This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.
United States/Qatar/Terrorism – In an unusual move by officials in US Congress and figures working in the US administration, a conference in the capital called on Qatar to find a resolution of its positions between its allies on one hand and Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other it was reported on the 23 Oct 17. One of the more prominent speakers was former US Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta, who also served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency under Barack Obama, saying Qatar had funded terrorist organizations. “Qatar has a mixed record. We know that they provided financial support to the Muslim Brotherhood, terrorism, Hamas, al-Qaeda and the Taliban,” Panetta said. “The problem is that they cannot receive one thing and it’s opposite," Panetta added. Panetta was pointing out that Qatar had close ties to the United States and was hosting a huge US military base on its soil while also funding terrorist-branded terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda. Republican Rep. Robert Bettinger, a member of the counterterrorism subcommittee, revealed that he had met with the Emir of Qatar three times and met with the Qatari ambassador in Washington many times. “Frankly, the emir told me that we helped al-Qaeda in Syria because we hate Assad,” Bettinger said. The Hudson Institute was attended by a large number of members of the US Congress, especially members of the Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committee. Many, especially the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said that Qatar must fulfil its obligations and consider that non-compliance should be met with accountability. Congressional representatives and former officials pointed out that the dangers in the Middle East stem from two sources: The first is Iran and its affiliated organizations such as Hezbollah, and the second is the organization of the Brotherhood and its affiliated organizations such as Hamas, al-Qaeda, ISIS and others. Members of the US House of Representatives pointed to the dangers of the relationship between Qatar and these organizations on the one hand and with Iran on the one hand. Many, and in particular General David Petraeus, called for bridging the rift in the Gulf relations and called on the GCC to “overcome the matter and return to one another.” “We cannot coexist with the fragmentation of the GCC,” Petraeus added.
United States/Iran – Draft legislation responding to US President Donald Trump's refusal to certify the Iran nuclear deal would set tough new terms for the pact, including restoring sanctions if Iran tests a ballistic missile able to carry a warhead or bars nuclear inspectors from any sites it was reported on the 25 Oct 17. Critics of the legislation drafted by Republican Senators Bob Corker and Tom Cotton, with support from the Trump administration, said it could put the United States in violation of the international agreement if it were enacted. The draft was in the works on the 13 Oct 17 when Trump announced he would not formally certify that Tehran was complying with the international nuclear pact, and called on Congress to write legislation to toughen it. Since then, Corker has met with Senate Democratic colleagues, at least some of whom would have to back the legislation for it to pass. They have insisted that Washington work with European allies who co-signed the deal before making any changes. Britain, France, Germany and the European Union, which also signed the nuclear accord - as did Russia and China - warned that Trump's plan could cause a split with Washington and risked US credibility abroad. Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said last week that the Trump administration must work closely with European allies as it develops its new Iran policy. The draft legislation, a proposed amendment to the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act passed in 2015, broadens a required administration assessment on whether Iran is complying with the pact to add factors related to issues from trade to whether Iran is using commercial aircraft licensed by the United States for non-civil aviation purposes. As previously reported, it would instantly reimpose, or "snap back" sanctions lifted under the agreement if Iran were deemed capable of developing a nuclear weapon within a year. The Iran issue has been complicated by Trump's recent attacks on Corker, in which he blamed him for the nuclear deal forged under former Democratic President Barack Obama. The pact, which world leaders have urged Trump not to derail, was opposed by every Republican in Congress including Corker. Corker has lashed back at Trump by saying he has failed to grow into the job as president and blaming him for breaking down important international relationships. A spokeswoman for Corker did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how the dispute with the president might affect the Iran legislation.
United Nations/Syria/Chemical Weapons – United Nations investigators on the 26 Oct 17 blamed a sarin gas massacre on Bashar al-Assad's regime, as the United States renewed its warning that he has no role in Syria's future. The expert panel's report and tough remarks by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson overshadowed the announcement that UN-sponsored peace talks will resume next month. More than 80 people died on the 4 Apr 17 when sarin gas projectiles were fired into Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the Idlib province of north-western Syria. Images of dead and dying victims, including young children, in the aftermath of the attack provoked global outrage and a US cruise missile strike on a regime air base. The UN placed the death toll at 83 while the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was 87. Syria and its ally Russia had suggested that a rebel weapon may have detonated on the ground but the UN panel confirmed Western intelligence reports that blamed the regime. "The panel is confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Sheikhun on 4 April 2017," the report says. The report will increase pressure on Assad's regime just as Washington, in the wake of battlefield victories against the Islamic State group, renews calls for him to step down. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's comments to reporters came during a visit to Geneva in which he met UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, who is trying to convene a new round of peace talks next month. The secretary said US policy has not changed, but his remarks represented tougher language from an administration that had previously said Assad's fate is not a priority. "We do not believe there is a future for the Assad regime, the Assad family," Tillerson said. "I think I've said it on a number of occasions. The reign of the Assad family is coming to an end, and the only issue is how should that be brought about." Russia, which is running a parallel peace process with Iran and Turkey in a series of talks in the Kazakh capital Astana, reacted coolly to Tillerson's remarks. "I think we should not pre-empt any future for anybody," said Moscow's UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who on the 24 Oct 17 had vetoed a US attempt to extend the gas attack probe. "Even the first cursory read shows that many inconsistencies, logical discrepancies, using doubtful witness accounts and unverified evidence... all of this is still (in the report)," Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Interfax news agency. Ryabkov said other nations were seeking to use the report to "resolve their own strategic geopolitical issues in Syria". Russia would analyse the findings and publish a response soon, he added. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the UN panel's report had reached a "clear conclusion" and urged the "international community to unite to hold Assad's regime accountable." "I call on Russia to stop covering up for its abhorrent ally and keep its own commitment to ensure that chemical weapons are never used again," he said. De Mistura hopes to convene an eighth round of Syrian peace talks between Assad's regime and an opposition coalition in Geneva from the 28 Nov 17. These will be focused on drafting a new constitution and holding UN-supervised elections in a country devastated by several overlapping bloody civil conflicts. Assad's regime has been saved by Russian and Iranian military intervention and he insists that he will not stand down in the face of what he regards as "terrorist" rebels. But Western capitals, the opposition and many of Syria's Arab neighbours hold Assad's forces responsible for the bulk of the 330,000 people who have died in the conflict. In addition to chemical weapons attacks against his own people, his government is accused of overseeing the large-scale torture and murder of civilian detainees. The previous US administration often said that Assad's days were numbered, but then President Barack Obama decided not to use force to punish his chemical weapons attacks. His successor, President Donald Trump, did order one missile strike on a Syrian air base in response to a chemical attack. But US policy has otherwise focused solely on the defeat of the Islamic State jihadist group, driving it out of its last bastions in eastern Syria's Euphrates valley. Tillerson said, however, that he hopes a way to oust Assad will "emerge" as part of de Mistura's UN-mediated talks. He argued that the UN Security Council resolution setting up the peace process already contains a procedure to hold elections that Washington does not think Assad can win. "The only thing that changed is when this administration came into office, we took a view that it is not a prerequisite that Assad go before that process starts, rather the mechanism by which Assad departs will likely emerge from that process," he said. Earlier, de Mistura had told the UN Security Council that with the defeat of the Islamic State, the Syrian peace process had reached a "moment of truth." "We need to get the parties into real negotiations," the envoy said. Seven rounds of talks have achieved only incremental progress toward a political deal, with negotiations deadlocked over Assad's fate. The opposition insists any settlement must provide for a transition away from Assad's rule but, as government forces make gains, there is little likelihood of a breakthrough. 361 COMMENT: No matter what the outcome of the chemical report, the allies of Assad will always deny such an incident took place, nor will it ever except the report’s findings because it states the truth and blames the Assad regime. No matter what is said or reported the fact remains (by a world renowned organisation which Russia is a major player in) that the United Nations have stated Syria ‘was’ responsible for the 4 Apr 17 chemical attack. Now that, that fact has been established the next question which ‘needs’ to be answered is, “where did the chemical weapons come from?” If, and this is a big if, Syria did hand in all its chemical weapons and dismantle the means to create and store such weapons, where did the Sarin come from? He either did not dismantle the equipment or he did so but started again in a different location, or he was supplied with them. However, no doubt Russia will not agree or see the truth from a world organisation that it is part of. Especially as it shows how farcical it and its allies are to the world in this particular incident no doubt Syria will also deny the report. A lot of the statements that come from Russia resemble a great deal of comments from the USSR. COMMENT ENDS
United Nations/Syria/Chemical Weapons – Syria has denounced as a "falsification of the truth" a United Nations report blaming the Damascus government for a chemical attack in Idlib province back in April. "Syria categorically denies the content of the joint report between the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons," state news agency SANA quoted an official in Syria's Foreign Ministry as saying on the 27 Oct 17. The report was released earlier by the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which gathers experts from both the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). "This report and the one that preceded it are falsifications of the truth and distort the exact information on what happened at Khan Shaykhun," the official added. Over 80 people died in the April 4 sarin gas attack on Khan Shaykhun in Idlib. Some Western governments and the militants operating in the area blamed the Syrian government for the incident. Syria and Russia, however, rejected the claims, suggesting that a weapon used by militants might have detonated on the ground. The ministry also decried the "method of investigation" in the UN report, saying it was based on "the words of the criminals who committed this immoral act in Khan Shaykhun and on dubious witnesses." The statement said the UN report had been compiled under "instructions from the US administration and Western countries to exert more political pressure" on Syria. Damascus turned over for destruction its entire chemical stockpile under a deal negotiated by Russia and the United States in 2013. The OPCW oversaw the operations to remove the chemical arsenal from Syria.
United States/Benghazi US Consulate Attack 2012 – A militant accused of playing a central role in the attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 is being transported to the US to face charges. President Donald Trump says the capture in Libya of Mustafa al-Imam signifies that the four Americans who died in Benghazi "will never be forgotten." Officials say US special operations forces captured al-Imam just before midnight local time on the 29 Oct 17 in Misrata, on Libya's north coast. He was taken to a US Navy ship at the Misrata port for transport by military plane to Washington, where he's expected to arrive this week. The Justice Department says al-Imam will face trial in US District Court for the District of Columbia as the FBI continues to investigate. Ambassador Chris Stevens was among those killed in the attack.
United States/Lone Wolf Attack – The man suspected to be behind the New York terror attack on the 31 Oct 17 had left a note in which he pledged allegiance to ISIS. The Uzbek national who ploughed through a New York bicycle path, killing eight people, was associated with ISIS group but “radicalized domestically,” the state's governor Andrew Cuomo said on the 1 Nov 17. The suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, was shot by police at the end of the rampage in lower Manhattan on the 31 Oct 17 but was expected to recover from his wounds. The 29-year-old Uzbek named Sayfullo Saipov has been suspected of killing eight pedestrians and bikers leaving 15 others injured when he rammed a truck towards them in Manhattan. According to the New York Post, detectives are considering that Saipov is an ISIS member after they found a picture of the organization’s flag in his truck alongside a handwritten note pledging allegiance in Arabic to the terrorist group. Saipov was arrested after a policeman saw him leaving the truck with a paintball gun in hand. The terrorist was shot in the stomach eventually leading to his arrest. New details reveal that Saipov was originally a resident in Tampa, Florida, however he recently resided in Paterson, New Jersey.
New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner James O'Neill said:
· Shortly after 15:00 (19:00 GMT), a pick-up truck rented from retailer Home Depot struck cyclists and pedestrians while being driven along the West St-Houston St path for many blocks
· It then hit a school bus, injuring two adults and two children on board, and came to a halt
· The driver emerged holding what appeared to be two handguns and made a statement "consistent with a terror attack"
· He was shot in the abdomen by a police officer stationed near the scene - the suspect later underwent surgery for bullet wounds
· The police officer, named in the US media as Ryan Nash, 28, "stopped the carnage moments after it began"
· A paintball gun and a pellet gun were recovered from the scene