Next Cold War Roundup 5/17/16
The United States and Russia have decided to transform the cessation of hostilities into an official ceasefire in Syria, but the Assad issue is not settled. Donald Trump, in a British TV interview, said UK leaders should pursue their own interests and shouldn’t have followed the US into the disastrous Iraq war. A Pentagon spokesperson said Iraqi forces are making progress in Rutba and no more American troops are needed right now. Diplomats in Vienna decided to build an army for the UN-appointed unity government in Libya. For the first time in 40 years, the US Department of Treasury revealed the total US debt holdings of Saudi Arabia. The CIA had surprise news for the Department of Justice about the torture report.
Vienna Talks on Syria, Truce to Real Ceasefire
_ US Sec. State Kerry and Russian foreign minister Lavrov said there was “progress in Syria peace talks” and that “the powers there agreed to turn the Syria truce into a real ceasefire.”
_ An RT journalist reported that Lavrov still disagrees with Kerry that “no political solution while Assad in power.” Via Qatar’s Al Jazeera: “US officials travelling with Kerry say Washington still insists that Assad should go, with an August 1 deadline for settling on the framework under which he does so.” Al Rai’s correspondent Magnier says Russia wants to make a deal while Pres. Obama is still in office.
_ Sec. State Kerry is in Vienna and met with Russian foreign minister Lavrov Monday after the talks on Libya and before the International Syria Support Group talks begin on Tuesday. Kerry will then go to Egypt and Brussels.
Trump Criticizes Blair for Iraq; Rejects War Crimes Allegations But Believes British Should Put UK Before US
_ In a multi-part interview on British ITV, presumptive presidential candidate Donald Trump criticized former UK prime minister Tony Blair for invading Iraq, calling it a “disaster” and suggesting Blair should fear the upcoming Chilcot report. But Trump doesn’t see UK as having committed a war crime. “I don’t see it as war crimes. I just think he goes down as somebody who did a terrible job.“
_ Trump said the UK leaders would get more respect if they put the UK interests before US interests and he was surprised anyone would see a relationship with Bush as being that important. ‘It can only be a disaster. Your country shouldn’t have gone in.‘
Diplomatic Pow-Wow Decision to Lift Arms Embargo and Build a Libyan Army
_ “Diplomats from 25 countries and international organizations, including the United States, said Monday that they are considering arming and training the new unity government in Libya so it can fight the spread of terrorist groups in the country and counter the smuggling of migrants to Europe.” The prime minister of the UN-appointed government has called the current situation in Libya “very bad.”
_ Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said “General MacFarland has everything he needs right now to carry out this fight against ISIL” in Iraq and said Iraqi forces are active in various parts of the country: Anbar, Euphrates River Valley and Makhmur.
_ Cook said Rutba has strategic significance in cutting off the flow “from the Jordanian border from west to east towards Baghdad, for example,” and Iraqi forces are making progress there.
_ There was another suicide attack in Iraq on Tuesday and four attacks over the past week, killing dozens. “A wave of bombings struck outdoor markets and a restaurant in Shiite-dominated neighborhoods of Baghdad on Tuesday, killing at least 69 people, officials said.”
Revealed: Saudis Hold $117 Billion in US Debt
_ For the first time in four decades, the US Treasury revealed how much US debt that Saudi Arabia is holding. It’s $116.8 billion and they are “among the top dozen foreign nations in terms of holdings of U.S. debt, and compares with China’s $1.3 trillion trove, and $1.1 trillion for Japan.” So they hold about one tenth of the assets that China and Japan (each) are holding.
_ Saudis had claimed that they hold $750 billion in US assets when they threatened to liquidate those assets if Congress passed a bill allowing 9/11 victims to sue foreign countries. Saudi Arabia may be holding other dollar denominated debt in other countries.
_ Total foreign holdings of US Treasury debt is $6.29 trillion.
_ “A Treasury spokesperson said that the decision to start listing Saudi Arabia’s holdings separately was not linked in any way to recent warnings from the government of Saudi Arabia.” (Sounds like some serious doublespeak there!)
FBI Strong-Armed Graham on 28 Pages
_ “Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) is criticizing the Obama administration as having tried to strong-arm a former senator who is pushing to declassify 28 pages of the 9/11 report dealing with Saudi Arabia.” Sherman revealed that former senator Bob Graham and his daughter, congresswoman Gwen Graham, were detained by the FBI at Dulles airport in 2011 (the year of the 10th anniversary of 9/11.) The FBI tried to intimidate Graham into ceasing his efforts to release the 28 pages.
Torture Report Copies Disappeared
_ Whistleblower John Kiriakou says he is not surprised and questions how that could happen. He explains details about how the procedures that make it clear to him it wasn’t an accident. Kiriakou enumerates all the lies related to the torture report to date and asks why we should believe anything John Brennan says (or for that matter Sen. Feinstein who has been “little more than a cheerleader.”) Kiriakou then calls for a US lawmaker to “heroically” submit the report into the Congressional record (for which they would have immunity) which would automatically release it to the public.
Ahrar al-Sham Status and Atrocities in Syria
_ Charles Lister of Brookings Doha branch, who claims to have a large number of Syrian rebel sources and frequent contact with them, reports that a small Free Syrian Army group, Jaish al-Shamal has a video that shows “killing of female # PR official “Shirin” & 1st assistant Ziyad Jafar.” Lister cautions the Syrian opposition have done themselves no favors by executing Syrian Kurds, and claims that it could have long-term consequences, adverse effects on a peace deal.
_ State spokesman Kirby says the situation is “fluid” when asked if the US was successful getting Syrian rebels to move away from al Nusra (al Qaeda). When asked why the US blocked adding Ahrar al-Sham from the terrorist group list, especially after recent reported atrocities in the Alwaite village of al- Zahraa, Kirby said the whole ISSG group had decided that only ISIS and al Nusra were on the blacklist excluded from the ceasefire and scolded the journalist when pressured further on the issue.
Race for Raqqa
_ An apparently official press account of the Syrian Democratic Forces announced on Friday via Twitter that the “Raqqa Campaign” would begin very soon.
Russian Air Support in Idlib
_ After many reports that the Russian air force was no longer providing air support to Syrian coalition forces in northwestern Syria, there are new reports of “massive” airstrikes against al Nusra near Abu al-Duhur airbase in Idlib, some 45km south of Aleppo.
_ Syrian “Desert Hawks” and Russian marines are fighting ISIS in eastern Homs province recapturing territory and “are now within striking distance of the Al-Sha’ar Gas Fields that have been under ISIS’ control for nearly three weeks.”
Golan Heights Belongs to Syria
_ Kremlin spokesman reiterated that the Golan Heights belongs to Syria. “The Russian Federation’s stance has not changed regarding the rightful owners (Syria) of the Golan Heights. We (Russia) respect the laws set forth by the U.N. Security Council on this matter.”
Nuland Going to Moscow for Talks on Ukraine
_ Asst. Sec. State Victoria Nuland is leaving Vienna Tuesday for Moscow and “will meet with senior Russian government officials to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine and next steps to implement the Minsk agreements in support of the Normandy countries and the Trilateral Contact Group. ”
Turkish Military Massing at Syrian Border
_ “In the past few weeks, the Turkish military has been amassing armor and soldiers along its Syrian border” where Turkish president Erdogan claims ISIS has been firing missiles into the town of Kilis. “Erdogan has said that his armed forces are readying to ‘clear’ the frontier on the Syrian side of the border, following back and forth fire with Islamic State terrorists.” Erdogan’s crediblity is low and there has been quite a lot of speculation about who is really firing those rockets, about Turkey’s history supporting ISIS, and about leaked plans to use false flag attacks to justify an attack on Syrian Kurds and to justify pursuing the long-held goal of taking control of a strip of land all along their border, and possibly Aleppo.
_ An Al Monitor columnist says “ending the IS attacks on Kilis may require creating a buffer zone in Syrian territory and pushing IS away” and cites Israel’s response to rockets fired from Gaza, and the “Operation Grapes of Wrath” against Hezbollah in Lebanon, and talks about a campaign in Kilish that shames the Turkish government for not responding to the alleged ISIS attacks, playing on Erdogan’s ambition to be a “regional power”.
NATO Fleet in the Black Sea?
_ At a Balkan security conference, Turkey’s president Erdogan called for more NATO presence in the Black Sea to counter Russia, saying that it is turning into a “Russian lake.” A Romanian proposal to create a NATO Black Sea fleet was endorsed by the United States last month.
_The head of Russia’s parliamentary defense committee said “As for the [Russian] lake, I advise Mr Erdogan to read the Montreux Convention more attentively. It does not give him the right to ban the passage of ships. The warships of the Black Sea states notify Turkey of their passage,”