Archive for May 3, 2017

Congress to Pass Fresh Sanctions on North Korea as Nuke Threat Hits Critical Stage

May 3, 2017

Congress to Pass Fresh Sanctions on North Korea as Nuke Threat Hits Critical Stage, Washington Free Beacon, , May 3, 2017

This April 15, 2017 picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 16, 2017 shows Korean People’s Army (KPA) soldiers marching through Kim Il-Sung square during a military parade in Pyongyang marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung.THIS PICTURE WAS MADE AVAILABLE BY A THIRD PARTY. AFP CAN NOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, LOCATION, DATE AND CONTENT OF THIS IMAGE. THIS PHOTO IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY AFP. / (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Congress is expected to level fresh economic sanctions on North Korea this week as the threat of the hermit nation’s capability to strike the U.S. with a nuclear missile continues to escalate, according to conversations with members of the congressional leadership who told the Washington Free Beacon that the Kim Jong Un regime could have a nuclear weapon capable of striking the United States in “only a few years.”

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) confirmed that he has scheduled a vote in the House on new sanctions that will target North Korea’s slave labor trade and its shipping industry, which plays a central role in ferrying illicit arms and technology to and from the country. North Korea is a major supplier of nuclear technology on the black market, particularly to Iran, which has mimicked Pyongyang’s nuclear playbook.

The new sanctions come as congressional leaders debate how to handle North Korea’s growing nuclear threat, which went largely unaddressed by the former Obama administration.

North Korea is expected to perfect a nuclear missile capable of striking the U.S. homeland in about four years time, according to congressional sources.

“The North Korean threat is escalating—in about four years, experts estimate that North Korea will have the capability to reliably hit the continental United States with a nuclear weapon,” McCarthy told the Free Beacon. “America must use every tool at our disposal to keep our nation safe and preserve peace.”

McCarthy said that new sanctions are long overdue and can more easily win approval now that former President Barack Obama is out of office.

“This week, we will vote to increase sanctions on North Korea, targeting its shipping industry as well as those who employ North Korean slave labor abroad,” the lawmaker said. “The last administration’s long-practiced policy of strategic patience has made us less safe. We must increase the pressure on the Kim regime.”

In just the past year, North Korea has conducted two nuclear weapons tests and at least 26 ballistic missile flight tests.

The new sanctions, codified under the Korean Interdiction and Modernization of Sanctions Act, has already garnered approval from the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is expected to easily pass when it comes before the full House for a vote. The bill will then be taken up for action by the Senate, which has an appetite for such a bill.

Lawmakers are moving forward with two other resolutions aimed at highlighting North Korea’s escalating nuclear progress.

One resolution formally condemns Pyongyang’s development of several intercontinental ballistic missiles, which violated multiple international laws on such behavior.

A second resolution requires the State Department to determine whether North Korea is a state sponsor of terrorism. Such a designation still has not been made, despite the country’s threatening behavior and multiple nuclear missile launches.

“It is not a matter of if, but when Kim Jong-Un will be brazen enough to attack one of our allies, or even the United States,” McCarthy said in a statement on the two resolutions. “We must be honest and forthright abroad, making clear that North Korea’s ballistic missile testing is unacceptable and that the Kim regime is worthy of sanctions as it is undoubtedly a state sponsor of terrorism.”

One senior congressional source who spoke to the Free Beacon about the issue said that the Obama administration’s policy of trying to wait out the threat has proven ineffective.

“The policy of strategic patience has allowed North Korea to charge full steam ahead in developing its nuclear program,” said the source, who requested anonymity to discuss congressional deliberations on the issue. “Doing nothing has only allowed North Korean provocations to increase. I think everyone recognizes that.”

“Now, North Korea is only a few years away from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear bomb,” the source said. “The best response is to increase pressure on the Kim regime, including with new sanctions, leaving all options on the table to preserve peace and end the threat of a nuclear North Korea.”

Watch: President Trump Gives a Joint Statement with President Abbas

May 3, 2017

 Source: Watch: President Trump Gives a Joint Statement with President AbbasThe Jewish Press | Jewish Press News Briefs | 8 Iyyar 5777 – May 3, 2017 | JewishPress.com
Photo Credit: The White House

The joint statement in the video starts at 31:54

The full transcript can be read at the link.

President Trump wants to launch a new peace process… and that always leads to more terror attack against Israel.

Putin & Trump discuss Iranians on Israel’s border

May 3, 2017

Putin & Trump discuss Iranians on Israel’s border, DEBKAfile, May 3, 2017

(President Trump’s influence with Putin seems to have diminished substantially in the absence of General Flynn. — DM)

Israel was seriously dismayed Wednesday, May 3, when first reports reached Jerusalem about the telephone conversation between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin Tuesday, during which Trump agreed to consider Putin’s plan for “de-escalation zones” in Syria, in place of the American security zones proposal. The Russian president’s plan includes the posting of Iranian military officers as co-monitors for those zones, one of which is to be located on the Syrian-Israeli border.

President Trump described the conversation as “Very good.”

The four “de-escalation zones” proposed would be situated at:

1. The northwestern province of Idlib up to the Turkish border;

2. The central Syrian province of Homs (where also the Al-Shariat air base hit by US Tomahawks last month is located);

3. The East Ghouta suburb of Damascus (including also a big military airfield);

4. The Southern region along Syria’s borders with Jordan and Syria.

The Russian president explained that the “guarantor countries” – i.e. Russia, Turkey and Iran – would appoint the monitors for the de-escalation zones.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that Israel was deeply concerned to discover that President Trump had nodded to Putin going forward with his plan, despite Iran’s active involvement. He was even ready to send a US official for the first time to the fourth round of the Syrian peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition in Astana Wednesday, although this process is jointly sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran. Stuart Jones, acting assistant Secretary of State, was sent to attend the meeting in the Kazakh capital as an observer, thereby elevating the former American representation from ambassador..

This development caused Israeli disquiet on a number of grounds:

a) The Iranian monitors for the new zones will sit directly opposite the Israeli border. Notice has gone out to Washington and Moscow that the Israeli government will on no account countenance an Iran military presence along its border.

b)  Israel also eyes with mistrust the possible deployment of Russian and Turkish offices along its border with Syria.

c)  Declaring eastern Damascus a protected zone would obstruct Israel aerial operations for keeping Iranian air shipments of advanced weapons via Syria out of Hizballah’s hands. Iran would be able to renew its shipments under full protection.

You can read more about the Russian and American “zones” for Syria in the coming issue of DEBKA Weekly out Friday, May 5. To subscribe to this publication, click here.

d)  There were also some misgivings in Israel about the way National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster characterized President Trump’s approach to foreign policy, shortly before Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas arrived at the White House on Wednesday.

“The president is not a super-patient man,” he said. He does not have time to “debate over doctrine, and instead seeks to challenge failed policies of the past with a businessman’s results-oriented approach,” McMaster said.

The trouble is that Middle East issues, such as the Syrian conflict and Israeli security, demand patience and rather more than a businessman’s results-oriented approach, else they may lead to such potentially disastrous consequences as an Iranian military presence that is far too near and dangerous for Israel to countenance.

Iran Using U.S. Cash to Fund Unprecedented, Massive Military Buildup

May 3, 2017

Iran Using U.S. Cash to Fund Unprecedented, Massive Military Buildup, Washington Free Beacon, , May 3, 2017

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gives a press conference in the capital Tehran on April 10, 2017. Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran is using the billions in cash resources provided under the landmark nuclear deal to engage in an unprecedented military buildup meant to transform the Islamic Republic’s fighting force into an “offensive” juggernaut, according to a largely unreported announcement by Iranian military leaders that has sparked concern among U.S. national security insiders and sources on Capitol Hill.

Iranian officials announced late last month that Iran’s defense budget had increased by 145 percent under President Hassan Rouhani and that the military is moving forward with a massive restructuring effort aimed at making it “a forward moving force,” according to regional reports.

Iranian leaders have stated since the Iran deal was enacted that they are using the massive amounts of cash released under the agreement to fund the purchase of new military equipment and other armaments. Iran also has pursued multi-million dollar arms deals with Russia since economic sanctions were nixed as part of the deal.

Leading members of Congress and U.S. officials working on the Iran portfolio suspect that at least a portion of the Obama administration’s $1.7 billion cash payment to Iran  has been used to fund and support terrorists in the Middle East.

The latest disclosure about Iran’s military buildup is further fueling concerns that U.S. cash assets returned to the country—which were released with no strings attached by the Obama administration—are helping Iran pursue a more aggressive military stance against U.S. forces in the region.

“President Obama flat-out caved in to Iran when he handed them the disastrous nuclear deal and $1.7 billion in cash payments that could assist Iran’s military,” Rep. Sean Duffy (R., Wis.), an opponent of the nuclear deal, told the Washington Free Beacon. “So it’s no surprise that the world’s lead sponsor of terrorism would feel emboldened to become more aggressive in the region and flex its military muscle.”

Iranian Brigadier General Kiumars Heidari announced the military buildup during Iran’s annual Army Day. While the announcement did not grab many headlines in the Western media, national security insiders have been discussing the announcement for weeks, according to conversations with multiple sources.

Iran’s goal is to turn its army into an “offensive” force, a major shift from its historic role as a support agent for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC, Iran’s extremely well funded primary fighting force.

Iran hopes to revamp its army from top to bottom, including improving logistical capabilities, weaponry, and other armaments.

Mahan Abedin, an Iran analyst writing in Middle East Eye, described the announcement as a major shift in Iranian military policy that would allow the Islamic Republic to intervene in the Persian Gulf region, where the U.S. military has a significant presence.

“This is a major policy announcement with far-reaching consequences for foreign policy and internal defense-related power dynamics,” Abedin wrote. “If implemented properly, Heidari’s proposed modernization policy would not only radically alter Iranian defense doctrine, but just as importantly, it would also reverse the army’s subservient relationship to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).”

Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and expert on rogue regimes, told the Free Beacon that it should come as no surprise that Iran is diverting the cash it received under the nuclear deal to its military industry.

The disclosure comes as “no surprise to anyone who studied Iran” and should have been anticipated by the Obama administration, which largely sought to downplay the importance of giving Iran billions in cash resources, Rubin said.

“First, there’s history: Between 1998 and 2005, European Union trade with Iran more than doubled and the price of oil quintupled,” Rubin explained. “Iran took that hard currency windfall and invested the bulk of it in its nuclear and missile programs. The person coordinating Iran’s strategy? Hassan Rouhani who was at the time secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.”

“Obama and Kerry might as well have wired the money directly into the accounts of those seeking to enhance Iran’s military, kill Sunnis, or sponsor terrorism,” Rubin said.

One senior congressional source tracking the matter expressed concern about the safety of U.S. forces in the region, which already are routinely harassed by Iranian military personnel.

“This is certainly grounds for concern,” the source said. “An Iranian military buildup coupled with an offensive posture is a threat to the United States and our allies. This also serves as an important reminder of why the Obama administration’s cash infusion to Iran was so dangerous.”

The cash windfall provided by the United States and European countries is “fungible and hence can be used for everything from sponsoring terror proxies to developing ballistic missiles,” the source warned. “Congress will continue to take action to counter Iranian terrorism and ensure this regime never acquires a nuclear weapon.”

Iran’s military announcement has already sparked a renewed push on Capitol Hill to reimpose economic sanctions on Iran.

“The Iranians know that the party will end this fall, when Congress will pass bipartisan legislation that begins to roll back Iran’s military growth,” one senior congressional adviser working on the sanctions effort told the Free Beacon.

“The Obama administration avoided any serious action for years, and so Iran kept growing its arsenal and using it against our allies, against Syrian civilians, and increasingly against our military,” said the source. “Now they’re rushing to accomplish as much as they can before Congress and the Trump administration get around to reversing Obama’s policies.”

Trump-Putin call focuses on Syria, security zones

May 3, 2017

Trump-Putin call focuses on Syria, security zones, DEBKAfile, May 2, 2017

Clearly, Putin was making the point that, just as the US deals with the Syrian issue in alignment with Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan, Russia coordinates its actions with Iran and Turkey. Since both presidents are similarly weighed down by their allies, the road to a consensus between Washington and Moscow is destined to be long with many convolutions. Therefore, the tension on the Israeli and Jordanian borders of southern Syria will continue to escalate before it abates.

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One of the most consequential exchanges on the disposition of Syria’s border lands with Israel and Jordan – and the future of the Syrian conflict at large – took place between Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in a phone call on Tuesday, May 2. The call took place when German Chancellor Angela Merkel was visiting Putin at his Black Sea residence in Sochi.

DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources reveal that the two presidents focused strongly on an effort to agree on how de-escalate the Syrian conflict now in its sixth year and bring it to an end. The Russian leader proposed drawing armistice lines between the warring sides under the guarantee of a special Russian military mechanism. The Americans have not released any ideas, but they are believed to be contemplating establishing safety zones barred to the Syrian air force. One of those zones would be marked out in the south on Syria’s borders with Israel and Jordan.

The Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, the Iranian military-political command and Hizballah are resisting US feelers for the introduction of these safe zones, regarding the plan as a ploy hatched by the Saudis, Israelis and Jordanians to take control of South Syria by engaging local Syrian rebel groups as their vehicle. Damascus, Tehran and Beirut believe that if they allow the scheme to go forward without resistance, it will be the start of similar off-limits enclaves in other parts of Syria, and the country will quickly fall apart into self-ruling segments.

That is why late last month, Syrian army units, the Shiite militias under Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers’ command and Hizballah combined their resources to push against the local Syrian rebels of the South in the regions of the borders with Israel and Jordan.

It is doubtful whether Trump and Putin were able to work out something tangible in their first phone conversation since the US fired Tomahawk cruise missiles against the Syrian Shayrat air base on April 7. The Russian president used the shock of that event to cultivate closer ties with the Syrian ruler and strengthen his missile defenses, in case of an American repeat attack or Israeli air strikes on military targets in Syria.

At the same time, Putin becamed more careful about infringing on parts of Syria deemed to be under American influence, especially the Kurdish enclaves.

The US president was also careful not to direct personal attacks on Putin or criticize Russia’s military involvement in Syria, merely expressing the hope that at some point the two powers could reach an understanding to end the vicious conflict.

When reporters in Sochi asked the Russian president if he thought he could sell his plan to Assad, he replied: “A ceasefire is the first priority and cooperation with Washington is critical.”

At the same time, Russia operates in tandem with Turkey and Iran and was trying to “create the conditions for political cooperation on all sides,” he said.

Clearly, Putin was making the point that, just as the US deals with the Syrian issue in alignment with Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan, Russia coordinates its actions with Iran and Turkey. Since both presidents are similarly weighed down by their allies, the road to a consensus between Washington and Moscow is destined to be long with many convolutions. Therefore, the tension on the Israeli and Jordanian borders of southern Syria will continue to escalate before it abates.