Obama, Rowhani ‘swapped letters’

Updated 28 December 2013
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Obama, Rowhani ‘swapped letters’

WASHINGTON: Barack Obama says he and Iran’s new President Hassan Rowhani have exchanged letters, and warned his reluctance to strike Syria had no bearing on US threats of force to thwart an Iranian nuclear bomb.
The US president, in an interview aired on ABC News Sunday, confirmed the outreach to Rowhani for the first time, and said he believed the Syria chemical arms drama showed that diplomacy could work if backed by threats of military action.
Obama was asked on the ABC News “This Week” program whether he had reached out to Rowhani, a moderate conservative elected in June. “I have. And he’s reached out to me. We haven’t spoken — directly,” Obama said.
Asked by interviewer George Stephanopoulos whether the contact was via letters, Obama replied : “Yes.”
The president was careful to draw a distinction between US behavior over Syria after freezing military action to negotiate a deal with Russia to secure the regime’s chemical arms, and Washington’s approach to Iran as a nuclear showdown reaches a critical point.
“I think what the Iranians understand is that — the nuclear issue — is a far larger issue for us than the chemical weapons issue,” Obama said.
“The threat against ... Israel, that a nuclear Iran poses, is much closer to our core interests.
“A nuclear arms race in the region — is something that would be profoundly destabilizing.
“My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn’t draw a lesson — that we haven’t struck (Syria) — to think we won’t strike Iran.”
Obama said that on the other hand, the lesson from the showdown over Syria’s chemical weapons, should show that “there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically.”
The US has repeatedly warned Iran that it has the option of military action, if diplomacy and crippling sanctions do not convince Tehran to stop short of building nuclear weapons. Iran denies that its nuclear program has a military use.


Daesh fighters pinned on Syrian riverbank, warplanes fly above

Updated 51 min 36 sec ago
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Daesh fighters pinned on Syrian riverbank, warplanes fly above

  • Defeat there would signal the end of the ultra-hard-line Islamist movement’s control in eastern Syria
  • The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces on Tuesday said they had driven the remaining Daesh fighters in the town of Baghouz

DEIR EZZOR, Syria: Warplanes flew near Baghouz in eastern Syria early on Wednesday, a Reuters witness said, as the final remnants of the Daesh group held a narrow strip of land along the Euphrates in a last-ditch defense of its dwindling territory.
Defeat there would signal the end of the ultra-hard-line Islamist movement’s control in eastern Syria, having held more than a third of Syria and Iraq at one point in 2014 as it sought to carve out a huge caliphate in the region.
On Tuesday, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they had driven the remaining Daesh fighters in the town of Baghouz from a makeshift encampment that had represented most of its remaining territory.
But while the capture of Baghouz, close to the Iraqi border, would mark a significant milestone in Syria’s eight-year war and in the battle against the militant group, Daesh remains a threat.
Some of the group’s fighters are still holed up in the central Syrian desert and others have gone underground in Iraqi cities to wage an insurgent campaign to destabilize the government.
Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the SDF, said late on Tuesday that clashes with the militants at the Euphrates were continuing “in several pockets.”