Moscow Voices Stance On Caspian Before Summit

Russia is pressing its opposition to the division of the Caspian Sea into five sectors ahead of a summit of the five nations with coastlines on the inland sea.

Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have been wrangling over the resource-rich Caspian Sea since the 1991 Soviet collapse left five nations with shorelines instead of two.

Their leaders are to meet In Astrakhan, Russia, for a summit on September 29.

Russian Foreign Ministry official Igor Bratchikov told reporters in Moscow on September 22 that the Kremlin supports the conditions of the 1921 Soviet-Iranian treaty under which the Caspian is considered a lake and is divided into two sectors.

Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan now have bilateral agreements based on median lines.

Iran wants a single, multilateral agreement that would give it a one-fifth share of the sea.

Based on reporting by ITAR-TASS and Interfax

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Moscow Voices Stance On Caspian Before Summit

Russia is pressing its opposition to the division of the Caspian Sea into five sectors ahead of a summit of the five nations with coastlines on the inland sea.

Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have been wrangling over the resource-rich Caspian Sea since the 1991 Soviet collapse left five nations with shorelines instead of two.

Their leaders are to meet In Astrakhan, Russia, for a summit on September 29.

Russian Foreign Ministry official Igor Bratchikov told reporters in Moscow on September 22 that the Kremlin supports the conditions of the 1921 Soviet-Iranian treaty under which the Caspian is considered a lake and is divided into two sectors.

Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan now have bilateral agreements based on median lines.

Iran wants a single, multilateral agreement that would give it a one-fifth share of the sea.

Based on reporting by ITAR-TASS and Interfax

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Bishop Criticizes Senator for Politicizing Summit on Mideast Christians

A cross is carried to the altar during an ecumenical prayer service during the In Defense of Christians summit in Washington. Christian patriarchs from the Middle East, along with lawmakers and international human rights activists, attended the three-day gathering on the persecution of Middle Eastern minorities (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn).WASHINGTON — A Catholic bishop criticized Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for politicizing a conference of diverse political and church leaders working on behalf of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East.

“When you come to a hard political stance on anything, it’s going to cause a flare-up, and that’s what happened last night,” Maronite Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of Brooklyn, New York, told Catholic News Service Sept. 11.

Cruz was a keynote speaker at the gala solidarity dinner at the inaugural summit of In Defense of Christians, a new organization with the aim of shaping policy and heightening awareness of Christians in the Middle East.

The conference brought together more than 500 politicians, church leaders — including Catholic and Orthodox patriarchs flown in from the Middle East — and Christians in the diaspora. The patriarchs emphasized that their differences did not preclude unity on behalf of all minorities in the Middle East.

Cruz, touted as a potential Republican candidate for president in 2016, left the stage after he was booed for saying that Christians have no better ally than Israel.

In a statement posted on his website, Cruz said: “After just a few minutes, I had no choice. I told them that if you will not stand with Israel, if you will not stand with the Jews, then I will not stand with you. And then I walked off the stage.”

Bishop Mansour said he felt Cruz “had a litmus test for us: If we don’t stand with Israel, then he won’t stand with us. Well, that’s not an approach that is viable for a Christian.

“Christians don’t ally themselves to any state,” said Bishop Mansour. “We are not allied to the state — to the United States or to Iraq, or to Syria. Christians must be free to engage their society, to build up what is beautiful in it, and to critique what is not.”

Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, distinguished professor of ethics and global development at Georgetown University, attended the conference but was not at the gala.

In a blog for, scheduled for publication Sept. 15, Father Christiansen contrasted the unanimity of the patriarchs’ message on Christians with Cruz’s remarks, which he called “divisive.”

“Members of the audience responded that calls made by Cruz and other speakers for respect for Jews and their inclusion in a pluralist Middle East had met with wide approval,” wrote Father Christiansen, who has spent years advocating for Mideast Christians in his work as a policy adviser for the U.S. bishops’ conference and as editor of America magazine.

“It was Cruz’s assertion that Israel was an ally of Middle Eastern Christians to which they objected,” he wrote. “They felt that their effort to build a coalition had been hijacked for the sake of Cruz’s own political ambitions and the ultra-Zionist cause.”

Bishop Mansour, who said he liked Cruz personally, told CNS: “I ran after him, and I saw him, face to face, as you and I are talking. He was very upset.”

But he pointed out that many in the audience at the gala dinner were Palestinian Christians.

“Come on, you have to talk to your audience, you have to talk to the people who are here. I felt that showed a great insensitivity on his part,” said Bishop Mansour, whose comments were echoed by others in attendance.

“We’ve been very careful, all the organizers and everybody involved,” said Bishop Mansour. “The only one who was not very careful was Sen. Cruz.”

“He made it very clear about defense of Jews and defense of Christians, but he did not mention defense of Muslims,” said Bishop Mansour. He said everyone at the conference had been “very careful to defend the best of the Muslim tradition and to condemn the worst in it.”

The bishop noted that 18 congressmen and senators had had talks with the Christian leaders on Capitol Hill without any kind of animosity.

After Cruz left the stage, one of the event organizers chastised the crowd, and In Defense of Christians posted a statement on its website from its president, Toufic Baaklini:

“As (Lebanese) Cardinal (Bechara) Rai so eloquently put it to the attendees of the In Defense of Christians’ inaugural summit gala dinner: ‘At every wedding, there are a few problems.’ In this case, a few politically motivated opportunists chose to divide a room that for more than 48 hours sought unity in opposing the shared threat of genocide, faced not only by our Christian brothers and sisters, but our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of all other faiths and all people of good will.

“Tonight’s injection of politics when the focus should have been on unity and faith momentarily played into the hands of a few who do not adhere to IDC’s principles. They were made no longer welcome,” the statement said, without indicating whether that meant the hecklers or Cruz.

The senator also posted a statement on his website:

“Tonight in Washington should have been a night of unity as we came together for the inaugural event for a group that calls itself ‘In Defense of Christians.’ Instead, it unfortunately deteriorated into a shameful display of bigotry and hatred,” the statement said.

“When I spoke in strong support of Israel and the Jewish people, who are being persecuted and murdered by the same vicious terrorists who are also slaughtering Christians, many Christians in the audience applauded. But, sadly, a vocal and angry minority of attendees at the conference tried to shout down my expression of solidarity with Israel.

“They cannot shout down the truth. And we should not shy away from expressing the truth, even in the face of — especially in the face of — ignorance and bigotry,” it said.

Assyrian International News Agency

Assyrian Orthodox Patriarch Delivers Keynote Speech At in Defense of Christians Summit

Assyrian Orthodox Patriarch Delivers Keynote Speech At in Defense of Christians Summit

Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II.Washington (AINA) — Yesterday, on the third day of the In Defense of Christians summit, Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II, Syriac Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, delivered a keynote address on the persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria. The title of the speech was Do Muslims need Christians in the Middle East?

The Patriarch began by saying “Muslims were welcomed to many major cities in what is today known as Syria, Lebanon and Iraq by Christians…Christians had established the infrastructure of the new [Islamic] state.”

The Patriarch said:

Many of the Christians were forced to convert as a result of the imposition of heavy jizya, poll tax, on them. They often endured many periods of persecution, especially during the Mongol and Ottoman times. The Genocide of Armenians and Syriac speaking Christians unleashed during World War One resulted in the extermination of millions of Christians. In fact, we all are commemorating this tragic event throughout next year as the hundredth anniversary of this atrocity.

I believe that Muslims need Christians to challenge themselves to live in a pluralistic and multi-religious society where they can affirm their identity without being afraid of the other. Muslims ought to be able to embrace the values of tolerance and acceptance of the other as a sign of self confidence to prove that Islam as a religion can coexist with other religions without the need to absorb others or the fear that it may be absorbed by others. Living in isolation will keep Muslims ignorant of the other and ignorance is the mother of all fear.

It’s high time for Muslim scholars and religious leader to prove to the world that these groups do not represent true Muslim teachings.

Muslims need Christians to fight together extremism. Muslims need Christians to fight together secularism, a common enemy of all believers from all religions. Muslims need Christians to fight together commercialism — the human being has become a commodity being sold. We have to come together to restore back the dignity of the human being as the image of God on earth.

I conclude by calling upon the international community to help us Christians stay in our homelands, in the lands that are forefathers for two millennia witnessed for Christ and for many millennia lives as the people, indigenous people of that land.

By calling upon them [international community] to help us stay in our homeland we also want them to work hard to make sure that these Christians should be protected, should be provided with dignity, with honor, and should not be subject to attacks such as we are seeing today.

The full audio recording of the speech is below.

Patriarch Aprhem’s speech at the In Defense Of Christians Summit in Washington on September 11, 2014

Assyrian International News Agency

Senator Ted Cruz Booed Off Stage At In Defense of Christians Summit

Senator Ted Cruz speaking at the In Defense of Christians Inaugural Summit Gala Dinner.Washington (AINA) — Speaking at the In Defense of Christians (IDC) summit in Washington yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz ran afoul of the attendees who had gathered to build support for the Christians of Iraq, who are facing a genocide by ISIS.

Senator Cruz was introduced by Nina Shea, the director of the Center for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute.

Senator Cruz began by saying all gathered here are united in defense of Christians and Jews, and received applause.

He then said “Tonight we are all united in defense of people of good faith who are standing together against those who would persecute and murder those who dare to disagree with their religious teachings.”

When Senator Cruz said “And today Christians have no better ally than the Jewish state” audience members began to object, saying “stop it” and booing. He immediately followed by saying “Let me say this: those who hate Israel hate America.” At this point the audience became very agitated.

Here’s the full transcript followed by the audio recording of the speech.

Good evening. Today we are gathered at a time of extraordinary challenge. Tonight we are all united in defense of Christians.


Tonight we are all united in defense of Jews.


Tonight we are all united in defense of people of good faith who are standing together against those who would persecute and murder those who dare to disagree with their religious teachings.


Religious bigotry is a cancer with many manifestations. ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and their state sponsors like Syria and Iran, are all engaged in a vicious genocidal campaign to destroy religious minorities in the Middle East.

Sometimes we are told not to lump these groups together, but we have to understand their so-called nuances and differences. But we shouldn’t try to parse different manifestations of evil that are on murderous rampage through the region. Hate is hate and murder is murder.

Our purpose here tonight is to highlight a terrible injustice, a humanitarian crisis. Christians are being systematically exterminated.

In 1948 Jews throughout the Middle East faced murder and extermination and fled to the nation of Israel. And today Christians have no better ally than the Jewish state.

AUDIENCE: stop it, stop it…boooh

Cruz: Let me say this: those who hate Israel hate America.


Cruz: And those who hate Jews hate Christians.

AUDIENCE: boooh–

Cruz: And if this room will not recognize that, then my heart weeps that the men and women here will not stand in solidarity with Jews and Christians alike who are persecuted by radicals who seek to murder them.


If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ–

AUDIENCE: nobody said we hate the Jews…the meeting is for the Christians…

Cruz: And the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians, who behead children, are the very same people who target and murder Jews for their faith for the same reason.


AUDIENCE: …is not fighting Jews, it is fighting Christians…

I will say this–

AUDIENCE: don’t say anymore…enough…that is enough…enough

THE PRESIDENT OF IDC: please respect the…

Cruz: I am saddened to see some here, not everyone, but some here are so consumed with hate–

AUDIENCE: We are not consumed with hate, no, you are consumed with hate–

Cruz: …if you will not stand with Israel and Jews, then I will not stand with you. Thank you and God bless you.

Audio of Senator Ted Cruz’s speech at the In Defense Of Christians Summit in Washington on September 10, 2014

AINA interviewed several conference attendees after the event and most said that they were there to discuss the plight of the Christians in Iraq, not the Israel-Hamas conflict, and they resented the senator’s attempt to “hijack” the summit.

IDC issued the following statement on the “disruption:”

In Defense of Christians President Toufic Baaklini issued the following statement in response to a disruption at the Inaugural Summit Gala Dinner:

As Cardinal Rai so eloquently put it to the attendees of the In Defense of Christians’ inaugural Summit gala dinner: ‘At every wedding, there are a few wedding crashers.’ In this case, a few politically motivated opportunists chose to divide a room that for more than 48 hours sought unity in opposing the shared threat of genocide, faced not only by our Christian brothers and sisters, but our Jewish brothers and sisters and people of other all other faiths and all people of good will.

Tonight’s injection of politics when the focus should have been on unity and faith, momentarily played into the hands of a few who do not adhere to IDC’s principles. They were made no longer welcome.

When we set out to form In Defense of Christians, many in the foreign policy and faith-based communities said such an effort was impossible. That it would be too difficult to bring such a diverse group of Christian sects, religious and human rights organizations together to draw attention not only to the plight of the deteriorating situation facing our Christians brothers and sisters, but also to the plight of all people of faith, in the Middle East who are suffering.

For more than 48 hours, our initial IDC conference was successfully bridging divides of faith, language, geography and politics. It has not been easy, and not without challenges. Tonight’s events make clearer than ever, that the In Defense of Christians is desperately needed in a world that remains divided to the point where even the most fundamental value of life and human dignity are cast aside.

We remain undaunted and focused on achieving our goals.

Assyrian International News Agency

Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit Opens

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) opens a two-day summit in Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, on September 11.

The presidents of member states China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan are all due to attend the summit, which comes at a time when the Kremlin has sharpened its focus on Asia while its ties with the West have become severely strained by the Ukraine crisis.

The leaders of Iran and Mongolia are also in Dushanbe and will be holding meetings on the sidelines of the summit with the heads of of SCO member states.

Iran and Mongolia have observer status in the SCO, as do Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan.

This year’s agenda is expected to have a heavy focus on regional security ahead of the planned drawdown of foreign forces in Afghanistan at the end of this year.

Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov said ahead of the summit that Russia would be proposing to hold a conference on Afghanistan under SCO aegis later this year.

Another key topic on this year’s agenda is finalizing a mechanism to accept new members. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments published on September 10 that formalizing legal, administrative, and financial requirements for entry would make it “possible to begin expanding the organization during the Russian presidency,” which begins after the summit and lasts one year.  

Ushakov said India and Pakistan were the two leading candidates for full membership among observer nations.

Ushakov said Iran, which has also wanted to join for several years, would have to wait a bit longer.

“The issue of Iran’s membership would obviously be put off in view of UN sanctions still in effect against that country,” Ushakov said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are due to meet on the sidelines with Mongolian leader Tsakhia Elbegdorj to discuss areas of trilateral cooperation, including the expansion of trans-border railway corridors and the possibility of creating a regional electricity grid.

Putin is also scheduled to meet separately with Iranian President Hassan Rohani to discuss bilateral ties.

Security Is ‘Top Priority’

Russia will take over the SCO presidency from Tajikistan at the end of the summit and will host the next summit in the city of Ufa next July. 

Lavrov said in an interview with “Rossiiskaya Gazeta” that regional security remains the top priority but that Russia would “use its presidency…to advocate for coordinated steps on the economy, financial sector, energy and food security.”

Russia has banned many Western food imports in an exchange of sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine and is seeking to strengthen cooperation with former Soviet republics in Central Asia as well as China and other Asian states amid tension with the United States and Europe. 

But Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, the conflict in eastern Ukraine and remarks by Putin have raised concerns in nations such as Kazakhstan that the Kremlin could have designs on other parts of the former Soviet Union.

The SCO was originally called the Shanghai Five and was created in 1996 to foster confidence along the border between China and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The original agreements concerned removing military forces away from the common border area.

Later the group refocused on economic cooperation, which China used to great effect to court better trade ties with the Central Asian states.

In 2001, Uzbekistan joined at a time when Russia was battling Islamic militants in the North Caucasus and Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan were fighting Islamic militants in Central Asia.

The SCO was officially formed at that 2001 summit and the group reoriented cooperation to include the fight against terrorism and extremism.

Belarus, Sri Lanka and Turkey currently have the status of dialogue partners in the SCO.

With reporting by ITAR-TASS and Interfax

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Defense of Christians Summit Opens in Washington

Washington (AINA) — A three day conference dedicated to aiding the Christians in north Iraq opened yesterday. Titled In Defense of Christians (IDC), the conference will bring together lawmakers, Eastern and Western churches, community leaders and various Christian groups to address the issue of the genocide being perpetrated against the Assyrians (also known as Chaldeans and Syriacs) in north Iraq by ISIS and other Christians in the Middle East.

Since taking over Mosul in June 10, ISIS has moved into Assyrian areas in the Nineveh Plain. 200,000 Assyrians have fled their homes and are now living in church courtyards, refugees camps, abandoned and unfinished buildings, open fields and sidewalks — in Ankawa, Arbel and Dohuk and its surrounding areas.

See Timeline of ISIS in North Iraq.

The conference opened on Tuesday night with an ecumenical prayer service conducted by clergy from Eastern and Western churches. The clergy included Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, Patriarch Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Raï, His Beatitude Patriarch John X, His Beatitude Gregory III, His Beatitude Moran Mor Ignatius Youssef III Younan, His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Bishop Angaelos, His Excellency Mar Ibrahim N. Ibrahim, Dr. Jim Garlow.

The service was conducted in Syriac (Aramaic), Greek, Arabic, Latin and English.

After the prayer service, Andrew Doran, the executive director of In Defense of Christians, welcomed the attendees, saying “we all share the goal to preserve and protect the Christians of the Middle East. Whatever steps will further this end IDC stands ready to support.”

Andrew Doran, the executive director of In Defense of Christians.

Mr. Doran said some have asked why Christianity is vital to the Middle east and why America should help the Christians of the Middle East, and he said “Christian institutions provide social service, health care and education for millions throughout the region [Middle East]…Christians are not only the lawyers, doctors and businessmen in their communities, they are also the servants…their very presence is the source of pluralism that has a moderating influence throughout the region.”

The next speaker, Toufic Baaklini, the president of IDC, said IDC enables people to unite and work for the survival of the Christians of the Middle East, protecting them and helping them to remain rooted in the Middle East.

Toufic Baaklini, the president of In Defense of Christians.

“Our brothers and sisters are suffering terribly,” he said. “Our duty, the moral duty of the hundreds of you that are here today from all over the world, is to stand together under the banner of our common cause, the cause of faith, existence and tranquility.”

The next speaker was John Ashcroft, former U.S. Attorney General, Governor and U.S. Senator.

John Ashcroft, former U.S. Attorney General.

Mr. Ashcroft began by saying “it is inspiring to be here this evening…your attendance here today is a testimony to the fact that we don’t have to be uniform in order to have unity.”

“Liberty is sourced in God,” said Mr. Ashcroft. “Governments don’t grant liberty, God endowed us with liberty at the creation…It always astounds me to think that there are those who want to impose one religion or another on people. Spirituality isn’t the stuff of imposition, it’s the stuff of inspiration.”

“We are here because there are those who are the victims of individuals around the world, who are victimized because people seek to impose on them their idea of some construct of God, some construct of morality, some construct of human existence”

“Liberty is the value which God endowed us at creation…democracy is a process, liberty is an outcome.”

The next speaker was Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and Grand Chancellor of the Pontifical Oriental Institute.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri.

Cardinal Sandri said “it is very significant that the meeting is taking place between people of different Christian denominations and people of religion who believe as Christ the value of the freedom of the human person.”

Cardinal Sandri condemned the atrocities committed by Muslims against Christians, including expulsions of thousands, crucifixions, forced conversions, payment of jizya, abductions and the destruction of places of worships.

A letter from the Vatican Secretary of State was read to the audience. The letter expressed support for the IDC summit and stated that the Holy Father has expressed great concern for the Christians of the Middle East, and he renews the rights of Christians be upheld so “…they may live with respect, freely professing their faith, without harm to their dignities, without being deprived of the necessities of life, and without being robbed of their future.”

Assyrian International News Agency

NATO summit to highlight unity against Russia

NATO leaders are holding a summit in the UK in a bid to show unity against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, after France suspended delivery of a warship to Moscow despite a surprise peace plan put forward by the Kremlin.

Ukraine and the new threats posed by the Islamic State group in Iraq, Syria and beyond are expected to dominate the two-day summit that begins on Thursday in Newport in Wales.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has warned that Russian intervention in Ukraine is the most serious security threat since the Cold War, one which the 28 member-states ignore at their peril.

US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to stand together in support of Ukraine against Russia in a joint statement in the Times newspaper on Thursday.

“Russia has ripped up the rulebook with its illegal, self-declared annexation of Crimea and its troops on Ukrainian soil threatening and undermining a sovereign nation state,” the two leaders wrote in an op-ed piece.

“We should support Ukraine’s right to determine its own democratic future and continue our efforts to enhance Ukrainian capabilities.”

To highlight support for Kiev, leaders will meet Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for a session of the NATO-Ukraine Council, set up after the country became an alliance partner in 1997, the AFP news agency reported.

The meeting will “send a clear signal of their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and that the onus is on Russia to de-escalate the situation,” a British government source said.

Peace plan

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday pre-empted the NATO summit, unveiling a seven-point Ukraine peace plan to produce a ceasefire on Friday, the day when the European Union is expected to announce additional tough economic sanctions against Moscow.

Putin appealed for both sides to lay down their weapons after nearly five months of fighting that has killed 2,600 people and been blamed by both Kiev and its Western allies on Putin’s attempts to seize back former Soviet and Tsarist lands.

However, Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk swiftly rejected Putin’s plan as just the latest “attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community”.

The rebels may also take some convincing to lay down their weapons after scoring a resounding string of successes with the alleged support of Russian soldiers that has seen Ukrainian forces lose effective control over most of the separatist east.

Against this troubled backdrop, the summit centre-piece will be approval of a new NATO rapid reaction force comprising “several thousand troops” that can be deployed within “very few days” to meet any new threats, Rasmussen said.



Washington Summit to Call Attention to Plight of Christians in the Middle East

Washington — The deteriorating situation facing millions of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East will be the focus of a bipartisan and ecumenical conference in the nation’s capital next month. The three-day event sponsored by In Defense of Christians (IDC) will feature speakers from all over the globe.

The IDC Summit for Middle East Christians, whose theme is “Protecting and Preserving Christianity, Where It All Began”, will be the first occasion in history where six Christian Patriarchs from the Middle East will gather together in the United States.

IDC President Toufic Baaklini said, “For too long, Westerners have stood by, silent or unaware, while Christians and other groups in the Middle East have endured discrimination, persecution, and religious cleansing. Today, as the Islamic State continues its genocidal campaign against Christians in Iraq and Syria, the globe is finally awakening to their plight. IDC exists to give voice to these voiceless people. In this hour of their greatest peril, they are in desperate need of support. We must act now.”

Baaklini stated: “To this end, IDC is hosting a historic global Summit for Middle East Christians, September 9-11, in Washington, D.C. This summit will empower the Middle Eastern Christian Diaspora and energize the American people to stand in solidarity the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East. Their survival is vital to stability in the region, and their ability to flourish in their countries of origin has national security implications for the United States.”

Summit attendees will have the opportunity to meet with Members of Congress and their staff, policy makers, diplomats, human rights activists, and religious leaders. Speakers include: Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Rai; Syriac Patriarch Ignatius Aphrem II; Archbishop of Washington Donald Cardinal Wuerl; Leonardo Cardinal Sandri of the Vatican’s Prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches; Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX); Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL); Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL); Dr. James Zogby; and Nina Shea, Director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.

For a full roster of speakers, please click here.

To register, please click here.

Assyrian International News Agency

Ukrainian, Russian Leaders Shake Hands As Minsk Summit Under Way

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin have shaken hands at the start of multilateral talks in Minsk, the first time the two presidents have met since June.

The August 26 meeting comes amid heightened tension over a pro-Russian insurgency in Ukraine’s east and what Kyiv says was an incursion by Russian forces on August 25.

The two leaders were heading into talks that also included Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, and senior EU officials.

The Kremlin has not ruled out direct talks between Putin and Poroshenko.

Earlier, Poroshenko said he hoped that the talks would result in an agreement that would bring peace to Ukraine.

“I sincerely hope that the result of today’s meeting in Minsk will be peace and that we manage to reach an agreement that brings peace to the Ukrainian land,” Poroshenko said ahead of talks with Lukashenka.

Lukashenka later cautioned against expecting any major breakthroughs. “Most likely, it’s difficult to expect any colossal breakthrough today,” he said, “but we should start progress toward peace.”

LIVE BLOG: Follow the latest events in Ukraine

Poroshenko also held talks in Minsk on August 26 with EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for Ashton, told RFE/RL in Brussels that the talks were “an opportunity for discussions on how to create conditions that would be conducive for the political solution for the crisis.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the meeting offered an opportunity for “an exchange of opinions about the state of the efforts to begin a political process aimed at resolving the crisis in Ukraine.”

Russian Soldiers In Ukraine

The summit comes as Ukraine’s military is making new allegations over Russia’s involvement in the insurgency. Kyiv has long accused Moscow of supporting the rebels in Ukraine, a charge Russia denies.

Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said on August 26 that 10 Russian servicemen Kyiv says it captured in the southeast the day before were not in the country by mistake but were on a “special mission.”

Russian media quoted a Defense Ministry source as saying the soldiers were on patrol when they inadvertently crossed an unmarked section of the border.

The Ukrainian military released a video on August 26 purportedly showing some of the soldiers, identified as paratroopers from the 98th Airborne Division who it says were captured near the village of Dzerkalne, about 50 kilometers southeast of the city of Donetsk.

In the footage, a man who identifies himself as Corporal Ivan Milchakov from the 331st Parachute Regiment admits crossing into Ukraine in an armored convoy.

“We traveled here in columns not along the roads but across the fields,” he says. “I didn’t even see when we crossed the border.”

The man says they were informed by commanders they would be going into Ukraine on a three-day mission but were not told their exact objectives.

Another of the men in the video, identified as Ivan Romantsev, says that the numbers of the armored vehicles were painted over with white paint for what the soldiers were told were “training exercises.”

Ukraine said Russian forces disguised as separatists crossed from Russia with 10 tanks on August 25 but were attacked and stopped outside Novoazovsk.

Lysenko said on August 26 that fighting in Novoazovsk was continuing “at this very minute” and that a hospital there was on fire.

Lysenko also said Russian Mi-24 helicopters attacked a border post in the Luhansk region on August 25, killing four border guards.

With reporting by ITAR-TASS, Interfax, Reuters, AFP, and UNIAN

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

SCO Chief In Tajikistan Ahead Of Summit

The secretary-general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has arrived in Tajikistan ahead of a meeting of the organization.

Dmitry Mezentsev of Russia held talks with Tajik Foreign Minister Sirojiddin Aslov in Dushanbe on July 29.

The sides discussed issues related to joint efforts against terrorism, separatism, and illegal drug trafficking.

Mezentsev and Aslov are scheduled to attend an SCO foreign ministers meeting in Dushanbe on July 30.

The SCO groups China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

On July 31, the ministers are to hold talks with the Tajik President Emomali Rahmon. They will also discuss the agenda of the SCO summit to be held in Dushanbe in September.

During their vists, the Russian and Chinese Foreign Ministers, Sergei Lavrov and Wang Yi, will meet separately top Tajik officials.

Based on reporting by and Interfax

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

BRIC Summit To Open In Brazil

A three-day summit of the so-called BRICS nations opens on July 15 in Brazil.

The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will meet for their annual meeting in the northeastern city of Fortaleza.

The five emerging market nations are expected to sign off on a development bank and emergency reserve fund, their own versions of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Meeting on the eve of the summit in Brasilia, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff voiced their support for the project.

The five countries “are among the largest in the world and cannot content themselves in the middle of the 21st century with any kind of dependency,” Rousseff said.

According to reports, the bank — tentatively dubbed the New Development Bank — will have initial capital of $ 50 billion.

Debate is still ongoing as to where the bank will be headquartered, with Shanghai, Moscow, New Delhi and Moscow mentioned as the top candidates.

Reuters says Shanghai will likely get the nod.

On the eve of the summit, Putin told Itar-Tass that he wants the emerging powers to play a bigger role in world affairs to counter U.S. influence.

“Any attempts to create a model of international relations where all decisions are made within a single ‘pole’ are ineffective, malfunction regularly, and are ultimately set to fail,” he told Itar-Tass.

Putin also said he would press BRICS leaders to agree measures to prevent “sanctions attacks” by the United States to “harass” countries opposing its policies.

The United States and the European Union have imposed visa bans and asset freezes on some Russian officials and companies for annexing Crimea and stirring up rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

With relations worsening with the West over Ukraine, commentators say the BRICS has become more important for Putin.

The BRICS have refused to criticize Russia for its actions in Ukraine.

And Brazilian officials say the summit statement will make only passing reference to Ukraine, repeating a neutral stance already voiced by leaders of Russia’s fellow BRICS countries.  

Ahead of the summit, President Xi Jinping said China would try to better play the role of a responsible major power and promote the rights of the developing world.

Speaking to South American media, Xi said Beijing “will come up with more Chinese proposals and contribute China’s wisdom,” Xi without elaborating.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Summit Opens On Ending Sexual Violence In Conflicts

Actress and UN envoy Angelina Jolie and British Foreign Secretary William Hague on June 10 opened an international summit in London to focus attention on the rape of women in war zones and conflict areas.

The four-day Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict is billed as the largest gathering ever brought together on the subject.

Hague called rape in war zones one of the “great mass crimes” of the last two centuries.

In Focus: How Long Can You Keep A Secret? For Kosovo’s Wartime Rape Victims, The Answer Is: Maybe Forever

Jolie said she wanted to dedicate the conference to a rape victim she and Hague recently interviewed in Bosnia.

Senior officials from more than 100 countries, as well as representatives from the legal, military, and judicial fields, NGOs and civil society groups, and religious scholars will be attending the event.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is also attending.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters 

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Sea dispute dominates Southeast Asian summit

Concerns over China’s aggressive behaviour in the South China Sea are at the centre of the first Southeast regional summit hosted by Myanmar, which is hoping to demonstrate the progress it has made since emerging from a half-century of brutal military rule.

A standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese ships near the Paracel Islands, as Beijing controversially relocated a deep-water oil rig into territory also claimed by Hanoi, had already heightened tensions this week as the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit convened on Sunday.

The South China Sea is one of the world’s most important shipping lanes, rich in fish and believed to contain significant oil and gas reserves.

However, some ASEAN members are wary of upsetting their political and economic relationship with their giant neighbour and regional powerhouse.

A draft of the closing statement to be read by host Myanmar, obtained by the AP news agency, made no direct mention of China.

International arbitration

Let us uphold and follow the rule of law in resolving territorial disputes in order to give due recognition and respect to the rights of all nations.

Benigno Aquino, Philippine president

While little was expected beyond a joint statement made by foreign ministers on Saturday, who expressed concern and called for self-restraint, Philippine President Benigno Aquino had made it clear before the leaders sat down on Sunday that he wanted firmer action.

Aquino said he would raise his country’s own territorial dispute with Beijing, while calling for support to resolve its conflict through international arbitration.

“Let us uphold and follow the rule of law in resolving territorial disputes in order to give due recognition and respect to the rights of all nations,” Aquino said in a statement.

“We cannot rely just on dialogues between only two nations to settle issues that affect others in the region.”

China’s foreign minister spokeswoman Hu Chunying responded to the criticism late on Saturday by saying that the South China Sea dispute is not a problem between China and its ASEAN neighbours.

“The Chinese side is always opposed to certain countries’ attempts to use the South Sea issue to harm the overall friendship and cooperation between China and the ASEAN,” the Reuters news agency quoted her as saying.

Tit-for-tat response

Observers have said Beijing’s decision to relocate the deep-water oil rig could have been a tit-for-tat response to a recent visit to the region by US President Barack Obama, who reaffirmed support for Asian allies the Philippines and Japan, which is locked in its own maritime territorial dispute with China.

Beijing claims sovereign rights to almost the whole of the South China Sea, but the area is also claimed in part by ASEAN members Brunei and Malaysia as well as Taiwan.

Beijing prefers to negotiate directly with its smaller, weaker neighbours on a bilateral basis, a policy that is rejected by its rivals.



Tbilisi Hosts Summit of Azerbaijani, Georgian, Turkish Presidents

Presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey are gathering for a trilateral summit in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

Georgia’s presidential press service says the three leaders will discuss “results of twenty years of cooperation in economic, trade, transportation, and energy” sectors, as well as implementation of ongoing joint projects on May 6.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul arrived to Tbilisi on May 5. He is expected to hold bilateral meeting with his Georgian counterpart Giorgi Margvelashvili later on May 6.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is expected to arrive to Tbilisi on May 6 and meet Margvelashvili and Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili after the trilateral summit.

The high-level trilateral summit was agreed when Georgian President Margvelashvili visited Turkey and Azerbaijan earlier this year.

With reporting by

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Arab League Summit in Kuwait: Seeking Solidarity?


As of now, Kuwait is hosting its first Arab League Summit. The slogan for this year’s Summit is “Solidarity For A Better Future.” Question: will the Kuwait Summit ensure solidarity for the region?

It is a well-known fact that the Arab World has seen its own share of regional alliances formed on the basis of ideological, sectarian and regional dynamics. With the recent cases of the Arab Spring, such dynamism has become all the more complicated and thus, regional solidarity is surely a challenging task to accomplish.

Historical Overview

Back in the 1950s-60s, the Arab World was divided into two factions: pro-Soviet Arab nationalists led by Egypt, and pro-West conservatives led by Saudi Arabia. The division between the two factions was so paramount that Malcolm Kerr termed it as The Arab Cold War.

Alignments changed in the year 1978 after the signing of the Camp David Accord, when Egypt decided to quit the Arab-Israeli conflict. Both Syria and Iraq tried their best to isolate Egypt after Camp David, but the situation refused to remain static. Following the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, Iraq’s attention shifted towards Iran, and the Arab World witnessed another set of factionism. This time, countries such as Syria, Libya and Algeria sided with Iran, whereas the Gulf States, Egypt and Jordan aided Iraq.

Things soon went out of control when Saddam Hussein, the then leader of Iraq, decided to invade Kuwait. Yemen and Jordan supported Iraq in rhetoric, whereas most of the Gulf States aided the US-led alliance to drive Saddam Hussein out Kuwait. This round of musical chairs continued right until the early 1990s, when the Madrid Peace Conference was held and a dual containment policy was forwarded to keep a check on both Iran and Iraq, under the observation of USA, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt.

The policy of dual containment remained in effect until 2003, when USA decided to invade Iraq and eliminate Saddam Hussein. Thereafter, a new regional factionism emerged. This time, the Gulf States (with the possible exception of Qatar), Egypt and Jordan decided to be the moderate voice in the region, whereas Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah emerged as the new axis of resistance against the US. The war in Lebanon (2006) and Israel’s attack against Hamas in Gaza further widened the gap.

Then came the phase of the Arab Spring revolutions, which made the picture all the more complicated. While proponents of the Arab Spring surely talked a good deal about freedom and liberty, its ideological blindness became well evident. A movement that refused to distinguish between the more moderate Hosni Mubarak and the comparatively radical Bashar al-Assad is confused at best, directionless at worst.

The Present Day

As of now, the region has three major groups, each with its own ideological, sectarian and geo-political agenda to pursue.

First, we have the pro-Shiite camp, which is led by the Maliki government of Iraq and Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.

Second, there is the counter-revolution group, led by Saudi Arabia and supported by UAE, Jordan and possibly Egypt.

Third, we have the moderate elements, such as Turkey and Qatar, that are trying to server as a balancing force in the region.

There is not much to talk about the first group, simply because has a clearly-defined gameplan of its own — siding with Shiite regimes and factions wherever possible.

The second group, however, is trying hard to keep the eerily confused and horribly chaotic Arab Spring revolutions at bay. Saudi Arabia, for instance, offered to host the deposed President(s) of both Egypt and Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali respectively. Even more so, in spite of its animosity with Gaddafi, Saudi Arabia expressed no support for the Libyan Revolution either. In fact, the only reason Saudi Arabia is supporting Syrian Revolution is because if al-Assad’s regime survives, the Shiite faction under Iran will become a regional hegemon.

The third group, on the other hand, is pushing for peace, and calls for the restoration of democracy in Egypt.


Quite obviously, the Middle East has a good number of challenges to tackle and achieving true solidarity is an uphill task.

The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad, has been trying for quite some time to melt the ice between Qatar, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Yet, this three-way battle in the region is way too complicated to be tackled easily and this makes the purpose of this year’s Arab League Summit all the more difficult.

Therefore, as the host country of this year’s Summit, Kuwait needs to mend fences between rival brothers and ensure that regional hiccups do not escalate into a full-fledged crisis.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Ukraine centre stage in EU-US Brussels summit

The Ukraine crisis is likely to dominate trade talks between the European Union and the US, as President Barack Obama makes his first visit to Brussels.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s summit, the president of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, described cooperation between the EU and the US as of “critical importance”.

Van Rompuy said: “At a moment when the principles of international security and diplomatic engagement are challenged in Europe and the world, the cooperation between the European Union and the United States is of critical importance.” 

Obama is also due to meet President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso in the first EU-US summit to have taken place in more than two years.

The meeting is the third high-level diplomatic effort this week to directly or indirectly address the Ukraine crisis. 

On Tuesday, following a nuclear security summit, Obama told reporters that Russia was a regional power threatening its neighbours out of weakness. 

On Monday, the Group of Seven industrialised countries warned Russia it faced damaging economic sanctions if President Vladimir Putin took further action to destabilise Ukraine following the seizure of Crimea.



Ukraine centre stage in EU-US Brussels summit

The Ukraine crisis is likely to dominate trade talks between the European Union and the US, as President Barack Obama makes his first visit to Brussels.

Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s summit, the president of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, described cooperation between the EU and the US as of “critical importance”.

Van Rompuy said: “At a moment when the principles of international security and diplomatic engagement are challenged in Europe and the world, the cooperation between the European Union and the United States is of critical importance.” 

Obama is also due to meet President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso in the first EU-US summit to have taken place in more than two years.

The meeting is the third high-level diplomatic effort this week to directly or indirectly address the Ukraine crisis. 

On Tuesday, following a nuclear security summit, Obama told reporters that Russia was a regional power threatening its neighbours out of weakness. 

On Monday, the Group of Seven industrialised countries warned Russia it faced damaging economic sanctions if President Vladimir Putin took further action to destabilise Ukraine following the seizure of Crimea.



Arab League summit opens amid divisions

Heads of Arab states are holding their annual summit amid an unprecedented diplomatic fallout among the Gulf countries and tension over the crisis in Egypt and the conflict in Syria.

Thirteen heads of states and other leaders have gathered in Kuwait for the two-day Arab League summit that began on Tuesday. 

Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, in the opening session, called on Arab states to end rifts he said were obstructing joint Arab action.

“The dangers around us are enormous and we will not move towards joint Arab action without our unity and without casting aside our difference,” Sheikh Sabah said.

He named no specific country, but was apparently referring to the rift inside the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) over the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the region.

Pressure on Qatar

Arab officials on Monday said some nations will likely use the summit to try to pressure Qatar to stop their perceived support of the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition movements throughout the region.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia have labelled the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation, and two senior officials told the Associated Press news agency that those two countries would take the lead in attempting to isolate Doha by calling for a collective Arab approach to terror.

The summit follows weeks of escalated tensions over the issue. Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have joined Egypt and Saudi Arabia in withdrawing their ambassadors from Qatar.

Qatar has reacted with dismay at the diplomatic gestures but insisted it will push ahead with its own policies.

Publicly airing differences among members of the GCC is unusual for the bloc, created in 1981 as a loose political and economic alliance. The members are Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait.

‘Changing the balance’

The need for a collective Arab approach to terror will figure prominently in an address at the opening session by Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour, according to one of the Arab officials quoted by the Associated Press.

Syria’s seat in the 22-nation bloc will remain vacant although the last annual summit, held in Doha, granted the seat to the opposition. Syria’s membership was suspended in November 2011 over the government’s bloody crackdown on dissent. 

The leader of Syria’s opposition National Coalition, Ahmad al-Jarba, has been invited to address the Arab summit, but countries such as Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria expressed reservations to granting the seat to the opponents of the embattled Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

Saudi Arabia questioned as to why Syria’s main opposition bloc was not granted the seat and called for ”changing the balance of forces” on the ground in the conflict.

“Exiting from the Syrian crisis requires changing the balance of forces on the ground,” Crown Prince Salman bin Abdul Aziz told the opening session, stressing the need for more support for the rebels.

Fadhel Jawad, the Arab League assistant secretary-general for political affairs, has said the Arab leaders will hold a special session during the summit in a bid to sort out their differences.

Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said: “Not all issues are discussed in the meeting hall. Some issues are debated on the sidelines behind the scenes.”

For live updates from the summit follow Al Jazeera’s Dalia Kholaif on twitter.



Obama May Skip G8 Summit Over Russian Intervention In Ukraine

A senior U.S. administration official says President Barack Obama could boycott the G8 summit in Sochi scheduled for June if there is military intervention by Russian forces in Ukraine.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it would be difficult to see how Obama and leaders from Britain, France, Italy, and Germany, among the other G8 members, could attend the summit if Russian forces intervene militarily in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

The official also said the Obama administration was reconsidering whether to continue talks with Russia on increased trade and economic relations.

The comments came shortly after Obama held a special press meeting at the White House in which he said “there would be costs” for Russia if it intervened militarily in Ukraine.

He did not say what those costs would be.

Obama said the United States was “concerned by reports of military movements” by Russian forces inside Ukraine.

Based on reporting by CNN and AFP

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

G20 Summit Underway In Sydney

Australia, the host of G20 central bankers and finance ministers this weekend, has urged better advance notice of central bank policy changes to avoid shockwaves for emerging economies.

Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey said at the start of the two-day Sydney summit on Februar 22 tat the event should stay focused stimulating growth and creating jobs following the 2008 financial crisis.

But Hockey also called for a policy of “no surprises,” saying central banks should give each other better notice of policy changes to avoid market turbulence.

The U.S. Federal Reserve’s decision to ease back on its stimulus program has had negative ramifications for emerging economies.

Newly appointed U.S. Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen is making her first appearance at an international summit since taking the post.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP and AFP.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Davos Summit is a world economic forum

1-26-2014 Intel Guru TD [Can you comment on the latest Davos Summit, Recent news of currency market instability, the dow plunging 300 points and provide a synopsis on the Iraq situation?] Well, The Davos Summit is a world economic forum where yearly prominent business & political leaders meet and share ideas, build alliances and networking opportunities. It’s important to note that they have no regulatory powers and while Iraq may be a venue of investment opportunity up for discussion, it really has nothing concrete to do with the IQD.

Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

EU-Russia Summit To Be Shorter

A summit between leaders of Russia and the European Union is being cut short.

The summit later this month in Brussels was due to be a two-day event, including a joint dinner including Russian President Vladimir Putin and the EU’s Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

But now the summit is set to last only a few hours on January 28.

Commission spokesman Maja Kocijanic said the format had been changed “in light of the recent developments,” and participants will have an “in-depth reflection” about the EU-Russia relationship rather than a discussion about specific issues.

She did not elaborate.

Relations between Brussels and Moscow have soured over Ukraine among other issues.

Kyiv was due to sign an agreement on closer ties with the EU last November, but Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych abruptly shelved those plans, reportedly under pressure from the Kremlin.

Based on AP and AFP reporting

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Cash pledges roll in at Syria aid summit

Donors meeting in Kuwait pledged nearly $ 2.4bn in humanitarian aid for victims of the Syrian war, which the UN chief said had left half the population in need of urgent help.

Millions of Syrians have been driven from their homes as a result of the crisis, now in its third year, and getting aid to many of those in need remains a challenge because they remain trapped in communities besieged by the fighting.

Delegates from nearly 70 nations and 24 international organisations gathered on Wednesday for the one-day event chaired by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

The meeting had gathered almost $ 2.4bn by midday as the UN sought to raise an unprecedented $ 6.5bn, the largest ever in the organisation’s history for a single humanitarian emergency.

“Half of the total population of Syrian people, nearly 9.3 million individuals urgently need humanitarian aid,” Ban told participants, pointing out that more than three million people have fled.

“I am especially concerned about reports of starvation,” in Syria, he said.

The host country led the donations with a pledge for $ 500m announced by the emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah at the opening of the conference.

The US promised $ 380m, but warned that international efforts to ease the suffering of Syrians will fail if President Bashar al-Assad refused to let humanitarian assistance reach the people who need it.  

Refugee, 14, to marry to pay the rent.

At the first donors’ conference in Kuwait last January, participating nations pledged $ 1.5bn, 75 percent of which was delivered, according to a Kuwaiti official.

Saudi Arabia said it will give $ 60m in supplementary aid, so did neighbouring Qatar, both of which are strong backers of the rebellion against Assad’s regime.

Britain pledged 100 million pounds ($ 164m). The country’s former prime minister, Gordon Brown, who is the UN’s envoy for education, said the schooling of Syria’s children was as important as delivering food and medicine to refugees.

He told Al Jazeera about a UN plan to educate 400,000 Syrian children.

“There are children on the streets, there are children begging, in child labour, turning to violence,” said Brown.

“Unless we do something about this we have got a huge social problem with dislocation in Lebanon and other areas where refugees are based.

Thirteen million reasons

The UN is looking for $ 2.3bn to support 9.3 million people inside Syria and $ 4.2bn for Syrian refugees, expected to nearly double to 4.1 million by the end of 2014.

Rights and aid groups said this week that urgent funds were needed.

“The continuing violence in Syria has sparked one of the biggest humanitarian crises in recent history,” Amnesty International said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The world’s response to the Syria crisis so far has been woefully inadequate,” the group said, ahead of the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria.

Amnesty said the world community must act to end the suffering of Syrian civilians and called on the Syrian government to lift blockades on the civilian population in opposition-held towns and areas.

The Kuwait meeting, chaired by Ban, takes place a week before peace talks on Syria are due to be held in Switzerland.



EU Summit Expected To Discuss Ukraine

European Union leaders are expected to discuss the aftermath of Ukraine’s rejection of a trade and association deal with the bloc when the EU summit continues in Brussels on December 20.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in November declined to sign the agreements, triggering mass protests by Ukrainians against his government.

Ukrainian officials said the EU had not offered enough aid to enable the country to sign, and the government this week received a $ 15 billion financial bailout from Russia, which had pressured Kyiv not to sign the EU deal.

The EU has said its offer of a trade and association deal remains available to Ukraine, if the country is ready to sign and meets the agreed conditions.

An association deal is seen as a key step on the path to possible EU membership.

Meanwhile, the board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says Ukraine should get less money in any future lending program because of Ukrainian government shortcomings implementing reforms.

In a statement released on December 19, the board also said the government should be required to implement more economic reforms before it gets any IMF money in the future.

The statement called on the government to cut its fiscal deficit, phase out energy subsidies, strengthen the banking sector, and allow the exchange rate to fall.

It said the government’s current mix of policies “has contributed to deepening the recession.”

Ukraine this week received a $ 15 billion bailout from Russia.

The IMF froze a $ 15 billion standby credit program with Ukraine in 2011 after the government failed to fulfill commitments to raise domestic gas prices. 

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP 

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Liveblog: Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, whose country currently holds EU presidency and hosts the EU Eastern Partnership summit, said this morning that Ukraine has had no change of heart.  

“The Ukrainian government at least yesterday said that they are not ready yet to go further to integrate with the European Union and not ready to sign an agreement,” she said. “This only depends on the government decision of today’s Ukrainian leadership.”

“I think that the Ukrainian people are disappointed, it is not about Europe to be disappointed. I think that today’s Ukrainian leadership chose a way that is going nowhere.”

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

COP19 Summit: Still Rich v. Poor

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

A few weeks ago, representatives from the “international community” met in Warsaw, Poland, to negotiate an agreement to tackle human-made climate change and its consequences for the world.

The outcome wasn’t as embarrassing as the failure four years ago in Copenhagen, but we’re still far from seeing any serious concerted action to keep climate change at a manageable level.

Expert on climate politics Oliver Geden contends that the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius has become virtually impossible after these negotiations. The COP19 summit in Warsaw was supposed to lay the basis for an international treaty for the next summit in Paris   in 2015, but the agreements so far are much too weak to add up to a meaningful treaty by then.

There are two major issues that dominated the negotiations and inhibit meaningful progress.

First of all, there is the divide between developed and developing countries. Industrialized countries argue that the annual emissions of developing countries have by now caught up, so it’s time for them to take responsibility as well.

John Kerry, for example, exercises this strategy when he tries to put the U.S. and China on the same level, since as the world’s leading polluters the two countries “have a special role.” Together, he said, “we account for more than 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.”

To rich countries, it’s obvious that the U.S. (0.3 billion more or less rich citizens) and the EU (0.5 billion more or less rich citizens) should have the right to withhold meaningful measures until China (1.3 billion mouths to feed) and India (1.2 billion mouths to feed) take action to curb their own emissions. draws on figures from the World Resource Institute and uncovers the deep flaws in this prescription of responsibility:

In terms of historical emissions, industrialized countries account for roughly 80% of the carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere to date. Since 1950, the U.S. has emitted a cumulative total of roughly 50.7 billion tons of carbon, while China (4.6 times more populous) and India (3.5 times more populous) have emitted only 15.7 and 4.2 billion tons respectively (although their numbers will rise).

Annually, more than 60 percent of global industrial carbon dioxide emissions originate in industrialized countries, where only about 20 percent of the world’s population resides.

Much of the growth in emissions in developing countries results from the provision of basic human needs for growing populations, while emissions in industrialized countries contribute to growth in a standard of living that is already far above that of the average person worldwide.

But China and India share part of the guilt as well. For Oliver Geden, the cynical winners of the negotiations are the U.S., India, and China all together. They successfully implemented “bottom-up”-logic, where every state decides for itself how much it wants to reduce emissions, a logic that will inhibit meaningful change. And one mustn’t forget the negative role Japan, Australia, and Canada have played by backtracking on their commitments.

The EU, in contrast, advocated a “top-down”-regime, where the binding minimal contributions must follow the fixed goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

The second conflict persists between the rich nations and those poor and least developed countries that are most negative affected by climate change.

Some poor countries demand compensation and liability for the “loss and damage” inflicted on them through climate change and thus indirectly by industrialized countries.

A secret memo for U.S. diplomats shows that the U.S. is very concerned about the issue and prepared to counter these claims. What an outrageous idea that the people who are responsible for a problem and who built their wealth by causing it should be made responsible for it!

Bargains over this idea proceeded until the very end of the negotiations, until finally a watered down compromise was reached. The industrialized nations prevented any wording that could leave them open to compensation claims.

Yet, René Orellana of the Bolivian delegation said about the compromise: “It’s important that the loss and damage structure has finally been created. There’s a baby now, and we have to give him enough time to grow.”

The next meeting is in 2015, when a new treaty to follow Kyoto may finally be reached. But as the recent negation show, the foundation for the new agreement will be wobbly to say the least.

The outcome of COP19 is embarrassing for both the developing nations who are unwilling to take decisive steps as their global role grows, and (even more so) for the industrialized rich nations who have resisted meaningful steps for even longer. As usual, they lacked the courage to act on their historic responsibility for the problem by investing a small part of their enormous wealth to lead by example.

Moritz Laurer is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Foreign Policy In Focus

Climate summit in overtime due to deadlock

UN climate talks ran deep into extra time in Warsaw in an attempt to lay some groundwork for a climate pact which must be signed in Paris by December 2015.

The summit in the Polish capital was scheduled to end on Friday, but on Saturday morning negotiators and ministers were still debating, as rich and poor nations weighed their respective contributions to the goal of slowing the warming of the planet.

Gathering delegates from more than 190 nations, the fractious annual negotiations are working towards a deal that will for the first time bind all the world’s nations to curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

On current emissions trends, scientists warn the Earth could face warming of 4.0 C or higher over pre-industrial levels - a recipe for catastrophic storms, droughts, floods and sea-level rise that would hit poor countries disproportionally hard.

The EU chief is responsible for damaging seriously the atmosphere of confidence and trust in this process.

Claudia Salerno, Venezuelan climate envoy

Many delegates also said they wanted a clearer understanding of when nations will publish their plans for long-term cuts in greenhouse gases in the run-up to a summit in Paris in 2015.

That meeting is meant to agree on a global climate pact to enter into force in 2020.

World leaders last tried, and failed, to agree to a global treaty at a summit in 2009.

“If we don’t succeed in Paris, the chances of us meeting the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees will be limited, or none,” Pascal Canfin, French development minister, said on Friday.

A text on Saturday said that all nations should submit “intended nationally determined commitments” by the end of the first quarter of 2015, if they could.

That would give time to compare and review pledges before the Paris summit.

The US is among those advocating pledges be made by the end of the first quarter of 2015.

“It’s something to build on,” said Connie Hedegaard, said European climate commissioner, who wants pledges in 2014.

But many developing nations say the rich are doing too little to lead.

“The political signals [for Paris] are just too weak,” said Naderev Sano, a Philippine delegate fasting during the meeting
in sympathy with victims of Typhoon Haiyan which killed 5,200 people.

Hotly disputed exchange

A major sticking point was the insistence of some developing nations like China and India, whose growth is fuelled by fossil fuel combustion, on guarantees of less onerous emissions curbs compared to wealthy nations.

In hotly disputed language, some want the new deal to impose “commitments” on developed countries and seek only “efforts” from emerging economies. The issue led to Europe and a group of developing economies trading barbs on Friday evening.

Hedegaard accused a group of “like-minded” countries of opposing a “push” towards the 2015 deal by insisting on the rich-poor country firewall.

“It is not acceptable to the European Union, but I also think to really many others,” she said.

A group calling itself the Like-Minded Developing Countries, which includes China and India as well as Pakistan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, took issue with what they called the “brazen attack”.

“The EU chief is responsible for damaging seriously the atmosphere of confidence and trust in this process,” Claudia Salerno, Venezuel’s climate envoy, who claimed to speak on the group’s behalf, said.

As emissions continue to grow year after year, developing nations say their developed counterparts must have more responsibility for curbs given their long history of fossil-fuel combustion.

The West, though, insists emerging economies must do their fair share, considering that China is now the world’s biggest emitter of CO2, with India in fourth place after the US and Europe.

Climate aid

Another point of disagreement is finance.

Developing nations insist that wealthy nations must show how they intend to keep a promise to ramp up climate aid to $ 100bn by 2020, up from $ 10bn a year from 2010-12.

Still struggling with an economic crisis, however, the developed world is wary of unveiling a detailed long-term funding plan at this stage.

The funding crunch lies at the heart of another issue bedevilling the talks: demands by developing countries for a “loss and damage” mechanism to help them deal with future harm from climate impacts they say are too late to

Rich nations fear this would amount to signing a blank cheque for never-ending liability.

Governments have shown their firm commitment to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation

Christiana Figueres, UN climate chief

“On finance there has been no progress,” Claudia Salerno of Venezuela, who represents a group of developing nations including China and Indonesia, said late on Friday.

The talks were also considering a new “Warsaw Mechanism” to help developing nations cope with loss and damage from extreme events such as heat waves, droughts and floods, and creeping threats such as rising sea levels and desertification.

Developing nations insisted on a “mechanism” – to show it was separate from existing structures – even though rich countries say that it will not get new funds beyond the planned $ 100 b a year from 2020.

In one step forward, governments agreed to a set of rules for safeguarding tropical forests in a deal aimed at unlocking big investments.

The new plan is backed by $ 280m from the US, Britain and Norway.

Deforestation accounts for perhaps a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions from human sources. Trees release carbon when they rot or burn.

“Governments have shown their firm commitment to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation,” Christiana Figueres, UN climate chief, said in a statement.



El-Araby: We seek to set up giant projects in the Arab-African Summit

Kuwait / NINA / The secretary general of the Arab League, Nabil El-Araby said that Arab – African summit will be fruitful because it is an economic development summit.

Araby said in remarks to reporters: ” There are many wealth in African and Arab countries, and there is big money in some Arab countries, in contrast, there is large-scale projects can be carried out in African countries, and we are seeking to set up giant projects between the two sides.”

He added: “The Afro-Arab cooperation began in 1977 at the Arab-African first summit, then the project broken and then revived in 2010 in the Sirte Summit in Libya. But the difficult circumstances experienced by the Arab nation has not achieved any of the results that have been reached at the summit. ”

He pointed out that: “There will be coordination and cooperation between the Arabs and Africans in all fields, especially there are 10 Arab countries in Africa, and there is historical commons and a large geographical extension.”

Araby continued: “The presence of 37 Arab and African presidents, among the 61 participating countries, represents a great representation. Therefore the opportunity and coordination in all issues must be achieved.” / End


Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Colombo summit overshadowed by rights row

Sri Lanka has opened a Commonwealth summit amid criticism over its human-rights record and alleged war crimes committed against the country’s ethnic Tamil minority during a 27-year civil war that ended in 2009.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse said on Friday the Commonwealth must not be a “judgmental body” as he continued to defend his government against the allegations.

“If the Commonwealth is to remain relevant to its member countries, the association must respond to the needs of its people and not turn into a punitive or judgmental body,” Rajapakse said in a speech before the formal opening of the summit by Britain’s Prince Charles.

The Commonwealth has been criticised for holding its biennial summit on the Indian Ocean island despite its questionable human rights record.

Three world leaders have boycotted the meetings over Sri Lanka’s continued refusal to allow independent investigations into the alleged crimes.

At least 100,000 people lost their lives in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict between government forces and Tamil fighters. There are allegations that up to 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final weeks of the war in 2009.

Power and influence

The Commonwealth of mostly former British colonies, comprising 53 countries, has little power, but wields some influence in mediating disputes between members.

The agenda for the three-day Colombo summit includes sessions on debt restructuring and climate change.

The government of Sri Lanka “wants to show that Sri Lanka is open for business, that this is a place that Commonwealth countries and indeed countries around the world can invest,” Al Jazeera’s Imtiaz Tyab reported from Colombo.

“But again, those allegations of human rights violations [are] consistently dogging the government’s attempts to redefine itself.”

During a press conference on the summit’s eve, Rajapakse said his administration deserved credit for managing to bring an end to the conflict. Rajapaksa, 67, has controlled the Buddhist Sinhalese-majority nation since 2005.

“People were getting killed for 30 years, at least after 2009 we have stopped it,” he said.

“There is no killing in Sri Lanka today.”

The northern Jaffna peninsula, home to around 800,000 Tamils, was the main battlefield in the decades-long conflict.

Before the war, Jaffna had a flourishing economy that was second only to Colombo in terms of wealth.

But its towns and villages are now littered with shelled-out buildings, farmland is abandoned and some 30,000 people still live in refugee camps.

Prominent absentees

Stephen Harper, Canadian prime minister, was the first to boycott the summit after his government said attending was akin to “accommodating evil”.

Navin Chandra Ramgoolam, Mauritian prime minister, who is set to host the next summit, also refused to attend.

Manmohan Singh, Indian prime minister, is not attending, seemingly to avoid offending Tamil voters in the run-up to next year’s elections. His foreign minister is taking part instead.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has been criticised for not boycotting the conference, but he promised Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese Nobel laureate, this month that he would see the situation in Jaffna fate first hand.

He will become the first foreign leader to visit Jaffna since the former British colony gained independence in 1948 as he is expected to meet with survivors of the conflict there Friday afternoon.

Hundreds of ethnic Tamils protested in Jaffna before Cameron’s arrival, demanding answers about the thousands who went missing near the war’s end in 2009. Protests have been banned in Colombo during the conference.

Cameron has said he would have some “tough conversations” with Rajapakse upon his return to the summit.

Charter of common values

Speaking during a stopover in India, Cameron reiterated his calls for an international investigation into war crimes allegations, which has also been a demand of several UN bodies.

“There needs to be proper inquiries into what happened at the end of the war, there needs to be proper human rights, democracy for the Tamil minority in that country,” Cameron said.

At the last summit in 2011 in Australia, Commonwealth leaders drew up a charter of common values which committed members to respecting human rights.

But Human Rights Watch said the Commonwealth “risks its credibility … if it doesn’t publicly press Sri Lanka on its rights record and the lack of accountability for wartime atrocities”.

Kamalesh Sharma, Commonwealth secretary-general, denied the organisation had turned a deaf ear to the allegations against the hosts and insisted it had made progress by engaging with Rajapakse’s regime.

“It is not making a mockery. It is showing the Commonwealth in action,” he said.



Indian PM to skip Sri Lanka summit over abuse

Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, will not attend a Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka after opposition from regional parties and members of his ruling Congress party, according to NDTV news channel.

Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid would represent the country at the summit instead of the prime minister, who was pressed by Indian Tamil groups and powerful federal ministers to skip the 53-nation meeting over alleged human rights abuses by Colombo.

The decision was taken after core group of the Congress party met to discuss calls of boycott over alleged massacre of Tamil civilians by Sri Lankan forces in 2009, at the end of the island’s decades-long civil war, NDTV reported.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) runs from November 15-17.

The Hindustan Times newspaper quoted an unnamed ruling party source as saying it would be “very difficult” for Singh to attend the meeting, given strong domestic objections to his participation.

Colombo has resisted international pressure to probe charges its troops killed 40,000 civilians in the final push against Tamil separatist rebels that ended the conflict.

India has 62 million Tamils in its southern Tamil Nadu state who share close religious and cultural ties with their Sri Lankan counterparts.

Political reconciliation

Indian Tamil political parties as well as the main opposition party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, have also urged Singh not to attend the meeting.

Congress is keen not to alienate potential supporters with elections due by May 2014, even at the expense of worsening ties with its southern neighbour.

Syed Akbaruddin, the foreign ministry spokesman, said New Delhi was fully satisfied with progress on Sri Lanka’s pledge to implement a 1987 constitutional amendment to give regional autonomy to the island’s Tamil minority.

The Tamil-majority Northern Province went to polls last month in which Tamil party did extremely well, but the regional government has been enshrined with little power.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been accused of doing little for reconciliation between the Tamil minority and the majority Sinhala community.

Earlier, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper urged his counterparts in April to follow him in boycotting CHOGM.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, however, has said that he would attend the summit.



China Communist party kicks off reform summit

Chinese leaders have begun a four-day meeting to set a reform agenda for the next decade as they try to push more sustainable growth after three decades of breakneck expansion, amid signs of continuing debate on how to implement the reforms.

The meeting, held under tight security at a Soviet-era hotel in western Beijing, began on Saturday and will show just how committed the new leadership is to reform after formally taking power in March.

President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang must unleash new growth drivers as the world’s second-largest economy loses steam, burdened by industrial overcapacity, piles of debt and soaring house prices.

Little if any news will be released during the event, but official news agency Xinhua traditionally issues a dispatch on the last day.

Xinhua confirmed in an English-language dispatch that the meeting had begun, with the agenda led by a discussion over a draft document on deepening reform, “which pools the wisdom of the whole party and from all aspects”.

It added, “Comprehensively deepening reform means the reform will be more systematic, integrated and coordinated”, but gave no other details.

Land reforms likely to be on the agenda at the plenary meeting in Beijing.

Analysts have cautioned against high expectations as stability remains the watchword for the leadership, even amid media reports that top policymakers could take bold steps to deal with entrenched vested interests, such as state monopolies.

The Development Research Centre, a think-tank for China’s cabinet, set out last month eight key areas for reform at the plenum, including finance, taxation, land, state assets, social welfare, innovation, foreign investment and governance.

“These are just recommendations. There is still strong opposition” to the proposed reforms, a source with ties to the leadership told Reuters news agency, requesting anonymity.

Powerful interest groups, including leftists or conservatives, local governments, state-owned enterprises and state banks, oppose some of the reforms such as freeing up interest rates, allowing private banks and turning Shanghai into a free trade zone, several sources also said.

However, the party will put on a unified face once Xinhua issues its communique at the end of the plenum on Tuesday, pledging reform without providing too many details.



Leaders Meet At Summit Amid U.S.-Europe Spying Row

European Union leaders are meeting at a summit in Brussels amid a trans-Atlantic row over the secret monitoring of phone calls by U.S. intelligence services.

The two-day summit on October 24-25 was initially planned to discuss consolidating Europe’s fragile economic recovery, and the flow of illegal migrants from North Africa and the Middle East.

But the talks risked being overshadowed by the spying allegations after it emerged that U.S. intelligence services may have been monitoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

Arriving for the summit on October 24, merkel said trust has to be reestablished between the European Union and the United States.

“Ever since we have been talking about the [U.S. National Security Agency], I have made it clear, also to the American president, that [this is] absolutely not done among friends,” she said. “I said this in June when [U.S. President Barack Obama] was in Berlin…and again yesterday in a telephone call [to him]. And this is in the interest of all German citizens — it’s not about me — but mainly it is for all citizens; we need to have trust among our allies and partners. And such trust must be newly restored.”

U.S. President Barack Obama assured Merkel on October 23 that U.S. agencies were not monitoring her mobile phone, but the White House declined to clarify whether her communications had been monitored in the past.

On October 24, White House spokesman Jay Carney refused to comment on the case.

“We have direct communications through diplomatic channels at the highest level and other levels with our very close allies in Germany,” he said. “And the United States greatly values our close cooperation with Germany on a broad range of shared security challenges and, as the President [Barack Obama] has said, the United States is reviewing the way that we gather intelligence to ensure that we achieve that balance that I spoke about. Beyond that I’m just not going to — in this case or in other cases — get into specific allegations that have been made in published reports.”

The allegations Merkel’s mobile phone may have been monitored came just days after French media reports that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) had monitored millions of French phone calls.

French President Francois Hollande has said he wants the issue put on the agenda at the EU summit.

Much of the disclosures about secret U.S. electronic surveillance programs came from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

With reporting by Reuters and dpa

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Leaders Hold Talks In Minsk Ahead Of CIS Summit

The presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan have met in Minsk to discuss their countries’ Customs Union.

They will be joined later on October 24 by the presidents of Ukraine, Tajikistan and Armenia, and the first deputy prime minister of Kyrgyzstan to discuss plans to turn the Customs Union into a Eurasian Economic Union that aims to include several other countries from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to meet separately with Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych to discuss Kyiv’s moves toward closer ties with the European Union.

Moscow has been pressuring Ukraine to abandon its drive toward the EU and join the  Customs Union instead.

Putin is also expected to meet with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to discuss a dispute over a Russian potash company whose chief executive is being held in Minsk. T

The talks on October 24 will be followed by a CIS summit the following day. 

Based on reporting by ITAR-TASS and Interfax

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Leaders Hold Talks In Minsk Ahead Of CIS Summit

The presidents of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan have met in Minsk to discuss their countries’ Customs Union.

They will be joined later on October 24 by the presidents of Ukraine, Tajikistan and Armenia, and the first deputy prime minister of Kyrgyzstan to discuss plans to turn the Customs Union into a Eurasian Economic Union that aims to include several other countries from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to meet separately with Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych to discuss Kyiv’s moves toward closer ties with the European Union.

Moscow has been pressuring Ukraine to abandon its drive toward the EU and join the  Customs Union instead.

Putin is also expected to meet with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to discuss a dispute over a Russian potash company whose chief executive is being held in Minsk. T

The talks on October 24 will be followed by a CIS summit the following day. 

Based on reporting by ITAR-TASS and Interfax

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Indian Prime Minister Arrives In Moscow For Summit

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has arrived in Moscow to take part in the 14th annual Russia-India summit.

Singh, making one of his last foreign trips before stepping down as prime minister, is expected to meet with President Vladimir Putin on October 21.

Talks are expected to focus on ways to strengthen trade ties, including Russian supplies of weapons and military hardware to India.

It’s also anticipated that discussions will focus on Russia’s involvement in the construction of the third and fourth units of India’s Kudankulam nuclear power plant.

The two sides are also expected to discuss the regional impact of the withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.

Russia and India are partners, along with China, Brazil, and South Africa, in the BRICS group of emerging powers.

Based on reporting by ANI and ITAR-TASS

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

ASEAN summit gets under way in Brunei

Asian leaders are gathering in Brunei against a backdrop of divisive territorial disputes and flagging free trade efforts, with China taking expected to take on a prominent role in the absence of US President Barack Obama.

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were to first meet among themselves on Wednesday before the leaders of eight other countries – including China, Japan, South Korea and India – joined them for two days of closed-door talks.

They will attempt to overcome maritime tensions and inject fresh momentum into regional free-trade initiatives.

Obama was forced to cancel a four-nation swing through Southeast Asia, including attendance at the ASEAN meeting and an earlier summit in Bali, Indonesia, to grapple with a budget deadlock that sparked a partial shutdown of the US government. Secretary of State John Kerry is taking his place.

That has given Chinese Premier Li Keqiang a chance to take the spotlight.

Although its annual meeting is often derided for being more talk than action, ASEAN and its 10 nations are a prized catch, both politically and economically, in the rivalry between a rising China and a United States that has been trying to reassert its dominance in the region of more than half a billion people.

Trade agreement

ASEAN wants to transform itself by the end of 2015 into an EU-like community in two years with a freer flow of goods, services and investments, though there are doubts as to whether that timeframe is feasible.

China plans to establish an Asian investment bank to help finance infrastructure projects in the region, Li said in an interview published by the Borneo Bulletin, a newspaper in Brunei.

While trade is high in the agenda at the summit, long-seething rifts over contested territories in the busy South China Sea are once again sparking friction.

The bloc has been struggling to manage the disputes, which many fear could ignite Asia’s next major armed conflict.

China and Taiwan claim the resource-rich waters and its chains of islands, islets and reefs virtually in its entirety while ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam lay claim to some parts.

American officials say the peaceful resolution of the conflict and freedom of navigation in the contested waters are in the US national interest, but China has warned them to stay out of what should purely be an Asian dispute.

Vietnam and the Philippines have had recent skirmishes with Chinese maritime ships in the sea, igniting fresh tensions.

Chinese and Philippine diplomats squabbled on Tuesday over the wording of a paragraph on the territorial rifts in a joint statement to be issued by Chinese and ASEAN leaders after they meet on Wednesday, two Filipino diplomats told The Associated Press news agency.

When asked by Southeast Asian journalists, who sent in their questions in writing, about fears that China might seek hegemony in the region with its growing military might, Li portrayed his country as a gentle giant which has had no track record of expansionism in Asia unlike Western powers.

But while China is firmly committed to a peaceful rise, Li said it “is unshakable in its resolve to uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity”.



APEC summit members convene in Bali

Asia-Pacific leaders have convened for an annual economic summit in the shadow of global growth clouds that are darkening by the day as the United States struggled to shake off policy paralysis. 

The US government shutdown has stopped US President Barack Obama from attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit held on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on Monday.

That has worried US allies at a time when China is on the rise and Washington is trying to push through an ambitious 12-nation trade pact.

Obama’s enforced absence at both APEC and an East Asia summit straight afterwards in Brunei has left the stage clear for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has been touring the region and will address a parallel meeting of APEC business leaders on Monday.

On the sidelines of the conference on Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held the highest level talks between the two countries since agree to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.

Kerry welcomed Syria’s “compliance” in quickly starting the process of destroying its chemical weapons arsenal and thanked Russia for its help.



Syrian Christians, Muslims May Meet in Summit

GENEVA (AFP) — Christian leaders from Syria and beyond are planning a summit involving Muslim representatives in a drive to use faith to spur peace efforts, the World Council of Churches said Thursday.

“We plan to have parallel consultations when the Geneva II meeting happens, so we can mobilise both Church leaders and other religious leaders for a commitment to a peace process in Syria,” WCC head Olav Fyske Tveit told reporters.

Asked whether he aimed to get Muslim clerics from inside Syria on board, he replied: “We’ll see what’s possible. But of course we’ll invite them, and other major Muslim partners, who come from the opposition of course, but also from neighbouring countries.”

The so-called Geneva II negotiations are meant to be based on talks in the Swiss city in June 2012, where world powers called for a Syrian transition government.

But the warring sides failed to agree on whether President Bashar al-Assad could play a role, and amid spiralling fighting the plan stalled.

In a renewed effort to hold Geneva II, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on September 28.

Moves for a parallel faith summit followed talks among Church leaders, including from Syria, at a closed-door WCC meeting Wednesday attended by Brahimi.

Christians and Muslims have lived peacefully together in Syria for centuries, but fears are mounting for Christians as ultra-Islamists gain clout among the rebels fighting Assad.

The Christian community generally has been well-treated in the four decades since the Assad family — of the Alawite minority, a branch of Shia Islam — came to power.

That has fuelled claims by some Assad opponents that Christians support him as a group, making them targets, while he paints himself as a shield against militant Islam.

Syria’s conflict erupted after a crackdown on anti-regime protests in March 2011.

It morphed into a sectarian war — Sunni Muslims dominate the rebel camp — which has claimed over 100,000 lives, driven two million refugees from the country, and displaced millions more within Syria.

“All communities in Syria have a certain fear, not only the Christians, a fear for the future,” said Michel Nseir, head of the WCC’s Middle East programme. “Christians, as everybody else, are victims of this war.”

The WCC groups 345 denominations — except Roman Catholics — with a global congregation of 560 million.

Assyrian International News Agency

Liveblog: Eurasian Leaders Gather for SCO Summit in Bishkek

Key Points:

-This is Hassan Rohani’s first foreign trip since becoming Iran’s President in early August. In bilateral meetings with Putin and Xi, he is expected to push for help finding a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis. He may also disuss energy and arms deals with Putin. 

-Chinese President Xi Jinping preceded the Summit with a tour of Central Asia, signing a series of billion-dollar agreements on natural resources and infrastructure. 

-Security following the pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is a major concern of member states, but analysts do not expect major breakthroughs. China and Russia, the two major SCO players, have competing interests in Afghanistan and there is no common security infrastructure between member states. 

-Expect Putin to push for a joint statement on Syria, as he promotes Moscow’s plan for monitoring Syria’s chemical weapons. 
-SCO member states are China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Afghanistan, India, Iran, Pakistan and Mongolia have observer status, while Belarus, Turkey and Sri Lanka are dialogue partners. 

Glenn Kates

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Rohani To Court Russian, Chinese Support At SCO Summit Over Iran Nuclear Crisis

Iran’s new president might seem to be taking a humble role on the world stage by debuting at a summit where Tehran only has observer status.

But by attending the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting on September 13 in Bishkek, Hassan Rohani has an opportunity to directly advance his most urgent foreign-policy priority.

That is, to build international support for his declared intention to resume “serious” talks with the P5+1 — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) plus Germany — in trying to find a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis.

Rohani, a former nuclear negotiator, says he wants to free Iran from economic sanctions by restoring the trust of the world powers in its nuclear program. So far, he has offered few specifics, saying only that he wants to conduct “win-win” negotiations while not giving up “one bit” of Iran’s nuclear rights.

Now, the SCO summit offers him an opportunity to outline his plans privately to the leaders of the two world powers most likely to give him a sympathetic hearing. Both Russia and China, which comprise the SCO along with four Central Asian states, have important economic ties with Iran, so the regional forum could hardly be a better place to seek their support.

“The Iranians very much want the nuclear talks to be resumed as soon as possible,” says Scott Lucas, an Iranian-affairs expert at Britain’s Birmingham University. “Rohani is fighting a battle against other hard-liners in the [Iranian] regime in that he not only wants the talks to resume but he would like to really get a genuine negotiation with the 5+1 powers, especially the U.S. and European powers, rather than have a showdown at [future] talks.”

Domestic Resistance

Gaining Moscow and Beijing’s support could help Rohani convince hard-liners at home — as well as Western powers — that he is able to settle the Iranian nuclear crisis. He recently took a major step in Tehran toward acquiring more authority to do so by moving Iran’s negotiating effort out of an office which reports directly to Iran’s supreme leader and into the Foreign Ministry, which reports to the presidency instead.

But Lucas says Rohani still faces domestic resistance, particularly from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is fighting a propaganda battle against him in the media. Rohani has angered hard-liners by implying their uncompromising approach in past negotiations is responsible for Iran’s suffering under sanctions. But he has to proceed carefully to assure that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has consistently favored a hard-line approach, does not intervene and block him.

Rohani’s visit to Bishkek comes as the P5+1 have not met with Iran since April, when talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, ended with both sides too far apart to agree on when to meet again. Five months later, a resumption date has yet to be set.

As he goes to the SCO, Rohani can feel confident of winning at least some support from his hosts. Shortly after his election in June, Russia urged the West to soften sanctions against Iran.

On September 11, Russia’s “Kommersant” daily reported that President Vladimir Putin is ready to sign a deal in Bishkek with Rohani to build a second reactor for Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant. It also reported Putin will renew an old offer to supply Iran with five ground-to-air missile systems. The sophisticated systems, versions of the S-300 capable of shooting down planes and missiles, would boost Iran’s ability to defend against attacks, including on its nuclear sites.

Syria Factor

Nonetheless, analysts say Rohani has to be careful not to seek too much in Bishkek.

According to Mark Hibbs, a Germany-based nuclear policy expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Tehran would like Russia and China to publicly declare Iran’s right to uranium enrichment.

But such support is a red line for Western powers and would sabotage the prospects for talks even before they resume.

“When President Rohani goes to the meeting in Bishkek, he will have to walk a fine line between soliciting support from the Chinese and Russians for his efforts to inject the diplomacy with some more credibility and more energy vis-a-vis his own hardliners,” says Scott Lucas, an Iranian-affairs expert at Britain’s Birmingham University. “But, at the same time, he has to be aware that if the Russians and the Chinese go too far in that direction, then we are setting up a situation where Russia and China, particularly Russia, could come into conflict with the Western states in the negotiating process.”

There is an additional reason for Rohani to push this week in Bishkek for new support for nuclear talks, and that is to assure the talks are not indefinitely delayed by the heightening tensions over another crisis: Syria.

The Syrian crisis is particularly tricky for Tehran because it is Damascus’s closest ally and any Western-Syrian showdown translates directly into greater Western-Iranian hostility. It did not go unnoticed in Tehran that U.S. officials arguing for the need to respond forcefully to the use of chemical weapons in Syria said punitive action would send a message not only to Damascus to not use weapons of mass destruction but also to Iran.

Perhaps for this reason Iran lost no time in saying that it backs Russia’s proposal to preempt U.S.-led military strikes by placing Syria’s chemical weapons under UN control for destruction.

Any military action against Syria would raise temperatures in both Washington and Tehran and make it all but certain constructive nuclear talks could not take place.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

G20 Summit To Wrap Up Today

The G20 summit in St. Petersburg enters its second and final day later today.

Economic issues have been overshadowed by the crisis in Syria at the gathering in the northern Russian city.

The summit comes amid rising tensions between U.S. President Barack Obama, who has called for military action against Damascus for an alleged chemical attack, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the most vocal critic of such plans.

Washington says Syrian forces used sarin gas against civilians in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21 and some 1,400 people were killed.

Reports said Obama showed up late for a summit dinner on September 5 hosted by Putin at a palace in a fresh sign of the frosty relations between the two leaders.

China, the EU, the BRICS emerging economies, and Pope Francis, however, on September 5 spoke out against military action in Syria.

Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said military action against Syria would negatively impact the global economy, and, in particular, the price of oil.

The BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – echoed that remark, and the Pope urged the G20 leaders in a letter to “lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution.”

European Union leaders described the August 21 attack near Damascus as “abhorrent” but said: “There is no military solution to the Syrian conflict.”

But British Prime Minister David Cameron told the BBC on September 5 the evidence against Assad was “growing all the time.”

“We have just been looking at some samples taken from Damascus in the Porton Down laboratory in Britain which further shows the use of chemical weapons in that Damascus suburb,” Cameron said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi are in St. Petersburg hoping to reach agreement on holding an international peace conference on Syria.

In his opening speech to the gathering, Putin praised the work done by the G20 since the financial crisis of 2008-2009.

“However, it is too early to be complacent. Our main task is the return of the global economy to a steady and balanced growth. This task, unfortunately, hasn’t been resolved yet. And this means that the systemic risks and conditions for a recurrence of an acute crisis remain,” Putin said.

On economic issues, reports say the G20 summit is likely to reach some agreements, including on measures to fight tax evasion by multinational companies.

On September 5, the BRICS urged the G20 to boost global demand and urged that sufficient warning be given before governments carry out changes in monetary policy. 

Analysts say the appeal reflects concerns among developing nations that the Federal Reserve Bank in the United States will scale back its loose monetary policy and Europe is not doing enough to encourage a demand-driven recovery.

The BRICs also agreed  to contribute $ 100 billion to a joint currency reserve pool.

On the sidelines of the summit today, Obama is scheduled to meet with Russian human rights activists amid international criticism of a recent Russian law banning gay “propaganda” allegedly directed at children.

Amnesty International has urged the G20 leaders in St. Petersburg to “do all in their power” to persuade Russian authorities to scrap the controversial law.

Based on AP and Reuters reporting

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Syria strike set to overshadow G20 summit

World leaders from G20 are meeting in St Petersburg, Russia, amid sharp differences over possible US military action against Syria, in response to what the US administration calls a deadly chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government.

Thursday’s summit comes hours after a US Senate panel voted to give President Barack Obama authority to use military force against Syria – the first time lawmakers in that country have voted to allow military action since the October 2002 votes authorising the invasion of Iraq.

The US and Russia, which is a key Syrian ally, remain t odds as Obama has tried to build his case for military action. The US president has vowed to continue to try to persuade his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, of the need for punitive strikes against President Bashar al-Assad for using chemical weapons when the two meet in St Petersburg.

As Putin opened the summit, he spoke exclusively about the global economic crisis, which forms the primary agenda of the summit, stressing the need for co-ordinated international policy making in order to combat continuing volatility in economic markets.

He suggested that world leaders discuss the subject of Syria “during dinner” on Thursday night, so as not to take away from the summit’s primary economic agenda.

Kerry ‘a liar’

Earlier, Putin had again questioned Western evidence justifying a military strike against Syria, accusing US Secretary of State John Kerry outright of lying when, in urging Congress to approve strikes, he played down the role of al-Qaeda in the rebel forces.

“Al-Qaeda units are the main military echelon, and they know this,” Putin said. “He is lying and knows he is lying. It’s sad.”

Putin said US congressional approval without a UN Security Council resolution would be an act of aggression. He also told The Associated Press this week that he “does not exclude” supporting UN action – if it is proven that the Syrian government used poison gas on its own people.

Obama has previously stated that he is prepared to bypass the UN Security Council on the issue, but has put the matter to a Congressional vote. Members of the full US Senate are due to debate the matter next week.

The conflict in Syria, which began with a popular uprising in March 2011, has been stalemated, and it is not clear if US military strikes over the government’s alleged chemical weapons use would change that. Obama has said he seeks limited pinpoint action to deter future chemical attacks, not regime change.

Economic and nuclear risks

Meanwhile, China has warned other world powers of global economic risks following the potential US strikes on Syria.

Speaking in St Petersburg ahead of the G20 summit on Thursday, Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said such “military action would definitely have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price”.

He cited estimates that a $ 10 rise in oil prices could push down global growth by 0.25 percent.

He urged a negotiated UN solution to the standoff over allegations that Syria’s government used chemical weapons against its own people, expressing hope that “the world economic balance will become more stable rather than more complex and more challenging.”

Russia has also issued a warning that US strikes on Syria’s atomic facilities might result in a nuclear catastrophe and is urging the UN to present a risk analysis of such a scenario. The issue will be brought up at a meeting of the 35-nation IAEA board next week, the Interfax news agency reported.

Little international support

Obama has been lobbying for international and domestic support for punishing Assad’s regime, which the US says fired rockets loaded with the nerve agent sarin on rebel-held areas near Damascus before dawn on August 21, killing hundreds of civilians.


In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria

So far, however, he has won little international backing for action. The US has France’s support for military action in Syria, but several other G20 powers, including China and Germany, have firmly voiced their

Ben Rhodes, a senior Obama national security aide, said that the US would use the summit in St Petersburg to “explain our current thinking” to allies and partners and explore what type of “political and diplomatic support they may express for our efforts to hold Syrian regime accountable”.

With pressure mounting on the G20 to make a decision regarding the conflict, the UN announced on Thursday that Lakhdar Brahimi, its special envoy to Syria, was travelling to St Petersburg to make a push for peace talks.

Walid Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, is due in Moscow on Monday, after the summit has ended, for talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.



G20 Summit Set To Open In St. Petersburg

A summit of the Group of 20 developed and developing economies is due to open later today in the northern Russian city of St. Petersburg.

The G20, which accounts for 90 percent of the world’s economic output, will hope to reach agreement on growth, trade, banking transparency and fighting tax evasion during their two-day meeting.

Russia’s position as host marks the first time a member of the rising BRICS group of nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – will have staged the G20 summit.

Syria is not on the summit’s official agenda, but is expected to figure highly in talks as U.S. President Barack Obama is likely to push the case for military action to punish Damascus for an alleged chemical attack.

Moscow doubts Washington’s claims that Syrian forces used sarin gas against civilians in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21, killing some 1,400 people.

On the eve of the summit, Obama said he would continue to try to convince Putin of the claims.

“Do I hold out hope that Mr. Putin may change his position on some of these issues? I’m always hopeful, and I will continue to engage him because I think that international action will be much more effective and ultimately, we can end deaths much more rapidly, if Russia takes a different approach to these problems,” Obama said in Stockholm.

Syria is one of a growing number of issues putting Washington at odds with Moscow.

Obama is not holding a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the summit after scrapping a much-anticipated visit to Moscow over Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to U.S. intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

Obama will meet on the sidelines of the summit with Russian human rights activists amid international criticism of a recent Russian law banning gay “propaganda” allegedly directed at children.

In Sweden on September 4, Obama voiced support for equal rights for gays.

In an interview with the Associated Press on the same day, Putin denied that homosexuals are discriminated against in Russia.

“There are no laws against individuals of nontraditional sexual orientations. By saying so you sort of create an illusion for millions of your viewers that we do have such laws. The truth is, there are no such laws in Russia. There is a law that was adopted in Russia, which forbids propaganda of nontraditional sexual orientations among minors. These are two completely different things,” Putin said.

Amnesty International on September 4 urged the G20 leaders gathering in St. Petersburg to “do all in their power” to persuade Russian authorities to scrap the controversial law.

The deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Moscow bureau, Tatyana Lokshina, has urged G20 leaders to press Putin on Russia’s poor human rights record at the summit.

“We’ve heard time and again, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin does whatever he wants, he is really not sensitive to international criticism any longer. But, this is very far from truth. In fact, Russia is extremely sensitive to the international criticism, especially in the run up to the Sochi Olympics, which are Putin’s own pet project, and he really wants the Olympics to be celebrated, to be attended, and to be praised internationally. So now, indeed, the time is right for Russia’s partners, including Russia’s partners within the G20, to raise critical human rights issues with Putin and his government,” Lokshina said on September 3.

Several leading Russian rights activists have said they will not be able to attend the meeting with Obama in St. Petersburg. 

Svetlana Gannushkina, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, and Igor Ponomaryov said on Wednesday they cannot travel to St. Petersburg because of scheduling problems after they say the White House twice changed the day of the meeting.

Earlier, Alekseyeva was quoted as saying she would go but that she felt the meeting was more about U.S. dissatisfaction with Putin than genuine interest in Russia’s human rights situation.

Ponomaryov described the meeting as a formality.

Based on AP and Reuters reporting

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Syria crisis set to dominate G8 summit

The Syrian conflict is expected dominate talks among leaders of the G8 nations meeting in Northern Ireland.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet US President Barack Obama during the two-day annual summit for what could be prickly talks, as both leaders now offer military support to opposing sides in the war.

Germany, France, Japan, Italy and Canada will be represented in the summit starting on Monday at the luxury lake-fringed Lough Erne golf resort in County Fermanagh.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, the host of the  meeting of the top eight industrialised powers, insisted he could overcome his differences with Putin after they held pre-summit talks in London.

Russia remains a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the two-year-conflict that has left more than 94,000 people dead, amid growing Western efforts to arm the rebels.

In London, Putin insisted that Moscow had abided by international law when supplying weapons to Assad’s regime and demanded that Western countries contemplating arming the opposition do the same.

“We are not breaching any rules and norms and we call on all our partners to act in the same fashion,” Putin said.

The Russian leader referred to a video released last month purportedly showing a rebel Syrian fighter eating the heart of a dead soldier.

He asked if the West really wanted to support rebels “who not only kill their enemies but open up their bodies and eat their internal organs in front of the public and the cameras”.

‘Very little trust’

But Cameron said: “What I take from our conversation today is that we can overcome these differences if we recognise that we share some fundamental aims: to end the conflict, to stop Syria breaking apart, to let the Syrian people decide who governs them and to take the fight to the extremists and defeat them.”

Obama in his meeting with Putin will emphasise that Washington wants to keep alive a mooted Geneva peace summit co-organised with Moscow.

“There will be a lot of talk in the next couple of days about the idea of a peace conference in Geneva,” Al Jazeera’s James Bays, reporting from County Fermanagh, said

“The reality, though, is this: the Russians believe the US has not done enough to bring the opposition to the negotiating table. The US and its western allies for their part believe that Putin could do more to stop Assad’s ongoing onslaught.

“There’s very little trust here and not much hope of a breakthrough.”

The summit is surrounded by the biggest security operation in Northern Ireland’s troubled history, with around 8,000 officers on duty.

Heavily armed police in armoured Land Rovers are stationed at frequent intervals along the country roads leading to the summit venue near the town of Enniskillen.

Police say the expected anti-globalisation demonstrations have been smaller than expected so far.

They expect around 2,000 protesters to take part in an anti-G8 march in Enniskillen on Monday.



Syria Set To Top G8 Summit

A two-day G8 summit gets under way in Northern Ireland later with the Syrian conflict expected to be high on the agenda.

Syria will also likely be the focus of talks on the sidelines of the summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama.

The United States last week announced it would arm Syria’s rebels after claiming the regime of Bashar Assad had used chemical weapons.

On June 16, Putin defended his administration’s arming of Assad, saying Russia was not breaking international law.

“But if we speak calmly and professionally, then I want to draw your attention to the fact that Russia supplies arms to the legitimate government of Syria in full compliance of international law. We are not breaching any laws, let me emphasize that: nothing. We call on all our partners to act in the same fashion,” Putin argued.

Putin questioned why the West would want to arm Syrian rebels who he said ate human organs.

“I believe one does not really need to support the people who not only kill their enemies, but open up their bodies, eat their intestines in front of the public gaze and cameras. Are these the people you want to support? Are they the ones you want to supply with weapons?”

He was speaking after talks in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said it was crucial Assad was removed from power.

“Almost 100,000 people have lost their lives in this war. The daily crimes there plumb new depths in the history of the region. Every month that passes leaves more dead, and Syria more dangerous to the region and to all of us. We must work together to do everything we can to bring this dreadful conflict to an end,” Cameron said alongside Putin at a press conference following their talks.

Cameron also said Russia and Britain can overcome their differences on Syria.

Besides Syria, Cameron wants the G8 summit to produce new agreements on tax, trade and financial transparency.

The G8 summit is also likely to consider the impact of the election of moderate cleric Hassan Rohani as Iran’s new president.

Cameron is being joined by Obama, Putin and the leaders of France, Germany, italy, Canada and Japan.

Based on dpa and Reuters reporting

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Expectations Are High For Maliki-Barzani Summit in Erbil

June 9 will be the official date for ending the long boycott between Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani and federal government President Nouri al-Maliki.

According to his media adviser Ali al-Mousawi, Maliki will visit Erbil after having accepted a Kurdish invitation that will hopefully end the long dispute over the distribution and management of resources in the country.

Both the federal and regional governments have to form seven official committees before the visit, and their work will be supervised by Maliki and KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. A source close to Maliki’s office said that the committees’ mission is to “reach technical suggestions to resolve the pending problems between both sides.”

The seven committees will begin their work simultaneously with Maliki’s visit to Erbil.

The committees include one for the conclusive revision of the federal budget, one for the revision of the oil and gas draft law, a joint security committee for disputed regions listed in Article 140, a joint committee to follow up on parliamentary work, a joint committee to follow up the work between Baghdad and Erbil and a committee to oversee the border crossings and airports.

An informed political source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “We have reached an agreement regarding the committees during President Barzani’s latest visit to Baghdad.”

The Kurdish politicians are clearly optimistic regarding Maliki’s visit this time. Shareef Suleiman, a Kurdish MP in the Iraqi parliament, told Al-Monitor, “The visit will pave the way for solving the accumulated problems between both sides. I believe that it is in the interest of both Iraq and the Kurdistan region, as well as in the interest of the whole political process.”

However, Suleiman emphasized the need to “take practical measures for the solution and begin immediately with the serious steps aimed at solving the problems between both sides.”

The disputing parties in Baghdad and Erbil agreed in May to “amend the current general budget law; settle the issue of the law on oil and gas and the Tigris and Jazeera operations commands; redraw the disputed administrative frontiers once again; compensate people affected by the chemical attacks on the Kurdish areas under former President Saddam Hussein; and appoint representatives of both parties for cooperation and information exchanges.”

The declaration of the formation of the seven committees came only a few hours after the Iraqi government announced Maliki’s visit to Erbil, in response to Barzani’s invitation. Moreover, a meeting for the federal cabinet will be held.

The Islamic Dawa Party believes that Maliki’s chairing of the cabinet session in Erbil is very important, especially because it could alter his supporters’ negative attitudes and belief that the Kurdistan region is outside Baghdad’s control.

On the other hand, the Kurds believe that the real problem between Baghdad and Erbil is not related to where the meeting will be held. In fact, they think that the crisis goes much deeper and touches on an intense dispute over the way to manage the country, especially because of Maliki’s centralization policies. But the optimism of Baghdad and Erbil is not enough to move forward.

There are major deeply rooted and complicated problems related to an old dispute over power, interests and conflicting views in this regard.

Serious political crises have ended in the past with talks about agreements and terms for a solution. However, they have gone without implementation for several years, especially regarding the distribution of national resources, the settlement of the legal situation of Kirkuk and the demarcation of borders between the provinces.

However, this time, there is a difference in the political circumstances surrounding Maliki’s visit, thus making it special for several reasons. Perhaps the first reason is its timing, given that Maliki desperately needs to take practical measures that portray him as a president seeking a solution, in contrast to his opponents’ claims that he has been causing insoluble crises ever since he took power.

Another reason that seems important to some Shiite communities is related to the fact that the security and political crisis, which escalated in May and resulted in the killing and wounding of around 400 people, puts the governing Shiite parties in an unenviable situation.

They are seen as the only side involved in the failure. For this reason, it was necessary to take quick measures to prevent the critical situation affecting these political forces, including Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party, from worsening.

Moreover, the scheduled meeting is highly important since Maliki needs to protect the Shiite-Kurdish alliance now more than ever, especially after the deterioration of the situation with the Iraqi Sunnis with the outbreak of the protests in Ramadi at the end of 2012.

By Ali Abel Sadah
AL Monitor

Assyrian International News Agency

Obama calls for ‘new model’ at China summit

The US president has said he welcomed the “peaceful rise” of China and that, despite inevitable areas of tension, both countries want a co-operative relationship, as he and Chinese President Xi Jinping kicked off two days of meetings.

Hosting Xi at a luxurious desert estate in southern California on Friday, Barack Obama said he hoped to work together with China on cybersecurity, an issue that has created friction between the two countries.

Xi expressed the hope for deeper co-operation, saying China and the United States could build a new model of “big country” relations.

‘New model’

Speaking to reporters at the start of Friday’s talks, Obama said he wanted to achieve a “new model of co-operation” with China – a goal many feel eluded him in his first term when dealing with former Chinese president Hu Jintao.

A strong relationship between the world’s two largest economies is “important… for the world,” Obama said.

Obama voiced hope that the two countries would “work together” on issues including cyber-security, which has soared to the top of the agenda amid charges of a vast hacking campaign by China against the US.

For his part, Xi said he hoped the meetings will “shape the future” of the US-China relationship,” and renewed his call for a “new model” of relationships between major world powers.

Obama and Xi had not been scheduled to meet until a Group of 20 summit in Russia in September, but both sides decided to hold a less formal and more free-flowing meeting to try to develop a chemistry between the leaders.

US experts believe that Xi, the son of one of communist China’s founding revolutionaries, has rapidly consolidated power and may prove to be a more dynamic leader than his notoriously stiff predecessor Hu Jintao.



Overcoming ‘Strategic Suspicion’ — Goal of Obama-Xi Summit

This week’s relatively informal and unscripted summit between the presidents of the United States and China on a private estate in southern California is being welcomed by most analysts here as a virtually unprecedented opportunity for each side to gain a better understanding of the strategic aims of the other.

The two-day meeting between President Barack Obama and China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, which begins Friday at the Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage, will likely cover the broad range of issues – among them, cyber-security, intellectual property, maritime conflicts, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, and the Middle East — that have recently bedevilled ties between the two great powers.

But a frank discussion of these issues – and, more importantly, an overall bilateral relationship which has become as complicated and consequential as any in the world today – may produce some insights and reassurances on both sides that could build an increasingly constructive dynamic.

“I think it’s very important that the two presidents get together to develop as best they can some kind of personal relationship that will allow them to have, if not trust, at least confidence about what the other leader is seeking to achieve and what policies or actions by one side or the other might either advance or set back relations,” Alan Romberg, director of the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center and 27-year State Department veteran, told IPS.

“One meeting isn’t going to do it, so they need to engage in sustained dialogue over time more often, and not just on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly or other fora,” he said, adding that the “mutual strategic suspicion” that currently exists between the two powers “greatly inhibits their ability to move boldly forward together on a common agenda.”

That “strategic suspicion” was clearly on view at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, a high-level security forum, in Singapore last weekend, even as Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, was meeting with Xi and other top Chinese officials in Beijing to prepare for the Sunnylands summit.

Addressing the conference, U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel re-iterated – albeit more diplomatically – recent public charges that Beijing is systematically stealing U.S. military and industrial secrets through cyber-espionage. He also insisted that Washington’s “rebalancing” of military assets from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region would proceed apace despite its budgetary woes.

In response, Gen. Yao Yunzhu, a top official at China’s Academy of Military Science, asked Hagel how he could reassure China that increased deployments of U.S. military forces – 60 percent of U.S. naval assets will be based in the region by 2020 under current plans – were not part of a containment strategy designed to “counter China’s rising influence and offset (its) increasing military capabilities.”

“China is not convinced,” she noted.

The exchange evoked what is being referred to as the “Thucydides trap” after the ancient Greek historian who argued that the clash between the emerging power of Athens and the reigning power of Sparta was made inevitable by misapprehensions on both sides – a dynamic that echoed some 1500 years later when the ambitions of a rising Germany fell afoul of the hegemonic British Empire, eventually resulting in the First World War.

The summit, the result of Xi’s appeal after his formal inauguration in March to create “a new type of great power relationship”, comes amidst growing concerns that Beijing and Washington risk falling into a similar trap.

This is especially so given rising tensions over territorial claims between China and its neighbours – some of them, notably Japan and the Philippines, formal U.S. treaty allies — in the East and South China Seas, as well as its interest, as demonstrated by a rapid build-up in its naval assets and its expansion of port facilities in the Indian Ocean (“string of pearls”), in securing vital sea trade routes from the Middle East and beyond that have long been dominated by the U.S. Navy.

In his trip to Beijing, Donilon echoed that concern, calling for a “new model of relations between an existing power and an emerging one.”

Given its record generation-long economic growth – it could surpass the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by the time Obama leaves office in 2017, according to some estimates – China’s interests now truly span the globe.

This is dramatised by the fact that Xi will arrive in California after visits this week to Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, and Mexico – countries long considered part of Washington’s “backyard” and hence subject to the Monroe Doctrine. According to some estimates, China could become Latin America’s leading trade partner by 2015, a status it already enjoys with Chile and Brazil, among others.

Beijing’s recent maritime skirmishes with its neighbours, its naval build-up — including the recent disclosure that it was “reciprocating” U.S. naval and air intrusions into its 200-mile exclusive economic zones (EEZs) — and its alleged cyber-espionage have increased concerns here that China is systematically trying to challenge U.S. power and the international system on which it is based.

“To my way of thinking, we’re caught in a strange argument over dominance, and we’re trying to preserve the monopoly position in terms of power that we gained in World War II and the Soviet default in the Cold War which left us the only one standing,” according Amb. Chas Freeman, Jr., (ret.), a China specialist who served as President Richard Nixon’s interpreter during his ground-breaking trip to Beijing in 1972.

“So, we’re not really willing to share or accommodate very much, which has drawn a predictable reaction – in other words, Zhou Enlai’s famous statement that if we wanted China to be an enemy, all we have to do is treat it like one. That prophecy is self-fulfilling and in many respects seems to be coming true,” added Freeman, author of a new memoir on Sino-U.S. relations, ‘Interesting Times: China, America, and the Shifting Balance of Prestige’.

Freeman said he hopes the Sunnylands meeting will indeed follow the model set by Nixon and his conversations with Mao Zedong and Chou 41 years ago, the last time leaders of the two nations dispensed with the “bureaucratic litany of irritants” in favour of a wide-ranging discussion that ultimately resulted in “broad strategic understanding and catalysed something entirely new in the relationship that turned out to be very good for both sides.

“If the two sides rise above their staffs, I would be optimistic,” he told IPS. “I think they’re capable of reaching understandings at a strategic level that then become the basis for working through some of the specific problems that trouble us. If they follow the scripts they will have been provided by staff, then I think this could be like the Kennedy-Khrushchev Vienna Summit (in 1961), the disaster that led directly to the Berlin Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“We have an opportunity to turn it in a different direction. Mr. Xi seems to see that; I hope we do, too. The president deserves a lot of credit for being willing to devote this time and effort to a meeting that both sides don’t expect to produce so-called ‘deliverables’,” he added.

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Syria Tops Russia-EU Summit Agenda

(VOA) — Russia and the European Union are beginning two days of talks overshadowed by disputes over the EU’s strong backing of the Syrian opposition and Moscow’s continued support for President Bashar al-Assad.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts a dinner late Monday ahead of a full day of negotiations on Tuesday.

The EU decided last week to lift its arms embargo on the Syrian opposition, clearing the way for member nations to supply weapons to anti-Assad fighters at a later date.

The summit comes as Russia and the United States continue to try to arrange an international peace conference that would bring together both the Syrian government and the opposition pushing to oust Assad.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Monday that the United States is not putting enough pressure on the Syrian opposition to participate in the international talks and drop its demand for President Assad’s exit.

The Syrian government has said it is willing to attend such a conference in principle. But the main opposition coalition has rejected the idea, saying talks are meaningless while Syrian troops backed by Hezbollah and Iranian personnel commit alleged atrocities against the Syrian people.

Russia has opposed any kind of foreign involvement, and has used its veto power on the United Nations Security Council to block three proposed resolutions against the Syrian government.

​​Also Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said no Russian shipments of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria would take place before 2014. He did not elaborate on how he had arrived his conclusions.

Last week, Ya’alon warned that Israel would “know what do to” if Russia fulfilled the delivery of the S-300 system.

Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian warplanes pounded the embattled town of Qusair Monday as a government offensive backed by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters entered its third week.

A doctor in Qusair told the Associated Press that 300 seriously wounded residents need to be evacuated for medical treatment. The AP reported that Kasem Alzein pleaded for help, saying previous evacuation efforts failed after a convoy was attacked last week.

Also Monday, four people died in clashes between Sunni and Alawite residents of the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli stoked by the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Lebanon is struggling to curb the spillover of violence from Syria, where 80,000 people have died in the last two years.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

Assyrian International News Agency