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General McMaster provides technical corroboration for Russian version of Syrian gas attack

President Trump’s National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster contradicting British experts admits bombing chemical warfare storage facility can release sarin gas as Russia claims happened during Syrian air strike on Khan Sheikhoun.

Alexander Mercouris

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Shortly after the alleged chemical weapons attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Syria the Russian Defence Ministry claimed that the release of chemical agents following the air strike happened because the Syrian air force struck a warehouse where the Jihadis were producing and storing stockpiles of chemical weapons.

This explanation was widely ridiculed, especially in Britain.  A good summary is provided in this article on Counterpunch, with the comment by Bellingcat referred to in the article available here.  I shall quote the relevant section from the first article in Counterpunch since it provides a good summary

British chemical weapons expert, Col. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon poked holes in Russia’s official account, calling it “fanciful,” noting that blowing up sarin, the alleged gas used in the attack, actually eliminates it. Dan Kaszeta over at Bellingcat, concurred:

“Even assuming that large quantities of both Sarin precursors were located in the same part of the same warehouse (a practice that seems odd), an air-strike is not going to cause the production of large quantities of Sarin. Dropping a bomb on the binary components does not actually provide the correct mechanism for making the nerve agent. It is an infantile argument. One of the precursors is isopropyl alcohol. It would go up in a ball of flame. A very large one. Which has not been in evidence.”

I am not an expert on the production or storage of chemical weapons.  However I recall that in one of her speeches to Goldman Sachs leaked by Wikileaks Hillary Clinton (who as a former US Secretary of State would presumably know) said the following, which does not seem to sit very comfortably with the claims of the British experts cited above

In Libya we didn’t have that problem. It’s a huge place.  The air defenses were not that sophisticated and there wasn’t very—in fact, there were very few civilian casualties.  That wouldn’t be the case [in Syria].  And then you add on to it a lot of the air defenses are not only in civilian population centers but near some of their chemical stockpiles.  You do not want a missile hitting a chemical stockpile.

(bold italics added)

However I was even more interested to read this largely overlooked comment of General H.R. McMaster, President Trump’s National Security Adviser, spoken during his joint press conference with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the immediate aftermath of the Sharyat air base missile strike

Q    And on the target, anything else on specifically what you believe was destroyed in the strike?

GENERAL McMASTER:  I’ll defer to the Pentagon on that.  But there were a number of targets that were associated with the ability of that airfield to operate and to continue mass-murder attacks against the Syrian civilians.  And the one thing that I will tell you, though, there was an effort to minimize risk to third-country nationals at that airport — I think you read Russians from that — and we took great pains to try to avoid that.  Of course, in any kind of military operation, there are no guarantees.  And then there were also measures put in place to avoid hitting what we believe is a storage of sarin gas there so that that would not be ignited and cause a hazard to civilians or anyone else.

(bold italics added)

Maybe I am missing something but it seems to me that General McMaster here is saying that when carrying out the missile strike on Sharyat air base the US took precautions to avoid precisely the sort of scenario which the Russians say actually happened following the Syrian air strike on Khan Sheikhoun, but which Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon says is “fanciful”.

I appreciate that the Bellingcat comment quoted above refers to the manufacturing process for sarin gas, and I have no reason to doubt that “dropping a bomb on the binary components does not actually provide the correct mechanism for making the nerve agent”.  However the Russian report quite clearly refers to the manufacturing and storage of chemical weapons at the bombed warehouse, and it is of course precisely the “hazard to civilians” caused by “hitting what we believe is a storage of sarin gas” that General McMaster said the US sought to avoid.

The Bellingcat article makes further claims about the Jihadis’ supposed lack of capacity to produce sarin gas and the supposed inability of both the Jihadis and of the Syrian military to produce sarin gas with a long shelf life.  However UN investigators have previously said that Jihadi groups have used sarin gas during the Syrian war, and the technical premises of the Bellingcat claims in relation to Jihadi production of sarin gas have also been comprehensively challenged by this detailed discussion in the Who Attacked Ghouta site, which not only suggests how the Jihadis might produce sarin gas but which shows how they might do so at a reasonable cost.

If it was only Hillary Clinton who was saying that an attack on a chemical storage facility might pose a “hazard to civilians” then at a pinch I would be prepared to accept that as a civilian she might be wrong.

However I refuse to accept that this is so of General McMaster.  As a military officer with the resources of the US National Security Council behind him he surely knows what he is talking about.

Frankly, in light of what General McMaster said about the Sharyat air base attack, the Russian version of the Khan Sheikhoun attack does not seem to me “fanciful” at all.

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Peace on Korean Peninsula within reach, if only Trump can remove Pompeo & Bolton (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 152.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou discuss the results of the Putin-Kim summit in Vladivostok, Russia, aimed at boosting bilateral ties between the two neighboring countries, as well as working to contribute to a final peace settlement on the Korean peninsula.

Putin’s meeting with Kim may prove to be a pivotal diplomatic moment, as North Korea continues to work towards normalizing ties with the U.S. amidst ongoing denuclearization talks with the Trump White House.

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Via the BBC…

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un needs international security guarantees if he is to end his nuclear programme.

Such guarantees would need to be offered within a multinational framework, he added, following talks near Vladivostok in Russia’s far east.

Mr Kim praised the summit as a “very meaningful one-on-one exchange”.

Mr Putin said North Korea’s leader was “fairly open” and had “talked freely on all issues that were on the agenda”.

The meeting followed the breakdown of talks between the US and North Korea in February, when Mr Kim met US President Donald Trump in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi.

Those talks reportedly stalled over North Korea’s demand for full economic sanctions relief in return for some denuclearisation commitments – a deal the US was not willing to make.

Speaking after the talks on Thursday, Mr Putin said he wanted to see full denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

But he said this could only be achieved through respect for international law.

“We need to restore the power of international law, to return to a state where international law, not the law of the strongest, determines the situation in the world,” he said.

Mr Kim greeted Russian officials warmly when he arrived in Russia on Wednesday.

The North Korean leader was entertained by a brass band in Vladivostok before he got inside a car flanked by bodyguards, who – in now familiar scenes – jogged alongside the vehicle as it departed.

What do we know about the summit?

According to the Russian presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin believes the six-party talks on North Korea, which are currently stalled, are the only efficient way of addressing the issue of nuclear weapons on the peninsula.

Those talks, which began in 2003, involve the two Koreas as well as China, Japan, Russia and the US.

“There are no other efficient international mechanisms at the moment,” Mr Peskov told reporters on Wednesday.

“But, on the other hand, efforts are being made by other countries. Here all efforts merit support as long as they really aim at de-nuclearisation and resolving the problem of the two Koreas.”

What do both sides want?

This visit is being widely viewed as an opportunity for North Korea to show it has powerful allies following the breakdown of the talks with the US in February.

The country has blamed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the collapse of the Hanoi summit. Earlier this month North Korea demanded that Mr Pompeo be removed from nuclear talks, accusing him of “talking nonsense” and asking for someone “more careful” to replace him.

The summit is also an opportunity for Pyongyang to show that its economic future does not depend solely on the US. Mr Kim may try to put pressure on Moscow to ease sanctions.

Analysts say the summit is an opportunity for Russia to show that it is an important player on the Korean peninsula.

President Putin has been eager to meet the North Korean leader for quite some time. Yet amid the two Trump-Kim summits, the Kremlin has been somewhat sidelined.

Russia, like the US and China, is uncomfortable with North Korea being a nuclear state.

How close are Russia and North Korea?

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union (of which Russia is the main successor state) maintained close military and trade links with its communist ally, North Korea, for ideological and strategic reasons.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, trade links with post-communist Russia shrank and North Korea leaned towards China as its main ally.

Under President Putin, Russia recovered economically and in 2014 he wrote off most of North Korea’s Soviet-era debt in a major goodwill gesture.

While it is arguable how much leverage Russia has with the North today, the communist state still regards it as one of the least hostile foreign powers.

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Putin meets Kim for the first time (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 151.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a look at the historic meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the city of Vladivostok in the Russian Far East.

The meeting marks the first ever summit between the two leaders.

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Via RT…

Leaders of Russia and North Korea sat down for a historic summit in Vladivostok, expressing hope it will revive the peace process in the Korean Peninsula and talks on normalizing relations with the US.

The summit on Russky Island, just off Vladivostok, started a little late because President Vladimir Putin’s flight was delayed. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had made the trip by train, arriving on Wednesday.

In brief public remarks before the talks, the two leaders expressed hope the summit will help move forward the reconciliation process in the Korean Peninsula. Putin welcomed Kim’s contributions to “normalizing relations” with the US and opening a dialogue with South Korea.

Kim said he hoped the Vladivostok summit would be a “milestone” in the talks about denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, but also build upon “traditionally friendly ties” between Russia and North Korea.

The North Korean leader also made a point of thanking Putin for flying all the way to Vladivostok for the meeting. The Far East Russian city is only 129 kilometers from the border with North Korea.

The historic summit takes place less than two months after Kim’s second summit with US President Donald Trump in Hanoi fell apart without a breakthrough on denuclearization. The US rejected North Korea’s request for partial sanctions relief in return for moves to dismantle nuclear and missile programs; Washington insists on full disarmament before any sanctions are removed.

Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the main subject of the Kim-Putin summit, but there will also be talks about bilateral relations, trade, and humanitarian aid. The first one-on-one meeting is scheduled to last about an hour, followed by further consultations involving other government officials.

Following the summit, Putin is scheduled to visit China.

 

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Kim And Putin: Changing The State Of The Board In Korea

The future of Korea could be decided by these two men today.

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Authored by Tom Luongo:


Today is a big day for Korea. The first face-to-face summit of Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un takes place.

At the same time the 2nd annual Belt and Road Forum kicks off in Beijing.

This meeting between Putin and Kim has been in the works for a while but rumors of it only surfaced last week. But don’t let the idea that this was put together at the last minute fool you.

It wasn’t.

The future of Korea could be decided by these two men today.

I know that sounds bold. But hear me out.

And while no one seems to think this meeting is important or that anything of substance will come from it I do. It is exactly the kind of surprise that Putin loves to spring on the world without notice and by doing so change the board state of geopolitics.

  • Russia’s entrance into Syria in 2015, two days after Putin’s historic speech at the U.N. General Assembly
  • 2018’s State of the Union address where he announced hypersonic missiles, embarrassing the U.S. Militiary-Industrial Complex which accelerated the Bolton Doctrine of subjugating the world
  • Flying 2 TU-160 nuclear-armed bombers to Venezuela, creating panic in D.C. leading to the ham-fisted regime change operations there.
  • Nationalization of Yukos.
  • The operation to secure Crimea from U.S. invasion by marines aboard the U.S.S Donald Cook during the Ukrainian uprising against Viktor Yanukovich.

Both Putin and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping are angry at the breakdown of the talks in Hanoi back in February. It was clear that everyone expected that meeting to be a rubber stamp on a deal already agreed to by all parties involved.

In fact the two meetings between Kim and Trump were only possible because Trump convinced them of his sincerity to resolve the ‘denuclearization’ of North Korea which would clear a path to rapid reunification.

It’s why they went along with the U.S.’s increased sanctions on North Korea as administered through the U.N. in 2017.

That John Bolton and Mike Pompeo destroyed those talks and Trump was unwilling or unable (who cares at this point, frankly, useless piece of crap that he is) to stop them embarrassed and betrayed them.

They are now done with Trump.

He’ll get nothing from either of them or Kim until Trump can prove he’s in charge of his administration, which he, clearly, is not.

And they will be moving forward with their own agenda for security and Asian economic integration. So I don’t think the timing of this meeting with that of the Belt and Road Forum is an accident.

And that means moving forward on solving the Korea problem without Trump.

It is clear from the rhetoric of Putin’s top diplomat, the irreplaceable Sergei Lavrov, that Russia’s patience is over. They are no longer interested in what Trump wants and they will now treat the U.S. as a threat, having upped their military stance towards the U.S. to that of “Threat.”

If Bolton wants anything from Russia at this point he best be prepared to start a war or piss off.

This is also why Russia took the gloves off with Ukraine in the run up to the Presidential elections, cutting off energy and machinery exports with Ukraine.

To put paid Putin’s growing impatience with U.S. policies, he just issued the order to allow residents of Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics to apply for Russian passports.

This will send Bolton into apoplexy. Angela Merkel of Germany will be none too pleased either. Putin is now playing hardball after years of unfailing politeness.

It’s also why Lavrov finalized arms and port deals all over the Middle East in recent weeks, including those with Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and India.

Bolton, Pompeo and Pence are ideologues. Trump is a typical Baby Boomer, who lives in a bubble of his own design and believes in an America that never existed.

None of them truly understand the fires they are stoking and simply believe in the Manifest Destiny of the U.S. to rule the world over a dim and barbaric world.

Putin, Xi, Rouhani in Iran and Kim in North Korea are pragmatic men. They understand the realities they live in. This is why I see Putin willing tomorrow to sit down with Kim and flaunt the U.N. sanctions and begin the investment process into North Korea that should have begun last year.

Putin would not be making these moves if he didn’t feel that Bolton was all bark and no bite when it came to actual war with Russia. He also knows that Germany needs him more than he needs Germany so despite the feet-dragging and rhetoric Nordstream 2 will go forward.

Trade is expanding between them despite the continued sanctions.

Putin may be willing to cut a deal with President-elect Zelensky on gas transit later in the year but only if the shelling of the LPR and DPR stops and he guarantees no more incidents in the Sea of Azov. This would also mollify Merkel a bit and make it easier for her politically to get Nordstream 2 over the finish line.

There are moments in history when people go too far. Bolton and Pompeo went too far in Hanoi. He will pay the price now. Putin and Kim will likely agree to something in Vladivostok that no one is expecting and won’t look like much at first.

But the reality is this summit itself marks a turning point in this story that will end with the U.S. being, in Trump’s transactional parlance, a “price taker” since it has so thoroughly failed at being a “price maker.”

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