Bolton to discuss Iran, Syria in talks with Russian counterpart

Russian support has strengthened the Syrian regime’s fight against Daesh. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 August 2018
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Bolton to discuss Iran, Syria in talks with Russian counterpart

  • Bolton is a critic of the New START treaty, agreed during Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration
  • Syria peace talks should broadly be led by the UN and other established groupings

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton will discuss arms control treaties and Iran’s role in Syria in talks with Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev in Geneva next week, an administration official said.
The meeting is a follow-up to Trump’s controversial summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki in July.
Trump held a one-on-one meeting with Putin during that summit and drew criticism for siding with Moscow over US intelligence findings that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election. He later corrected his assessment about Russia’s role.
The White House has not released many details about Trump’s meeting with Putin. But the official offered a list of items he said the two men discussed.
The leading topic of their conversation was the war in Syria, he said, including Iran’s role there and the humanitarian situation in the country.
The two agreed in principle that the Iranians should exit Syria but Russia saw that as a tough task, the official said.
Trump and Putin discussed arms control, including the New START treaty and the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, which banned nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 km.
The official said the leaders did not agree on a way forward on arms control, however.
Bolton is a critic of the New START treaty, agreed during Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration.
Trump also raised the issue of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline to Germany, which he has criticized sharply, with Putin, the official said.
Directly after his meeting with Putin, which lasted more than two hours, Trump briefed Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador to Russia, about their meeting for about 15 minutes, the official said.
Many topics they discussed were raised again in the larger group meeting that followed, the official said.
Syria is expected to be on the agenda when German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Germany on Saturday.
Merkel on Friday confirmed an announcement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of plans for a summit with the leaders of Russia and France, but she said no date had been set yet.
Although Syria peace talks should broadly be led by the UN and other established groupings, Merkel said such a four-way summit “could make sense.”
“It must be well prepared, that’s why no date has been set yet,” she told a Berlin joint press conference with Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic.
“But we will arrange for advisers to hold a preparatory meeting and then decide whether it makes sense to hold such a meeting together.”
She said she had also discussed this by telephone with Erdogan, pointing to the “very, very tense situation” in Syria’s opposition-held northwestern province of Idlib, now the focus of Assad’s troops after sweeping military gains — helped by direct Russian support — across Syria.


Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

Alister Shepherd, the director of a subsidiary of FireEye, during a presentation about the APT33 in Dubai Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 20 September 2018
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Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

  • The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.
  • Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

DUBAI: An Iranian government-aligned group of hackers launched a major campaign targeting Mideast energy firms and others ahead of US sanctions on Iran, a cybersecurity firm said Tuesday, warning further attacks remain possible as America reimposes others on Tehran.

While the firm FireEye says the so-called “spear-phishing” email campaign only involves hackers stealing information from infected computers, it involves a similar type of malware previously used to inject a program that destroyed tens of thousands of terminals in Saudi Arabia.

The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.

“Whenever we see Iranian threat groups active in this region, particularly in line with geopolitical events, we have to be concerned they might either be engaged in or pre-positioning for a disruptive attack,” Alister Shepherd, a director for a FireEye subsidiary, told The Associated Press.

Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

“Iran’s cyber capabilities are purely defensive, and these claims made by private firms are a form of false advertising designed to attract clients,” the mission said in a statement. “They should not be taken at face value.”

FireEye, which often works with governments and large corporations, refers to the group of Iranian hackers as APT33, an acronym for “advanced persistent threat.” APT33 used phishing email attacks with fake job opportunities to gain access to the companies affected, faking domain names to make the messages look legitimate. Analysts described the emails as “spear-phishing” as they appear targeted in nature.

FireEye first discussed the group last year around the same time. This year, the company briefed journalists after offering presentations to potential government clients in Dubai at a luxury hotel and yacht club on the man-made, sea-horse-shaped Daria Island.

While acknowledging their sales pitch, FireEye warned of the danger such Iranian government-aligned hacking groups pose. Iran is believed to be behind the spread of Shamoon in 2012, which hit Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Qatari natural gas producer RasGas. The virus deleted hard drives and then displayed a picture of a burning American flag on computer screens. Saudi Aramco ultimately shut down its network and destroyed over 30,000 computers.

A second version of Shamoon raced through Saudi government computers in late 2016, this time making the destroyed computers display a photograph of the body of 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who drowned fleeing his country’s civil war.

But Iran first found itself as a victim of a cyberattack. Iran developed its cyber capabilities in 2011 after the Stuxnet computer virus destroyed thousands of centrifuges involved in Iran’s contested nuclear program. Stuxnet is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation.

APT33’s emails haven’t been destructive. However, from July 2 through July 29, FireEye saw “a by-factors-of-10 increase” in the number of emails the group sent targeting their clients, Shepherd said.