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Posts tagged ‘Munich’

Israeli Ministers Blast Kerry over Boycott Remark.


Secretary of State John Kerry came under further attack Monday by Israeli hawks who accuse him of manipulating the threat of an economic boycott to pressure Israel into peace concessions.

The latest war of words between the two allies erupted Saturday after Kerry warned that Israel was facing a growing campaign of delegitimization which would likely worsen if peace talks with the Palestinians collapsed.

Washington’s top diplomat also referred to “talk of boycotts” of Israel.

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A growing number of governments and businesses have recently said they will not trade with Israeli firms with ties to Jewish settlements, highlighting the creeping success of a Palestinian-led boycott campaign.

The so-called BDS movement — boycott, divestment and sanctions — works to convince governments, businesses and celebrities to cut ties with Israeli companies active in the occupied Palestinian territories, in a bid to repeat the success of the boycott which ended apartheid in South Africa.

Hardliners in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were quick to lash out at Kerry.

One described his remarks as “offensive” and another accused him of working “to amplify” the boycott threat, prompting a terse statement from Washington urging Kerry’s critics to get their facts straight.

But there was no sign they were backing down on Monday.

“It is sad to see that the US administration does not understand the reality of the Middle East and exerts pressure on the wrong side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Gilad Erdan, Minister for Home Front Defence and a close associate of Netanyahu.

“I would have liked John Kerry to explain to (Palestinian president) Mahmud Abbas what is likely to happen if he continues to refuse to make peace,” he told public radio.

Housing Minister Uri Ariel of the far-right Jewish Home party, which opposes a two-state solution to the conflict, told army radio that in raising the threat of a boycott, Kerry was not being “an honest broker” in the negotiations.

Since January 1, the European Union has blocked all grants and funding to Israeli entities operating beyond the pre-1967 war lines, sparking growing alarm in Israel.

Netanyahu has called “hypocritical” the EU’s firm position against Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.

On Sunday the prime minister took an indirect swipe at Kerry, saying attempts to boycott Israel were “immoral and unjust” and that he would not bow to pressure in the negotiations.

“No pressure will cause me to concede the vital interests of the State of Israel, especially the security of Israel’s citizens. For both of these reasons, threats to boycott the State of Israel will not achieve their goal.”

Earlier Sunday, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz lashed out at Kerry, calling his remarks “offensive, unfair and intolerable,” and said Israel would could not be expected “to negotiate with a gun at its head while it discusses issues critical to its diplomatic and security interests.”

And on Saturday, Economy Minister and Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett said Israel would not “give its country up over economic threats” and that it expected its allies “to stand by our side in the face of the anti-Semitic boycott attempts, not amplify them.”

But US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki hit back saying Kerry had demonstrated “staunch opposition to boycotts” and his remarks in Munich had merely “described some well-known and previously stated facts about what is at stake for both sides if this process fails.”

“His only reference to a boycott was a description of actions undertaken by others that he has always opposed,” she said, suggesting his critics make efforts to “accurately portray his record and statements.”

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© AFP 2014
Source: Newsmax.com

Syria: US Gathers Support For Airstrike Plans.


  • Syria: US Gathers Support For Airstrike PlansView PhotoSyria: US Gathers Support For Airstrike Plans
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    Syrian children prepare for school amid continuing conflict

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    Kerry: World Faces ‘Munich Moment’

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    Syria Warns US Against Strikes

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    Italian and Belgian hostages freed by Syrian captors

     

Russia has urged Syrian President Bashar al Assad to hand over his chemical weapons to avert a US-led military strike on Damascus.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Mr Assad to put the arms under international control so they could be destroyed to avoid a conflict that he warned would cause an “outburst of terrorism” and spark a new wave of refugees.

His Syrian counterpart, Walid al Moualem, who held talks with Mr Lavrov in Moscow, said he welcomed the move to “prevent American aggression”, in an apparent first official acknowledgement by Damascus that it possesses chemical weapons.

US officials said they would consider the proposal with “serious scepticism”, while British Prime Minister David Cameron warned the world needed to ensure that discussion of the idea did not become a “distraction” to “the problem on the table”.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said if inspectors confirmed the use of chemical weapons and Damascus responded “positively” to the Russian proposal, he would propose UN supervised zones in Syria where the country’s chemical weapons could be destroyed to overcome what he described as the 15-nation Security Council’s “embarrassing paralysis” over the conflict.

Earlier, Mr Assad warned America “to expect everything” if it attacks in retaliation for his alleged use of chemical weapons that killed more than 1,400 civilians.

Speaking in an interview to US television network CBS, Mr Assad denied he was behind the chemical atrocity on August 21 and said the US had provided “not a single shred of evidence” that his forces were involved.

When pressed by CBS correspondent Charlie Rose about what would happen if the US attacked Syria, he replied “every action”.

Asked if that could include the use of more chemical weapons, he said: “That depends. If the rebels or the terrorists in this region or any other group have it, it could happen. I don’t know. I’m not a fortune teller to tell you what’s going to happen…”

America has also urged Mr Assad to hand over his chemical weapons – as the only way to stop a military strike against his forces.

US Secretary of State John Kerry made the demand after flying into London for talks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague in the latest stage of his diplomatic tour to garner support for attacking Mr Assad’s regime.

He told a news conference at the Foreign Office that the US “was not going to war” with troops on the ground, but was instead planning a “very limited, very targeted, very short-term” strike.

But, conversely, he added: “Let me be clear, the United States,President Obama, myself, others, are in full agreement that the end of the conflict in Syria requires a political solution. There is no military solution, we have no illusions about that.”

He again set out the evidence America claims it has that the Syrian government was behind the Damascus gas attack, saying the “risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting”.

Mr Kerry also stressed the importance of the “special relationship” between the US and Britain and said the two countries were “enormously tied together”.

Mr Hague said the US has Britain’s “full diplomatic support” and supported “mustering a strong international response” to Mr Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

US politicians are set to discuss backing for military action against Syria as President Barack Obama prepares to make a series of TV appearances on six US TV networks later, ahead of delivering a live address to the nation on Tuesday, to push his case.

Congress will start debating the issue today and is expected to vote on Wednesday on whether to authorise force against the Syrian regime.

While the White House believes an endorsement from the Senate could be within reach, Mr Obama faces a wall of opposition from both Republicans and from many of his Democratic allies in the House of Representatives.

The White House has refused to state whether Mr Obama, elected in 2008 promising to end foreign wars, would order a strike even if Congress votes “no”.

Sky NewsSky News

{ Day 137 }.


Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me. —Psalm 17:8-9

When the pressure comes into my life, I hide in that secret place—in that posture of refocusing my soul. There I find the Spirit of life, and I am quickened inside. It is like a muscle that is worked over and over. My heart keeps enlarging in the absolute truth that I am loved, I am a lover, and therefore, I am successful. Because the Son of God, the eternal, heavenly Bridegroom, has chosen us as the delight of His heart, it is inconceivable that we would ever be insignificant. He has chosen us to rule and reign in that vast, eternal, expanding empire that is called the kingdom of God. We are what His heart pulsates for. We are what He longs for. We are what He waits for as His inheritance. Knowing this, it is inconceivable that we would languish in the despair of insignificance. If only we could see who we are because of Him!

{ PRAYER STARTER }

Hide me in the secret place, dear God, and quicken me there with Your Spirit. Because of You, I can find true significance in this fact—I am loved by God.

I can never be insignificant again—and neither
can you!

By MIKE BICKLE.

Germany Riveted at Start of Neo-Nazi Murder Trial.


MUNICH — The surviving member of a neo-Nazi cell blamed for a series of racist murders that scandalized Germany and shamed its authorities goes on trial on Monday in one of the most anticipated court cases in recent German history.

The chance discovery of the gang, the National Socialist Underground (NSU), which had gone undetected for more than a decade, has forced Germany to acknowledge it has a more militant and dangerous neo-Nazi fringe than previously thought, and exposed staggering intelligence failings.

The trial in Munich will focus on 38-year-old Beate Zschaepe, who is charged with complicity in the murder of eight Turks, a Greek and a policewoman between 2000-2007, as well as two bombings in immigrant areas of Cologne, and 15 bank robberies.

“With its historical, social and political dimensions the NSU trial is one of the most significant of post-war German history,” lawyers for the family of the first victim, flower seller Enver Simsek, said in a statement.

The case has profoundly shaken a country that believed it had learned the lessons of its past, and has reopened an uncomfortable debate about whether Germany must do more to tackle the far-right and lingering racist attitudes.

Four others charged with assisting the NSU will sit with Zschaepe on the bench.

DOUBLE SUICIDE

The existence of the gang only came to light in November 2011 when the two men believed to have founded the NSU with Zschaepe, Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Boehnhardt, committed suicide after a botched bank robbery and set their caravan ablaze in the eastern town of Eisenach.

In the charred vehicle, police found the gun used to murder all 10 victims. They also found a grotesque DVD presenting the NSU and claiming responsibility for the killings. In it the bodies of the murder victims are pictured while a cartoon Pink Panther tots up the number of dead.

After her companions’ suicides, Zschaepe is believed to have set fire to a flat she shared with the men in Zwickau, 180 kilometers (110 miles) away, and gone on the run. Four days later she turned herself in to police in her hometown of Jena, saying “I’m the one you are looking for.”

For the victims’ families the trial will be the first chance to come face to face with Zschaepe, a woman whose troubling, blank expression and resolute silence since her arrest has left people struggling to make sense of her motives.

The trial offers a chance for the woman dubbed “Nazi bride” in the media to break her silence, but few think she will.

Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in 2011, wrote to Zschaepe in May 2012, addressing her as “Dear Sister” and urging her to use the trial to spread far-right ideology, according to German media.

Hearings are scheduled into early 2014, and witnesses due to appear include Zschaepe’s estranged relatives and the parents of Mundlos and Boehnhardt.

FAMILIES’ GRIEF

Prosecutors say the gang chose people running small businesses or shops as easy, vulnerable targets, in an attempt to terrify migrants and hound them out of Germany.

Some of the relatives even came under suspicion themselves because police simply did not consider a far-right motive.

“All the relatives have the huge problem that they were never treated as victims. During the investigations they were either considered suspects, or as relatives of criminals,” said lawyer Angelika Lex.

The start of the trial comes as a relief to families, after it was postponed by a fortnight due to the court’s poor handling of media access. It initially did not guarantee any Turkish media a courtroom seat, despite the number of Turkish victims.

This prompted a successful complaint by a Turkish newspaper and the Munich court was ordered to redistribute seats, which it did via a lottery.

While judges try Zschaepe and the NSU’s suspected accomplices, Germany’s lower house of parliament is conducting its own inquiry into the institutional failings.

Germany’s patchwork of intelligence agencies are set to undergo reforms, after the inquiry found they failed to share information and neglected the far-right threat. The head of domestic intelligence resigned last July.

The trio had been known to authorities during their teenage years in Jena, for their racist hate crimes and bomb making, but had managed to escape arrest and assume new identities.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: NEWSmax.com

World War II Bomb Disrupts Berlin Morning Traffic.


Thousands of workers in Berlin had their morning commute disrupted when an unexploded World War II bomb was discovered near the bustling city’s main railway station and Germany’s chancellery.
The area surrounding the Berlin bomb was cordoned off and specialists were summoned to determine whether to remove or disarm the 100kg (220-pound) device, according to the BBC.
Although the device could cause serious damage in the immediate area surrounding the train station, it is not the largest bomb the allies dropped on Berlin during the war, the BBC said.
Thousands of unexploded bombs are believed buried in Germany and, in 2010, three people were killed when one unexpectedly detonated.
Last year, a bomb was detonated on site in Munich and although a wide area was evacuated, a large and spectacular explosion caused a major fire and significantly damaged a home, the BBC said.
The bomb is located between Lehrter Strasse and Heidestrasse, about 500 meters (1,600 feet) across the River Spree from the chancellery.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is vacationing in Italy.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Hiram Reisner

Biden to take gun questions from Field & Stream.


Vice President Joe Biden at the 49th Conference on Security Policy in Munich on Feb. 2, 2013. (Michael Dalder/ …Vice President Joe Biden will sit down on Thursday for an interview with Field & Streammagazine to discuss the White House’s proposals to fight gun violence. And that outlet is giving readers a, um, shot at proposing questions.

“Do you have a question for the Obama administration about guns? Now’s your chance to get it answered!” reads the magazine’s call for participants. “Any question is valid, as long as it pertains to guns.”

Questions are welcome ataskbiden@fieldandstream.com. Only those that come in with a name, address and daytime contact information will be considered.

The interview may be taking place on Valentine’s Day, but don’t expect too much love for the administration on the issue of guns. One of Field & Stream’s self-described “Gun Nut” columnists wondered last Friday whether the photo of President Barack Obama firing a shotgun at Camp Davidmight have been Photoshopped. (Read the whole rant, a broadside at politicians and guns.)

Biden has been Obama’s point person on the issue of guns in the aftermath of the slaughter of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., in December. The president is expected to push a package of proposals—banning assault weapons, limiting ammunition clips to 10 rounds or less, tightening background checks on would-be gun buyers, improving mental health services—in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

In late January, Biden described and defended some of those ideas in a Google+ “Fireside Hangout,” in which he also prescribed shotguns as the best firearms for home defense.

Source: YAHOO NEWS.
By  | The Ticket

Israel suggests responsibility for Syria airstrike.


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  • Ehud Barak, Defence Minister of Israel, left, gestures next to Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman of the Security Conference, during a meeting at the Conference in Munich, southern Germany, on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013. The 49th Munich Security Conference started Friday until Sunday afternoon with experts from 90 delegations. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)View PhotoEhud Barak, Defence Minister of …
  • Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, center, arrives for a meeting of the Security Conference in Munich, southern Germany, on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013. The 49th Munich Security Conference started Friday until Sunday with experts from 90 delegations. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)View PhotoIsraeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, …

MUNICH (AP) — Israel’s defense minister strongly signaled Sunday that his country was behind an airstrike in Syria last week, telling a high profile security conference that Israeli threats to take pre-emptive action against its enemies are not empty. “We mean it,” Ehud Barak declared.

Israel has not officially confirmed its planes attacked a site near Damascus, targeting ground-to-air missiles apparently heading for Lebanon, but its intentions have been beyond dispute. During the 22 months of civil war in Syria, Israeli leaders have repeatedly expressed concern that high-end weapons could fall into the hands of enemy Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militants.

For years, Israel has been charging that Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iran have been arming Hezbollah, which fought a monthlong war against Israel in 2006.

U.S. officials say the target was a convoy of sophisticated Russian SA-17 anti-aircraft missiles. Deployed in Lebanon, they could have limited Israel’s ability to gather intelligence on its enemies from the air.

Over the weekend, Syrian TV broadcast video of the Wednesday attack site for the first time, showing destroyed vehicles and a damaged building identified as a scientific research center. The U.S. officials said the airstrike hit both the building and the convoy.

Turkey, which seeks the ouster of Assad and supports the opposition that is fighting against his regime, harshly criticized Israel regarding the airstrike in Syria. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that Israel engaged in “state terror” and he suggested that its allies have nurtured wrongdoing on the part of the Jewish state.

“Those who have from the very beginning looked in the wrong direction and who have nourished and raised Israel like a spoiled child should always expect such things from Israel,” Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News quoted Erdogan as saying.

Erdogan, who also criticized Iran for supporting Syria, is a frequent critic of Israel, a former ally of Turkey. Relations hit a low in 2010 when Israeli troops raided a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship, and nine activists on board were killed. Both sides accused each other of initiating the violence.

In his comments Sunday in Munich, Barak came close to confirming that his country was behind the airstrike.

“I cannot add anything to what you have read in the newspapers about what happened in Syria several days ago,” Barak told the gathering of top diplomats and defense officials from around the world.

Then he went on to say, “I keep telling frankly that we said — and that’s proof when we said something we mean it — we say that we don’t think it should be allowed to bring advanced weapons systems into Lebanon.” He spoke in heavily accented English.

In Syria, Assad said during a meeting with a top Iranian official that his country would confront any aggression, his first comment on the airstrike.

“Syria, with the awareness of its people, the might of its army and its adherence to the path of resistance, is able to face the current challenges and confront any aggression that might target the Syrian people,” Assad was quoted as saying by the state news agency SANA.

He made the remarks during a meeting with Saeed Jalili, the head of Iran’s National Security Council. Iran is Syria’s closest regional ally. Jalili, on a three-day visit to Syria, has pledged Tehran’s continued support for Assad’s regime.

Jalili, who also serves as his country’s top nuclear negotiator, condemned the Israeli raid, stressing that it has proven the “aggressive nature of Israel and its threat of the region’s security and stability.”

The chief of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards said Sunday that Tehran also hopes Syria will strike back against Israel.

Syrian opposition leaders and rebels have criticized Assad for not responding to the airstrike, calling it proof of his weakness and acquiescence to the Jewish state.

The Syrian defense minister, Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij, said Israel attacked the center because rebels were unable to capture it. Al-Freij called the rebels Israel’s “tools.” He told the state TV, “The heroic Syrian Arab Army, that proved to the world that it is a strong army and a trained army, will not be defeated.”

Ahmad Ramadan, an opposition leader, said Syria’s claim that the rebels are cooperating with Israel “is an attempt by the regime to cover its weakness in defending the country against foreign aggression.” He spoke by telephone from Turkey.

While Israel has remained officially silent on the airstrike, there seemed little doubt that Israel carried it out, especially given the confirmation from the U.S., its close ally.

Israel has a powerful air force equipped with U.S.-made warplanes and has a history of carrying out air raids on hostile territory. In recent years, Israel has been blamed for an air raid in Syria in 2007 that apparently struck an unfinished nuclear reactor and an arms convoy in Sudan believed to be delivering weapons to Hamas.

Israel has not confirmed either raid, but military officials routinely talk about a “policy of prevention” meant to disrupt the flow of arms to its enemies.

In the days preceding the airstrike, the Israeli warnings were heightened. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a series of dire comments about the threat posed by Syria’s weapons.

Israel considers any transfer of these advanced weapons to be unacceptable “game changers” that would change the balance of power in the region.

Israel has grown increasingly jittery as the Arab Spring has swept through the Middle East, bringing with it a rise of hostile Islamist elements. While Assad is a bitter enemy, Israel’s northern front with Syria has remained quiet for most of the past 40 years.

If Assad is toppled, the threat of al-Qaida forces operating along Israel’s frontier with Syria would pose a new and unpredictable threat. Israel has been racing to reinforce its fences along its northern frontiers with Lebanon and Syria.

In addition, Israel fears that its archenemy Iran, the close ally of Syria and Hezbollah, is moving closer to developing a nuclear weapon.

Israeli leaders have vowed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear arms, making veiled threats to use force if international diplomacy and sanctions fail.

Israeli defense officials tried to play down Barak’s comments, saying that he was voicing a general policy that Israel is ready to defend its interests and not discussing a specific incident. They also noted that he was not speaking in his native Hebrew.

Even so, it seemed that Barak, a former prime minister, military chief of staff and regular participant on the world stage, was sending a message that Israel’s warnings are not hollow and that further military action should not be ruled out.

“There is a real danger now that seriously problematic weapons will reach Hezbollah, and Israel is trying to prevent this,” said Reuven Pedatzur, a defense analyst at Tel Aviv University. He said the threat has reached the point “where weapons are actually being loaded on trucks and sent on their way. That is new.”

Pedatzur said the decision by Syria to try to move weapons to Lebanon could indicate that Assad’s days are numbered. Assad may fear that he won’t be able to secure the weapons for much longer, or may be under pressure from Iran to transfer the arms to Hezbollah before he is toppled.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a monthlong war in mid-2006 that ended in a stalemate, and Israeli military planners believe it is just a matter of time before another war breaks out.

Israel says Hezbollah has already restocked its arsenal with tens of thousands of rockets and missiles, and that obtaining chemical weapons or the advanced Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles would severely hinder Israel’s ability to operate in Lebanon.

In Beirut, the Lebanese military issued a statement saying that six Israeli warplanes flew over different areas of the country on Sunday.

____

Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut, Ian Deitch in Jerusalem, and Christopher Torchia in Istanbul contributed.

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By DAVID RISING AND JOSEF FEDERMAN | Associated Press

Syrian opposition leader to meet Iran’s foreign minister.


MUNICH (Reuters) – Syrian opposition leader Moaz Alkhatib said on Saturday he would meet Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in Germany this weekend to discuss finding a solution to the Syrian crisis.

“I confirm that I will be meeting the Iranian foreign minister to discuss finding a way to remove the regime with the least possible bloodshed and loss of life. I had already met (Russian Foreign Minister)Sergei Lavrov and (U.S. Vice-PresidentJoe Biden for this purpose,” he told Reuters.

Alkhatib, Salehi, Lavrov and Biden are all attending a security conference in Munich.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; Writing by Adrian Croft)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

Reuters

Syrian opposition talks with Russia, seeking breakthrough.


  • A truck damaged after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, is seen in Binsh near Idlib January 30, 2013, in this picture provided by Shaam News Network. Picture taken January 30, 2013. REUTERS/Muhammad Najdet Qadour/Shaam News Network/Handout

    View PhotoReuters/Reuters – A truck damaged after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria‘s President Bashar al-Assad, is seen in Binsh near Idlib January 30, 2013, in this picture provided by Shaam …more 

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MUNICH (Reuters) – The Syrian opposition leader met Russia’s foreign minister on Saturday and a diplomatic source said he would also see Iran‘s foreign minister, opening a window to a possible breakthrough in efforts to broker an end to Syria’s civil war.

Russia and Iran have been the staunchest allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout an armed uprising against his rule, and any understandings they might reach with Assad’s foes could help overcome the two sides’ refusal to negotiate.

At an annual international security conference in Munich, Syrian National Coalition leader Moaz Alkhatib had talks with Russia’s Sergei Lavrov that may have been made possible by Alkhatib signaling readiness to talk to Damascus.

He also met separately with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and U.N. special envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.

“Russia has a certain vision but we welcome negotiations to alleviate the crisis and there are lots of details that need to be discussed,” Alkhatib said after the meeting.

A diplomatic source said the Alkhatib would also meet Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who was attending the Munich security conference on Saturday, but this could not be independently confirmed.

Russia has blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at pushing out Assad out or pressuring him to end the civil war, in which more than 60,000 people have died. But Moscow has also tried to distance itself from Assad by saying it is not trying to prop him up and will not offer him asylum.

“The talks about Syria are intensifying and the Iranians have been drawn in. Let’s see how it all ends,” the diplomatic source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“BIG SIGNAL”

Alkhatib put his authority within the opposition movement at risk earlier this week when he broke ranks to say he would be willing to meet Syrian officials to discuss a transition if political prisoners arrested during the uprising were freed.

The opposition coalition’s 12-member politburo then told Alkhatib not to respond to any proposals made in Munich without consulting with them first, with one opposition source citing concern that Alkhatib’s move would damage the revolt’s morale.

Outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Alkhatib’s apparent readiness to meet Assad envoys outside Syria, calling him “not only courageous but smart”.

She also voiced concern that Iran had recently increased military support for Assad.

While some headway was apparently being made in Munich, Iranian media said that Saeed Jalili of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council had traveled to Damascus to meet officials and help Assad “stand against plots hatched by global arrogance” – an allusion to the United States and other Western powers.

A comment by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev this week that Assad’s chances of staying in power were getting “smaller and smaller” was regarded in some quarters as a sign of a shift in the Kremlin’s Syria policy.

At the same time, Syrian opposition figure Hassan Bali, in Munich as an independent observer, called Alkhatib’s meeting with Biden “a big signal from the Americans” that they were upgrading support for rebels fighting to topple Assad.

Biden said in Munich that although there was still no international agreement, nobody could doubt “the increasingly desperate plight of the Syrian people and the responsibility of the international community to address that plight”.

There was little evidence at the Munich conference that the U.S. and Russian positions on Assad were getting any closer.

“The persistence of those who say that priority number one is the removal of Assad is the single biggest reason for the continuing tragedy in Syria,” Lavrov told the conference.

Biden on the other hand said the White House was “convinced that President Assad, a tyrant hell-bent on clinging to power, is no longer fit to lead Syrian people and he must go”.

Russia is Assad’s main arms supplier and, with Iran, has been among his strongest supporters during the 22-month-old conflict, which began with peaceful protests and evolved into civil war after Assad tried to crush unrest by military force.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Myra MacDonald and Alexandra Hudson in Munich, Yeganeh Torbati in Dubai and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Writing by Stephen Brown; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis and Stephen Brown | Reuters

Biden raises possibility of direct U.S.-Iran talks.


MUNICH (Reuters) – The United States is ready to hold direct talks with Iran if it is serious about negotiations, Vice President Joe Biden said on Saturday, backing bilateral contacts that many see as crucial to easing an international dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Speaking at a security conference in Munich, Biden said Iran – which says it is enriching uranium for peaceful energy only – now faced “the most robust sanctions in history” meant to ensure it does not use its program to develop nuclear weapons.

“But we have also made clear that Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation and international isolation,” Biden said. “There is still time, there is still space for diplomacy backed by pressure to succeed. The ball is in the government of Iran’s court.”

To date, fitful talks on Iran’s nuclear program have been between Tehran and the EU’s top diplomat representing six world powers including Washington. But analysts have suggested that with his re-election behind him, President Barack Obama might have more leeway to take on direct negotiations with Iran.

That makes the year ahead critical for chances of overcoming a stand-off which, if left to fester further, could see Iran approach a nuclear weapons capability and possibly provoking military action by Israel that could inflame the Middle East.

Progress on Iran would also help ease regional tensions as the United States prepares to pull most combat troops out of Iran’s neighbor Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Asked whether Washington might consider direct talks with Iran to smooth the process, Biden said, “When the Iranian leadership, Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei), is serious.

“We have made it clear at the outset that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally with the Iranian leadership, we would not make it a secret that we were doing that, we would let our partners know if that occasion presented itself.

“That offer stands, but it must be real and tangible and there has to be an agenda that they are prepared to speak to. We are not just prepared to do it for the exercise.”

Negotiations with Iran have so far been overseen by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on behalf of France, Britain, Germany, China, Russia and the United States. But they have made scant headway, raising fears Iran is simply playing for time while it develops its nuclear know-how.

Ashton has asked Iran to hold a round of talks this month and on Friday called on Tehran to abandon plans to install and operate advanced centrifuges that would speed up its ability to enrich uranium – potentially making it easier for it to produce the highly enriched uranium needed for nuclear weapons.

Many believe no deal is possible without a U.S.-Iranian thaw, requiring direct talks addressing myriad sources of mutual mistrust and hostility lingering since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution and the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

Iran has avoided direct, public talks with the United States, though some suggest Tehran would eventually welcome an opportunity to end its international isolation.

“DECISIVE YEAR ON IRAN”

With Iran holding its own presidential elections in June, hopes of progress before then are limited.

The United States and its allies, however, do not have an indefinite amount of time to negotiate. Notwithstanding the current stalemate, Iran’s nuclear program is advancing and an international consensus on sanctions may be hard to maintain.

Israel, which describes the prospect of Iran being able to weaponise enriched uranium as an existential threat, has made clear it would be ready to bomb the nuclear sites of its arch-enemy to prevent that outcome. The United States has also said it would not rule out the use of military force.

Speaking at the Munich conference, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that “2013 is the decisive year on Iran, especially for political reasons.

“We had elections in the United States and Israel, we will have elections in June in Iran; we see increasing capabilities especially with the issue of enrichment – let us be very frank, we did not have progress in the last 12 months, so it is obvious that we have to use this year..”

Russia, which has been impatient with decades of U.S. hostility to Tehran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution but backed U.N. Security Council sanctions since 2006, repeated on Saturday the need to find a diplomatic solution.

“Iran must know the overall game plan, it must see what is in it for it in this process. We need to convince Iran that this is not about regime change … this mistrust must be overcome,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the conference.

That comment was echoed by Westerwelle.

“If we want to reach this goal, it would be wrong to discuss all these military options and possibilities. It is now important to focus our whole attention, all our effort for a diplomatic and political solution.”

This would have to include a relief from sanctions as well as recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium to the lower levels needed for civilian nuclear fuel, security analysts say.

(Additional reporting by Alexandra Hudson in Munich; Editing by Mark Heinrich).

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By Adrian Croft and Myra MacDonald | Reuters

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