From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved

    This file is attached to from "Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D." - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright @ 1995, all rights reserved.



1/3/2022 Iran Vows Revenge For Soleimani Killing If Trump Not Put On Trial
Iraqis, and supporters of Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces), gather as they visit
the grave of Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis during the second year anniversary of the
killing of him and senior Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. attack,
at the Wadi al-Salam cemetery, in Najaf, Iraq January 3, 2022. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
    DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi vowed on Monday revenge for the assassination of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani two years ago unless former U.S. President Donald Trump is put on trial.
    Soleimani was killed in Iraq in a drone strike ordered by Trump.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by David Clarke)

1/4/2022 Afghanistan's Blue Mountain Lakes Deserted As Tourists Stay Away by Sayed Ramin
General view of Band-e Amir river in Bamiyan, Afghanistan,
December 23, 2021. Picture taken December 23, 2021. REUTERS/Ali Khara
    BAMIYAN, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The winter landscape around the deep, blue mountain lakes of Band-e-Amir in the central Afghan province of Bamiyan presents an arresting spectacle empty of people – but the absence of visitors is costing locals dearly.
    After two decades of war and facing its worst economic crisis, the collapse of Afghanistan’s vestigial tourism industry might almost go unnoticed.
    But Band-e Amir, about 3,000 metres (9,840 feet) above sea level and a couple of hours’ drive from the Buddhist sites of Bamiyan, usually attracts thousands of visitors a year seeking respite from the conflict.
    All that changed this year as the Taliban swept through one province after another, culminating in the shock overthrow of the Western-backed government in Kabul in August and plunging the economy into crisis as foreign aid dried up.
    “It used to be very good, there were skiing programmes and competitions in the winter,” said Sayed Reza, a tourist guide who also rents out rooms to visitors.
    “There used to be so many tourists in the winter and spring, but since Taliban came, in the last four months we have not seen any tourist in Band-e-Amir,” he said.
    Bamiyan province was one of the rare places that remained sheltered from the conflict that ripped much of Afghanistan apart over the past 20 years. It developed a relatively liberal culture in which mountain sports played a significant role.
    The skiers and cyclists on the slopes and roads, as well as the thousands of picnickers and sightseers enjoying the natural beauty offered a vision of carefree peace in stark contrast to the violence elsewhere.
    “Band-e-Amir is a tourist location; it has beautiful lakes and pure weather.    People enjoy spending time here,” Reza said.
    The area was declared a national park in 2009 and although Bamiyan as a whole remains generally poor and underdeveloped, the tourism that continued during the years of war has left clear signs of prosperity in the little village by the lake.
    Reza said the 70 to 80 families living in Band-e-Amir village depend entirely on tourism and are already suffering from the slowdown in visitors caused by the pandemic. The economic crisis that followed the Taliban victory has done the rest.
    “This year, due to the change in regime we have not seen any tourists in Band-e-Amir,” Reza said.
(Writing by James Mackenzie. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

1/5/2022 China’s Foreign Minister Visits Kenya Amid Unease Over Rising Debt by Duncan Miriri
FILE PHOTO: China's Wang Yi, state councillor and foreign minister, waves as he leaves a
news conference in Tokyo, Japan, November 24, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato/Pool/File Photo
    NAIROBI (Reuters) - China’s foreign minister began a visit to Kenya on Wednesday, where the government has relied on Chinese loans to develop infrastructure but faces criticism over the resulting debt burden.
    The Kenyan foreign ministry described the visit by Wang Yi, who is also state councillor, as “historic.”    It said security, health, climate change and green technology transfer would be discussed and new bilateral agreements would be signed.
    Kenya is the second of three stops on Wang’s African tour, after Eritrea and before Comoros. Eritrea joined Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a long-term plan to fund and build infrastructure linking China to the rest of the world, in November.
    China has lent African countries billions of dollars as part of the BRI, including $5 billion for the construction of a modern railway from the Kenyan port of Mombasa.
    That model has been evolving, partly under the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout and partly because of a backlash from African critics against rising debt levels.    China is shifting from hard infrastructure loans to efforts to boost trade.
    Among critics of Kenya’s reliance on Chinese funding is Kimani Ichung’wah, a ruling party lawmaker who has become a critic of the government.
    “It is a debt trap and they should start renegotiating,” he told Reuters before Wang’s visit, complaining that the interest rates on Chinese loans was exorbitant.
    Ichung’wah is backing William Ruto, estranged deputy to President Uhuru Kenyatta, to take over the presidency in an election scheduled for August, and said that if Ruto won his government would seek new terms for the loan repayments.
    Eritrea, one of the poorest and most isolated nations in the world, is involved in the conflict in Tigray in northern Ethiopia that has destabilised the Horn of Africa region.
    Lina Benabdallah, an expert on China-Africa relations at Wake Forest University in the United States, said Wang’s visit signalled Beijing’s interest in restoring stability to the Horn and in improving access to Africa via Eritrea’s Red Sea ports.
    Peter Kagwanja, a professor of international relations at the University of Nairobi, said the Comoros stop was also likely linked to trade interests. The Indian Ocean archipelago sits on the rim of a maritime trade route known in China as the Maritime Silk Road and considered strategically important by Beijing, he said.
(Reporting by Duncan Miriri, editing by Estelle Shirbon, Timothy Heritage and Angus MacSwan)

1/6/2022 From Stability To Turmoil – What’s Going On In Kazakhstan
A man walks past a car that was burned during the protests triggered
by fuel price increase in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Pavel Mikheyev
    (Reuters) – Soldiers shot at protesters in Kazakhstan’s biggest city Almaty on Thursday after days of violent unrest that prompted the government to declare a state of emergency and appeal for help from its ally Russia and other ex-Soviet republics.
    As Russian paratroopers arrived in Kazakhstan, an oil-rich state long viewed as a bastion of stability in volatile Central Asia, police in Almaty said they had killed dozens of rioters while struggling to restore order.
    Here is a snapshot of Kazakhstan, its economy and political system.
    Kazakhstan, located between Russia and China and also sharing borders with three other ex-Soviet republics, is the largest economy in Central Asia, with rich hydrocarbon and metal deposits.    It has attracted hundreds of billions of dollars in foreign investment since becoming independent in 1991.
    Strategically, it links the large and fast-growing markets of China and South Asia with those of Russia and Europe by road, rail, and a port on the Caspian Sea.    It has described itself as the buckle in China’s huge ‘Belt and Road’ trade project.
    Kazakhstan is the top global producer of uranium and this week’s unrest prompted an 8% jump in the price of the metal that fuels nuclear power plants.    It is the world’s ninth biggest oil exporter, producing some 85.7 million tonnes in 2021, and its 10th largest producer of coal.
    It is also the world’s second largest miner of bitcoin after the United States.    Bitcoin’s “hashrate” – the measure of computing power of machines plugged into its network – dropped by over 10% on Wednesday after Kazakhstan’s internet was shut off, according to crypto mining firm
    The uprising began as protests in oil-rich western regions against the removal of state price caps on New Year’s Day for butane and propane, which are often referred to as ‘road fuels for the poor’ due to their low cost.,br>     The reform, aimed at easing oil shortages, quickly backfired as prices more than doubled. The protests spread, tapping into a wider sense of discontent over endemic state corruption, income inequality and economic hardships that have all been compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.
    Although the richest of the Central Asian republics in per capita income, half of the population in Kazakhstan – the world’s ninth largest country by territory – live in rural, often isolated communities with poor access to public services.
    While the country’s vast natural resources have made a small elite incredibly wealthy, many ordinary Kazakhs feel left behind.    About a million people out of a total population of 19 million are estimated to live below the poverty line.
    Annual inflation is running at close to 9%, the highest in more than five years, prompting the central bank to hike interest rates to 9.75%.
    Career diplomat Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, 68, was elected president in 2019 on promises to continue the broadly pro-business policies of his long-serving predecessor, Nursultan Nazarbayev.    But Nazarbayev, a former Soviet Politburo member who led Kazakhstan for nearly three decades, was widely seen as the real power behind the throne.
    Tokayev has used the protests – which have sometimes targeted symbols of the Nazarbayev era including statues – to fire the 81-year-old former president from his post as chief of the powerful Security Council.
    Nazarbayev has made no public comments or appearances since the protests erupted and it remains unclear to what extent the uprising will weaken the considerable influence he and his family have continued to wield in politics and business.
    Tokayev also sacked Nazarbayev’s nephew, Samat Abish, as second-in-command of the security police.    Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter Dariga, a former speaker of the Senate and still a lawmaker, has been spoken of in the past as a possible future president.
    Kazakhstan’s per capita gross domestic product in 2020 was $9,122, World Bank data show, slightly above that of Turkey and Mexico but below its annual peak of nearly $14,000 in 2013.
    Tokayev’s government introduced a stimulus package worth 6% of national output to help smaller and medium-sized businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
    The World Bank has forecast economic growth of 3.5% in 2021, rising to 3.7% this year and 4.8% in 2023.    It has urged Kazakhstan to boost competition and limit the role of large state-owned enterprises in the economy, tackle social inequality and create a more level economic playing field.
    Western countries and rights groups have long criticised Kazakhstan for its authoritarian political system, its intolerance of dissent, curbs on media freedoms and lack of free and fair elections, though it has also been viewed as less repressive and volatile than its ex-Soviet neighbours.
    Amnesty International said this week’s protests were a result of the authorities’ “widespread repression of basic human rights” and it called for the release of all those arbitrarily detained and for investigations of past state abuses.
    “For years, the government has relentlessly persecuted peaceful dissent, leaving the Kazakhstani people in a state of agitation and despair,” Marie Struthers, Amnesty’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said.
(Compiled by Gareth Jones; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

1/7/2022 Kazakh President Says He Has Given Orders To Shoot To Kill “Terrorists”
Kazakh service members stand guard at a checkpoint following the protests triggered
by fuel price increase in Almaty, Kazakhstan January 7, 2022. REUTERS/Mariya Gordeyeva
    ALMATY (Reuters) – Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said on Friday he had given shoot-to-kill orders to deal with further disturbances from those he called bandits and terrorists, adding that those who failed to surrender would be “destroyed.”
    Up to 20,000 “bandits” had attacked the biggest city Almaty and had been destroying state property, Tokayev said in a televised address after a week when protests over fuel prices exploded into a countrywide wave of unrest.
    He said as part of the “counter-terrorist” operation, he had ordered law enforcement agencies and the army “to shoot to kill without warning.”
    “The militants have not laid down their arms, they continue to commit crimes or are preparing for them.    The fight against them must be pursued to the end. Whoever does not surrender will be destroyed,” Tokayev said on state television.
    He dismissed calls to hold talks with protesters.
    “What stupidity. What kind of talks can we hold with criminal and murderers?” he said.
    “We had to deal with armed and well-prepared bandits, local as well as foreign.    More precisely, with terrorists.    So we have to destroy them, this will be done soon
    Tokayev thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of China, Uzbekistan and Turkey for their assistance.
    He said peacekeeping forces sent from Russia and neighbouring states had arrived on Kazakhstan’s request and were in the country on a temporary basis to ensure security.
    It was critically important to understand why the state had “slept through the underground preparation of terrorist attacks, of militant sleeper cells,” Tokayev added.
(Reporting by Anastasia Lyrchikova, Mark Trevelyan and Alex Marrow; Writing by Sujata Rao)

1/15/2022 China Slams U.S. Sanctions On Iran As Cooperation Agreement Launched
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China reaffirmed its opposition to unilateral sanctions by the United States against Iran as the Chinese and Iranian foreign ministers announced the launch of a 25-year cooperation agreement aimed at strengthening economic and political ties.
    In a meeting on Friday in the city of Wuxi, in Jiangsu province, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also backed efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Iran.
    A summary of the meeting between Wang and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian was posted on China’s foreign ministry website on Saturday.
    Wang, who is also State Councillor, said the U.S. bore primary responsibility for the ongoing difficulties with Iran, having unilaterally withdrawn from a 2015 nuclear deal between the major powers and Iran.
    Under the terms of that deal, in return for the lifting of international sanctions, Iran would limit uranium enrichment activity, making it harder to develop nuclear arms – although Tehran denies having plans for nuclear weapons.
    Wang said China would firmly support a resumption on negotiations on a nuclear pact.
    But he said China firmly opposes unilateral sanctions against Iran, political manipulation through topics including human rights, and interference in the internal affairs of Iran and other regional countries.
    The United States reimposed sanctions that badly damaged Iran’s economy after withdrawing from the nuclear pact in 2018, saying the terms did not do enough to curb Iran’s nuclear activities, ballistic missile program and regional influence.
    A year later, Iran began to gradually breach the accord, rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, refining it to higher fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up output.
    China and Iran, both subject to U.S. sanctions, signed the 25-year cooperation agreement last March, bringing Iran into China’ Belt and Road Initiative, a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure scheme intended to stretch from East Asia to Europe.
    The project aims to significantly expand China’s economic and political influence, and has raised concerns in the United States and elsewhere.
    The foreign ministry summary said the agreement would deepen Sino-Iranian cooperation in areas including energy, infrastructure, agriculture, health care and culture, as well as cyber security and cooperation with other countries.
    Iran and the U.S. remain locked in talks over whether a compromise can be found to renew the deal and dispel fears of a wider Middle East War.    A source close to negotiations said on Friday that many issues remain unresolved.
    Wang, who earlier in the week met with several counterparts from Gulf Arab countries concerned about the potential threat from Iran, also said China hopes to set up a dialogue mechanism with Gulf countries to discuss regional security issues.
(Reporting by Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

1/16/2022 N.Korea Train Makes First Crossing Into China Since Border Lockdown – Reports
FILE PHOTO: A North Korea flag flutters next to concertina wire at the North Korean
embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) - A North Korean cargo train pulled into a Chinese border town on Sunday, in what would be the first confirmed crossing since anti-coronavirus border lockdowns began, media reports said.
    North Korea has not officially reported any COVID-19 cases and has imposed strict anti-virus measures, including border closures and domestic travel curbs since the pandemic began early 2020.
    A North Korean freight train crossed the Yalu River railway bridge to arrive in the Chinese town of Dandong on Sunday, Yonhap said, citing multiple unnamed sources.
    Yonhap said it marks the first time that North Korea has formally opened its land border with China.
    It was unclear whether the train was carrying any cargo into China, but was likely to return to North Korea on Monday with a load of “emergency materials,” the sources told Yonhap, without elaborating.
    Japan’s Kyodo news agency also reported the train’s arrival, citing an informed source.
    While Chinese data show some limited trade has continued, most shipments appear to be using     North Korean seaports, not trains across its land borders.
    Officials in Seoul said late last year they were watching closely for a resumption in cross-border rail traffic as a signal that restrictions might be loosening.
    After nearly two years of border closures, some humanitarian aid is trickling into the country, though shipments of key supplies including food remain blocked, according to United Nations organisations.
    Several shipments of nutrition and medical aid have entered the country after up to three months of quarantine at Nampo sea port, but there had been no confirmation of major shipments being transported by train.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

1/20/2022 China Says It Warned Away U.S. Warship In South China Sea
FILE PHOTO: The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold, forward-deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet
in the Indo-Pacific region, transits the Philippine Sea, June 14, 2018. Sarah Myers/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese forces followed and warned away a U.S. warship which entered waters near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, the country’s military said on Thursday, in the latest uptick in tensions in the disputed waterway.
    The Southern Theatre Command of the People’s Liberation Army said the USS Benfold “illegally” sailed into Chinese territorial waters without permission, violating the country’s sovereignty, and that Chinese naval and air forces tracked the ship.
    “We solemnly demand that the U.S. side immediately stop such provocative actions, otherwise it will bear the serious consequences of unforeseen events,” it added.
    The U.S. Navy said the Benfold “asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the vicinity of the Paracel Island, consistent with international law
    “At the conclusion of the operation, USS Benfold exited the excessive claim and continued operations in the South China Sea,” 7th Fleet spokesman Mark Langford said.
    The United States frequently carries out what it calls freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea to challenge Chinese territorial claims.
    China has established military outposts on artificial islands in the waters, which are crossed by vital shipping lanes and also contain gas fields and rich fishing grounds.
    The South China Sea has become one of many flashpoints in the testy relationship between China and the United States, with Washington rejecting what it calls unlawful territorial claims by Beijing.
    China claims vast swaths of the South China Sea.    Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines all have overlapping claims.
(Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Kenneth Maxwell)

2/9/2022 Chinese Funding Of Sub-Saharan African Infrastructure Dwarfs That Of West, Says Think Tank by Andrea Shalal
FILE PHOTO: A Chinese engineer and a local construction worker work on a section of the
Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway (SGR) in Emali, Kenya October 10, 2015. The China Road
and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) tasked with the construction work at a cost of 3.8 billion
U.S. dollars is due for completion in mid-2017. REUTERS/Noor Khamis/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China’s development banks provided $23 billion in financing for infrastructure projects in sub-Saharan Africa from 2007 to 2020, more than double the amount lent by such banks in the United States, Germany, Japan and France combined, a new study showed.
    The Center for Global Development think tank said a review of 535 public-private infrastructure deals funded in the region in those years showed that China’s investments dwarfed those of other governments and multilateral development banks.
    Nancy Lee, lead author of the paper and a senior policy fellow at the center, said overall public funding for projects in sub-Saharan Africa remained stuck at around $9 billion, well short of what the region needs for roads, dams and bridges.
    “There is a lot of criticism of China,” she said.    “But if Western governments want to boost productive and sustainable investments to meaningful levels, they need to deploy their own development banks and press the multilateral development banks to make these investments a priority.”
    Between 2007 and 2020, China Exim Bank and China Development Bank provided $23 billion in financing, while all other major development finance institutions combined provided $9.1 billion, the report found.
    It noted that the main U.S. development finance agency, now known as the U.S. International Development Finance Corp, lent just $1.9 billion for infrastructure in the region during that period, less than a tenth of what China provided.
    Multilateral development banks like the World Bank provided just $1.4 billion per year on average for public-private infrastructure projects in sub-Saharan Africa from 2016-2020, the report found.
    China’s lending to Africa has come under heightened scrutiny in recent years for lack of transparency and its use of collateralized loans, with economists at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank warning that many low-income countries are facing or already in debt distress.
    But Western countries have been slow to pump up investments despite “much rhetoric,” Lee said.
    The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden in July unveiled a new push to expand business ties between U.S. companies and Africa, with a focus on clean energy, health, agribusiness and transportation infrastructure.    But its ongoing review of trade policies has left the private sector skittish about committing funds.
    More news could come soon.
    A top U.S. trade official last week said Washington had been engaging in robust talks with Kenya as part of its drive to expand trade investment on the African continent, and would have more to say in coming weeks.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

3/13/2022 Iran Suspends Talks With Saudi Arabia – Nour News
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran has suspended talks with regional rival Saudi Arabia, a website affiliated to Iran’s top security body reported on Sunday, without giving a reason for the decision which comes as a fifth round of negotiations was due to start this week.
    The news comes a day after Saudi Arabia carried out mass executions that activists said included 41 Shi’ite Muslims, and amid stalled talks on an Iranian nuclear deal in Vienna.
    “Iran has unilaterally suspended talks with Saudi Arabia,” Nour news said, without providing a reason.    It said no specific date had been scheduled for a new round of talks.
    The Saudi government media office CIC did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
    Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran, which are locked in proxy conflicts around the region, started direct talks last year to try to contain tensions.    Iraq’s foreign minister said on Saturday his country would host a new round on Wednesday.
    Riyadh in 2016 severed ties with Iran after Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran following the execution of a Shi’ite cleric in Saudi Arabia.
    On Saturday, Saudi Arabia said it had executed 81 men in its biggest mass execution in decades.    Activists and rights defenders said 41 were Shi’ite Muslims from the eastern Qatif region, which has historically been a flashpoint between the Sunni-dominated government and minority Shi’ites.
    Saudi authorities did not respond to a Reuters’ request for comment on that.
    Saudi Arabia and Iran have backed opposing sides in regional conflicts and political disputes in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq for years, and Saudi Arabia has led an Arab coalition waging war against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen since 2015.
    Riyadh has said little progress has been made in the direct talks, which have focused largely on Yemen.
    Houthi authorities said on Saturday two Yemeni “prisoners of war” were among those executed by Saudi Arabia.
    Meanwhile, talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal face the prospect of collapse after a last-minute Russian demand forced world powers to pause negotiations for an undetermined time despite having a largely completed text.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in RiyadhWriting by Ghaida Ghantous Editing by Richard Pullin and Mark Potter)

3/13/2022 Ballistic Missiles Hit Iraq’s Kurdish Capital, No Casualties – Officials
Workers clean the damaged office of Kurdistan 24 TV building, in the
aftermath of missile attacks, in Erbil, Iraq, March 13, 2022. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
    ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) - Missile attacks that struck Iraq’s northern Kurdish regional capital of Erbil on Sunday were launched from Iran, a U.S. official told Reuters, without giving further details.
    A dozen ballistic missiles struck Erbil at 1 a.m. on Sunday, targeting the U.S. consulate’s new building and the neighbouring residential area but caused only material damage and one civilian was injured, the Kurdish interior ministry said on Sunday.
    An Iranian state-TV correspondent based in Iraq said that the missiles were aimed at “secret Israeli bases,” information.
    There was no official claim of responsibility or further details available. A U.S. State Department spokesperson called it an “outrageous attack” but said no Americans were hurt and there was no damage to U.S. government facilities in Erbil.
    U.S. forces stationed at Erbil’s international airport complex have in the past come under fire from rocket and drone attacks that U.S. officials blame on Iran-aligned militia groups, but no such attacks have occurred for several months.
    The last time ballistic missiles were directed at U.S. forces was in January 2020 – an Iranian retaliation for the U.S. killing earlier that month of its military commander Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad airport.
    No U.S. personnel were killed in the 2020 attack but many suffered head injuries.
    Iraq and neighbouring Syria are regularly the scene of violence between the United States and Iran.    Iran-backed Shi’ite Islamist militias have attacked U.S. forces in both countries and Washington has on occasion retaliated with air strikes.
    An Israeli air strike in Syria on Monday killed two members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Iranian state media said this week.    The IRGC vowed to retaliate, it said.
    Kurdish officials did not immediately say where the missiles struck.    A spokesperson for the regional authorities said there were no flight interruptions at Erbil airport.
    Residents of Erbil posted videos online showing several large explosions, and some said the blasts shook their homes. Reuters could not independently verify those videos.
    Iraq has been rocked by chronic instability since the defeat of the Sunni Islamist group Islamic State in 2017 by a loose coalition of Iraqi, U.S.-led and Iran-backed forces.
    Since then, Iran-aligned militias have regularly attacked U.S. military and diplomatic sites in Iraq, U.S. and many Iraqi officials say.    Iran denies involvement in those attacks.
    Domestic politics has also fuelled violence.
    Iraqi political parties, most of which have armed wings, are currently in tense talks over forming a government after an election in October.    Shi’ite militia groups close to Iran warn in private that they will resort to violence if they are left out of any ruling coalition.
    The chief political foes of those groups include their powerful Shi’ite rival, the populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has vowed to form a government that leaves out Iran’s allies and includes Kurds and Sunnis.
    Talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal face the prospect of collapse after a last-minute Russian demand forced world powers to pause negotiations for an undetermined time despite having a largely completed text.
    Negotiators have reached the final stages of 11 months of discussions to restore the deal, which lifted sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.
    And Iran has suspended on Sunday a fifth round of talks with regional rival Saudi Arabia that were due to take place in Baghdad on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Iraq Bureau; Additional reporting by Yasmin Hussein and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by John Davison in Baghdad and Amina Ismail in Erbil; Editing by Daniel Wallis and William Mallard)

4/18/2022 Iran President Raisi Warns Israel Against Military Action by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Ebrahim Raisi reviews
the army troops parade commemorating National Army Day in front of the mausoleum of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah
    Khomeini Monday, April 18, 2022, outside Tehran, Iran. Raisi warned that Israel will be targeted by his
country’s armed forces if it makes “the tiniest move” against Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
    Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is warning Israel against military escalation amid ongoing mutual tensions. While speaking at a military parade in Tehran Monday, he warned of possible strikes against “the heart of Israel in case of an armed escalation.”     The Iranian president then stressed; his nation’s armed forces would respond to any military move by Israel.    His remarks came after Israeli officials reportedly discussed strikes on Iran’s nuclear objects if the Islamic Republic reinstates a nuclear deal with the Biden administration.
    The Iranian President also issued a warning to the Biden administration directly.
    “I speak to the Americans: What the White House spokesman announced in front of the world that they have been disgracefully defeated in all of their sanctions in the maximum pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he stated.    “This is the destiny of those who want to challenge the sacred order of the Islamic Republic.”
    Raisi also claimed that Iran defeated the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq back in the 1980s and he claimed the same could happen to Israel.

4/19/2022 US, S Korea meet after North’s missile tests by Hyung-Jin Kim, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    SEOUL, South Korea – The U.S. special envoy for North Korea said Monday that Washington and Seoul agreed on the need for a strong response to Pyongyang’s recent spate of missile tests, though they remain open to dialogue with the country.
    Sung Kim flew to South Korea for talks two days after North Korea conducted a new type of missile test in its 13th round of weapons firing this year.    Experts say North Korea wants to advance its weapons arsenal and wrest concessions like sanctions relief from its rivals.
    Weapons tested include nuclear capable missiles targeting both the U.S. mainland and its allies such as South Korea and Japan.    There are concerns that North Korea may conduct a nuclear test soon to intensify its pressure campaign.
    “We agreed on the need for a strong response to the destabilizing behavior we have seen from” North Korea, Kim told reporters after a meeting with his South Korean counterpart.    “(We) also agreed on the need to maintain the strongest possible joint deterrent capability on the peninsula.”
    South Korean nuclear envoy Noh Kyu-duk said he and Kim shared concerns that North Korea will likely continue to engage in acts that raise regional tensions.    He urged North Korea to return to talks.
    Kim said the allies “have not closed the door on diplomacy” with North Korea and have “no hostile intents toward” the country.    He repeated his earlier statement that the United States is ready to meet North Korea “anywhere, without any conditions.”
    North Korea has so far rejected Kim’s outreach, saying the United States must first drop its hostile policy before talks can resume. Some experts say North Korea wants the U.S. to relax sanctions or suspend its regular military drills with South Korea, which it views as an invasion rehearsal.
    Earlier Monday, the U.S. and South Korean militaries kicked off their springtime computer-simulated command post exercise.    North Korea has previously responded to such drills with missile tests and warlike rhetoric.
    North Korea said Sunday it tested a new tactical guided weapon a day earlier, which would boost its nuclear fighting capability.    Some analysts said the weapon is likely a short-range ballistic missile to be mounted with a tactical nuclear warhead that targets South Korea.
    Last month, North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile potentially capable of reaching the U.S. homeland in its first test since November 2017.    U.S.-led diplomacy meant to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions remain largely stalemated.
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim, left, speaks during a briefing
at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, on Monday. AHN YOUNG-JOON/AP

4/20/2022 Blasts in Kabul kill at least 6, hurt 17 by Mohammad Shoaib Amin, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    KABUL, Afghanistan – Explosions targeting educational institutions killed at least six people, including students, and injured 17 Tuesday in a mostly Shiite neighborhood of Afghanistan’s capital city, police said.
    The blasts, which occurred in rapid succession, were being investigated, and more casualties were feared, according to Kabul police spokesperson Khalid Zadran and the city’s Emergency Hospital. Several of the wounded were in serious condition; others had been treated and released.
    The explosions occurred inside the Abdul Rahim Shaheed High School and near the Mumtaz Education Center several miles away, both in the predominantly Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi.    There were no immediate reports of casualties at the Mumtaz Center.
    Guards in the narrow street leading to the two-story high school said they saw 10 casualties.    Inside the school, an Associated Press video journalist saw walls splattered with blood, burned notebooks and children’s shoes.
    The AP spoke to several private guards in the area, but they refused to give their names, fearing repercussions from the Taliban security force cordoning off the area.
    It appeared a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the sprawling compound, which can house up to 1,000 students, witnesses said.    It wasn’t immediately clear how many children were in the school at the time of the explosion.
    The school is teaching students only until the sixth grade after Afghanistan’s hard-line Taliban rulers went back on a promise to allow all girls to attend school.
    No one immediately claimed responsibility.    The area has been targeted in the past by Afghanistan’s deadly Islamic State affiliate, which reviles Shiite Muslims as heretics.
    Save the Children in Afghanistan issued a statement “strongly condemning” the attack and saying “no school should be deliberately targeted, and no child should fear physical harm at or on the way to school.”
    The Islamic State affiliate known as IS in Khorasan Province, or IS-K, has previously targeted schools.    In May last year, months before the Taliban took power in Kabul, more than 60 children, mostly girls, were killed when two bombs were detonated outside their school, also in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood.
    IS-K first emerged in 2014 in eastern Afghanistan.    By 2019, it held significant territory in Nangarhar province and had pushed into neighboring Kunar province.    The U.S. military waged a massive air campaign against it.
    But IS survived, and it presented the greatest security challenge to the Taliban when they seized power in Afghanistan last August.
    IS-K is a longtime enemy of the Taliban.    The Taliban espouse a harsh interpretation of Islamic law and often used suicide attacks in their nearly 20-year insurgency against the U.S. and its Afghan allies.    But they have reached out to Shiites.    IS, meanwhile, opposes any group that does not accept its more radical, deeply anti-Shiite ideology.    IS, unlike the Taliban, sees its battle as one to establish a unified Muslim world under a caliphate.
A Taliban fighter stands guard beside a school that was the target of an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday. EBRAHIM NOROOZI/AP

4/23/2022 Death toll in mosque bombing rises to 33 by Kathy Gannon and Mohammad Shaob Amin, ASSOCIATED PRESS
A Taliban fighter stands guard outside the site of an explosion in
a mosque in Mazar-e-Sharif province in Afghanistan on Thursday. AP
    KABUL, Afghanistan – A Taliban official said a bombing at a mosque and religious school in northern Afghanistan on Friday killed at least 33 people, including students of the school.
    Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s deputy culture and information minister, said the bombing in the town of Imam Saheb, in Kunduz Province, also wounded 43, many of them students.
    No one claimed responsibility, but Afghanistan’s Islamic State affiliate on Friday claimed a series of bombings that happened Thursday, the worst of which was an attack on a Shiite Mosque in northern Mazar-e-Sharif that killed at least 12 Shiite Muslim worshippers and wounded scores more.
    Earlier the Kunduz provincial police spokesman put the death toll at the Malawi Bashir Ahmad Mosque and madrassa compound in Imam Saheb at two dead and six injured.    Mujahid later tweeted the higher casualty numbers tweeting 'we condemn this crime ... and express our deepest condolences to the victims.'
    Friday’s bombing is the latest in a series of deadly attacks across Afghanistan.    Mujahid called the perpetrators of the Kunduz attack 'seditionists and evil elements.'    The United Nations called the attack 'horrific.'    Deputy special representative to Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov said in a tweet that 'killings must stop now and perpetrators brought to justice.'
    Since sweeping to power in August, the Taliban have been fighting the upstart Islamic State affiliate known as Islamic State in Khorasan Province or IS-K which is proving to be an intractable security challenge for Afghanistan’s religiously driven government.
    In a statement Friday, the IS-K said the explosive device that devastated Mazar-e-Sharif’s Sai Doken mosque was hidden in a bag left inside among scores of worshippers.    As they knelt in prayer, it exploded.
    The Taliban said they have arrested a former IS-K leader in northern Balkh province, of which Mazar-e-Sharif is the capital.     Zabihullah Noorani, information and culture department chief in Balkh province, said Abdul Hamid Sangaryar was arrested in connection with Thursday’s Mosque attack.

6/12/2022 N Korea leader defends arms buildup by KimTong-Hyung, ASSOCIATED PRESS
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un defended his accelerating weapons development
as an exercise of sovereign rights. KOREAN CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY/KOREA NEWS SERVICE VIA AP
    SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un doubled down on his arms buildup in the face of what he described as an aggravating security environment while outside governments monitor signs of a possibly imminent North Korean nuclear test explosion.
    Kim’s comments during a major three-day political conference that wrapped up Friday didn’t include any direct criticism of the United States or rival South Korea amid a prolonged deadlock in nuclear diplomacy.
    Kim defended his accelerating weapons development as a rightful exercise of sovereign rights to self-defense and set forth further “militant tasks” to be pursued by his armed forces and military scientists, according to state-run Korean Central News Agency.    Saturday’s report didn’t mention specific plans regarding testing activity, including the detonation of a nuclear device.
    The plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee also reviewed key state affairs, including efforts to slow a COVID-19 outbreak the North first acknowledged last month and progress in economic goals Kim is desperate to keep alive amid strengthened virus restrictions.
    “(Kim) said the right to self-defense is an issue of defending sovereignty, clarifying once again the party’s invariable fighting principle of power for power and head-on contest,” KCNA said.
    The meeting came amid a provocative streak in missile demonstrations aimed at forcing the U.S. to accept the idea of North Korea as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
    North Korea for years has mastered the art of manufacturing diplomatic crises with weapons tests and threats before eventually offering negotiations aimed at extracting concessions.
    In a move that may have future foreign policy implications, Kim during the meeting promoted a veteran diplomat with deep experience in handling U.S. affairs as his new foreign minister.
    Choe Sun Hui, who is among the North’s most powerful women along with the leader’s sister Kim Yo Jong, had a major role in preparing Kim Jong Un for his meetings with former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019.    Talks between Pyongyang and Washington derailed after the collapse of Kim’s second meeting with Trump in February 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for dropping U.S.-led sanctions in exchange for limited disarmament steps.
    Choe replaces Ri Son Gwon, a hardliner with a military background who was announced as Kim’s new point person on rival South Korea.
    North Korea has a history of dialing up pressure on Seoul when it doesn’t get what it wants from Washington.    While KCNA’s report on the meeting didn’t include any comments specifically referring to South Korea, it said the participants clarified “principles and strategic and tactical orientations to be maintained in the struggle against the enemy and in the field of foreign affairs.”

6/13/2022 China says it will 'fight to the very end' to stop Taiwanese independence by (Waiyee Yip) – Business Insider
© ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images
1 of 7 Photos in Gallery©Wang Gang/VCG via Getty Images.
    Shanghai is finally lifting its lockdown after 7 weeks.    The global economy has yet to feel its full impact, experts warn.
    Shanghai has begun to emerge from a lockdown that has constrained the global economy and created even more turmoil for supply chains.
    The city's deputy mayor, Zong Ming, said in an online news conference on Monday that the city would emerge from restrictions in phases, aiming to return to normal life by June 1, Reuters reported.
    In line with China's zero-COVID strategy, Shanghai entered a strict lockdown on March 28 to combat a rising number of Omicron cases.
    The tough restrictions hit businesses in the manufacturing and commercial hub of Shanghai, not to mention the broader global economy, as factories were shuttered and workers were confined to their homes.    Truckers struggled to move goods in and out of the city's huge port due to restrictions on movement.
    But even when the restrictions lift, experts have warned that the impact of the lockdown will continue to cause ripple effects around the world.
    China will "fight to the very end" to stop Taiwanese independence, the country's defense minister said on Sunday in a combative speech in which he also referred to the US as a "bully."
    "Let me make this clear," Wei Fenghe said at the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore, per The Washington Post.    "If anyone dares to secede Taiwan from China, we will not hesitate to fight.    We will fight at all costs. And we will fight to the very end."
    Wei's speech was the latest in a weekend of aggressive exchanges between Chinese and US military chiefs over the issue of Taiwan — the self-ruled, democratic island that China views as part of its territory.
    "No one should ever underestimate the resolve and ability of the Chinese armed forces to safeguard its territorial integrity," Wei said, per AFP.
    Accusing Washington of "interfering in China's internal affairs," he added that "those who pursue Taiwanese independence in an attempt to split China will definitely come to no good end."
    A day earlier, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin accused China of a "steady increase in provocative and destabilizing" military activity near the island.    This includes Chinese military aircraft flying near Taiwan in "record numbers in recent months," he said.
    "We remain focused on maintaining peace, stability, and the status quo across the Taiwan Strait," he said on Saturday at the same event.    "But the PRC's (People's Republic of China's) moves threaten to undermine security, and stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.    And that's crucial for this region, and it's crucial for the wider world."
    "Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait isn't just a US interest.    It's a matter of international concern," Austin continued.
Read the original article on Business Insider

6/13/2022 WHO report sparks renewed clash with China over COVID-19 origins by Cassidy Morrison, Jerry Dunleavy – Washington Examiner
    The World Health Organization has prompted renewed friction with the Chinese Communist Party after a new report refused to rule out a theory that the COVID-19 pandemic originated because of a lab leak in China.
© Provided by Washington Examiner WHO report sparks renewed clash with China over COVID-19 origins
    The Chinese government has remained on the defensive amid international criticism that the CCP has not been fully cooperative or transparent in global investigations into the origins of the virus.    The prevailing theory among many scientists is that the virus originated in wild animals and migrated to humans, also known as zoonotic transmission, but others argue SARS-CoV-2 most likely started at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
    The Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens, the 27-member scientific advisory group assembled by the WHO, said in its first report out Thursday that members are missing “key pieces of data that are not yet available for a complete understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic began.”
    “The SAGO has agreed, apart from three objections, that it remains important to consider all reasonable scientific data that is available either through published or other official sources to evaluate the possibility of the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 into the human population through a laboratory incident,” the report says.
    Three members of the advisory group, Drs. Yungui Yang, Vladimir Dedkov, and Carlos Morel — from China, Russia, and Brazil, respectively — were the sole dissenters who said further investigation into the lab leak was not necessary, maintaining that there is no new scientific evidence to question the conclusion of a 2021 report.
    Yungui, also the deputy director of the Beijing Institute of Genomics, previously participated from the Chinese side in the WHO’s first joint mission in early 2021, which attempted to dismiss the lab leak possibility.
    The Chinese government, meanwhile, slammed the implication that the lab leak theory still holds water.    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Friday the theory was a politically motivated lie driven by "anti-China" sentiments.
    “The lab leak theory is totally a lie concocted by anti-China forces for political purposes, which has nothing to do with science,” Zhao said.    “We always supported and participated in science-based global virus tracing, but we firmly opposed any forms of political manipulation.”
    He reiterated the unsubstantiated argument that the virus originated in a U.S. military lab, citing “highly suspicious laboratories such as Fort Detrick.”
    The State Department told the Washington Examiner last year that the United States “condemns the PRC’s false, baseless, and unscientific claims which undermine the spirit and purpose of an impartial origins investigation.”
    The new SAGO report marked a departure from a March 2021 report, in which a WHO team sent to China said a lab leak was possible but “extremely unlikely.”    The WHO-China study contended that a jump from animals to humans was most likely, but it was largely dismissed due to a lack of access to key data and Chinese influence over the investigation.    Meeting minutes from discussions between lab scientists and the WHO-China team reveal lab leak concerns were referred to as “conspiracy theories.”
    In July 2021, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus admitted there was a "premature push" to dismiss the lab escape possibility.
    Scientists consulting with the U.S. government early in the pandemic in 2020 believed COVID-19 originating from a lab in Wuhan was possible or even likely, but emails indicate Dr. Anthony Fauci and then-National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins worked to shut the hypothesis down.
    The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an assessment in the summer of 2021 stating that one U.S. intelligence agency assessed with “moderate confidence” that the virus most likely emerged from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan, while four U.S. spy agencies and the National Intelligence Council believe with “low confidence” that the virus most likely has a natural origin.

6/13/2022 China accuses US of hijacking support by Syawalludin Zain and David Rising, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe, left, said on Sunday that Washington is seeking
to advance its interests in the Indo-Pacific region. ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
    SINGAPORE – China’s defense minister accused the United States on Sunday of trying to “hijack” the support of countries in the Asia-Pacific region to turn them against Beijing, saying Washington is seeking to advance its own interests “under the guise of multilateralism.”
    Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe lashed out at U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, rejecting his “smearing accusation” the day before at the Shangri- La Dialogue that China was causing instability with its claim to the self-governing island of Taiwan and its increased military activity in the area.
    Austin had stressed the need for multilateral partnerships with nations in the Indo-Pacific, which Wei suggested was an attempt to back China into a corner.
    “No country should impose its will on others or bully others under the guise of multilateralism,” he said.    “The strategy is an attempt to build an exclusive small group in the name of a free and open Indo- Pacific to hijack countries in our region and target one specific country – it is a strategy to create conflict and confrontation to contain and encircle others.”
    China has been modernizing its military and seeking to expand its influence and ambitions in the region, recently signing a security agreement with the Solomon Islands that many fear could lead to a Chinese naval base in the Pacific, and breaking ground this past week on a naval port expansion project in Cambodia that could give Beijing a foothold in the Gulf of Thailand.
    Last year, U.S. officials accused China of testing a hypersonic missile, a weapon harder for missile defense systems to counter, but China insisted it had been a “routine test of a spacecraft.”
    Answering a question about the test on Sunday, Wei came the closest so far to acknowledging it was a hypersonic missile, saying, “As for hypersonic weapons, many countries are developing weapons and I think there’s no surprise that China is doing so.”
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month said China represented the “most serious long-term challenge to the international order” for the United States, with its claims to Taiwan and efforts to dominate the strategic South China Sea.
    The U.S. and its allies have responded with so-called freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, sometimes encountering a pushback from China’s military.
    Wei accused the U.S. of “meddling in the affairs of our region” with the patrols, and “flexing the muscles by sending warships and warplanes on a rampage in the South China Sea.”
    China has squared off with the Philippines and Vietnam, among others, over maritime claims and Wei said it was up to the countries in the region to find their own solutions.
    “China calls for turning the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation,” he said.    “This is the shared wish and responsibility of countries in the region.”
    Taiwan and China split during a civil war in 1949, but China claims the island as its own territory, and has not ruled out the use of military force to take it, while maintaining it is a domestic political issue.

6/13/2022 Iran currency drops to lowest value ever amid US sanctions by ASSOCIATED PRESS
Iran’s currency Sunday dropped to its lowest value ever as talks to
revive the country’s tattered nuclear deal remained deadlocked. VAHID SALEMI/AP
    TEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s currency Sunday dropped to its lowest value ever as talks to revive the country’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers remained deadlocked.
    Traders in Tehran exchanged the rial at 332,000 to the U.S. dollar, up from 327,500 on Saturday.    That marked more than a 4.4% change compared to June 1 when it traded at 318,000 to the dollar.
    Iran’s currency was trading at 32,000 rials to the dollar at the time of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
    The rial’s new low came as U.S. sanctions against the country are still in force.    Iran’s economy is struggling mightily mostly because of the U.S. pullout from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers that restored sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors.    Talks in Vienna to renew the agreement have been deadlocked for months.
    In Tehran, dozens of shop owners took to the streets in protest over the worsening economic situation, after many shut their businesses following a recent rise in business taxes.    Police were present but did not intervene.
    Meanwhile, police arrested 31 currency and gold traders accused of creating “false demand” in the market, state TV reported without elaborating.
    Separately, Iran’s Maha Air spokesman denied owning a Boeing 747 that Argentina seized after it landed Monday in Cordoba, Argentina.    Hossein Zolanvari told the official IRNA news agency his company sold the Boeing to a Venezuelan company last year.
    It wasn’t clear if the plane was on a list of Iranian aircraft subject to U.S. sanctions.

6/14/2022 China's growing nuclear arsenal creates new global threat, may topple 70 year old power dynamic: Expert by Opinion by Peter Aitken – FOX News
© AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
    With that, let us bring in Dan Hoffman, Fox News contributor and China’s nuclear ambitions may lead to a tripolar landscape and further proliferation as it seeks to place itself equal to the U.S. and Russia.
    "It's one thing to have a kind of bilateral nuclear superpowers know the world as it is now, but headed towards a trilateral, trilateral situation the potential for accidents and miscalculations just naturally grows," James Anderson, acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy under President Trump, told Fox News Digital.    "And that's unfortunate."
    The international landscape has remained in a bipolar dynamic between the U.S. and Russia as the two dominant powers due to a policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) thanks to their virtually unmatched nuclear arsenals. That power balance has remained in place for over 70 years.
    However, China has recently invested far more heavily in its nuclear arsenal and capabilities, developing a wide array of nuclear weapons in its land, sea and air-based delivery platforms that aim to bring it up to that same level as the U.S. and Russia.    John Kirby in Nov. 2021 said the Pentagon’s "number one pacing challenge is the People’s Republic of China."
    In 2020, the Pentagon estimated China possesses an arsenal in the "low-200s," but that number is set to "at least double" over the next decade.    A report from the Pentagon last year claimed that China "likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030, exceeding the pace and size the [Defense Dept.] projected in 2020."
    Should China achieve that level of power, it would upset the bipolar dynamic since MAD would no longer remain effective: If any two powers strike at each other, the third stands to gain significantly from the conflict.    Mutual destruction is no longer assured, and that necessarily forces all nations to alter their behavior and policies.
    The one seeming silver lining rests in the difference between the American, Russian and Chinese arsenals: Even with its aggressive expansion, China still has a lot of ground to make up compared to its rivals.
    "I think if we're using pure numbers, they still have a way to go, especially including on what we kind of consider Russia's reserve capabilities," Matt McInnis from the Institute for the Study of War told Fox News Digital.
    "China still has somewhere in the range of, you know, maybe probably around 300 or so, three or 400," he explained.    "The likelihood is they're going to get up to, based on the current estimates from the US government, up to 700 weapons by 2027, probably a thousand by 2030, and it could be heading north from there … You're not going to really probably get parity until well, until the middle of the century."
© REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool//File Photo FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. Vice President
Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 4, 2013. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool//File Photo
    China’s aggressive expansion would lead to a potential tripolar international dynamic, in which it sits equal to the U.S. and Russia and offsetting the delicate balance and potentially leading to greater nuclear proliferation in other countries.
    "I think that's another potential risk that we definitely have to consider," Anderson explained.    "That's certainly a relevant case here, given the Indian-Chinese rivalry.    They have fought border wars and clashed recently, and I think you would be very concerned now and become increasingly so as the PRC embarked upon this nuclear expansion."
    McInnis also pointed to the Middle East as a candidate for accelerated proliferation should China achieve its goals, but speculated that the countries closest to China - namely South Korea and Japan - would certainly consider changing their non-nuclear policies.
    "What Japan and India do is the most interesting question," McInnis said.    "And I think it's something to be aware of - the risk that they are incurring if they continue to pursue other power that dramatically changes the nuclear balance in the region."
    Treaties remain a critical element of the bipolar landscape, but the developing tripolar landscape has not presented a clear opportunity to try and develop similar agreements: Any agreement on arms control would need Russia’s participation, which seems far off with relations between Moscow and Washington at a low following the invasion of Ukraine.
    "I'm personally not optimistic that now is a realistic time for [negotiations], because the Russians obviously are not interested in any type of cooperative negotiations with us while war is raging in Ukraine," Heino Klinck, Senior Advisor to the National Bureau of Asian Research, told Fox News Digital.    "I don't think we would even want to broach anything that smacks of any kind of cooperation with the Russians."
© Sun Zifa/China News Service via Getty Images Chinese naval fleet passes through
naval mine threat area during the China-Russia 'Joint Sea-2021' military drill near the Peter the Great Gulf
on October 15, 2021 in Russia. Sun Zifa/China News Service via Getty Images
    The inability to develop meaningful arms control leaves the U.S. at a disadvantage as it works to find some way to cooperate with China and reign in the pace of proliferation.
    "If you look at Secretary Blinken's recent speech, obviously, the administration is looking where possible for opportunities to cooperate [with China]," Klinck said.    "I think even if an opportunity for some sort of cooperative arms control agreement is unrealistic ... it should be part of standard American talking points when engaging with the Chinese."
    Klinck argued that U.S. is unlikely to get "any kind of positive response" from China.
    "I think they’re just going to push back," he said.
    All three experts also advised that China’s arsenal isn’t the only element that requires strict scrutiny: Any nuclear arsenal is just posturing unless China also changes doctrine.
    A key component of the MAD policy focuses on "first strike," which maintains that a country is capable of destroying an opponent’s arsenal while surviving the weakened retaliation; therefore, rendering their opponent unable to continue the war.
    The opposite, a "no first use" doctrine, instead posits that a country will not use nuclear weapons unless first attacked by such.    China has so far maintained a NFU policy, and would likely change it in the event that it planned to stand equal to the U.S. and Russia.
    "We need to seriously think about … reevaluating our own policy in that regard if we are facing a world power like China willing to adopt a first strike," McInnis said.    "I think that we need to be thinking - we need to be communicating our willingness to shift policy if we see China move in that direction."

6/15/2022 Satellite images suggest Iran preparing for rocket launch by JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press – Associated Press
© Provided by Associated Press
    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran appeared to be readying for a space launch Tuesday as satellite images showed a rocket on a rural desert launch pad, just as tensions remain high over Tehran's nuclear program.
    The images from Maxar Technologies showed a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province, the site of frequent recent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit.
    One set of images showed a rocket on a transporter, preparing to be lifted and put on a launch tower.    A later image Tuesday afternoon showed the rocket apparently on the tower.
    Iran did not acknowledge a forthcoming launch at the spaceport and its mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    However, its state-run IRNA news agency in May said that Iran likely would have seven homemade satellites ready for launch by the end of the Persian calendar year in March 2023.    A Defense Ministry official also recently suggested Iran soon could test its new solid-fueled, satellite-carrying rocket called the Zuljanah.
    It wasn't clear when the launch would take place, though erecting a rocket typically means a launch is imminent.    NASA fire satellites, which detect flashes of light from space, did not immediately see any activity over the site late Tuesday night.
    Asked about the preparations, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington that the U.S. urges Iran to de-escalate the situation.
    “Iran has consistently chosen to escalate tensions.    It is Iran that has consistently chosen to take provocative actions," Price said.
    A Pentagon spokesman, U.S. Army Maj. Rob Lodewick, said the American military “will continue to closely monitor Iran’s pursuit of viable space launch technology and how it may relate to advancements in its overall ballistic missile program.”
    "Iranian aggression, to include the demonstrated threat posed by its various missile programs, continues to be a top concern for our forces in the region,” Lodewick said.
    Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space.    The program has seen recent troubles, however.    There have been five failed launches in a row for the Simorgh program, a type of satellite-carrying rocket.    A fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 also killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.
    The launch pad used in Tuesday's preparations remains scarred from an explosion in August 2019 that even drew the attention of then-President Donald Trump.    He later tweeted what appeared to be a classified surveillance image of the launch failure.    Satellite images from February suggested a failed Zuljanah launch earlier this year, though Iran did not acknowledge it.
© Provided by Associated Press This satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows vehicles at the checkout building at Imam
Khomeini Space Center southeast of Semnan, Iran on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Iran appeared to be readying for a space launch
Tuesday as satellite images showed a rocket on a rural desert launch pad, just as tensions remain high over Tehran's nuclear
program. The images from Maxar Technologies showed a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province,
the site of frequent recent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)
    The successive failures raised suspicion of outside interference in Iran’s program, something Trump himself hinted at by tweeting at the time that the U.S. “was not involved in the catastrophic accident.”    There’s been no evidence offered, however, to show foul play in any of the failures, and space launches remain challenging even for the world’s most successful programs.
    Meanwhile, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in April 2020 revealed its own secret space program by successfully launching a satellite into orbit.    The Guard launched another satellite this March at another site in Semnan province, just east of the Iranian capital of Tehran.
    Judging from the launch pad used, Iran likely is preparing for the Zuljanah test launch, said John Krzyzaniak, a research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.    Krzyzaniak earlier this week suggested a launch was imminent based on activity at the site.
© Provided by Associated Press This satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows an overview of launch pad activity at
Imam Khomeini Space Center southeast of Semnan, Iran on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Iran appeared to be readying for a space launch
Tuesday as satellite images showed a rocket on a rural desert launch pad, just as tensions remain high over Tehran's nuclear
program. The images from Maxar Technologies showed a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province,
the site of frequent recent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)
    The rocket's name, Zuljanah, comes from the horse of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Iranian state television aired footage of a successful Zuljanah launch in February 2021.
    The launch preparations also come as the Guard reportedly saw one of its soldiers “martyred” in Semnan province under unclear circumstances over the weekend. Iran's Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ministry, however, later claimed the man worked for it.
    The United States has alleged that Iran’s satellite launches defy a U.N. Security Council resolution and has called on Tehran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.    The U.S. intelligence community’s 2022 threat assessment, published in March, claims such a satellite launch vehicle “shortens the timeline” to an intercontinental ballistic missile for Iran as it uses “similar technologies.”
    Iran, which has long said it does not seek nuclear weapons, previously maintained that its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component.    U.S. intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency say Iran abandoned an organized military nuclear program in 2003.
    However, Iran's likely preparations for a launch come as tensions have been heightened in recent days over Tehran's nuclear program.    Iran now says it will remove 27 IAEA surveillance cameras from its nuclear sites as it now enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.
    Both Iran and the U.S. insist they are willing to re-enter Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw the Islamic Republic drastically curb its enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.    Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in 2018, setting in motion a series of attacks and confrontations beginning in 2019 that continue today into the administration of President Joe Biden.
    Talks in Vienna about reviving the deal have been on a “pause” since March.
    Building a nuclear bomb would still take Iran more time if it pursued a weapon, analysts say, though they warn Tehran’s advances make the program more dangerous.    Israel has threatened in the past that it would carry out a preemptive strike to stop Iran — and already is suspected in a series of recent killings targeting Iranian officials.
© Provided by Associated Press This satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows a rocket erected at a launch pad at
Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Iran appeared to be readying for a space launch Tuesday as satellite
images showed a rocket on a rural desert launch pad, just as tensions remain high over Tehran's nuclear
program. The images from Maxar Technologies showed a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province,
the site of frequent recent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)
    Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at

6/17/2022 'VERY CONCERNED': Warning to Australia over China's latest military move by Nick Whigham – Yahoo News US
    Australia should be "very concerned" about China's ambition to woo Pacific Island nations and its intention to expand foreign military operations, according to one defence analyst.
    China's state media reported this week President Xi Jinping had signed an order expanding the legal basis for the country's military to conduct "armed forces operations" other than war in other territories.
    Kori Schake, director of foreign and defence policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute based in Washington DC is the latest to warn about China's motives.
    She described what effectively amounts to a new military doctrine for the Chinese People's Liberation Army as "potentially very serious."
© Provided by Yahoo News USXi Jinping has expanded the remit of
China's military, paving the way for more foreign operations. Source: Getty
    "The Chinese are trying to push out their basing and their stationing agreements further and further to complicate a potential defence of Taiwan by the US and other countries," she told ABC Radio on Friday morning.
    "We need to ensure we sustain the ability to provide Taiwan the kind of assistance that will allow it to protect itself against potential Chinese invasion, blockade, or attack."
    When asked about China's charm offensive in Australia's region, Ms Schake didn't mince her words.
Japan's defense minister slams nuclear neighbours
    "I think Australia should be very concerned," she said.
    Ms Schake is steeped in defence history and has formerly worked for US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Senator John McCain, who lost the presidential election to Barack Obama in 2008.
    She believes Australia is a "front line state" in countering China's outward aggression.
    Since coming to power, Australia's new foreign minister Penny Wong has been on a whirlwind trip visiting Pacific island nations in an effort to improve bilateral ties – something which US observers belief is critical to curbing China's "malevolent" expansion.
    "Australia moving so assertively, engagingly and wanting to help countries in the Pacific to sustain their sovereignty against Chinese pressure is really valuable," Ms Schake said.
    "Your country and mine have left the Chinese too much uncontested space to provide investment, to provide security [in the Pacific]."
    The official move by China's leader this week to expand the military remit of his country has raised eyebrows, with some observers likening it to the language used by Vladimir Putin to justify his invasion of Ukraine.

6/19/2022 Iran fighter jet crashes, injuring two crew: reports by AFP
    An F-14 fighter jet crashed on Saturday while on a mission in central Iran, causing injuries to its two crew members, media in the Islamic republic reported.
    "The fighter jet suffered a technical fault... and the pilot and co-pilot landed with parachutes," said Rassoul Motamedi, spokesman for the military in Isfahan province where the crash occurred.
    "The pilot and co-pilot were injured... and were immediately taken to hospital for treatment," he was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency, adding that the plane was destroyed.
    It was the second such incident in Isfahan province in less than a month, after two air force crewmen were killed when their F-7 training aircraft went down.
    The air force in sanctions-hit Iran has suffered several crashes in recent years, with officials complaining of difficulties in acquiring spare parts to keep its ageing fleet in the air.
    In February, an Iranian F-5 jet crashed in a residential area of the northwestern city of Tabriz, killing three people including its two-man crew.
    Iran has mostly Russian MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets that date back to the Soviet era, as well as some Chinese aircraft, including the F-7, French Mirage jets and American F-4 and F-5 fighter planes.
    The Islamic republic has 80 F-14 Tomcats, a warplane that served in the US Navy from 1972 until 2006, when it was withdrawn.
    Tehran has continued to use them because American sanctions against Iran in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution prevent it from buying more modern Western jets.

6/19/2022 Leviathan: China’s new navy by Alex Gatopoulos – Al Jazeera
© Provided by Al Jazeera
    The Chinese navy, under instruction from President Xi Jinping, has undergone a modernisation and expansion programme that is nothing short of spectacular. Friday’s launch of its third and most advanced aircraft carrier, the Fujian, for sea trials underscores just how far it has come, and how fast.
    The first two carriers, the Liaoning and Shandong, were ex-Soviet designs; the Liaoning initially bought for scrap from Ukraine and refitted.    While antiquated, they have been used to train new generations of naval officers and pilots in the complex science and art of aircraft carrier operations.
    This new design of aircraft carrier is a quantum leap in capabilities from these older models and will greatly enhance China’s combat power.
Larger, more powerful
    The Fujian is colossal: at 316m (1,037ft) long, it will weigh around 100,000 tonnes when fully loaded.    Its electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) will accelerate jets taking off at speed, assisting their take-off with such force the aircraft will be able to carry more fuel and weapons, therefore extending the reach and size of the punch the aircraft carrier packs.    Early warning aircraft will be able to take off and land more easily, enhancing the carrier’s ability to spot its enemies from further away.
    EMALS is also able to launch more aircraft at a greater rate, getting more jets into the air faster than its opponents using older technologies – and is vital for defending itself against incoming attacks.
    This latest feature gives the Fujian a significant edge, as only the United States’ latest Ford-class of aircraft carrier is equipped with it.    France is slowly developing a similar system and India is examining its feasibility, but outside the US, only China employs this system.    Its navy has yet to operate a nuclear-powered carrier, as the US has done for decades.    The Fujian is conventionally powered but predictions are that the next one to be built by China will be nuclear-powered.
    The Fujian has shown the world that China has leapfrogged over several current military technologies, like steam catapult-launching, rejecting them for cutting-edge designs that will set up China’s carrier fleet for years to come.
Diplomacy by other means
    The goal for China’s navy is to have six carrier strike groups operating by 2035, allowing China to project levels of combat power unprecedented in its history wherever it chooses. Aircraft carriers do not operate alone and form the nucleus of a fleet that surrounds the carrier, protecting this mobile airbase while also contributing massive amounts of firepower that can devastate targets on the ocean or hundreds of kilometres inland.
    Their large compliments of long-range land-attack missiles, together with the carrier’s air wing, provide state-of-the-art firepower, giving China a potent weapon at its disposal.    An aircraft carrier strike group’s prime role is to project power far beyond its national borders.    This can be done using actual combat power, or force can be implied, the proximity of an air carrier strike group to a crisis zone acting as a diplomatic barometer.    Either way, they have been effective tools of statecraft for decades.
    China’s naval expansion isn’t just about the number of warships.    The navy’s infrastructure, vital if ships are to be berthed, maintained and refuelled, has slowly been built up over the last decade.    A network of port facilities and dry docks have been constructed across the Indian Ocean with a growing naval fleet in mind.
    The Chinese naval base at Djibouti has been revamped, its piers extended to 340m (1,115ft) and now able to accommodate its growing fleet of aircraft carriers.    Situated at the mouth of the Red Sea near the Horn of Africa, the base is rapidly becoming a logistical supply hub for Chinese naval vessels in one of the world’s most strategically significant waterways.    As China’s economy becomes truly global in scale, its naval fleets are fast moving away from protecting China’s shoreline to long-range force projection.    This has the US increasingly concerned as China negotiates base rights in Equatorial Guinea on Africa’s west coast with the aim of building a naval presence in the Atlantic Ocean.
But wait, there’s more
    Significant as China’s naval ambitions are, this is just the beginning.    The Fujian is a transition model, perfecting a powerful new technology, while Chinese naval propulsion specialists and designers are looking to take the next technological leap. Its fourth carrier is now likely to use nuclear propulsion.    This will allow it to sail without refuelling or refitting for 20 years.    It may however delay the carrier’s construction and eventual induction into the Chinese navy as new technologies, especially nuclear ones, are worked and trialled with great care.
    The design process has already started on this future carrier and construction will begin in the near future at Dalian shipyard.    It is expected to be at least the same size as the Fujian if not larger.    Its expanded air wing will likely fly the latest FC-31 Gyrfalcon naval stealth jets, early warning aircraft and drones.
    Unmanned technology presents a significant challenge, but is tantalising as it may give the country that develops it first a significant strategic advantage.
The unmanned navy
    While the US works on new robot ships, China is not far behind as it looks to develop and expand its unmanned networked fleet.    It has launched the world’s first “drone carrier,” controlled by AI systems.    It will be able to deploy underwater, surface and aerial drones, working to ensure that no adversary can approach it without being detected.    While it is just a test bed for this new generation of automated naval ship, more advanced “carriers” are being designed as unmanned technologies are integrated into the manned Chinese navy.
    An advanced version of the Type 076 Helicopter carrier is being developed with the aim of launching combat drones from its flight deck. While this is a capability being researched by other navies, the Chinese variant will likely carry a naval version of the stealthy combat drone the GJ-11 “Sharp Sword”, which is able to fly at close to the speed of sound, undetected by its enemies.     At over 11m (36ft) long and with a range of 4,000km (2,485 miles), it can carry over two tonnes of precision-guided munitions in its internal weapons bays – and is designed to penetrate deep into hostile territory and destroy high-value targets.
© Provided by Al Jazeera A Gongji-11 (GJ-11) unmanned stealth combat drone on display at the 13th China International Aviation
and Aerospace Exhibition on September 28, 2021, in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province [Photo by Yang Suping/VCG via Getty Images]
    Powerful unmanned mini-destroyers are also being designed, with advanced radars, torpedo tubes and the latest surface-to-air missiles.    They are able to pack a powerful punch, especially when networked together, and analysts consider this a rival to the US’s unmanned surface vehicle (USV), the Sea Hunter.
    China is competing neck and neck with the US in unmanned weapons systems.    There is a fierce debate within Chinese military circles about where to put its significant yet finite resources to the greatest effect.    Many argue for funding to go to the large, visible ships like aircraft carriers and cruisers.    However, there is a growing voice within the People’s Liberation Army that argues for smaller, smarter, well-armed vessels.    While nothing in themselves, when networked together in a coordinated “swarm” fleet of distributed firepower, they become overwhelming.    Like an army of ants, several might be destroyed, but acting together, they eventually overpower a much larger force, and China is at the forefront of this vital technology.
    This kind of strategic planning is crucial if China is to win the next war fought on the ocean.    Future conflicts will not be won with today’s weapons, but with tomorrows.    The country that invents these new systems and trains realistically on how to use them to their best advantage, will prevail.
    With the launch of the Fujian, the naval arms race in the Pacific Ocean has just picked up the pace and shows no sign of slowing down.    China’s production of new and advanced warships is growing by the day.    This new leviathan now aims to challenge the might of the US navy, not content to be a regional player but a superpower in its own right.

6/21/2022 South Korea launches new rocket, opening ‘new era’ by ABC
    South Korea successfully launched and put its homegrown space rocket into orbit Tuesday, becoming the seventh nation capable of launching practical satellites using a self-developed propulsion system.
On Location: June 20, 2022
    “The Nuri rocket launch was a success,” Lee Sang-ryul, director of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute told the press after the launch.    “After the launch, Nuri’s flight process proceeded according to the planned flight sequence.”
    KARI set off its 200-ton homegrown space rocket from the Naro Space Center in the Southern coastal village of Goheung.    The launch was delayed from the original test date last Thursday due to weather conditions and a technical glitch.
© Korea Pool/Yonhap via AP The Nuri rocket, the first domestically produced space rocket,
lifts off from a launch pad at the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Korea, June 21, 2022.
    Loaded with a 162.5-kilogram (358-pound) performance-verification satellite -- as well as four cube satellites for academic research and a 1.3-ton dummy satellite -- Nuri reached its target orbit of 700 kilometers (435 miles) above the Earth.    All three stages of its engine were combusted according to plan, separating the mounted satellites at the arranged moment.
    With Tuesday's launch, South Korea joined the U.S., Russia, France, China, Japan and India in its self-developed propulsion capabilities, according to officials.
    “The launch opens up a new era for South Korea’s space program and science technology,” Aerospace Engineering professor Cho Donghyun of Pusan National University told ABC News.
© Lee Jin-man/AP People watch a TV screen showing a news program about
the country's rocket launch at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, June 21, 2022.
    The Nuri Development Project, also known as the Korean Launch Vehicle project, commenced in 2010.    The completion of its three-stage launch vehicle system technology enabled the team to test-fire South Korea’s first homemade rocket last October.
    Back then, the rocket made it to the target altitude of 700 kilometers but failed to put a dummy satellite into orbit, making the launch a half-success. The rocket launched on Tuesday stably settled the performance-verification satellite into orbit.
© Kim In-chul/Yonhap via AP The Nuri rocket, South Korea's first domestically built space rocket,
lifts off from a launch pad at the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Korea, June 21, 2022.
    “The Nuri spacecraft is fired up by not just one engine but a clustering of four 75-ton grade liquid engines.    This gives potential to build larger projectiles with more engines in the future,” Cho said.
    A latecomer in the aerospace industry, South Korea’s rocket-launch journey began in 2013 when it blasted its first carrier rocket, Naro-1, to achieve orbit.    The aircraft was a collaborative project with Russia’s Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center and KARI.
    In the 12 years since that collaboration, South Korea developed its very own space rocket.    South Korea invested $616 million on space research in 2021, according to South Korea's Ministry of Science and ICT, a figure considerably less than the $48 billion the U.S. spent in the same period.
© Korea Pool/Yonhap via Reuters South Korea's domestically produced Nuri space rocket
is on its launchpad at the Naro Space Center in Goheung County, South Korea, June 21, 2021.
    “We have set the stage for us to travel to space whenever we’d like, without having to rent a launchpad or a projectile from another country,” Minister of Science and ICT Lee Jong Ho said.    “The South Korean government plans to enhance the technical reliability of the Nuri rocket through four additional launches until 2027.”     ABC News' Eunseo Nam contributed to this report.

6/22/2022 Iran’s Raisi pushes regional diplomacy as nuclear tensions rise by Maziar Motamedi – Al Jazeera
    Tehran, Iran – The administration of President Ebrahim Raisi in Iran is continuing its push for regional diplomacy as tensions with the West over its nuclear programme continue to build up.
© Provided by Al Jazeera Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi came to power in August 2021 with the promise
of 'extending a hand of friendship and brotherhood' to other nations in the region [File: Reuters]
    The conservative president came to power in August 2021 with the promise of “extending a hand of friendship and brotherhood” to other nations, with a special focus on the region.
    His officials continue to advocate for a “balanced” foreign policy approach that does not neglect any opportunity to improve relations – with the exception of Israel – but his administration has so far been mostly only successful in strengthening ties with only the east.
    Tehran has seen a flurry of diplomatic activity in the past year, and Raisi has dedicated all his foreign travels as president to allies and potential friends in the east – with an emphasis on boosting economic cooperation.
    The Iranian capital hosted three presidents in June alone.
    Last week, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, president of Kazakhstan, met Raisi and led a high-level delegation that signed several cooperation agreements.
    The 40-year-old new president of Turkmenistan, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, also led a top-tier political and economic delegation during his state visit last week at the invitation of Raisi.    The two sides signed eight agreements on political, economic and cultural cooperation, according to the Iranian president’s office.
    Raisi has called for moving towards signing decades-long cooperation accords with both nations.
    Iran’s only major ally in South America, President Nicolas Maduro of fellow United States-sanctioned Venezuela, was also in Tehran earlier this month to sign a 20-year cooperation plan, echo a message of fighting imperialism, and discuss furthering relations in trade, energy, tourism, and technology.
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad renewed his support for Iran’s regional stances, especially on Palestine, as he made a surprise visit in May, his second since the war in Syria war began more than a decade ago.
    Moreover, Raisi has capitalised on an opportunity to boost ties with Qatar, which has grown significantly closer to Iran as the latter backed it during a years-long blockade by a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia.    Raisi signed 14 agreements during a trip to Doha in February, and the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, travelled to Tehran weeks later as the two also explore cooperation during the upcoming football World Cup tournament.
    All those leaders were also granted an audience with the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, indicating the country’s seriousness in trying to deepen ties.
    Iran and Oman also pledged to strengthen relations and signed 12 agreements in May, when Raisi made the first state visit by an Iranian president to Muscat since the 2020 passing of Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
    Next in line, Iran has Turkey in its sights, as a visit by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been in discussion since last year.    It has yet to work out, however, among other things because of Turkey’s relations with Israel.
    But Iran’s biggest pivot has been towards China, the largest purchaser of its oil under US sanctions, and Russia, which may be perceived as more eager to expand ties especially after facing Western sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine.
    Iran said in January that its 20-year cooperation accord with China has entered the implementation stage, while Raisi offered Iran’s proposals for renewing a 20-year agreement to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a visit to the Kremlin the same month.
‘The economic aspect’
    The word “region” has always been important in Iran’s foreign policy approach, but Raisi has introduced a major focus on “geoeconomics” to it, according to Mohsen Shariatinia, assistant professor of international relations at Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University.
    “The Raisi administration pursues two goals,” he told Al Jazeera.    “To maintain Iran’s position in the fragile balance of power in the region, and to intertwine Iran’s economy with those of its surrounding environment.    The economic aspect is relatively new.”
    Shariatinia pointed out there cannot be much “balance” in Iran’s foreign policy approach at the moment as power centres in Tehran are increasingly of the belief that Washington lacks the will to lift its harsh sanctions.
    Just last week, the US introduced new sanctions aimed at hurting a network of Iranian petrochemical producers.
    This is while talks aimed at restoring Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which began in April 2021, continue to be stalled as Tehran and Washington have failed to find a way to an agreement.
    Both sides continue to maintain the other needs to make a concession in order to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the accord the US unilaterally abandoned in 2018, embarking on a “maximum pressure” campaign still in effect today.
    On the other hand, the US and its European allies introduced a censure at the latest board meeting of the global nuclear watchdog earlier this month to condemn Iran’s nuclear advances.    Iran responded by restricting nuclear inspections and installing new centrifuges, further complicating a return to the original accord.
‘Alternatives for the West’
    Since the prospects of restoring the nuclear deal remain gloomy, finding alternatives to the West is still the main driver behind Iran’s recent regional push, according to Hamidreza Azizi, a CATS fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
    But at the same time, he said if Iran enjoyed better relations with the West, closer ties with most countries in the region would come automatically as a result, without extra effort from the Iranian side.
    “The reason is that most of Iran’s neighbours, especially Arab states of the Persian Gulf, prioritise their relations with the United States over cooperation with Iran,” Azizi told Al Jazeera.
    The case may be somewhat different for Central Asian countries, some of whose leaders have recently visited Tehran, as they traditionally enjoy closer ties with Moscow, according to Azizi.
    “But still, they have also never wanted to be caught in the crossfire of a confrontation between Iran and the West; hence they are always cautious when it comes to any actual cooperation with Iran – beyond political agreements and statements.”
    Moreover, he said, Central Asian states cannot finance big projects with Iran while most others are often unwilling to take up that role for fear of US sanctions.    And some Arab neighbours may be unwilling to enter into meaningful economic cooperation amid lingering tensions with the West.
    “As such, the best Iran can get out of the recent high-ranking visits is some room for political manoeuvring, in terms of signalling to the world that US pressure cannot isolate Iran on the international stage and Tehran has other options to develop friendly relationships.”
    Shariatinia, the Tehran-based university professor, said if the nuclear deal is not restored and tensions grow even higher, Raisi’s recent agreements and efforts to strengthen ties across the region will be affected.
    “But it depends on the agreements, their subjects and who’s signed them,” he said.    “For instance, it likely won’t have an impact on Iran’s relations with Russia, but relations with countries like the UAE could be clearly impacted.”

6/22/2022 At BRICS summit, China sets stage to tout its governance model by Liam Gibson – Al Jazeera
    China will host the 14th BRICS Summit on Thursday in what analysts see as a chance for Beijing to promote its governance and development model at a time of global instability.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping will join with the leaders of Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa via video link to discuss issues of mutual concern as part of the summit themed around ushering in a “new era” for global development.
    Ahead of the summit in Beijing, Chinese state media have praised the BRICS – an acronym for the five emerging economies that together account for about one-quarter of the global economy – for boosting “multilateral cooperation with non-Western styles, forms and principles,” and stressed the importance of the bloc at a time when “the US (is) pulling its Western allies to ‘rebel’ against globalisation.”
    In May, Xi called on the group to “reject Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation, and work together to build a global community of security for all.”
    Despite their substantial differences, the leaders of the five countries maintain a certain distance from the United States-led liberal order.
    None of the leaders of Brazil, China, India, or South Africa openly condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for his country’s invasion of Ukraine earlier in the year.
    Set against a complex geopolitical backdrop that includes war in Europe and growing economic decoupling between China and the US, the 2022 summit provides Beijing with a timely platform to promote its vision for how international relations should be conducted, according to analysts.
    “BRICS is a kind of diplomatic counteroffensive by China to both the revival of NATO and the increase in Indo-Pacific mechanisms that are designed to keep its power in check,” Huang Yanzhong, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Al Jazeera.
    “Beijing is feeling increasingly isolated right now, as tensions with the US and its allies continue as a result of its tacit support for Russia’s invasion.”
    Phar Kim Beng, former director of the Political-Security Community at ASEAN’s secretariat in Jakarta, said Beijing would use the summit to “highlight and criticise the ubiquitous nature of American sanctions that are imposed on thousands of individuals and entities around the world.”
    “This is particularly relevant at a forum focused on the Global South,” Phar Kim Beng told Al Jazeera.    “Through BRICS, China continues to draw on its legacy of ‘always siding with the third world,’ as Deng Xiaoping famously said.    So, I expect they’ll use this as another chance to critique American economic sanctions and to try to say ‘stop it’.”
© Provided by Al Jazeera Chinese President Xi Jinping has called on emerging economies to ‘reject Cold War mentality
and bloc confrontation, and work together to build a global community of security for all’ [File: Greg Baker/AFP]
    Other than criticising the US, China is also expected to highlight its own role in the global economy.
    This year’s agenda covers a range of topics, but particular emphasis will be given to renewing multilateralism for global economic recovery, deepening coordination on climate action, and strengthening coordination on pandemics and public health.
    “In terms of the issue area that’s most important for Beijing right now, I think it is about global economic recovery, and keeping markets open,” Stephen Nagy, an Indo-Pacific specialist and senior fellow at the MacDonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, Canada, told Al Jazeera.
    “China’s economy depends on international trade for its prosperity.    What we’re seeing is states consciously diversify their supply chains away from China and form new standards-setting agreements such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, or proactively create coalitions that are trading with each other to ensure safe and reliable flows of energy-critical material, minerals, as well as rare earth materials,” Nagy said, referring to US President Joe Biden’s signature economic initiative unveiled last month in Tokyo.
    “Beijing wants to stop this and I think any kind of momentum toward reversing China’s isolation from the global economy is a net plus from their point of view,” Nagy added.
    Huang said he expects economic recovery to be the top issue, with public health coming a close second.
    “China is being left out of some of the Biden administration’s initiatives on pandemic readiness, so I think vaccine diplomacy will also be key since other BRICS countries like Russia and India have strong vaccine development capacity,” he said.
BRICS expansion
    China proposed expanding the BRICS grouping during a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in May.    Though the suggestion was welcomed by other member countries, there have been no official announcements of who the new members might be.
    “We can get a sense of which countries might be invited by looking at their position on Ukraine and their voting behaviour regarding the conflict at the United Nations,” Huang said.    “Those developing countries who abstained or supported Russia may be recruited to join.”
    Yet China may have its work cut out for it to make BRICS an attractive option as rivals compete with it for influence over emerging economies, according to some analysts.
    “Much of what China is promoting through BRICS is attractive to emerging countries, but the challenge for Beijing is there is a growing number of alternatives for them … whether it is the free and open Indo-Pacific Vision with emphasis on infrastructure connectivity, standard setting, healthy infrastructure, tools for good governance, or alternative financing, as well as Japan-led and EU-led infrastructure connectivity projects,” Nagy said.
    “There are a lot of different projects and initiatives that can allow emerging countries to drive development and make them less reliant on the Chinese,” he added.
    “This competition could push China to be more transparent and more rules-based about its agreements along the BRI [Belt and Road Initiative] and through the ADB [Asian Development Bank], which I think will be important in diluting their geopolitical influence from the outside.”

6/26/2022 Iran and EU say Vienna nuke talks will resume by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    TEHRAN, Iran – The European Union and Iran agreed on Saturday to resume negotiations in Vienna in the coming days over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers.
    The agreement could help relieve tensions after the talks stalled for months, while Iran enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels under decreasing international oversight.
    At a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in Tehran, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borell, said the negotiations would restart soon.
    “The coming days means the coming days, I mean quickly, immediately,” Borell said, adding that the United States, which unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, should also return to the negotiations.
    “Negotiations must resume, and this is a decision that must be made in Tehran and Washington,” he said.
    Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused a “tectonic change” in geopolitics, making it more urgent than ever to reach an agreement that would allow Iran to sell its oil to world markets.
    Amirabdollahian said his country is ready to resume talks: “We’ll try to resolve the issues and differences… what is important for the Islamic Republic of Iran is economically benefiting from the agreement reached in 2015 in full.”
    Earlier this month, Iran removed 27 surveillance cameras of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency in what its director warned could deal a “fatal blow” to the nuclear accord.

6/27/2022 Iran launches rocket as talks to resume by Nasser Karimi and Isabel Debre, ASSOCIATED PRESS
An Iranian state TV on Sunday aired the launch of the solid-fueled rocket,
which drew a rebuke from Washington. IRINN VIA AP
    TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian state television said Sunday that Tehran had launched a solid-fueled rocket into space, drawing a rebuke from Washington ahead of the expected resumption of stalled talks over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers.
    It’s unclear when or where the rocket was launched, but the announcement came after satellite photos showed preparations at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province, the site of Iran’s frequent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit.
    State-run media aired dramatic footage of the blastoff against the backdrop of heightened tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program, which is racing ahead under decreasing international oversight.
    Iran had previously acknowledged that it planned more tests for the satellite-carrying rocket, which it first launched in February of last year.
    Ahmad Hosseini, spokesman for Iran’s Defense Ministry, said Zuljanah, a 25.5 meter-long rocket, was capable of carrying a satellite of 485 pounds that would gather data in low-earth orbit and promote Iran’s space industry.    Zuljanah is named for the horse of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
    The White House said it was aware of Iran’s announcement and criticized the move as “unhelpful and destabilizing.”    It said it was committed to using sanctions and other measures to prevent further advances in Iran’s ballistic missile program.
    The launch comes just a day after the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, traveled to Tehran in a push to resuscitate negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program that have stalemated for months.    A few significant sticking points remain, including Tehran’s demand that Washington lift terrorism sanctions on its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
    Borrell said on Saturday that talks over the nuclear deal would resume in an unnamed Persian Gulf country in the coming days, with Iranian media reporting that Qatar would likely host the negotiations.
    Former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed crushing sanctions on Iran.    Tehran responded by greatly ramping up its nuclear work and now enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.
    In a further escalation that limits the international community’s view into its nuclear program, Iran removed over two dozen International Atomic Energy Agency cameras from its nuclear sites this month.    The agency’s director called the move a “fatal blow” to the tattered nuclear deal.
    Tehran’s rocket launches have raised alarm in Washington amid the unraveling of the nuclear deal.    The U.S. warns the launches defy a United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Iran to steer clear of any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
    The U.S. intelligence community’s 2022 threat assessment, published in March, claims such a satellite launch vehicle “shortens the timeline” to an intercontinental ballistic missile for Iran as it uses “similar technologies.”
    Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, maintains its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component.

6/27/2022 Iran Launches Rocket Amid Biden’s Push To Restore 2015 Deal by OAN NEWSROOM
In this frame grab from video footage released Sunday, June 26, 2022 by Iran state TV, IRINN, shows an
Iranian satellite-carrier rocket, called “Zuljanah,” blasting off from an undisclosed location in Iran.
State TV on Sunday aired the launch of the solid-fueled rocket, which drew a rebuke from Washington ahead of
the expected resumption of stalled talks over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers. (IRINN via AP)
    Iran launched a space rocket with a satellite carrier amid the Biden administration’s efforts to restore the failed 2015 nuclear deal.    According to Iranian media Sunday, the solid-fuel rocket was successfully launched from a launch pad in the desert in an undisclosed part of the country.
    Earlier on Sunday, Iranian and European Union diplomats agreed to resume working on bringing back the 2015 nuclear deal.    EU officials appeared unfazed by advances in Iran’s missile program that security experts need to be part of the nuclear deal.
    “In the coming days, they will start again with close contacts between the US and the Iranians,” stated Josep Borrell, Chief of EU Diplomacy.    “That’s good news and let’s hope that this will bring the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) again on track.”
    Iranian officials have insisted the rocket launch does not violate a United Nations Security Council resolution, which bars the country from conducting activities involving ballistic missiles.    Despite this, the US believes it, in fact, does violate the agreement and the move could lead to the delivery of nuclear weapons.
    The US and Iran are expected to negotiate in the coming days with many expecting attempts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, which was abandoned under the Trump administration.    The 45th president called the deal “horrible” and “one-sided.”

7/1/2022 China’s Xi visits changed Hong Kong by Zen Soo, ASSOCIATED PRESS
25th anniversary of handover celebrated in city now more tightly controlled China’s President Xi Jinping
delivers a speech in Hong Kong on Thursday after arriving for the upcoming handover anniversary by train.
Xi arrived in Hong Kong ahead of the 25th anniversary of the British handover and after a two-year
transformation bringing the city more tightly under Chinese Communist Party control. SELIM CHTAYTI/POOL PHOTO VIA AP
    HONG KONG – Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived Thursday in Hong Kong to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the British handover of a city that his rule has transformed from a global hub known for its political freedoms to one that is much more tightly controlled by the Communist Party.
    In a staged event carried live on Chinese TV, students and others lined the platform of a high-speed rail station and packed a red carpet to greet the leader making his first trip outside of mainland China in nearly 2½ years – a choice that underscored Hong Kong’s ever-closer ties to the mainland.    Waving small red Chinese and Hong Kong flags, the students chanted “Welcome, welcome!    Warm welcome!” while city leader Carrie Lam greeted Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan.
    Under Xi’s leadership, China has reshaped Hong Kong, cracking down on protests, imposing a strict national security law used to silence dissent, introducing a more “patriotic” curriculum in schools, and revamping election laws to keep opposition politicians out of the city’s Legislature.    The changes have all but eliminated dissenting voices in a place once known for its vibrant political debate and have driven many to leave.
    In its view, China’s ruling Communist Party has restored stability to a city that was wracked with pro-democracy protests in 2019.    For many in the U.S., the U.K. and other democratic nations, Xi has undermined the freedoms and way of life that distinguished the city from mainland China and made it an international center for finance and trade.
    In an apparent reference to the 2019 protests, Xi told well-wishers on his arrival that Hong Kong has overcome many challenges over the years and had been “reborn from the ashes” with “vigorous vitality.”    Later after meeting with Lam, he praised her for ending what he said was chaos that had gripped the city and for ensuring that only “patriots” would rule Hong Kong.
    “As long as we stick to the ‘one country, two systems’ framework, Hong Kong will certainly have a brighter future and will make new and bigger contributions to the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people,” he said in a speech at the Hong Kong West Kowloon train station.
    Since Britain returned the territory to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, Hong Kong has been a special administrative region that, like nearby Macao, is governed separately from the rest of China.    But Xi has steadily eroded that distinction, and critics say, undermined the policy of maintaining two systems.
    On Friday, he will celebrate the anniversary of the handover and officiate at the swearing in of John Lee, who will succeed Lam as city leader.
    It is Xi’s first time outside of mainland China since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and Beijing imposed a “zero-COVID” policy that includes severe restrictions on travel.    It’s also his first visit to Hong Kong since the massive protests that grew to include calls for broader democratic freedoms – but only appeared to harden Beijing’s resolve to limit civil liberties in the territory.
    Local media reported that Xi and Peng planned to spend Thursday night in the Chinese city of Shenzhen – 15 minutes away from Hong Kong by highspeed train – and return to the city on Friday.    It’s not clear why that’s the case but could reflect concerns about COVID- 19 or security.
    The combination of China’s COVID-19 policies and its crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong have dramatically changed the city in the past two years.
    Beijing has used the national security law to arrest over 150 pro-democracy activists and supporters. National security police have targeted the city’s most outspoken pro-democracy media in Hong Kong, with raids that forced several outlets to shut down, including the city’s last pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily.
    The changes to election laws reduced the number of lawmakers who are directly voted in, and a new committee now vets the applications of those planning to run for office, to ensure they are “patriots” loyal to Beijing.    Many say that has turned the Legislature into a body that merely provides a rubber stamp for Beijing’s policies.
    Meanwhile, tough COVID-19 quarantine restrictions for incoming travelers have led to what observers call “brain drain” as tens of thousands left for cities like Singapore and Dubai that have resumed quarantine-free travel.
    As part of his carefully choreographed visit, Xi met Thursday with some 160 people from various sectors of Hong Kong, including businessmen, religious leaders and politicians.    He then visited the Hong Kong Science Park to inspect Hong Kong’s development of innovation and technology, according to a government statement.
    Earlier this week, thousands of guests for the July 1 events – including top officials, lawmakers and diplomats – checked in to quarantine hotels and have taken daily tests as part of coronavirus precautions.
    Police have also ramped up security, designating security zones and road closures as well as a no-fly zone for Friday.
    More than 10 journalists from local and international media outlets had their applications to cover the July1 events rejected this week on “security grounds.”
Students wearing face masks attend a Chinese national flag raising ceremony at a secondary school in Hong Kong
on Thursday to mark the 25th anniversary of the British handover of the city to China. KIN CHEUNG/AP

7/6/2022 Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment 'alarming' - US envoy by REUTERS – The Jerusalem Post
    Iran added demands unrelated to discussions on its nuclear program during the latest talks and has made alarming progress on enriching uranium, the US envoy for talks on reinstating a nuclear deal said on Tuesday.
© (photo credit: DEAN CALMA/IAEA VIA FLICKR) Rafael Mariano Grossi meeting with Robert Malley, April 7, 2021.
    US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said that there was a proposal on the table for a timeline by which Iran could come back into compliance with the nuclear deal and Washington could ease sanctions on Tehran.
    Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at breaking an impasse over how to salvage Iran's 2015 nuclear pact ended in Doha, Qatar, last week without the hoped-for progress.
    Malley said Iranian negotiators added new demands.
    "They have, including in Doha, added demands that I think anyone looking at this would be viewed as having nothing to do with the nuclear deal, things that they've wanted in the past."
Robert Malley, US Special Envoy for Iran
    "They have, including in Doha, added demands that I think anyone looking at this would be viewed as having nothing to do with the nuclear deal, things that they've wanted in the past," he said in an interview with National Public Radio.
© Provided by The Jerusalem Post European External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General
Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi wait for the start of
talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna, Austria June 20, 2021 (credit: REUTERS)
What are they demanding?
Iran-US nuclear talks in Qatar end without making any progress
    "The discussion that really needs to take place right now is not so much between us and Iran, although we're prepared to have that.    It's between Iran and itself," Malley said.    "They need to come to a conclusion about whether they are now prepared to come back into compliance with the deal."
    Under the nuclear pact, Tehran limited its uranium enrichment program, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons, though Iran says it seeks only civilian atomic energy.
    Then-US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, calling it too soft on Iran, and reimposed harsh US sanctions, spurring Tehran to breach nuclear limits in the pact.
    Now, Tehran is much closer to having enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, Malley said, though they do not appear to have resumed their weaponization program.
    "But we are of course alarmed, as are our partners, about the progress they've made in the enrichment field," Malley said.
    Iran has enough highly enriched uranium on hand to make a bomb and could do so in a matter of weeks, he said.
    Malley said Americans were also working a parallel track to secure the release of Americans detained in Iran.    Siamak Namazi, who was detained in 2015 and is the longest-held Iranian American prisoner, made a plea for help in a New York Times piece on Sunday headlined: "I’m an American, Why Have I Been Left to Rot as a Hostage of Iran?"
    "We hope that regardless of what happens with the nuclear talks, we'll be able to resolve this issue because it weighs in our minds every single day," Malley said.

7/9/2022 Iran escalates enrichment with adaptable machines at Fordow – IAEA by REUTERS – The Jerusalem Post
    Iran has escalated its uranium enrichment further by enriching with advanced machines at its underground Fordow plant that are able to switch more easily between enrichment levels, the UN atomic watchdog said in a report on Saturday seen by Reuters.
© (photo credit: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER/FILE PHOTO) Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building in Vienna
    The International Atomic Energy Agency verified on Saturday that Iran had begun feeding uranium hexafluoride gas enriched to up to 5% into the cascade, or cluster, of 166 IR-6 centrifuges with so-called modified sub-headers at Fordow, the confidential IAEA report to member states said.
    Iran has informed the IAEA it plans to use the machines to enrich to up to 20% purity, the report said, less than the up to 60% it is producing elsewhere and the roughly 90% of weapons-grade.    But Western diplomats have repeatedly expressed concern about the modified sub-headers because they make it possible to switch to higher purity levels much more easily and quickly.
IAEA head: Iran's actions could deal 'fatal blow' to 2015 nuclear deal

7/9/2022 Exclusive-Iran escalates enrichment with adaptable machines at Fordow, IAEA reports by Francois Murphy - Reuters
© Reuters/IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICEFILE PHOTO: A number of new generation Iranian
centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran
    VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran has escalated its uranium enrichment further with the use of advanced machines at its underground Fordow plant in a setup that can more easily change between enrichment levels, the U.N. atomic watchdog said in a report on Saturday seen by Reuters.
Western diplomats have long expressed concern about devices this cascade, or cluster, of centrifuges is equipped with.
    The use of these so-called modified sub-headers means Iran could switch more quickly and easily to enriching to higher purity levels.
    While Iran is required to inform the International Atomic Energy Agency about such a switch, if it chose not to, it might escape detection for some time as there is currently a lag between Iran's enrichment and IAEA inspectors' verification of what is produced.
    "On 7 July 2022, Iran informed the Agency that, on the same day, it had begun feeding the aforementioned cascade with UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235," the confidential report to IAEA member states said.
    Muslim worshippers perform the "tawaf," the circumambulation of the Kaaba
    In a report on June 20 also seen by Reuters, the IAEA said that months after Iran informed it of its intention to use the cascade, Iran had begun feeding UF6 into it for passivation, a process that comes before enrichment.     The IAEA verified on July 6 that passivation had ended, Saturday's report said.
    "On 9 July 2022, the Agency verified that Iran had begun feeding UF6 enriched up to 5% U-235 into the cascade of 166 IR-6 centrifuges with modified sub-headers for the declared purpose of producing UF6 enriched up to 20% U-235," it said.
    Iran is already enriching to up to 60% elsewhere, well above the up to 20% it produced before its 2015 deal with major powers that capped its enrichment level at 3.67% but still below the roughly 90% of weapons grade.
    The move is the latest step of many to breach and move well beyond the restrictions which the 2015 deal imposed on Iran's nuclear activities.    It comes as talks to revive that deal are at an impasse and Western powers have warned time is running out to reach an agreement.
    The United States pulled out of the deal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, re-imposing sanctions against Tehran that the deal had lifted.
    A year later, Iran began retaliating by breaching the deal's restrictions.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; editing by Alison Williams and Jason Neely)

7/11/2022 Chinese bank depositors face police in angry protest - Outcry after thousands couldn’t withdraw funds by Ken Moritsugu, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Security members stand as people stage a protest at the entrance
to a branch of China’s central bank in Zhengzhou. PHOTOS BY YANG/AP
    BEIJING – A large crowd of angry Chinese bank depositors faced off with police Sunday, some roughed up as they were taken away, in a case that has drawn attention because of earlier attempts to use a COVID-19 tracking app to prevent them from mobilizing.
    Hundreds of people held up banners and chanted slogans on the wide steps of the entrance to a branch of China’s central bank in the city of Zhengzhou in Henan province, about 380 miles southwest of Beijing.    Video taken by a protester showed plainclothes security teams being pelted with water bottles and other objects as they charge the crowd.
    Later videos posted on social media showed an unknown number of protesters being shoved forward individually and down stairs by security teams dressed in plain white or black T-shirts.    Phone calls to Zhengzhou city and Henan province police rang unanswered.
    The protesters are among thousands of customers who opened accounts at six rural banks in Henan and neighboring Anhui province that offered higher interest rates.    They later found they could not withdraw their funds after media reports the head of the banks’ parent company was on the run and wanted for financial crimes.
    “We came today and wanted to get our savings back because I have elderly people and children at home, and the inability to withdraw savings has seriously affected my life,” said a woman from Shandong province, who only gave her last name, Zhang, out of fear of retribution.
    What had been a local scandal became a national incident last month because of the misuse of the COVID-19 tracking app.    Many who set out for Zhengzhou to demand action from regulators found their health status on the app had turned red, preventing them from traveling.    Some reported being questioned by police after checking into their hotel about why they had come to the city.    Five Zhengzhou officials were later punished.
    The protesters assembled before dawn on Sunday in front of the People’s Bank of China building in Zhengzhou.    Police vehicles with flashing lights could be seen in videos taken in the early morning darkness.    Police closed off the street and by 8 a.m. had started massing on the other side, Zhang said.
    Besides uniformed police, there were the teams of men in plain T-shirts.    A banking regulator and a local government official arrived, but their attempts to talk to the crowd were shouted down.    Zhang and another protester, a man from Beijing surnamed Yang, told the AP the protesters heard from the officials before and don’t believe what they say.    Yang declined to be identified by his full name, fearing pressure from authorities.
    The police then announced to the protesters from a vehicle with a megaphone that they were an illegal assembly and would be detained and fined if they didn’t leave.    About 10 a.m., the men in T-shirts rushed the crowd and dispersed them.    Zhang said she saw women dragged down the stairs of the bank entrance.
    Zhang was hit, and said she asked the officer, “Why did you hit me?”    According to her, he responded: “What’s wrong with beating you?
    Yang said he was hit by two security officers, including one who had fallen off the stairs and mistakenly thought in the chaos that Yang had hit or pushed him.
    “Although repeated protests and demonstrations don’t necessarily have a big impact, I think it is still helpful if more people get to know about us, and understand or sympathize with us,” Yang said.    “Each time you do it, you might make a difference.    Although you will get hit, they can’t really do anything to you, right?
    The protesters were bused to various sites where Zhang said they were forced to sign a letter guaranteeing they would not gather anymore.
    Late Sunday, Henan banking regulators posted a short notice on their website saying authorities are accelerating the verification of customer funds in four of the banks and the formulation of a plan to resolve the situation to protect the rights and interests of the public.
People hold banners and chant slogans Sunday during a protest at the
entrance to a branch of China’s central bank in Zhengzhou. PHOTOS BY YANG/AP

7/30/2022 Could Iran become a gas hub with Russian support? by SETH J. FRANTZMAN – The Jerusalem Post
© (photo credit: Sputnik/Sergei Savostyanov/Pool via REUTERS) Russian President Vladimir Putin
and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi attend a meeting in Tehran, Iran July 19, 2022.
    Iranian media predict that Russian investment could help Iran become a regional gas hub.
    The investment by Gazprom in Iran’s National Iranian Oil Company was announced during a recent visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    Analyst and energy expert Habibollah Zafarian was quoted in an article at Iran’s Fars News arguing that the country could become a gas hub based on gas trade with neighboring countries.    “Iran's gas reserves and privileged geographical location allow the country to play an influential role in the gas trade of the region.”
    “Iran's gas reserves and privileged geographical location allow the country to play an influential role in the gas trade of the region.”
Habibollah Zafarian
    Zafarian says that “Iran's strategy should be defined in such a way that it buys the surplus gas of the countries of the region as much as possible and exports gas to the requesting countries at a higher price.”     Tehran is currently under sanctions and involved in nuclear deal discussions with the US and the West, but has also been positioning itself to work with China and Russia.
© Provided by The Jerusalem Post Could Iran become a gas hub with Russian support?
    Those like Zafarian, quoted in Iran pro-government media, are part of a push for the Islamic Republic to get out from under the West’s shadow and increase energy independence.
    Russia's turning to Iran for military support shows a bit of desperation, says U.S. Institute of Peace     Iran is well positioned to trade with Qatar, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, which have a surplus of gas, the article said, adding that gas is currently being exported by various countries to Armenia, Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait and the Persian Gulf countries – especially the UAE – and Oman, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
    “Everyone wants to import gas,” Zafarian said.    “As a result, there is a great opportunity for Iran to become a regional gas hub with gas trade between exporting and importing countries.”
Ukraine war
    Iran wants to take advantage of the war in Ukraine and the global economic crisis to work closely with Qatar and also improve its gas fields and its liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure.
    “Also, in the recent developments of the gas market, Russia has minimized gas exports to Europe, and America is trying to increase its LNG exports in order to replace a part of Russian gas in the European market,” an expert told Fars News.
    Iran can now purchase Russian gas and then export it.    There could even be an export pipeline.    Gas could be exported to Turkey, Armenia, Georgia and Syria, the article says.
    "In return, we can also help Russia and buy Qatar gas, which is one of the most serious options to replace Russian gas in the European market, and sell it to our destination markets."
    Clearly Iran is plotting to take advantage of the global crises, openly saying what it wants to do.    The regime has been trying to develop north-south rail and transport lines for years so that it can hook up Turkey with southern Iran and also develop links to Central Asia and Pakistan or even India.

8/3/2022 FIGHTING AL-QAIDA - US STRIKE HAS A DOWNSIDE - Afghanistan still active Islamist terror base by Aamer Madhani, Zeke Miller, Nomaan Merchant and Lolita C. Baldor, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Smoke rises from a house Sunday after a U.S. drone strike in Kabul, Afghanistan. President
Joe Biden announced Monday that al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri had been killed. AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
    WASHINGTON – The Biden administration is holding out the CIA operation that killed al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri as a monumental strike against the global terror network responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001.    But there’s a downside, too.    The drone strike also is putting into stark relief the mounting evidence that after 20 years of America’s military presence – and then sudden departure – Afghanistan has once again become an active staging ground for Islamic terror groups looking to attack the West.    The operation, carried out over the weekend after at least six months spent monitoring movements by al-Zawahri and his family, came just weeks before the one-year anniversary of the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from the country.
    The Biden administration is making the case that the operation shows Americans at home and allies abroad that the United States hasn’t lost focus – or the ability to strike terrorists in the region – and validates its decision to end two decades of fighting in Afghanistan with its withdrawal.
    Announcing the strike from the White House, President Joe Biden said Monday night that “justice” had been exacted on a leader who in recent weeks had recorded videos calling for his followers to attack the United States and allies.    And the White House on Tuesday framed the operation was an enormous counterterrorism win.
    “The president has made good on his word when we left. He said the United States did not need to keep sending thousands of American men and women to fight and die in Afghanistan,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on NBC’s “Today” show.    “After 20 years of war to keep this country safe, he said we would be able to continue to target and take out terrorists in Afghanistan without troops on the ground.”
    But as details of the operation continue to emerge, the administration has also revealed troubling evidence of al-Qaida’s presence and of the Taliban once again offering refuge to the group that was behind the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
    White House officials believe that senior members of the Haqqani Network, an Islamist terror group with strong ties to the Taliban, were aware that al-Zawahri was in Kabul.
    Sullivan said that while al-Zawahri wasn’t involved in day-today planning at the time of his killing, he continued to play an active role in directing al-Qaida and posed “a severe threat” against the U.S. and American citizens.
    Concerns about al-Qaida efforts to regroup inside Taliban-controlled Afghanistan are hardly new.
    Before the strike, U.S. military officials, including Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had said al-Qaida was trying to reconstitute in Afghanistan, where it faces limited threats from the now-ruling Taliban.    Military leaders have warned that the group still aspired to attack the U.S.
    Al-Qaida leadership has reportedly played an advisory role since the Taliban returned to power in the leadup to the U.S. withdrawal, according to a U.N. Security Council report last month.
    The U.N. report also noted that ISIS-K – the group that carried out a massive attack that killed 13 U.S. troops and dozens of Afghans near the Kabul International Airport just days before the U.S. completed its withdrawal last year – has become increasingly active in northern and eastern Afghanistan.    That’s a worry for the West though ISIS-K and the Taliban espouse different ideologies and interests, with ISIS-K carrying out a bloody insurgency against the Taliban and religious minorities across Afghanistan.
    “Zawahri’s presence in post-withdrawal Afghanistan suggests that, as feared, the Taliban is once more granting safe haven to the leaders of al-Qaida – a group with which it has never broken,” said Nathan Sales, ambassador at-large and coordinator for counterterrorism during the Trump administration who is now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
    Frank McKenzie, the retired Marine general who until earlier this year was the top American military officer in the Middle East, said the U.S. has seen an effort by al-Qaida to restore training camps in Afghanistan.    “I see nothing happening in Afghanistan now that tells me that the Taliban are determined to prevent that from happening,” he said in an interview.
    Since the American troop withdrawal, U.S. military leaders have said America’s ability to monitor and strike a target in the country would be difficult but not impossible.
    The strike on Zawahri proved both, said McKenzie, who is now executive director of the Global and National Security Institute at the University of South Florida.    “If it’s a national priority, we can certainly do that.    It requires tremendous effort.”    He cautioned not to draw broad conclusions from this one drone strike.
    “This was a unique circumstance,” he said.    “You had a target that didn’t move, and they had the opportunity to get a good look at pattern of life.    That’s not always going to be the case.    In fact, typically, that is not the case.”
    That al-Zawahri was living in a Kabul neighborhood and not in rural Afghanistan as previously believed, “tells you that he got really comfortable” under the protection of the Taliban, said Colin Clarke, director of research at The     Soufan Group, a global intelligence and security firm.
    “These entities work hand in glove,” Clarke said of the Taliban and al-Qaida.    “There’s not the separation that others would have you believe.”
    The Taliban promised in the 2020 Doha Agreement on the terms of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan that they would not harbor al-Qaida members or those seeking to attack the U.S.
    The Taliban were quick to condemn the U.S. strike as a “a clear violation of international principles and the Doha Agreement,” though they did not acknowledge that al-Zawahri was killed.    The U.S. gave no forewarning to the Taliban government, which the United States does not recognize, that it was carrying out the operation.
    “Such actions are a repetition of the failed experiences of the past 20 years and are against the interests of the United States of America, Afghanistan, and the region,” the Taliban statement said.
    White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to comment on how, or if, the U.S. would hold the Taliban responsible for sheltering al-Zawahri.
    “The Taliban have a choice now,” Kirby said.    “And that is they can comply with their agreement under the Doha agreement … or they can choose to be going down a different path.    And if they go down a different path, it’s going to lead to consequences not just from the United States but from the international community.”
    Kirby said the U.S. had already engaged with the Taliban about al-Zawahri’s presence following Sunday’s strike.
    The Taliban remain sanctioned by the U.S. government for its role harboring al-Qaida before the 9/11 attacks.    After the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul last summer, the Biden administration froze billions of dollars in assets belonging to Afghanistan’s central bank to prevent the assets from falling under Taliban control.    Some of that money has since been freed for humanitarian aid to address the country’s dire hunger crisis.
    Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was quick to congratulate Biden on the operation, but also made the case that it “further indicates that Afghanistan is again becoming a major thicket of terrorist activity following the president’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces.”
    “Killing al-Zawahri is a success, but the underlying resurgence of al-Qaida terrorists into Afghanistan is a growing threat that was foreseeable and avoidable,” McConnell said.    “The administration needs a comprehensive plan to rebuild our capacity to combat it.”
Ayman al-Zawahri continued to play an active role in al-Qaida’s planning at the time of his death. MAZHAR ALI KHAN/AP

    This page created on 1/1/2022 and updated on 12/31/2022.

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