United States/North Korea – The US has said its policy of "strategic patience" with North Korea is over and suggested it might decide to take pre-emptive military action it was reported on the 17 Mar 17. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the option was "on the table" if the threat from the North's weapons programme reached a level requiring it. During a visit to South Korea, he also said the US was exploring a range of new diplomatic and economic measures. And he defended the deployment of a US missile system in South Korea. The move has angered China but South Korea and the US say the system is needed to defend against North Korea. US President Donald Trump tweeted that North Korea was "behaving very badly" and had been "playing" the US "for years". "China has done little to help!" he added. Mr Tillerson spoke shortly after visiting the demilitarised zone which divides the two Koreas. He arrived in South Korea from Japan, where he had said that 20 years of efforts aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions had failed. Asked if the possibility for military action existed, he said: "Certainly we do not want to, for things to get to military conflict." But he added: "If they elevate the threat of their weapons programme to a level that we believe requires action, then that option's on the table." North Korea has conducted nuclear and missile tests in recent years, and says it is close to testing long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads and reaching the US. The US has accused China, North Korea's main ally, of not doing enough to rein it in but Beijing remains wary of any action that could destabilise the North Korean government and potentially create chaos on its border. During his address in Seoul, Mr Tillerson called on China to fully implement sanctions imposed by the UN in response to North Korea's nuclear and missile tests. "I don't believe we have ever fully achieved the maximum level of action that can be taken under the UN Security Council resolution with full participation of all countries," he said. China is also strongly opposed to the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system in South Korea. America says the system is aimed at North Korea but China says it will allow the US to spy on its territory. In recent days there have been multiple reports of apparent economic retaliation aimed at South Korea by Beijing. Mr Tillerson called these actions "unnecessary and troubling". "We also believe it is not the way for a regional power to help resolve what is a serious threat for everyone," he said. Mr Tillerson was blunt: the previous policy had ended. Despite that assertion, though, the difference between the Obama strategy and the Trump one is not obvious. Mr Obama had not ruled out military force and Mr Tillerson thinks sanctions might yet work. Both administrations ruled out negotiation - though Mr Tillerson said they would be "premature" at the moment, prompting the thought that there might come a time when they were the right thing to do. At the end of it, the situation remains the same: North Korea shows no hint of being willing to renounce nuclear weapons, whatever economic blows it receives and whatever China might think. Mr Tillerson heads for Beijing next, hoping China will help - but in the past Mr Trump has called China an "enemy".
United States/Iran/Bahrain/Ahmad Hasan Yusuf and Alsayed Murtadha Majeed Ramadhan Alawi – Iranian news agencies have remained silent ever since the United States government placed two affiliates of the Saraya al-Ashtar organization on its terrorist list. In a statement, Bahrain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs praised the US "positive and important decision", saying that its position reflects the US determination to confront all forms of terrorism and all those who support and sympathize with it. The US State Department had announced in a statement on its website that they designated Ahmad Hasan Yusuf and Alsayed Murtadha Majeed Ramadhan Alawi as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224. “Today’s actions follow a recent increase in militant attacks in Bahrain, where Iran has provided weapons, funding, and training to militants. This marks yet another step in our continued effort to aggressively target Iran’s destabilizing and terrorism-related activities in the region,” the State Department said in a statement. “We will continue to stand with Bahrain in addressing these threats, even as we encourage the government to clearly differentiate its response to violent militia groups from its engagement with peaceful political opposition,” they added.
Who are the al-Ashtar Brigades?
Saraya al-Ashtar, also known as the al-Ashtar Brigades in English, have claimed responsibility for more than 20 attacks in Bahrain, mainly against police officers and security forces. The name “al-Ashtar” links the group to Malik al-Ashtar, a figure revered by Shiites from early Islam. They are perhaps responsible for what many have called the “single worst incident of terrorism on Bahraini soil,” according to local activist group Citizens for Bahrain. The incident refers to the Mar 14 attack that claimed the lives of Bahraini police officers Ammar Abdu-Ali al-Dhalei and Mohammed Arslan Ramadhan and Emirati officer First Lieutenant Tariq al-Shehhi. The three Bahrainis perpetrators with links to al-Ashtar Brigades were executed for their actions earlier this year. They told Al Arabiya English they strongly welcomed the designation and viewed it as an acknowledgment of Iranian involvement with terror groups in Bahrain. “In the recent past members of Saraya al-Ashtar have been found to have been trained and armed by Iran and some of their most senior members have taken refuge in Iran hence this can be considered a wholly Iranian proxy organization with aims that are hostile to Bahrain's security and sovereignty,” Mohammed Al Sayed, a spokesperson for Citizens for Bahrain said.
United States Travel Ban – U.S. bans laptops, iPads and other electronics from carry-on bags on flights from 10 Middle East and North African airports after 'intelligence' leads to bomb fears. The U.S. government is ordering passengers on nonstop, U.S.-bound flights from a handful of mostly Middle Eastern and North African countries from packing electronic devices in their carry-on baggage. Senior Trump administration officials said that starting 21 Mar 17 airlines flying directly to the United States from 10 airports in eight countries could allow only cell-phones and smart-phones in carry-on bags for U.S.-bound flights. Other electronics, including laptops and tablets, will be indefinitely banned from the passenger cabin, and must be checked in checked baggage if they are brought on the plane at all. The new rule is expected to be officially announced on the 28 Mar 17 by the Department of Homeland Security, the officials said, adding that it had been under consideration since the U.S. government learned of a threat several weeks ago. Officials said the airlines will have four days to implement the security order or face being barred from flying to the United States. The electronics ban affects flights from international airports in Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Cairo; Istanbul; Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. About 50 flights a day, all on foreign carriers, will be impacted. The officials said no U.S.-based airlines have non-stop flights from those cities to the United States, so they will not be impacted. The officials said the decision was prompted by 'evaluated intelligence' about ongoing potential threats to airplanes bound for the United States. The officials would not discuss the timing of the intelligence or if any particular terror group is thought to be planning an attack. CNN, citing an unnamed U.S. official, said the ban on electronics on certain airlines was related to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and that some information came from a recent U.S. Special Forces raid in Yemen. The group has planned several foiled bombing attempts on Western-bound airlines. The new carry on restrictions come a little more than a year after the bombing of Daallo Airlines Flight 159, a flight from Somalia to Djibouti. The bombing took out a piece of the plane a little more than a row, but only resulted in the death of the bomber and two other injuries. It was believed that the bomb was rigged to a timer device on the bomber's laptop. The flight had been delayed by 20 minutes, so it was believed that the timing of the bomb was premature and may have been intended to occur about halfway through the flight. Since it occurred earlier though, the plane was not yet at its cruising altitude which would have been more dangerous. The pilots were able to land the jet safely. The ban would affect laptops, iPads, cameras and most other electronics. Royal Jordanian Airlines tweeted about the ban on the 20 Mar 17 telling passengers that medical devices would be allowed onboard with passengers. Details of the ban were first disclosed by Royal Jordanian and the official news agency of Saudi Arabia. In its statement, Royal Jordanian said the electronics ban would affect its flights to New York, Chicago, Detroit and Montreal. Brian Jenkins, an aviation-security expert at the Rand Corp., said the nature of the security measure suggested that it was driven by intelligence of a possible attack. There could be concern about inadequate passenger screening or even conspiracies involving insiders - airport or airline employees - in some countries, he said. The administration officials who briefed reporters about the ban said foreign officials were told about the impending order starting on the 26 Mar 17. A U.S. government official said such a ban has been considered for several weeks. The ban would begin just before the 27 Mar 17 meeting of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group in Washington. A number of top Arab officials were expected to attend the State Department gathering. It was unclear whether their travel plans were related to any increased worry about security threats. Another aviation-security expert, Jeffrey Price, said there could be downsides to the policy. 'There would be a huge disadvantage to having everyone put their electronics in checked baggage,' said Price, a professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver. He said thefts from baggage would skyrocket, as when Britain tried a similar ban in 2006, and some laptops have batteries that can catch fire - an event easier to detect in the cabin than the hold. Most major airports in the United States have a computer tomography or CT scanner for checked baggage, which creates a detailed picture of a bag's contents. They can warn an operator of potentially dangerous material, and may provide better security than the X-ray machines used to screen passengers and their carry-on bags. All checked baggage must be screened for explosives.
AIRPORTS AND AIRLINES IMPACTED BY THE CARRY ON BAN:
Saudi Arabian Airlines
Royal Air Maroc
Mohammed V. Int'l - Casablanca, Morocco
Ataturk Int'l - Istanbul, Turkey
Queen Alia Int'l - Amman, Jordan
Cairo Int'l - Cairo, Egypt
King Abdulaziz Int'l - Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
King Khalid Int'l - Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Abu Dhabi Int'l - Abu Dhabi, UAE
Dubai Int'l - Dubai, UAE
Kuwait Int'l - Kuwait City, Kuwait
Hamad Int'l - Doha, Qatar
United States/Da’esh/al-Qaeda – The prohibition on carry-on electronics for certain flights to the US and Britain shows both the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda remain able to mount potent threats to civil aviation despite tighter airport security, experts say. On the 22 Mar 17 US authorities ordered a ban on laptop computers, tablets, cameras and other items larger than cell phones in passenger cabins of direct US-bound flights from certain airports in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan. Britain imposed similar restrictions on flights from six countries, while France and Canada said they were considering their own measures. Analysts say an intelligence tip was likely behind the announcement. The New York Times reported that US counterterrorism officials have intelligence that IS operatives are developing a bomb to be hidden in laptop computer batteries. Doing so would bring the group up to the technological level of rival Al-Qaeda's Yemen branch Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), where so-called expert bomb-maker Ibrahim al-Asiri has spent years on a similar effort. Airport security is much better than just a few years ago, Jay Ahern, the former acting director of the US Customs and Border Control, said. "But clearly terror organizations continue to target air travel, and they have shown a clear ability to innovate," Ahern said. Innovative' AQAP bomb maker Recent attacks on aircraft in Somalia and Egypt are evidence of a focus by jihadist groups on developing harder-to-detect bombs -- and getting them on flights. The bomb that blew a hole in the fuselage of a Somalian airline in February 2016, killing one person, is believed to have been built into a laptop computer carried into the passenger cabin. That attack was claimed by the Al-Shabaab group. And Moscow authorities have blamed a cabin-based bomb for destroying an October 2015 Russian charter flight from Sharm el-Sheikh that killed 217 people. The Islamic State claimed it smuggled a bomb on board in a soda can. Security services are particularly focused on Asiri, the explosives mastermind of AQAP. Asiri is believed to be behind the placement of explosive-packed printer cartridges discovered on cargo aircraft headed toward the United States in 2010. He is also tied to the failed underwear bomb AQAP deployed hoping to bring down a US aircraft in 2009. "He was very innovative," said Frank Cilluffo, director of the Centre for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University. "Clearly the question is how many disciples he has taught, and whether AQAP has spread its tentacles into Syria," where the Islamic State is based, Cilluffo said. The US carry-on electronics ban creates a new layer of inconvenience to travellers, but security experts said forcing electronics through checked baggage screening is indeed safer. In advanced airports, cargo going into a plane's hold is screened by computed tomography or CT machines like those used for CAT scans in hospitals, said Nik Karnik, a senior director at Morpho Detection, a leading producer of CT explosive-detection machines for airports. They are much better than the traditional x-ray machines at boarding checkpoints, Karnik explained. Rather than viewing a bag from one angle, CT machines create a 360-degree image. They are "looking at both mass and density, trying to determine if it fits within a range of threats that we are looking for," he said. The CT machines' detection algorithms are also regularly updated based on constant contact with aviation security authorities on new threats, he added. CT machines though have yet to be designed for boarding checkpoints in the airport, making it more secure to put suspect items like computers in checked baggage. "The goal is to bring CT technology to the checkpoint so you don't have to take your laptop out of you bag," said Karnik. Jeffrey Price, an aviation security expert at the Metropolitan State University of Denver in Colorado, said that forcing a possible bomb into the hold also reduces the attacker's chance of success. "It introduces more room for error to add a timing device (if the plane were delayed, the bomb would detonate on the ground), or a barometric trigger switch," he said in an email. "In either case, rough baggage handling may also trigger or render useless the device. (There is) more assurance of the thing detonating if you are holding it and command-detonate it."
NATO/Russia/Afghanistan – Russia is “perhaps” supplying the Taliban as they fight US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, a top US general said on the 23 Mar 17. General Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO’s supreme allied commander who also heads the US military’s European Command, told lawmakers he had seen Russian influence expand in multiple regions, including in Afghanistan. “I have seen the influence of Russia of late – an increased influence – in terms of association and perhaps even supply to the Taliban,” Scaparrotti told the Senate Armed Services Committee, without elaborating. NATO troops have been fighting in Afghanistan since a US-led invasion in late 2001, following the September 11 attacks. About 13,000 NATO service members are in Afghanistan, the bulk of them American, under its Resolute Support training mission. Scaparrotti’s comment goes one step further than remarks last month by General John Nicholson, the US commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. Nicholson testified that Russia is giving the Taliban encouragement and diplomatic cover in order to undermine US influence and to defeat NATO, but he did not address whether Russia is supplying the Islamist insurgents. The United States in the 1980s supplied the Mujahideen, parts of which ultimately became the Taliban, with high-tech weapons as they battled the Soviet Union. After more than 15 years of war, US generals say the Afghanistan conflict is stuck in a “stalemate,” with the Taliban continuing to carry broad regional influence and NATO-backed Afghan security forces struggling to make progress. Taliban fighters captured the strategic southern district of Sangin on the 23 Mar 17 another setback for Afghan forces in opium-rich Helmand province ahead of the spring fighting season.
United States/Lebanon/Hezbollah – US authorities arrested a long-wanted alleged Hezbollah financier 24 Mar 17 on charges of violating US terror-related sanctions, after he was apparently deported to the United States from Morocco. Kassim Tajideen was formally charged in US federal court in Washington nearly eight years after the United States named him a “specially designated global terrorist” for allegedly proving tens of millions of dollars to the Lebanese Shiite movement. He was charged with multiple counts of violating US terrorism sanctions regulations as well as money laundering. According to multiple media reports, Tajideen was arrested on arrival in Casablanca on the 12 Mar 17 on a request by US authorities. He arrived in the United States early on the 24 Mar 17 but the Justice Department would not confirm that he had been handed over to the United States by Morocco. Tajideen, 62, pleaded innocent to the charges, according to a Justice Department statement. A commodities trader across the Middle East and Africa, Tajideen was given the terror finance designation in May 2009, which carries sanctions that largely locked him out of global financial networks. The designation named him an “important financial contributor” to Hezbollah. “Because of his support for Hezbollah, a major international terrorist group, the US government imposed sanctions on Kassim Tajideen in 2009 that barred him from doing business with US individuals and companies,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco said in a statement. But the charges unveiled did not accuse him of any recent provision of financial support to Hezbollah. Instead, he was accused of restructuring his business organization after the 2009 designation in order to evade the sanctions and continue doing business with US companies. That included buying commodities from US exporters and making wire transfers payments for them worth a total of $27 million. The US firms involved in those transactions were unaware they were involved with him, the charges said. Writing about Tajideen on the 23 Mar 17 Hanin Ghaddar and Sarah Feuer of the Washington Institute think tank said Tajideen remained an important backer of Hezbollah. “In addition to the revenues he secured for Hezbollah, his company Tajco has been involved in a number of residential projects located in strategic areas of Lebanon,” they said. Ghaddar and Feuer said that although Morocco would not confirm that Washington had asked for his arrest, “such cooperation would be in keeping with Morocco’s emergence as a key counterterrorism partner in recent years.”
United States/al-Qaeda/Afghanistan – A US counterterrorism airstrike earlier in Mar 17 in Afghanistan killed an al-Qaeda leader responsible for a deadly hotel attack in Islamabad in 2008 and the 2009 attack on a bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team, the Pentagon said on the 25 Mar 17. In confirming the death of Qari Yasin, US officials said Yasin was a senior terrorist figure from Balochistan, Pakistan, had ties to the group Tehrik-e Taliban and had plotted multiple al-Qaeda terror attacks. The airstrike that led to his death was conducted on the 19 Mar 17 in Paktika Province, Afghanistan. Yasin plotted the 20 Sep 08, bombing on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad that killed dozens, officials said. The victims included two American service members, Air Force Maj. Rodolfo I. Rodriguez of El Paso, Texas, and Navy Cryptologic Technician 3rd Class Petty Officer Matthew J. O'Bryant of Theodore, Alabama, U.S. officials said. The bus attack in the Pakistani city of Lahore killed six Pakistani policemen and two civilians and wounded six members of the cricket team. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said in the statement: "The death of Qari Yasin is evidence that terrorists who defame Islam and deliberately target innocent people will not escape justice." The killing of Yasin in eastern Afghanistan lends credence to Pakistani claims that its militant enemies have found sanctuaries there. The neighbouring countries routinely charge each other with harbouring the other's enemies. Relations deteriorated earlier this year after a series of attacks in Pakistan that killed 125 people led Islamabad to close its border with Afghanistan for more than one month. The two countries have exchanged lists of insurgents hiding out on the other's soil and Afghanistan has also given Pakistan the locations of 23 sanctuaries where its Taliban militants are hiding. Kabul is demanding they be closed.
United States/Iran – Iran said on the 26 Mar 17 it will impose sanctions on 15 US companies for supporting Israel's "terrorist actions" as part of reprisals for the increasing pressure being announced by Washington lawmakers. The decision, which is largely symbolic since the firms do not do business with Iran, come two days after the US announced new sanctions against groups and individuals that it accuses of collaborating with Iran's weapons programme. The sanctions target firms that provide arms and equipment to Israel "for use against the Palestinians", IRNA said. "All transactions with these firms are forbidden, their assets will be seized and their officials will not be able to obtain a visa," it added. The list included defence firms such as United Technologies, Military Armament Corporation and Bushmaster Firearms International, as well as Re/Max Real Estate, which Tehran accuses of "buying and selling homes in settlements located in the occupied territories". In another tit-for-tat move, Iran's parliamentary foreign affairs committee said it would propose a new law labelling the US army and CIA as terrorist groups. The announcement was a response to a new bill put forward by US lawmakers that would see Iran's Revolutionary Guards listed as a terrorist organisation. "The American army is present in numerous regional crises such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen and provides vast support to terrorist groups," said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, president of the committee, according to a state television report. Tensions have mounted between Tehran and Washington since US President Donald Trump took office in January. Trump has repeatedly criticised a July 2015 deal between Iran and world powers that saw the Islamic republic curb its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief. Washington last month imposed new sanctions on individuals and companies supporting Iran's ballistic missile programme and on its elite Revolutionary Guards. On Friday, it announced the latest sanctions against entities accused of collaborating with the weapons programmes of Iran and North Korea.
United States/Iran – Iran's central bank said on the 26 Mar 17 it will appeal Luxembourg's decision to freeze $1.6 billion of its assets, which the US is claiming as compensation for victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The bank also said it would take steps to curb its remaining transactions in dollars, which it still receives particularly for oil sales. In response to fresh US sanctions announced since last month, "Iran has sought to limit its dependence on the dollar this policy will continue," the bank said in a statement published by state media. A Luxembourg court last week denied Tehran's request to retrieve the $1.6 billion frozen in the country during an earlier raft of sanctions targeting Iran's nuclear programme. US lawyers are hoping to seize the money to pay off the families and estates of victims from the 2001 attacks, after a New York judge ruled Iran was partially responsible because it allowed Al-Qaeda members to travel through its territory. Iran rejects the accusation and demands the return of the money, which is frozen in the Clearstream clearing house, a financial company based in Luxembourg. A separate case is being heard in Luxembourg to decide whether the money will be released to the US. Billions of dollars in Iranian assets were frozen in the US and Europe as part of efforts to push Tehran into a nuclear deal with world powers, which was finally signed in July 2015. Some Iranian assets remain frozen despite the deal, in part due to ongoing compensation cases -- not just for the 2001 attacks but also the bombing of a US Marines barracks in Lebanon in 1983 that killed 241 Americans. The US Supreme Court ruled last year that $2.1 billion frozen in a Citibank account in New York should be given to the US victims of the 1983 bombing -- a verdict Iran is contesting at the International Court of Justice.
United States/Iraq/Post Da’esh – Iraq is calling for more economic help to ensure areas where ISIS has been defeated can be stabilised it was reported on the 26 Mar 17. The United States and its allies say military victory over the Islamic State (ISIS) is close, but have not come up with a concrete plan to deal with the aftermath. This week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hosted a meeting with the 68 member states of the global coalition against ISIS. After the meeting, he made a statement praising military advances against the jihadists in Iraq and Syria and underlining the need to prepare for the day after the group has been defeated on the battlefield. “Soon, our efforts in Iraq and Syria will enter a new phase defined by transition from major military operations to stabilisation,” Tillerson said at the gathering in Washington, his first major international conference since taking office last month. “We will pursue regional diplomatic solutions for the underlying political and sectarian disputes that helped ISIS to flourish,” he said. But there were no details of how such solutions might be achieved. Three major players — Syria, Russia and Iran — were not represented at the conference in Washington. Tillerson called for “interim zones of stability” to shelter civilians but did not spell out where those protection areas could be set up. Both the Syrian and the Russian governments have said they are against the creation of safe zones on Syrian territory. The conference came as ISIS was on the defensive in the Iraqi city of Mosul and in northern Syria, where American-backed fighters have been training for an attack on Raqqa, the self-proclaimed capital of ISIS’s caliphate. According to the conference statement, jihadists have lost 60% of the Iraqi territory they conquered when their fighters stormed through eastern Syria and western Iraq in 2014. Iraq, a crucial US partner in the fight against ISIS, is calling for more economic help to ensure areas where ISIS has been defeated can be stabilised. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who met US President Donald Trump before the ISIS conference, said the new US administration was ready to step up support for Baghdad’s fight against the militants, but warned that long-term economic and financial assistance to rebuild shattered Iraqi cities was key to a stable future. “I think they’re prepared to do more to fight terrorism and be more engaged,” Abadi said after meeting Trump in the White House. The meeting was the first the Iraqi leader had with the new US president, who promised to swiftly defeat ISIS during the election campaign last year. Abadi made it clear that he did not think there was a quick fix to the problem. “Committing troops is one thing,” the prime minister said in a speech after his meeting with Trump at the United States Institute of Peace, a non-partisan Washington think-tank created by the US Congress. “Fighting terrorism is another thing. You don’t defeat terrorism by fighting it militarily. There are better ways,” Abadi said. He said he would like “more funds” to bring services and stable conditions to people in areas from which ISIS had been driven out. This strategy was crucial to winning over Sunni Iraqis after ISIS was gone, Abadi said. Sarhang Hamasaeed, director of Middle East programmes at the Institute of Peace, said Abadi was hoping for US assistance in training Iraqi troops and for US military help in logistical and intelligence support. “Abadi thinks American troops on the ground are not necessary,” Hamasaeed said. Economic help was also on Abadi’s mind in Washington. Given that Iraq’s economy is almost entirely dependent on oil exports and is suffering in an era of low oil prices, the prime minister is hoping that the US and its Western allies will step up their financial efforts. Some participants in the Washington conference voiced disappointment about the absence of a strategy that they had hoped would be presented by the Trump administration. “I was hoping for more specifics,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said, according to news reports. CNN quoted a senior Arab diplomat as saying that “right now it’s about short-term tactical moves”. The diplomat added that a comprehensive strategy would have to also take into account Iran, which is seen as a major threat by Sunni Arab countries. One of the difficulties in arriving at a major strategy is that conditions in the region do not allow for a one-size-fits-all solution. “There’s the need, there’s what the US and its allies are able and willing to do, and then there’s reality,” Hamasaeed said. In Iraq, the United States and its allies can build on an internationally recognised government and the UN-administered Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilisation to channel money into projects such as restoring basic services to people in areas where ISIS has been defeated. But in Syria, the ongoing fighting, the widespread international rejection of the government in Damascus and a lack of consensus among allies mean that talk of stabilisation is premature at best. In northern Syria, Turkey is competing for control with Syrian Kurds, another important US partner. Those difficulties are becoming more pronounced as the anti- ISIS alliance is preparing an attack on Raqqa. “If you push ISIS out of Raqqa, then what happens?” Hamasaeed asked. “This is a big problem.” Thomas Seibert is an Arab Weekly contributor in Istanbul. This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly
United States/Syria – The United States has said that it is no longer focused on ousting President Bashar al-Assad as it seeks a new strategy to end Syria's civil war. American officials have been shifting away from their former insistence that he must go for some time, but now they have made it explicit. In New York on the 30 Mar 17 the US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley condemned Assad's history of human rights abuses against his own people. But she said Washington would focus on working with powers like Turkey and Russia to seek a political settlement, rather than focusing on Assad. "You pick and choose your battles," Haley told reporters. "And when we're looking at this, it's about changing up priorities and our priority is no longer to sit and focus on getting Assad out." Shortly after Haley briefed a small group of journalists, US officials tried to clarify her comments. A US mission said that while the US does not believe that Assad is a legitimate leader of Syria, his future is not the country's only concern. The official said the US is also very interested in trying to create the conditions so that the Syrian people themselves can pick their new government, one without Assad. Other objectives of the US in Syria are to get rid of the threat from ISIL and to curb Iranian influence, the official said. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also addressed the future of Assad at a news conference in Turkey. "I think the... longer term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people," Tillerson said, standing alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. The comment reflected language long used by Assad's ally Russia, whose assistance Washington is courting. The Syrian opposition, whose cooperation will be needed in any negotiated solution, reacted furiously to the US shift in stance. "The opposition will never accept any role for Bashar al-Assad at any phase," said Monzer Makhos, a spokesman for the High Negotiations Committee, which represents the opposition in negotiations over Syria's war. "There will be no change in our position," he warned. Under Barack Obama's administration, the US made Assad's departure a key goal, but new president Donald Trump has put the accent on defeating the Islamic State of Iraq of the Levant group. "Our priority is to really look at how do we get things done? Who do we need to work with to really make a difference for the people in Syria," Haley said. "We can't necessarily focus on Assad the way the previous administration maybe did. Do we think he's a hindrance? Yes," she said. "Are we going to sit there and focus on getting him out? No." Previously, the United States has stuck by a UN-backed peace plan that would see Assad "transition" from office while an interim government is formed. Tillerson is due in Moscow next month for talks with Russian leaders, and Trump has long argued the powers should work together against ISIL. US-backed forces are closing in on the group's Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, laying the groundwork for an assault on the city.