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International teams find ‘no violations’ by Russia along Ukrainian border

RT | July 27, 2014

Inspectors who came to check the state of Russian troops along the Ukrainian borders have found no violations, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said. This came as a response to the US alleging 15,000 Russian troops have amassed in the area.

“It has come to our attention that new allegations by top US officials as to the alleged amassing of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border have been voiced,” the statement by the Defense Ministry read, following allegations by the US Permanent Representative to NATO, Douglas Lute, and State Department spokeswoman, Marie Harf.

“The last four months have witnessed 18 separate inspections along the Ukrainian border with the Russian Federation, all in line with the Vienna Open Skies Treaty and the Vienna agreement of 2011.”

The statement goes on to list the international makeup of those inspections, which included representatives from the US, as well as NATO and Ukraine. The inspections also included flybys and visits to any military units that might have aroused suspicion.

“No instances of violations by Russia along the Ukrainian border had been registered by the inspectors,” adding that in spite of the above, “frequent action by the Ukrainian military taking place on the Russian border has hindered our own ability to perform similar inspections and flybys along our border.”

While no evidence of a Russian military buildup at Ukrainian border regions was registered, similar inspections in other regions, were they to be carried out, would undoubtedly find that the opposite is true for Ukrainian forces, who’ve had heavy equipment stationed there, firing regularly onto Russian settlements, the ministry states.

“Their actions have already led to casualties on our side,” the statement concludes.

Just on Friday, Ukraine’s army fired at least 45 mortar shells at targets located inside the Rostov-on-Don region, Russia’s border officials said. The barrage destroyed houses and forced an evacuation of civilians. Ukrainian officials denied responsibility, and say that it is Russia that has been using its artillery to support anti-Kiev militants in the Donetsk region across the border.

Shells from artillery fights in Ukraine have frequently landed on Russian territory since the beginning of summer. Earlier this week, a temporary refugee camp for Ukrainians fleeing the conflict was relocated further from the border, after several mortars landed nearby.

July 27, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

Putin: Taskforce at Malaysia MH17 crash site not enough, full-scale international team needed

RT | July 20, 2014

The tragic Malaysian MH17 flight crash must not be politicised and the international experts on the scene should be able to carry out their work in complete safety, Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

“There are already representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk working there, as well as representatives of the emergencies ministry of Ukraine and others. But this is not enough,” Putin said officially commenting on the tragic event on Sunday.

“This task force is not enough,” Putin emphasized. “We need more, we need a fully representative group of experts to be working at the site under the guidance of ICAO, the relevant international commission.”

“We must do everything to provide security for the international experts on the site of the tragedy,” Putin stressed, adding that Russia will also do everything in its power to help shift the Ukrainian conflict from a military phase into a political discussion.

“We need to do everything to provide its [ICAO commission’s] safety, to provide the humanitarian corridors necessary for its work,” Putin added.

“In the meantime, nobody should and has no right to use this tragedy to achieve their ‘narrowly selfish’ political goals,” Putin stated.

“We repeatedly called upon all conflicting sides to stop the bloodshed immediately and sit down at the negotiating table,” the President reminded. “I can say with confidence that if military operations were not resumed on June 28 in eastern Ukraine, this tragedy wouldn’t have happened.”

In the meantime, Russia has introduced its own draft resolution to the UN Security Council calling for an impartial investigation of Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash in Ukraine, Russia’s ambassador to UN Vitaly Churkin said.

‘Yes, we did it,” Churkin told reported answering the question about Russia’s draft. “Just to show what we are talking about. The difference is that in our draft it is absolutely clear it is indeed an impartial international investigation under the under the guidance of ICAO.”

According to the latest figures from the Donetsk authorities, 247 out of 298 bodies have been recovered from the crash site. OSCE confirmed that a train with bodies of the victims is being stationed at a railway station in Torez and is set to depart for Donetsk. The bodies are being kept in especially refrigerated cars.

A team of ISCE experts and four Ukrainian forensics analysts are the only experts who have so far reached the area and are working on the investigation. A team of 12 Malaysian experts is yet to arrive at the crash site. Experts from other European nations, including the Netherlands, France, Germany and the UK are en route to Donetsk.

The OSCE team has claimed that the black boxes have not been recovered, yet Aleksandr Boroday, the republic’s prime minister, told reporters that DPR might potentially be in possession of the MH17 black boxes. “What we have is just some components of the plane. We are not experts; we think that they may be black boxes but we’re not sure.”

July 21, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | 1 Comment

Putin: Thorough investigation of Malaysian airliner tragedy in Ukraine required

RT | July 18, 2014

The crash of a Malaysian Airlines plane in eastern Ukraine must be investigated thoroughly and objectively, Russian President Putin said in a statement. The tragedy underlines the urgent need for a peaceful resolution of the armed conflict in Ukraine.

Putin’s statement came after he contacted Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte to express condolences over the deaths of his fellow citizens in the disaster.

The majority of the passengers of the ill-fated flight, which was apparently shot down over the war zone in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, were from the Netherlands.

Earlier the Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC), a Russia-based international body tasked with investigation of all civil aircraft incidents in most former Soviet republics, including Ukraine, called for the formation of an international investigative group under the aegis of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN body, to investigate the incident.

The IAC said such a group should be handed over MH17 flight recorders, which are currently being recovered in Ukraine’s Donetsk Region.

So far two flight recorders from the plane have been reportedly recovered in the region currently controlled by the militia forces. Some militia officials said they intended to hand them over to Moscow because they didn’t trust Kiev to properly investigate the incident.

The probe into the loss of the Boeing-777 is bound to be a politically loaded one. There was no official confirmation that the plane was shot down rather than crashed from a different cause, but the parties involved are already trading blame for the tragedy.

Both the Ukrainian military and the militias fighting against Kiev denied shooting at the plane and stated that they had no capability to take down an aircraft flying 10,000 meters high.

Some politicians and Western media are pointing fingers at Russia, alleging that it is responsible for the Malaysia Airlines plane’s loss. They claim Moscow could have provided a missile launcher, which the Ukrainian militia used to take down the plane.

Kiev in the past few days accused the Russian military of several direct attacks in its territory, including an airstrike, which militia reported as conducted by the Ukrainian military, and a downing of a Ukrainian military plane, which militia claimed was their doing. The Russian military called the accusations absurd.

Hours after the crash of the Boeing 777 was reported, Kiev published what it called intercepted communications between militia officers and their Russian handler to apparently discuss the take-down of a civilian aircraft by the militia. The militia labeled the recording “an amateurish fake.”

There were almost 300 people on board Malaysia Airlines flight 17, which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, including 283 passengers and 15 crewmembers. In addition to Dutch travelers and Malaysian crew, there were Australians, Indonesians and citizens of several other countries. Nobody survived the crash.

July 18, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

Zarif and Kerry Signal Momentum on Nuclear Pact

By Gareth Porter | IPS | July 17, 2014

WASHINGTON — As the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme approach the July 20 deadline, both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have signaled through their carefully worded statements that they are now moving toward agreement on the two most crucial issues in the talks: the level of Iranian enrichment capability to be allowed and the duration of the agreement.

Their statements after two days of meetings Sunday and Monday suggest that both Kerry and Zarif now see a basis for an agreement that would freeze Iran’s enrichment capacity at somewhere around its present level of 10,000 operational centrifuges for a period of years.

They also indicated that the two sides have not yet agreed on how many years the agreement would last, but that the bargaining on that question has already begun.

The tone and content of Kerry’s statements in particular contrasts sharply with remarks by a senior U.S. official shortly before Kerry’s arrival in Vienna on July 12, which accused Iran of failing to move from “unworkable and inadequate positions that would not in fact assure us that their programme is exclusively peaceful.”

Zarif’s comments to New York Times correspondent David E. Sanger suggested movement toward an accord on the two key issues of the level of enrichment capacity and the duration of the agreement.

“I can try to work out an agreement where we would maintain our current levels,” Zarif was quoted as saying.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that a diplomat involved in the talks had said Iran had proposed freezing the number of centrifuges at 9, 400 – roughly the same number that have actually been operating.

Iran has another 9,000 centrifuges that were installed but never hooked up or operated, suggesting that Iran intended to trade them off for concessions from the P5+1 in eventual negotiations even before Hassan Rouhani became president last year.

The Times story reported that Zarif also “signaled that he had some room to negotiate on how long the freeze would last because Iran has an agreement with Russia to provide fuel for its Bushehr nuclear plant for the next seven years.”

“We want to produce only what we need,” Zarif said. “Since our reactor doesn’t need fuel for another seven years we don’t have to kill ourselves for it. We have time.”

Zarif’s latitude for negotiating on the expiration date may be wider than has been assumed because Iran is pursuing a possible deal with Russia on cooperation in fuel fabrication, according to a document on Iran’s nuclear energy needs recently released by the government.

Such an agreement could eliminate the need to begin replacing Russian fuel immediately after the expiration of the present contract.

In his press conference Tuesday, Kerry refused to address the question of specific numbers of centrifuges discussed with Zariff. Nevertheless, he said, “We have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 that are currently part of their programme is too many.”

By referring to the 19,000 figure rather than to the 10,000 operative centrifuges, Kerry was leaving the door open to a deal that would cut half of Iran’s total centrifuge capacity.

As recently as June, Obama administration officials were leaking to the press a demand that Iran would have to accept a cut in the number of centrifuges to between 2,000 and 4,000.

The rationale for that demand was that Iran’s existing level of centrifuges would allow it the capability to achieve a “breakout” to sufficient weapons-grade uranium to build a single nuclear weapon in only two to three months, and that Washington was insisting on lengthening that “breakout timeline” to six to 12 months.

But the administration is well aware that another way to achieve that objective is to reduce Iran’s low enriched uranium stockpile to close to zero.

Zarif explained to the Times correspondent the Iranian proposal, which was part of the negotiating draft, to guarantee that no breakout capability would exist even with the current level of Iranian enrichment.

Sanger reported that Zarif had “combined his proposal of a freeze with an offer to take the nuclear fuel produced by its 9,000 or so working centrifuges and convert it to an oxide form, a way station to being made into nuclear fuel rods.”

Zarif reportedly said Iran would “guarantee, during the agreement, not to build the facility needed to convert the oxide back into a gas, the step that would have to precede any effort to enrich it to 90 percent purity, which is what is generally considered bomb-grade.”

The foreign minister claimed that his proposal would lengthen the “breakout timeline” to more than a year, according to Sanger. As described by Zarif to IPS in early June, the plan is designed to assure that no low enriched uranium would be available for weapons-grade enrichment for the duration of the agreement.

Sanger reported that American officials are “doubtful” that it would accomplish that objective but offered no explanation and did not quote any official. That suggests that Sanger was relying on what U.S. officials had said about the “breakout” issue before the Kerry-Zarif negotiations.

Kerry did not address the issue of duration of the agreement in his press conference remarks. But a U.S. official was quoted in a July 12 Reuters story as declining to give a specific number but as saying that the United States wanted it to be “in the double digits”.

In earlier briefings for the news media, U.S. officials had indicated that the United States wanted the agreement to last 20 years.

Before the Kerry-Zarif meetings, the senior U.S official briefing journalists July 12 had criticised Ali Khamenei’s July 7 speech referring to Iran’s need for the equivalent of 190,000 first generation centrifuges. The official had said that the number would be “far beyond their current programme” and that the U.S. had said the existing capacity needed to be cut instead.

That suggested that Iran was insisting on getting approval for that increased capacity in the agreement.

In his news conference, however, Kerry clearly suggested that Khamenei’s citation of the 190,000 figure is not a deal-breaker. “[I]t reflects a long-term perception of what they currently have in their minds with respect to nuclear plants to provide power,” Kerry said. “[I]t was framed what way, I believe, in the speech,” he added.

Kerry was implying that Khamenei’s vision of industrial scale enrichment would not fall within the time frame of the agreement, presumably on the basis of his talks with Zarif.

That answer suggests that Kerry is now considering an Iranian proposal on the duration of the agreement that would put off the beginning of Iran’s buildup to industrial level enrichment to a point close to or within the “double digit” period of years demanded by the United States.

Once the difference between the proposed duration of the two sides has been reduced to a very few years, both sides may well conclude that the difference is not important enough to sacrifice the advantages of reaching agreement.

The Obama administration is still assessing whether to request an extension of the talks beyond Sunday’s deadline, but it may not take long to wrap up an agreement once the decision to reach compromise on the two key issues is made.

When Sanger of the Times asked Zarif whether agreement could be reached by the July 20 deadline, the foreign minister replied, “We can do that by this evening.”

July 17, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

US labs close after mishandling highly infectious pathogens

RT | July 13, 2014

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention have closed two labs after it was found they had made dangerous mistakes when transporting pathogens like anthrax. The CDC’s director has called the errors “unacceptable” and potentially deadly.

In response to a series of laboratory blunders, the CDC announced the closure of two labs on Friday. The organization has also placed a temporary ban on the transportation of dangerous pathogens for high-security labs.

A report carried out by the CDC revealed that over the past 10 years disease labs have mishandled potentially deadly pathogens.

“These events revealed totally unacceptable behavior,” said CDS Director Tom Frieden to press on Friday. “They should never have happened. I’m upset, I’m angry, I’ve lost sleep over this, and I’m working on it until the issue is resolved.”

Frieden added that the staff involved had knowingly disregarded laboratory protocol and would be disciplined accordingly.

The latest incident this year happened in June when as many as 75 CDC employees were exposed to a live strain of anthrax in Atlanta, after failing to deactivate the deadly bacteria according to lab protocol.

The potentially infectious samples of the pathogen were then sent out to other laboratories ill-equipped to deal with them. Staff members also handled the samples, which should have been deactivated without following correct safety procedures.

The previous incident, which was disclosed on Friday, happened in May when a sample of non-pathogenic avian influenza was accidentally cross-contaminated with a potentially lethal kind of flu (H5N1). No lab workers were exposed to the pathogen, but it was shipped to a lab administered by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Frieden said the most distressing aspect of the latter case was that although it happened in May, the CDC only found out about it this week.

The CDC says that there have been no reported infections after the two incidents and all workers involved had been offered vaccines and antibiotics.

The latest revelations followed an announcement that two of six vials of smallpox discovered in a research center in Washington contained live strains of the virus. It is thought to be the first time unaccounted traces of smallpox have been found in the US after the disease’s declared eradication in the 80s.

Frieden argues that the latest findings are a sign that the world needs to minimize the number of labs that deal with dangerous pathogens.

July 13, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Leave a comment

Rockets from Lebanon Land in Israeli Settlement, Zionist Army Retaliates

Al-Manar | July 11, 2014

Twenty five Israeli shells have so far fallen on Kfarshuba outskirts, Halta and Majidiyah causing only material damages, the National News Agency reported.

Zionist army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said artillery units had fired a barrage at “suspicious positions” sighted over the border.

This came as unknown persons fired at dawn today two 107mm Katyusha rockets which landed in the area east of Metula settlement on the border with Lebanon. Lebanese army intelligence inspected the area where the rockets were being launched and found two more missiles ready for launching and defused them immediately. Another rocket exploded while still on its launchpad.

The Lebanese army found military gear in Ain Arab, reports also said.

The Army Command issued on Friday the following statement: “Today, between 1:00 and 6:00 in the morning, an unknown party fired three rockets from the area of Marjayoun – Hasbaya towards the occupied Palestinian territory. Afterwards, the army conducted patrols in the area and carried out a wide-scale search operation in which it found two platforms with two rockets set for launching, while the military expert arrived to the scene and worked on disabling the platforms.”

The Zionist army said one projectile fired from Lebanon struck “northern Israel” causing no harm or damages. “One projectile hit an open space near Kfar Yuval, between (northern Israeli towns) Metula and Kiryat Shmona,” a military spokeswoman told Agence France Presse.

The Zionist officials said it was unlikely the rockets were fired by Hezbollah and believed they were fired by a small Palestinian group in solidarity with Gaza.

July 11, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | 2 Comments

Same old, same old: New Ukraine prosecutor wants Maidan activists dispersed

RT | July 9, 2014

Hundreds of activists on Kiev’s Maidan must leave and free seized buildings, Ukraine’s prosecutor general has said. He urged law enforcers to intervene and did not rule out forceful eviction from Independence Square, if activists show resistance.

Security forces will be authorized to take measures if activists do not leave the city center “today, tomorrow or in the near future,” Vitaly Yarema, the prosecutor general, said at a briefing on Wednesday.

“I am appealing to the interior minister and the head of the [Ukrainian Security Service] SBU to take urgent measures. I demand that captured buildings be immediately vacated,” Yarema said. He added that in case those demands are not met, “criminal responsibility will follow” as the seizing of buildings is a crime.

“They want to turn the symbol of the revolution into a caricature,” he added.

Kiev’s Independence Square was the main protester hotspots where pro-EU activists have been demonstrating since November 21, 2013. While the majority of activists left, there are up to 1,000 people still on Maidan, according to Kiev’s newly-elected mayor, Vitaly Klitschko.

The prosecutor general said that law-enforcement bodies should take measures to restore order in the capital’s central districts as crime there was getting worse.

There are 19 buildings, including administrative offices and hotels, which remain under the protesters’ control. According to Yarema’s information, nearly 500 activists are living in the seized offices.

“Instead of protecting the country, defending its independence in the East or working for the country’s benefit, imposters are engaged in direct extortion and banditry,” he said.

On Wednesday, it was reported that over 60 pieces of art worth $185,000 had gone missing from the Ukrainian Museum of National History, which is in the Ukrainian house, international exhibition and convention center. This building is currently in the control of the activists

When asked about the possibility of using force while evicting the so-called euromaidan encampment, Yarema replied: “The option of force is possible. If there is armed resistance, police officers have the right to use their weapons.”

At the same time, he assured journalists that “there will be no confrontation” and people would only be detained if they offer resistance to police.

Responding to the prosecutor general’s demands, Vitaly Klitschko said the use of force is “an extreme” measure, which he had never considered.

“The forcible dispersal of Maidan, I am sure, can only be an extreme step. I do not consider this and never have. I am sure that we need to communicate so that people leave,” he said.

Klitschko agreed that activists should leave so at least traffic could be restored along the city’s main Khreschatyk Street.

He stressed that he has been receiving “a large number” complaints filed by Kiev residents because the “blockade of the main artery of the center of Kiev, Khreschatyk, is paralyzing the work of the entire city.”

Moreover, gunshots and explosions can be heard coming from the encampment from time to time.

Kiev’s authorities have suggested that Maidan activists leave the city’s main square and move to some location outside Kiev. However, this proposal was rejected.

Klitschko said that a joint decision on “eviction of Maidan” will be taken in the coming weeks.

Elected Kiev’s mayor back in May, Klitschko has so far failed to reach any agreement with activists occupying Maidan.

One of Klitschko first public statements after securing his post was a call for them to leave.

“The key goal of the Maidan – ousting the dictator – has been reached, so the barricades should be dismantled,” he said back in May.

However, Klitschko’s call provoked mass protests as activists criticized Klitshchko for not taking into account their opinion on whether Maidan should be dismantled or not.

They threatened to start “a third Maidan” (following the 2004 protest during the “orange revolution” and the second one in November 2013-February 2014), unless the order to dismantle the barricades in the Ukrainian capital is rescinded.

That was when Vitaly Klitschko quickly changed his rhetoric, saying that Maidan should itself determine its future.

July 9, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | | Leave a comment

‘Enough is enough’: Berlin outraged by alleged US spying

RT | July 6, 2014

The arrest of a German intelligence employee for allegedly spying for the US has caused an uproar among German politicians. The country’s foreign minister has demanded an immediate clarification of the situation from Washington.

“If the reports are true, then we’re not talking about trifles,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on a visit to Mongolia, DPA reports. He added that prompt clarification of the details in the case were in the “US’s own interest.”

Earlier, US Ambassador to Germany John B. Emerson was summoned to the German Foreign Office to answer questions concerning the recent arrest of a 31-year-old German foreign intelligence agency (BND) employee, who confessed to having spied for the US.

German tabloid Bild reported that the man had been a double agent for two years, during which time he exchanged bundles of secret documents for €25,000 ($34,100).

The harshest reaction so far has come from German President Joachim Gauck. If the spying allegations are confirmed, “one really has to say, enough is enough,” he told the ZDF broadcaster Saturday.

Angela Merkel on Sunday expressed surprise and disappointment over the possible involvement of US intelligence in the BND espionage scandal, according to German businessmen, accompanying her on her trip to China, Spiegel Online reports. She has not made any comment so far, however.

Last October, Merkel was enraged to learn she was allegedly on the NSA’s tapping list since 2002. The Chancellor called the alleged spying, which became known thanks to Edward Snowden’s leaks, “unacceptable.”

A German parliamentary committee has been holding hearings on the NSA’s spying activities in Germany.

Ironically, the classified materials from the hearings on US spying could get into the hands of US intelligence, as they allegedly were part of the documents stolen by the suspected double agent.

“If the suspicion of espionage is confirmed, that would be an outrageous attack on our parliamentary freedom,” said Thomas Oppermann, the parliamentary leader of the SPD party, a coalition partner of Merkel’s Christian Democrats.

Opposition parties have called for caution in future cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies.

“All cooperation of the German security authorities with friendly services needs to be reviewed,” Green Party leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt told Spiegel Online.

The German government is demanding that the US replace its employees at the Joint Intelligence Staff based in the US Embassy in Berlin, Bild reports.

While most of the criticism is focused on the US, some believe it’s the German leadership’s inability to react properly to the NSA tapping leaks that’s led to the yet another spying scandal. Merkel’s opponents have repeatedly blamed her for too mild a response to the NSA global surveillance revelations.

“That’s a result of Merkel’s transatlantic hypocrisy,” co-chair of the Left Party Katja Kipping said, Der Tagesspiegel reported.

Background:

Germany arrests suspected ‘double agent’ for working for US – report

July 6, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | 1 Comment

Palestinian boy goes missing in Jerusalem

Al-Akhbar | July 4, 2014

A Palestinian child went missing in East Jerusalem early Friday, a local news site reported, two days after a teenager was kidnapped and killed by suspected settlers in the Israeli-occupied city.

Wafa News Agency said a 13-year-old boy was last spotted walking near a mosque in the neighborhood of Wadi al-Joz around dawn.

Witnesses told the agency that they saw a settler car driving in the area around the same time the boy went missing.

Israeli police were reviewing CCTV footage from cameras set up in the area to determine if the boy was kidnapped, the report added.

In a separate incident, a group of settlers Thursday night was reported to have tried to kidnap a seven-year-old Palestinian boy from his Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina.

Ma’an News Agency reported that family members of Mohammed al-Kiswani chased off four settlers who attempted to snatch the boy as he played outside after breaking Ramadan fast.

The incidents come as the family of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khudeir prepare to lay him to rest Friday, two days after he was kidnapped and killed in Jerusalem.

The charred remains of Abu Khudeir were discovered in a forest hours after his family reported him missing.

CCTV footage from Wednesday’s abduction shows suspected settlers forcing the teen into a car around dawn before speeding away.

Hundreds of Israelis had taken to the streets Tuesday chanting “death to Arabs” after the bodies of three Israeli settlers were discovered in the West Bank.

July 4, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

Raqqa province: Welcome to ISIS’ capital

Al-Akhbar | July 3, 2014

ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) increased its grip on “Wilayat al-Raqqa”, the capital of the Islamic State. It is setting the foundation of its rule through courts, resolving disputes between civilians, and social committees serving the “Muslims” inside the borders of the province. This is in addition to using an iron fist policy against anyone daring to “destabilize the security of the Islamic State.”

The bus trip from Beirut to the city al-Raqqa is around 12 hours. Three years ago, it barely took half the time. Young Syrian workers are looking forward to seeing their families.

Mohammed Abdullah, who has a degree in economics, works as an accountant in one of Beirut’s suburbs. This is his first visit in two years. He knew about the situation in the area from communicating with family and friends, as well as from the social media.

Mohammed described his trip to his hometown to Al-Akhbar, after being absent for two years: “ISIS elements welcomed us at the first checkpoint. The Saudi dialect was strongly present. They made sure there were no soldiers among the travelers and that women wore the niqab.”

Only a short distance separates the Syrian army and National Defense Forces checkpoint, on one hand, and the former al-Nusra Front position, currently occupied by ISIS. However, all communication is cut off as soon as a person crosses into the governorate’s administrative borders.

“Inside the city, the signs of destruction are obvious on some government buildings and homes,” Mohammed added.

“Revolutionary streets”

Cars in the district run on manually refined crude oil derivatives. Nobody remembers the last time regular fuel arrived from the port at Tartous.

Mohammed said he was worried about telling the taxi driver his home address. “Shall I say, take me to Martyr Bassel al-Assad highway? And if I said take me to Colonel Hussein Harmoush Street, renamed by the Free Syrian Army, would he know it?

The taxi driver noticed the young man’s confusion and asked several questions about Mohammed’s route. “What’s wrong? You could have said you wanted to go to Bassel street. No worries. Get in. I will take you there,” the driver replied.

FSA brigades and civil society activists tried to change street names in Raqqa. Tal Abyad Street, the city’s most popular, was renamed after martyr Ali al-Babinsi. However, people keep using the old name. In any case, very few people know its official name in city records, which is al-Qunaytirah Road.

Martyr Basel al-Assad Street was turned into Colonel Hussein Harmoush Street and al-Jalaa or “Clock” Roundabout became Freedom Square. “Mr. President Square” is now Martyrs’ Square, but people on both sides call it after the nearby fire station.

Civil society activists had also painted some of the city’s statues with the colors of the “revolutionary flag.” However, ISIS removed the “flag of infidels” and raised its banners everywhere.

“Islamic services”

At night, Raqqa’s residents like to walk around the quiet streets or sit at cafes. There is no armed presence or news about thefts or violations. Cigarettes and alcohol are smuggled into the city and sold at double their price.

Alaa Jubran, a resident of Raqqa who was there on a recent visit, told Al-Akhbar, “Street vendors do not occupy the city’s sidewalks anymore. ISIS established a popular market in the city center. It was equipped to include the vendors and traveling salesmen, banning them from using the streets.”

ISIS transferred the busy Friday market next to Raqqa’s old wall, a historical site, and moved moved market day to Thursday so it would not distract people from attending Friday prayers in the mosque.

It also created a consumer protection office and imposed monthly payments on commercial establishments, in return for sanitation, electricity, water, and phone services. At a later stage, this will be extended to civilians to ensure the continuity of services.

Two signs in particular are hanging in shop windows. “Sisters, please do not remove the niqab inside the shop,” said one. The other announced that “work stops 10 minutes before prayers.” Prayer rooms were established in public venues and streets become almost empty before prayer times, save for ISIS’ patrols.

However, Mohammed could not hide his admiration of ISIS’ policies inside the province, although they have been keeping his brother in custody for months. He praised its gunmen, “who returned what they could of items stolen from public buildings by FSA fighters.”

The Islamist Traffic Police is on every street and market, wearing the same uniform, conducting traffic, and issuing tickets. Inside official buildings and facilities, the staff is committed to serving the citizens. Emergency vehicles of the water and electricity departments are rushing to fix problems all the time.

On the other hand, the recently created Islamic Services Authority supervises state institutions. The Accounts Bureau monitors the markets, sales operations, applying sharia, and holding violators accountable.

Civilian dreams

The official weekend is now on Thursday and Friday. Residents of Raqqa are trying to cope with the new realities. “They became weary of the state of instability they passed through in the preceding nine months. They were always afraid of sudden clashes between the brigades. But now there is only one ruler,” Mohammed explained.

“The situation in Raqqa is not perfect, but it is much better today,” Alaa added. “People lost hope in the FSA, whose fighters fled after stealing city property and seizing archaeological artifacts, bank holdings, and cotton and wheat crops.”

“Civilians only want to live in peace, regardless of the ruler, ISIS, the Syrian regime, or al-Nusra Front. People demand to be allowed to return to the quiet life they had in their city,” he concluded.

July 3, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment

U.S. Demand for Deep Centrifuge Cut Is a Diplomatic Ploy

By Gareth Porter | Inter Press Service | July 1, 2014

WASHINGTON — With only a few weeks remaining before the July 20 deadline, the Barack Obama administration issued a warning to Iran that it must accept deep cuts in the number of its centrifuges in order to demonstrate that its nuclear programme is only for peaceful purposes.

U.S. officials have argued that such cuts are necessary to increase the “breakout” time – the time it would take Iran to enrich enough uranium to weapons grade level to build a single bomb – from what is said to be two to three months at present to as long as a year or even more.

Given the past record of political interference in fuel agreements, Washington knows it faces a tough sell trying to get Iran to accept the U.S. insistence on reliance on foreign suppliers.

Tehran has made it clear that it will not accept such a demand. Dismantling the vast majority of the centrifuges that Iran had installed is a highly symbolic issue, and the political cost of acceptance would be extremely high.

But a closer examination of the issues under negotiation suggests that the ostensible pressure on Iran is part of a strategy aimed at extracting concessions from Iran on the issue of its longer-term enrichment capability.

The Obama administration has been aware from the beginning of the talks that the “breakout” period could be lengthened to nearly a year without requiring the removal of most of the 10,000 centrifuges that have been used over the past two and a half years.

U.S. officials were well aware that reducing the amount of low enriched uranium and oxide powder now stockpiled by Iran to close to zero and avoiding any future accumulation would have the same effect – and that Iran was willing to accept such restrictions.

David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security and Olli Heinonen, the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) deputy director general for Safeguards, warned in a June 3 article against a deal that would allow Iran to have more than 4,000 centrifuges in return for reducing its stocks of UF6 and oxide powder (UO2).

But they acknowledged that, if the Iranian LEU stockpile were reduced from the present level of 8,475 kg to 1,000 kilogrammes, the breakout time for 10,000 IR-1 centrifuges would be six months. And if the stockpile were reduced to zero, the breakout time would increase to close to a year, according to one of the graphs accompanying the article.

Experts from the Department of Energy as well as from the intelligence community certainly briefed policymakers on the fact that lengthening the breakout timeline to between six and 12 months could be achieved through reducing either centrifuges or the stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU), according to Steve Fetter, who was assistant director at large for the White House Office of Science and Technology from 2009-12.

Eliminating the existing LEU stockpile and avoiding any further accumulation is the intent of an Iranian proposal formally handed over to EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Istanbul last month. Under that proposal, which Zarif revealed in an interview with IPS in Tehran June 3, Iran would convert all UF6 to Uranium oxide powder (U02) and then convert the U02 to fuel plates for Bushehr.

Iran has expressed the desire to fabricate fuel plates for Bushehr itself, but has not yet mastered the technology. The proposal would therefore involve shipping either UF6 enriched to 3.5 percent or the U02 to Russia for conversion into fuel plates until the expiration of the contract with Russia for fuel fabrication for Bushehr expires in 2021.

In the interim agreement, Iran committed to begin converting UF6 enriched to 3.5 percent to oxide powder as soon as its line for such conversion became operational. The Enriched U02 Powder Plant began operating in May, but the time required to reduce the existing stockpile to zero will depend on the capacity of the plant, which has not been announced.

Zarif told IPS he had unveiled the basic idea underlying the Iranian proposal in his PowerPoint presentation to European officials in Geneva in mid-October.

When Secretary of State John Kerry declared in April that he would demand a major increase in the existing “breakout” period to somewhere between to six and 12 months, therefore, he had good reason to believe that Washington could achieve that objective without cutting Iran’s centrifuges to a few thousand.

An agreement to freeze the existing level of 10,000 operating centrifuges while reducing the LEU stockpile to zero could place the 9,000 centrifuges that have never been operated in storage under IAEA seal. Those used centrifuges include 1,000 advanced IR-2 centrifuges that are estimated to be three to five times more efficient than the IR-1 model.

Iran’s policy of introducing thousands of centrifuges into the Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities that were never used was aimed at accumulating negotiating chips for eventual negotiations on its nuclear programme.

In late August 2012, a senior U.S. official told the New York Times that Iran was being “very strategic” by “creating tremendous [enrichment] capacity,” but “not using it.” In doing so, the official said, Iran was acquiring “leverage” – obviously referring to future negotiations.

During the round of negotiations in Vienna in June, however, the draft tabled by the P5+1 apparently called for cuts going well beyond what U.S. officials knew would be acceptable to Iran. U.S. officials told the New York Times that the objective was now to lengthen the “breakout period” to more than a year – thus going beyond what Kerry had suggested in April.

The draft may have included an even more extreme demand from the French government. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared in mid-June that the West wants to cut the number of centrifuges to “several hundred”.

After the June round of negotiations, Zarif denounced the draft as containing “excessive demands” which Iran would not accept.

But those demands appear to be a negotiating ploy in which the U.S. would give up the demand for deep short-term reductions centrifuges in the coming years in return for Iranian concessions on the level of enrichment capability to be allowed in the later stage of the agreement.

The November 2013 Joint Plan of Action provided that the future enrichment programme would depend on Iran’s “practical needs”. Iran interprets that term to include the need to be self-reliant in providing reactor fuel for Bushehr, whereas the Obama administration argues that Iran can and should rely on Russia or other foreign suppliers.

Given the past record of political interference in fuel agreements Iran had negotiated with French and German firms in the 1980s and with Russia in 2005, however, Washington knows it faces a tough sell trying to get Iran to accept the U.S. insistence on reliance on foreign suppliers.

The “practical need” criterion suggests that Iran would have to provide concrete evidence of its need and ability to provide the fuel rods for the Bushehr reactor when the current contract with Russia expires in 2021.

Postponing the negotiations over that issue until a date much closer to 2021 would offer a period of a few years to negotiate an agreement on a regional fuel consortium for the Middle East that would be acceptable to both sides, as has been proposed by a group of Princeton University scientists and scholars.

Perhaps even more important, such a postponement would allow for increasing trust through the successful implementation of the agreement covering the next few years.

Explaining the Princeton group’s plan at a briefing in Washington, D.C. last week, nuclear scientist Frank N. von Hippel, who was assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology in the Bill Clinton administration, said, “We would have five years to cool down this impasse.”

July 2, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | 2 Comments

Iran, US diplomats to meet ahead of fresh nuclear talks

Press TV – June 7, 2014

Officials from Iran and the US will meet in Geneva next week ahead of the next round of talks between the Islamic Republic and the six world powers over Tehran’s nuclear energy program.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry says the meeting between the Iranian and US delegations will be held in Geneva on the 9th and 10th of June. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi will be heading the Iranian delegation in the talks. Other reports say the US delegation will be headed by US Under-Secretary for State Wendy Sherman.

The talks will come ahead of the next round of negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear energy program scheduled for June 16-20 in the Austrian city of Vienna, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.

Iranian officials will later sit down with Russian diplomats in the Italian capital, Rome, on June 11-12.

Representatives from Iran will probably hold further meetings with other delegations from the six powers – the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany.

On Saturday, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said Iran has already held bilateral deputy-level meetings with some delegations from the six world powers.

Iran and the six countries have been holding talks to iron out their differences and reach a final deal to end the standoff over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear energy program.

The two sides held the latest round of nuclear negotiations in Vienna in May.

June 8, 2014 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

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