Monday, December 14, 2015

Video - Barricades & Water Cannons: Turkish police clash with Kurds at curfew protest

Israel Rejects 'Isolated' Turkey’s Advances to Normalize Relations

As Turkey becomes increasingly isolated after a series of provocative actions, Ankara has reached out to Israel in an effort to heal old wounds. Unfortunately, Israel isn’t interested.

In 2010, Israeli commandos raided a Turkish ship en route for the Gaza Strip. Nine Turkish citizens lost their lives in the skirmish, and Ankara was quick to cut ties with Israel.

But on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed to indicate an interest in normalizing relations between the two nations.

"The region definitely needs this," he said, according to Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah. He added that in addition to paying compensation for the raid, Israel must also lift its blockade of Gaza. Israeli officials, however, seem uninterested in such a deal."The ball is in their court. We apologized and were ready to pay damages. He should stop talking nonsense about the removal of the Gaza blockade," an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Jerusalem Post."We are not about to pay more for normalization."

 The Turkish government is desperate for allies. The downing of a Russian Su-24 in Syrian airspace last month has drawn condemnation from both Russia and Turkey’s partners in NATO. That incident left two Russians dead.

Moscow released satellite imagery proving Turkey’s link to the illegal oil market which funds Daesh, also known as ISIL/the Islamic State. Erdogan has steadfastly denied those allegations, but the evidence has forced many Western allies to reconsider Ankara’s role in the fight against terrorism.

Ankara also faces heavy criticism over its decision to deploy tanks and troops into Iraq, a move the Iraqi government views as a breach of its sovereignty.

"The government is committed to maintaining good neighborly relations, but at the same time reiterates its right to take measures to protect national sovereignty," the Iraqi government said in a statement.

The United States has also condemned Turkey’s incursion into Iraqi territory, and the United Nations Security Council is deliberating on a formal complaint lodged by Baghdad. The Israeli government seems all too aware of Turkey’s desperation."The Turks are isolated," a separate Israeli official said, according to Press TV. "It seems that Ankara wants to normalize relations with Israel, and is especially interested in the gas deal which will see Israel establishing a pipeline from their fields to Turkey and other places in the world."


The commander, identified as Abdollah al-Sahyan, was killed in an attack launched by Yemeni forces in the western Bab al-Mandab Strait, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden. 

Twenty-three Saudi, nine Emirati, and seven Moroccan forces, including a number of commanders, were among others killed in the missile attack in the area. Other reports said it left nearly 150 casualties among the Saudi-led forces. 

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) confirmed that one of its high-ranking officers had been among the dead. 

Yemenis carry out these attacks in retaliation for Saudi strikes, launched with the aim of undermining Houthi Ansarullah movement and bringing back to power the country’s fugitive former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh. 

According to Yemeni health ministry, more than 7,500 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the Saudi aggression.

The Impossible Defense of an Atheist Poet the Saudis Want to Behead

Creede Newton 

In Saudi Arabia the number of writers and bloggers facing the whip and the sword—and even crucifixion—is growing. Sound a bit like ISIS? Many think so.
GAZA STRIP — It’s been a bad year for Saudi Arabia’s public image. An unusually large number of death sentences and executions have sparked outrage from rights groups and activists across the world.
The latest controversy comes from the case of Ashraf Fayadh, a 35-year-old Palestinian poet whose death sentence was handed down for charges of apostasy on Nov. 17.
Now, in a strange twist, a Palestinian human-rights lawyer in the besieged Gaza Strip will do his best to save Fayadh’s life. But Raji Sourani, Fayadh’s representative and a veteran human-rights crusader, isn’t quite sure how to do it. He began an interview with The Daily Beast by admitting it’s his “first time dealing directly with the Saudi Arabian legal system.”
Sourani does know that he won’t have access to Fayadh. “Our only contact is through his sister and mother in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “His other sister is here [in Gaza]. She’s the one who asked for my assistance.”
Sourani says that the charges against the poet are baseless and motivated by a personal dispute with another Saudi over a European soccer match. “He was arrested in 2013, then again in 2014, and that time he was sentenced to four years in prison and 800 lashes.”
The repeated arrests, followed by a new judge being appointed to the case who decided Fayadh was promoting atheism (through a collection of poems that weren’t even published in Saudi Arabia), seems fishy to Sourani.
Also, Fayadh was accused of having inappropriate relations with women, a charge supported by the fact that Fayadh had some photos on his phone of female friends and colleagues he had met while attending cultural events throughout the world.
The experienced lawyer and founder of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights says that the next step is to write Fayadh’s appeal, and to reach out to Saudi officials, including King Salman.
Sourani recognizes that appealing to the king may seem like a suspiciously extrajudicial move for the head of a human-rights organization to make, but he points to Article 50 of the Saudi constitution, which says that “The King, or whoever deputizes for him, is responsible for the implementation of judicial rulings.”
Adam Coogle, a researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW) specializing in Saudi Arabia’s implementation of the death penalty, told The Daily Beast there’s little that any defense attorney could do to help Fayadh.
“At this point, it’s really a matter of writing the appeal. Fayadh’s case won’t be argued in front of judges,” Coogle said. It’s up to the appeals court to repeal the decision.
The researcher pointed out that Saudi Arabia “doesn’t really have a penal code. They basically use principles of Islamic law to criminalize a wide swathe of charges.” In Coogle’s experience, he says, he’s seen apparently “ad-hoc” legal allegations that “were basically just a description of whatever broad accusations of which the defendant was being accused.”
The charge of renouncing one’s faith leveled against the Palestinian poet is a grave one, known as a hadd crime in Islamic law, an offense against God whose punishments are divinely set in stone, meaning that not even Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud could pardon him if he is guilty. However, the king could refuse to sign the death warrant, in which case the punishment would not be carried out.
In response to Fayadh’s impending doom, many on Twitter took to comparing Saudi Arabia to the Sunni so-called Islamic State widely known as ISIS, due to their similarly strict interpretations of Islamic law.
The Saudi justice minister then threatened to “sue the person who described… the sentencing of a man to death for apostasy as being ‘ISIS-like.’”
This prompted a Twitter storm of people comparing Saudi Arabia to ISIS with the hashtag #SueMeSaudi. Coogle said that the issue was run by HRW’s legal team, and there’s really no need to worry about any non-Saudi being sued.
Fayadh’s case is the latest in a line of public outrage. Recently, Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, 21, a member of the Shia minority, which comprises between 15 and20 percent of the Saudi population, is awaiting a Roman-style (in the imperial sense) execution, sentenced to both beheading and crucifixion.
Nimr participated in anti-government protests in 2012, at the age of 17, and his case was highlighted in September 2015 after campaigners asked King Salman to pardon him during the Eid al-Adha holiday.
Earlier in the year, Raif Badawi, a blogger and well-known reformist, wasconvicted of “cybercrime and insulting Islam,” and sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison.
Although a lot of recent media attention has surrounded cases of Saudi human-rights abuses, under King Salman’s reign, which began in January, the number of executions has almost doubled from 88 in 2014 to 151 in 2015, yet it could be worse. “It’s not even a particularly egregious year,” said Coogle. “It’s great that these cases are receiving attention, but there are others that flew under the radar.”
He cites the case of Waleed Abu al-Kheir, a prominent Saudi human-rights activist and lawyer who marked the first of 15 years behind bars this past April. He was convicted of “broadly worded and vague charges that stemmed solely from his peaceful activism,” according to HRW. “That’s five more years than Badawi,” Coogle noted.
Saudi Arabia’s questionable human-rights record has stirred debate about the moral efficacy of its involvement in the fight against ISIS.
In October 2014, Sevag Kechichian of Amnesty International told Newsweekthat if the U.S. and other Western governments want their concerns about human rights in the region, including the atrocities committed by ISIS, to be taken seriously, “they must apply the same standards to their closest allies.”
Former U.S. Senator Norm Coleman, a lobbyist in the employ of Saudi Arabia (at a reported $60,000 monthly retainer fee) and head of the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund, one of the largest super PACs in the nation, did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
During King Salman’s meeting with President Barack Obama in his first official visit to the United States, the focus was on economic issues, as well as the Saudi-Iran proxy war taking place in Yemen.
The issues of human rights and even ISIS were both reportedly sidestepped. Instead, both leaders pledged to “significantly elevate the relationship between the two countries.”
Back in Gaza, Sourani told The Daily Beast that he “would do everything in his power to secure Fayadh’s release.” He said he has to trust in Fayadh and his family, whom he says is “very sincere, and very worried.”
When asked if he trusts in the Saudi justice system, Sourani said, simply, “There isn’t one to speak of.”

How China Sees Russia

By Fu Ying

At a time when Russian relations with the United States and western European countries are growing cold, the relatively warm ties between China and Russia have attracted renewed interest. Scholars and journalists in the West find themselves debating the nature of the Chinese-Russian partnership and wondering whether it will evolve into an alliance.
Since the end of the Cold War, two main views have tended to define Western assessments of the Chinese-Russian relationship and predictions of its future. The first view holds that the link between Beijing and Moscow is vulnerable, contingent, and marked by uncertainties—a “marriage of convenience,” to use the phrase favored by many advocates of this argument, who see it as unlikely that the two countries will grow much closer and quite possible that they will begin to drift apart. The other view posits that strategic and even ideological factors form the basis of Chinese-Russian ties and predicts that the two countries—both of which see the United States as a possible obstacle to their objectives—will eventually form an anti-U.S., anti-Western alliance.
Neither view accurately captures the true nature of the relationship. The Chinese-Russian relationship is a stable strategic partnership and by no means a marriage of convenience: it is complex, sturdy, and deeply rooted. Changes in international relations since the end of the Cold War have only brought the two countries closer together. Some Western analysts and officials have speculated (and perhaps even hoped) that the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, in which Russia has become heavily involved, would lead to tensions between Beijing and Moscow—or even a rupture. But that has not happened.
Nevertheless, China has no interest in a formal alliance with Russia, nor in forming an anti-U.S. or anti-Western bloc of any kind. Rather, Beijing hopes that China and Russia can maintain their relationship in a way that will provide a safe environment for the two big neighbors to achieve their development goals and to support each other through mutually beneficial cooperation, offering a model for how major countries can manage their differences and cooperate in ways that strengthen the international system.
On several occasions between the end of the nineteenth century and the middle of the twentieth century, China entered into an alliance with the Russian empire and its successor, the Soviet Union. But every time, the arrangement proved short-lived, as each amounted to nothing more than an expediency between countries of unequal strength. In the decades that followed, the two powerful communist-led countries muddled through, occasionally cooperating but often riven by rivalry and mistrust. In 1989, in the waning years of Soviet rule, they finally restored normalcy to their relations. They jointly declared that they would develop bilateral relations based on “mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual nonaggression, noninterference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence.” Two years later, the Soviet Union disintegrated, but Chinese-Russian relations carried on with the principle of “no alliance, no conflict, and no targeting any third country.”
Soon thereafter, the newborn Russian Federation embraced the so-called Atlanticist approach. To win the trust and help of the West, Russia not only followed Western prescriptions for economic reform but also made concessions on major security issues, including reducing its stockpile of strategic nuclear weapons. However, things didn’t turn out the way the Russians had hoped, as the country’s economy tanked and its regional influence waned. In 1992, disappointed with what they saw as unfulfilled pledges of American and European assistance and irritated by talk of NATO’s eastward expansion, the Russians began to pay more attention to Asia. That year, China and Russia announced that each would regard the other as a “friendly country” and issued a joint political statement stipulating that “the freedom of people to choose their own development paths should be respected, while differences in social systems and ideologies should not hamper the normal progress of relations.”
Ever since, Chinese-Russian relations have gradually improved and deepened. During the past 20 years or so, bilateral trade and investment have expanded on a massive scale. In 2011, China became Russia’s largest trading partner. In 2014 alone, China’s investment in Russia grew by 80 percent—and the trend toward more investment remains strong. To get a sense of the growth in economic ties, consider that in the early 1990s, annual bilateral trade between China and Russia amounted to around $5 billion; by 2014, it came close to $100 billion. That year, Beijing and Moscow signed a landmark agreement to construct a pipeline that, by 2018, will bring as much as 38 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas to China every year. The two countries are also planning significant deals involving nuclear power generation, aerospace manufacturing, high-speed rail, and infrastructure development. Furthermore, they are cooperating on new multinational financial institutions, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the New Development Bank BRICS, and the BRICS foreign exchange reserve pool.
Meanwhile, security ties have improved as well. China has become one of the largest importers of Russian arms, and the two countries are discussing a number of joint arms research-and-development projects. Extensive Chinese-Russian defense cooperation involves consultations between high-level military personnel and joint training and exercises, including more than a dozen joint counterterrorism exercises during the past decade or so, carried out either bilaterally or under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In the past 20 years, thousands of Chinese military personnel have studied in Russia, and many Russian military officials have received short-term training at the National Defense University of China.
As economic and military links have strengthened, so, too, have political ones. In 2008, China and Russia were able to peacefully resolve territorial disputes that had troubled relations for decades, formally demarcating their 2,600-mile-plus border and thus eliminating their single largest source of tension—a rare achievement for big neighbors. In recent years, the two countries have held regular annual meetings between their heads of states, prime ministers, top legislators, and foreign ministers. Since 2013, when Xi Jinping became president of China, he has paid five visits to Russia, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has traveled three times to China in the same time period. All told, Xi and Putin have met 12 times, making Putin the foreign head of state whom Xi has met most frequently since assuming the presidency.
For all this progress, differences still exist between the two neighbors, and they don’t always share the same focus when it comes to foreign policy. Russia is traditionally oriented toward Europe, whereas China is more concerned with Asia. The two countries’ diplomatic styles differ as well. Russia is more experienced on the global theater, and it tends to favor strong, active, and often surprising diplomatic maneuvers. Chinese diplomacy, in contrast, is more reactive and cautious.
China’s rise has produced discomfort among some in Russia, where some people have had difficulty adjusting to the shift in relative power between China and Russia. There is still talk in Russia of “the China threat,” a holdover expression from past eras. A poll conducted in 2008 by Russia’s Public Opinion Foundation showed that around 60 percent of Russians were concerned that Chinese migration to Far Eastern border areas would threaten Russia’s territorial integrity; 41 percent believed that a stronger China would harm Russian interests. And as China’s quest for new investment and trade opportunities abroad has led to increased Chinese cooperation with former Soviet states, Russians have worried that China is competing for influence in their neighborhood. Partly as a result, Moscow initially hesitated to support Beijing’s Silk Road Economic Belt initiative before ultimately embracing it in 2014. Meanwhile, some Chinese continue to nurse historical grievances regarding Russia. Despite the resolution of the border issue, Chinese commentators sometimes make critical references to the nearly 600,000 square miles of Chinese territory that tsarist Russia annexed in the late nineteenth century.
However, these differences hardly support speculation in the West that Beijing and Moscow are drifting apart. This theory has occasionally appeared in Western commentary in the past two years, as Russia’s relations with the United States and the EU have deteriorated owing to the crises in Syria and Ukraine. Despite some differences, however, China and Russia share a desire to firmly develop their bilateral relations and understand that they must join hands to achieve national security and development. Their cooperation is conducive to balance in the international system and can facilitate the solution of some international problems. Sometimes they agree; sometimes they do not. But they are able to acknowledge and manage their disagreements while continuing to expand areas of consensus. As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has noted, the Chinese-Russian relationship offers a new approach for conducting external relations and represents a possible model for other states to follow.
The crises in Syria and Ukraine illuminate the ways in which China and Russia have effectively managed their partnership. Many in the United States see China’s attitude toward the conflict in Ukraine as unclear or suspect that China has sided with Russia. In fact, after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated unequivocally that Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity should be respected. China emphasized that all the parties involved in the Ukrainian conflict should resolve their differences through dialogue, establish coordinating mechanisms, refrain from activities that could worsen the situation, and assist Ukraine in maintaining its economic and financial stability. China did not take any side: fairness and objectivity serve as guiding principles for Beijing when addressing international affairs.
But Chinese diplomats and leaders are also mindful of what led to the crisis, including the series of Western-supported “color revolutions” in post-Soviet states and the pressure on Russia that resulted from NATO’s eastward expansion. It is also worth noting that there have long been complicated historical, ethnic, religious, and territorial issues between Russia and the former Soviet republics. The Ukraine crisis is a result of all these factors. As Xi put it, the crisis is “not coming from nowhere.”
On Syria, the view in Beijing is that Russia launched its military intervention at the request of the Syrian government in order to combat terrorist and extremist forces. Although Washington has called for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down, it shares Russia’s goal of taking on the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). So on the one hand, the United States has criticized the Russian intervention, but on the other hand, it has expressed willingness to work with Russia on counterterrorism. The Russian move, then, was not exactly what the United States wanted to see but was not an entirely bad thing for U.S. interests, either. From China’s perspective, Russia and the United States share an interest in confronting the brutal terrorists of ISIS. The hope in China is that talks among Russia, the United States, Iran, and a number of other regional powers will make progress in resolving the conflict.
But it is difficult to know how far U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria can go without a common understanding about what will lead to peace and order. And many in China find it perplexing that U.S. and Russian perceptions are still so heavily influenced by the Cold War. U.S. politicians and commentators tend to talk about Russia as if it were still the failed Cold War rival. Meanwhile, Russian officials and observers frequently criticize Washington’s behavior as arrogant or imperial. Some analysts on both sides have suggested that the standoff between Moscow and Washington over Syria and Ukraine could lead to a new Cold War. But from China’s point of view, the current confrontations seem more like a prolonged ending of the original Cold War. It remains unclear if Moscow and Washington will take this opportunity to finally put old enmities to rest.
Given the way that relations among China, Russia, and the United States are intertwined, no analysis of Chinese-Russian ties would be complete without a consideration of where things stand between China and the United States. Compared with the Chinese-Russian relationship, the one between Beijing and Washington is wider and more complicated. Combined, China and the United States account for one-third of global GDP. In 2014, U.S.-Chinese trade reached nearly $600 billion, and accumulated mutual investment exceeded $120 billion. Thirty-seven years ago, when the People’s Republic of China established diplomatic relations with the United States, no one expected such a strong partnership to emerge.
But there is no denying the structural difficulties in the relationship. Significant differences remain between Chinese and U.S. political values and between the governing systems in the two countries. And many Americans perceive China’s growing economic strength and its correspondingly higher international influence as a potential threat to Washington’s global leadership. China has quickly grown into the world’s second-largest economy. When U.S. troops invaded Iraq in 2003, China’s GDP was roughly one-eighth that of the United States. By the time the Americans pulled out of Iraq eight years later, China’s GDP had grown to half that of the United States. According to many estimates, China’s GDP will approach the United States’ by 2020. These changes have provoked fears in Washington that China and the United States are on a collision course. Disputes over China’s construction activities in the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea, have fueled a heated debate about how the United States should respond to what some American scholars and commentators see as expansionism. Meanwhile, Beijing regards the presence of U.S. military vessels near Chinese territory in the South China Sea as an act of provocation. Some argue that U.S. policy toward China may shift from constructive engagement to containment.
These debates provided the backdrop for Xi’s state visit to Washington last September. In remarks during the visit, Xi directly addressed the idea that China’s development presents a challenge to the United States’ global leadership. “The path China follows is one of peaceful development, and China does not pose a threat to other countries,” Xi said. Later, he added, “People should give up the old concepts of ‘you lose, I win,’ or zero-sum game, and establish a new concept of peaceful development and win-win cooperation. If China develops well, it will benefit the whole world and benefit the United States. If the United States develops well, it will also benefit the world and China.”
Chinese leaders attribute much of their country’s rapid ascent to China’s successful integration into the world economy. They see China as a beneficiary of the international order, with the UN at its core, and as a strong advocate of principles such as sovereign equality and nonintervention in the internal affairs of states, which the UN Charter enshrines. China expects that it will have to focus on its own domestic economic and social development for a long time to come and thus highly values the maintenance of a stable and peaceful external environment. Although China is determined to protect its own interests and would respond firmly to provocations, encroachments on its territorial sovereignty, or threats to its rights and interests, its main goal is still to ensure that peace and stability prevail. And China is committed to safeguarding the international order and the Asia-Pacific regional order, as well as further integrating into the globalized world.
Improving U.S.-Chinese relations represents an important part of China’s diplomatic effort. Last September marked Xi’s first state visit to Washington, but he and U.S. President Barack Obama had previously met five times since 2013 and had spoken over the phone on three occasions. In June 2013, when the two leaders met at the Sunnylands summit, in California, they talked for more than seven hours. After the meeting, Xi announced that China and the United States would pursue a “new model of major-country relationship,” which he defined as a relationship based on nonconflict, nonconfrontation, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation. The two leaders have since continued their conversations on that theme: in November 2014 in Beijing, they held the “Yingtai dialogue,” which lasted for nearly five hours. And during Xi’s state visit, he and Obama spent around nine hours talking to each other and attending events together. These long meetings between the two leaders have helped them build understanding and ward off the confrontation that some U.S. analysts believe is inevitable.
The state visit, in particular, was very productive. The two sides reached agreement on a wide range of issues, including macroeconomic policy coordination, climate change, global health, counterterrorism, and nuclear nonproliferation. Xi and Obama also spoke candidly about the cybersecurity issues that have represented a serious point of contention between Beijing and Washington; the two leaders clarified their countries’ intentions, agreed to form a high-level joint dialogue on the subject, and committed to work together to establish an international cybersecurity code of conduct. This is a strong demonstration that the two countries can promote global cooperation on important issues.
Of course, Beijing and Washington may continue to have disagreements over the South China Sea, Taiwan, human rights, trade policy, and other matters. The intentions of the U.S. military alliances in the Asia-Pacific remain a particular source of concern for China, especially since Washington announced its “pivot” to Asia in 2011. Some U.S. allies in the region have made claims on China’s sovereign territory and infringed on Chinese maritime rights, hoping that by cozying up to Washington, they could involve the United States in their disputes with Beijing. This is a dangerous path, reminiscent of the “bloc politics” of the Cold War.
Some scholars in China and elsewhere have suggested that if the United States insists on imposing bloc politics on the region, China and Russia should consider responding by forming a bloc of their own. But the Chinese leadership does not approve of such arguments. China does not pursue blocs or alliances, nor do such arrangements fit comfortably with Chinese political culture. Russia does not intend to form such an bloc, either. China and Russia should stick to the principle of partnership rather than build an alliance. As for China and the United States, they should continue pursuing a new model of major-country relations and allow dialogue, cooperation, and management of differences to prevail.
Relations among China, Russia, and the United States currently resemble a scalene triangle, in which the greatest distance between the three points lies between Moscow and Washington. Within this triangle, Chinese-Russian relations are the most positive and stable. The U.S.-Chinese relationship has frequent ups and downs, and U.S.-Russian relations have become very tense, especially because Russia now has to contend with significant U.S. sanctions. Meanwhile, both Beijing and Moscow object to Washington’s use of force against and imposition of sanctions on other countries and to the double standards the United States applies in its foreign policies.
The United States and its allies might interpret closer ties between China and Russia as evidence of a proto-alliance that intends to disrupt or challenge the U.S.-led world order. But from the Chinese perspective, the tripartite relationship should not be considered a game in which two players ally against a third. The sound development of Chinese-Russian relations is not intended to harm the United States, nor should Washington seek to influence it. Likewise, China’s cooperation with the United States will not be affected by Russia, nor by tensions between Moscow and Washington. China should neither form an alliance based on bloc politics nor allow itself to be recruited as an ally by other countries.
The current international order is the cornerstone of global stability—but it is not perfect. In 2005, China and Russia issued a joint statement on “the international order in the twenty-first century,” which called for the international system to become more just, drawing its legitimacy from the principles and norms of international law. The statement made clear that Beijing and Moscow see the evolution of their relations—from mistrust and competition to partnership and cooperation—as a model for how countries can manage their differences and work together on areas of agreement in a way that supports global order and decreases the chance that the world will descend into great-power conflict and war.

Madonna & David - Like A Prayer - Live @ Bercy (AccorHotels Arena) 10.12.2015

Russian jet shot down by Turkey was AMBUSHED, says defence expert

THE RUSSIAN plane shot down by Turkish forces last month was targeted in a cold-blooded ambush, according to a defence and aviation expert.

Pierre Sprey, an American defence analyst involved in the development of the F-16 fighter jet, has revealed that he thought it was clearly a "pre-planned operation."
He pointed to the height of the Turkish F-16 jets as proof of the premeditated attack.
Russian plane GETTY
The downed Russian plane crashes into the ground
Mr Sprey said: "They certainly weren't doing anything that would point to a routine air patrol along the border.
"They were not loitering up at high altitude –say twenty to thirty thousand feet – to conserve fuel, which is where you would normally be loitering if you were simply doing a routine border patrol. 
"They were loitering quite low, at about 7,500 to eight thousand feet … below the coverage of the Syrian and Russian radars down around Latakia."
He concluded: "The evidence looks pretty strong that the Turks were setting up an ambush."
Russian parachuteGETTY
One of the pilots parachutes to the ground
The Russian Su-24 bomber was shot down as it returned to an air base following a military operation in Syria. 
According to the Turkish government, the Russian aircraft had crossed into their territory and refused to change direction despite receiving ten warnings in five minutes. 
However, the Russian military has responded by saying that their jet had not crossed the border and said it was one kilometre outside of Turkish airspace when it was shot down. 
They also claimed that they had not received any warnings, something Mr Sprey believes could be true. 
He said: "Now it so happens that Su-24s have no radios onboard for receiving UHF-frequency signals, a fact which is well known to American, NATO and Turkish intelligence.
"Those warnings may have been deliberately transmitted only on the international civilian frequency so that the Su-24s would never hear them."
The two Russian pilots both ejected from the plane after it was struck and parachuted to the ground. 
One of the pilots, Oleg Peshkov, was killed by gunfire as he descended. 
The other was captured by rebel forces but saved after a search-and-rescue mission, during which another Russia was killed. 
Both deceased men were posthumously awarded military honours, while Russian president Vladimir Putin described the incident as "a stab in the back by terrorist accomplices."
Relations between the two nations are now icy, with the Russian foreign minister saying that his country would "seriously reevaluate" its links with Turkey. 

Chemical agent sarin smuggled from Turkey to ISIS – Turkish MP

Russia delivers up to 40 airstrikes daily to help Free Syrian Army fight terrorists - General Staff

Warplanes of the Russian task force in Syria deliver 30 to 40 airstrikes daily in support of the Free Syrian Army, the General Staff reports. Some 5,000 FSA troops together with the Syrian Army are on the offensive in Hama, Homs, Aleppo and Raqqa provinces.

The number of FSA personnel who have come over to the Syrian Army is constantly growing, Russia’s Defense Force Chief of Staff, Army General Valery Gerasimov, said.
He added that Russia’s task force in Syria is also supplying FSA units with “weapons, munitions and other material supplies.” In this way, Russia is “promoting the [Syrian] government troops and opposition groups joining efforts to defeat the terrorists,” the general said.
On Monday, a Russian presidential aide for military and technical cooperation rebuked claims about Moscow shipping weapons to the FSA.
“No,” Vladimir Kozhin told media while answering a question about alleged arms supplies, RIA Novosti reported.
According to the General Staff, for the purpose of cutting off the terrorists' financing, Russian jets bomb oil-processing infrastructure controlled by Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), such as oil refineries, oil pipeline pumping stations and oil tankers en route to the Turkish border.
Gerasimov said the Russian task force in Syria is delivering bomb and missile strikes solely on installations of terrorist infrastructure. He added that Russia has so far received no substantial support from countries Moscow considered partners in regard to fighting terrorism in Syria.
“In the course of battling radical Islamism we’ve not received support on the part of those [countries] we used to believe to be our partners. On the contrary, we received a stab in the back with a Turkish Air Force F-16 fighter jet violating Syrian airspace and downing our Su-24,” General Gerasimov said at a briefing for foreign military attachés in Moscow.
Meanwhile rebels from a separate, recently-formed alliance of armed groups - including some that identify themselves as FSA – have confirmed to Reuters that their fighters benefited indirectly from Russian air strikes in a recent battle with militants, including the Al-Nusra Front. However, they denied any direct Russian support.
One of the Free Syrian Army leaders, General Hossam Awak, said the FSA is ready to provide Russia with “precise intelligence” on IS terrorists’ positions and is willing to cooperate with Moscow in the fight against the extremist group.
"We have precise intelligence, documents, maps, and we can share them with the Russians so that their strikes on Daesh [Islamic State] are more effective," Awak told Sputnik News.
"We really want to cooperate with the Russians in the fight against Daesh on condition that their airstrikes hit solely Daesh targets," he added.

Kerry’s visit organized at an urgent request of US — Russian Foreign Ministry

Washington’s statements about certain ‘isolation’ of Russia are ridiculous against the background of a second for this year visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Monday.
"We have been rather surprised by statements coming from Washington, including through an official representative of the White House, within the context of the upcoming arrival in Moscow of US Secretary of State John Kerry," the commentary said. "Allegations about certain ‘isolation’ of Russia on the international arena look especially absurd," it continued.
"Taking into consideration the fact that the US secretary of state goes to our country for the second time in the past seven months, such propaganda approaches are simply ridiculous," it said, stressing that "like in May, the visit was organized at an urgent request of the American side".
Russia "is open for constructive partnership, but it is possible only on the principles of equality and mutual respect," it continued. "Washington can pretend to itself that sanctions against us are ‘efficient’ as long as it likes," the statement said.
"In determining spheres for joint with the US activity, we continue to be guided solely by own interests, including the task of strengthening our own and international security," it said.
This "fully refers to the Syrian theme, on which Washington seeks support for American approaches that are not always compatible with international law," it said. "At talks in Moscow tomorrow we hope to receive necessary explanations from the secretary of state. We, for our part, will keep seeking that the US administration review its policy that seeks to divide terrorists into ‘good’ and ‘bad’," the commentary added.
Moscow states with regret that even after a terrorist attack against a Russian passenger plane on October 31, the US "is not demonstrating readiness for establishing full-value coordination with us in fight against Islamic State (banned in Russia)," it went on.
"Besides, despite a memorandum on ensuring the safety of flights by warplanes in the Syrian airspace signed by the defense ministries of the two states, Washington that had assumed responsibility for the activity of the coalition it leads, failed to ensure the implementation of provisions of that document by its ally Turkey," the communique said.
Moscow "expects a businesslike conversation with the US secretary of state on December 15," it summed up.

Video - Top Latino congressman endorses Hillary Clinton

Luis Gutiérrez, a congressman who has represented Illinois since 1993, endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in a Univision opinion editorial published Monday. Gutiérrez, one of the most outspoken congressmen on immigration reform, will introduce Clinton at the National Immigrant Integration Conference in Brooklyn on Monday, making his endorsement of the Democratic front-runner official. "Hillary is with the Latina community and I am with her," Gutiérrez wrote in a translation of the Spanish-language opinion piece. "She will do what is best for Latinos and all Americans. Hillary is poised to propel the country forward, and I'm proud to be with her." Gutiérrez heralds Clinton in the piece for meeting with DREAMERers, the children of undocumented immigrants, and for her pledge to go further on immigration than President Barack Obama. The congressman is expected to echo this praise at Monday's event. Clinton is expected to outline her immigration platform at the gathering that brings together over 1,000 immigration activists from across the country. The former secretary of state has made immigration reform a central part of her campaign for president. She met with DREAMers in May in Las Vegas and promised a roundtable of immigration activists and stakeholders that she would work for "a path to full and equal citizenship" as president. "This is where I differ with everybody on the Republican side," she said. "Make no mistake, not a single Republican candidate, announced or potential, is clearly and consistently supporting a path to citizenship. When they talk about legal status, that is code for second class status." Gutiérrez stood by his state's senator in 2008, endorsing then-Sen. Obama and stumping for him throughout the campaign against Clinton.

Video - First Dogs Join First Lady Michelle Obama for Hospital Visit

Gov. Cuomo: Trump is a recruitment poster for ISIS

Media Blackout Bombs As Bernie Sanders Has More Support Than Every GOP Candidate In Iowa

The media has been blacking out the message of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, but the numbers don’t lie. Sanders has more support in Iowa than every single Republican presidential candidate.
In the new Iowa Poll released by the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics, Sen. Bernie Sanders had eight points more support than the highest polling Republican presidential candidate. Sanders trailed Hillary Clinton 48%-39% in the latest poll, but his level of support was eight points higher than Ted Cruz (31%) and ten points higher than media darling Donald Trump (21%).
Sen. Sanders has nearly twice the level of support that Trump has in Iowa but has gotten thirty times less coverage on the network news broadcasts.
Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver said, “We have come a long way in Iowa since we were at 5 percent in the same poll last January and very few people knew who Bernie Sanders was or what he stood for. This poll shows there is a very clear path to victory in Iowa.”
Bernie Sanders has come a long way in a very short period of time. His 80% approval rating trails Hillary Clinton by two points and President Obama by seven points. Sanders has quickly risen to be one of the most popular figures within the Democratic Party. The Sanders approval rating is higher than all of the Republican presidential candidates. Sanders’ approval rating is seven points higher than Ted Cruz(73%), ten points higher than Marco Rubio (70%), and 22 points higher than Donald Trump (58%).
The network news decision to ignore the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders has been a major miscalculation. Sanders has developed into one of the most popular candidates in the entire country, and he exponentially more popular than every single Republican contender that the nightly news broadcasts on ABC, NBC, and CBS waste their airtime on.
The corporate network news blackout of Sanders campaign is not working. The message is spreading. Iowa is the perfect state for a political revolutionary to spread his message about income inequality, and the influence of corporations and billionaires who are trying to buy the federal government.
Network news has chosen to ignore Sen. Bernie Sanders, but his message is spreading across the country. The message can’t be stopped, and it is the reason why the messenger from Vermont has more support than all of the Republican presidential candidates in Iowa.

Poll: Clinton would sail to win over Trump

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton would easily defeat GOP counterpart Donald Trump in a general election match-up, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released early Monday.
Pollsters found Clinton would cruise to a 10-point win over Trump, 50 to 40 percent, with the help of independent and Hispanic voters.
Clinton would also beat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) by just 3 points, 48 to 45 percent, within the poll’s margin of error.
But she would lose to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) by 3 points and Ben Carson by 1 point in hypothetical match-ups.
The survey found that independent voters would back Rubio over the former secretary of State by a 7-point margin. He would lose the Hispanic vote to Clinton, however, by 23 points. Rubio also takes the highest percentage of female voters among the GOP candidates, but falls short in that demographic to Clinton by 7 points.
Clinton holds a 19-point lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the new poll. Four percent of respondents backed former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal, conducted Dec. 6 to Dec. 9, has a margin of error of 3.4 percent.

Republicans are now blaming Barack Obama for Donald Trump. Seriously.

Paul Waldman 

Republicans watching in dismay as Donald Trump continues to lead their presidential primary contest have almost given up trying to come up with a plan to stop him, with the spreading realization that he'll rise or fall and there's little they can do to affect that outcome. But if you can't change things, at least you can explain them, which leads to the pressing question: Whose fault is this?
Liberals have their answer. Trump, they say, is the culmination of the last seven years of Republican politics, or maybe even the last 50 years. Faced with an angry Tea Party base, the party's leadership encouraged that anger, yet couldn't deliver on any of the substantive promises they made. They told their voters to hate Washington, despise Barack Obama, and fear immigrants — and this is what they got. Go even farther back and you can find Trump's roots in the "Southern Strategy" that worked so well for so long, where Republicans fed working-class whites a diet of racial resentment to get them to sign on with an agenda that served the interests of the wealthy.
As you might imagine, this story isn't particularly appealing to conservatives. So they have a different answer, one which is now gaining increasing currency on the right. Who's to blame for Donald Trump? Why the same man who's to blame for everything that goes wrong in America: Barack Obama.
If Trump gets the nomination, Fox News star Bill O'Reilly tells his viewers, "he should send Barack Obama a very nice gift for making that possible." You see, Obama's unwillingness to keep Americans safe from terrorism and the fact that "he continues to allow people to illegally enter America with impunity" has filled Americans with so much rage that they have turned to the candidate most willing to share it. The brain trust on Fox & Friends agreed that it's only because Obama so obviously doesn't care about America that "when Donald Trump comes out with something that seems extreme, then people say, 'Okay, at least I can say he's looking out for you.'"
Writing in the National Review, Victor Davis Hanson insists that Trump's rise is a response to Barack Obama's unserious leadership, taking selfies and making Final Four picks while the world burns. "It is no accident that President Obama's America has given rise to Donald Trump," writes Ben Domenech. "It is an America that is more tribalist, where people feel more racially and religiously divided; more politically correct, where people feel less free to speak their minds; and it is an America where trust in the nation’s elites, whose skills are credentialed but unproven, are at historic lows." The Wall Street Journal editorial page intoned, "President Obama's insistent failure to confront the realities of global jihad has produced its opposite in Donald Trump's unfiltered nationalist id. This is a reminder of how much damage a misguided American president can do to the country's political culture."
This is a familiar story — when confronted with their own excesses, conservatives cry, "Obama made us be this way!" For instance, any conservative in good standing will tell you that Obama is the most divisive president in American history, ruthlessly pitting Americans against each other for political gain. Of course, when you look at the evidence they offer for this claim, the best they can come up with is standard politics. He says that his opponents are wrong about policy matters! He sometimes even questions their motives, like saying they just want tax cuts for the rich! Appalling.
It's true that in many ways the nation is more divided since Obama became president, but blaming him for that is a little like blaming you for rising rates of burglary because someone broke into your house. We're talking about a president whose opponents regularly call him a secret Muslim communist who is literally trying to destroy America — and I don't mean Joe Biden "literally," I mean literally literally. You can't listen to conservative talk radio for 10 minutes without hearing that Obama wants to bring the country to its knees as part of some black nationalist plan to punish innocent white people for sins they never committed. The man had to show his birth certificate to prove to his opponents that he's actually an American. But he's the one who's "divisive."
If Trump's success is a reaction to Barack Obama, it's only insofar as he's an exaggerated version of the way all Republicans have felt, spoken, and acted toward this president over his entire presidency. Trump's voters didn't wake up a month or two ago and decide that they're nativists attracted to someone offering easy answers to complex problems. They're exactly the voters that the Republican Party has been cultivating, full of fear and anger and contempt. It's just that the party itself was incapable of offering them a compelling embodiment of those feelings, so they turned to an outsider.
And now, after tiptoeing around Trump for months lest they upset those voters, Republicans have finally said that Trump is going too far in his xenophobia and bigotry. If their protestations are too little and too late, they can't pin the blame on Barack Obama. They sowed this poisonous field, and the Trump candidacy is what grew out of it. If it means they lose the White House again because of it — whether Trump is the nominee or not — they'll have no one to blame but themselves.

President Obama Open to Visiting Cuba in 2016

 U.S. President Barack Obama is open to visiting to Cuba in 2016 but first wants to see ordinary citizens there enjoy more personal freedoms, he said in an interview released on Monday.
In an interview with Yahoo! News, Obama said he has told Havana that without such progress, he is unlikely to visit the Communist island nation before he leaves office, despite the historic re-establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries earlier this year.
"I am very much interested in going to Cuba, but I think the conditions have to be right," Obama said. "And what I've said to the Cuban government is 'If, in fact I with confidence can say that we're seeing some progress in the liberty and freedom and possibilities of ordinary Cubans, I'd love to use a visit as a way of highlighting that progress.'"
"If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody," Obama said. "I've made very clear in my conversations directly with President Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba."
In the interview, which coincided with the anniversary of the announcement that Havana and Washington would restore relations, Obama also defended his aim to close the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but acknowledged that it was unlikely to be handed back to Havana any time soon.
Asked if he would return the facility to Cuba if it does close, Obama said that decision would likely be made by a future president.
Despite a campaign pledge to close the prison established to hold terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Obama has faced resistance in Congress to transferring the inmates, especially to U.S. prisons. There are 107 inmates left at Guantanamo, which once held more than 600.
Obama has said he can still close Guantanamo before he leaves office in January 2017, but he has not sent Congress a promised plan on how the facility would be closed.
Some 2016 Republican presidential candidates have said they would keep the prison open.
In the interview, Obama defended his administration's vetting and release of prisoners held there and said there would be strategic gains in closing Guantanamo.

Video Report - President Obama Provides an Update on the Counter-ISIL Campaign

President Obama says U.S., allies hitting Islamic State harder than ever

President Barack Obama says the United States military and allied forces are hitting the Islamic State group harder than ever.
Obama says the group's leaders cannot hide, and the group is losing territory. Obama also says the U.S. strategy of hunting down leaders, training forces and stopping the group's financing and propaganda is progressing.
The president made the remarks after meeting with his national security team at the Pentagon on Monday. The rare meeting outside the White House is part of a public relations drive to ease public worries about domestic terrorism ahead of the holidays.
Obama is making the case for his broad counterterrorism strategy, including his ongoing campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

WASHINGTON — Working to ease public jitters ahead of the holidays, President Barack Obama opened a rare meeting of his National Security Council at the Pentagon on Monday, part of a weeklong push to explain his strategy for stopping the Islamic State group abroad and its sympathizers at home.
Obama, Defense Secretary Ash Carter and the top national security team gathered for a private meeting to be followed by a public update from the president about the fight against IS. Yet White House officials cautioned that the session didn't signal a major change in approach.
"If there's an opportunity for us to intensify efforts behind one aspect of our strategy, then that is something that he wants his team to be prepared to do," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
The president is also slated for a briefing at the National Counterterrorism Center later in the week.
The high-profile visits to agencies charged with keeping the U.S. safe follow an Oval Office address Dec. 6 that aimed to reassure the public but that critics said failed to do the job. Obama is also hoping to draw a contrast with Donald Trump and his inflammatory remarks about Muslims, which Obama's administration has said endangers U.S. national security.
"Terrorists like ISIL are trying to divide us along lines of religion and background," Obama said in his weekly address, using an acronym for the extremist group. "That's how they stoke fear. That's how they recruit."
This week, he said, "we'll move forward on all fronts."
After a series of setbacks, the U.S. and its coalition partners have claimed progress recently in wresting back territory from IS and eliminating some of its key leaders in Syria and Iraq. The military has said hundreds of U.S airstrikes in recent days dealt a major blow to IS ranks in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi, which IS seized in May.
But progress in Ramadi, as elsewhere, has been slow, leading to calls in the U.S. and abroad for a tougher U.S. response. Obama has authorized sending small numbers of U.S. special forces to Iraq and Syria, but has insisted he won't budget from his determination not to send in major U.S. ground forces.
The public relations campaign, one week before Christmas, comes as the public is jittery about the specter of extremism after deadly attacks in California and Paris. Seven in 10 Americans rate the risk of an attack in the U.S. as at least somewhat high, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll — a sharp increase from the 5 in 10 who said that in January.
U.S. officials have insisted there are no specific, credible threats to the United States. But the apparent lack of warning before San Bernardino has raised concerns about whether the U.S. has a handle on potential attacks, especially during high-profile times such as the end-of-year holidays.
At the National Counterterrorism Center, which analyzes intelligence at its facility in suburban Virginia, Obama planned to address reporters Thursday after a briefing by intelligence and security agencies on threat assessments. Obama receives a similar briefing each year before the holidays.
Concerns about extremism emanating from the Middle East have taken center stage in the presidential race. Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic candidate, planned a speech in Minnesota on Tuesday to present a plan for protecting the U.S. homeland.
Obama has tried to use his bully pulpit as a counterpoint to Trump and his widely condemned proposal to bar Muslims from entering the U.S. The White House scheduled a conference call Monday with religious leaders about ways to fight discrimination and promote religious tolerance.
Aiming to put a human face on the Syrian refugee issue, Obama is to speak Tuesday at the National Archives Museum, where 31 immigrants from Iraq, Ethiopia, Uganda and 23 other nations will be sworn in as U.S. citizens. Obama planned to use that occasion to reframe the national conversation about immigrants around the country's founding values of tolerance and freedom.