US vows to keep Syria’s chemical weapons program in UN spotlight over Russian and Chinese opposition

US vows to keep Syria’s chemical weapons program in UN spotlight over Russian and Chinese opposition
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, United States ambassador to the United Nations speaks during the UN Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters. (AP/File)
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Updated 09 August 2023
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US vows to keep Syria’s chemical weapons program in UN spotlight over Russian and Chinese opposition

US vows to keep Syria’s chemical weapons program in UN spotlight over Russian and Chinese opposition
  • For the first time, Russia and China refused to speak at the monthly meeting on the Syria chemical weapons issue, saying they are repetitive and should be cut back

UNITED NATIONS: The United States and its allies vowed Tuesday to keep Syria’s failure to account for its chemical weapons program in the spotlight at the UN Security Council every month despite opposition from Russia and China.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the council Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government “has repeatedly lied to the international community” and to investigators from the international chemical weapons watchdog, which has confirmed that it used these banned weapons on at least nine occasions.
She said the Biden administration will continue to demand a full accounting from Syria as it pledged after joining the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2013, when it was pressed by its close ally Russia following a deadly chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, which the West blamed on Damascus.
For the first time, Russia and China refused to speak at the monthly meeting on the Syria chemical weapons issue, saying they are repetitive and should be cut back.
Syria’s minister counsellor Alhakan Dandy did speak, saying his country was surprised at this month’s meeting “given that there have been no developments that would require it,” other than what he called continuous attempts by the United States “to exploit the chemical weapons file to serve their agenda of hostility against Syria.”
He repeated Syria’s condemnation of the use of chemical weapons and called claims it used such weapons in Ghouta, where more than 1,400 people were killed, “lies.” He also insisted the Syrian military doesn’t possess any chemical weapons.
Dandy said Syria has cooperated with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which monitors implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention. But he also accused its investigators of being politicized and “using unprofessional working methods and double standards.”
UN deputy disarmament chief Adedeji Ebo told the council, however, that Syria has failed again to provide the OPCW with a full accounting of its program, citing “gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies” in its declaration.
He singled out unanswered questions about activities at Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center “and the declaration of quantities of nerve agents produced at one chemical weapons production facility that was declared by the Syrian Arab Republic as never having been used to produce chemical weapons.”
Ebo reiterated the UN’s repeated call on Syria “to respond with urgency” to all OPCW questions.
Syrian representatives did meet a delegation from the OPCW’s technical secretariat in Beirut on June 22 and 23, and Ebo said Syria committed to present proposals for better implementing its obligations. He said the OPCW is waiting to hear from Damascus about resuming consultations.
Thomas-Greenfield expressed regret that two permanent council members, which she didn’t name, didn’t speak. Russia and China were the only countries to remain silent.
“The Assad regime is betting that this council will simply move on,” she said. “It is hoping we will change the subject.”
“We must not succumb to fatigue or, worse, indifference. The Assad regime used weapons of mass destruction against its own people. … And we will not move on, and the regime will not escape accountability,” the US ambassador said.
There was widespread support from other council members that Syria must answer all questions from the OPCW, although the United Arab Emirates, the Arab representative on the council, said the council should discuss the Syria chemical weapons issue every three months, not every month.


Chinese lunar probe returns to Earth with world’s first samples from far side of moon

Chinese lunar probe returns to Earth with world’s first samples from far side of moon
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Chinese lunar probe returns to Earth with world’s first samples from far side of moon

Chinese lunar probe returns to Earth with world’s first samples from far side of moon
  • Chinese scientists anticipate returned samples will include 2.5-million-year-old volcanic rock, other material
  • Moon program is part of growing rivalry with US, still leader in space exploration, and others including Japan, India

BEIJING: China’s Chang’e 6 probe returned on Earth on Tuesday with rock and soil samples from the little-explored far side of the moon in a global first.

The probe landed in northern China on Tuesday afternoon in the Inner Mongolian region.

“I now declare that the Chang’e 6 Lunar Exploration Mission achieved complete success,” Zhang Kejian, Director of the China National Space Administration said shortly in a televised news conference after the landing.

Chinese scientists anticipate the returned samples will include 2.5 million-year-old volcanic rock and other material that scientists hope will answer questions about geographic differences on the moon’s two sides.

The near side is what is seen from Earth, and the far side faces outer space. The far side is also known to have mountains and impact craters, contrasting with the relatively flat expanses visible on the near side.

While past US and Soviet missions have collected samples from the moon’s near side, the Chinese mission was the first that has collected samples from the far side.

The moon program is part of a growing rivalry with the US — still the leader in space exploration — and others, including Japan and India. China has put its own space station in orbit and regularly sends crews there.

China’s leader Xi Jinping sent a message of congratulations to the Chang’e team, saying that it was a “landmark achievement in our country’s efforts at becoming a space and technological power.”

The probe left earth on May 3, and its journey lasted 53 days. The probe has drilled into the core and scooped rocks from the surface.

The samples “are expected to answer one of the most fundamental scientific questions in lunar science research: what geologic activity is responsible for the differences between the two sides?” said Zongyu Yue, a geologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in a statement issued in the Innovation Monday, a journal published in partnership with the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

China in recent years has launched multiple successful missions to the moon, collecting samples from the moon’s near side with the Chang’e 5 probe previously.

They are also hoping that the probe will return with material that bear traces of meteorite strikes from the moon’s past. With the successful reentry of the probe, scientists will begin studying the samples.


WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stops in Bangkok on his way to a US court and later freedom

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stops in Bangkok on his way to a US court and later freedom
Updated 25 June 2024
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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stops in Bangkok on his way to a US court and later freedom

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stops in Bangkok on his way to a US court and later freedom

BANGKOK: A plane believed to be carrying Julian Assange landed Tuesday in Bangkok, as the WikiLeak founder was on his way to enter a plea deal with the US government that will free him and resolve the legal case that spanned years and continents over the publication of a trove of classified documents.
Chartered flight VJT199 landed after noon at Don Mueang International Airport, north of the Thai capital. It was unclear if the plane was only refueling or how Assange will continue traveling to Saipan, the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands, a US commonwealth in the Western Pacific, where he will appear in court Wednesday morning local time.
He’s expected to plead guilty to an Espionage Act charge of conspiring to unlawfully obtain and disseminate classified national defense information, according to the US Justice Department in a letter filed in court.
Assange is expected to return to his home country of Australia after his plea and sentencing. The hearing is taking place in Saipan because of Assange’s opposition to traveling to the continental US and the court’s proximity to Australia, prosecutors said.
The guilty plea, which must be approved by a judge, brings an abrupt conclusion to a criminal case of international intrigue and to the US government’s years-long pursuit of a publisher whose hugely popular secret-sharing website made him a cause célèbre among many press freedom advocates who said he acted as a journalist to expose US military wrongdoing. Investigators, by contrast, have repeatedly asserted that his actions broke laws meant to protect sensitive information and put the country’s national security at risk.
Attorneys for Assange haven’t responded to requests for comment.
In a statement posted on X, WikiLeaks said Assange boarded a plane and departed Monday after leaving the British prison where he has spent the last five years. WikiLeaks applauded the announcement of the deal, saying it was grateful for “all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom.”
“WikiLeaks published groundbreaking stories of government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions. As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles, and for the people’s right to know,” WikiLeaks said.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who has been lobbying for the United States to end its prosecution of Assange, told Parliament that an Australian envoy had flown with Assange from London.
“Regardless of the views that people have about Mr. Assange’s activities, the case has dragged on for too long. There’s nothing to be gained by his continued incarceration and we want him brought home to Australia,” Albanese added.
The deal ensures Assange will admit guilt while also sparing him from additional prison time. He had spent years hiding in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London after Swedish authorities sought his arrest on rape allegations before being locked up in the United Kingdom.
Assange is expected to be sentenced to the five years he has already spent in the British prison while fighting extradition to the US to face charges, a process that has played out in a series of hearings in London. Last month, he won the right to appeal an extradition order after his lawyers argued that the US government provided “blatantly inadequate” assurances that he would have the same free speech protections as an American citizen if extradited from Britain.
Assange has been heralded by many around the world as a hero who brought to light military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the files published by WikiLeaks was a video of a 2007 Apache helicopter attack by American forces in Baghdad that killed 11 people, including two Reuters journalists.
But his reputation was also tarnished by rape allegations, which he has denied.
The Justice Department’s indictment unsealed in 2019 accused Assange of encouraging and helping US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published in 2010. Prosecutors had accused Assange of damaging national security by publishing documents that harmed the US and its allies and aided its adversaries.
Prosecutors said in a charging document filed in connection with the plea agreement that Assange conspired with Manning to receive and obtain documents, notes and other writings related to the national defense and to “willfully communicate” those records. The document takes care to note that Assange was “not a United States citizen, did not possess a US security clearance, and did not have authorization to possess, access, or control documents, writings, or notes relating to the national defense of the United States, including classified information.”
The case was lambasted by press advocates and Assange supporters. Federal prosecutors defended it as targeting conduct that went way beyond that of a journalist gathering information, amounting to an attempt to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified government documents.
The plea agreement comes months after President Joe Biden said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the US push to prosecute Assange. The White House was not involved in the decision to resolve Assange’s case, according to a White House official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Assange made headlines in 2016 after his website published Democratic emails that prosecutors say were stolen by Russian intelligence operatives. He was never charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, but the inquiry laid bare in stark detail the role that the hacking operation played in interfering in that year’s election on behalf of then-Republican candidate Donald Trump.
During the Obama administration, Justice Department officials mulled charges for Assange but were unsure a case would hold up in court and were concerned it could be hard to justify prosecuting him for acts similar to those of a conventional journalist.
The posture changed in the Trump administration, however, with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017 calling Assange’s arrest a priority.
Assange’s family and supporters have said his physical and mental health have suffered during more than a decade of legal battles.
Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 and was granted political asylum after courts in England ruled he should be extradited to Sweden as part of a rape investigation in the Scandinavian country. He was arrested by British police after Ecuador’s government withdrew his asylum status in 2019 and then jailed for skipping bail when he first took shelter inside the embassy.
Although Sweden eventually dropped its sex crimes investigation because so much time had elapsed, Assange had remained in London’s high-security Belmarsh Prison during the extradition battle with the US


Ukraine drone attacks on Russia’s Belgorod region kill one, injure four, governor says

Ukraine drone attacks on Russia’s Belgorod region kill one, injure four, governor says
Updated 25 June 2024
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Ukraine drone attacks on Russia’s Belgorod region kill one, injure four, governor says

Ukraine drone attacks on Russia’s Belgorod region kill one, injure four, governor says
  • At least six of the drones were destroyed over the Yakovlevsky district in the Belgorod region
  • An elderly woman died in a village near the Belgorod city

An elderly woman was killed, four people injured and scores of buildings damaged in multiple air attacks by Ukraine on the Belgorod region, the governor of the southern Russian region that borders Ukraine said on Tuesday.
The Russian defense ministry said that its air defense systems destroyed a total of 29 Ukraine-launched drones over the region’s territory.
An elderly woman died in a village near the Belgorod city, which is the administrative center of the Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of the region said on the Telegram messaging app.
At least six of the drones were destroyed over the Yakovlevsky district in the Belgorod region, Glakdov said. Two people were injured there with shrapnel wounds, he added.
Another person was injured after a drone was downed over the city of Belgorod, and another woman was injured in one of the region’s villages, Gladkov said.
He said that scores of buildings and cars across the region were damaged.
Reuters could not independently verify the reports. There was no immediate comment from Ukraine. Both sides deny targeting civilians in the war, which Russia started with a full-scale invasion on its smaller neighbor in 2022.
Ukraine says that its attacks on Russia’s military, transport and energy infrastructure undermine Moscow’s overall war efforts and are in response to Russia’s relentless attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure.


‘Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain — WikiLeaks

‘Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain — WikiLeaks
Updated 25 June 2024
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‘Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain — WikiLeaks

‘Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain — WikiLeaks
  • Assange, accused of divulging US military secrets, was due in London court next month after winning appeal against extradition
  • Was initially detained for skipping bail and held in custody while the US extradition request wound its way through court

LONDON: Julian Assange’s wife Stella on Tuesday thanked campaigners for their support as the WikiLeaks founder was released after five years in British custody.
“Julian is free!!!!” she wrote on the social media platform X following confirmation that he had left Belmarsh high-security prison in southeast London.
“Words cannot express our immense gratitude” to everyone who had backed the global push for his release, she added.
Stella Assange met the Australian publisher while he was holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges that were later dropped.

A filing from the U.S. Department of Justice to the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands describes a plea deal regarding Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, in this image obtained by Reuters on June 24, 2024. (REUTERS)

Assange, accused of divulging US military secrets related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, had been due back in court in London next month after winning an appeal against extradition.
But WikiLeaks said in a statement: “Julian Assange is free. He left Belmarsh maximum security prison on the morning of June 24, after having spent 1,901 days there.
“He was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stansted airport during the afternoon, where he boarded a plane and departed the UK.”
The media freedom group said sustained campaigning, from grassroots supporters to political leaders and the United Nations, “created the space for a long period of negotiations with the US Department of Justice,” leading to a deal.
The organization said the deal “has not yet been formally finalized.”
Assange was initially detained for skipping bail in relation to the Swedish case and held in custody while the US extradition request wound its way through court.
He will now be reunited with his wife, whom he married at a ceremony in the prison, and their two young children, it added.
“WikiLeaks published ground-breaking stories of government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions,” the statement read.
“As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles, and for the people’s right to know.
“As he returns to Australia, we thank all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom. Julian’s freedom is our freedom.”


‘Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain: WikiLeaks

‘Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain: WikiLeaks
Updated 25 June 2024
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‘Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain: WikiLeaks

‘Julian Assange is free’, has left Britain: WikiLeaks
  • The plea agreement comes months after President Joe Biden said he was considering a request from Australia to drop the US push to prosecute Assange

LONDON: Julian Assange’s wife Stella on Tuesday thanked campaigners for their support as the WikiLeaks founder was released after five years in British custody.
“Julian is free!!!!” she wrote on the social media platform X following confirmation that he had left Belmarsh high-security prison in southeast London.
“Words cannot express our immense gratitude” to everyone who had backed the global push for his release, she added.
Stella Assange met the Australian publisher while he was holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges that were later dropped.

A filing from the U.S. Department of Justice to the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands describes a plea deal regarding Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, in this image obtained by Reuters on June 24, 2024. (REUTERS)

Assange, accused of divulging US military secrets related to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, had been due back in court in London next month after winning an appeal against extradition.
But WikiLeaks said in a statement: “Julian Assange is free. He left Belmarsh maximum security prison on the morning of June 24, after having spent 1,901 days there.
“He was granted bail by the High Court in London and was released at Stansted airport during the afternoon, where he boarded a plane and departed the UK.”
The media freedom group said sustained campaigning, from grassroots supporters to political leaders and the United Nations, “created the space for a long period of negotiations with the US Department of Justice,” leading to a deal.
The organization said the deal “has not yet been formally finalized.”
Assange was initially detained for skipping bail in relation to the Swedish case and held in custody while the US extradition request wound its way through court.
He will now be reunited with his wife, whom he married at a ceremony in the prison, and their two young children, it added.
“WikiLeaks published ground-breaking stories of government corruption and human rights abuses, holding the powerful accountable for their actions,” the statement read.
“As editor-in-chief, Julian paid severely for these principles, and for the people’s right to know.
“As he returns to Australia, we thank all who stood by us, fought for us, and remained utterly committed in the fight for his freedom. Julian’s freedom is our freedom.”