UNSC agrees to Syria Resolution

Although passed unanimously, the UNSC Resolution was not without its usual diatribes between Russia and the US.

The resolution, tabled by Sweden and Kuwait, passed 15-0 after three days of wrangling over wording [Xinhua]

After three days of delays over wording of the document, the United Nations Security Council on Saturday unanimously passed Resolution 2401 which called for all parties in the Syrian conflict to an immediate ceasefire which would last for at 30 consecutive days.

The Resolution called on all parties to “facilitate safe and unimpeded passage for medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their equipment, transport and supplies … to all people in need consistent with international humanitarian law”.

It also said that medical facilities and schools should be demilitarized.

Resolution 2401 also called on the Syrian army to lift its sieges of Eastern Ghouta (suburb of Damascus), Yarmouk, Foua and Kefraya and demanded of all warring parties to allow the rapid humanitarian aid deliveries and medical assistance without hindrance.

But the meeting of the 15 Security Council members was not without its Cold War-era jabs.

US Ambassador to the UN accused Russia of delay tactics and obstruction for a text that could have passed days earlier and prevented further loss of life.

“Every minute this council waited on Russia, the human suffering grew,” she said right after the unanimous vote was taken.

The UN estimates that over 400 people have been killed and thousands wounded in just one week of fighting. The US and its allies blame the government of Bashar Al Assad for the fighting and what they call indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas.

She also said she was very skeptical that the Syrian government would comply with the resolution.

“And after all of this time, hardly anything has changed in the resolution except a few words and some commas.”

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta was “dire” and insisted that hospitals and schools be demilitarized, indicating that Islamist rebels were using them to hide and store weapons.

But he said that the US was operating like an occupying power with territorial ambitions in Syria, and blamed the US and foreign supported Islamist militias, such Al Nusra, the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda of the carnage and humanitarian crisis in Syria.

He said a ceasefire would not work in the long run unless concrete agreements are secured between the warring parties.

He also reminded the Security Council that the Resolution did not preclude operations against Islamic State, Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra, some of whom are holed up in Eastern Ghouta and elsewhere in Syria.

Two other factions also dominate Eastern Ghouta – Jaysh Al Islam and Ahrar Al Sham.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

UN to vote on urgent help for Syria’s Eastern Ghouta

Russia has vetoed several draft resolutions on Syria which it says are unfair and biased, often following “fabricated” evidence [Xinhua]

The United Nations Security Council is expected to vote on a new resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, following reports of heavy fighting and mass casualties near the capital Damascus.

Russia had called for the Security Council to meet to discuss the resolution, while Kuwait and Sweden called for a vote.

A draft of the resolution says the UN is outraged at the “unacceptable levels of violence” seen in the past few days in the Ghouta district of Damascus and Idlib province.

The UN says at least 340 people have been killed in Eastern Ghouta since February 4.

The expected vote on the resolution comes a day after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged an immediate cessation of hostilities in these areas.

“I am deeply saddened by the terrible suffering of the civilian population in Eastern Ghouta, 400,000 people that live in hell on earth,” Guterres told the Security Council.

He called on humanitarian aid to be delivered to the needy and for all parties to the conflict to allow the evacuation of an estimated 700 people that need urgent medical treatment.

“This is a human tragedy that is unfolding in front of our eyes,” said Guterres.

Meanwhile, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said that a 30-day ceasefire is unrealistic and difficult to enforce.

The Russian Defense Ministry on Thursday said that efforts to broker a ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta have failed because the Islamist anti-government factions there are digging in and refusing to surrender their weapons.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has blamed them for the continuing fighting.

The Ministry’s spokesman Major-General Yuri Yevtushenko also said the humanitarian situation there was getting critical.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikii Haley has said that “it’s time to take immediate action” to save civilians who are under attack from the Syrian army.

“Eastern Ghouta cannot wait,” she said.

Russia blocks UN draft on Syria, cites ‘Western bias’

Russia has vetoes 11 draft resolutions on Syria which it says are unfair and biased, often following “fabricated” evidence [Xinhua]

Russia has for the second time this week vetoed a draft resolution in the Security Council aimed at renewing the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which investigates chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

The vetoed drafted presented by Japan to the Security Council on Saturday was designed to give JIM a temporary extension to continue its work.

It was a compromise draft that was meant to bridge differences between Russia and the US after Moscow vetoed a resolution on JIM on Friday.

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vassily A. Nebenzia said that Moscow could not support extending JIM’s mandate because it had been biased and largely implementing an anti-Syria agenda imposed by Western countries.

“There can be no other way after the JIM’s [the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism] leadership disgraced itself with its fictitious investigation into the sarin use incident in Khan Shaykhun and signed off on baseless accusations against Syria,” he said.

In a September (and again in October) report, JIM had accused Syria and Russia of using chemical weapons against civilian centers in the city of Khan Shaykun last April.

Moscow had then accused the group of fabricating events; both Damascus and Moscow denied being involved in a chemical weapons attack and instead blamed Islamist extremist rebel groups for storing such armaments in civilian areas.

But JIM has generally blamed both sides for the use of illicit weapons during the seven-year Syrian civil war.

Bolivia also voted against the Japanese draft resolution, while China abstained.

The Russian veto sparked criticism from US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley: “In a world in which the council’s time and attention could be productively devoted to 100 different things, Russia is wasting our time,” Ambassador Nikki R. Haley of the United States said after Russia’s latest veto was cast.”

“Russia can obstruct this council but it can’t obstruct the truth.”

Yet Russian officials maintain that JIM has been plagued with “systemic deficiences” and that it’s methods of operations and gathering evidence are flawed.

It warned that the mechanism needed significant and comprehensive overhaul in order to be a legitimate UN apparatus for fact-finding.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Will Trump-Xi talks be another ‘tremendous success’?

File photo of US President Donald Trump with Chinese President Xi Jinping [Xinhua]

Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted his US counterpart Donald Trump at the Palace Museum within the Forbidden City, a historic site at the heart of the capital Beijing on Wednesday.

The two presidents, who have at times been at odds over how to deal with North Korea, met for tea at the Hall of the Embodied Treasures in the Museum with both first ladies in attendance.

Chinese news media showed Xi giving Trump and the first ladies a tour of the other main halls in the museum.

Trump’s three-day visit to China is part of a five-nation Asia tour which began with a trip to Japan on Sunday, but with pleasantries aside, both countries will enter intense talks on Thursday to deal with security in northeast Asia and the Pacific, as well as discussions on America’s huge trade deficit with China.

Two-way trade between the two countries last year stood at $578.6 billion, with only $116 billion of that amount accounting for US exports to China.

That resulted in a $347 billion trade deficit between Washington and Beijing, something that Trump has spoken at length about and criticized the Chinese for “unfair trade practices”.

Trump has also accused the Chinese of currency manipulation saying they were keeping the yuan currency intentionally low to drive their exports.

But the yuan is up about one per cent against the dollar year on year.

The Korean Crisis

Trump has hinted at the military option to “totally destroy” North Korea. He maintains that 25 years of cajoling and diplomatic efforts have failed to deter Pyongyang from further developing its ballistic missile and nuclear technologies.

But Trump has also pressured China to exert its influences as North Korea’s largest trading partner.

In late September, Chinese banks said they were ordered by the government to implement UN sanctions against North Korean companies. The Chinese Commerce Ministry also said it would shut down North Korean companies operating in China.

But even though China had strongly condemned North Korea for the number of violations regarding ballistic missile and nuclear tests in the past year, it is loathe to see its neighbor destablized.

Firstly, it is concerned about a wave of refugees fleeing across the China border if the government in Pyongyang collapses.

Secondly, China fears a war on the Korean Peninsula will threaten the entire Asia-Pacific region. It has several times cautioned against the war rhetoric emerging from Washington and maintained that any military conflict would be a lose-lose scenario.

Chinese media has called the US approach “reckless”.

Trump may press the Chinese to do more, but it is unlikely they will take the kinds of measures the Americans are looking for.

China’s longstanding policy is to calm tension and have all countries involved return to the six-party talks.

North Korea has traditionally blamed the US for the elevated state of tension and has said that joint South Korean-US military exercises are perceived as direct national threats to Pyongyang.

Both China and Russia have also strongly criticized the US decision to deploy the THAAD weapons system in South Korea saying it will ignite a weapons race in the region.

The US began in June to deploy parts of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in South Korea and Japan.

Another point of contention will be the issue of Washington’s objection of Beijing’s role in the South China Sea. But it appears that Trump has pushed that down his priority list as he tries to curry favor and influence with China to exert more pressures on North Korea.

Beijing has traditionally held that Washington has meddled in the South China Sea, often to the point of incitement. The US conducts periodic air and naval patrols near the disputed islands – a move which has angered Beijing.

Beijing claims 90 per cent of the South China Sea, a maritime region believed to hold a wealth of untapped oil and gas reserves and through which roughly $4.5 trillion of ship-borne trade passes every year.

Climate change

In the meantime, Xi will press Trump on climate change and the need for the US to return to the Paris Agreement on climate control, which was initially signed by former President Barack Obama just two years ago.

In June, US President Donald Trump signed an executive order to withdraw from the agreement citing that it was unfair to his country and that it required to be renegotiated so that it does not impose uneven restrictions on Washington.

With Syria having signed the accord earlier this week, the US is now the only country in the world to have walked away from the agreements.

The talks between the two presidents are likely to be very cordial; both have said that they maintained good relations with one another ever since Xi visited Trump in Key Largo, Florida last April. Following there talks in April, Trump said that “tremendous progress” had been achieved between both leaders.

More on China-US disagreements over North Korea

By Firas Al-Atraqchi for The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

Russia increases pressure on North Korea

Putin does not agree with Trump’s threats against North Korea, and says such vitriol will add to tensions in the region [PPIO]

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree this week to enforce United Nations Security Council resolutions on North Korea.

In line with the UNSC resolutions, Putin ordered that increased restrictions be applied to North Korea in the trade, financial, and scientific sectors even though Russia has no existing economic ties to the country.

The UNSC passed Resolution 2371 on August 5 in response to Pyongyang testing two ballistic missiles.

A month later, Resolution 2375 was passed by the Council in response to North Korea’s nuclear test. Analysts say that 2375 is the most punitive and restrictive measure taken by the UNSC against North Korea to date.

Both resolutions restrict coal, iron and iron ore, seafood, lead and lead ore, and banning textile exports from North Korea while applying a cap on refined petroleum product imports at two million barrels per year, and freezing the amount of crude oil imports.

The resolutions also target the freezing of assets of North Korean officials and individuals.

But four days later, North Korea conducted another ballistic missile test, which was condemned by the Council.

Russia called the test a provocation and said it would exacerbate tensions in an already edgy Pacific region.

Putin has been vocal about North Korea’s defiance of the UNSC and its persistent missile tests but has also urged calm in dealing with the crisis, particularly as the war of words increases between Pyongyang and Washington.

Last month, US President Donald Trump said the US could destroy North Korea.

Putin said the “belligerent rhetoric” is dangerous.

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies

N Korea defiant in face of US threats, UN sanctions

The leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Kim Jong Un (front) has vowed to speed up the nuclear and ballistic missile programs [Xinhua]

Despite the threat of all-out war with the US and its allies in the Pacific and the weight of new UN sanctions, North Korea is to push ahead with full-scale development of its nuclear and missile technologies.

During the Second Plenum of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea held on Saturday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that military development was a key defensive strategy against the US.

On September 3, North Korea successfully tested a hydrogen bomb which caused a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in the region. Initial estimates about yield indicate the bomb is equal to 120 kilotons, far more powerful than any of its past five nuclear tests.

The UN Security Council passed the harshest set of sanctions yet on September 12. The measures included restricting the North’s oil imports and its textile exports, among a list of other items.

US President Donald Trump has hinted at the military option to “totally destroy” North Korea. He maintains that 25 years of cajoling and diplomatic efforts have failed to deter Pyongyang from further developing its ballistic missile and nuclear technologies.

But Trump has also pressured China to exert its influences as North Korea’s largest trading partner.

In late September, Chinese banks said they were ordered by the government to implement UN sanctions against North Korean companies. The Chinese Commerce Ministry also said it would shut down North Korean companies operating in China.

But Kim Jong-Un remains defiant.

“The nuclear weapons of the DPRK are a precious fruition borne by its people’s bloody struggle for defending the destiny and sovereignty of the country from the protracted nuclear threats of the US imperialists,” he said on Saturday in remarks carried by the Korean Central News Agency.

Analysis: China between a rock and a hard place over North Korea

The BRICS Post with inputs from Agencies