World Wrap: September 12, 2013
Kerry to discuss Syria disarmament deal with Russia, white smoke rises at North Korean nuclear reactor, and officials peg peace hopes on former Taliban leader. Today is Thursday, September 12, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.
Kerry to hear Russia’s surprise Syria plan
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) leaves the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva on September 12, 2013, before his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the ongoing problems in Syria. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich
Putin pens public appeal. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Geneva today to discuss Russia’s surprise proposal for international oversight of Syria’s chemical weapons, one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against a U.S. strike in a New York Times op-ed. Syria appears to have agreed to Russia’s plan, potentially paving the way for a non-interventionist Western approach after the U.S. seemed on the brink of military action in response to last month’s chemical attack.
U.S. officials said they hoped Kerry and Lavrov could agree on a blueprint for Syrian disarmament whose main points would be adopted in a U.N. Security Council resolution. The five permanent veto-wielding powers of the U.N. Security Council met in New York on Wednesday. Britain, France and the United States want the Security Council to include tough consequences if Assad is seen to renege. An initial French draft called for delivering an ultimatum to Assad’s government to give up its chemical weapons arsenal or face punitive measures… Kerry is accompanied by a large retinue of experts in anticipation of detailed talks on how to turn the Russian offer into a concrete plan along the lines of disarmament accords between Washington and Moscow since the days of the Cold War.
Skeptics say it would take years to execute such a plan, and that neutralizing chemical weapons in a war zone could increase the risk to civilians. Putin directly appealed to an American audience in a provoking op-ed for the New York Times, outlining the threats of Western intervention without support of the U.N. Security Council:
The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.
Notably, he reiterated the claim that the Syrian opposition was responsible for the chemical attack on Aug. 21. On Tuesday, Syrian government troops bombed a Damascus suburb for the first time in weeks.
A map of North Korea shows nuclear facilities in the country. REUTERS Graphics.
North Korea reactor reaction. Satellite images showing steam rising from a nuclear complexsuggest North Korea has restarted its Yongbyon reactor, according to an American research institute and a U.S. official:
U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies said a satellite image from August 31 shows white steam rising from a building near the hall that houses the plutonium production reactor’s steam turbines and electric generators. “The white coloration and volume are consistent with steam being vented because the electrical generating system is about to come online, indicating that the reactor is in or nearing operation,” said the Washington-based institute. The reactor can produce 13.2 pounds of plutonium a year, the institute added.
The IAEA said it did not have a “clear understanding” of the situation, but the U.S. special envoy to North Korea said that if the report is confirmed, “it would be a very serious matter [that] would violate a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions.” North Korea last tested a nuclear weapon in February, prompting months of increased tension between Pyongyang, Washington, and Seoul.
Friend or foe? This week, Pakistan announced the release of Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former Taliban second-in-command who has been held in prison since 2010. Now Pakistan and Afghanistan hope he can broker Afghan peace:
Afghanistan sees Baradar as a sensible and down-to-earth negotiator willing to act as a go-between for the Kabul government and the Taliban leadership council, the Quetta Shura. One of the founders of the Taliban movement, Baradar is ethnic Pashtun and belongs to the same powerful Popalzai subtribe as Karzai – a factor that could lend credibility to Karzai’s own peace efforts among Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s biggest ethnic group. Baradar, who is in his 40s, also belongs to the older generation of mujahedeen fighters who are less ideologically extreme compared with a younger, more violent crop of insurgents with closer links to al Qaeda.
Critics fear his stint in prison has decreased his clout among the Taliban leadership. Afghanistan has struggled to maintain order ahead of Western troop withdrawals in 2014, as extremist attacks have intensified over the past months.
Nota Bene: China will protect online whistleblowers, so long as they use an officially-sanctioned website.
Turning point - The Stimson Center’s Mona Yacoubian argues that Russia’s proposal could lead to a Syria settlement. (Reuters)
Coke belly - A woman is arrested in a Colombian airport for carrying cocaine in a fake baby bump. (BBC)
Zombie ship - A wrecked cruise ship could return from the dead. (The Guardian)
Devilish design - Demons decorate Frankfurt’s Central Plaza. (The Atlantic Cities)
Chile’s 9/11 - Chilean President Sebastian Piñera speaks on the 40th anniversary of Chile’s coup. (Time)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: August 28, 2013
Britain seeks U.N. authorization for Syria strike, North Korea acts like a better neighbor, and deadly violence sweeps Iraq and Afghanistan. Today is Wednesday, August 28 – 50 years since Martin Luther King made his famous “I have a dream” speech – and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @clarerrrr.
Britain asks U.N. approval for military action in Syria
Free Syrian Army fighters escort a convoy of U.N. vehicles carrying a team of United Nations chemical weapons experts during their visit at one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Damascus’ suburbs of Zamalka, August 28, 2013. REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh
Security Council showdown. Britain plans to propose a resolution at the U.N. asking permission to take “necessary measures” to protect Syrian civilians after a reported chemical attack. After two years of deadlock in the Security Council thanks to Russia and China’s veto powers, the move seemed aimed at isolating Russia. The U.S. appears ready to strike Syria with or without U.N. approval, although it remains unclear when a strike would take place.
That has set Western leaders on a collision course with Moscow, Assad’s main arms supplier, as well as with China, which also has a veto in the Security Council and disapproves of what it sees as a push for Iraq-style “regime change” – despite U.S. denials that President Barack Obama aims to overthrow Assad.
The UK’s National Security Council today agreed unanimously to back action against Syria, and residents in the Syrian capital said the government had evacuated most army buildings in preparation for a military strike. A report released by French newspaper Le Monde shares witness accounts from two correspondents who witnessed a chemical attack in Jobar:
Searching for words to describe the incongruous sound, he said it was like ‘a Pepsi can that falls to the ground.’ No odor, no smoke, not even a whistle to indicate the release of a toxic gas. And then the symptoms appear. The men cough violently. Their eyes burn, their pupils shrink, their vision blurs. Soon they experience difficulty breathing, sometimes in the extreme; they begin to vomit or lose consciousness. The fighters worst affected need to be evacuated before they suffocate.
The war in Syria has killed over 100,000 people, created millions of refugees, and stoked sectarian violence across the region.
Youths look at the site of a car bomb attack in Baghdad’s al-Shaab district, August 28, 2013. REUTERS/Saad Shalash
Status check after U.S. wars. The Taliban and al Qaeda affiliates were at work today in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, wreaking havoc and further tarnishing the outlook in the countries emerging from U.S.-led wars. In Afghanistan, the Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on a Polish base after two earlier attacks targeting NATO convoys killed 10 civilians and wounded over 20.
The Taliban have not claimed responsibility for that attack, but they are keen to keep pressure on the NATO mission here ahead of its planned end next year.
In Iraq, where the worst wave of sectarian violence in five years has been exacerbated by civil war in neighboring Syria, a series of bomb attacks in the capital killed dozens and wounded over 200 people.
It was not immediately clear who carried out the attacks, which appeared coordinated, but Sunni Muslim insurgents including the al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq have significantly stepped up bombings this year.
Iraq saw its deadliest month since 2008 this July, raising fears that the country is slipping back into widespread bloodshed after the U.S. troops left the country 18 months ago. The U.S. is set to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014.
The Korean People’s Army Song and Dance Ensemble take part in a music and dance performance called “May the Day of Songun Shine Forever” at the April 25 House of Culture in Pyongyang on the 53rd Day of Songun, August 25, 2013, in this photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). REUTERS/KCNA
Back from the brink. Remember when North Korea threatened war with the South earlier this year? Thanks in part to new directives from South Korea’s recently-instated President Park Geun-hye, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has initiated dialogue with Seoul, agreeing to reopen a joint industrial zone. It’s not all a bed of roses, but the progress appears to have validated Park’s policies.
To be sure, experts are not predicting lasting peace between the two Koreas since Kim has shown no sign of giving up his banned nuclear weapons program… Park sketched out her vision of engagement with North Korea before taking office in a policy she dubbed “trustpolitik”, an echo of West Germany’s approach to East Germany before German reunification in 1990. She pledged to respond strongly to any military action by the North but said she was willing to commit to better commercial ties in return for a dialing down of tensions.
The thaw has extended all the way to Washington; the U.S. is sending its human rights envoy to seek the release of jailed American Kenneth Bae at the invitation of North Korea.
Nota Bene: China’s official news agency warns the world to remember bogus U.S. excuses for war in Iraq before attacking Syria.
Culpability questions - U.S. spies say intercepted calls prove Syrian army used nerve gas. (Foreign Policy)
Hurricane Rick Perry? - Activists push to name hurricanes after climate change deniers. (Christian Science Monitor)
Secret spying - The NYPD has designated entire mosques as terrorism organizations. (Associated Press)
The ‘Cat Period’ - A hacker obtains paintings by former President George W. Bush. (Gawker)
Sue for the coup - Iran’s parliament approves bill to sue U.S. over its involvement in 1953 coup. (Washington Post)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: August 27, 2013
Leaders strategize on Syria attack, Afghan Taliban kill 12 suspected of government ties, and U.S. Attorney General pressed to explain how DEA uses hidden data. Today is Tuesday, August 27, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.
Western powers could strike Syria within days
U.N. chemical weapons experts visit people affected by an apparent gas attack at a hospital in the southwestern Damascus suburb of Mouadamiya, August 26, 2013. REUTERS/Abo Alnour Alhaji
Syria strike looms. Western leaders are poised to take military action in Syria after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called last week’s chemical weapons attack “undeniable.” Action against Syria likely would be quick and intended to punish Assad rather than change the direction of the war:
Any strike by the United States and its allies on Syria will probably aim to teach President Bashar al-Assad – and Iran – a lesson on the risks of defying the West, but not try to turn the tide of the civil war. U.S. and European officials say a short, sharp attack – perhaps entirely with cruise missiles – is the preferred response to what they believe is Assad’s responsibility for a chemical weapons attack on rebel-held areas last week. If such a strike goes ahead, President Barack Obama’s administration will have to select its targets with extreme care as it tries to deter not only Assad but also Syria’s ally Iran over its nuclear program.
With the U.N. Security Council deadlocked due to Russia and China’s veto power, the U.S. could seek alternative ways to legally justify military action. Meanwhile, Russia, Iran and China continue to warn Western leaders against blaming Assad for the attack. Western officials say the U.S. is most likely to use cruise missiles, which could be launched from warships or aircraft outside Syrian airspace:
Choosing targets is fraught with danger. The most likely, officials say, would be Assad’s command and control facilities, air defenses and any part of his chemical arsenal they believe can be attacked safely. What must be avoided is any action that, while designed to punish the use of chemical weapons, perversely ends up releasing dangerous materials into the environment. Likewise if any technicians from Russia, a major arms supplier to Assad, were killed, this would inflame already troubled Western relations with Moscow.
A U.N. chemical weapons investigation team was finally able to collect samples from gas attack victims on Monday, after days of shelling that likely destroyed evidence, and will return on Wednesday to continue their investigation. For an explanation of the options facing Western leaders, read this imagined conversation by the New Yorker’s George Packer.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (R) speaks during a joint news conference as Afghan President Hamid Karzai listens at the prime minister’s residence in Islamabad, August 26, 2013. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed
Taliban slay suspected government workers. Afghan officials said the Afghan Taliban executed 12 men over the weekend after accusing them of cooperating with the government.
The Taliban are increasingly targeting civilians seen to be cooperating with the government, raising concerns about the prospects for peace after most foreign troops pull out next year… Taliban executions of workers associated with the Karzai administration or the international community are not rare, but recent attacks have typically occurred in the restive eastern and southern parts of the country.
The Taliban kidnapped and killed six men working for a World Bank-funded program in Herat, one of Afghanistan’s most stable provinces, as well as six drivers in the restive province of Paktia.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder speaks on stage during the annual meeting of the American Bar Association in San Francisco, California, August 12, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
You didn’t hear it from us. U.S. lawmakers are asking Attorney General Eric Holder to respond to a recent Reuters report that detailed the NSA’s practice of sharing information with the Drug Enforcement Administration for non-terrorism related cases:
Five Democrats in the Senate and three senior Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee submitted questions to Holder about the NSA-DEA relationship, joining two prominent Republicans who have expressed concerns. The matter will be discussed during classified briefings scheduled for September, Republican and Democratic aides said… The Reuters reports cited internal documents that show how DEA’s Special Operations Division funnels information from overseas NSA intercepts, domestic wiretaps, informants and a large DEA database of telephone records to authorities nationwide to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.
According to the report, law enforcement agents were instructed to recreate the steps of an investigation, a method called “parallel construction,” to make it appear as though the NSA was not the source of information that led to arrests. DEA officials have said the practice is legal and standard, but critics say it could violate a defendant’s right to a fair trial.
Nota Bene: A dispute between Russia and Belarus over potash ignites a major diplomatic row.
Deadly intel - Documents reveal the U.S. knew Saddam Hussein planned to carry out a deadly chemical attack. (Foreign Policy)
Epic fail - Not a single candidate passes Liberia’s college entrance exam. (BBC)
Gross domestic product - Cockroach farming is a lucrative business in China. (Quartz)
Pooch nuptials - Sri Lankan police apologize for elaborate dog wedding. (Associated Press)
Barefoot Gen’s back - Japan removes restrictions on classic anti-war Manga series. (The Guardian)
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
World Wrap: June 25, 2013
Peace talk prospects take a hit after Taliban attacks in Kabul, Brazil’s Rousseff makes surprising call for referendum, and Obama has big boots to fill in Africa. Today is Tuesday, June 25, and we wish Mozambique a very happy Independence Day. Here’s the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.
Taliban attack near presidential palace deals blow to peace talks
Afghan security forces run to the site of an insurgent attack in Kabul, June 25, 2013. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
Not how peace talks work. Taliban militants attacked buildings close to Afghanistan’s presidential palace and CIA headquarters in Kabul on Tuesday, further threatening fragile peace talksbetween U.S. and Taliban officials:
A senior government official told Reuters four or five attackers had used fake identity papers to try to make their way through security gates in the Shash Darak district, which leads to Kabul’s most tightly guarded areas. One car made it through, but a second vehicle was stopped and those inside began shooting. Grenades were thrown. The area is home to the presidential palace compound, the Ministry of Defense and an annex of the U.S. embassy at the old Ariana Hotel. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s Afghanistan station is based there.
Several assailants and two security guards were killed in the attack, which occurred in the early morning Kabul time as reporters gathered to meet a U.S. envoy at the embassy. Reuters correspondent Mirwais Harooni tweeted the attack from in front of the palace, noting there were about 20 journalists present to cover a Karzai press conference. Peace talks got off to a rough start last week when Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his government wouldn’t participate, objecting to the Taliban’s new embassy-like office in Doha. U.S. officials said they hoped to move forward with the summit after some cosmetic adjustments were made to the office over the weekend.
A demonstrator holds a sign that reads, “Neymar for president,” in reference to Brazilian soccer player Neymar, during a protest in Porto Alegre, June 24, 2013. REUTERS/Edison Vara
If you can’t beat them… Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Monday announced a plan to enact sweeping reforms in response to a massive anti-government movement, an ambitious goal that could be unrealistic:
Rouseff proposed a national vote on amending Brazil’s constitution in a meeting with governors and mayors the week after the country’s largest protests in 20 years jolted politicians of all stripes. It immediately raised questions about whether she could deliver on such an undertaking as she heads to what may be a more difficult re-election in 2014. Brazil’s last sweeping political reform was 25 years ago, when the current Brazilian constitution was ratified in 1988 by the country’s last constitutional assembly, three years after the end of its military dictatorship.
Rousseff introduced proposals that would expand public transport, improve health services and address corruption in government. However, Brazil’s slowing economic growth in recent years leaves Rousseff little budget flexibility and makes short-term improvements unlikely.
Artist Ouzin puts the finishing touches on a painting honoring the upcoming visit by U.S. President Barack Obama to Dakar, June 24, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney
In W.’s shadow. President Barack Obama will make his first extended visit to Africa on Wednesday in an attempt to live up to the high precedent set by his predecessors:
Critics of Obama’s Africa policy point to George W. Bush’s program to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa, with an initial commitment of $15 billion over five years when it was launched in 2003. As a result, the United States is credited with directly supporting antiretroviral treatment for more than 4 million people… Before him, Bill Clinton generated enormous goodwill by becoming the first American president to make more than one trip to Africa and for signing the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, which dropped trade restrictions on more than 6,000 exports to America from 35 African countries.
Africans first excited by the prospect of a black U.S. president with Kenyan roots have been disappointed by his lack of engagement with the continent. Now, Obama will try to win over the African public as Nelson Mandela’s ailing health threatens to overshadow the trip. Obama is slated to visit Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania.
Check out more from World Wrap at Reuters dot com.
A Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating girls’ education has been discharged from a British hospital after doctors said she was well enough to spend time recovering with her family.
Fifteen-year-old Malala Yousufzai, who was shot by the Taliban in October and brought to Britain for treatment, was discharged on Thursday but is due to be re-admitted in late January or early February for reconstructive surgery to her skull, doctors said.
The shooting of Yousufzai, in the head at point blank range as she left school in the Swat valley, drew widespread international condemnation.
She has become a an internationally recognized symbol of resistance to the Taliban’s efforts to deny women education and other rights, and more than 250,000 people have signed online petitions calling for her to be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her activism.
Pakistan’s Taliban, one of the world’s most feared militant groups, are preparing for a leadership change that could mean less violence against the state but more attacks against U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, Pakistani military sources said.
Hakimullah Mehsud, a ruthless commander who has led the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for the last three years, has lost operational control of the movement and the trust of his fighters, said a senior Pakistan army official based in the South Waziristan tribal region, the group’s stronghold.
The organization’s more moderate deputy leader, Wali-ur-Rehman, 40, is poised to succeed Mehsud, whose extreme violence has alienated enough of his fighters to significantly weaken him, the military sources told Reuters.
"Rehman is fast emerging as a consensus candidate to formally replace Hakimullah," said the army official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter. "Now we may see the brutal commander replaced by a more pragmatic one for whom reconciliation with the Pakistani government has become a priority."
A Pakistani schoolgirl fighting for her life after being shot by Taliban gunmen was transferred on Thursday from a hospital in a province that is a militant haven to a specialist hospital in the army garrison town of Rawalpindi.
Malala Yousufzai, 14, was unconscious in critical condition after being shot in the head and neck as she left school on Tuesday, but doctors said she had moved her arms and legs slightly the night before.
Pakistani surgeons removed a bullet on Wednesday from Yousufzai who was shot by the Taliban for speaking out against the militants and promoting education for girls.
Her courage made her a national hero. The shooting has drawn condemnation from world leaders and many Pakistanis.
Pakistani surgeons removed a bullet on Wednesday from a 14-year-old girl shot by the Taliban for speaking out against the militants and promoting education for girls, doctors said.
Malala Yousufzai was in critical condition after gunmen shot her in the head and neck on Tuesday as she left school. Two other girls were also wounded.
Yousufzai began standing up to the Pakistani Taliban when she was just 11, when the government had effectively ceded control of the Swat Valley where she lives to the militants.
Her courage made her a national hero and many Pakistanis were shocked by her shooting.
Smoke rises from burning NATO supply trucks in Samangan province, July 18, 2012.
A bomb planted by the Taliban destroyed 22 NATO trucks carrying supplies to their forces in northern Afghanistan, the Taliban and police said on Wednesday. [REUTERS/Stringer]
FULL FOCUS: The best Reuters images from the past 24 hours
Heavy explosions, rockets and gunfire rattled Kabul on Sunday as Afghanistan’s Taliban launched a “spring offensive” with multiple attacks targeting Western embassies, the NATO force’s headquarters and the parliament building.
The assault, one of the most serious on the capital since U.S.-backed Afghan forces removed the Taliban from power in 2001, highlighted the ability of militants to strike the heavily guarded diplomatic zone even after more than 10 years of war.
It was also another election-year setback in Afghanistan for U.S. President Barack Obama, who wants to present the long campaign against the Taliban as a success before the departure of most foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
"These attacks are the beginning of the spring offensive and we had planned them for months," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters.