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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.
“My appeal to all those involved is for an immediate suspension of all war activities in Eastern Ghouta, allowing for humanitarian aid to reach all those in need,” the U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said yesterday, urging action as the besieged rebel-held enclave near the Syrian capital Damascus faces intensified bombing by pro-Syrian government forces. Laura Smith-Spark and Sarah Sirgany report at CNN.
Aid agencies have also called for an urgent ceasefire to allow the delivery aid to Eastern Ghouta, at least 335 civilians have been killed and over 1,2000 have been wounded since Sunday, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (S.O.H.R.). Peter Beaumont and Emma Graham-Harrison report at the Guardian.
Guterres highlighted that Eastern Ghouta is part of a de-escalation agreement that was brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey in the Kazakh capital of Astana in a statement yesterday, and reminded all parties of “their commitments in this regard.” The U.N. News Centre reports.
The Russian military said that peace talks with the rebels in Eastern Ghouta broke down yesterday, saying in a statement that the rebels had ignored Russia’s calls “to cease resistance, lay down their weapons, and regularize their status.” Reuters reports.
Sweden and Kuwait have called for a vote today on a Security Council resolution ordering a 30-day ceasefire across Syria, the proposed resolution exempts attacks on the Islamic State group, al-Qaeda and the Nusra Front and expresses “outrage at the unacceptable levels of violence.” It is unclear whether Russia will use its veto power or abstain, and the Russian ambassador to the U.N. Vassily Nebenzia said yesterday that achieving a ceasefire is a “long and complex process,” Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
“It’s time to take immediate action in the hope of saving the lives of the men, women, and children who are under attack by the barbaric Assad regime,” the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. said in a statement yesterday, urging the Security Council to pass a draft resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta. Al Jazeera reports.
“There is a need for avoiding the massacre [in Eastern Ghouta], because we will be judged by history,” the U.N. Syrian envoy Staffan de Mistura said today, and, in response to a question asking whether the Security Council would agree on a resolution for a ceasefire he said: “I hope it will. But it’s uphill.” Suleiman Al-Khalidi reports at Reuters.
“Those who support the terrorists are responsible [for the situation in Eastern Ghouta],” the Kremlin spokesperson Demitry Peskov said today, adding that “neither Russia, nor Syria, nor Iran are in that category of states as they are waging an absolute war against terrorists in Syria.” Reuters reports.
“Fear of war is everywhere in our region,” the Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi said in an interview with the BBC, saying that Iran’s presence in Syria had stopped the spread of the Islamic State group, that Iran is not looking to create a new front against Israel via Syria, and expressing concern about the situation in Eastern Ghouta.
The Trump administration has been pushing for Turkey to step back from warming relations with Russia and Iran, U.S.-Turkey relations have significantly deteriorated in the past months and the two countries have had profound differences in their approach to Syria, with the U.S. supporting the Syrian Kurdish Y.P.G. militia and Turkey viewing the Y.P.G. as an extension of the outlawed Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Turkey began an offensive on the Y.P.G. in the northern Syrian Afrin region last month, Dion Nissenbaum reports at the Wall Street Journal.
Pro-Assad troops have been deployed to the frontline in Afrin to help counter the Turkish operation, the Y.P.G. said today, Reuters reporting.
The Y.P.G. today denied reports that Syrian government forces have entered a Kurdish-held part of the city of Aleppo, Reuters reports.
A feature on life in Eastern Ghouta is provided by Megan Specia and Hwaida Saad at the New York Times.
An explanation of the forces driving the continuing war in Syria is provided by F. Brinley Bruton and Ammar Cheikh Omar at NBC News.
“This may be only the beginning of a more intense onslaught against East Ghouta as the regime of President Bashar al-Assad prepares a final offensive,” Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.
The driving political power in Syria “is Iran and its attempt to make Syria part of its growing Shiite-Persian empire,” the Wall Street Journal editorial board writes, noting that Iran has supported Assad since the beginning of the war and arguing that Iran seeks to build up a military presence in the region, through its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) and its proxies, from which to threaten Israel.
Assad and his “enablers” in Russia and Iran “have exploited the battlefield successes against I.S.I.S. [the Islamic State group] to unleash a new round of carnage on civilians” while the U.S. and other world powers “largely stand by,” the New York Times editorial board writes, highlighting the plight of civilians in Eastern Ghouta, giving an overview of the atrocities being carried out in the country, and noting the increasing complexity of the battleground as various countries increase their presence in Syria.
U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 43 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between February 9 and February 15. [Central Command]
The KOREAN PENINSULA
Senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol will lead an eight-member delegation to the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, the South Korean Unification Ministry announced today, there have been no announcements of a plan for the officials to meet with the U.S. delegation, which will be led by the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump. Eric Talmadge reports at the AP.
Kim Yong Chol is believed to be the mastermind behind numerous attacks on South Korea and is subject to unilateral sanctions by Seoul, his presence demonstrates deepening intra-Korean reconciliation but also offers a further test of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s flexibility with the North. Bryan Harris reports at the Financial Times.
The U.S. and North Korean delegation will have an opportunity for an encounter at the closing ceremony on Sunday, the U.S. delegation also includes the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the opportunity comes after the North Korean delegation canceled a planned meeting with the U.S. delegation, led by Vice President Mike Pence, at the opening ceremony. Jonathan Cheng reports at the Wall Street Journal.
“[The] current reconciliatory atmosphere must be nurtured by continuing engagement of both South and North Korean authorities,” the former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said yesterday. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.
U.S.-South Korea relations are “rock solid,” Moon said in an interview published yesterday, adding that “President Trump said that I could notify him at any time if help was needed in the process of carrying out inter-Korean dialogue and that he supported me 100 percent.” Reuters reports.
Ivanka’s scheduled attendance is already being compared with the attendance of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister at the opening ceremony, Mark Landler explains at the New York Times.
“Question: If all of the Russian meddling took place during the Obama administration, right up to January 20th, why aren’t they the subject of the investigation? … Why aren’t Dem crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Sessions!” President Trump said in a message on Twitter yesterday, once more putting pressure on Attorney General Sessions for his handling of the Russia investigation after he recused himself from overseeing the probe last year. Julie Bykowicz and Peter Nicholas report at the Wall Street Journal.
The Justice Department declined to comment on the president’s tweet, Trump’s message was the latest public jab at Sessions, with one person familiar with the president’s thinking saying that “he will never get over Sessions recusing himself.” Dan Merica reports at CNN.
Trump’s tweet is part of a recent series of messages criticizing the Obama administration for not doing more to stop Russian interference efforts, earlier in the week he used the indictments announced by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office against 13 Russian individuals and entities to attack the former president. Louis Nelson reports at POLITICO.
Mueller’s team is investigating whether former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort promised Stephen Calk, the president of the Federal Savings Bank, a job in the Trump White House in return for three separate home loans in December 2016, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter. Tom Winter, Hallie Jackson and Kenzi Abou-Sabe report at NBC News.
New sealed charges were filed against Manafort and his associate Rick Gates yesterday, the two men were charged by Mueller in October for money laundering and fraud-related crimes. Katelyn Polantz reports at CNN.
Requests by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee to subpoena Twitter for direct messages of Trump associates have been refused by Republicans, according to sources familiar with the matter, demonstrating the highly partisan nature of the committee. Spencer Ackerman reports at The Daily Beast.
A former political aide to Trump, Sam Nunberg, is scheduled to be interviewed by Mueller today, according to two sources familiar with the matter, Nunberg started for working for Trump in 2011 and was fired from his campaign in August 2015. Nunberg is also an associate of long-time Trump adviser Roger Stone, Reuters reports.
An attacker threw an explosive device into the U.S. embassy compound in Montenegro last night, the blast killed the attacker and did not injure anyone in the embassy, according to the State Department. Mark Landler and Maggie Astor report at the New York Times.
“Iran’s commitment in the J.C.P.O.A. [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] not to go for the nuclear weapon is permanent,” Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi said today, using the formal name for the 2015 nuclear deal, and adding that there is “no sunset clause” in the agreement. Reuters reports.
A U.S.-led attempt to place Pakistan on an international terror-financing watch list has faced obstacles, Saudi Arabia has joined Turkey and China to try and block the effort at a meeting of the Financial Action Task Force in Paris this week. Saeed Shah and Ian Talley report at the Wall Street Journal.
A U.S. airstrike killed three al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab militants in Somalia, the U.S. Africa Command said yesterday. Rebecca Kheel reports at the Hill.
Taliban militants killed eight policeman in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province and killed four intelligence officials in the northern Parwan province, Afghan officials said yesterday, Amir Shah reporting at the AP.
A Saudi-led coalition airstrike killed at least 15 people today in northern Yemen, according to residents, Reuters reporting.
Boko Haram Islamist militants raided a girls’ school in northern Nigeria this week, there are fears that the missing students have been abducted in a similar fashion to the kidnapping of girls from the village of Chibok in 2014. Dionne Searcey and Emmanuel Akinwotu report at the New York Times.
The U.S. embassy in New Delhi said that its staff did not help the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., on a speech he is scheduled to deliver tomorrow in India, making the comments today in response to a letter written by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) setting out concerns thatthe message being delivered by Trump Jr. and the possibility that it would be seen that he is speaking on behalf of the president. Annie Gowen reports at the Washington Post.
The head of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (U.N.R.W.A.), which supports Palestinian refugees, warned that the agency is facing its most severe funding crisis, earlier this year the U.S. announced that it was cutting funding to the agency and U.N.R.W.A.’s shortfall of almost one-third of its budget is largely due to this. Peter Beaumont reports at the Guardian.