• Pope Francis urges Iran’s president to promote peace in Middle East

    26/Jan/2016 // 194 Viewers

     

    (AFP) -  Pope Francis on Tuesday urged Iran to back peace efforts in the Middle East as the Islamic Republic's emergence from international isolation took a significant step forward with President Hassan Rouhani's first visit to the Vatican.

    Fresh from securing the lifting of international sanctions imposed over Iran's nuclear programme, Rouhani spent 40 minutes at the Vatican talking privately to Pope Francis, a strong backer of the deal with Tehran.

    In a statement afterwards, the Vatican said Francis had urged the Iranian leader to use Iran's important role to promote, together with other countries, "adequate political solutions" to the problems afflicting the region and to help combat terrorism and arms trafficking.

    "I thank you for your visit and I hope for peace," Francis told his guest at the end of their meeting, when journalists were briefly allowed to listen in.

    A smiling Rouhani, who presented the pope with a hand-made carpet from the ancient city of Qom, replied with one of Francis's catchphrases.

    "I ask you to pray for me," he said. "It was a pleasure to meet you and I wish you well in your work."

    In return for his gift, Rouhani was given a medal depicting St Martin cutting his cloak in half to give to a poorly clothed beggar.

    The Iranian leader also went away with English and Arabic versions of Francis's extended essay on the environmental challenges faced by the world. "Laudato Si" (Praise Be) has not been translated into Farsi.

    It was the first official visit to the Vatican by an Iranian president since Mohammad Khatami was hosted by John Paul II in 1999. Khatami also attended the Polish pope's funeral in 2005.

    Rouhani is on a five-day trip to Italy and France looking to drum up trade and investment to modernise Iran's economy, partly by pitching the country as a beacon of stability in a conflict-wracked region.

    Safe and stable

    Speaking to an audience of Italian and Iranian business leaders earlier in the day, Rouhani also portrayed Iran as the ideal base for companies seeking a foothold in a region of 300 million people, reassuring would-be investors their contracts would be honoured.

    "Iran is the safest, the most stable country in the entire region," Rouhani said.

    "Everyone understood that the nuclear negotiations represented a win-win situation for both sides.

    "Now we have created the conditions for investment and for the transfer of know-how. There has to be an advantage for both sides: we invite you to invest and we will provide stability and ensure that you can make adequate returns."

    He emphasised that all sections of Iran's often-divided political class, right up to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, were firmly behind the post-sanctions drive to secure the trade and investment needed to create new roads, rail links, airports and other infrastructure.

    Rouhani outlined a vision of Iran being transformed into a hub for intra-regional economic development, linking the Middle East to South and Central Asia and even the Western fringes of China.

    "Do not regard us as just one country but as a country at the centre of a much larger market," Rouhani said, citing the example of the port of Chabahar on Iran's southern coast.

    Iran is seeking international investment to help complete a port which will provide a gateway for Indian companies seeking to do business in Afghanistan and Central Asia, as well as in Iran.

    Rouhani also pledged that Tehran would do nothing to jeopordise its stability and said economic growth could help beat terrorism in the region.

    "We have no intention of attacking or invading any other country. We have no intention of interfering in the affairs of any other country," he said.

    "A lack of development creates the conditions for extremism, unemployment recruits soldiers for terrorism."

     

     

    (AFP)


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  • North Korea warns of strike on Seoul's presidential palace

    26/Mar/2016 // 202 Viewers

     

    PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — North Korea warned Saturday that its military is ready to attack Seoul's presidential palace unless South Korean President Park Geun-hye apologizes for "treason" and publicly executes officials responsible for what Pyongyang says are plans to attack its leadership

    The warning, issued by state media in the name of a unit of the Korean People's Army, is the latest in a barrage of threats against Washington and Seoul over joint military drills now underway that the North sees as a dress rehearsal for invasion. It also came shortly after a North Korean propaganda outlet posted a video depicting a nuclear attack on Washington, D.C.

    The joint military exercises are held annually, but tensions are particularly high this year because the drills are bigger than ever and come on the heels of North Korea's recent nuclear test and rocket launch. Further angering Pyongyang have been reports in South Korean media that this year's exercises include simulated training for a "decapitation strike" targeting North Korea's top leaders.

    The warning Saturday said the South Korean presidential palace is within striking range of the North's artillery units, and that if an order to attack is made it is "just a click away."

    North Korea is believed to have artillery capable of striking Seoul with little or no warning and causing severe damage and casualties in the city of 10 million. A strike on Seoul, however, is highly unlikely, and Pyongyang has previously issued similar threats without following through.

    There were few signs Saturday of the heightened tensions in Pyongyang, where residents went about their daily routines as usual.

    Earlier on Saturday, the North Korean propaganda website DPRK Today posted a video depicting a nuclear attack on Washington.

    The four-minute video, titled "Last Chance," showed a digitally created scene of a missile fired from a submerged vessel in the sea soaring through the clouds, darting back to Earth, and crashing into the streets near Washington's Lincoln Memorial before the explosion wipes out the city.

    "Choose, United States. Whether the country called the United States continues to exist on this planet depends on your choice," read a message that flashed on the screen to the background of a burning U.S. Capitol building and American flag. The video also warned that the North would "not hesitate" to attack the United States with its nuclear weapons if "American imperialists even make the slightest move against us."

    A similar video got a great deal of attention in 2013, when North Korea also conducted a nuclear test and satellite launch.

    North Korea has been developing its nuclear weapons and missile capabilities, but is not believed to have perfected either enough to pose a credible threat to major U.S. cities.


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  • Pakistan, India and Afghanistan rocked by powerful earthquake

    26/Oct/2015 // 88 Viewers

    A major earthquake struck northeastern Afghanistan on Monday, shaking the capital Kabul and sending shockwaves that were felt in north India and Pakistan.

    The quake was 196 km (120 miles) deep and centred 82 km (51 miles) southeast of Feyzabad in a remote area of Afghanistan in the Hindu Kush mountain range.

    The USGS initially measured the quake’s intensity at 7.7 then revised it down to 7.6 and later to 7.5.

    There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries, but buildings shook violently in Kabul and tremors were felt across northwestern Pakistan and its central Punjab province.

    Buildings shook for well over a minute in the Indian capital, New Delhi, sending office workers scurrying onto the streets.

    The earthquake struck almost exactly six months after Nepal suffered its worst quake on record, on April 24. Including the toll from a major aftershock in May, 9,000 people lost their lives and damaging or destroying 900,000 homes.

    The mountainous region is a seismically active region, with earthquakes the result of the Indian subcontinent driving into and under the Eurasian landmass. Such tectonic shifts can cause enormous and destructive releases of energy.

    A 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck northern Pakistan just over a decade ago, on Oct. 8, 2005, killing about 75,000 people.

    (REUTERS with DailyGlobeWatch)


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  • Indonesia sends three warships to help with haze

    26/Oct/2015 // 94 Viewers

    AFP | Two of three Indonesian warships at anchor at Trisakti port in Banjarmasin, on Indonesia's South Kalimantan, on October 26, 2015

     

    JAKARTA (AFP) - 

    Indonesia has deployed three warships, with more on standby, to deliver face masks, tents and medical supplies to thousands of people affected by acrid haze from forest fires, an official said Monday.

    For nearly two months, thousands of fires caused by slash-and-burn farming in Indonesia have choked vast expanses of Southeast Asia, forcing schools to close and scores of flights and some international events to be cancelled.

    Three warships have arrived in Kalimantan -- Indonesia's half of Borneo and one of the worst affected regions -- bringing much needed medical staff, shelters, cooking stoves and protective masks.

    Indonesian military spokesman Tatang Sulaiman said the plan was to build temporary shelters with air purifiers and beds away from haze-plagued cities, but the ships could also act as evacuation centres if needed.

    "Our warships are ready to evacuate residents, whether to these temporary shelters or even on board. We are prepared for that," he told AFP.

    "Those who will be evacuated first will be children and those suffering from chronic respiratory illnesses."

    Three more ships are stocked and ready to leave for either Kalimantan or South Sumatra, while another five could be pressed into service later if needed, he added.

    The government has deployed around 30 aircraft to fight the fires and for cloud seeding, with 22,000 troops on the ground to combat the blazes, which are among the worst in decades.

    Indonesia's disaster agency say the fires from slash-and-burn farming in Kalimantan and neighbouring Sumatra have killed 10 people so far, some of whom died while fighting the blazes and others from the pollution.

    The agency estimated at least half a million people have suffered from respiratory illness since the fires started in July and 43 million people have been affected in the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.


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  • Earthquakes

    26/Oct/2015 // 74 Viewers

    AFP / by Stéphane Koguc, Marian Henbest

     

    JURM (AFGHANISTAN) (AFP) - 

    A powerful 7.5 magnitude killed at least 70 people as it rocked south Asia on Monday, including 12 Afghan girls who were crushed to death in a stampede as they tried to flee their collapsing school. VIDEOGRAPHIC

    by Stéphane Koguc, Marian Henbest


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  • S. Korea's Park says North ready for nuclear test

    27/Apr/2016 // 502 Viewers

     

    Seoul (AFP) - North Korea is ready to carry out a fifth nuclear test and could press the button at any time, South Korea's president said Tuesday, amid reports Pyongyang has readied a powerful, new mid-range missile for an imminent flight test.

    Concern has been growing for weeks that the North is building up to another nuclear experiment ahead of a rare, ruling party congress to be held early next month.

    "We assess that they have completed preparations for a fifth nuclear test and can conduct it whenever they decide to," President Park Geun-Hye said during a meeting with local media.

    If North Korea does go ahead, it would constitute a dramatic act of defiance in the face of tough UN sanctions imposed after its most recent nuclear test in January.

    Some analysts have suggested that, by carrying out a fifth test so soon after the fourth, the North might hope to avoid a heavy package of additional sanctions -- but Park insisted that the international community's response would be swift and severe.

    "Although the current sanctions are strong, we can impose even stronger sanctions that fill up any holes," the president said.

    - Grave 'miscalculation' -

    "North Korea's miscalculation is that by ignoring warnings from the international community and continuing to launch provocations, it will not defend its security, but only speed up its own collapse," she added.

    In recent months the North has claimed a series of major technical breakthroughs in developing what it sees as the ultimate goal of its nuclear weapons programme -- an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to targets across the continental United States.

    These have included success in miniaturising a nuclear device to fit on a missile, developing a warhead that can withstand atmospheric re-entry, and building a solid-fuel missile engine.

    Earlier this month, leader Kim Jong-Un monitored the test of an engine specifically designed for an ICBM that he said would "guarantee" an eventual strike on the US mainland.

    The South's Yonhap news agency on Tuesday quoted unidentified government sources as saying the North had readied a medium-range Musudan missile for an imminent test launch.

    Existing UN resolutions forbid North Korea from the use of any ballistic missile-related technology.

    The Musudan is believed to have an estimated range of anywhere between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometres (1,550 to 2,500 miles). The lower range covers the whole of South Korea and Japan, while the upper range would include US military bases on Guam.

    The missile has never been successfully flight-tested.

    A test firing on April 15 ended in what the Pentagon described as "fiery, catastrophic" failure -- apparently exploding seconds after launch.

    According to the Yonhap sources, North Korea had prepared two Musudans for the test, but the second launch was called off after the first failed.

    "The remaining missile now appears to be standing by for launch," one of the sources said


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  • Watch Video: Man who claims he is the world's oldest at age 145 says he is ready to die

    27/Aug/2016 // 585 Viewers

     

    PARIS, AUGUST 27, 2016: (DGW) World's oldest man, Indonesian, aged 145 , said he is now ready to go the way of all flesh having outlived his generation.

    In an interview with The Telegraph, he recounted all he has been through and survived many natural disasters that rocked his native country of Indonesia which claimed so many lives.

    According to documentation recognised by Indonesian officials, Mbah Gotho is 145 and was born on 31st December 1870.

    He has not surprisingly outlived all 10 of his siblings as well as his four wives, the last of whom died in 1988.

    All of his children have also died, and now he is survived by his grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren.

    If correct, that makes him significantly older than the verified oldest person in the world ever, a title that belongs to French woman Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122.
    The super senior citizen from Sragen, Central Java, was interviewed by Liputan 6 television news,
    He said he has been through it all and would not mind passing on.

    'What I want is to die. My grandchildren are all independent,' he told Liputan 6 on Tuesday.

    Suryanto, Mbah Gotho's grandson, said his grandfather has been preparing for his death ever since he was 122, but it never seemed to come.

    Watch the video below: 



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  • S. Korean Navy Fires Warning Shots to Repel N. Korean Boats - ABC News

    27/May/2016 // 619 Viewers

     

    South Korea's navy on Friday fired warning shots to chase away two North Korean ships after they briefly crossed a disputed western sea boundary, Seoul defense officials said.

    The North Korean ships — one military vessel and the other a fishing boat — were in South Korean-controlled waters for less than 10 minutes Friday morning before they retreated, the officials said requesting anonymity citing department rules.

    They said a South Korean navy ship fired five rounds of warning shots after broadcasting a warning. There were no reports of injuries and damage to the ships of either side.

    This kind of incident isn't unusual, as North Korea doesn't recognize the boundary drawn unilaterally by the American-led U.N. command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. In February, South Korea also fired several rounds of warning shots as a North Korean patrol boat moved south of the boundary but no clash occurred either.

    The two Koreas fought three bloody naval skirmishes in the area since 1999. Fishing boats from the Koreas also jostle for positions in the waters teeming with crab and other seafood, especially in the April-June season.

    Friday's incident happened as North Korea is stepping up pressure on South Korea to accept its calls to resume talks after months of animosities triggered by its fourth nuclear test in January. Seoul has rejected the overture, saying it lacks sincerity and Pyongyang must first demonstrate how serious it's about nuclear disarmament.

    Critics say the North often takes conciliatory gestures after raising tension in an attempt to wrest concessions from its rivals.


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  • China’s Aircraft Carrier Making Taiwan Nervous; Russia Hits Obama, Looks Forward to Trump

    28/Dec/2016 // 340 Viewers

     

    Cruise control. Taiwan has been nervously watching as Beijing’s aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, cruised past Taiwan on its way to the South China Sea in recent days, though Chinese officials said the movement was a routine drill. Taiwan has emerged as a point of contention between President-elect Donald Trump and China after Trump’s phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and his statement suggesting that his administration might ignore with the decades-old One China policy.
     
    “The threat of our enemies is growing day by day. We should always be maintaining our combat alertness,” Taiwan Defense Minister Feng Shih-kuan said on Tuesday. China, of course, does not recognize the independence of Taiwan, which has purchased billions in U.S. weaponry over the decades. Last December, the government in Beijing confirmed that it was building a second aircraft carrier, and China likely has the ability to build multiple carriers over the next 15 years, the Pentagon said in a report earlier this year.
     
    Beijing, Moscow have complains about that U.S. defense spending bill. Chinese officials aren’t happy over a provision contained in the $618.7 billion National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Barack Obama last week calling for more cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwanese militaries. In a statement, Beijing’s Foreign Ministry said, “we urge the U.S. side to abide by its promises made to China on the Taiwan issue, stop U.S.-Taiwan military contacts and arms sales to Taiwan, to avoid damaging Sino-U.S. ties and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
     
    Moscow and Syria. On Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement calling Washington’s plans to drop some restrictions on supplying weapons to Syrian rebels a “hostile act” that threatened Russian warplanes operating in the country. “The passing of this law in the last days of team Obama is an indication the administration is planting a landmine for the future administration of Donald Trump, in an attempt to complicate affairs in the international arena,” spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
     
    Sanctions. Likewise, the decision to renew U.S. sanctions on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea in 2014 was an attempt to impose the Obama administration’s “vicious anti-Russian course” on the incoming Trump administration, she added. “We hope that those who succeed them will be wiser.” Still, U.S. officials tell the AP that talks between American and Russian military officials to ensure their aircraft don’t run into one another over Syria have been fruitful, and have at times progressed beyond merely tactical communications.
     
    To the Baltics. In an open message to Donald Trump — who has celebrated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian tactics and questioned NATO’s relevance, unnerving the alliance’s Baltic members — Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham arrived in Estonia on Tuesday on a trip widely perceived as an attempt to reassure Baltic states concerned Trump may not be committed to their defense.
     
    “I think this visit is being done to emphasize that, whatever happens after the inauguration, the U.S. Senate will be something the Baltic states can calmly rely upon,” Zygimantas Pavilionis, Lithuania’s former ambassador to Washington, told Reuters. McCain and Graham will next travel to Latvia and Lithuania on Thursday where they’ll meet heads of state and defense officials.
     
    In recent days, Trump has Tweeted approvingly about Putin’s criticism of Hillary Clinton, his opponent for president, and showed off a congratulatory note the Russian leader sent him after the election.
     
    Good morning and as always, if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national  security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ. Best way is to send them to: paul.mcleary@foreignpolicy.com or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley
     
    Russia
     
    Russian officials are saying they don’t believe that terrorism caused the crash of a Russian military plane that killed 92 people when it crashed into the Black Sea, according to the New York Times. The Tupolev 154 took off from Sochi on Sunday with 68 entertainers on board headed for a holiday concert in Latakia, Syria, where Russian forces in the country are based. Russian authorities are currently mounting search operations and say they’ve found the “black box.” Russian Interior Minister Maxim Sokolov says terrorism has been ruled out already and Russian Air Force has vouched for both the pilot and the aircraft involved.
     
    Afghanistan
     
    The New York Times reveals the story behind a Norwegian diplomat’s secretive, backchannel talks with Taliban leaders and the story of a peace deal that might have been. Alf Arne Ramslien tells the paper he started meeting with Taliban officials sent by the group’s late emir Mullah Omar to talk about a possible peace deal to end the fighting in Afghanistan starting in 2007. Norwegian diplomats managed to arrange for Taliban and an Afghan government delegations to meet in Norway for talks in 2008 but the effort was sabotaged when a Taliban delegation member’s family was attacked in an explosion in Quetta — an act officials believed was a warning that Pakistan didn’t want the talks to continue.
     
    Capt. Niloofar Rahmani, the Afghan military’s only female pilot, used to be a symbol of things going right with the country. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports, Rahmani is in the U.S. asking for asylum. After a C-130 training course Rahmani was attending ended last week, she refused to return to Afghanistan and sought asylum, saying she hoped to fly either for an airline or the U.S. Air Force if her request is accepted. The Afghan military has had repeated problems with troops deserting once they arrive in the United States for training.
     
    Pakistan
     
    Fake news has generated some very real threats in international relations as Pakistan defense minister threatened Israel with nuclear war over a bogus online story. The AP reports that a fake news purveyor AWD News published a story about a non-existent threat by a former Israeli defense minister threatening to use nuclear weapons against Pakistan if it sent troops to Syria. Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif read and believed the story, leading him to tweet ominously at Israel that “Pakistan is a nuclear state too.”
     
    Saudi Arabia
     
    Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry estimates that about 2,093 Saudi citizens have joined up with jihadist groups abroad as foreign fighters. Agence France Presse reports that the ministry believes that 70 percent of fighters are currently with groups in Syria. The rest of the foreign fighters were either in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan, or Iraq.
     
    Business of defense
     
    This year is ending with a bang for U.S. arms sales, according to Defense News. Arms sales greenlit by the State Department’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency up until late December amount to around $45.2 billion. The end-of-year blowout sale of F-15QA  and F/A-18E fighter jets to Gulf countries pushed the 2016 total up by around $31.2 billion


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  • JUST IN: Tension as Indonesian Government sends strong warning to Abuja

    28/Dec/2016 // 12661 Viewers

     

    PARIS, DECEMBER 28, 2016: (DGW) The Indonesian Ambassador to Nigeria, Ambassador Harry Purwanto, has issued a stern warning on what his country would continue to do to the Nigerian Government regarding its citizens living in the country or traveling from any part of the world into the country.

    This was in reaction to the rampant cases of Nigerians who deal in and bring hard drugs into the country.

    Speaking on Wednesday, he advised Nigerians to desist henceforth from engaging in or allowing themselves to be used for trafficking of drugs to Indonesia and warned that his government there is an existing legislation which now carries the death penalty not only for Nigerians but for everyone including Indonesians found dealing in or in possession of hard drugs. 

    He said: “Let me once again remind Nigerians wishing to travel to Indonesia, that the Indonesian Government, like every other government, has its laws and regulations.

    “It is, therefore, expected of Nigerians and other foreigners visiting Indonesia to always obey her laws prohibiting anybody’s involvement in drug crimes.

    “There are very strict laws for anyone arrested for drug-related offences in any part of Indonesia today.”


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