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MONDAY JANUARY 20, 2014
U.S. warns Syria conference 'fluid' over UN invitation to Iran ... Crisis in U.S. ties with Russia, Iran
The Obama administration was forced Monday, January 20, the day Iran began implementing the accord for curbing its nuclear program, to put its foot down for a serious crisis with Moscow and Tehran over the invitation extended to Iran by UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon to attend the Syria peace conference due to open Wednesday.
The US State Department stated that it expects the UN to withdraw the invitation to Iran unless Tehran fully accepts a 2012 agreement that establishes a transitional government in Syria that would pave the way for democratic elections. The composition of that interim government would be determined by mutual consent of both the Syrian opposition and representatives of President Bashar Assad's government.
Tehran has shirked this condition because it would be tantamount to accepting Bashar Assad’s removal.
A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the chance of the January 22 peace conference going ahead was still "fluid," since Iran had not met the condition of full endorsement of the Geneva 1 agreement.
Tehran was, moreover, angrily criticized by US officials for “doing nothing to de-escalate tensions in Syria … and their actions have actually aggravated them,” including arming Assad’s forces and sending fighters to assist his side.
DEBKAfile’s Washington sources report that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry were shocked into realizing that their outreach to Tehran and Moscow may have gone too far when they saw both acting off their own bat on the most critical and burning Middle East affair without bothering to consult or even inform the US administration.
Tehran and Moscow persuaded the UN Secretary to take the initiative for the first time on a hot-button issue without regard for the US bar on participation in the Syria peace conference. They argued that the Americans would not make a fuss for fear of upsetting the nuclear accord on the very day that Iran began upholding the deal.
The question now is how far the Obama administration will go if Ban refuses to withdraw his invitation to Iran, two days before the Syria conference opens in the Swiss town of Montreux.
Who will climb down?
Intensive and urgent discussions are under way for a solution, which could be based on John Kerry’s proposal of January 5 for Iran to attend the conference from the sidelines.
Iran, for its part, may react in three possible ways:
(1) By standing aside and letting the Obama administration and the UN Secretary fight it out between them. After all Tehran has already received a formal invitation to Geneva 2.
(2) By ignoring the grave US accusations regarding its role in exacerbating the Syrian crisis.
(3) By an extreme reaction which could come in the form of Iran suspending nuclear diplomacy and holding the [U.S.] responsible by [going] back to “the old rhetoric.” [no further content, emphasis added]
Source: debka.com LINK
[Note: See also the last part of the following story, plus several related reports in today's News Briefs section, including what appears to be a resolution to this problem: Ban Ki-Moon Withdraws Iran Invitation To Geneva 2.]
Putin to visit Tehran ... King of Morocco invites Iran to 'Jerusalem Committee' - with Kerry’s approval
Tehran’s offensive for establishing itself as the leading Middle East power bar none is in full flight. On his arrival in Moscow Thursday, January 17, Foreign Minister Javad Zerif handed Vladimir Putin an invitation to visit Tehran from President Hassan Rouhani. The Russian president replied: “I hope to visit you in Tehran very soon.” Iran also sent out invitations to Gulf rulers to tour its nuclear reactor at Bushehr, combined with a round table discussion on regional nuclear cooperation.
This visit would be tantamount to the Arab oil emirs’ recognition of the legitimacy of Iran’s nuclear program. It is likely to come off because the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman are already in favor of rapprochement with Tehran.
A development more directly affecting Israel’s interests is the King of Morocco’s offer to Iran of full membership in the al Quds (Jerusalem) Committee of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (IOC), with the approval of US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Friday and Saturday (January 17-18), in Marrakesh, the king chaired the al Quds Committee’s 20th session, its first in ten years, announcing an effort to contribute to John Kerry’s efforts to revive the Middle East peace process. The gathering is attended by the foreign ministers of the committee member states, UN Security Council member states, the UN, EU and the Arab League, as well as Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
DEBKAfile reports that Kerry has been keeping King Mohammad VI in Rabat au fait of the state of play in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, hoping to win the organization’s cooperation on the tough Jerusalem issue. Any US-backed Israeli-Palestinian accords involving Jerusalem, if achieved, would be referred to the al Quds Committee.
Therefore, by inviting Iran to join, Kerry and the Moroccan king have inserted Tehran into one of the most sensitive decision-making hubs affecting the Middle East peace process.
These pivotal developments flow directly from the events disclosed by DEBKAfile Thursday, January 16:
Thursday, Jan. 16, Iran’s Javad Zarif and Syria’s Walid Moallem flew together to Moscow aboard the same flight and went straight into a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Zarif caught the flight in Damascus after a consultation with Syrian President Bashar Assad and a government-building exercise in Beirut. DEBKAfile’s Middle East sources and intelligence sources report that this spurt of diplomatic motion came after Assad gave the nod to the plan Tehran had prepared to put on the table of the Geneva 2 conference, which opens in Switzerland on January  for a political solution of the Syrian conflict. The two foreign ministers came to Moscow to collect Putin’s signature on the Iranian plan.
DEBKAfile has gained access to its four high points:
(1) Since the Assad regime and the rebel movement have no hope of coming to terms at this point in the three-year war they have been fighting, a political solution must be sought in stages.
(2) The first stage would be agreement on a truce in the fighting. DEBKAfile notes that a ceasefire has existed de facto in many parts of Syria for the last two months.
(3) Humanitarian corridors respected by both sides will be opened up for essential American, Russian and European aid in food, medicines and equipment for withstanding the cold winter, to reach the rebel-held zones of Syria, most of which are under army siege.
(4) Al Qaeda militias are counted out of any agreements. Therefore, an initiative must be launched for Syrian and rebel forces to collaborate in fighting al Qaeda elements in the areas under their control.
Zarif also planned to show Putin the plan he has drawn up for bringing political stability to Lebanon with Hizballah’s cooperation. It centers on forming a national unity government of 24 ministers – eight for Hizballah and its allies and eight for the opposition bloc, each grouping holding the right to veto ministerial appointments.
The Iranian foreign minister has clearly lost no time in filling the Middle East role of leading Middle East power broker and strongman, just allocated [to] Tehran by Moscow and Washington.
According to prearranged procedure, Iranian officials first hammer out an accord with local rulers, such as Assad, Nasrallah and Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. They then present it to the Russian leader for endorsement, after which Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov refers the document to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
The Iranian foreign minister set the new arrangement in motion for the first time in Lebanon. Iran’s next exhibition of muscle-flexing as senior Middle East power will be staged on January  at Geneva 2. [no further content, emphasis added]
Source: debka.com LINK
Israelis engage in diplo-babble instead of preparing for Palestinian diplomatic intifada in April
Israeli politicians, left, right and center, are resorting again to their familiar clichés to trade accusations over where ongoing negotiation with the Palestinians should or should not be going. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have other plans, the first of which is to terminate peace talks with Israel.
In that sense, little has changed in the thirteen years since the United States began taking a hand in the “Middle East peace process.”
In 2000, President Bill Clinton brought Israel’s prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to Camp David, purportedly to knock their heads together for a peace agreement. He was perfectly aware that Palestinian plans were in place for the suicide bombing intifada war a month hence in September, and that nothing would come of the heavily televised encounter.
In the repeat performance today, those three faces have changed but little else. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have compiled a peace proposal. But when it was put before Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, his mind was elsewhere.
Without waiting for the peace talks to wind down [at] the end of April, as agreed, Abbas, according to intelligences reports, was deep in plans to enlist 63 international organizations for a massive anti-Israel boycott. The same number of teams was busy drawing up separate applications for these organizations to join boycotts against Israel in every field of endeavor, according to their respective spheres.
Among the addresses is the International Court at the Hague which is to be asked to indict Israel for hundreds if not thousands of alleged war crimes and the practice of apartheid.
Abbas is fond of telling everyone that he is against terrorism. He is therefore setting up a “diplomatic intifada” – without the violence the Palestinians demonstrated in their former assaults on the Jewish state. However, DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources have found that, in recent weeks, Abbas and his security agencies have lost control of suburbs in the West Bank towns under their rule, and especially the 19 refugee camps which have been taken over by local armed militias.
These militias, as well as Hamas, Jihad Islami and other violent bands, are getting organized for a fresh outbreak of terrorist operations including suicide bombers.
In the Nablus and Bethlehem areas of the West Bank, some Palestinian gangs are also preparing to shoot Qassam rockets at Jerusalem and other Israel towns.
In the year 2000, the Israeli powers-that-be, led by the IDF Chief of staff at the time, Shaul Mofaz, kept Palestinian preparations for their intifada away from the public notice, so as not to upset peace diplomacy.
The incumbent army chief, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, likewise complies with government directives to keep the true situation dark so as not to derail Kerry’s peace efforts.
The State Department spokeswoman was correct when she declared, in a rebuke to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s derogatory comments, that the Secretary was working night and day to ensure Israel’s security and future.
At the same time, the forthcoming eruption of a Palestinian diplomatic-terrorist war on Israel will not only terminate yet another peace process, it will gravely jeopardize Israel’s legitimacy and international credibility, which is its object.
It has to be said that Netanyahu went a lot further toward meeting Palestinian demands than expected, including extensive territorial concessions in Jerusalem. He is gambling on major concessions convincing the Obama administration that if anyone is to blame for the negotiations running aground when they do, it is not Israel.
DEBKAfile questions the effectiveness of this high-wire tactic. Once Palestinian violence explodes, no one in the international community will want to remember precisely how far Netanyahu and Kerry were willing to go along the path of peace.
Thirteen years ago, questions focused on whether Yasser Arafat had orchestrated the suicide attacks on Israeli civilians or whether it was spontaneous. This time, the same circles will try and show that Abbas is not responsible for the terrorism and maintain that his diplomatic campaign is legitimate.
While pacifying Washington with one hand, Netanyahu ought, with the other, to be making a start on reorganizing the economy and the army for the challenges awaiting the country in just four months.
This he does not appear to be doing - and [he] is under no popular pressure to do so . . . .
How does this sort of diplo-babble fit in with the Palestinian rejection this week of Kerry’s own proposals for keeping the negotiations afloat, on the grounds that they promised the Palestinians nothing but a state without frontiers, a capital, or border crossings.
Abbas’ tactics are built around never parting from Israel, but staying uncomfortably close and proving to the world that Israel is an occupying power which denies them independence. Disengagement would spoil the game which has kept Abbas in power since November 2004 as Arafat’s successor.
Calls on the prime minister from the political left wing to take “courageous steps” are likewise divorced from this reality. However courageous his steps may be, Abbas will still say they are not enough and try and squeeze more. Nothing Israeli or the most diligent US Secretary of State does will divert him from this strategy and the path he has set himself.
Some time in April, therefore, Israel will face the onset of a disastrous Palestinian diplomatic assault on its legitimacy, backed by their friends in many countries. Only time will tell how it evolves.
Source: debka.com MORE
Israeli gas mask distribution ends ... although Syrian and Iraqi al Qaeda prepare sarin for region
The Israeli security-diplomatic cabinet decided Sunday, January 19, to end the issue of gas masks to the public next month, having concluded that "there has been a significant decline in the threat of chemical weapons being fired at Israel." This decision was highly premature, especially on the eve of the Geneva 2 conference opening in Switzerland Wednesday.
It conveys the impression that Israel’s security and military leaders overrate the practical outcome of that conference and, moreover, believe the threat of chemical warfare from Syria will have been laid to rest by the destruction of a fraction of Bashar Assad’s stocks by an American vessel in the Mediterranean.
These assumptions follow Israel’s consistent misreading of the nearly-three year Syrian crisis from its onset, a process traced by DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources:
(1) In the early stages of the war, Israeli analysts, especially AMAN (military intelligence), opined that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s days were numbered. Until recently, they insisted that “at the end of the day” he would be finished, when already two years ago, the tide of war had clearly turned in his favor and he has since gone from strength to strength.
(2) AMAN underestimated the pivotal military role Hizballah was to play in tipping the balance of war strongly in favor of the Syrian army. To justify this misreading, its analysts estimated that Hizballah would pay a heavy price for its Syrian adventure and erode its strength. In defense of that misconception, they declared that Hizballah was digging itself into a hole.
In fact, Hizballah’s top staff and special forces officers have taken advantage of their presence in the most decisive battles of the conflict to gain valuable combat experience from their collaboration with the Syrian army and Iranian Revolutionary Guards units.
This misreading led to Israeli leaders making threats - which were to prove empty - to forcibly prevent the transfer of advanced weapons systems from Syria to Hizballah’s hands in Lebanon.
In fact, transfers took place on Syrian soil directly to the Hizballah units fighting there. At the same time, Gulf and Lebanese media disclosures in December 2013 that Syria had nonetheless managed to move chemical weapons into Lebanon rated too little attention.
(3) Now we come to the crunch. For months, Russian diplomats and senior officials maintained that the big chemical attack of last August 21 on a Syrian suburb which claimed 1,300 lives was not committed by Assad’s army, as the Americans asserted, but by the Syrian branch of al Qaeda – Jubhat al-Nusra.
Whichever was correct, what is relevant for now is that neither disputed that al Nusra was able to get hold of substantial quantities of the deadly sarin nerve gas and the capacity to use it. Once in the hands of al-Nusra, the poison gas will certainly have been shared with its Iraqi partner, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Yet Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon justified ending the distribution of gas masks to Israeli civilians next month with the following comments:
“In recent years, Israel has gained offensive and defensive capabilities of exceptional quality and force which have deterred nations and organizations from attacking us – certainly with non-conventional weapons – in the knowledge of the heavy price they would be required to pay.”
Ya’alon went on to say: “The citizens of Israel can be absolutely certain that the security authorities and the Israel Defense Forces will continue to pursue action everywhere, whether near or far, for keeping them safe and for safeguarding the state of Israel. We shall perform [this duty] resolutely, responsibly and with due consideration.”
It must be said that last Thursday, January 16, those “offensive and defensive capabilities of exceptional quality and force” did not deter the Palestinians from shooting a volley of seven heavy Grad missiles at the town of Ashkelon. A calamity was narrowly averted by an Iron Dome battery’s interception of the missiles when they were over the town. But like all defensive measures, Iron Dome is not foolproof.
How can the defense minister be sure that al Qaeda in Syria and Iraq will be deterred from targeting Israel with chemical weapons, any more than were the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip?
(4) Last month, for the first time in its 26 years of life and death as an organization dedicated to jihadist terrorism, al Qaeda through its Iraqi branch, the ISIS, laid out detailed plans for destroying Israel in a 33-page booklet under the title: “Proofs and Documentation in Support of the Proposition that the Destruction of the Jewish State Will Come from Iraq.”
The publication, penned by Abu al Khatab al Maqdasi” (the Jerusalemite), is lavishly illustrated with photos and maps. After overpowering Syria, he says, al Qaeda’s mission is the destruction of Israel. Throughout history, he argues, Israel was conquered by armies coming from the North.
Therefore, the security cabinet’s assurance of “a significant decline in the threat of chemical weapons being fired at Israel" should be taken with a hefty grain of salt. The end of gas mask distribution is premature. [no further content, emphasis added]
Source: debka.com LINK
Note: see also Israel To Stop Distributing Gas Masks To Civilians LINK
Iran halts 20 percent uranium enrichment at two sites
Inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog confirmed that Iran had halted production of 20 percent enriched uranium at Natanz and Fordo at noon Monday, the first day of the implementation of the interim nuclear deal clinched with the six powers two months ago. Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced that Tehran is ready to embark on the next stage of negotiations for a final nuclear accord. Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi announced earlier: "Two cascades (used to enrich uranium) in Natanz and four cascades in Fordo will be disconnected by noon which means the production of 20 percent is practically stopped," Salehi added. The country must also begin neutralizing its stockpile of uranium purified to 20 percent, a few technical steps short of weapons-grade. DEBKAfile: The interim accord did not relate to the military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program or the secret sites known to be covertly continuing enrichment out of sight of the nuclear watchdog. [no further content] LINK
Note: see also Iran adheres to first-step demands of Geneva accord - Netanyahu likened the manufacturing of the fissile material needed to make a bomb to a train that must pass through three stops: the first stop of enriching uranium to 3.5%, the second stop of enriching uranium to 20%, and the final step of enriching uranium to 90% concentration ... “The agreement in Geneva did away with the 20% stop, but left the train on its track and enables Iran to upgrade the locomotive by developing new centrifuges, so that when the day comes, it can leap in a very short time to the final stop on an express track without stopping at an intermediary stop” ... The final agreement that the world powers negotiate with Iran must take the “Iranian nuclear train off the tracks” LINK
West hails Syria opposition vote to join peace talks
BEIRUT -- Western leaders have hailed a decision by Syria's opposition to attend Wednesday's international peace conference alongside representatives of a regime they despise and remain determined to overthrow. After weeks of hesitation and threats to boycott the talks, the deeply divided National Coalition said it will go to Switzerland, with the sole aim of toppling President Bashar al-Assad . . . The Coalition voted Saturday by 58 to 14 to attend the peace conference in the Swiss town of Montreux, with only 75 of the around 120 delegates taking part in the secret ballot - a sign that strong disagreement persists. Coalition leader Ahmad Jarba said the group was going to Switzerland to remove the "butcher" Assad from power. "The Geneva II negotiation table is a one-way road aimed at achieving all the demands of the revolution... and first and foremost stripping the butcher (Assad) of all his powers," he said. The head of the rebel Free Syrian Army, General Selim Idriss, called for a "peaceful resolution" to the conflict, and urged the opposition to uphold the "goals of the revolution" and remove Assad and his allies from power. The FSA, the armed wing of the Coalition has been greatly marginalised by the emergence of al-Qaeda-linked jihadists and Islamist rebel brigades. Coalition member Munzer Aqbiq said the opposition would form within 24 hours a delegation made up of diplomats, politicians, FSA representatives and legal experts. The Coalition has been under intense pressure from its Western and Arab backers to attend the talks. MORE
Note: see also Saudi, UAE Back Syria Opposition Vote To Join Peace Talks - "In support of the rights of the Syrian people to decide their own future and defend themselves against the Syrian regime's crimes," Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates "welcome the decision by the National Coalition to take part in Geneva II," they said a joint statement ... Both Gulf states however "affirm at the same time that Geneva II must aim to put an end to the Syrian people's sufferings through creating a real political change in which (President Bashar al-Assad's) regime will have no role" LINK
Islamist rebels reject 'hollow' Syria peace talks
BEIRUT -- A powerful alliance of Syrian Islamist rebels rejected upcoming peace talks Sunday, meaning that even if the negotiations reach an unlikely breakthrough in the nearly 3-year-old civil war, it will be harder to implement it on the ground. Syria’s main political opposition group in exile, the National Coalition, agreed Saturday to attend the talks beginning Wednesday outside Geneva, setting up the first meeting between President Bashar Assad’s government and its foes. But the Islamic Front, an alliance of several Islamist fighting forces that represents a large portion of the rebels on the ground, said Sunday it rejected the talks. Syria’s future would be “formulated here on the ground of heroism, and signed with blood on the front lines, not in hollow conferences attended by those who don’t even represent themselves,” Abu Omar, a leading member of the Islamic Front, said on his Twitter account. MORE
Ban: Iran invited to Syria peace conference
UNITED NATIONS -- Iran will attend this week's Syria peace conference after it pledged to play a "positive and constructive role" in efforts to end the three-year-old war, UN leader Ban Ki-moon said Sunday. Ban said he made a late invitation to Iran after intensive talks with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who agreed to attend. Iran's involvement means that all the key countries linked to the worsening war will now be at the opening of the peace conference in Montreux, Switzerland on Wednesday. Talks between President Bashar al-Assad's government and the opposition are due to start in Geneva on Friday. "Foreign Minister Zarif and I agree that the goal of the negotiations is to establish, by mutual consent, a transitional governing body with full executive powers," Ban said. "It was on that basis that Foreign Minister Zarif pledged that Iran would play a positive and constructive role in Montreux," the UN secretary-general added. The United States and other Western powers had opposed Iran's attendance at the meeting as long as it refused to accept a communique adopted by the major powers in Geneva on June 30, 2012 calling for a transition government in Syria. "I believe strongly that Iran needs to be part of the solution to the Syrian crisis," Ban said. Ban said that as convener of the peace conference he has also invited Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, South Korea and the Vatican. He said the extra countries would be "an important and useful show of solidarity in advance of the hard work that the Syrian government and opposition delegations will begin." MORE
News Update #1: U.N. invite to Iran sparks Syria peace talks storm
UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations on Sunday invited Iran to attend this week's Syria peace conference, provoking a pull-out threat from the opposition and a warning from the United States. UN leader Ban Ki-moon said Iran had pledged in talks to play a "positive and constructive role" in efforts to end Syria's civil war. But the Syrian National Coalition threatened to withdraw from the negotiations, due to start Wednesday in the Swiss town of Montreux, unless the invitation was retracted. And the United States said Ban should withdraw the invitation unless Iran, a key backer of President Bashar al-Assad, gives "explicit" support to the conference aim of setting up a transitional government in Syria. MORE
News Update #2: Ban Ki-moon withdraws Iran invitation to Geneva 2
The UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon withdrew the invitation he extended to Iran to attend the Syrian peace conference opening Wednesday in the face of US and Syrian objections. Washington insisted that all participants must subscribe to the Geneva -1 Communique in 2012 for a transitional government to rule Syria. Iran turned this condition down because it would have mandated Bashar Assad's removal. Ban’s action in withdrawing the invitation to Iran enabled the talks to open on schedule in the nick of time. [no further content] LINK
OPCW: 14 firms bid to destroy part of Syrian chemicals
THE HAGUE -- The global chemical arms watchdog said Monday it had received 14 tenders from private companies around the world to destroy Syria's chemical arsenal outside of the war-ravaged country. The Organsiation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it would decide early next month which companies would destroy the 500 metric tonnes of chemicals, plus the effluent left over from neutralisation of other chemicals to be carried out on a US ship. Tenders to help destroy Syria's entire arsenal by a tight June 30 deadline came from a wide-range of companies, including France's Airbus, China National Chemical Corporation, Switzerland's Dottikon and US-based Paragon Waste Solutions. Germany said earlier this month that it would help destroy waste left over from neutralising Syria's chemicals, and Britain said in December it would destroy 150 tonnes of its industrial grade chemicals. MORE
Israel's Peres: Mideast may flare up if peace talks fail
JERUSALEM -- The Middle East could erupt into violence if the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapse, Israel's President Shimon Peres warned on Monday. "It is crucial that these negotiations will be completed successfully," Peres said after meeting Romanian President Traian Basescu. "A failure to do so would be tragic for the Middle East. The situation in the Middle East can flare up overnight if the talks fail." MORE
Egypt charter opens road for Sisi but youths alienated
CAIRO -- The approval of Egypt's constitution bolsters the powerful army chief but a large number of youths who helped topple two presidents within three years shunned the vote on the new charter. Egyptian voters have approved the Tuesday-Wednesday referendum by 98.1 per cent, officials announced Saturday, and the results are seen as [a] nod to General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to run for president . . . Youth movements at the forefront of protests that ended the rules of Morsi and Mubarak hardly objected when the military-installed authorities launched a deadly crackdown on Morsi's supporters. Nor did they object when his Muslim Brotherhood movement was banned and designated a "terrorist" organisation. But they voiced their outrage when the military-backed authorities passed a law in November banning unauthorised demonstrations. And this appears to have been clearly reflected during the voting. Sisi had urged the youths to participate in the referendum, saying they formed "more than 50 per cent" of Egypt's 85-million strong population. But AFP reporters who toured polling stations said youths did not participate in the voting in strength and analysts confirmed many young people clamouring for change shunned the polls. Political analyst Hassan Nafea said turnout was "disappointing". "The youth refused to participate in the referendum because they consider what is happening as a counter-revolution to the January revolution (against Hosni Mubarak)," Nafea said. MORE
U.S. draft agreement omits Palestinian right of return, officials tell Haaretz
Officials add: Proposal makes no mention of Jerusalem being capital of future Palestinian state
The United States has proposed absolving Israel of any responsibility for the fate of the Palestinian refugees in the forthcoming framework peace agreement, senior Palestinian officials told Haaretz over the weekend. [further content requires registration/subscription] LINK
Israel plans laser interceptor 'Iron Beam' for short-range rockets
Israel plans to deploy a new missile shield known as "Iron Beam" next year which would use a laser to blow up short-range rockets and mortar bombs, a defense industry official said on Sunday. The system is designed to deal with threats that fly on too small a trajectory to be engaged efficiently by Iron Dome, the Israeli interceptor credited with an 80 percent success rate against rockets fired by Palestinian militants. Both shields are manufactured by state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. While Iron Dome launches radar-guided interceptor rockets, Iron Beam's laser will super-heat the warheads of shells with ranges of up to 7 km (4.5 miles). MORE
Frenemy Alert: Lieberman: No 'Credible or Coherent U.S. Strategy' for Addressing Terror Threats
(CNS News) -- Although the United States has made real progress in the war on terror since the 9-11 attacks, "we should not delude ourselves into thinking that this fight is anywhere near over," former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) told the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday. "Put very bluntly, I do not see a credible or coherent U.S. strategy right now for exactly those countries - Syria, Iraq, and Libya - that most threaten to emerge as al Qaeda's newest and most dangerous footholds - places from which terrorist attacks against our homeland can and will originate." Lieberman said the war in Afghanistan has squelched al Qaeda affiliates in that region, but at the same time, new sanctuaries for terrorists have expanded significantly in the Middle East, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. He pointed to one estimate showing that there are more foreign fighters in Syria right now than there were in Iraq and Afghanistan combined over the past ten years. That contradicts President Obama's repeated assertion that al Qaeda is "on the run" and has been "decimated." "Across the Middle East and beyond, the credibility of American leadership is being questioned as it has not been for a very long time," Lieberman said in veiled criticism of the Obama administration. "Among friends and enemies alike, there are doubts about our staying power; questions about our reliability as an ally; and suspicions that, at the end of the day, we will hesitate to back up our promises and historic commitments with the use of force, if necessary." Because American policymakers have signaled that military involvement is not an option, the U.S. is at a disadvantage when it comes to assisting its local allies in Syria, Iraq and Libya, he said. "It also means that we are failing to help deal with the underlying conditions that are making al Qaeda's resurgence possible." MORE
U.S. court: Bloggers, public have First Amendment protection
A federal appeals court has ruled that bloggers and the general public have the same protection of the First Amendment as journalists when sued for defamation. Should the issue be of public concern, the claimant has to prove negligence to win the case. "It's not a special right to the news media," he said. "So it's a good thing for bloggers and citizen journalists and others," Gregg Leslie, of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, told AP. The federal court’s ruling came after a new trial in a defamation case: an Oregon bankruptcy trustee was the plaintiff against a Montana blogger who wrote on the Internet that the trustee criminally mishandled a bankruptcy case. MORE
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Report: Obamacare At 'Significant' Risk of 'Death Spiral,' Economist Warns (Barbara Hollingsworth)
(CNS News) -- Economist John Goodman, who warned last October that Obamacare could plunge into a “death spiral” if not enough young, healthy people signed up for coverage, says that danger is now “significant” following news that the Obama administration failed to hit its young adult enrollment target.
“I think there is a significant problem here,” Goodman, president and CEO of the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), told CNS News. “I think the insurers are worried. I think the administration is worried.
“Remember, everybody is facing the wrong price. And sick people are facing a price that’s well below the cost of their care. Young healthy people are being overcharged. And so they need lots of young healthy people to join so they can get the money to pay the bills for the sick people. And the younger people just aren’t buying it.
“Part of the problem, I think, is that it’s been so difficult for people to sign up, and so the only ones who’ve persevered – sometimes trying a hundred times – are people who really have serious health problems.”
A death spiral - the insurance pool equivalent of bankruptcy - occurs when too many older and sicker people sign up for insurance relative to the number of younger, healthier people, Goodman explained, forcing everybody’s premiums up. But as premiums rise, even less young people sign up for coverage.
“That’s what we’re seeing so far,” Goodman told CNS News. “Over half of all the people who enrolled are above the age of 45, and older people are more expensive [to insure]. We’re also seeing 20 percent of the people who are enrolling are going for the gold or platinum plans. Those people tend to be sick. They’re buying the more comprehensive plans because they plan to use a lot of health care.”
According to figures released this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 24 percent of the 2.2 million people who have already signed up for Obamacare are between the ages of 18 and 34, just a little more than half of the 40 percent the administration admitted it needed to keep premiums affordable.
When CNS News asked Goodman how Americans would know if the system was crashing, he replied:
“Well, there won’t be any neon signs that say ‘Death Spiral Underway,’ but what you’ll see is premiums keep rising, and if premiums keep rising, then fewer healthy people will buy in and we may get to a point where you need government subsidies to prop the whole thing up. By that I mean government subsidies to the insurance companies.” [Otherwise known as a 'bailout'. - Ed.]
CNS News asked Goodman whether he agreed with Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein, who argues that “the risk of a ‘death spiral’ is over.” He replied:
“Well, no, and it turns out that 80 percent of all the people who signed up so far are getting subsidies. Well, they need lots of people who have higher incomes and who aren’t going to get subsidies. And if those people are unwilling to pay the high premiums that are being charged, then they’re in trouble … Everybody is worried, and no one’s keeping the fact that they’re worried a secret,” Goodman added.
Obamacare’s “perverse incentives” will just encourage more young people to “game the system and wait until they get sick before they enroll,” he said, while insurance companies “try to avoid the sick” to protect their bottom lines. But that will be increasingly hard to do as tens of thousands of government retirees are dumped into the exchanges.
“Over the next three months, the federal government will end its risk pool and all the state governments will end theirs, and then all those people who are high-cost enrollees, they will go into the exchanges. And then there are cities and towns like Detroit, that have made promises of post-retirement care and they’re not funded, and so Detroit’s planning on sending all of its retirees to the exchange, and lots of other cities will do the same thing …”
“And then the Obama administration’s apparently going to allow hospitals and AIDS clinics to enroll people on the spot,” Goodman told CNS News. “So if a hospital had a patient who’s having heart surgery, for example, that hospital is going to be able to get him enrolled in a private plan in the exchange to shift the cost over to that insurer. Apparently the hospital can actually pay the premium for the individual.
“You see, the premium is small compared to that hospital bill. So if we’re talking about a $50,000 hospital bill, they can afford to pay a $10,000 premium and come out ahead. So insurers are sort of quite vulnerable at the moment.”
However, if Obamacare does go belly up, there will be no easy way to replace it, Goodman warned. “We have destroyed the individual market, and it’s going to be very, very hard to move from where we are now to a real market, where people face real prices, which is what I think we have to do,” he said.
“Republicans who say we’re just going to abolish Obamacare need to be aware of the fact that they can’t just go back to the individual market, because it’s being destroyed. We need to think carefully about how we can get out of the mess we’re in, [because] just repealing the legislation isn’t going to be enough.” [no further content, emphasis added]
Source: cnsnews.com LINK
ADDITIONAL NEWS & ANALYSIS
Senator Leahy on NSA spying: We need to stop government from controlling American people (Video) LINK
Feinstein: Metadata program here to stay LINK
'Too many lies' about Benghazi attacks, [Rep. Chaffetz] says LINK
"The more I dive deeper into what was truly one of the great tragedies is that we have a host of statements and a government that is misleading the world and the people of the United States of America about what really happened ... That's just not acceptable"
Netanyahu confidante: Jordan wants Israel to keep presence along West Bank boundary LINK
“The Jordanians are opposed to an Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan Valley out of fear that if a Palestinian state arises and is taken over by extremist elements like Hamas and al-Qaida, this would endanger the king’s rule, not just Tel Aviv”
[Israel's Defense Minister] apologizes for personally offending Kerry, but does not recant LINK
[analysis]: Region Boiling, Israel Takes Up 'Castle' Strategy LINK
Mr. Netanyahu and other leaders continue to see Shiite Iran and its nuclear program as the primary threat to Israel, and Hezbollah as the most likely to draw it into direct battle ... Still, the mounting strength of extremist Sunni cells in Syria, Iraq and beyond that are pledging to bring jihad to Jerusalem can hardly be ignored ... As the chaos escalates, Israeli officials insist they have no inclination to intervene. Instead, they have embraced a castle mentality, hoping the moat they have dug - in the form of high-tech border fences, intensified military deployments and sophisticated intelligence - is broad enough at least to buy time
Iran prepares start of landmark nuclear deal LINK
Syria conflict: Government offers prisoner exchange LINK
ISIS leader urges end to rebel clashes (Syria) LINK
ISIS 'reaching out' to Syria rebels [with] audio message LINK
Al Qaeda offshoot imposes strict Islamic rules in north Syria LINK
The directives, which cite Koranic verses and Islamic teaching, are the latest evidence of ISIL's ambition to establish a Syrian state founded on radical Islamist principles
Clashes erupt in Kiev after defiant mass protest LINK
Police and protesters clashed in the centre of the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Sunday after 200,000 massed for an opposition rally in a show of defiance against strict new curbs on protests
Panicked lawmakers mull firing squad executions as drug shortage worsens LINK
Has the Sun gone to sleep? LINK
One scientist estimates we may be 40 years from another Maunder Minimum
One of Mars' Great Mysteries - This Rock LINK
[Yes, NASA has been outsmarted by a rock. - Ed.]
New Record for Human Brain: Fastest Time to See an Image LINK
The human brain can achieve the remarkable feat of processing an image seen for just 13 milliseconds
[Scientists]: The 13 Most Important Numbers in the Universe LINK
[analysis]: Don't believe the lies about Windows XP's imminent death LINK
On April 8, Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP, but XP-based PCs will continue to work just fine
Unborn babies get thunderous help LINK
“Our goal is to have a Bikers for Life presence in front of EVERY abortion clinic in America on EVERY killing day ... Whether it is one biker, five bikers or 5,000 bikers, it is time to come riding over the hill like the cavalry on iron horses ... If that happens, Bikers for Life will be instantly plugged in on the frontlines of the battle”
Claim: Smoking ups chances of child being [homosexual] [?!] LINK
Development of brain in pregnancy 'linked to adult lifestyles'
Abomination Alert: Virginia quickly emerging as key in [sodomy-based] marriage fight LINK
HEALTH HIGHLIGHTS: Join the Sound Body Yahoo group (part of the Christian Media ministry) to receive regular health eblasts LINK
"From the moment when the machine first made its appearance it was clear to all thinking people that the need for human drudgery, and therefore to a great extent for human inequality, had disappeared. If the machine were used deliberately for that end, hunger, overwork, dirt, illiteracy and disease could be eliminated within a few generations ... But it was also clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction - indeed, in some sense was the destruction - of a hierarchical society ... the most obvious and perhaps the most important form of inequality would already have disappeared. If it once became general, wealth would confer no distinction ... But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realise that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance ... Ignorance is Strength"
George Orwell (from his novel '1984')
TUESDAY JANUARY 21, 2014
- no news edition -
WEDNESDAY JANUARY 22, 2014
- no news edition -
THURSDAY JANUARY 23, 2014
- no news edition -
FRIDAY JANUARY 24, 2014
Palestinian leader turns to Putin for Palestinian state ... dumps U.S. and Israel as peace partners
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) launched his “diplomatic intifada” against Israel and exit from the Kerry peace initiative Thursday, January 23, from Moscow. His meetings with President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev marked his breakaway from the US-led peace process with Israel, four months before it was due to expire, and signaled his bid for Russian backing for a Palestinian state.
The Palestinian leader’s defection caught both Secretary of State John Kerry and Prime Minister Binyamin unprepared – and surprised their intelligence agencies. Putin and Abbas almost certainly planned in advance to drop their bombshell on the day both Kerry and Netanyahu were otherwise engaged at two international events in Switzerland: Geneva 2 on Syria and the World Economic Forum.
For the Russian leader it was a chance to show the international community and the Obama administration that he was several steps ahead of the game on the three hottest Middle East issues – Iran’s nuclear program, the Syrian civil conflict and the Palestinian bid for statehood.
The first intimation that something big was up came from an ITAR-TASS agency report Thursday that Abbas and Medvedev were due to sign an intergovernmental agreement for a $1 billion natural gas project in the Gaza section of the Mediterranean Sea. Russia's natural gas giant Gazprom hoped to produce 30 billion cubic metres of natural gas at the site.
The report added that Russia's Technopromexport engineering firm was also considering a small oil development project near the West Bank city of Ramallah, hub of the Palestinian Authority government headed by Abbas.
The Palestinian leader began his conversation with Putin by calling Russia a "great power" that deserved to play a more prominent role in the volatile Middle East region.
Clearly taken aback by the news coming in fast from Moscow, Israeli official sources said Thursday night they could not understand how the Russians and Palestinians came to an agreement on Mediterranean waters off the shores of Gaza, when the rights were already owned by British Gas.
It did not occur to them that the deal Russia proposed to sign with the Palestinians was designed to be an extension of the Russian-Syrian oil exploration contract signed on December 27 in Moscow.
This move confronts Israel with two troubling concerns:
(1) Russian interests could potentially encircle Israel’s offshore Mediterranean gas and oil sites and Russian pipelines may block Israel’s export facilities.
(2) Under international law, the Palestinian Authority is not recognized as an independent state and is therefore not empowered to establish Special Economic Zones in the Mediterranean as closed areas for prospecting for oil or gas. This was one of the topics placed on the agenda of the peace talks led by John Kerry.
However, Moscow has high-handedly circumvented this obstruction by taking charge of the offshore exploration opposite Gaza, thereby proffering its Palestinian partner to the deal implicit Russian recognition of its status as an independent national entity authorized to sign international contracts. This could be the precedent for a process of creeping Palestinian statehood without engaging Israel in negotiation.
Moscow has already proved it can get away with busting international sanctions by concluding a $1.5 billion contract with Tehran for the purchase of half a million barrels of Iranian oil a day, without incurring a word of complaint from Washington.
Two weeks later, Putin and Abbas have acted together to wreck a painstaking US diplomatic initiative actively partnered by Israel for a negotiated peace accord with the Palestinians. They have left John Kerry and Binyamin Netanyahu holding an empty shell.
Nabil Shaath, a Palestinian Fatah veteran, could not have put the situation more bluntly when he said Thursday night that it was time to "end the American monopoly on peacemaking, after Washington had proved incapable of imposing agreements on Israel."
Russian tactics for Syria and Iran had proved effective, he said, and there was no reason why Moscow could not perform the same function on the Israeli-Palestinian track.
The Palestinians have clearly opted to follow the examples of other Middle East leaders, ranging from Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to Syria’s Bashar Assad, Saudi King Abdullah and Egyptian strongman Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi, in making tracks, overtly or covertly, to Moscow. They are opening the door for Russia to fill the void left by American disengagement from [the] region under the Obama administration. [no further content]
Source: debka.com LINK
Fiery exchanges over Assad's fate at Syria peace talks
MONTREUX, SWITZERLAND -- The biggest push yet to end Syria's bloodshed was marked by fiery exchanges on Wednesday as the warring sides and global powers clashed over President Bashar al-Assad's fate at a UN peace conference in Switzerland.
After a day of formal speeches set to be followed this week by talks involving the two sides, UN leader Ban Ki-moon urged Syria's regime and opposition to finally work together at the table.
"The world wants an urgent end to the conflict," Ban said in a closing press conference at the talks in the Swiss town of Montreux. "Enough is enough, the time has to come to negotiate."
But official statements made by the delegations gave no hint of compromise, as the two sides met on the shores of Lake Geneva for the first time since the conflict erupted in March 2011.
Branding the opposition "traitors" and foreign agents, Syrian officials insisted Assad will not give up power, while the opposition said he must step down and face trial.
"Assad will not go," Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said on the sidelines of the conference.
In his speech, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem surprised observers with a vehement attack on the opposition that went on long beyond the allotted time of less than 10 minutes, forcing Ban to repeatedly ask him to wrap it up.
"They (the opposition) claim to represent the Syrian people. If you want to speak in the name of the Syrian people, you should not be traitors to the Syrian people, agents in the pay of enemies of the Syrian people," Muallem said.
Ahmad Jarba, the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, called on the regime to "immediately" sign a deal reached at the last peace conference in Geneva in 2012 setting out "the transfer of powers from Assad, including for the army and security, to a transition government."
Jarba said that would be "the preamble to Bashar al-Assad's resignation and his trial alongside all the criminals of his regime".
Leading a series of sharp US accusations against the Syrian regime, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted Assad cannot be part of any transitional government.
"There is no way, not possible in the imagination, that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain legitimacy to govern," Kerry said.
US officials also slammed the Syrian delegation for its incendiary remarks.
"Instead of laying out a positive vision for the future of Syria that is diverse, inclusive and respectful of the rights of all, the Syrian regime chose inflammatory rhetoric," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said . . . .
At his closing press conference, Kerry said Washington was also pursuing "different avenues" to resolve the conflict alongside peace talks, including "augmented support to the opposition".
Expectations are very low for a breakthrough at the conference, but diplomats gathered here believe that simply bringing the two sides together for the first time is a mark of some progress and could be an important first step.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned the talks will "not be simple, they will not be quick" but urged both sides to seize a "historic opportunity".
About 40 nations and international bodies were gathered, but no direct talks are expected until possibly Friday - when opposition and regime delegations will meet in Geneva for negotiations that officials have said could last seven to 10 days.
The UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, told the closing press conference he would meet on Thursday with both sides to discuss the next step in negotiations.
"Tomorrow I am going to meet them separately and see how best we can move forward," Brahimi said.
"Do we go straight into one room and start discussing or do we talk a little bit more separately? ... I don't know yet." . . . .
With no one ready for serious concessions, world powers will be looking for short-term deals to keep the process moving forward, including on localised ceasefires, freer humanitarian access and prisoner exchanges.
Brahimi said he "had indications" from both sides that they are willing discuss these issues.
Notably absent from the table was crucial Assad backer Iran, after Ban reversed a last-minute invitation when the opposition said it would boycott if Tehran took part.
Source: AFP / channelnewsasia.com MORE
Note: see also UN Bids To Bring Syria Warring Sides Together LINK
Assad era over, Jarba says
GENEVA/DAVOS -- Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba said Thursday that the international community has realized that President Bashar Assad cannot remain in power, with key ally Russia not “holding on” to him.
Jarba spoke after U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi held separate meetings with Syria’s warring sides behind closed doors to lay the groundwork for direct talks after the first day of a peace conference ended in bitter exchanges.
Brahimi met separately with delegations from the opposition, and then Assad’s government, in Geneva before full talks are due to resume Friday.
It was unclear after the meetings whether the two sides would agree to hold face-to-face talks or if mediators would shuttle between them.
A senior U.S. State Department official said Brahimi was due to meet with both sides again Friday morning with the goal of having them in the same room by the afternoon.
“He hopes to have them at the table tomorrow and we’ll see what happens,” the official said. “We knew this would not be an easy process.”
After meeting with Brahimi, Jarba said the regime had become a “political corpse.”
“The world is now sure that Assad cannot stay and will not stay,” he said. “We have started to look into the future without him. Assad and all of his regime is in the past now. Nobody should have any doubt that the head of the regime is finished. This regime is dead.”
Moscow, Assad’s major backer, had given assurances that it was not committed to Assad, Jarba added.
Assad’s officials, who left the session with Brahimi without making any statement, have insisted that the Syrian president is not going anywhere, a view endorsed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
“Obviously he is not ready at this point in time,” Kerry said in an interview with al-Arabiya television, on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos . . . .
Kerry said if an agreement was reached many countries had offered to send peacekeepers to Syria, but he made clear U.S. troops would probably not take part.
“If there is a peace agreement, there are many countries that have already offered to step up and be peacekeepers in the new Syria,” Kerry said. “I don’t think anybody believes that American troops should be on the ground.”
Kerry said there was a role for Iran in Syria as long as it endorsed a 2012 plan that establishes a transitional governing body.
Iran was invited to attend the Montreux gathering but the U.N. invitation was later withdrawn after it failed to support the 2012 agreement known as Geneva I.
“What Iran needs to do is either show that it’s more than words, that its actions are willing to join the international community, or it will be very difficult to have Iran be part of this,” Kerry said.
Source: dailystar.com.lb MORE
Note: see these related stories:
Syria Talks To Proceed, But With Limited Agenda LINK
Syria Conference Opens In Switzerland With Secret Iranian Presence - An Iranian delegation secretly arrived in Montreux Tuesday night after all, on the understanding that it would not take part in the conference discussions and would put up at a hotel outside the town LINK
[Note: See additional related stories in today's News Briefs section.]
Zuwahiri plotted Palestinian-Caucasian terrorist attacks on U.S. embassy, Jerusalem Convention Center
The Jerusalem court and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) disclosed Wednesday, January 22, that three Palestinians were in custody having been recruited by al Qaida for three separate suicide operations in conjunction with 5 North Caucasian terrorists due to enter Israel as tourists on fake Russian passports. The plot was orchestrated by Ayman Zuwahiri. It targeted the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Jerusalem Convention Center and buses on the Jerusalem-Maaleh Adummim route.
DEBKAfile’s counter terror sources: This was the first time al Qaeda leader Zuwahari was to take a personal hand in setting up attacks inside Israel and his first attempt to use his operational ties for building mixed teams of jihadists from the Caucasus, the Gaza Strip, Syria and local Palestinians - two from East Jerusalem and one from Jenin.
Suicide bombers were to storm the US embassy in Tel Aviv or blow themselves up at the entrance to the building. This attack was to be coordinated with a simultaneous shooting attack on buses plying the Maaleh Adummim-Jerusalem line.
Suicide bombers clad in explosive vests were to stage a double attack on the Jerusalem National Convention Center – one blowing up the cavernous building and the second detonating a truck bomb against the responders to increase the casualties.
The Shin Bet inquiry found that two East Jerusalem Palestinians had been recruited as operatives or accomplices . . . .
DEBKAfile's counterterrorism sources disclose that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put before Russian President Vladimir Putin details of the inquiry into the al Qaeda plot, including the plan to import Caucasian terrorists, when they met in Moscow on November 20. In addition to the Iranian nuclear issue, they also discussed using Israel’s counter-terror expertise to aid Russia in securing the Sochi Olympic Games against Islamist terrorists from the Caucasus and Syria.
Source: debka.com MORE
Kerry disqualifies Assad for transitional government
Opening the Geneva 2 conference in Switzerland Wednesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said there can only be one outcome: a negotiated transition government set up by mutual consent. Bashar Assad can’t be part of that transitional government. There is no way that after brutally killing his own people he can regain the legitimacy to govern. The Syrian opposition leader said the real terrorists in Syria are the Assad regime. [no further content] LINK
Note: see also Syria Talks Doomed To Failure Before They Begin - This week’s negotiations are laudable ... U.S. officials hope they will lead to temporary cease-fires, aid deliveries and prisoner exchanges ... They also assert that the talks might lead some members of Assad’s inner circle to defect LINK
Brahimi to meet Syria opposition, government separately
GENEVA -- United Nations mediator on Syria Lakhdar Brahimi will meet separately with delegations of the Syrian government and opposition on Friday in Geneva, opposition sources said. The opposition will not meet with the delegation led by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem until it endorses the Geneva communique of June 30, 2012 calling for a transitional governing body to be established, one opposition delegate said. "We have asked the U.N. envoy for the regime to sign on to Geneva 1 and we will not meet them until they do so," he told Reuters. [no further content] LINK
Note: see also Syrian Opposition Refuses To Meet Government Face-To-Face At Geneva 2 Talks - The palpable fragility of the talks centers around arguments for and against Assad’s role in a transitional government ... Both sides are threatening to pull out if their demands are not met ... One opposition representative has stated that a slower, step-by-step process is needed ... He said that practical moves like prisoner swaps, ceasefires, weapons withdrawals, and aid centers should be established before any talk of Syria’s political future begins LINK
Iran Foreign Minister: White House Wrong About Deal, 'We Did Not Agree to Dismantle Anything'
Foreign Minister Zarif of Iran said on CNN that the White House is getting the nuclear deal wrong - and that they don't have to give up anything: Said the Iranian foreign minister, "The White House version both underplays the concessions and overplays Iranian commitment. And I'm not interested in that. I'm simply saying, why don't we all stick to what we agreed? Why do we need to produce different texts?" CNN reporter: "Explain, then, to our viewers, what's different in terms of Iran's commitment to what you agreed to and what the White House says you agreed to?" The Iranian responded, "Well, the terminology is different. The White House tries to portray it as basically a dismantling of Iran's nuclear program. That is the word they use time and again. And I urge you to read the entire text. If you find a single, a single word that even closely resembles dismantling or could be defined as dismantling in the entire text, then I would take back my comment." Zarif clarifies, "What Iran has agreed is not to enrich above 5 percent. We did not agree to dismantle anything." The White House refuses to release the text of the Iran nuclear deal. [no further content] LINK
Note: see also Iran President Rouhani: No Destruction Of Centrifuges (Interview) LINK
Rouhani: No place for nuclear weapons in Iran's security strategy
President Hassan Rouhani,, describing himself as a prudent moderate, assured the Davos Economic Forum Thursday that his country had no intention of “acquiring nuclear weapons.” He referred to recent cooperation with the US and other powers on Iran’s nuclear program as a major development, and urged US leaders to accept Iran’s Islamic revolution as ending “a struggle for freedom.” Rouhani predicted that Iran would become one of the ten leading world economies. He also favored good relations with all Iran’s neighbors. When pressed to say if this included Israel, the Iranian president prevaricated: “Only those we recognize.” [no further content] LINK
Note: see also Iran Wants Full Nuclear Deal And Investment, Rouhani Tells Davos LINK
Israeli leaders' riposte for Iran's Rouhani at Davos
If Iran has no intention of acquiring nuclear weapons, then why is it developing long-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missiles? Israel’s President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asked Thursday, in response to the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani’s speech to the Davos Forum. As a “prudent moderate,” they asked, how does Rouhani justify sending arms and Hizballah units to Syria and financing terrorist networks across the world? Is this how the Iranian president conducts his avowed goals of peace and stability? They asked. Netanyahu urged the world not to be gulled by Iran's attempts to deny any intention of developing nuclear weapons. [no further content] LINK
Iran sends first warships to Atlantic
An Iranian war fleet headed Tuesday for the Atlantic Ocean, including a Kharg logistic warship capable of carrying helicopters and a Sabalan destroyer. "Today, the Islamic Republic of Iran is among the most important countries that takes responsibility for the security of the vessels which pass through the Gulf of Aden and Bab el-Mandeb strait," Iranian naval commander Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari said. [no further content] LINK
Omega-3 intake linked to signs of brain aging
NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Older women with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had slightly less brain shrinkage than women with low fatty acid levels in a new study. The results may suggest that omega-3s protect the brain from the loss of volume that happens with normal aging and is seen more severely in people with dementia, the researchers say. "The brain gets smaller during the normal aging process - about 0.5 percent per year after age 70, but dementia is associated with an accelerated and localized process of brain shrinkage," said James Pottala, who led the study. Pottala is an assistant professor at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine in Sioux Falls and chief statistician for the Health Diagnostic Laboratory in Richmond, Virginia. He and his colleagues analyzed data from the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study to see whether omega-3s were associated with brain shrinkage in general, and in specific brain regions involved in memory and other cognitive processes. MORE
Narcissism Part of Presidential Job Description, Professor Says
(CNS News) -- Narcissism, an inflated positive view of oneself not consistent with actual achievement, is on the rise in America, particularly in positions of leadership or power, according to Dr. W. Keith Campbell, author of “Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.” “You see higher levels [of narcissism] on reality television and higher levels in presidents, because I think that’s almost part of the job description now,” Campbell, a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia and the author of over one hundred scientific articles, told CNS News. Campbell was one of the researchers on a study where historians measured levels of narcissism in U.S. presidents, “The Double-Edged Sword of Grandiose Narcissism: Implications for Successful and Unsuccessful Leadership Among U.S. Presidents.” “A lot of the way we develop political leadership now, it’s almost a celebrity process. So it’s going to strengthen narcissism,” Campbell said. And in reality TV, “you don’t need talent, but you need a lot of notoriety,” and that draws narcissists in. Campbell pointed to the self-esteem movement and parenting techniques that reward children for “being wonderful” as opposed to accomplishment, false inflation of egos and grades with no correlation to educational attainment, as a turning point that begat the explosion of narcissism in America. Narcissistic people think they’re smarter, more important, and better looking than everyone else – even though in reality they are average. They may have a lot of friends who know them on a superficial level (like Facebook), but they don’t have empathy for others, and they spend a lot of time trying to gain attention. They look for ways that will make them look good so they can gain attention and positive regard, Campbell said. In a May 20, 2013 article titled, “The Me Me Me Generation,” TIME magazine reported, “The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that's now 65 or older, according to the National Institutes of Health; 58% more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale in 2009 than in 1982. Campbell’s study, which ended with President George W. Bush, found that levels of narcissism in presidents are also on the rise. It found the highest level for Lyndon Johnson, followed by Teddy Roosevelt, Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Richard Nixon. MORE
Abomination Alert #1: [Rep. Vicky Hartzler]: More Americans Aborted in 2008 Than Died in 7 Wars Combined
(CNS News) -- Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri), speaking at the 40th annual March for Life on the National Mall on Wednesday, said more Americans were killed through abortion than died in the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam and Gulf War combined. “Think about it – in 2008, more children from abortion than Americans died in the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean, Vietnam and Gulf War combined. This must stop!” said Hartzler, one of several House members who attended the pro-life rally, marking the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. In 2008, there were 825,564 abortions reported to the Centers for Disease Control. MORE
Wife of jailed pastor will risk jail to demand action
Nahgmeh Abedini, wife of an Iranian-American pastor imprisoned in Iran, will risk arrest to draw President Obama's attention to her jailed husband. Saeed Abedini returned to Iran to visit family, was arrested and after a sham trial was sentenced to eight years in prison for his previous work in the house church movement while he was previously a citizen in Iran. Now, a movement is under way to make it harder for President Obama to ignore the jailed pastor. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition tells OneNewsNow: "We are delighted to announce that Nahgmeh Abedini on March 8,which is a Saturday, is coming to the White House after being ignored by the President. And she's going to kneel in front of the White House and risk arrest." Mahoney says this latest attempt to free the Iranian-American is an eight-week campaign called the "Hebrews 13:3 Project." The effort is already unfolding in front of the White House, where police arrested Mahoney and other Christian leaders January 13 while they demonstrated civil disobedience. Mahoney is also inviting all Americans who believe in religious freedom to join them in the event. For those who cannot, he urges Christians to spend part of that Saturday in prayer for the Abedinis. [Hebrews 13:3 says 'Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.' -Ed.] [no further content] LINK
MORE NEWS & COMMENTARY
Note: Views expressed in the commentaries on this website are those of individual authors and not necessarily those of Christian Media Daily or our host - Christian Media Network. Quotes are obviously the opinion of the source. A quote is just a quote and these are offered without comment. Use of a news story or commentary is not an endorsement of the source website.
Nuke Deal Delays Iran Bomb by One Month
If Iran fully complies with the requirements of a recently signed nuclear deal, its ability to build a nuclear weapon will be delayed by just one month, according to a recent analysis published by a nuclear watchdog group.
Before Iran signed a temporary agreement to halt portions of its nuclear program, experts pegged its breakout time - the length of time it would take Tehran to enrich the fuel needed for a nuclear bomb - at around one to one-and-a-half months, according to a recent analysis by the group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).
If Iran goes along with the nuclear accord and ramps down some of its nuclear work, its breakout time will be pushed back from one month to just over two, according to UANI’s analysis, which cites figures from the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).
“In reality, the accord does little to push back Iran’s breakout time,” UANI said in its report. ”ISIS estimates that even if Iran completely fulfilled its obligations under the deal (some of which will not be fulfilled until months into the agreement), Iran’s breakout time would lengthen to only 1.9-2.2 months.”
The short setback will be accompanied by a rise in Iran’s stockpiles of enriched uranium, the key component in a nuclear weapon.
Iran’s stockpile of 5 percent enriched uranium, the production of which is permitted under the terms of the deal, will rise by 400 kg during the next six months, when the nuclear deal is in full effect.
Though Tehran is required to eradicate its stores of 20 percent enriched uranium, it will do so by converting this material back down to the 5 percent level, according to Iranian nuclear officials.
The “400 kg of 5 percent enriched UF6 will be gained by changing 100 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium to below 5 percent,” an Iranian nuclear official said Wednesday according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).
The West is permitting Iran to keep this nuclear fuel under the deal, according to ISNA.
“It was one of the main areas of disagreements between the two sides,” the nuclear official said. “The other side insisted on oxidation of the 5 percent uranium, but we did not accept it.”
Iran’s nuclear progress will not end there, according to UANI, which is tracking every facet of the deal on its newly launched Geneva Interim Agreement Tracker website.
Iran will continue work on the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor, which could provide the country with an alternate path to a nuclear weapon.
Tehran also can continue to perform advanced research and development on centrifuges and other nuclear technologies under the deal.
Additionally, it will not be barred from performing tests on long-range ballistic missiles, a weapon that could carry a nuclear payload over great distances. [no further content]
Source: freebeacon.com LINK
Commentary: Geneva II: U.S. Orwellian Subterfuge – Al-Qaeda Acts as America's Boots on the Ground in Syria (Ajamu Baraka)
It is difficult to call this week’s gathering in Montreux, Switzerland, a “peace conference” on Syria, since the U.S. and its allies are determined to change the regime by force of arms. Washington has forged an “unholy alliance with its “Wahhabi allies from Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda,” who act as America’s “boots on the ground.”
There is one thing that the so-called peace conference on Syria is guaranteed to achieve and that is that when the last speech is made and the delegates leave the hall, the grotesque bloodletting and devastation will continue for the people of Syria. Why? Because for the Obama Administration, the diplomatic process was never intended to bring about a peaceful resolution to the war. Its main purpose was always to affect their main strategic objective – the removal of President Bashar al-Assad from power and the disappearance of Syria as an independent state.
Fidelity to this goal continues to drive U.S. policy. U.S. strategists care little about the fact that, in their quest to oust the Syrian President, they have created an unholy alliance between the U.S. and its Wahhabi allies from Saudi Arabia and al-Qaeda as their “boots on the ground.” It is an alliance that ensures that, should the al-Assad government fall, the Syrian people will either live under totalitarian fundamentalist Wahhabi rule or see their country disappear as a coherent state and into warring factions.
By juxtaposing U.S. rhetoric that expresses concerns for democracy, pluralism and the human rights of the Syrian people with actual U.S. decisions, we see a dramatic illustration of the astonishing hypocrisy of U.S. policies. The Obama Administration understood the scale of human suffering it would unleash in Syria by arming, funding, training and providing political support for the opposition - opposition that it moved from a non-violent protest movement to a violent insurgency, as part of its larger geo-strategic plan for the region.
That is why commitment to regime change, rather than to a peace based on Syrian realities and the needs of the Syrian people, is the price of admission to this week’s conference in Montreux, Switzerland. It is a conference that it would be more accurate to call a ‘war conference’ rather than a ‘peace conference’ due to U.S. Secretary of State Kerry’s insistence on keeping the scope of the agenda confined to the terms of the Geneva I communique, which calls for a political transition in Syria.
The Syrian National Coalition is a mirage. Its “Free Syrian Army” has no standing and the most effective fighters are the al-Qaeda linked jihadists armed by the U.S. and the Saudi government. They are now the real power brokers on the ground.
For these fighters, Geneva II is an irrelevant sideshow that has no bearing on them and they have rejected the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition. So who does the Syrian National Coalition represent, when the bulk of the fighters have shifted to al-Qaeda and the other more than 1,000 Islamist rebel groups that between them have 100,000 fighters, all united in their commitment to a post-Assad state in which Sharia, or Islamic Law, will be established throughout Syria? . . . .
There are now voices inside and outside the Administration saying that the U.S. should abandon the Syrian National Coalition and work instead with the Salafi-Wahhabi fundamentalists who have joined together under the umbrella of the Islamic Front (IF) and are being presented as the “moderate” alternative to the radicalism of al-Qaeda. However, the Syrian people, who have a history of secularism and respect for different religions, have not signed on to a post-Assad society and government ruled by a group that has publicly stated its opposition to democracy and intention to establish an Islamic state under Sharia law.
But who cares what the Syrian people want? It does not seem to matter to the U.S. that supporting Salafi-Wahhabi fundamentalism is the antithesis of the justification it gave for supporting the “revolution” against al-Assad. It does not matter because in the end the interests of the Syrian people are of little concern to these policymakers who prioritize U.S. imperialist interests above every other consideration.
In the long [annals] of crimes by U.S. and Western imperialism, the slow, protracted destruction of the Syrian state, including the tens of thousands of lives sacrificed, is starting to emerge as one of its most significant crimes. It can be listed with crimes like the Christmas season carpet bombing of North Vietnam in 1972 and the millions murdered in Iraq during the period of sanctions and full-blown military attack.
In this era in which war is peace and wars are fought for “humanitarian purposes,” it is hard for many to get to the truth. But one thing is certain - the humanitarian disaster in Syria that was supposed to be the justification for intervention by the U.S. and its allies will continue unabated for the foreseeable future.
Source: Black Agenda Report / globalresearch.ca MORE
Commentary: THE COWARDICE OF SILENCE AND THE SIN OF OMISSION (Coach Dave Daubenmire)
Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet. Show My people their transgressions ... [Isaiah 58]
Silence hides things. Usually the truth. Speaking up exposes falsehood. Silence usually covers it.
There has never in the history of the world been more ways to communicate and yet, at the same time, more silence about the things that matter the most. Most of what we hear is noise ... meaningless lip-service designed to silence our conscience. For many, language is the Devil's way of concealing the truth.
Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” [James 4:17]
If speaking up is not important can you explain to me why so many are trying to silence free speech? Only lies are permitted to be repeated. Truth is shoved into the closet. Truth is mocked. Truth is attacked. Truth is called hate and intolerance and racist. Truth must be silenced in order for lies to live.
Truth is the anti-biotic for falsehood. America is infected with lies and those who carry the anti-dote are afraid to administer it.
The cowardice of silence is destroying more lives than cigarette smoking ever hoped to.
Silence isn't golden, it is yellow . . . .
. . . Silence is simply hiding one's light under a bushel . . . .
. . . [In] this age of instant mass communication, how has the voice of Truth become so muted? Is it because there are so many other sounds fighting for ear space or is it because the trumpet blast of truth is an uncertain one? Is God for or against truth? How can His truth be shared if the trumpet is silent?
Cry aloud, spare not, lift thy voice like a trumpet .... that's in the Bible you know. We are to lift our voice like a trumpet. Are you blowing the trumpet? Is your Pastor?
I'm not talking about blowing the trumpet in the church. It is the world that needs to hear the truth. A trumpet is loud. Our voice is to be like a trumpet. Our silence is scandalous to our Lord . . . .
If your neighbor's house was on fire would you merely sit in your easy chair and pray that the fire would go out ... or would you grab a hose? Well, your neighbor's house is on fire ... where is your . . . hose?
I know. You want to pray the fire out. You want God to do what your fear of fire will not permit you to do. You can only stand and hope it doesn't burn down ... or spread to your house. You wait on firefighters while your garden hose lies dormant.
“Please God, send the firefighters?”
Moses pleaded for the intervention of God in a mess he found himself in. “What's in your hand?” God asked Moses? Moses grabbed the rod and went to work.
So, what is in your hand? What has the Lord gifted you with that you are too afraid to use? What is preventing you from picking up your hose and allowing God the opportunity to do something miraculous? You are waiting for God to move. He is waiting for you to pick up your hose so He can help direct the water. Faith moves the heart of God. Faith requires works . . . .
We are so cowardly and fearful of the opinion of man. Why would an all powerful God want to defend His children when His children won't open their mouths and fight for Him?
Gonna be a lot of surprised people on judgment day. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith in what? Faith in the omnipotence of God. Faith in His promise to never leave us nor forsake us.
Faith in the fact that He is Who He says He is and that He can do what He says He can do.
In the book of Revelation Yahweh gives us a grocery list of those who will “have their place in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.” You will be shocked to discover who sits at the top of His list.
“But the fearful and the unbelieving ...”
Cry aloud and spare not; lift your voice like a trumpet.
Silence is a wicked thing ... cowardice is its partner in crime.
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. One act of obedience is better than a hundred sermons.” [Pastor Bonhoeffer]
Don't think God will not hold us accountable.
Source: newswithviews.com MORE
ADDITIONAL NEWS & ANALYSIS
[analysis]: Obamacare Impact: U.S. Retail Giant Target Eliminates Health Coverage for Part-Time Workers LINK
[analysis]: Justifying the Unjustifiable: Deconstructing the Lies of the NSA (Video) LINK
Obama disagrees with watchdog group's conclusion that NSA phone program is illegal LINK
Frenemy Alert: In audio, al Qaeda leader appears to urge rebel groups in Syria to unite LINK
Hezbollah goes on high alert in Beirut suburbs LINK
Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army were on high alert Thursday after rumors circulated that two suicide bombers were planning to attack Beirut’s southern suburbs
Cairo police headquarters hit by large blast LINK
Ukraine protesters give president ultimatum after deadly clashes LINK
Putin spokesman says Russia will not intervene in Ukraine protests LINK
[analysis]: Towards a Wider War? ... Worldwide Militarization and the Global Economy: 'It's Like 1914 … Right Before WW1 Broke Out' LINK
[analysis]: Pentagon Unveils Plan to Keep 10,000 Troops in Afghanistan LINK
Frenemy Alert: [analysis]: Why the Military Industrial Complex Needs Al-Qaeda ... the Best Enemy Money Can Buy LINK
Smith & Wesson to End Most California Sales Due to Micro-stamping Regulation LINK
Professor William Black: System is Ungovernable ... It has already Largely imploded (Video) LINK
The world's most ancient Christian communities are being destroyed ... and no one cares LINK
Throughout the Middle East the pattern is the same ... Christians are murdered in mob violence or by militant groups ... Their churches are bombed, their shops destroyed, and their homes looted ... Laws are passed making them second-class citizens, and the majority of them eventually leave
Abomination Alert #2: Babies Aborted in New York City in one Year Would Fill Super Bowl Stadium LINK
Abortionists terminated the lives of 83,750 babies in New York City in 2010
[analysis]: CHURCH MUST CALL FOR EXODUS FROM PUBLIC SCHOOLS LINK
Shock Study: Some Soft Drinks Contain Cancer-Causing Chemical LINK
Carcinogen known as 4-MEI has been found in caramel coloring in colas, others
HEALTH HIGHLIGHTS: Join the Sound Body Yahoo group (part of the Christian Media ministry) to receive regular health eblasts LINK
He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
Revelation 21:7-8 (KJV)
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Worldwatch was edited this week by Editor Robert Ellis with help from Claire Mason.