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US faces historic setback in the Middle East

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | June 23, 2017

The bloc of four Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia that imposed an embargo against Qatar on June 5 has finally presented their charter of demands. An AP dispatch, lists the 13 demands. The most striking demands include Doha reducing ties with Iran, severing relationships with Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood, closing a Turkish military base in the country, and shuttering state broadcaster Al Jazeera and several news outlets.

Interestingly, Qatar is also expected to “consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.” All this means that abject, unconditional capitulation by Qatar only will satisfy its ‘big brothers’ – nothing less. By the way, there is also a timeline to comply – within the next 10 days – or else the demands get ratcheted up.

To my mind, Qatar will have no difficulty to see this is nothing short of a thinly-veiled push for ‘regime change’. The regime’s response can only be that these Arab bigwigs can go and hang themselves.

What happens next? Simply put, the (Sunni) Muslim Middle East is about to split and the historic schism will have profound consequences for regional and international security. … continue

Lieberman: Not a single Palestinian refugee will return to their lands in Israel

Ma’an – June 23, 2017

BETHLEHEM – During a speech at Israel’s Herzliya conference, aimed at discussing the country’s national policies, ultraright Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman rejected the possibility of Palestinian refugees from historic Palestine, which Israel was built on, being able to return to their lands within the 1967 borders, a right that is upheld by United Nations Resolution 194.

“We will not agree to the return of a single refugee to within the ‘67 borders,” Lieberman reportedly said. “There will never be another Prime Minister who makes propositions to Palestinians like Ehud Olmert did,” he added, referring to a 2008 peace proposal introduced by the former prime minister.

The right of return for Palestinian refugees is a central demand among Palestinians and their leadership. The demand also represents a powerful symbolic connection to their lands and homes they were displaced from, as many Palestinians still possess original keys to their homes that were consumed by the state of Israel 69 years ago.

According to Israeli media, Lieberman also said that an end to the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict would “not solve the problems – it will make them worse,” and noted that Israel should first “reach a regional agreement with moderate Sunni states, and only then an agreement with the Palestinians.”

He also went on to question the legitimacy of Palestinian citizens of Israel being part of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, noting that the Joint List political bloc — representing parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Knesset — refused to acquiesce to Zionist ideologies. … continue

Mother of son killed by Israeli occupation forces detained; Lena Jarbouni summoned for interrogation

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network – June 23, 2017

Zeinab Ankoush, 46, the mother of Adel Ankoush, one of the three young Palestinians killed by Israeli occupation forces in Jerusalem after carrying out a stabbing targeting Israeli military forces, remains detained by occupation forces. The Ofer military court extended her detention for one week on Thursday evening, 22 June.

She was seized by Israeli occupation forces who raided her home in the Ramallah-area village of Deir Abu Mashaal on Wednesday morning, 21 June, in a pre-dawn raid. Her village, home to the three young men, her son Adel Ankoush and Bara’a Saleh Atta and Osama Atta, was under an intensive siege by occupation military forces for one week. She was seized by occupation forces under the pretext of “incitement,” for her public comments after the death of her son. … continue

Palestine: Another Desperate Cry for Help

By Stuart Littlewood | American Herald tribune | June 23, 2017

The National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine (NCCOP) has just issued a final plea for help in the form of an open letter to the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement. It is signed by over 30 organisations in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza and can be read in full here.

The problem is well known to everyone who’s paying attention. The letter recaps for us: “We are still suffering from 100 years of injustice and oppression that were inflicted on the Palestinian people beginning with the unlawful Balfour declaration, intensified through the Nakba [Palestinian ‘catastrophe’] and the influx of refugees, followed by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza and the fragmentation of our people and our land through policies of isolation and confiscation, and the building of Jewish-only settlements and the Apartheid Wall.

“A hundred years later and there is still no justice! Discrimination and inequality, military occupation and systematic oppression are the rule…. Despite all the promises, endless summits, UN resolutions, religious and lay leader’s callings – Palestinians are still yearning for their freedom and independence, and seeking justice and equality.”

The letter harks back to the Amman Call of 2007. “We are concerned that ten years later the situation is worse…. the Amman Call did not achieve its goal of a just peace and we must ask ourselves today – why?” … continue

Largest Israeli Public Transportation Company Loses Netherlands Contract Worth 190 Million Euros Following Campaign by BDS Activists

IMEMC News & Agencies – June 23, 2017

Last month, Egged Bus Systems (EBS), a subsidiary of Egged Israel Transport Cooperative Society, Israel’s largest public transportation operator, lost a bid for a decade-long contract to run public transportation in the North-Holland region of the Netherlands, which includes the country’s capital, Amsterdam. This contract was valued at 19.1 million euros a year, with a total worth of 190.1 million euros.

Egged Bus Systems lost this lucrative bid after Dutch BDS activists launched a campaign charging its Israeli parent company with facilitating grave violations of Palestinian human rights and international humanitarian law.

Specifically, Egged Cooperative operates Jewish-only buses to and between almost all of Israel’s illegal settlements built on stolen Palestinian land in the militarily occupied West Bank, including remote outposts and East Jerusalem.

Egged buses traveling on Israeli settlement bus routes bar access to Palestinians. They use an extensive network of roads built to seamlessly connect illegal settlements on both sides of the illegal Israeli separation Wall to cities within present-day Israel.

The company thus supports and profits from a racist, segregated bus system that actively facilitates the maintenance and expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements, which are themselves considered war crimes under international law. … continue

Regional crises serve Israeli interests: Nasrallah

Press TV – June 23, 2017

Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah says the crises in Middle East and North Africa serve the interests of the Israeli regime.

Nasrallah made the remarks in a speech on the occasion of the International Quds Day, which falls on the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

He noted that the commemoration of the International Quds Day is spreading across the world, saying more countries are observing the event since it was announced by the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini.

Nasrallah said the main goal of the latest developments and wars in the region was to make regional countries accept Tel Aviv’s conditions. He added that the Israeli regime was taking advantage of the status quo in the region to marginalize the issue of Palestine. … continue

How America Armed Terrorists in Syria

Another Middle East debacle

By Gareth Porter • The American Conservative • June 22, 2017

Three-term Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a member of both the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, has proposed legislation that would prohibit any U.S. assistance to terrorist organizations in Syria as well as to any organization working directly with them. Equally important, it would prohibit U.S. military sales and other forms of military cooperation with other countries that provide arms or financing to those terrorists and their collaborators.

Gabbard’s “Stop Arming Terrorists Act” challenges for the first time in Congress a U.S. policy toward the conflict in the Syrian civil war that should have set off alarm bells long ago: in 2012-13 the Obama administration helped its Sunni allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar provide arms to Syrian and non-Syrian armed groups to force President Bashar al-Assad out of power. And in 2013 the administration began to provide arms to what the CIA judged to be “relatively moderate” anti-Assad groups—meaning they incorporated various degrees of Islamic extremism.

That policy, ostensibly aimed at helping replace the Assad regime with a more democratic alternative, has actually helped build up al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise al Nusra Front into the dominant threat to Assad.

The supporters of this arms-supply policy believe it is necessary as pushback against Iranian influence in Syria. But that argument skirts the real issue raised by the policy’s history. The Obama administration’s Syria policy effectively sold out the U.S. interest that was supposed to be the touchstone of the “Global War on Terrorism”—the eradication of al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates. … continue

Taliban says foreign troops must go before peace talks as US plans 4,000-strong surge

RT | June 23, 2017

In an annual address to followers, the Taliban’s leader warned against sending additional foreign troops to Afghanistan, saying that only after all foreign soldiers leave can peace be negotiated.

Maulvi Haibatullah Akhunzadah spoke on Friday on the occasion of the Eid al-Fitr festival, which ends the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. He reiterated that Afghanistan must be free of foreign occupation.

“The occupation is the main obstacle in the way of peace,” he said, referring to the presence of NATO troops in the country.

“The more they insist on maintaining the presence of their forces here or want a surge of their forces, the more regional sensitivity against them will intensify,” he added.

The remark apparently refers to reported US plans to deploy 4,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to support its crumbling national army. The majority of the force would be used in train and assist missions, but some would be involved in counterinsurgency operations, according to AP.

Akhunzadah insisted that peace negotiations with the government in Kabul would only be possible after “the occupation comes to an end,” adding that a “completely independent” Afghanistan would live under an Islamic law and distance itself from foreign players, neither supporting them nor allowing their interference.

“We don’t permit others to use the soil of Afghanistan against anyone,” he said.

He also urged Taliban fighters to avoid civilian casualties in their attacks on government forces. … continue

The Heathrow Tarmac Strikes Again!

By Paul Homewood | Not A Lot Of People Know That | June 23, 2017

As we know, the Met Office have informed us that Wednesday was the hottest June day since 1976, with a temperature of 34.5C recorded next to the runway at Heathrow.

Apparently the previous hottest June day since 1976 was at Worcester in 1995, with 33.8C set. … continue

US releases photos showing ‘unsafe’ intercept by Russian jet over Baltic

RT | June 23, 2017

New photos released by United States European Command (EUCOM) show an Su-27 less than ten meters from a US surveillance aircraft, in one of just several close brushes between Russian and NATO forces to occur in the tense theater in the past several days.

“A US RC-135U flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker June 19, 2017. Due to the high rate of closure speed and poor control of the aircraft during the intercept, this interaction was determined to be unsafe,” said a statement from EUCOM.

However, the Russian Ministry of Defense offered a different version of Monday’s incident.

“While being escorted, the RC-135 attempted to move closer to the Russian interceptor, making a provocative turn towards the Su-27,” the MoD said in a statement.

Moscow said its own flights are conducted “in strict compliance with international regulations,” complaining that NATO forces have launched more than 15 spy plane flights “in the immediate vicinity of Russia’s airspace in the previous week.” A second RC-135U had to be intercepted just ten minutes after the incident featured in the latest photos, the ministry said. … Full article

Ukrainian regime arrests owner of Russian language news outlet

By Adam Garrie | The Duran | June 23, 2017

The Ukrainian regimes notorious Secret Service, the SBU has arrested the owner of a Russian language news outlet Strana.ua.

Igor Guzhva was arrested while his offices were raided. Authorities loyal to the Poroshenko regime have stated that the charges related to allegations of blackmail, although many see this is yet another attempt to forcibly shut-down domestically owned Russian language news media after a law was passed banning Russian owned media in the country.

The regime authorities are also cracking down on the large domestically owned and produced Russian language media and entertainment sectors.

Strana.ua was harassed by the SBU throughout 2014 and 2015.

This looks increasingly like another politically motivated arrest by a regime engaged in crimes against humanity in Donbass.

Three National Guard Officials Arrested After Fatal Shooting of Protester

By Rachael Boothroyd Rojas | Venezuelanalysis | June 21, 2017

Caracas – Three Bolivarian National Guard (GNB) soldiers have been arrested following the fatal shooting of an anti-government protester in Caracas this past Monday.

First sergeant Raymon Ávila León and second sergeants Johan Rojas Díaz and Jesús Baez Rojas will be charged with the misuse of a firearm, according to national ombudsman, William Saab.

On Monday, 17 year old Fabian Urbina died from gunshot wounds when GNB soldiers opened fire on a crowd of protesters in the eastern district of Altamira. Five other demonstrators were also injured in the incident.

In footage of the confrontation circulated by the private media channel La Patilla on social media, hundreds of violent protesters can be seen attempting to attack several GNB officials prior to the shooting. At least one of the protesters was armed, leading some pro-government observers to speculate that the soldiers were acting in self defense. … continue

Ohio officer who kicked handcuffed man in head should be suspended for 24hrs – police chief

RT | June 22, 2017

An Ohio police officer who was caught kicking a handcuffed man in the head should be punished with a 24-hour suspension, the department’s police chief says, in a move which has been dubbed “laughable” by the victim’s attorney.

The recommended punishment for Officer Zachary Rosen, proposed by Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs, was made public on Wednesday.

The 24-hour suspension would amount to three shifts for the officer, who was caught on video kicking a handcuffed Demarko Anderson in the head in April.

The footage shows the suspect lying face down on the ground while Rosen’s colleague handcuffs him. He appears to be complying with demands, and can be heard calling the officer “sir.”

Rosen is then seen running towards Anderson, kicking him straight in the head. The action prompts someone behind the camera to shout “Oh my God!” […]

Although Jacobs’ recommendation may seem lax, others in the police community don’t believe Rosen should be punished at all.

In fact, a sergeant, lieutenant, and commander all cleared Rosen before Jacobs found fault with the officer, according to Jason Pappas, head of the union Fraternal Order of Police, which represents Rosen. […]

The incident is not the first time Rosen – who has been assigned non-patrol duty since the April incident – has been under investigation. He was also placed in the spotlight in 2016, following the fatal shooting of an African-American man by himself and a fellow officer. However, a grand jury eventually declined to indict Rosen. – Full article with video

Ukraine Registers 500 Suicides by Donbass Military Operation Participants

Sputnik – 22.06.2017

KIEV – Around 500 cases of suicide were registered among the Ukrainian servicemen who had been participating in the military operation in Donbass, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in an article published Thursday.

“How is the state of affairs in Ukraine three years after the outbreak of the war?… According to the military prosecutor’s office, as of the beginning of June, 2017, approximately 500 cases of suicides were registered, among participants of the… operation [in Donbass area] after having returned from the combat zone,” Avakov said in an article published by Ukrayinska Pravda newspaper.

According to the interior minister, around 90-95 percent of combatants develop various social and medical, specially pertaining to the nervous system, problems after participating in military conflict, which is the universally recognized international standard. About one-third of these soldiers were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which often led to suicide, Avakov noted.

Avakov said, citing the international human rights center La Strada — Ukraine, that the number of family members of Donbass conflict participants complaining of domestic violence increased eightfold in 2015.

In February 2015, the warring parties to the Ukrainian conflict in Donbass signed the Minsk peace accords in order to end the fighting in the crisis-torn region. Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine, as the members of the so-called Normandy Four, helped negotiate the Donbas ceasefire. The truce, however, has been repeatedly breached, with Kiev forces and Donbas militia accusing each other of violating it.

EU leaders agree to extend Russia sanctions over Ukraine

RT | June 22, 2017

EU leaders have officially confirmed a decision to extend sanctions against Russia over Crimea and Eastern Ukraine for another six months, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk announced during a European leaders summit in Brussels.

“Agreed. EU will extend economic sanctions against Russia for their lack of implementing the Minsk Agreement,” Tusk tweeted on Thursday.

The sanctions were first imposed following the secession of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and subsequently expanded during the outbreak of violence in the east of the country.

They include an arms export ban, limited access to finance for Russian banks, and travel bans for over 150 individuals. Many measures, specifically, prohibit financial interactions with Crimea.

Establishing Safe Zones Not to Limit Israeli Freedom of Action in Syria – DM

Sputnik – 22.06.2017

TEL AVIV – The creation of de-escalation zones in Syria will not limit Israel’s capabilities to act in the war-torn country in case of threats to the security of the Jewish state, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday.

“The United States and Russia are currently holding active talks… on buffer zones and so on. I hope they will reach mutual understanding, good agreements. But this will not limit our freedom of actions. Despite everything we will continue doing all necessary things to provide Israeli interests,” Lieberman said at the Herzliya Conference on security. … Full article

US Navy missile defense test fails off Hawaii

RT | June 22, 2017

An interceptor missile fired from a US Navy destroyer off the coast of Hawaii failed to hit the target, the US Missile Defense Agency said. The failure follows last month’s successful test of a ground-based interceptor against an ICBM-like target.

On Wednesday evening local time, a medium-range ballistic missile was fired from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Kauai, Hawaii, the MDA said in an official statement about the test.

The destroyer USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) tracked the missile with its onboard AN/SPY-1 radar, part of the Aegis Baseline 9.C2 weapon system. The ship fired a SM-3 Block IIA guided missile, but did not hit the target.

“A planned intercept was not achieved,” the MDA statement said. “Program officials will conduct an extensive analysis of the test data. Until that review is complete, no additional details will be available.” … Full article

How RCEP affects food and farmers

GRAIN | June 19, 2017

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is a mega-regional trade deal being negotiated among 16 countries across Asia-Pacific. If adopted, RCEP will cover half the world’s population, including 420 million small family farms that produce 80% of the region’s food. RCEP is expected to create powerful new rights and lucrative business opportunities for food and agriculture corporations under the guise of boosting trade and investment. Several RCEP countries are also part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), another mega-regional agreement setting some of the most pro-big business terms seen in trade and investment deals so far. While the fate of the TPP is uncertain, these two agreements may have to co-exist and there is pressure to align them on numerous points. What will this mean for food and farmers in the region? … continue

Unsustainable: 43 Million Tonnes Of Wind Turbine Blade Waste By 2050

2 New Papers Expose The Environmental Nightmare Of Wind Turbine Blade Disposal

By Kenneth Richard – No Tricks Zone – 22. June 2017

… Despite its extremely limited infiltration as a world energy source, it is assumed that a rapid expansion of wind power will ultimately be environmentally advantageous both due to its reputation as a “clean” energy and because of the potential to contribute to reduced CO2 emissions.

Recently, however, the austere environmental impacts and health risks associated with expanding wind energy have received more attention.

For example, scientists have asserted that wind turbines are now the leading cause of multiple mortality events in bats, with 3 to 5 million bats killed by wind turbines every year. Migratory bats in North America may face the risk of extinction in the next few decades due to wind turbine-related fatalities. … continue

China may finance Russia’s natural gas pipeline to Europe

RT | June 22, 2017

Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline may get Chinese financing if European companies are forced out of the project by the latest round of US sanctions, business daily Vedomosti reports.

Russian officials have already contacted Chinese banks, sources have told the media.

“Nord Stream 2 has a good rate of return and low risks for creditors. Chinese banks may be interested,” explains Aleksey Grivach, deputy CEO at Russia’s National Energy Security Fund.

The extension will double the existing pipeline which delivers natural gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea and is estimated to cost €9.5 billion.

Initially, Engie, OMV, Royal Dutch Shell, Uniper, and Wintershall were to get a 50 percent stake minus one share in Nord Stream 2. However, red tape at the European Commission made Gazprom and its partners come up with another financing option. Under this plan, European companies will each provide an equal long-term loan to Gazprom, which will fully own the pipeline.

Financing of Nord Stream 2 may be affected by new US sanctions which target firms investing in Russian gas and oil projects. According to the new bill passed by the US Senate, and currently, before the House of Representatives, companies will be forbidden from making investments of over $1 million in the Russian energy sector.

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin met the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, Ben van Beurden. Among other things, they discussed Nord Stream 2. Van Beurden told Interfax the new project “will be realized for the benefit of all parties – both Europeans and the Russian Federation.”

Japan Regards Russia as a Reliable Hydrocarbons Exporter

By Dmitry Bokarev – New Eastern Outlook – 22.06.2017

As you must know, Japan does not have enough natural resources to ensure its energy security without turning to any foreign players. At the same time, its closest neighbor – Russia possesses impressive hydrocarbon reserves and can be in the list of major exporters of those. Nevertheless, it is difficult to describe the volume of bilateral trade between the two states as impressive, in fact it’s the exact opposite. But it seems that the Japanese government has finally come to grips with the fact that it is missing out on enjoying the benefits of Japan’s geographic location, so Tokyo decided to step up its attempts to pursue economic cooperation with Russia.

In fact, talks about Japan’s increasing imports of hydrocarbons from Russia have been circulating for a long time. There’s no doubt that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster which resulted in the closure of the majority of nuclear power plants across Japan has made Russia even more attractive as a trade partner for Tokyo.

It’s true that Japan imports Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG), on top of taking part in the development of Sakhalin-1 and Sakhalin-2 oil and gas fields, and taking part in the construction of a LNG plant within the framework of the Yamal-LNG project. However, the level of bilateral cooperation in that area is miles away from reaching its full potential. Mind you that Russia’s share in the entire volume of Japan’s LNG imports barely reaches 8%. To this date Tokyo has been importing most of the LNG that it buys from Australia, Indonesia and the Middle East, in spite of the mind boggling shipping costs. … continue

A warrior prince rises in Arabia as the monarch of all he surveys

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | June 22, 2017

The royal decree of June 21 by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman appointing his son Mohammed bin Salman as the Crown Prince and next in line to the throne is a watershed event in Middle East politics. Such a development has been expected for some time, but when it actually happened, it still looks momentous and somewhat awesome.

For a start, 31-year old MbS, whom many tend to deride as the “warrior prince”, has earned a reputation for being rash in the use of force. The extremely brutal war in Yemen is his signature foreign-policy project. Saudi Arabia, famous for its caution and its glacial pace of decision-making, has changed remarkably since MbS trooped in alongside King Salman to the centre stage of the Saudi regime in January 2015.

Considering King Salman’s age and health condition, MbS is being positioned in advance so that there will be no succession struggle. MbS has been steadily tightening his grip on the key instruments of power through the past 2-year period – national security apparatus and intelligence, armed forces and oil industry – in a grim power struggle with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who has now lost the game and is retiring from the arena.

With the vast powers of patronage vested in MbS as the Crown Prince, make no mistake, the winner takes it all. In short, the Persian Gulf’s – nay, Middle East’s – power house is about to get a new ruler who is only 31 and he may lead Saudi Arabia for decades. … continue

Indian troops kill 3 militants, one protester in Kashmir

Press TV – June 22, 2017

Indian forces have killed three militants and an anti-government Kashmiri protester in separate incidents in the Indian-controlled Kashmir region, officials say.

According to army spokesman Col. Rajesh Kalia, Indian troops engaged in a nightlong gun battle with the three gunmen, who had been holed up in a house in the cordoned-off southern Kakpora Village, on Thursday.

The army soldiers reportedly also used explosives to target the house and set it ablaze, as hundreds of residents, in defiance of a security lockdown enforced around the village, gathered in the area and clashed with troops in an unsuccessful bid to help the trapped militants escape.

After security forces recovered the charred bodies of the trio and the news of the development spread in the area, thousands of people convened in Kakpora to say funeral prayers for the three.

Furthermore, thousands of other protesters, who had also heard the news, filled the streets in the neighboring town of Awantipora, where they blocked a major highway linking the volatile Kashmir Valley with India, while shouting “Go India, go back!” and “We want freedom.” … Full article

Is ‘Tillerson Plan’ for Ties With Russia Connected to New US Sanctions Bill?

Sputnik | June 22, 2017

A leak of the “secret” document on developing US-Russian relations, which was supposedly prepared by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has prompted a heated debate. Speaking to Sputnik, political analyst Viktor Olevich and Russian academic Andrei Sidorov shed light on what could lie behind “the Tillerson plan.”

A leak of the “secret plan” on developing a working relationship with Russia reportedly prepared by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson amid the increase in tensions with Moscow is by no means purely coincidental, experts told Sputnik, adding that one of the three paragraphs of the “plan” deserves special attention. On Monday John Hudson of BuzzFeed reported that the media outlet had obtained a document supposedly crafted by Tillerson which envisioned three major steps to further develop Russo-American relations.

The first step was to persuade Moscow to refrain from what the US sees as “aggressive” actions since it will be counterproductive for both sides. The second paragraph envisaged engagement with Russia on issues of strategic interest for the United States, including the ongoing war in Syria, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, cybersecurity and cyber espionage.

The third paragraph of Tillerson’s plan highlighted the importance of maintaining “strategic stability” with Russia.

“Right now, US-Russia relations are in the gutter. We want to make sure it doesn’t flush into the sewer,” a senior State Department official familiar with the document told the media outlet. … continue

Trump Extends Sanctions Related to Western Balkans

Sputnik – 22.06.2017

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump issued an executive order to extend sanctions related to the Western Balkans to deal with the ongoing threat posed to US national security, according to a White House notice.

“The actions of persons threatening the peace and international stabilization efforts in the Western Balkans, including acts of extremist violence and obstructionist activity, continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” Trump said in the notice on Wednesday.

Trump’s order extends for another year the sanctions that were imposed by former President George W. Bush on June 26, 2001.

Bush imposed the sanctions in response to “extremist violence” in the Republic of Macedonia and elsewhere in the Balkans region, as well as efforts to obstruct implementation of the Dayton Accords in Bosnia or United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 in Kosovo. Both international accords aimed to end conflicts in the region.

Russia-gate Flops as Democrats’ Golden Ticket

By Robert Parry | Consortium news | June 21, 2017

The national Democratic Party and many liberals have bet heavily on the Russia-gate investigation as a way to oust President Trump from office and to catapult Democrats to victories this year and in 2018, but the gamble appears not to be paying off.

The Democrats’ disappointing loss in a special election to fill a congressional seat in an affluent Atlanta suburb is just the latest indication that the strategy of demonizing Trump and blaming Russia for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 defeat may not be the golden ticket that some Democrats had hoped. … continue

At FBI, Mueller Oversaw Post-9/11 Abuses

Consortium News | June 21, 2017

The U.S. mainstream media gushes over Russia-gate special prosecutor Robert Mueller as an upright man of the Establishment, ignoring how he oversaw abuses of innocent Arabs after 9/11, reports Jonathan Marshall. – Read article

FOIA Request On Susan Rice’s Unmaskings Rejected Because “Records Were Moved To Obama Library”

By Tyler Durden | Zero Hedge | June 20, 2017

Back in April, Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request for documents related to the unmasking of “the identities of any U.S. citizens associated with the Trump presidential campaign or transition team” by Obama’s National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Unfortunately, and quite conveniently for members of the Obama administration, Judicial Watch has been informed by the National Security Council that records related to their request can not be shared because they ” have been transferred to the Barack Obama Presidential Library” and will “remain closed to the public for five years.” … continue

In Major Diplomatic Shift, North Korea Open To Halting Nuclear, Missile Tests

By Tyler Durden | Zero Hedge | June 21, 2017

Is Trump about to have his biggest diplomatic victory yet?

According to Yonhap, North Korea’s top envoy to India on Wednesday offered a conditional moratorium, i.e. halt, on his country’s nuclear and missile tests in what was said to be an “apparent bid to hold talks with the United States.” While the North Korean offer is conditional, its “demands” are hardly outrageous.

North Korea Ambassador to India Kye Chun-yong said Pyongyang is willing to talk in terms of freezing its nuclear and missile tests under certain circumstances. “If our demands is met, we can negotiate in terms of the moratorium of such as weapons testing,” Kye said in English in an interview posted on the website of India’s television station WION.

He suggested that one of the key demands is the halt of the U.S. joint military drills with South Korea, which Pyongyang denounced as a rehearsal for invasion. Seoul and Washington say their annual exercises are defensive in nature. … Full article

Ever Closer to War

By Brian CLOUGHLEY | Strategic Culture Foundation | 21.06.2017

The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has warned that the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear war is closer than since 1953. As explained by the Bulletin, in 1947 it devised the Doomsday Clock «using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet».

Each year «the decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel laureates». In 1953 the Clock was at two minutes to midnight. In the worst years of the cold war it was at 3 minutes to midnight when, in 1984 it was recorded that «US-Soviet relations reach their iciest point in decades. Dialogue between the two superpowers virtually stops. Every channel of communications has been constricted or shut down; every form of contact has been attenuated or cut off…»

And now, in 2017, it is apparent that channels of communication with Russia are being deliberately cut off — and the hands of the Doomsday Clock have been placed at just two-and-a-half minutes from midnight. … continue

Australia to resume anti-ISIS airstrikes in Syria – defense chief

RT | June 21, 2017

Australian warplanes will soon resume airstrikes against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) targets in Syria, according to the country’s defense chief. Operations were suspended earlier this week, after a US fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane.

“It won’t be long before you start to see the operations again,” Australian Defense Force Chief Mark Binskin told reporters on Wednesday, as quoted by AP. The official did not elaborate on the exact date. … Full article

Resist This: The United States Is At War With Syria

By Jim Kavanaugh | The Polemicist |June 20, 2017

The United States is at war with Syria.

Though few Americans wanted to face it, this has been the case implicitly since the Obama administration began building bases and sending Special Ops, really-not-there, American troops, and it has been the case explicitly since August 3, 2015, when the Obama administration announced that it would “allow airstrikes to defend Syrian rebels trained by the U.S. military from any attackers, even if the enemies hail from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”

With the U.S. Air Force—under Trump, following Obama’s declared policy—shooting down a Syrian plane in Syrian airspace, this is now undeniable. The United States is overtly engaged in another aggression against a sovereign country that poses no conceivable, let alone actual or imminent, threat to the nation.

This is an act of war. … continue

Five Takeaways from Iran’s Missile Strike in Syria

By M.K. BHADRAKUMAR | Asia Times | June 20, 2017

Tehran’s strike was targeted at Islamic State but it also puts US bases in the region on notice and exposes the flimsiness of the Trump Administration’s Middle East policy… Read article

Qatar: ‘Neighbors’ leading economic siege hacked our news agency

Press TV – June 21, 2017

Qatar says it has evidence showing the same “neighboring” countries that are leading a boycott campaign against Doha had a hand in the alleged hacking of its state news agency, an incident that triggered an unprecedented diplomatic crisis in the Persian Gulf region.

Attorney General Ali bin Fetais al-Marri Ali bin Fetais al-Marri told a press conference in Doha on Tuesday that the hacking incident originated in “neighboring countries,” without naming them.

“We have evidence to show that iPhones originating from the countries laying siege to us have been used in this hacking. We have enough evidence to point the finger of blame at these countries,” Marri said.

Last month, the Qatar News Agency (QNA) released comments attributed to Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, describing Iran as an “Islamic power,” praising the Palestinian resistance movement Hamas and criticizing US President Donald Trump. … continue

Qatar hacked by Arab neighbor states, not Russia, as previously reported by CNN

CNN busted by Qatar for spreading more fake news

By Alex Christoforou | The Duran | June 21, 2017

The reason cited by CNN for the ongoing Saudi-Qatari conflict, in which a coalition of Saudi-led states cut off diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar, originates with a CNN report (via its always handy anonymous sources bullwhip), that Russia is believed to have been behind a Qatar news hack. … continue

UN raises alarm over rise in contacts between Israel troops, Syria militants

Press TV – June 21, 2017

United Nations UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has expressed concerns about a spike in contacts between Israeli armed forces and Syria militants in recent months.

In a report released recently, Guterres warned that the growing interactions between the two sides could lead to escalation and cause harm to members of the UN Disengagement Observer Force deployed to the Golan Heights.

According to the report, UN observers listed 16 meetings between the Israel forces and the Syria militants in the border area, including on Mount Hermon, in proximity to UN outposts in Syria’s Quneitra Province and the Golan Heights, from March 2 to May 16. … continue

Terrorism in Middle East part of Israel’s agenda: Iranian president

Press TV – June 20, 2017

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has described the terrorist operations across the Middle East as part of Israel’s agenda, warning that anti-terror campaigns in the region should not divert attentions from the Palestinian crisis.

Rouhani made the remarks at a Tuesday meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is visiting Tehran at the head of a high-ranking delegation.

“Fighting against terrorism should not overshadow the issue of al-Quds and the threat of the Zionist regime (Israel) in the region,” he pointed out. … Full article

Spoiling for a Wider War in Syria

Consortium News | June 20, 2017

… We are ready to risk nuclear war and end all life on the planet, so Israel and Saudi Arabia can shatter a “Shiite arc of influence” and so American politicians don’t have to feel the rhetorical lash of the neocons and their liberal-hawk sidekicks. – Read full article

Three injured as NATO SUV crashes into car carrying Lithuanian students

RT | June 20, 2017

A NATO Hummer has crashed into a car carrying four female students in Lithuania, sending three of them to hospital, local media reports.

The NATO vehicle collided with the VW Passat on Tuesday afternoon as the military vehicle was turning off a minor road at around 50 kilometers per hour.

Preliminary reports suggest the NATO driver was at fault as he did not make way for the Passat according to the news portal Delfi. As a result, three of the students from a local college were hospitalized with head injuries and two of them were taken to Kaunus. … Full article

US supersonic bombers to drill with ally Seoul warplanes over Korean Peninsula

RT | June 20, 2017

Two US long-range strategic bombers are to take part in drills over the Korean Peninsula, according to Seoul’s military. Tensions with the North are again heightened, with Washington vowing to put an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Two American supersonic B-1B Lancer bombers alongside two South Korean F-15K fighter jets are to hold maneuvers for a few hours during the drills, which are conducted on a regular basis, Yonhap News Agency reported, citing defense officials.

“Our Air Force plans to hold a joint drill with two B-1Bs in the sky of the Korean Peninsula today,” Lt. Col. Kim Sung-duk, a public relations officer for the South Korean Air Force, stated as cited by the agency. He did not specify the exact time and place of the exercises, nor the tasks that are to be undertaken.

The drills are to include a mock bombing operation at the Pilsung Range in the eastern province of Gangwon, Yonhap reported citing sources. … Full article

US police arrest anti-nuclear weapons activists at UN

Press TV – June 20, 2017

A number of anti-nuclear weapons activists have been arrested in New York during a protest against Washington’s decision to boycott negotiations on a nuclear weapons ban treaty.

The arrests were made after the activists chanting slogans such as “US join the talks, ban the bomb,” blocked the entrances to the US mission to the United Nations.

The protesters sat in front of the doors before the police moved in. police said they warned the demonstrators that they would be arrested if they did not leave the place.

In March, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced that the United States, Britain and France had decided not to join talks on a nuclear weapons ban treaty.

The United Nations is currently holding a second round of negotiations about the issue.

The world body adopted a resolution in December to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading toward their total elimination and encouraged all member states to participate.

A total of 113 nations voted in favor of the resolution but 35 countries, including the United States, Britain and France, voted against it. Thirteen countries abstained.

According to the US military’s recent declaration, the United States has 806 deployed ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missile), SLBMs (submarine-launched ballistic missile), and heavy bombers as well as 1,722 deployed nuclear warheads.

The Pentagon is also equipped with a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV), a highly advanced version of the intercontinental nuclear missile carrying several independent warheads.

On World Refugee Day, estimates show 66% of Palestinians became refugees in 1948

Ma’an – June 20, 2017

BETHLEHEM – On the anniversary of World Refugee Day, and one month after the 69th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, or “catastrophe,” it is estimated that 66 percent of Palestinians who were living in British-Mandate Palestine in 1948 were expelled from historic Palestine and displaced, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS).

“The human plight and tragedy that has befallen on the Palestinian people” resulted in approximately 957,000 Palestinian refugees — 66 percent of the total population of Palestinian who were living in historic Palestine on the eve of the war in 1948, PCBS said in a statement Tuesday.

Today, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the UN agency responsible for providing services to millions of Palestinian refugees, estimates that the number of registered Palestinian refugees in 2016 amounted to about 5.9 million, PCBS noted, highlighting that this figure was representative of a minimum number. … continue

Israel’s Dirty Little Secret

How it drives US policies exploiting a spineless Congress and White House

By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review • June 20, 2017

At a recent panel discussion in Washington, screenwriter, film director and producer Oliver Stone briefly addressed the issue of alleged Russian interference in the recent national election, observing that “Israel interfered in the U.S. election far more than Russia and nobody is investigating them.” A few days later, in an interview with Stephen Colbert on the Late Show, Stone returned to the theme, responding to an aggressive claim that Russia had interfered in the election by challenging Colbert with “Israel had far more involvement in the U.S. election than Russia. Why don’t you ask me about that?”

Don’t look for the exchange with Colbert on YouTube. CBS deleted it from its broadcast and website, demonstrating once again that the “I” word cannot be disparaged on national television. Stone was, of course, referring to the fact that the Israel Lobby, most notably acting through its American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is undeniably a foreign lobby, no less so than anyone representing the presumed interests of Russia or China. It operates with complete impunity on Capitol Hill and also at state and local levels and no one dares to require it to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, which would permit scrutiny of its finances and also end its tax-exempt “educational” status. Nor does Congress or the media see fit to inquire into AIPAC’s empowerment of candidates based on their fidelity to Israel, not to mention the direct interference in the American electoral process which surfaced most visibly in its support of candidate Mitt Romney in 2012.

The last president that sought to compel the predecessor organization of AIPAC to register was John F. Kennedy, who also was about to take steps to rein in Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program when he was assassinated, which was a lucky break for Israel, particularly as Kennedy was replaced by the passionate Zionist Lyndon Baines Johnson. Funny how things sometimes work out. The Warren Commission looked deeply into a possible Cuban connection in the shooting and came up with nothing but one has to wonder if they also investigated the possible roles of other countries. Likewise, the 9/11 Commission Report failed to examine the possible involvement of Israel in the terrorist attack in spite of a considerable body of evidence suggesting that there were a number of Israeli-sourced covert operations running in the U.S. at that time. … continue

All of Saudi Arabia’s moves benefit Israel: Iran’s parliament speaker

Press TV – June 20, 2017

Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani has slammed Saudi Arabia for working covertly with Israel, saying all Riyadh’s actions in the region serve the Tel Aviv regime’s interests and are to the detriment of Muslim nations.

Larijani made the remarks in a meeting with ambassadors of Muslim countries to Tehran on Monday.

“We have tried hard to make the Saudis understand that their measures are to the detriment of the Muslim Ummah, but they only make harsher remarks every day and engage Muslim countries,” he said.

Larijani further pointed to Saudi Arabia’s “very unpleasant” policies in dealing with regional countries, saying the Saudis exert force in Syria, attack Yemen to make it their own backyard, fuel tensions in Bahrain, and have now targeted Qatar.

“Eventually, all Saudi moves are in favor of Israel,” said Larijani, adding that they want to keep terrorists on their feet and even provide support to some terror groups such as al-Nusra Front. … continue

Russia’s Calm, But Firm, Response to the US Shooting Down a Syrian Fighter Jet

By Gary Leupp | CounterPunch | June 20, 2017

Former State Department official Nicholas Burns told CNN Monday morning he’s surprised at Russia’s “calm” response to the shooting down of a Syrian government warplane (a Russian built SU 22 jet) in Syrian skies by a US F-18 Super Hornet. Moscow initially merely protested.

The Syrian government says its plane was bombing ISIL forces. (This could be perceived as an unequivocally good act, ISIL being what it is.) But the U.S. says the plane was bombing its proxies, who are themselves battling ISIL around Raqqa with embedded U.S. advisors. These proxies are mainly Kurds who want independence and other forces allied to the U.S. and its Arab allies in a common effort to ultimately topple the Assad regime. And everyone paying attention knows these proxies include forces closely aligned with what used to be called al-Nusra. Forces the U.S. considers friends are considered by Damascus terrorists.

There are differences of opinion on this matter between the government of the aggressor imperialist country and the government of the country being assaulted by a host of foreign forces, and in the cross-hairs of this—what did Martin Luther King call it, so rudely, in 1967?—“greatest purveyor of violence in the world”?

In any case, Assad’s is an internationally recognized regime, as legitimate as the Trump regime, and the U.S. and its allies are plainly violating Syrian sovereignty by their presence. The Russian position is that the Syrian Arab Army (the national army) is the guarantor of Syrian unity and sovereignty, and the alternative is an Islamist regime that would destroy Palmyra, blow up the churches of Damascus, behead children etc. (This is a rational position.)

The U.S. position has been that the Assad regime, to which army is loyal, is the main problem to be solved. This position requires the curious argument that the Assad regime is what has produced ISIL and al-Qaeda (al-Nusra, Fateh al-Sham), by producing opposition to itself, thus generating Islamist radicalism. (This is an irrational position.) … continue

Australia halts air strikes in Syria after Russia-US tensions over downed Damascus jet

RT | June 20, 2017

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has suspended flights over Syria after Russia said it halted sky incident prevention interactions with the US as of June 19, due to the coalition’s downing of a Damascus warplane.

“As a precautionary measure, Australian Defence Force (ADF) strike operations into Syria have temporarily ceased,” Australia’s Department of Defense said in a statement, adding its operations in Iraq would continue as part of the coalition.

“ADF personnel are closely monitoring the air situation in Syria and a decision on the resumption of ADF air operations in Syria will be made in due course.”

“Australian Defence Force protection is regularly reviewed in response to a range of potential threats,” the Department of Defense said.

On Monday, the Russian military halted cooperation with its US counterparts in the framework of the Memorandum on the Prevention of Incidents and Ensuring Air Safety in Syria. The statement came a day after the coalition’s attack on a Syrian Su-22 government warplane, which was carrying out operations against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists 40km from Raqqa.

The US military failed to use the communication line with Russia concerning this attack, despite the fact that Russian warplanes were also on a mission in Syrian airspace at the time, the Russian Defense Ministry said.

The ministry added that all aircraft of the US-led coalition in the area of its combat missions in Syria will be tracked by Russian forces as “air targets.” […]

The Australian Defense Force (ADF) has deployed around 600 personnel to the Middle East, including strike, early warning and refueling aircraft, Special Forces personnel to assist Iraqi forces, and other ADF personnel attached to coalition headquarters. … Full article

US backs down as Russia targets US aircraft in Syria

By Alexander Mercouris | The Duran | June 20, 2017

… The US has no choice. If the Russian decision to switch off the ‘de-confliction’ hotline in April was enough to force the US to reduce sharply its air activity in Syria, the Russian decision to switch off the ‘de-confliction’ hotline and to threaten to treat as aerial targets US aircraft flying west of the Euphrates is a threat the US cannot afford to disregard.

Not surprisingly, shortly before the Russian warning was made public, but probably after it was communicated to the US, the Syrian army captured Rusafa with no further hindrance from the US. Latest reports speak of Syrian army reinforcements flooding into the area. … Read full article

Assad, allies to prevail in Syria, drive US out: Ex-US envoy

Press TV – June 20, 2017

A former American ambassador to Syria says the Syrian government and its allies, including Iran, will ultimately frustrate attempts by the United States to influence Syrian matters and will drive the US out of the Arab country.

Robert Ford, who served as the US’s envoy to Syria under former US president Barack Obama, made the remarks in an interview with the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday.

He said the US was, first of all, mistaken in giving support to the opposition in Syria back in 2011 and demanding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ouster. Ford said he knew that that expression of support would encourage certain elements of the opposition to take up arms and expect a US invasion against Damascus, which he said would not be forthcoming.

Ford also said that the US would not defend the Kurdish forces it has been supporting so far in case the Kurds engaged in clashes with the Syrian forces. … continue

12 civilians killed in US coalition strike on Syrian village – state media

RT | June 20, 2017

At least 12 civilians have reportedly been killed after US coalition jets struck a number of targets in a village next to the Syrian-Iraqi border, eyewitnesses on the ground told SANA news.

According to the report, the US-led anti-Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) coalition has launched a series of air raids on Sunday night in Syrian Hasakah governorate. In one of the strikes, the jets struck Tel Hayr village near the Syrian-Iraqi border, killing 12 people, all belonging to one family, according to the Syrian SANA news agency’s sources.

Last week, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria revealed that more than 300 civilians have died because of US-led air strikes in and around the city of Raqqa alone since March.

“We have documented the deaths caused by the coalition air strikes only and we have about 300 deaths, 200 in one place, in al-Mansoura, one village,” said Karen Abuzayd, an American commissioner on the panel. Meanwhile, the UN Commission added that over 160,000 were forced to flee their homes. … Full article