as in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, boasting about enjoying control over four Arab capitals of the region.
The “change” we have seen in this regard is that Tehran is willing to dispatch tens of thousands of proxy militias to Syria and repeat a Srebrenica-style massacre, caring not an iota about how the international community might respond. Let us hope Aleppo has opened our eyes to the horrific potential in Iran’s support for extremism and its export of Islamic fundamentalism.
The “change” the world has witnessed in Iran’s pursuit of a vast weapons-of-mass-destruction program is its bold new approach in proliferating efforts related to mastering ballistic missiles. Iran’s missile tests have continued to violate United Nations Security Council resolutions, yet there has been hardly any serious global response.
Iran’s ballistic missile tests “are not consistent with the constructive spirit” of the JCPOA, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report.
As we speak, reports indicate the Iran-fostered and -nurtured Lebanese Hezbollah vaunts of stocking over 120,000 missiles in its arsenal. If gone unanswered, there is no limit to what extent Iran will exploit the lack of will diseasing the international community.
This is the time to confront Iran over its violation of human rights on its own home turf. In 2009, the Iranian people revolted for their God-given rights, shaking the very pillars of the regime’s foundations. And yet former U.S. President Barack Obama, then recently elected to the White House by the American people with high hopes of “change,” failed to respond to their cries for support. The oppression and repression of the mullahs’ regime that followed is something the world should never forget.
As Obama continued his devastating appeasement policy with Iran, the mullahs have not changed their course. They have not changed their designs. They have not changed their hegemonic focus.
Senator Robert Menendez questions witnesses during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. on July 23, 2015. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
This is a time for the United States to respond. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has in cooperation with Senator Robert Corker (R-TN), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the Countering Iran Threat Act. This, too, is an initiative that the next Congress can and is recommended to build upon.
If so, this can be the building blocks of the West, spearheaded by America, deterring Iranian aggression. This can lead us, as a world, in moving to a better day and a higher hope where the Iranian people can ultimately achieve the freedoms and blessings the democratic world enjoys today.
The world now finds itself before an opportunity to counter Iran’s continuing threats. We are entering a new era in American foreign and national security policy.
In a letter hand-delivered to U.S. President Donald Trump, nearly two dozen former senior U.S. government officials–representing a rare bipartisan spectrum–urged Washington to work with the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran.
As Iran continues its domestic oppression and military buildup, this should be one focus of the Trump administration’s foreign policy and the agenda of the new Congress.
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· · · · · ·

In call with Netanyahu, Trump vows to 'closely consult' on tackling Iran threat, help Israel make peace

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In his first phone conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday evening, new US President Donald Trump pledged close consultation in “addressing the threats posed by Iran,” unprecedented support for Israel’s security, and a determination to help Israel achieve peace with the Palestinians.
Trump also invited Netanyahu to the White House “in early February.”
The White House account of the call made no mention of plans by Trump to move the US embassy to Jerusalem; shortly earlier, Trump’s spokesman had said the administration was “at the beginning stages of even discussing” the controversial move.
The Trump-Netanyahu conversation marked what some Israeli officials hope will be the start of reset in ties with the US after years of strained relations with the Obama administration. The language used in the White House’s account of the conversation underlined the shift.
The two leaders discussed ways to “advance and strengthen the US-Israel special relationship” and to boost security and stability in the region, the White House said. Trump stressed “the importance the United States places on our close military, intelligence and security cooperation with Israel, which reflects the deep and abiding partnership between our countries.”
The two agreed to “closely consult on a range of regional issues, including addressing the threats posed by Iran,” the White House said. The pledge of close consultation, and the active reference to addressing the Iranian threat, contrasted sharply with President Barack Obama’s friction-filled dealings with Netanyahu on the Iran issue; the nuclear deal the last president negotiated with Iran in 2015 was bitterly attacked by the Israeli prime minister.
Trump also “affirmed his unprecedented commitment to Israel’s security” and stressed that he was making a priority of countering Islamic State and “other radical Islamic terrorist groups” — again, language highlighting the shift from Obama, who steered clear of references to Islamist terror.
Finally, the new president stressed that Israeli-Palestinian peace “can only be negotiated directly between the two parties, and that the United States will work closely with Israel to make progress towards that goal.” Here, too, the language was clearly intended to show a distinction from the previous administration, which on December 23, 2016 abstained in a UN Security Council Resolution that condemned Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal and branded East Jerusalem occupied territory. Obama’s failure to veto the resolution was castigated by Netanyahu as a shameful “ambush.”
According to Netanyahu’s office, the conversation with Trump was “very warm,” and the two leaders discussed the Iran deal, the peace process, and “other issues.”
“The prime minister expressed his desire to work closely with President Trump to forge a common vision to advance peace and security in the region, with no daylight between the United States and Israel,” the Israeli statement said.
A final date for Netanyahu’s visit will be set in the coming days, the statement said.
In Washington, Trump told reporters his phone conversation Sunday evening with Netanyahu “was very nice.”
Pressed by reporters after a swearing-in ceremony for his top aides, Trump refused to discuss the contents of the conversation between the two leaders, according to Reuters.
Earlier, Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting there was plenty for the two leaders to discuss.
“There are many issues between us, including the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the situation in Syria and the Iranian threat,” he said.
On Saturday night, Netanyahu released a video addressed to the Iranian people in which he vowed that aggression by Tehran would top his list of priorities during his first contacts with Trump.
“I plan to speak soon with President Trump about how to counter the threat of the Iranian regime, which calls for Israel’s destruction,” Netanyahu said in the video, speaking in English with Persian subtitles.
Netanyahu had also been expected to discuss Trump’s campaign pledge to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Less than an hour before the phone call, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer released a statement that the administration was “at the very beginning stages of even discussing” the embassy move.
Though the statement seemed to counter reports that the controversial move would be announced in the coming days, it was hailed by some in Israel as a sign that the US was on its way to full recognition of Jerusalem as the country’s capital.
Earlier in the day, Netanyahu convinced his cabinet to delay voting on a controversial bill to extend Israeli authority to the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim until after he had met with Trump. Netanyahu told his ministers that he didn’t want to blindside the US administration with any unilateral action.
At the swearing-in ceremony for his top advisers, Trump spoke briefly, but did not mention his conversation with Netanyahu minutes earlier. Instead, he spoke of his conversations with Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, in which he offered his condolences for the casualties of the severe weather there and offered help.
Trump also told those assembled that he would shortly be meeting with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Agencies contributed to this report.
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Policeman wounded in Northern Ireland shooting

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Policeman wounded in Northern Ireland shooting

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BELFAST (Reuters) - A policeman was wounded in a shooting at a petrol station in north Belfast on Sunday evening, the police service of Northern Ireland said in a Twitter post.

From IS to government control, Syrians left with few choices

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SAFIRA, Syria (AP) -- Carrying her four-year-old son, Elham Saleh walked all night behind a smuggler, navigating land mines through Islamic State group- and rebel-held territory in northern Syria....

Mideast expects big changes under Trump

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CAIRO (AP) -- Donald Trump's all-but-dismissal of human rights as a foreign policy principle could land like an earthquake across a Middle East landscape beset by warring factions and beleaguered governments, with some players eyeing the prospect of once unimaginable new alliances....
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Carter tells AP more US troops will not fix Iraq or Syria

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sending thousands more American troops into Iraq or Syria in a bid to accelerate the defeat of the Islamic State group would push U.S. allies to the exits, create more anti-U.S. resistance and give up the U.S. military's key advantages, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in an Associated Press interview....

Even before taking office, Trump has changed the presidency

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Donald Trump enters the White House on Friday just as he entered the race for president: defiant, unfiltered, unbound by tradition and utterly confident in his chosen course....

High-rise tower on fire in Iranian capital collapses

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- A high-rise building in Tehran engulfed by a fire collapsed on Thursday as scores of firefighters battled the blaze. Iran's state-run Press TV said people were believed to be trapped inside the rubble....

1 in 4 US men have cancer-linked HPV genital infections

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CHICAGO (AP) -- The first national estimate suggests that nearly half of U.S. men have genital infections caused by a sexually transmitted virus and that 1 in 4 has strains linked with several cancers....

Black Americans weep for the Obama era and uncertain future

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- On the night in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected the country's first black president, many black Americans wept. Eight years later, they weep again for the end of an era some thought they would never live to see - and for the uncertain future they face without him....

KNC participation in Astana talks aimed at defending Kurdish rights in Syria: officials

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ARA News
Erbil – Russia and Turkey have finalised the preparations for the Syria peace talks in Astana. The talks, planned for Jan. 23, will bring the Syrian regime and the opposition to the table of negotiations.
The Kurdish National Council (KNC) has been invited to join the Astana talks as a representative for the Syrian Kurds, while the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and allied Rojava Self-Administration have been excluded from the talks.
The Kurds hope that the Kurdish issue will also be on the table of negotiations.
The PYD considers the Astana meeting as an opportunity to find a solution for the Syrian crisis, but the party expressed its disappointment for being excluded from the talks.
Khalid Ali, a leading member of the KNC, told ARA News that the presence of the Kurdish National Council at the Astana talks is better for the Syrian Kurds than boycotting the meeting completely.
“The KNC delegation, headed by Abdulhakim Bashar, has arrived in Astana after receiving the invitation to participate in the Syrian peace negotiations,” Ali confirmed. “The KNC participation in any such meetings is very important to guarantee the Kurdish rights in Syria.”
Rama Malla, a member of the Syrian Kurdistan Leftist Party, also supported the KNC’s participation in the Astana negotiations.
“We hope that the Astana meeting would bring about some positive results,” Malla told ARA News.
“All regional powers are working for successful Syria peace talks in Astana. Although we cannot predict whether any good will come out of this meeting, but the participation of the Kurdish National Council is a positive step, as there’ll be a representative for the Kurdish people to defend the Kurdish rights in these talks,” Malla said.
However, according to the PYD co-Chair Salih Muslim, excluding his party and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the upcoming Astana meeting was a mistake, limiting the talks’ scope and breadth.
Muslim told ARA News that “the SDF is one of the critical players,” whose endorsement would be required for any lasting agreement. He added that holding peace talks “without any participation from the SDF won’t lead to an actual solution.”
The Astana talks will take place in Kazakhstan’s capital on January 23, bringing together representatives from the Syrian regime and the armed opposition. Negotiators aim to build on a nationwide ceasefire that has largely held despite incessant outbreaks of violence.
“One of our priorities is reaching a truce agreement in order to stop the bloodshed in Syria,” Muslim stated. “A ceasefire would be the main accomplishment, and we won’t aspire for more from the Astana talks.”
“Finding a solution for the Syrian crisis cannot come from Astana,” the Kurdish leader concluded. “The real Syrian political solution must come from power centers [in Syria].”
Reporting by: Ahmed Shiwesh | Source: ARA News 
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Syria's Assad hopes for 'reconciliation' deals from Astana talks

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Senior US Diplomat to Observe Syrian Talks at Astana

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The United States said Saturday it will not send a delegation to preliminary Syrian peace talks next week in the Kazakh capital, Astana, and will instead send a leading diplomatic observer.
Citing demands of the U.S. presidential transition, the State Department said U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan George Krol will attend the talks, which were organized without U.S. input by Syrian ally Russia, as well as Turkey and Iran.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said his government is ready to "discuss everything" at the talks, which begin Monday, while rebel factions say they will limit their focus to enforcement of an ongoing truce and humanitarian issues. Rebels have also made it clear they will not yet enter into negotiations on a political solution to the crisis.
FILE - U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan George A. Krol
FILE - U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan George A. Krol
Further complicating peace efforts, the dominant al-Qaida-linked militancy Fatah al-Sham, which will not participate in the talks, called them a "conspiracy." A jihadist statement Saturday equated attendance by rebel groups at the talks to acknowledging the legitimacy of the Assad government, which rebels have battled to oust since 2011.
Earlier this week, Fatah al-Sham turned on another powerful Islamist group, Ahrar al-Sham, in Idlib province. That attack came after merger talks between the militant organizations failed.
Bomb blast rips Syrian refugee camp
In other developments, monitors from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights say a car bomb struck a Syrian refugee camp Saturday near the Jordanian border, killing at least six people and wounding more than a dozen others.
A local activist told the observatory the blast came from a small truck carrying blankets, and said the explosion was detonated by remote control.
The Rukban camp, home to tens of thousands of refugees as well as some opposition fighters, is located in a remote desert area near territory held by Islamic State extremists.
An IS attack in October targeted a checkpoint at the sprawling camp, killing three people. Separately, six Jordanian border guards were killed nearby in July.
VOA State Department correspondent Steve Herman contributed to this report.
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astana talks - Google Search

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Syria talks set to begin in Astana as ceasefire holds

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Astana, Kazakhstan - Key players in the war in Syria are due to meet on Monday in Astana to begin talks aimed at consolidating a nationwide ...
Bashar Assad's Fate Not on Agenda of Astana Talks on Syria
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Iran's Position Complicating Astana Talks on Syria – Kremlin Spokesman

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MOSCOW (Sputnik) – Russia welcomes possible US participation in Astana talks on Syria, but Iran's position is complicating the issue, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told BBC in an interview.
“We will welcome that [US participation in Astana talks]. The situation is very complicated. You know that there is also Iran like a very important player in the Syrian issue. Iranians are not welcoming this. So it is a very complicated issue for a very careful play,” Peskov said.
The peace negotiations on Syria will take place on Monday in Astana, Kazakhstan.
The Syrian opposition groups agreed to attend the talks brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran as an attempt to end the six-year civil war in the country, which sees government forces fighting against a number of opposition and terrorist groups, including the Daesh, which is banned in Russia as other states worldwide.
On Tuesday, Syria's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari confirmed in an interview with Sputnik that he would lead the Syrian government’s delegation at the upcoming talks.
Settling the Syrian crisis is impossible without the participation of the US side, and Moscow is willing to cooperate with Washington on the issue, according to Kremlin spokesman.
"This is probably the cause of some disagreement between Moscow and Tehran… It is obvious that without the United States it is impossible to resolve the Syrian issue,"  Peskov said, commenting on the.
When asked whether a Russia-US deal was possible on Syria, the spokesman added that "not a deal, but cooperation" was needed.
Peskov also stated that any deals on Syria are unlikely to be reached at the upcoming Astana talks on Syrian crisis settlement, as too many parties are involved in the process. 
“Any deals are unlikely to be reached there, as too many parties are involved in the process,” Peskov said.
The abundance of parties involved in the upcoming talks in Astana, to take place on January 23, may jeopardize the harmony of negotiations, the spokesman added.
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Timing of Mexico drug lord's extradition seen as political

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MEXICO CITY (AP) -- Joaquin &quot;El Chapo&quot; Guzman&apos;s abrupt exit to face charges in the U.S. marks the end of an era in which he was Mexico&apos;s most notorious drug cartel boss and, for some, the stuff of folk legend....

Melania Trump wears sky-blue cashmere Ralph Lauren ensemble 

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Incoming first lady Melania Trump wore a sky-blue cashmere jacket and mock turtleneck dress by Ralph Lauren, the brand that designed so many Hillary Clinton pantsuits, on Inauguration Day....
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Page 5

Smashed windows, chaotic confrontation near inauguration

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Police deployed pepper spray and made numerous arrests in a chaotic confrontation blocks from Donald Trump&apos;s inauguration Friday as protesters registered their rage against the new president....

Senate confirms Trump's picks for defense, homeland security

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Republican-led Senate, taking little time to fill two critical national security posts, overwhelmingly confirmed a pair of retired Marine generals tapped by President Donald Trump to run the Pentagon and secure America&apos;s borders....

Turkish assembly passes polemic bill to boost Erdogan powers

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- Turkey&apos;s parliament has approved a contentious constitutional reform package, paving the way for a referendum on a presidential system that would greatly expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan&apos;s office....

Pope: I'll judge Trump after we see what he does

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VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Francis has told an interviewer that he&apos;ll wait to see what U.S. President Donald Trump does before forming his opinion....

Trump's DC hotel a hub of activity and ethics questions

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Red, white and blue balloons rained down over crystal chandeliers in the soaring atrium of the Trump International Hotel at midnight Friday - &quot;a new inaugural tradition,&quot; its social media account promised....

Cautious welcome from congressional Republicans to Trump era 

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congressional Republicans anxiously monitor President Donald Trump&apos;s Twitter feed, parse his pronouncements, and brace for potential controversy each time he gives an interview....
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Page 6

Royals' Ventura killed in car crash in Dominican Republic

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, whose electric arm and confident demeanor helped lead his long-suffering team to the 2015 World Series title, died in a car crash in his native Dominican Republic early Sunday. He was 25....

Current, former major leaguers die in Dominican crashes

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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) -- Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura and former major leaguer Andy Marte died in separate traffic accidents early Sunday in their native Dominican Republic....

Struck-off psychiatrist helped six Britons to die in Swiss suicide clinics 

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Trump on CIA meeting: 'WIN!' - The Hill

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The Hill

Trump on CIA meeting: 'WIN!'
The Hill
President Donald Trump · Donald TrumpTrump: Why didn't protesters vote? Trump touts TV ratings for inauguration J Street's dead end MORE early Sunday said he had a “great” meeting at CIA headquarters on Saturday with “amazing people.” “Had a great ...
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Pope Francis Taking 'Wait and See' Approach With Trump - Newsweek

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Pope Francis Taking 'Wait and See' Approach With Trump
Pope Francis on Sunday said he would not make an opinion of Donald Trump until he first had a chance to see specific policies the new U.S. president would implement. On Friday, as Trump was taking office, Francis had urged him to be guided by ethical ...

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US won’t send delegation to Syria talks in Kazakhstan, will be represented by ambassador — RT News

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The US will not send a special delegation to the Syria talks, which are due to be held in the Kazakhstan capital, Astana on January 23, according to the US State Department. Instead, the US will be represented by its ambassador to Kazakhstan.
"Given our presidential inauguration and the immediate demands of the transition, a delegation from Washington will not be attending the Astana conference," the US State Department acting spokesman, Mark Toner said in a statement, cited by Reuters.
On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced Russia's invitation to the US to take part in the upcoming talks on Syria.
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FILE PHOTO © Omar Sanadiki
We think it would be the right thing to invite the representatives of the UN and the new US administration to the meeting,” Lavrov said on Wednesday, at a press conference summing up the results of Russian foreign policy in 2016.
Russia’s own delegation to the talks in Astana will include representatives of the foreign ministry and the defense ministry, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov revealed on Thursday.
The United Nations will also be present at the talks, with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura heading its delegation, the UN has confirmed.
Aiming to end the nearly six-year war in Syria, the international meeting will be held by Turkey, Russia, and Iran.
The meeting will involve negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition groups. Syrian President Bashar Assad said the talks will focus on achieving a ceasefire and allowing rebel groups to reach “reconciliation” deals with the government. Assad added that he hoped the meeting in Astana would be a platform to discuss “everything” with opposition groups.
The Syrian opposition delegation currently represents 14 militant groups. A leader of Jaysh al-Islam, Mohammed Alloush, said he would head the rebel delegation and work to end the "crimes” of the government and its allies.
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Syrian rebels call on Russia to help defend ceasefire

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ASTANA (Reuters) - A Syrian rebel group called on Russia to withstand pressure from Iran and the Syrian government to help ensure that a ceasefire agreed last month holds, the head of a delegation at peace talks told Reuters on Sunday.

Israel approves settlement homes following Trump inauguration - BBC News

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Israel approves settlement homes following Trump inauguration
BBC News
Israel has approved hundreds of new settlement homes in occupied East Jerusalem, after the staunch pro-Israel US President Donald Trump took office. Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Meir Turgeman told AFP: "Now we can finally build." Israel's PM reportedly ...
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all 320 news articles »

Trump will find it hard to assert a U.S. role in the Middle East

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America’s influence in the region has diminished, and Russia and Iran now play a more decisive role.

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· · ·

Germany must prepare for turbulent times under Trump: foreign minister

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BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany must brace itself for turbulent times under U.S. President Donald Trump, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Sunday, adding that free trade and trans-Atlantic cooperation to fight extremism and terrorism were key for Berlin.

Syria Talks to Test Russia-Turkey Cooperation

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Russia and Turkey, which for years have backed opposing sides in Syria’s civil war, say they will work to map the outlines of a peace agreement during negotiations this week, the first major test of whether the powers’ newfound cooperation can achieve a breakthrough to end the conflict.

McCain and Graham back Tillerson - Politico

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McCain and Graham back Tillerson
After weeks of agonizing over Rex Tillerson's ties to Russia, John McCain and Lindsey Graham said Sunday that they will vote for President Donald Trump's secretary of state nominee, essentially clinching approval for Tillerson. Though Sen. Marco Rubio ...
Graham says he will vote for TillersonThe Hill
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Page 8

Ex-major leaguer Marte dies in car crash - ESPN

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Ex-major leaguer Marte dies in car crash
Former major league infielder Andy Marte was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic, the agency that represented him announced Sunday. Editor's Picks. Royals RHP Ventura, 25, killed in car crash. Yordano Ventura, the hard-throwing Royals ...
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Theresa May Is Grilled Over U.K. Missile Test Failure

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Prime Minister Theresa May spoke about Britain’s nuclear weapons program on the BBC. She would not say whether she knew about the reported failure of an unarmed missile during a test.

Senator McCain Supports Tillerson For U.S. Secretary Of State

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U.S. Senator John McCain has said he will support former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state despite the nominee's close ties to Russia and President Vladimir Putin.

The Latest: Israel delays vote on settlement annexation

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The Latest on Israeli plans in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the Trump era (all times local):

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Trump team in fresh war of words with US media

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Donald Trump's chief of staff joins the attack on reporting, vowing to fight "tooth and nail".

Son Of A Stalinist Executioner: One Man's Lifelong Struggle To Understand Why

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Valery Rodos's father was one of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's most brutal and notorious executioners. He has spent decades searching his soul for the ways that the past shaped his life.

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Page 9

Authorities in Dominican Republic say MLB players Yordano Ventura, Andy Marte have both died in separate car crashes

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Authorities in Dominican Republic say MLB players Yordano Ventura, Andy Marte have both died in separate car crashes.

Syrian Rebels Prepare for Russia-Led Talks With Government - New York Times

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The Express Tribune

Syrian Rebels Prepare for Russia-Led Talks With Government
New York Times
ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Syrian rebel delegates met in Kazakhstan Sunday on the eve of their first talks with the government in a year, in which the two sides hope to consolidate a cease-fire reached last month and deliver humanitarian aid. The talks in ...
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4 Clues Trump is Working for Russia - Huffington Post

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Huffington Post

4 Clues Trump is Working for Russia
Huffington Post
Dimitri Ehrlich is a multi-platinum selling songwriter and the author of two books, his writing has appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and Interview. Four Disturbing clues that we now have a Russian patsy in the White House and one scary ...

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Israel announces hundreds of new settlement homes as new US administration begins discussions to move embassy to Jerusalem 

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Trump says call with Israel's Netanyahu was 'very nice'

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump said his phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday was "very nice."

Donald Trump shows off 'secret' Obama letter

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Page 10

Donald Trump Had a ‘Very Good’ Conversation With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 

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President Donald Trump held a call Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as his administration signaled that his promise to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem won’t be fulfilled imminently.
The call comes after Trump’s promise to strengthen ties between the U.S. and Israel after an icy relationship between Netanyahu and his predecessor. It also followed an Israeli government approval of hundreds of new settlements in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as the capital of their potential state. Similar construction was a flashpoint between Netanyahu and former President Barack Obama, who warned it lessened the potential for a future peace accord between Israelis and Palestinians. At the suggestion of senior Israeli officials last month, Trump fiercely condemned the Obama administration’s decision against vetoing a UN Security Council resolution critical of Israeli settlement activity.
The Israeli Prime Minister’s office described the call as “warm,” adding that the leaders “discussed the nuclear deal with Iran, the peace process with the Palestinians and other issues.” The statement added that that Trump invited Netanyahu to meet him in Washington in February.
Before the call, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer released a statement responding to reports that the U.S. embassy move was imminent. “We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject,” he said.
Trump faces a June 1 deadline on deciding whether to move the embassy or to continue to waive the Jerusalem Embassy Act, as his three predecessors have done, which requires the movement of the embassy unless the president objects on national security grounds. Even the suggestion of an impending move has drawn repeated criticism from Palestinian officials.
Trump’s nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, has been an outspoken advocate of both settlement construction and moving the U.S. embassy. Friedman owns an apartment in Jerusalem, and Israeli news reports suggest he is considering living there, rather than the Ambassador’s official residence outside of Tel Aviv, even if the embassy is not moved.
Trump told reporters after he attended a swearing-in event for his top aides in the East Room the call with Netanyahu was “very nice. He did not respond to a question about moving the embassy.
The Sunday afternoon call was made from the Situation Room, the White House said.

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White House: U.S. In Early Stages Of Moving Embassy To Jerusalem

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The United States says it is in the "very beginning" of discussing plans to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Netanyahu says Trump invites him to Washington in February

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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday that U.S. President Donald Trump had invited him to a meeting in Washington in February.

Luz Casal - Piensa en mi - YouTube

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Published on Dec 23, 2014
Paintings - Escha Van Den Bogerd
Si tienes un hondo penar, piensa en mi
Si tienes ganas de llorar, piensa en mi
Ya ves que venero tu imagen divina
Tu parvula boca, que siendo tan niсa
Me enseсу a pecar

Piensa en mi cuando sufras,
Cuando llores, tambiйn piensa en mi,
Cuando quieras quitarme la vida
No la quiero, para nada
Para nada me sirve sin ti.

Piensa en mi cuando sufras
Cuando llores, tambiйn piensa en mi,
Cuando quieras quitarme la vida
No la quiero, para nada,
Para nada me sirve sin ti.
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