G7 foreign ministers seek new push to end Syria war

From left: France Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, sit at the table during the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the G7 countries in Lucca, Italy, on Monday. (Riccardo Dalle Luche/ANSA via AP)
Updated 11 April 2017
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G7 foreign ministers seek new push to end Syria war

LUCCA, Italy: Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations are expected to call Tuesday for a new international push to end the war in Syria, but are divided on whether to threaten new sanctions or other tough measures to pressure Russia over its support of President Bashar Assad.
The G-7 blames Assad’s military for a deadly chemical attack last week.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said the G-7 is considering new sanctions on Russian military figures to press Moscow to end military support for the “toxic” Assad government. US officials in Washington have also raised that prospect.
Others want a more conciliatory approach to Moscow. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Russia, and Assad ally Iran, must be involved in any peace process to end Syria’s six-year civil war.
Gabriel said the United States had “sent a clear signal to the Assad regime” by launching cruise missiles at a Syrian air base, but said other nations should “reach out to Russia” rather than seek a military escalation.
“Not everyone may like it, but without Moscow and without Tehran there will be no solution for Syria,” he said.
Japanese foreign ministry spokesman Masato Ohtaka said that “in terms of dialogue and other political engagement I think a lot of countries think that Russia can play a key role.”
The G-7 wants to deliver a united message to Russia through US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who heads to Moscow after Tuesday’s meeting in Lucca, Italy.
The other G-7 members — Germany, France, Britain, Canada, Japan and current president Italy — are also trying to grasp what the US administration’s foreign policy is, amid conflicting signals from Washington.
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said she and US President Donald Trump spoke by phone Monday and agreed there is a “window of opportunity” to persuade Russia that its support for Assad is “no longer in its strategic interest.”
Tillerson’s trip comes after an American official said the US has drawn a preliminary conclusion that Russia knew in advance of the chemical attack — an allegation that heightens already acute tensions between Washington and Moscow.
Until Trump ordered US missile strikes on a Syrian air base in response to the nerve gas attack that killed more than 80, the president had focused on defeating the Daesh group and had shown no appetite for challenging Assad — and, by extension, his Russian supporter President Vladimir Putin.
Even since the missile strikes, signals have been mixed.
After the April 4 chemical attack, Trump said his attitude toward Assad “has changed very much” and Tillerson said “steps are underway” to organize a coalition to remove him from power. But Tillerson also said that the top US priority in the region remains the defeat of Daesh militants.
On Monday Tillerson raised fresh expectations for aggressive US action — and not only in Syria — as he visited the site of a World War II Nazi massacre in central Italy, saying the US would hold to account “all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world.”
Though such comments hint at a more activist US foreign policy focused on preventing humanitarian atrocities, Trump has consistently suggested he prefers the opposite approach. His new administration has generally downplayed human rights concerns while promoting an “America First” strategy de-emphasizing the concerns of foreign nations.
Uncertainty about objectives persisted as Tillerson met Tuesday on the sidelines of the Lucca meeting with diplomats from “like-minded” countries on Syria, including Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as G-7 members.
The US hopes the regional countries can help ensure security and stability in Syria after the Daesh group is defeated.
The G-7 meeting is taking place amid an ongoing terror threat that was underscored by the Palm Sunday bombing of Coptic churches in Egypt claimed by the Daesh group, and another truck attack on European soil, this time in Stockholm, on Friday.
It also comes as the United States is sending a Navy carrier strike group toward the Korean Peninsula in a show of strength following North Korea’s persistent ballistic missile tests.
Ohtaka, the Japanese foreign ministry spokesman, said Japan hoped the G-7 diplomats would take a firm stand against Pyongyang’s “totally unacceptable” missile tests.
“The situation does not seems to be getting better at all and I think the international community, including Japan and the US, would need to show its determination to resolve the situation and to make a strong commitment to actually get the international community on board on this one as well,” he said.
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Colleen Barry in Milan and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.


North Korea’s Kim inspects new submarine, signals possible ballistic missile development

Updated 22 min 16 sec ago
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North Korea’s Kim inspects new submarine, signals possible ballistic missile development

  • The new data and combat weapon systems of submarine was built under Kim’s “special attention”
  • Experts said the size of the new submarine suggests it would eventually carry missiles

SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspected a large newly built submarine, state news agency KCNA reported on Tuesday, potentially signaling continued development of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) program.
Kim inspected the operational and tactical data and combat weapon systems of the submarine that was built under “his special attention,” and will be operational in the waters off the east coast, KCNA said.
KCNA said the submarine’s operational deployment was near.
“The operational capacity of a submarine is an important component in national defense of our country bounded on its east and west by sea,” Kim said.
KCNA did not describe the submarine’s weapon systems or say where and when the inspection took place.
North Korea has a large submarine fleet but only one known experimental submarine capable of carrying a ballistic missile.
Analysts said that based on the apparent size of the new submarine it appears designed to eventually carry missiles.
“We can clearly see that it is a massive submarine — much larger than the existing one that’s been well known since 2014,” said Ankit Panda, senior fellow at the US-based Federation of American Scientists.
“What I find significant about the political messaging here is that this is the first time since a February 2018 military parade that he has inspected a military system clearly designed to carry and deliver nuclear weapons.”
“I take that as an ominous signal that we should be taking Kim Jong Un’s end-of-year deadline for the implementation of a change in US policy with the utmost seriousness.”
A South Korean defense ministry spokesman said they were monitoring developments but could not confirm if the submarine was designed to carry missiles.
Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said Kim likely also wanted to reassure North Koreans of his commitment to national defense at a time when he is focusing more on the economy.
“Announcing his inspection of the new submarine is also to build internal solidarity, to dispel people’s concerns about national security, reassure them, and boost military morale,” he said.
Submarine development
Kim has declared a moratorium on testing ICBM’s and nuclear weapons while engaging in denuclearization talks with the United States and South Korea.
The North’s submarine report comes amid another delay in dialogue between the United States and North Korea after Kim and US President Donald Trump agreed at a meeting at the Panmunjom Korean border on June 30 to working-level nuclear talks.
Trump said such talks could come in the following two to three weeks. His national security adviser, John Bolton, arrives in South Korea on Tuesday to meet security officials.
A summit between Trump and Kim, in Vietnam in February, broke down after they failed to narrow differences between a US demand for North Korea’s denuclearization and a North Korean demand for sanctions relief.
In April, Kim said he would wait until the end of the year for the United States to be more flexible.
North Korea maintains one of the world’s largest submarine fleets, but many vessels are aging and there are doubts over how many are operational, according to the Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).
Most of North Korea’s fleet consists of small coastal submarines, but in recent years it has made rapid progress in the SLBM program, NTI said in a report released late last year.
In 2016, after a few years of development, North Korea successfully test-fired a ballistic missile from a submarine, while pursuing an intercontinental ballistic missile program (ICBM).
During the submarine inspection Kim was accompanied by Kim Jong Sik, an official who played a major role in North Korea’s missile program.
Another official on the tour was Jang Chang Ha, president of the Academy of the National Defense Science, which the US Treasury has said is in charge of the secretive country’s research and development of its advanced weapons systems, “including missiles and probably nuclear weapons.”
H.I. Sutton, a naval analyst who studies submarines, said judging by the initial photos the hull could be based on old Romeo Class submarines, which were originally acquired from China in the 1970s before North Korea began producing them domestically.
North Korea is believed to have about 20 Romeo submarines in its fleet, the newest of which was built in the mid 1990s, according to NTI.
Sutton told Reuters that the North Koreans appeared to have raised the deck on a Romeo-type design, possibly even modifying an existing Romeo to make a submarine larger than previous indigenous designs.
“I’d bet that this is indeed a missile submarine,” he said.
US-based monitoring group 38 North said in June 2018 that North Korea appeared to be continuing submarine construction at its Sinpo Shipyard of possibly another Sinpo-class ballistic missile submarine, based on commercial satellite imagery.
“This, to my eye, is the submarine that the US intelligence community has been calling the Sinpo-C, a successor to North Korea’s only known ballistic missile submarine,” Panda said.