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BVT News Roundup 20 January 2014.

(Photo: Robert Michael / AFP-Getty via NY Daily News)

BVT News Roundup 5 January 2014.

Evening News Wrap 17 December 2013.

Evening News Wrap 13 December 2013

(Photo: Reemabouregeilah / Twitter via Mashable)

The United States and five other world powers announced a landmark accord Sunday morning that would temporarily freeze Iran’s nuclear program and lay the foundation for a more sweeping agreement.

It was the first time in nearly a decade, American officials said, that an international agreement had been reached to halt much of Iran’s nuclear program and roll some elements of it back.

The aim of the accord, which is to last six months, is to give international negotiators time to pursue a more comprehensive pact that would ratchet back much of Iran’s nuclear program and ensure that it could be used only for peaceful purposes.

Shortly after the agreement was signed at 3 a.m. in the Palace of Nations in Geneva, President Obama, speaking from the State Dining Room in the White House, hailed it as the most “significant and tangible” progress of a diplomatic campaign that began when he took office.

“Today, that diplomacy opened up a new path toward a world that is more secure,” he said, “a future in which we can verify that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful and that it cannot build a nuclear weapon.”

In Geneva, the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said he hoped the agreement would lead to a “restoration” of trust between Iran and the United States. Smiling and avuncular, he reiterated Iran’s longstanding assertion that its nuclear program was peaceful, adding that the Iranian people deserved respect from the West.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who flew to Geneva early Saturday for the second time in two weeks in an effort to complete the deal, said it would “require Iran to prove the peaceful nature of its nuclear program.”

Iran, which has long resisted international monitoring efforts and built clandestine nuclear facilities, agreed to stop enriching uranium beyond 5 percent, a level that would be sufficient for energy production but that would require further enrichment for bomb-making. To make good on that pledge, Iran will dismantle links between networks of centrifuges.

Its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent, a short hop from weapons-grade fuel, would be diluted or converted into oxide so that it could not be readily used for military purposes. Iran agreed that it would not install any new centrifuges, start up any that are not already operating or build new enrichment facilities.

The agreement, however, does not require Iran to stop enriching uranium to a low level of 3.5 percent, or to dismantle any of its existing centrifuges.

The accord was a disappointment for Israel, which had urged the United States to pursue a stronger agreement that would lead to a complete end to Iran’s enrichment program. But Iran made it clear that continuing enrichment was a prerequisite for any agreement.

The United States did not accept Iran’s claim that it had a “right to enrich” under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But American officials signaled last week that they were open to a compromise in which the two sides would essentially agree to disagree on how the proliferation treaty should be interpreted, while Tehran continued to enrich.

The New York Times, "Accord Reached With Iran to Halt Nuclear Program"

Afternoon News Read 19 November 2013.

In Moscow, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said Monday that Russia would join any effort to put Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons under international control and ultimate to destroy them, welcoming a suggestion made by Secretary of State John Kerry in London.

Mr. Lavrov appeared at a previously unscheduled briefing only hours after Mr. Kerry made his statement in London. Although Mr. Kerry appeared to treat the idea that Syria would give up its stockpile as improbable, and there was no sense that he was searching for a political settlement, Mr. Lavrov seized on his comment as a possible compromise that Russia was prepared to propose to the Syrians.

“We don’t know whether Syria will agree with this, but if the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in the country will prevent attacks, then we will immediately begin work with Damascus,” he said at the Foreign Ministry. “And we call on the Syrian leadership to not only agree to setting the chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also to their subsequent destruction.”

Mr. Lavrov met Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, here in Moscow only moments before Mr. Kerry spoke in London, and during a joint appearance at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, both ministers excoriated the United States for rushing to launch military strikes. The shift in tone between Mr. Lavrov’s two appearances was striking.

Mr. Lavrov said he made the proposal to put Syria’s weapons under international control directly to Mr. Moallem, but it was not immediately clear how the Syrian government might respond. Mr. Lavrov went into more detail than Mr. Kerry’s suggestion — which his own spokeswoman described as a rhetorical exercise rather than a proposal. He said Russia was proposing that Syria join the international Convention on Chemical Weapons, which bars the manufacture, stockpiling and use of poison gas. Syria is one of seven nations that have not signed the treaty, the others being Angola, Egypt, Israel, Myanmar, North Korea and South Sudan.

The New York Times, "Lavrov Urges Syria to Hand Over Chemical Arsenal."

This is an important development.

Also: look at that list of countries.

“When people are asked, do you want to go to war in Syria? Of course not. Everybody, one hundred percent of Americans would say no. We say no. We don’t want to go to war in Syria either. That’s not what we’re here to ask. The president is not asking you to go to war, he’s not asking you to declare war, he’s not asking you to send one American troop to war. He is simply saying we need to take an action that can degrade the capacity of a man who’s been willing to kill his own people by breaking a nearly 100-year-old prohibition (against chemical weapons), and will we stand up and be counted to say we won’t do that. That’s not–you know, I just don’t consider that going to war in the classic sense of coming to Congress and asking for a declaration of war and training troops and sending people abroad and putting young Americans in harm’s way. That’s not what the president is asking for here.”

U.S. Secretary of State JOHN KERRY, answering GOP Senator Rand Paul’s question about whether Americans want to go to “war” in Syria during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Rand Paul is an oddly-coiffed, ignorant jackass, and glad John Kerry put him in his place today.

We’re not going to war.  Period.

(via Mediaite)

“How do you sleep at night, Mr. Ja’afari, defending an administration that has caused so much bloodshed?”

CNN’s CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, to Bashar Ja’afari, Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, after detailing the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime over the past two-and-a-half years — and that Syria was kicked out of the Arab League for the use of such weapons.

He did not answer the question.

"Dear United Nations: You’re calling for peace.  What kind of peace are you calling for?  Don’t you see this?  Don’t you see this?  What do you need to see?  We are just human beings.  We want to live.  Isn’t it our right to live?

Isn’t it?”

Notes from Secretary of State John Kerry’s press announcement.

  • Evidence is clear that chemical weapons were used by Assad regime.  ”Read for yourself the verdict” that our intelligence community has collected.
  • We are “more than mindful of the Iraq experience.  We will not repeat that moment.”
  • On the intel: “Some of what we know will only be released to members of Congress” and “we can’t talk about it publicly.”
  • "We know that the Assad regime has the largest chemical weapons program in the Middle East."  U.S. knows that they have used them in the past, and that it intended to use them against opposition in the Damascus suburbs.  
  • 1,000 separate reports in the Damascus suburbs of symptoms among civilians of chemical gas attacks, reported by “ordinary Syrian citizens.”
  • "This is what Assad did to his own people."
  • "We know that a senior regime official who knew about the attack confirmed that chemical weapons were used by the (Assad) regime."
  • Kerry called Syria’s foreign minister and implored them to allow UN inspectors to seek evidence; it took four days for Syria to let this happen, and only after Assad’s forces had “shelled” the neighborhoods “at a rate four times” greater than other previous offensives to “destroy the evidence.”
  • At least 1,429 Syrians were killed by gas attacks — 426 of them children.
  • "Our choice today has great consequences. …It matters today that we are working as an international community to rid the world" of these types of weapons.
  • "It matters to our security and the security of our allies," to Israel, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, who are just a "stiff wind" away from Syria.
  • "It matters because a lot of other countries whose policies challenge these norms are watching. …It is directly related to our credibility… They are watching to see if Syria can get away with it" so they too can use similar weapons.
  • "It matters because if we choose to live in a world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad" can use these weapons "with impunity" others will feel "emboldened," citing terrorist groups like Hezbollah.
  • "Our concern is not just about some far-off land oceans away… Our concern is with the defenseless people of Syria."
  • "This crime against conscience, this crime against humanity… this matters to us, and it matters to who we are."
  • "My friends, it matters here if nothing is done."
  • "The Arab League pledged, quote, to hold the Assad regime accountable."  Cites Turkey, French statements condemning Assad’s use of chemical gas.
  • "We believe in the United Nations" and the inspectors who "endured obstruction and gunfire," points out that "The U.N. cannot tell us anything" that we haven’t already "presented to you this afternoon."
  • "The American people are tired of war.  Believe me: I am too."  But "fatigue does not absolve us" from taking action.
  • Our action in Syria “will not resemble what happened in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Syria” or involve “boots on the ground.”

So, judging by this, we can expect the U.S. to carry out a military strike any moment now.  — Ed.

Morning News Read 28 August 2013

What we saw in Syria last week should shock the conscience of the world. It defies any code of morality. Let me be clear: The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders, by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity. By any standard it is inexcusable, and despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.

The meaning of this attack goes beyond the conflict in Syria itself, and that conflict has already brought so much terrible suffering. This is about the large-scale, indiscriminate use of weapons that the civilized world long ago decided must never be used at all – a conviction shared even by countries that agree on little else. There is a clear reason that the world has banned entirely the use of chemical weapons. There is a reason the international community has set a clear standard and why many countries have taken major steps to eradicate these weapons. There is a reason why President Obama has made it such a priority to stop the proliferation of these weapons and lock them down where they do exist. There is a reason why President Obama has made clear to the Assad regime that this international norm cannot be violated without consequences. And there is a reason why no matter what you believe about Syria, all peoples and all nations who believe in the cause of our common humanity must stand up to assure that there is accountability for the use of chemical weapons so that it never happens again.

Last night after speaking with foreign ministers from around the world about the gravity of this situation, I went back and I watched the videos, the videos that anybody can watch in the social media, and I watched them one more gut-wrenching time. It is really hard to express in words the human suffering that they lay out before us. As a father, I can’t get the image out of my head of a man who held up his dead child, wailing while chaos swirled around him; the images of entire families dead in their beds without a drop of blood or even a visible wound; bodies contorting in spasms; human suffering that we can never ignore or forget. Anyone who can claim that an attack of this staggering scale could be contrived or fabricated needs to check their conscience and their own moral compass.

What is before us today is real, and it is compelling. So I also want to underscore that while investigators are gathering additional evidence on the ground, our understanding of what has already happened in Syria is grounded in facts informed by conscience and guided by common sense. The reported number of victims, the reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, the firsthand accounts from humanitarian organizations on the ground like Doctors Without Borders and the Syria Human Rights Commission – these all strongly indicate that everything these images are already screaming at us is real, that chemical weapons were used in Syria.

Moreover, we know that the Syrian regime maintains custody of these chemical weapons. We know that the Syrian regime has the capacity to do this with rockets. We know that the regime has been determined to clear the opposition from those very places where the attacks took place. And with our own eyes, we have all of us become witnesses.

We have additional information about this attack, and that information is being compiled and reviewed together with our partners, and we will provide that information in the days ahead.

Our sense of basic humanity is offended not only by this cowardly crime but also by the cynical attempt to cover it up. At every turn, the Syrian regime has failed to cooperate with the UN investigation, using it only to stall and to stymie the important effort to bring to light what happened in Damascus in the dead of night. And as Ban Ki-moon said last week, the UN investigation will not determine who used these chemical weapons, only whether such weapons were used – a judgment that is already clear to the world.

I spoke on Thursday with Syrian Foreign Minister Muallim and I made it very clear to him that if the regime, as he argued, had nothing to hide, then their response should be immediate – immediate transparency, immediate access – not shelling. Their response needed to be unrestricted and immediate access. Failure to permit that, I told him, would tell its own story.

Instead, for five days, the Syrian regime refused to allow the UN investigators access to the site of the attack that would allegedly exonerate them. Instead, it attacked the area further, shelling it and systematically destroying evidence. That is not the behavior of a government that has nothing to hide. That is not the action of a regime eager to prove to the world that it had not used chemical weapons. In fact, the regime’s belated decision to allow access is too late, and it’s too late to be credible. Today’s reports of an attack on the UN investigators, together with the continued shelling of these very neighborhoods, only further weakens the regime’s credibility.

At President Obama’s direction, I’ve spent many hours over the last few days on the phone with foreign ministers and other leaders. The Administration is actively consulting with members of Congress and we will continue to have these conversations in the days ahead. President Obama has also been in close touch with the leaders of our key allies, and the President will be making an informed decision about how to respond to this indiscriminate use of chemical weapons. But make no mistake: President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people. Nothing today is more serious and nothing is receiving more serious scrutiny.

United States Secretary of State JOHN KERRY.

Gauntlet thrown down.