Posts Tagged international relations

Ankara Rocked By Terrorist Car Bomb

AnkaraAt least 28 people were killed and 61 wounded Wednesday by a car bomb targeting the Turkish military in the heart of the capital Ankara, the latest in a string of attacks to shake the country.

The blast struck a convoy of military service vehicles but it was still not clear who carried it out, said Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, confirming the latest toll.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed retaliation against the perpetrators of the attack, which came on the heels of a spate of deadly strikes in Turkey blamed on jihadists but also on Kurdish rebels.

The car bomb detonated when a convoy of military buses carrying dozens of soldiers stopped at traffic lights in central Ankara, creating scenes of panic and chaos.

“This attack has very clearly targeted our esteemed nation as a whole and was carried out in a vile, dishonourable, treacherous and insidious way,” said Kurtulmus.

Plumes of smoke could be seen from all over the city rising from the scene, close to the headquarters of the Turkish military and the parliament.

The powerful blast was heard throughout Ankara, sending alarmed residents rushing to their balconies. The army said the attack took place at 1631 GMT and had targeted “service vehicles carrying army personnel”.

Without specifying what the retaliation could entail, Erdogan warned that “Turkey will not shy away from using its right to self-defence at any time, any place or any occasion.”

“Our determination to respond in kind to attacks taking place inside and outside our borders is getting stronger,” he said.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu cancelled a planned visit to Brussels on Thursday, his office said. Erdogan also shelved a trip to Azerbaijan.

A mini-summit on Europe’s refugee crisis gathering 11 EU countries and Turkey scheduled for Thursday was cancelled due to Davutoglu’s absence, diplomats said.

In Ankara, ambulances and fire engines were sent to the scene and wounded victims were seen being taken away on stretchers.

Images showed fire-fighters trying to overcome a fierce blaze engulfing wrecked service buses that were gutted by the blast.

Turkish police threw a security cordon around the area. A second blast later rocked the area, but officials said this was police detonating a suspicious package.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance strongly condemned the bombing. “NATO Allies stand shoulder to shoulder in the fight against terrorism,” he said.

French President Francois Hollande denounced the attack as “odious”.

“We are with Turkey and its people in these difficult times,” added EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Kurtulmus acknowledged that “we don’t have any information yet about who carried out this attack” but vowed the perpetrators “will be revealed as soon as possible.”

The Islamic State group has been blamed for a slew of bombings in the country since the middle of last year but the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has also killed dozens of soldiers in attacks mainly in the southeast of the country.

The capital was already on alert after 103 people were killed on October 10 when two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a crowd of peace activists in Ankara, the bloodiest attack in the country’s modern history.

Eleven people, all German tourists, were also killed on January 16 when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the tourist heart of Istanbul.

Those attacks were blamed on IS jihadists, as were two other deadly bombings in the country’s Kurdish-dominated southeast earlier in the year.

But Turkey is also waging an all-out assault on the outlawed PKK which has repeatedly attacked members of the security forces with roadside bombings on their convoys in the southeast.

The PKK launched an insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984, initially fighting for Kurdish independence although now more for greater autonomy and rights for the country’s largest ethnic minority.

The conflict, which has left tens of thousands of people dead, looked like it could be nearing a resolution until an uneasy truce was shattered in July.

Meanwhile, Turkish artillery in southern Turkey shelled positions of Kurdish fighters in Syria for the fifth day in the row on Wednesday in an escalating standoff, reports said.

Turkey says the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) are merely the Syrian branch of the PKK and themselves terror groups.

The banned ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party–Front (DHKP-C) has also staged a string of usually small-scale attacks in Istanbul over the last few months.

 

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Iran Criticises New US Sanctions on Missile Programme

Mideast IranIran criticised new US sanctions on its missile programme on Monday but pushed ahead with international cooperation after its historic nuclear deal.

Washington announced the new sanctions on Sunday, the day after the UN atomic watchdog confirmed that Iran had complied with the measures imposed by the deal with global powers reached in Vienna in July.

World leaders hailed the implementation of the deal, and the subsequent lifting of European and US sanctions, as a milestone in international diplomacy.

But in a sign that tensions persist, the US Treasury announced it was imposing sanctions on five Iranian nationals and a network of companies based in the United Arab Emirates and China in connection with Iran’s ballistic missile programme.

Iran’s foreign ministry on Monday decried the new measures as “illegitimate”, with spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari insisting the missile programme has no links with the nuclear issue.

“Iran’s missile programme has never been designed to be capable of carrying nuclear weapons,” Ansari was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.

He said Iran would respond by “accelerating its legal ballistic missile programme and boosting defence capabilities”.

Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan said the new sanctions would have “no effect”, telling the Fars news agency: “We will prove it in practice by unveiling new missile achievements.”

Cooperation on the nuclear programme was moving forward however, with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano in Tehran for talks with senior officials on Iran’s continued compliance with the deal.

Amano met Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, and was to hold talks with President Hassan Rouhani to discuss monitoring and verifying Iran’s commitments under the agreement.

“We talked about future cooperation, especially in the new atmosphere, and we partially drew the roadmap” for continued efforts, state television quoted Salehi as saying after the talks.

Rouhani on Sunday said the implementation of the nuclear deal, negotiated with the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany had “opened a new chapter” in Iran’s relations with the world.

US President Barack Obama praised the deal as a breakthrough in diplomacy, but noted that “profound differences” with Tehran remained over its “destabilising activities”.

Warming ties between the longtime foes were also in evidence in a weekend prisoner swap that saw Tehran release four Iranian-Americans, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian.

Rezaian, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini and former US Marine Amir Hekmati arrived at a US military base in Germany late on Sunday on their way home from Iran.

A fourth Iranian-American, Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari was also set free but chose not to leave Iran, local media reported.

Under the exchange, Washington said it had granted clemency to seven Iranians, six of whom were dual US-Iranian citizens, and dropped charges against 14 others.

Rouhani, a moderate whose 2013 election victory helped launch the huge diplomatic effort toward the deal, has promised that the lifting of sanctions will give a major boost to Iran’s economy.

Iran will now be able to significantly increase its oil exports, long the lifeblood of its economy.

Concerns that fresh Iranian exports will worsen a supply glut have helped push oil prices to 12-year lows, and they plunged below $28 a barrel early on Monday.

The Vienna agreement was nailed down after two years of negotiations following Rouhani’s election.

It drew a line under a standoff dating back to 2002 marked by failed diplomatic initiatives, ever-tighter sanctions, defiant nuclear expansion by Iran and threats of military action.

The steps taken so far by Tehran extend to at least a year, from a few months previously how long Iran would need to make one nuclear bomb’s worth of fissile material.

They include slashing by two-thirds its uranium centrifuges, reducing its stockpile of uranium enough before the deal for several bombs and removing the core of its Arak reactor, which could have given Iran weapons-grade plutonium.

Iran has always denied wanting nuclear weapons, saying its activities are exclusively for peaceful purposes.

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South Korea resumes propaganda broadcasts into North Korea

South KoreaSouth Korea on Friday resumed high-decibel propaganda broadcasts into North Korea as the United States ramped up pressure on China to bring Pyongyang to heel after its latest nuclear test.

While North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un celebrated his 32nd birthday, the international community scrambled to find common ground on how best to penalise his regime following its shock announcement two days ago that it had successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb.

The cross-border broadcasts blare out an eclectic mix of everything from K-pop and weather forecasts to snippets of news and critiques of the North Korean regime.

Among the songs on Friday’s playlist was “Bang, Bang, Bang” a recent hit by A-list K-pop boy band, Big Bang.

Their resumption revives psychological warfare tactics that date back to the 1950-53 Korean War. But they can be remarkably effective.

Their use during a dangerous flare-up in cross-border tensions last year infuriated Pyongyang, which at one point threatened artillery strikes against the loudspeaker units unless they were switched off.

The South finally pulled the plug after an agreement was reached in August to de-escalate a situation that had brought the two rivals to the brink of an armed conflict.

Now they are back punishment for Wednesday’s surprise nuclear test, which triggered global condemnation and concern, despite expert opinion that the yield was far too low to support the North’s claim that the device was an H-bomb.

The test set off a diplomatic frenzy as the UN Security Council met to discuss possible sanctions and world leaders sought to build a consensus on an appropriate response to such a grave violation of UN resolutions.

Most eyes were on North Korea’s main ally, China, which condemned the test but gave no signal that it was ready to approve a significant tightening of sanctions on its recalcitrant neighbour.

In a phone call with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Thursday, US Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that Beijing’s softly-softly line had failed and it was time to take a tougher stance with Pyongyang.

“China had a particular approach that it wanted to make and we agreed and gave them time to implement that,” Kerry told reporters.

“But today in my conversation with the Chinese I made it very clear that that has not worked and we cannot continue business as usual.”

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond delivered a similar message during a visit to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, docked at the Yokosuka Naval Base southwest of Tokyo.

“Continuing with words is not enough, we have to show we are prepared to take actions to ensure sanctions against North Korea are effective,” Hammond said.

While Beijing has restrained US-led allies from stronger action against Pyongyang in the past, it has shown increasing frustration with its refusal to suspend testing.

But China’s leverage over Pyongyang is mitigated, analysts say, by its overriding fear of a North Korean collapse and the prospect of a reunified, US-allied Korea directly on its border.

And Beijing has resisted being tagged as the only country that can influence events in Pyongyang, insisting that North Korea is a common problem for a host of countries.

“We all know how the Korean nuclear issue came into being and where the crux lies. It’s not on the Chinese side,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Friday.

On Thursday, US President Barack Obama also spoke with the leaders of the two main US allies in Asia and North Korean neighbours South Korea and Japan.

The three countries, who have long sought to project a united front against the North Korean nuclear threat, agreed to work together at the United Nations to secure the strongest possible Security Council resolution.

North Korea, meanwhile, has said virtually nothing since its TV broadcast at noon Wednesday announcing the “world startling event” of its latest test.

The test, personally ordered by leader Kim Jong-Un, was of a miniaturised H-bomb, Pyongyang said, adding that it had now joined the ranks of “advanced nuclear nations”.

The detonation came two days before Kim’s birthday which passed Friday with no special mention in the state media, although the timing of the test was clearly aimed at burnishing his leadership credentials.

 

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North Korea’s Claims Successful Testing of Miniaturised Hydrogen bomb

North Korea

North Korea said it successfully tested a miniaturised hydrogen nuclear device on Wednesday, claiming a significant advance in its strike capability and setting off alarm bells in Japan and South Korea.

The test, the fourth time the isolated state has exploded a nuclear device, was ordered by young leader Kim Jong Un and successfully conducted at 10:00 a.m. local time, North Korea’s official KCNA news agency said.

“Let the world look up to the strong, self-reliant nuclear-armed state,” Kim wrote in what North Korean state TV displayed as a handwritten note.

The nuclear test drew condemnation abroad, with China, the North’s chief ally, expressing “resolute opposition” and saying it would lodge a protest with Pyongyang.

While a fourth nuclear test had been long expected, the claim that it was a hydrogen device, much more powerful than an atomic bomb, came as a surprise, as did the timing. It ensures that North Korea will be a key topic during the U.S. presidential campaign.

North Korea has long coveted diplomatic recognition from Washington but sees its nuclear deterrent as crucial to ensuring the survival of its third-generation dictatorship.

“With Iran being off the table, the North Koreans have placed themselves at the top of the foreign policy agenda as far as nation-states who present a threat to the U.S.”, said Michael Madden, an expert on the country’s secretive leadership.

South Korean intelligence officials and several analysts however questioned whether Wednesday’s explosion was indeed a full-fledged test of a hydrogen device.

The device had a yield of about 6 kilotons, according to the office of a South Korean lawmaker on the parliamentary intelligence committee – roughly the same size as the North’s last test, which was equivalent to 6-7 kilotons of TNT.

“Given the scale, it is hard to believe this is a real hydrogen bomb,” said Yang Uk, a senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum.

“They could have tested some middle stage kind (of device) between an A-bomb and H-bomb, but unless they come up with any clear evidence, it is difficult to trust their claim.”

Joe Cirincione, a nuclear expert who is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security organization, said North Korea may have mixed a hydrogen isotope in a normal atomic fission bomb.

“Because it is, in fact, hydrogen, they could claim it is a hydrogen bomb,” he said. “But it is not a true fusion bomb capable of the massive multi-megaton yields these bombs produce”.

The United States Geological Survey reported a 5.1 magnitude quake that South Korea said was 49 km (30 miles) from the Punggye-ri site where the North has conducted nuclear tests in the past.

North Korea’s last test of an atomic device, in 2013, also registered at 5.1 on the USGS scale.

The test nevertheless may mark an advance of North Korea’s nuclear technology. The claim of miniaturising, which would allow the device to be adapted as a weapon and placed on a missile, would also pose a new threat to the United States and its regional allies, Japan and South Korea.

The North’s previous miniaturisation claims have not been independently verified. Many experts also doubt whether the North possesses missile technology capable of reliably delivering a warhead to the continental United States.

The White House said it could not confirm North Korea’s claims of miniaturisation and a hydrogen bomb test, but added the United States would respond appropriately to provocations and defend its allies.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Japan would make a firm response to North Korea’s challenge against nuclear non-proliferation.

“North Korea’s nuclear test is a serious threat to our nation’s security and we absolutely cannot tolerate it,” Abe told reporters. “We strongly denounce it.”

South Korea said it would take all possible measures, including possible United Nations sanctions, to ensure Pyongyang paid the price after its fourth nuclear test.

“The government must now work closely with the international community to ensure that North Korea pays the commensurate price for the latest nuclear test,” President Park Geun-hye said in a statement. “We must respond decisively through measures such as strong international sanctions.”

North Korea has been under U.N. Security Council sanctions since it first tested an atomic device in 2006 and could face additional measures. The Security Council will meet later on Wednesday to discuss what steps it could take, diplomats said.

While the Kim regime boasts of its military might to project strength globally, it also plays up the need to defend itself from external threats as a way to maintain control domestically.

The North’s state news agency said it will not give up its nuclear program as long as the United States maintained what it called “its stance of aggression”.

The nuclear test came two days ahead of what is believed to be Kim’s birthday.

The North called the device the “H-bomb of justice” and said: “The U.S. is a gang of cruel robbers which has worked hard to bring even a nuclear disaster to the DPRK,” using the official acronym for North Korea.

However, the agency said Pyongyang will act as a responsible nuclear state and vowed not to use its nuclear weapons unless its sovereignty was infringed. It said it will not transfer its nuclear capabilities to other parties.

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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Promises Saudi Arabian Retribution Over Clerics Executions

Ayatollah Ali KhameneiIranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, attacking Saudi Arabia for the second straight day over its execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric, said on Sunday politicians in the Sunni kingdom would face divine retribution for his death.

“The unjustly spilled blood of this oppressed martyr will no doubt soon show its effect and divine vengeance will befall Saudi politicians,” state TV reported Khamenei as saying. It said he described the execution as a “political error”.

Saudi Arabia executed Nimr al-Nimr and three other Shi’ites alongside dozens of al Qaeda members on Saturday, signalling it would not tolerate attacks by either Sunni jihadists or members of the Shi’ite minority seeking equality.

Khamenei added: “This oppressed cleric did not encourage people to join an armed movement, nor did he engage in secret plotting, and he only voiced public criticism … based on religious fervour.”

In an apparent swipe at Saudi Arabia’s Western allies, Khamenei criticised “the silence of the supposed backers of freedom, democracy and human rights” over the execution.

“Why are those who claim to support human rights quiet? Why do those who claim to back freedom and democracy support this (Saudi) government?” Khamenei was quoted as saying.

While Western human rights groups have condemned the executions, Western government responses have so far been muted.

The U.S. State Department expressed concern that Nimr’s execution could exacerbate sectarian tensions in the Middle East. In Hawaii, where President Barack Obama is on vacation with his family, White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the administration has urged the Saudis to show restraint regarding respect for human rights.

 

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Merkel Rebukes U.S. Over Request For Bigger Military Contribution

MerkelChancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday brushed off what a Germany magazine said was a request from the United States to provide more military help in the fight against Islamic State.

“I believe Germany is fulfilling its part and we don’t need to talk about new issues related to this question at the moment,” Merkel told the ZDF broadcaster when asked about the Der Spiegel magazine report of the U.S. request.

Der Spiegel reported on Saturday that U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter had sent a letter asking for a bigger military contribution from Germany, a week after parliament approved a plan to join the campaign in Syria.

A German Defense Ministry spokesman confirmed a letter had been received from the United States and its content was under consideration, giving no further details.

Der Spiegel said the letter did not make specific demands and was similar to requests sent to other U.S. partners.

Germany’s mission includes six Tornado reconnaissance jets, a frigate to protect the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, refueling aircraft and up to 1,200 troops.

The deployment is a direct response to a French appeal for solidarity after militant attacks in Paris killed 130 people. Germany does not plan to carry out air strikes in Syria.

Germany has over the past two years shown a growing readiness to commit troops to foreign missions.

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said last week Germany might need bigger armed forces to cope with the more assertive role.

More than 3,000 personnel are currently deployed overseas and the Syria mission will raise that by up to 1,200. Von der Leyen also wants to send 650 troops to Mali to help the French campaign against Islamist militants there.

Germany last year started arming Iraqi Kurds fighting Islamic State.

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Al-Assad Says British Airstrikes Will Fail Against ISIS

Al AssadBritish airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State group are illegal and doomed to fail, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in remarks published Sunday.

Assad said in an interview with Britain’s Sunday Times that IS cannot be defeated with airstrikes alone unless there is coordination with forces on the ground. His comments were carried by Syrian state news agency SANA on Sunday.

British warplanes began launching airstrikes in Syria on Thursday, hours after Parliament voted to authorize air attacks against IS targets there.

Assad has said the only airstrikes that have worked against IS are those carried out by Russia, which is cooperating with Syrian government forces. Syrian troops have captured areas from IS since Moscow began its air campaign on Sept. 30.

Assad mocked British Prime Minister David Cameron’s claims that there are 70,000 moderate Syrian rebels on the ground.

“Let me be frank and blunt about this. This is a new episode in a long series of David Cameron’s classical farce, to be very frank. This is not acceptable. Where are they? Where are the 70,000 thousand moderates that he is talking about?” Assad asked.

“That is what they always talk about: moderate groups in Syria. This is a farce based on offering the public factoids instead of facts,” Assad said in the interview, which was conducted before the British Parliament authorized the attacks.

Speaking about the British airstrikes, Assad said they “will be harmful and illegal, and it will support terrorism as what happened after the coalition started its operation.” Assad was referring to the U.S.-led coalition that began launching airstrikes against IS in Syria in September 2014. IS has lost territory in northern and central Syria since those strikes began, while expanding into other parts of the country.

“This is like a cancer. You cannot cut the cancer. You have to extract it,” Assad said.

He said next week’s meeting of Syrian opposition and rebel groups in Saudi Arabia ahead of peace talks with the government “will not change anything on the ground.”

“Before the meeting and after the meeting Saudi Arabia has been supporting terrorists and will continue to do so,” said Assad, whose government refers to all the armed opposition as “terrorists.”

Saudi Arabia has been one of the strongest backers of groups trying to remove Assad from power since the conflict began in March 2011, while its archrival Iran has provided key support to his government.

Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Assad is “Iran’s red line.” His comments were broadcast on state TV Sunday.

“Iran has no intention to leave Assad alone,” he added

 

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