The US on Oct. 4 announced it is suspending talks with Russia over the Syria war, citing the Kremlin's support of the Bashar Assad regime in the brutal bombing campaign on the besieged city of Aleppo. Secretary of State John Kerry days later called for an investigation of possible war crimes by Russia and the Assad regime. Despite the seeming lack of anyone left to negotiative with, he still insisted: "We aren't going to leave the multilateral field, we are going to continue to try to find a way forward in order to end this war." (Jurist, Oct. 7; NYT, Fox News, Oct. 4) All indications point to further escalation. Moscow's Defense Ministry cautioned the US against carrying out air-strikes on Assad's forces, darkly adding that Russia now has air-defense missiles operational in Syria. Russia has just installed S-400 and S-300 air-defense systems at the Tartus naval base and Khmeimim air-base in the Assad regime's coastal stronghold of Latakia. The radius of the weapons reach may be "a surprise," the Defense Ministry's Gen. Igor Konashenkov boasted. (RT, Oct. 6; BBC, Oct. 4)
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Oct. 5 refused (PDF) to hear a claim by the Marshall Islands that the UK, India and Pakistan have failed to halt the nuclear arms race, finding that it does not have jurisdiction over the matter. The Marshall Islands was the site for numerous nuclear tests carried out by the US during the Cold War arms race, and claims that such experience allows it to testify on the danger of a nuclear arms race. The nation accused nine countries of not complying with the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation (PDF). However, the ICJ can only consider the cases for Britain, India and Pakistan, as China, France, Israel, North Korea, Russia and the US have not recognized the court's jurisdiction. The Marshall Islands claims that these countries have breached their obligations under the treaty, which commits all states with nuclear capabilities "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament."
The US Aegis anti-missile station at Deveselu, Romania, was officially activated this week—to harsh protests from Moscow, despite Washington's claim that the system is intended to intercept missiles fired from the Middle East. Together with an installation in Poland, the Deveselu facility forms the long-delayed "missile shield" first conceived under the George Bush administration. (BBC News, AFP, RT, May 12) Moscow's claim that the "missile shield" is actually aimed at encircling Russia is mirrored by Washington's charge that Russia is in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, having deployed cruise missiles in contravention of the 1987 pact. (Arms Control Association, May 2016)
The failed test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile on North Korea's so-called "Day of the Sun" (April 15, the birthday of Kim Il-sung) only succeeded in winning rebukes from China—the DPRK regime's only, increasingly embarassed ally. China's official Xinhua news agency said that the test "marks the latest in a string of saber-rattling that, if unchecked, will lead the country to nowhere... Nuclear weapons will not make Pyongyang safer. On the contrary, its costly military endeavors will keep on suffocating its economy."
The terror attacks on the airport and a subway station near the European Union headquarters in Brussels have left at least 34 dead, and some 170 injured. Amaq News Agency, an ISIS propaganda organ, issued a claim of responsibility. (Long War Journal) This was of course good news for the Republican presidential contenders in the US, helping to shift the debate from domestic economic suffering to the international jihadist threat. Ted Cruz wasted no time, saying in a statement: "We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence. We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized." This was of course a call for bringing back the NYPD surveillance program that targeted Muslims before it was shut down in the wake of outcry and litigation. It was all the more galling that Cruz made his comment on a visit to New York City, where he was quickly blasted by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton. "If he's that short-sighted, I can understand why the American public would repudiate his efforts to run this great country," said Bratton. (Daily News)
"Hillary Clinton gets to Donald Trump's right on Israel." That's the dead, dangerously wrong headline in a March 21 Washington Post op-ed by Paul Waldman. The fodder for this falsehood is Clinton's address before AIPAC, where she dissed Trump's recent statement that he would be "neutral" between the Israelis and Palestinians. In utterly predictable verbiage, she said: "Yes, we need steady hands, not a president who says he's neutral on Monday, pro-Israel on Tuesday, and who knows what on Wednesday, because everything's negotiable." Responds Wladman: "In Trump's defense (yes, I just wrote those words), when this subject comes up he’ll say as loudly as anyone else how 'pro-Israel' he is, but when he used that term he was talking about being an arbiter in negotiations."
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) test-fired several ballistic missiles on March 8, state television said, threatening the nuclear deal that just took effect earlier this year. A state television report showed a Emad missile, Iran's most advanced model, being fired from a fortified underground silo at night time. The presenter said it was a medium-range Qiam-1 missile. However, that footage appeared to be of an earlier October launch that triggered new US sanctions. The report said the Guards had fired several missiles from silos across the country, though it only showed footage of one.
Iran and the European Union formally confirmed Jan. 16 that Tehran has kept its commitments under the nuclear deal reached withe world powers in July. Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced the agreement at a press conference in Vienna, as the European Council issued a statement saying it has "lifted all economic and financial sanctions against Iran related to the nuclear program." In Washington, President Obama issued an executive order revoking sanctions on transactions by non-US citizens with the Central Bank of Iran and the National Iranian Oil Company. A White House official said Iran will have access to some $50 billion worth of assets that were frozen by the US. Iranian President Hassan Rohani tweeted: "Congrats on this glorious victory!" Average Iranians took to social media to express joy and relief at the lifting of sanctions and the easing of Iran's international isolation.