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The NICA Act – What Is It and Why Should it be Opposed?

By John Perry | NicaNotes | February 28, 2018

NicaNotes: US Ambassador Laura Dagu reportedly has said that the Senate could vote on the NICA Act “any day now.” It is important that we let our Senators know that we oppose its passage and that the arguments for it are based on false premises.

John Perry provides below a comprehensive counter argument especially crafted to respond to points made by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in a response to a constituent.

The Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act (NICA Act), was first introduced in the House of Representatives in July 2016 by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) where it passed by unanimous consent but died in the Senate without hearings or a vote. Reintroduced and passed by the House by unanimous consent in 2017, the NICA Act would require the US’s representatives on a range of international lending institutions to vote against loans and grants to Nicaragua, until Nicaragua takes “effective steps to hold free, fair, and transparent elections.” The US has effective veto power in most of the multilateral lending institutions. The NICA Act goes on to make Nicaragua’s access to the international banking system also contingent on Nicaragua showing that it will “promote democracy, as well as an independent judiciary system and electoral council,” “strengthen the rule of law” and “respect the right to freedom of association and expression.” It does not define any of these terms but requires that the Secretary of State “certifies and reports to the appropriate congressional committees” that the requirements are being met.

Responding to Senator Patrick Leahy

Among those co-sponsoring the bill in the Senate are Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who has a strong interest in Central American issues and has supported the drive to restore democracy in Honduras after a military coup and electoral fraud in that country. He has held up the disbursement of a percentage of US military aid to Guatemala and Honduras based on human rights violations.

Senator Leahy responded to a constituent who wrote to him to oppose the NICA Act, that he was concerned “… about basic human rights and accountable governance in Nicaragua, conditions for free and fair elections, and an independent judiciary, which currently do not exist in that country.” He wrote, “The Ortega government is known for its corrupt practices, control of the courts and the electoral commission, and abuse of human rights, and we should not support taxpayer funded loans to that government unless it is meeting basic requirements that benefit the Nicaraguan people.”

This paper looks at these arguments and also at the possible effects of the NICA Act if it were to be implemented.

Human Rights in Nicaragua

Anyone living in or visiting Nicaragua will attest to the fact that it is one of the safest countries in Latin America, with the lowest regional homicide rate, a police force regarded as a model in the region for its community-based policing, few if any violent gangs, effectiveness in tackling drug trafficking and the corruption often linked to it, respect for LGBT rights, absence of murders of political figures or journalists, absence of political prisoners and the presence of a free press. Those with knowledge of countries such as Guatemala and Honduras often also remark on the uninhibited political discussions that it is possible to have with ordinary Nicaraguans, who are not afraid to share their opinions and often do so vociferously, in contrast to neighbouring countries. The notion that their ‘human rights’ are being suppressed is not one that would be popularly recognised.

Freedom of Expression

Three main national newspapers publish independently, without any restrictions, two strongly opposing the current government while the third is more balanced. TV channels are owned both by opposition groups and by government-supporting groups and the former often contain programs critical of government policies or government figures. There have never been attempts to close down opposition TV channels. Unlike Honduras, there are no plans to censure social media and everyone has free access to internet in public spaces such as parks. Telecommunications, internet providers, etc. are all private companies.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Nicaragua 92 out of 180 countries for freedom of expression. It is true that it has fallen several places since its last assessment, but it is still well above nearby countries such as Panama, Honduras, Mexico and Colombia, as well as most of Africa and much of Asia. The argument that there is not a ‘free press’ is therefore without any justification.

There have been claims by opposition groups of repression of political demonstrations. While there have been clashes between police and protestors on some occasions, it is clear these often result from provocative acts by demonstrators. In any event – to take one example – one of the main groups protesting the construction of the planned interoceanic canal has been able to hold more than 80 demonstrations (even though its supporters often carry weapons such as machetes to the demonstrations). Criticisms of the government are commonly voiced in conversation and no one would take seriously any assertion that people are afraid to make their opinions known.

Other Aspects of Human Rights

Nicaragua is judged by the World Economic Forum to be one of the best countries in the world for gender equality, occupying 6th position out of 145 countries. It scores particularly highly in political empowerment, health and education. It has the fifth highest share of female parliamentarians in the world.

Nicaragua is also judged by the UN to rank 45th in the ‘world happiness index’ which assesses matters such as gross national product, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make choices, generosity and perceived corruption. Nicaragua was the country that made most progress in these indices in 2017, of 155 examined by the UN.

Domestic violence remains a considerable problem in Nicaragua but one that is being addressed by the Ministry of the Family, the police and the courts. Nicaragua has an incidence level of 0.29 on an international index of domestic violence, which is unsatisfactory but better than most other Latin American countries and better than the United States (0.35).

One region of Nicaragua remains problematic in human rights terms – part of the north-eastern corner of the country, bordering Honduras. There have been numerous deaths in the past few years in struggles for land rights between settlers from elsewhere in Nicaragua and indigenous communities. However in 2017 there was a considerable reduction in such deaths compared with 2015 and 2016.

Accountable Governance and Free and Fair Elections

It is important to note that support for the current government is high, consistently two-thirds or more of those questioned in independent polls by CID-Gallup, M&R Consultants, Borge Associates, etc. President Daniel Ortega and other government functionaries such as the head of police also maintain high levels of public support in such polls. Given the ineffectiveness of opposition political parties in developing any alternative program for governance, the fact that Ortega has twice been returned to power since 2007, should not be surprising.

The most recent, November 2017, elections were for municipalities – mayors, vice-mayors, and city councils. During the preparations for these elections Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was promoting the NICA Act because of the alleged inadequacy of the electoral arrangements. Yet the US government subsequently welcomed the ‘transparency’ that it considered had been brought to the elections by the presence of OAS observers. The OAS had 60 staff working in the country during the election period. Its report identified ‘weaknesses typical of all electoral processes’ that have “not affected substantially the popular will expressed through the vote.” The Nicaraguan government has accepted the criticisms and pledged to work with the OAS to continue to strengthen the institutionality and transparency of its electoral processes.


It is true that there are problems of corruption in Nicaragua, but it is far from evident that these are worse than many other Latin American countries. All of the neighbouring countries, from Mexico to Colombia, and including Costa Rica and Panama, have had well-publicized and recent incidents of corruption at high levels of government, as we have seen with the arrest and imprisonment of a former president in Guatemala, accusations of corruption in the recent expansion of the Panama Canal, and many others. The president of Costa Rica until 2014, Laura Chinchilla, is currently accused of 14 cases of corruption. As is well known, corruption is rife in Honduras and has required a special commission established by the OAS, the president of which resigned recently because of lack of co-operation from the Honduran government.

In Nicaragua, in contrast, any accusations of corruption are rarely accompanied by any detail from the accusers. One recent exception is the allegations against Roberto Rivas, president of the Supreme Electoral Council (CSE), who was sanctioned by the US government in December. In response to concerns, in February the Nicaraguan government removed the majority of Rivas’ functions as head of the CSE and handed them to his deputy.

An example of positive action by Nicaragua against corruption is in measures to tackle money laundering. Nicaragua is regularly assessed by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the international body which monitors each country’s efforts to tackle money laundering and financing of terrorism. Until two years ago, Nicaragua was on the FATF’s list of ‘high risk’ countries. However at that point it was removed from the FATF ‘high risk’ list, because it is co-operating with international bodies in strengthening its controls against money laundering. The last report on the Nicaraguan economy from the IMF recognized the advances made against money laundering and called on the government to continue the efforts it is making in this respect.

Independent Judiciary

Nicaragua recognizes that there are problems of corruption in the judiciary and has a program to tackle this systematically by removing judges who are proved to be corrupt. Judges are nominated by the President and elected by the National Assembly in a process similar to the United States and most Western democracies. Given that the Sandinista party has been in power for over 10 years, it is simply a function of democracy that most judicial officials lean toward Sandinismo just as it was logical that from 1990-2007 very few judges were Sandinista sympathizers.

Meeting Basic Requirements that Benefit the Nicaraguan People

Senator Leahy stated that the Nicaraguan government is not “meeting basic requirements that benefit the Nicaraguan people,” a statement that just does not conform to independent reports of social and economic progress. These advances since 2007 when Ortega returned to the presidency include:

• Being the first country to meet the UN Millennial Development Goals for tackling malnutrition, for which it was praised by the UN.

• Halving levels of poverty and extreme poverty. Between 2009 and 2014, the general poverty rate fell from 42.5% to 29.6% and has since fallen further.

• Being declared a country that is ‘illiteracy free’ by UNESCO.

• Achieving progress on the UN Human Development Index so that it now ranks above Honduras and Guatemala and has a longer life expectancy than either of these countries or El Salvador. Its gender development index is higher than Mexico’s – a far wealthier country.

• Rebuilding many hospitals and ensuring all cities and neighborhoods have access to free health services, including 24-hour health centres as well as public hospitals in many areas.

• Having water and sanitation plans that have substantially increased coverage, leading to the achievement of the corresponding Millennium Development Goals.

• Becoming one of the safest countries in the hemisphere, because of its low levels of violent crime.

• Addressing issues of energy shortages and over dependence on fossil fuels – having inherited a situation in which over 80% of electricity was generated from bunker fuel, the Ortega government has turned Nicaragua into what the World Bank calls “a renewable energy paradise”, reaching 54% of generation from renewables in 2017 and having a goal to reach 90% by 2020. It has also extended electricity coverage from only half the population in 1990 to 94% at the start of 2018.

One outcome of these huge achievements is that – in contrast to the ‘northern triangle’ countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador – Nicaragua produces only a very small proportion of the thousands of undocumented migrants who travel north to Mexico and the US.

Use of International Loans

Nicaragua has access to finance from a number of international institutions which could be ended if the NICA Act were approved and then enforced. The principal institutions are the World Bank and its associated institutions, the IMF, and the Inter-American Development Bank. All three of these have expressed recent satisfaction with the ways in which Nicaragua has spent the finance provided – there have been no allegations of corruption or misuse of funds by these bodies. The IMF has also expressed its concern about the effect on Nicaragua of the NICA Act, if implemented.

Here are examples of how projects benefitting ordinary Nicaraguans would suffer if the NICA Act were enforced and these loans were stopped, and the current attitudes of the World Bank and IDB towards the government of Nicaragua.

World Bank (and International Development Association)

A current, multi-faceted World Bank project improves access to health services and water supply and strengthens land rights. Here are some results reported by the Bank:

• Through “casas maternas,” or maternity waiting homes, maternal and infant health has improved: from 2012 to 2015, the percentage of pregnant women receiving four prenatal controls increased from 50 to 73; institutional deliveries increased from 72 percent to 87 percent; and the percentage of children immunized with the Pentavalent vaccine increased from 88 to 98 in targeted municipal health networks.

• Land rights have been strengthened, benefitting 15 of Nicaragua’s 21 indigenous territories in the historically marginalized Atlantic regions. From 2005 to 2013, through the Land Administration Project (PRODEP), over 104,000 people from 214 communities in five major ethnic groups benefited; 18 percent of the national territory was registered and titled with support of the project.

• From 2009 to 2015, over 168,000 beneficiaries of the Greater Managua Water and Sanitation (PRASMA) Project gained access to reliable water supply and more than 62,000 gained access to sanitation services. In rural areas, from 2008 to 2015, more than 68,000 beneficiaries from the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project (PRASNICA) gained access to water supply and sanitation services.

The World Bank has commented on the “efficient division of labor among key development partners” and “the satisfactory pace of implementation” of its projects in Nicaragua. It has praised Nicaragua’s “disciplined macroeconomic policies” enabling it “to shift from crisis control mode to longer-term, pioneering strategies to fight poverty, particularly in remote rural communities.”

Inter-American Development Bank

The IDB currently has over $1 billion of development loans with Nicaragua, including:

• A $133 million loan to improve healthcare in Nicaragua’s ‘Dry Corridor’ (the departments of Nueva Segovia, Madriz, Esteli, Matagalpa and Jinotega). It will fund construction, certification and equipment of hospitals, health centers, health posts and maternity waiting homes as well as actions to improve service quality and train Health Ministry staff members.

• A project supported by the Gates Foundation, aimed at ending malaria in Central America.

• A recently approved $72 million loan to improve access to potable water and basic sanitation in 11 cities in various departments and in the capital, Managua.

The IDB, in a 2015 report, analysed Latin American countries’ institutional capabilities to implement effective, efficient, and transparent public administration. It reported that the governments with the lowest scores on the MfDR in 2007, which included Nicaragua, had taken “significant steps to improve their national public administration systems.” Together with Nicaragua, there were eight other countries achieving “substantial progress” whereas in 15 others progress was only “fair.”

Potential Effects of the NICA Act

The NICA Act could halt financing of the kinds set out above which are usually on ‘soft loan’ terms, with extended pay-back periods and low interest rates.

All of the projects financed by the international bodies on which the US is represented are engaged in poverty-alleviation in some form, in a country which – despite the advances it has made – is still the 2nd or 3rd poorest country in the Western hemisphere.

Furthermore, action by the US may well have a knock-on effect on similar financing by European bodies, such as the EU. The effects would not be felt by Nicaragua’s political classes, but by the poor majority of the population that such projects benefit.

The United States would, arguably, also be acting against its own interests by implementing the NICA Act, for numerous reasons:

• The US has been party to the favorable opinions given by all the main international bodies on the way Nicaragua uses the finance that is provided, with no suggestions of money being diverted for other uses or used corruptly. Its action will therefore be seen as hypocritical, and contrary to the evidence gathered by bodies of which it is an influential member.

• If the drive to reduce poverty were to be drastically affected by the NICA Act, then migration may well increase. As noted above, Nicaraguans contribute little to the undocumented migration that takes place from Central America to the US: this could well change.

• If the US and international bodies “pull out of” Nicaragua, the way is open for it to receive more bilateral help from Asian countries, notably China, Taiwan and Japan, and from Russia. The US would undoubtedly lose influence in its neighbouring region of Central America.

• By singling out Nicaragua for sanctioning via international bodies, the US would be seen as making a political act against a left-of-center government with which it disagrees, especially as the grounds for taking the action are so subjective and difficult to justify, and the action which Nicaragua must take to escape sanctions is vaguely defined and (effectively) at the complete discretion of the Trump administration.

• Practically all Nicaraguan families were damaged in some way by the horrendous Contra War, illegally financed and supported by the US, which ended only 27 years ago. The US has refused to pay reparations for this war, despite being ordered to do so by the International Court of Justice in The Hague (World Court). It resumed its hostility to the Sandinistas and has questioned their electoral success ever since they returned to power in 2007. The NICA Act will be judged as part of a long history of the US undermining the 1979 revolution and the advances made by Nicaraguans over the past 39 years.

Finally, every opinion poll or political analysis of responses in Nicaragua to the NICA Act shows that it is strongly opposed, not only (as would be expected) by the government but by public opinion, NGOs, the private sector, financial institutions, most other political parties, the churches, etc. It is clear that the Act will be self-defeating – it will not be received positively in Nicaragua itself, but will be seen as yet more hostile interference by the US in Nicaragua’s legitimate attempts to reduce poverty and develop economically and socially, with the assistance of international bodies. In effect, the United States will be seen as attacking the poorest people in a neighboring country as a simple act of political vindictiveness.

Contact Your US Representatives to Stop the Nica Act!

(And encourage your friends to as well!)

John Perry lives and works in Masaya, Nicaragua, is a member of the UK Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign and blogs at

March 1, 2018 Posted by | Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

South Korea’s Moon informs Trump of plan to send special envoy to North Korea

Press TV – March 1, 2018

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has told his American counterpart Donald Trump that he intends to send a special envoy to Pyongyang in response to an invitation by Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, following the recent Olympic-driven detente between the two Koreas.

“In response to the visit by North Korea’s special envoy Kim Yo Jong, … Moon conveyed to Trump his plans to dispatch a special envoy to the North soon,” Seoul’s presidential office said in a statement on Thursday, following their phone conversation.

It added that Moon and Trump further “agreed to continue their efforts to maintain the momentum for South-North dialogue so it may lead to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The development came after Pyongyang, in a rare move, participated in the 2018 Winter Olympics held in South Korea, providing an opportunity for the two neighbors to resolve long-running hostilities. The two sides have exchanged diplomatic and high-level visits, and there is hope that relations could improve effectively.

The two neighbors have been separated by a heavily-militarized border since the three-year Korean War came to an end in 1953. The conflict ended with an armistice rather than a formal peace treaty and left many families separated on the two sides.

The situation on the Korean Peninsula has been tense due to Pyongyang’s development of its nuclear and missile programs.

Moon has sought to use the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which concluded on Sunday, to open dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang in the hopes of easing a nuclear standoff that has caused global security fears.

The South Korean leader said earlier this week that Washington needed to “lower the threshold for talks” with Pyongyang.

Furthermore, senior North Korean officials visiting the South for the Winter Olympics said on Sunday that Pyongyang was open to talks with Washington.

However, the US has ruled out any possibility of negotiations before the North, which last year conducted multiple missile and nuclear tests, takes steps towards denuclearization.

The US and its allies in the West and in Asia engineered tough UN sanctions on North Korea last year when Pyongyang test-fired two missiles in July and then carried out its most powerful nuclear test in August.

However, many said the sanctions would not deter North Korea from pursuing its nuclear and missile program, which Pyongyang insists is part of its defense policy against the US. Critics have repeatedly warned that sanctions would more affect North Korean people rather than its military and the government.

March 1, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | 4 Comments

Putin unveils new Russian nuclear arsenal

RT | March 1, 2018

Russia has developed a number of advanced weapons systems, including a nuclear-powered cruise missile, which make all US capabilities aimed at undermining the Russian nuclear deterrent obsolete, President Vladimir Putin announced.

The latest advances in Russian strategic deterrence have made America’s anti-missile systems obsolete, so Washington should stop trying to diminish Russia’s security and start talking to Moscow as an equal partner, not the dominant military power it seeks to be, Putin said.

The Russian leader made the comments during his state of the nation address on Wednesday. While the first part of the address was a straightforward description of domestic goals and achievements, the second became a defiant challenge to the US. Putin announced that Russia has successfully developed several new weapons systems, which basically negate American anti-ballistic missile capabilities.

The Russian president accused the US of arrogance, saying that it thought that Russia would not be able to recover anytime soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union and that its interests can simply be ignored. One particular move – the withdrawal by George W Bush from the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) in 2002 – resulted in Russia being increasingly surrounded by American assets, which undermined the country’s nuclear deterrence.

“In the end, if we did nothing, this would render the Russian nuclear potential worthless,” Putin said. “They could simply intercept all of it.”

Without a nuclear deterrent, Russia would be exposed to US military pressure and would not be able to pursue a sovereign policy, Putin said. The president warned as early as in 2004 that Russia would not sit idle and that it would respond to this threat by developing new weapons systems.

Russia’s new ‘big stick’

Russia has now done this, according to Putin, who went on to present a number of new systems, some of which don’t yet have names, and which are all meant to counter current and future ABM systems. His speech was accompanied by a series of video clips showing those new systems, partially as footage of tests and partially as computer-generated images showing their capabilities.

One system is the new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) called Sarmat, or RS-28. It’s already well-known, but Putin stressed that its increased range allows the missile to reach US territory from Russia via a South Pole route. The US has dozens of interceptor missiles deployed in Alaska on the presumption that Russia’s ICBMs would approach from that direction, which would not be the case with Sarmat.

In fact, the Soviet Union had a missile that could approach the US from any direction. It was not a regular ballistic missile but rather one that put the warhead into low-earth orbit. The warhead would then deorbit when close to its target, thanks to its own engines. However, the R-36orb missiles were scrapped as part of nuclear reduction process.

Putin then went on to weapons systems that were not previously known to the public. One is a yet-to-be-named cruise missile with an almost unlimited range.

This is achieved thanks to a highly-efficient on-board miniaturized nuclear reactor, which powers the flight. Such a missile can fly low enough to avoid early detection, can change course to avoid enemy anti-missile assets along its path, and maneuver to pierce the anti-missile systems protecting its target.

According to Putin, Russia successfully tested a nuclear-propelled cruise missile at the end of 2017. It is now developing a new class of strategic weapons, he added.

The idea of a nuclear-powered projectile is hardly new. The US tried to develop one as part of Project Pluto in the early 1960s, but abandoned it since strategic missiles with chemical propellants proved to be a more viable alternative. Russia has reportedly made a breakthrough in this technology, becoming the first nation to bring it to maturity.

Putin also said that miniaturization of a nuclear reactor gave Russia another advanced weapons system in the form of a high-endurance underwater drone. The drone can dive “really very deep” and travel between continents at a speed that is several times higher than that of a submarine, a modern torpedo or even a surface ship, he said.

According to the president, such drones can attack enemy aircraft carrier groups, shoreline defenses or infrastructure, and cannot be countered by any defense system in the world. Both conventional and nuclear-tipped versions can be made, he said.

In December 2017, Russia completed the trials of a nuclear reactor which gives the drones such capabilities. The reactor is “100 times smaller” than those used by nuclear-propelled submarines and generates more power, Putin said. It can also reach its peak power 200 times faster than a conventional nuclear power plant.

The video shown for this weapon system didn’t include any actual test, but presumably the claimed miniaturization of a nuclear reactor, which was used for the cruise missile, can also work for a watercraft.

Putin then showcased two variants of a hypersonic weapons system already developed by Russia. One is an air-launched vehicle that is already deployed in southern Russia for test combat duty. The projectile travels at a speed of Mach-10 and has a range of 2,000km (1,240 miles). The weapon, which is called Kinzhal (“dagger” in Russian) is available in conventional and nuclear forms, Putin said. A video shown to the audience included the moment the weapon was deployed by a fighter jet and the fire from its engine.

Another weapon that is being developed, but which was not shown being tested because its appearance is classified, according to Putin, is a hypersonic glider warhead deployed from space. Russia first tested one back in 2004 and has made significant progress since, the president said. The glider can fly in the atmosphere at speeds of over Mach-20 and can withstand a heat of up to 2,000C (3,632F) generated by air fiction. The system is in series production and is called Avangard (“advance guard” in Russian).

The last weapon system showcased by Putin during his speech was a combat laser, which he said Russia had started to deploy last year. A small video clip showed what presumably is an anti-aircraft laser system, but no test footage was shown.

‘Speaking softly’: Russia wants negotiations, not confrontation

Putin stressed that Russia would not need all these new weapons if its legitimate concerns had not been ignored by the US and its allies. “Nobody wanted to talk with us on the core of the problem. Nobody listened to us. Now you listen!” he said.

He suggested that the US abandon its costly and inefficient hostile plans towards Russia and start negotiating a security arrangement which would take Moscow’s interests into account.

“To those who for the last 15 years have been trying to fan an arms race, achieve unilateral advantage against Russia, impose sanctions, which are illegal from the standpoint of international law and are aimed at holding back the development of our country, including in the military area, I have this to say: All the things you were trying to prevent through your policies have already happened. You have failed to hold Russia back,” Putin said.

“You now have to acknowledge this reality, confirm that everything I said is no bluff – which it isn’t – think for some time, send into retirement the people stuck in the past and incapable of looking into the future, [and] stop rocking the boat that we all ride in and which is called planet Earth,” he said. Russia would be responsive if talked to as an equal partner, Putin added.

Read more:

US ABM shield in Europe may lead to sudden nuclear attack on Russia, Moscow says

March 1, 2018 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , | 6 Comments

Putin: US deployed 5 cruisers, 30 destroyers near Russian borders as part of missile defense system

RT | March 1, 2018

The US Navy has five cruisers and 30 destroyers near the Russian border for anti-missile defense, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said. These are in addition to systems stationed in neighboring states, the president added.

US missile defense is growing in reach and amassing near Russian territory, Putin said. The naval group complements the anti-ballistic missile systems stationed in California and Alaska, as well as the systems being delivered to Poland and Romania.

“The global US anti-ballistic missile system includes a naval group. These are five cruisers and 30 destroyers, as far as we know, deployed in areas in the immediate vicinity of the territory of Russia,” Putin said in an address to Russian parliamentarians on Thursday.

The president also warned that the range of missiles will only increase, while further deployment is planned in Japan and South Korea. Tokyo has recently accepted Lockheed Martin Aegis Ashore systems to “fundamentally improve” its anti-missile capabilities against potential “surprise attacks,” while Seoul has already installed the US Terminally High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.

In response to the challenges caused by the US withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Russia started developing advanced strategic arms, Putin stated. The ABM Treaty had insured against a pre-emptive nuclear strike by either side, but the US undermined it and it was terminated in 2002.

“We have started the development of new types of strategic weapons, which do not use ballistic trajectories at all when moving towards the target,” the Russian leader said.

March 1, 2018 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

What the Russian veto on Yemeni war signifies

By M.K. Bhadrakumar | Asia Times | March 1, 2018

The Russian veto in the United Nations Security Council on Monday to block a Western-backed resolution to condemn Iran for its alleged violations of international sanctions and its fueling of the conflict in Yemen was a landmark event.

This is the first time Russia has shot down a US-led move in the Security Council regarding a regional conflict in which it is not directly involved. Moscow did not block the Western moves over Iraq in 2003 or over Libya in 2011, although Russian interests were involved. Nor did Moscow block Kosovo’s admission to the UN as a sovereign state, piloted by the West, in 2008, although it was a bitter pill to swallow in every sense.

In Syria, of course, Russia has exercised its veto power repeatedly both in self-interest and in the interests of its ally. But in the Yemen conflict, Russia is neither a participant nor a protagonist, nor has it any legitimate reason to take sides.

Suffice to say the Russian veto on Monday falls into a category by itself as a manifestation of the Russian-American standoff for global influence. It therefore becomes a turning point in the post-Cold War era of big-power politics.

On its broadest plane, Russia has signaled that the US and its Western allies can no longer dominate the international system and Russia will oppose US hegemony as a matter of principle. This has serious implications for regional and international security.

Indeed, what Russia has done is shoot down an unprincipled Western attempt to isolate Iran from a geopolitical perspective. The West has adopted a cynical position over the conflict in Yemen. The US has been a virtual participant in the conflict by providing military assistance to the Saudi forces and identifying for them targets for their brutal air attacks on Yemen.

The administration of US President Donald Trump has not cared to provide any empirical evidence that the Houthis are dependent on Iran’s support. UN and other experts refuse to accept the US allegation that Iran supplied the Houthis with the missiles that targeted Saudi Arabia. The Barack Obama administration was frank enough to admit that while the Houthis could be “pro-Iran,” there was no alliance as such between the two.

In reality, Zaidi Shiite Muslims are more closely aligned to Sunni Islam than to the Shiism practiced in Iran.

The Russian stance took exception to the British-drafted text (supported by the US and France) containing a condemnation of Iran predicated on “unconfirmed conclusions and reports that should be double-checked and discussed by the sanctions committee,” as Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, put it.

Nebenzya noted that the Russian side offered “more than one compromising formulation” but those ideas had been dismissed. He said Russia “is fundamentally against a technical extension of sanctions committees’ export groups being politicized and used for solving not technical and expert tasks, but geopolitical ones.”

Significantly, the aborted British text not only contained condemnations against Tehran on illegal supplies of weapons to Houthis but also stated an intention to assume further measures in response to those violations. Conceivably, Moscow suspected the US intentions in the downstream, given the Trump administration’s hostile strategy toward Iran – scrapping the nuclear deal, imposing more sanctions, rolling back Iran’s missile capability and pushing back at Iran’s surge as a regional power.

In a clear rebuff to Washington, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday in Moscow that “it is necessary to fully implement the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [Iran nuclear deal]. If there is a desire to discuss some other issues concerning Iran in this format or in another format, this should be done with Iran’s voluntary participation and on the basis of consensus rather than through ultimatums.”

Interestingly, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir telephoned Lavrov on Monday just hours before the Security Council vote. According to the Russian readout, they “exchanged views on a number of issues on the bilateral and Middle East agendas, including in the context of the drafting of a new UN Security Council resolution on Yemen.”

Evidently, if the Trump administration had sought to leverage Saudi-Russian relations, it didn’t work. Moscow has in effect “de-hyphenated” its relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran. Russia has displayed its unique credentials to play an influential role in ending the conflict in Yemen and in facilitating a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement. Interestingly, Riyadh did not criticize Moscow’s veto on Monday and it was left to the US, Britain, France and Germany to issue a joint statement.

Of course, what emerges, in the final analysis, is the resilience of the Russian-Iranian alliance in Middle East politics. The Western thesis that an “assertive” Iran inevitably grates against Russian “expansionism” in the Middle East stands exposed as an overblown notion.

Ironically, Monday’s event will have a salutary effect on Russian-Iranian coordination in Syria, especially as the two powers prepare for a trilateral summit with Turkey in Istanbul in April.

March 1, 2018 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lebanese Nuclear Physics Student Found Dead in France

Al-Manar | March 1, 2018

A Lebanese man studying nuclear physics was found dead earlier this week in France, while reports on his death were conflicting.

It was initially reported that Hisham Salim Mourad- from the southern town of Braikeh in Nabatieh, was stabbed in his house.

However, Lebanon’s consul general in Marseille, Sonia Abou Azar, said the Grenoble police published its report on the death of Mourad and determined that he died after falling from the balcony of his house.

Mourad was studying at the Joseph Fourier University in the city of Grenoble. It was the last year of his master’s program.

The death sparked outrage among Lebanese people in Lebanon and abroad who were also shocked last week by the killing of another Lebanese student in Canada.

Hasan Ali Kheireddine, 23, was killed on Feb. 13 at a student residence on the St. Mary’s University campus in the Canadian region of Halifax.

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry announced earlier on Sunday that instructed the Lebanese embassy in Canada to “follow up on the case in order to unveil the details of this horrible crime and the motives behind it.”

Although Canadian authorities have been downplaying the murder of Kheireddine, it is seen by many in Lebanon as suspicious, especially that the bright student was studying economics and had been well-known for his research on the influence of Zionism on the international economy.

March 1, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Full Spectrum Dominance, Subjugation - Torture | , , , , , | 3 Comments

America’s Illegal Sojourn in Syria

By Philip M. GIRALDI | Strategic Culture Foundation | 01.03.2018

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Donald Trump administration has recently affirmed that it has a perfect legal right to remain in Syria as long as it wishes because it is fighting terrorism. The argument goes something like this: Congress has approved a bill that permits the US military to seek out and destroy al-Qaeda and associated groups wherever they may be. It is part of what is referred to as the Authorization to Use Military Force or AUMF. According to the White House, an associated group, the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS), remains currently active in Syria and the United States military presence is therefore legal until the group is completely eliminated, requiring no additional legislation or authority to remain in the country.

The Trump legal finding was spelled out in two letters released by the undersecretaries for policy at the State and Defense departments. They were in response to requests made by Senator Time Kaine of Virginia who has for several years been asking the White House under both Barack Obama and Donald Trump to clarify what legal authority has permitted it to base 2,000 American soldiers in Syria without any declaration of war, any United Nations authorization or any invitation by the legitimate government of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Kaine has cited the restrictions imposed by the War Powers Act of 1973, which permits a president to use military force in an emergency situation but after 60 days it is necessary to go to Congress for approval.

The State Department letter heightened the ambiguity of the US position with its explanation that “The United States does not seek to fight the government of Syria or Iran or Iranian-supported groups in Iraq or Syria. However, the United States will not hesitate to use necessary and proportionate force to defend US, coalition, or partner forces…”

There are a number of problems with the White House justification to stay in Syria, starting with the fact that al-Qaeda and ISIS are not in any way associated and might best be described as rivals or even enemies, rendering the whole AUMF argument irrelevant. In addition, the reason for American forces being in Syria at all has been variously described by senior administration officials. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been busy emphasizing that a prolonged stay is needed to block the resurgence of ISIS and also to prevent the Syrian government from retaking areas currently occupied by American-supported rebel groups. He curiously describes such areas freed from government control as “liberated.” He has also stated that the US will stay in place to put pressure on Bashar al-Assad to step down, i.e. regime change.

Tillerson uses the example of Libya to support his argument, observing that Libya was not occupied and “stabilized” by the nations that combined to overthrow the government of Muammar Ghaddafi. He has also cited President Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw US forces from Iraq as a contributing factor in the rise of ISIS, apparently unaware that American military was forced to leave by the Iraqi government.

But last Friday President Trump sent a different signal, stating during the press conference with the Australian Prime Minister that “We’re there for one reason: to get ISIS and get rid of ISIS, and to go home. We’re not there for any other reason and we’ve largely accomplished our goal.”

There is considerable spin being generated by the Administration to support its claims. Nevertheless, it should be accepted that the Syrian regime of al-Assad is nearly universally recognized to be legitimate and sovereign in its own territory, a fact that is even acknowledged by the United States, which is, at the same time, supporting rebels seeking to overthrow that government. And the US intention to maintain a continued presence minus any viable al-Qaeda threat in the country is completely illegal under both domestic and international law.

In short, the continued United States presence in Syria bears all the hallmarks of yet another US policy wrapped in top level ambiguity that is a failure even before it starts. Not only illegal, it is impractical, with 2,000 US advisers spread thin supporting Kurdish proxies who are already heavily engaged fighting the Turks. Eventually Washington will become weary of the effort and leave. May that day come soon.

March 1, 2018 Posted by | Deception, Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , | 3 Comments

The Breach of the UNSC Ceasefire in Syria: a Way Out of This Situation

By Peter KORZUN | Strategic Culture Foundation | 01.03.2018

The UN’s authority has been undermined by the fact that UN Security Council Resolution 2401 demanding a 30-day truce in Syria, which was unanimously endorsed on Feb. 24, has not been honored. On Feb. 26, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the document needed to take effect without delay, but combat operations continue. Why has this happened and what can be done to enforce the mandate?

It’s important to note that the ceasefire didn’t apply to extremist groups, such as Islamic State (IS) and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham or HTS (Jabhat al-Nusra), which are closely affiliated with Al Qaeda. HTS is the dominant fighting force in Ghouta. Another militant group there is Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya, which has close ties to IS, as both are pursuing the same goal of establishing a Sharia-based state in Syria. The Syrian military is not in violation of the resolution as it continues to fight these extremist groups in Eastern Ghouta. The resolution can be enforced only if all parties agree to stop shooting. That hasn’t been achieved and that’s the root of the problem.

Before the vote, Russia had warned that the extremist groups cared little about UNSC mandates and might continue fighting. That’s what happened. The cease-fire is being broken by Jaysh al-Islam, Faylaq al- Rahman, and HTS. Jaish al-Islam, Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Feylaq al-Rahman, and Fadjr al-Umma have established a joint command and control center in Eastern Ghouta. As they are all allied with HTS, this justifies the use of force against all of them.

The goal of the extremists is to undermine the truce and provoke retaliatory strikes on Syrian forces, while the US is using the continued fighting as a pretext for putting the blame on Damascus.

The possibility that the US will use force against Syria – which is exactly what the extremists want them to do – is real. Then the tail will be wagging the dog.

Moscow has already expressed its grave concerns about these events. In a meeting with his Portuguese counterpart, Augusto Santos Silva, on Feb. 26, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that more disinformation about the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces could be disseminated in order to undermine the truce.

Meanwhile, Moscow is not sitting idly by and watching the events. On Feb. 25, Russian President Vladimir Putin held an urgent discussion of the situation with his German and French counterparts. Russia can use its influence to mediate between Turkey, Syria, and the Kurds in Afrin. It has already made it clear that it will do its best to keep Israel and Iran from clashing. A new round of escalation in Syria should be avoided at all costs, and the West needs to be putting pressure on the extremist groups in order to foil their aspirations, instead of using the events in Eastern Ghouta as a pretext for whipping up tensions.

Besides, it’s not all doom and gloom in Syria. There have been no truce violations in the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, or Idlib since the resolution was passed. Iranian officials have also voiced their support of the UN resolution.

Looking for scapegoats is not the way to solve the problem. Those who are making threats to attack Syria are providing the terrorists with grist for their mill. Allowing extremist groups to continue fighting with impunity will only fan the hostilities. The de-escalation process has brought concrete results beyond what anyone had expected. Now those achievements are under threat.

The way to solve the problem is to join efforts and pressure the terrorist groups in Eastern Ghouta into compliance. The experience gained from the de-escalation zones could be utilized. An internationally authorized corridor could be opened to allow the militants leave the area, so as to avoid further civilian casualties. They could go to Idlib, where their “comrades-in arms” still control relatively large swathes of terrain. In that event they would be covered by the existing de-escalation accords. This would be a much better outcome than the fierce fighting being waged now in Ghouta that is causing horrendous civilian casualties.

The US should stop making threats to use force. Syria is not violating the resolution. The final goal in Ghouta is to get the terrorists out so the hostilities will end. A US attack on Syria would grossly violate the resolution it voted in favor of, while also benefiting Al-Nusra and other jihadist groups. This is the time for the US to start talking with Russia and making an effort to align their positions, instead of playing into the hands of militant groups that were excluded from the UN-brokered peace process.

March 1, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

US Deploys 600 Additional Troops in Syria’s At-Tanf – Reports

Sputnik – 01.03.2018

Aссording to the Turkish newspaper Yeni Akit, the United States has deployed 600 troops in the international coalition’s base in At-Tanf in Syria, adjacent to the Iraqi border.

The military contingent, comprised of special forces soldiers, has arrived at the base in At-Tanf, which was established by the US two years ago, in early 2016. A report from another Turkish media outlet Milliyet, citing the website Palmyra Monitor in Arabic, suggests that the units reached the base with armored vehicles.

Earlier in the day the assistant to the secretary of the Russian Security Council, told Sputnik that it was astonishing that the United States had “occupied” such a large territory without the Syrian Government’s consent.

“The situation when the United States is virtually occupying a 55-kilometer [34-mile] zone around At-Tanf on the Syrian-Jordanian border without the consent of the Syrian Government, is bewildering. This zone includes the infamous Rukban refugee camp, where militants from illegal armed groups are freely moving near the US Armed Forces,” he said.

In addition, the United States has established as many as 20 military bases in Syrian Kurdistan, which according to the official, hampers restoring peace and stability in the country.

Separately, Russia’s Ambassador to Jordan Boris Bolotin told Sputnik he has information that militants of the armed opposition are being trained in the At Tanf region on the Syrian-Jordanian border: “I do not rule out that they could be jihadists who fled Raqqa.”

Since 2014, the US-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes against Daesh targets in Syria without any authorization from the Damascus government or a UN mandate. Syria, for its part, considers their presence a violation of the country’s national sovereignty.

March 1, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , | Leave a comment