US: Iranian proxies in region, Assad must be contained

Herbert Raymond McMaster, National security advisor to the US President, delivers his speech on day two of the 54th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany, on Saturday. (AFP)
Updated 18 February 2018
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US: Iranian proxies in region, Assad must be contained

MUNICH: US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said on Saturday that, despite denials, public reports showed that Syrian President Bashar Assad was using chemical weapons, and added that it was time for the international community to hold the Syrian regime to account.
“Public accounts and photos clearly show that Assad’s chemical weapons use is continuing,” McMaster said at a major international security conference taking place in Munich.
“It is time for all nations to hold the Syrian regime and its sponsors accountable for their actions and support the efforts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” he said.
McMaster did not specify which public accounts or pictures he was referring to.
Earlier this month, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the Syrian regime had repeatedly used chlorine gas, but stressed that the US did not have evidence of sarin gas use.
French President Emmanuel Macron has said that “France will strike” if chemical weapons are used against civilians in the Syrian conflict in violation of international treaties, but that he had not yet seen proof this is the case.
The Syrian regime has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons and said it targets only armed rebels and militants.
Diplomatic efforts have made scant progress toward ending the war in Syria now approaching its eighth year, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced half the pre-war Syrian population of 23 million from their homes.
In recent weeks, rescue workers, aid groups and the US have accused Syria of repeatedly using chlorine gas as a weapon against civilians in Ghouta and Idlib.
Earlier this month, Syrian regime forces, who are backed by Russia and Iran, bombarded the areas, two of the last major opposition-held parts of Syria.
McMaster told the conference that Iran is building and arming an increasingly powerful network of proxies in countries like Syria, Yemen and Iraq that can turn against the governments of those states.
“What’s particularly concerning is that this network of proxies is becoming more and more capable, as Iran seeds more and more ... destructive weapons into these networks,” McMaster said.
“So the time is now, we think, to act against Iran,” he said. 
McMaster also called on the international community to do more on North Korea.
“We must pressure the Kim regime, using all available tools, to ensure that this cruel dictatorship cannot threaten the world with the most destructive weapons on earth,” he said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The US has appeared to endorse closer post-Olympics engagement between North and South Korea with an eye to eventual US-North Korean talks, but has agreed with Seoul that sanctions must be intensified to push Pyongyang to negotiate an end to its nuclear weapons program.
The prospect of negotiations comes after months of tension over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, in which US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader traded insults and threats, while the UN tightened sanctions.
“Nations that evade full enforcement and fail to take these steps are acting irresponsibly, now is the time to do more,” McMaster said, calling on countries to cut off military and commercial ties with Pyongyang. 


UK's PM Theresa May wins vote of confidence in her leadership

Updated 13 December 2018
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UK's PM Theresa May wins vote of confidence in her leadership

LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday survived a bid by her own MPs to unseat her, securing the support of 200 Conservative colleagues while 117 voted against her.

The British leader overcame the party no-confidence vote after it was triggered by hardline Brexit supporters who despise the deal she struck with the EU last month.

It leaves May weakened but immune from a further internal challenge for a year.

May said after the result that she would get on with her "renewed mission" of taking Britain out of the European Union.

"Following this ballot, we now have to get on with the job of delivering Brexit for the British people and building a better future for this country," May told reporters outside her Downing Street residence.

May said she would seek legal and political assurances from EU leaders on Thursday on the backstop arrangement over the border between EU member state Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland

Meanwhile, opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Wednesday that Britain's parliament needs to regain control of the Brexit process.

"Tonight's vote makes no difference to the lives of our people," Corbyn said in a statement. "She must now bring her dismal deal back to the House of Commons next week so Parliament can take back control."