THE HAGUE: Russia and Syria have stalled access to Douma by chemical weapons experts seeking to probe an alleged poison gas attack citing security concerns, diplomats said , amid US fears that Moscow “may have tampered” with the site.
“The team has not yet been deployed to Douma,” the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Ahmet Uzumcu, said at an emergency session in The Hague.
The closed-door talks at the global chemical watchdog’s headquarters came two days after a wave of punitive missile strikes by the US, Britain and France in Syria, in response to the alleged April 7 toxic arms attack on Douma.
The OPCW team had been expected to begin their fieldwork on Sunday, but they met with officials at their Damascus hotel instead.
Uzumcu said “Syrian and the Russian officials who participated in the preparatory meetings in Damascus” had informed the fact-finding mission “there were still pending security issues to be worked out before any deployment could take place”.
Evidence of chemical weapons can degrade quickly in the environment, and he urged the nine-member, all-volunteer team be allowed to deploy to Douma “as quickly as possible”.
But the American ambassador to the OPCW claimed the Russians may have already visited the site.
“We are concerned they may have tampered with it with the intent of thwarting the efforts of the OPCW fact-finding mission,” said ambassador Ken Ward.
The Kremlin however dismissed the claims.
“I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the BBC.
A spokesman for President Vladimir Putin said the allegations were “groundless”, adding Moscow favoured “an impartial investigation”.
The missiles that US, French and British warships fired on suspected chemical facilities on Saturday constituted the biggest Western attack against the regime in the seven-year war to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The targeted sites were largely empty, and were all said to be facilities for chemical weapons storage or production.
The trio of Western powers that carried out the strikes warned they would repeat the operation if Damascus used chemical weapons again, while Putin warned any fresh strikes would “provoke chaos”.
Focus was however shifting to renewed diplomatic action, with a new resolution to be debated at the UN Security Council on Monday.
The attack on Douma, in which most experts say chlorine as well as an agent such as sarin were used, killed at least 40 people, according to local medics.
Pakistan puts major CPEC power project on hold, asks China to delete it from list
Islamabad: In a setback to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Pakistan government has decided to put on hold a major power project, Rahim Yar Khan power project, and has reportedly informed the Chinese government about the same. According to a report in Pakistan-based Dawn News, the Pakistan government will shut down several other schemes under the Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP).
The report further said that Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan-led government has asked Beijing to “formally delete the project from the CPEC list”. The same was communicated to China in a meeting of the CPEC Joint Coordination Committee by Pakistan on December 20, 2018. According to the report, the project was pushed by the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz government in the past.
The development comes months after China refuted charges that Pakistan’s current economic crisis crumbled because of projects under CPEC. China had said that blaming CPEC was uncalled for and that the corridor in fact was something that would bolster Pakistan economy in the years to come.
The defence of CPEC was necessiated after rising voices in Pakistan against it. Several people questioned the loans taken from China and asked the terms for their repayment. Even the United States has said that the current state of Pakistani economy is a result of loans it has taken from Beijing and has made it clear that it won’t allow any bailout package from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which would be used by Islamabad to repay Chinese debt.
The IMF also later observed that increasing Chinese involvement in Pakistan’s economy could be disastrous on the latter’s future.
Islamabad has already cut the size of the biggest Chinese “Silk Road” project in Pakistan, a reconstruction of the main rail line between the port city of Karachi and Peshawar in the northwest by $2 billion, citing government concerns about the country’s debt levels. The changes are part of Islamabad’s efforts to rethink key Belt and Road Initiative projects in Pakistan, to which China has pledged about $60bn in financing.
Trump threatens to ‘devastate’ Turkey’s economy if it attacks Kurds
Washington: US President Donald Trump said that America would “devastate Turkey economically” if the NATO-allied country attacks Kurds in the region. “Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining IS (Islamic State) territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions. Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms,” the President tweeted.
“Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds,” but followed up in a second tweet, “Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.”
Turkey views some Kurdish groups in the region as terrorist organisations and Kurds make up the majority of US-allied fighters operating in Syria in the civil war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad`s regime, CNN reported.
It`s a stark threat toward an ally in the region that has partnered with the US in the fight against the IS. CNN reported on Thursday that the first US military ground equipment has been withdrawn from Syria, according to an administration official with direct knowledge of the operation.
Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly lashed out at US National Security Adviser John Bolton for saying the US withdrawal was contingent upon Ankara`s pledge not to attack US-backed Kurdish fighters in Syria once troops leave.
Bill for delisting Pakistan as major ally tabled in US Congress
WASHINGTON: A bill seeking to remove Pakistan from a list of America’s major non-Nato allies has been introduced in the US Congress, even though the Trump administration enhances its contacts with Islamabad in its pursuit of a peaceful end to the Afghan war.
The resolution — introduced by Congressman Andy Biggs who, like the Trump administration, is a Republican — sets new conditions for future re-designation.
If a US president desires to put Pakistan back on the list, he or she will have to certify to Congress that Pakistan continues to conduct military operations that are contributing to significantly disrupting the “safe haven and freedom of movement” of the Haqqani Network in the country.
The president also has to certify that Pakistan has shown progress in arresting and prosecuting Haqqani Network’s senior leaders and mid-level operatives.
Take a look: Pakistan has given us nothing but lies and deceit, says US President Donald Trump
The re-designation will require another certification from Congress that Pakistan has taken steps to demonstrate its commitment to preventing the Haqqani Network from using any Pakistani territory as a safe haven and that Pakistan actively cooperates with Afghanistan to restrict the movement of militants along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Known as Resolution H.R. 73, the bill has been sent to the House Foreign Affairs Committee for necessary action.
Mr Biggs, a second-term legislator, has no cosponsor and his move will need a strong support from the Trump administration and the Democratic Party to pass a House dominated by the Democrats.
In recent statements, President Donald Trump has clearly expressed his desire to withdraw at least half of the 14,000 US troops still stationed in Afghanistan.
Senior Democrats — both in and outside Congress — have also said that the United States cannot remain involved in these apparently unending wars in Afghanistan and Syria.
But before an ultimate withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Trump administration wants to ensure that the pullout does not lead to the collapse of the US-backed Afghan government in Kabul.