Russian FM slams Black Sea Grain Initiative ‘lies’

Russian FM slams Black Sea Grain Initiative ‘lies’
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addresses the 78th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York City, US, September 23, 2023. (Reuters)
Short Url
Updated 23 September 2023
Follow

Russian FM slams Black Sea Grain Initiative ‘lies’

Russian FM slams Black Sea Grain Initiative ‘lies’
  • ‘We were lied to on the basics of the deal,’ Sergey Lavrov tells press briefing attended by Arab News
  • ‘The US is doing everything possible to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state’

NEW YORK: Russia’s foreign minister lambasted the “lies” of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, and refuted suggestions that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, during a heated press conference at the UN on Saturday.

Addressing a briefing attended by Arab News, Sergey Lavrov stressed confidence in Iran’s claim that it has no intention to obtain “the bomb,” referencing the 2003 religious edict issued by its Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei forbidding production or use of nuclear weapons.

“If Iran came into possession of nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia said it would also have to consider this,” Lavrov said at the 78th session of the UN General Assembly.  

“This is something I view as a statement of fact: Nobody wants to see the emergence of new nuclear states; but since we believe that Iran won’t have the bomb, Iran’s neighbors won’t be tempted to take that path.”

Lavrov was speaking amid international calls for a resumption of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, with Gulf states reportedly looking to support mediation efforts.

Agreed last year, the deal allowed 33 million tons of grain to be exported from Ukrainian ports, helping to stabilize global food prices and avert shortages.

But Moscow withdrew in July after months of protest that the export of Russian fertilizer was not being honored.

“The Ukrainian part of the package was implemented rather effectively and swiftly, while the Russian part wasn’t implemented at all,” said Lavrov.

“At the same time, our naval officers were opening up for the safe passage of grain ships, but the corridors were used to launch UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and carry out strikes on Russian ships.

“But the main reason why we left the agreement is everything promised to us turned out to be a lie.”

Earlier in the week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres referenced questions that had arisen over Russia’s apparent interest, or lack thereof, in resurrecting the deal.

When this was put to Lavrov, he denied this was the case, reiterating that Moscow’s withdrawal was linked to the “lies” surrounding rights for Russian fertilizer exports, as he pointed to the continuing work between Russian representatives and UN officials to resolve the blockade.

“We were lied to on the basics of the deal, and the secretary-general himself was forced to mislead on that,” Lavrov said.

“Let us once again recall what President (Vladimir) Putin said, which is that as soon as everything that’s enshrined in the Russian part of the package is implemented, on that very day the Ukrainian part of that initiative will become operational.”

Saying “someone in London or Washington doesn’t want the war to end,” Lavrov poured scorn on the continued investment from Western states into Ukraine’s defense apparatus.

Segueing into saying “we all know the US is doing everything possible to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, but somehow this doesn’t seem to cause great concern,” he concluded by appealing to African states to consider Russia as a partner.


New US aid for Ukraine by year-end seems increasingly of out reach as GOP ties it to border security

Updated 6 sec ago
Follow

New US aid for Ukraine by year-end seems increasingly of out reach as GOP ties it to border security

New US aid for Ukraine by year-end seems increasingly of out reach as GOP ties it to border security
WASHINGTON: A deal to provide further US assistance to Ukraine by year-end appears to be increasingly out of reach for President Joe Biden.
The impasse is deepening in Congress despite dire warnings from the White House about the consequences of inaction as Republicans insist on pairing the aid with changes to America’s immigration and border policies.
After the Democratic president said this past week he was willing to “make significant compromises on the border,” Republicans quickly revived demands that they had earlier set aside, hardening their positions and attempting to shift the negotiations to the right, according to a person familiar with the talks who was not authorized to publicly discuss them and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The latest proposal, from the lead GOP negotiator, Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, came during a meeting with a core group of senators before they left Washington on Thursday afternoon. It could force the White House to consider ideas that many Democrats will seriously oppose, throwing new obstacles in the difficult negotiations.
Biden is facing the prospect of a cornerstone of his foreign policy — repelling Russian President Vladimir Putin from overtaking Ukraine — crumbling as US support for funding the war wanes, especially among Republicans. The White House says a failure to approve more aid by year’s end could have catastrophic consequences for Ukraine and its ability to fight.
To preserve US backing, the Biden administration has quietly engaged in Senate talks on border policy in recent weeks, providing assistance to the small group of senators trying to reach a deal and communicating what policy changes it would find acceptable.
The president is trying to satisfy GOP demands to reduce the historic number of migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border while alleviating Democrats’ fears that legal immigration will be choked off with drastic measures.
As talks sputtered to a restart this past week, Democrats warned Republicans that time for a deal was running short. Congress is scheduled to depart Washington in mid-December for a holiday break.
“Republicans need to show they are serious about reaching a compromise, not just throwing on the floor basically Donald Trump’s border policies,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Thursday before Republicans made their counteroffer.
But the new Republican proposal dug in on policy changes that had led Democrats to step back from the negotiations, according to the person familiar with the talks. The GOP offer calls for ending the humanitarian parole program that’s now in place for existing classes of migrants — Ukrainians, Afghans, Cubans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans and Haitians. That idea had been all but dashed before.
Additionally, those groups of migrants would not be allowed to be paroled again if the terms of their stay expire before their cases are adjudicated in immigration proceedings.
GOP senators proposed monitoring systems such as ankle bracelets for people, including children, who are detained at the border and are awaiting parole. Republicans want to ban people from applying for asylum if they have transited through a different country where they could have sought asylum instead. GOP lawmakers also want to revive executive powers that would allow a president to shut down entries for wide-ranging reasons.
Further, after migrant encounters at the border recently hit historic numbers, the GOP proposal would set new guidelines requiring the border to be essentially shut down if illegal crossings reach a certain limit.
Lankford declined to discuss specifics after the Thursday meeting, but said he was trying to “negotiate in good faith.” He said the historic number of migrants at the border could not be ignored. The sheer number of people arriving at the border has swamped the asylum system, he said, making it impossible for authorities to adequately screen the people they allow in.
“Do you want large numbers of undocumented individuals and unscreened individuals without work permits, without access to the rest of the economy?” Lankford said.
The lead Democratic negotiator, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, did not quickly respond to the GOP proposal.
Senators had made some progress in the talks before Thursday, finding general agreement on raising the initial standard for migrants to enter the asylum system — part of what’s called the credible fear system. The administration has communicated that it is amenable to that change and that it could agree to expand expedited removal to deport immigrants before they have a hearing with an immigration judge, according to two people briefed on the private negotiations who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Immigration advocates and progressives in Congress have been alarmed by the direction of the talks, especially because they have not featured changes aimed at expanding legal immigration.
Robyn Barnard, director of refugee advocacy with Human Rights First, called the current state of negotiations an “absolute crisis moment.” She warned that broadening the fast-track deportation authority could lead to a mass rounding up of immigrants around the country and compared it to the situation during the Trump administration. “Communities across the country would be living in fear,” she said.
But Republican senators, sensing that Biden, who is campaigning for a second term, wants to address the historic number of people coming to the border, have taken an aggressive stance and tried to draw the president directly into negotiations.
“The White House is going to have to engage particularly if Senate Democrats are unwilling to do what we are suggesting be done,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., at a news conference Thursday.
The White House has so far declined to take a leading role in negotiations. “Democrats have said that they want to compromise. Have that conversation,” said White House press secretary Karine-Jean Pierre.
After every GOP senator this past week voted not to move ahead with legislation that would provide tens of billions of dollars in military and economic assistance for Ukraine, many in the chamber were left in a dour mood. Even those who held out hope for a deal acknowledged it would be difficult to push a package through the Senate at this late stage.
Even if senators reach a deal, the obstacles to passage in the House are considerable. Speaker Mike Johnson, R-Louisiana, has signaled he will fight for sweeping changes to immigration policy that go beyond what is being discussed in the Senate. Also, broad support from House Democrats is far from guaranteed, as progressives and Hispanic lawmakers have raised alarm at curtailing access to asylum.
“Trading Ukrainian lives for the lives of asylum seekers is morally bankrupt and irresponsible,” Rep. Delia Ramirez, D-Illinois, posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, as part of a coordinated campaign by Hispanic Democrats.
The unwieldy nature of the issue left even Lankford, who was one of the few senators optimistic that a deal could be reached this year, acknowledging the difficulty of finding an agreement in the coming days.
“There’s just a whole lot of politics that have been bound up in this,” he said as he departed the Capitol for the week. “Thirty years it hasn’t been resolved because it’s incredibly complicated.”

Pro-Israel groups influencing US law enforcement: Leak

Pro-Israel groups influencing US law enforcement: Leak
Updated 57 min 40 sec ago
Follow

Pro-Israel groups influencing US law enforcement: Leak

Pro-Israel groups influencing US law enforcement: Leak
  • Ex-FBI agent: ‘Having a foreign country’s security services aligned with the beat cop on American streets is concerning’
  • Leak raises questions about treatment of pro-Palestinian activists, fails to show training or consultation from Muslim groups

LONDON: Pro-Israel pressure groups are influencing law enforcement agencies in the US through training and consultancy programs, leaked police documents show.

The BlueLeaks collection of data, hacked from US law enforcement agencies in 2020, contains files showing that police received training from Israel Defense Forces programs on dealing with Islamist extremism, The Guardian reported.

And the Anti-Defamation League, a US-based Jewish advocacy group, enjoys a close relationship with law enforcement agencies, with the organization hosting training sessions for officers on the “evolving nature of Islamic extremists.”

BlueLeaks shows intelligence that was distributed by federal law enforcement programs, including fusion centers, which share information between local, state and federal agencies.

ADL staff members are revealed by BlueLeaks to have attended fusion center events as registered visitors, advising law enforcement that “we facilitate workshops … on extremism, hate crime and (in Washington D.C. and Israel) counterterrorism.”

The leak has raised questions about the influence of pro-Israel organizations in US law enforcement, and how those ties have affected the treatment of pro-Palestinian activists.

Former FBI undercover agent Mike German told The Guardian that the relationship is damaging the ability of officers to carry out good law enforcement.

“It’s frustrating that we’ve developed this national law enforcement intelligence-sharing network that basically takes disinformation straight from the right-wing social media fever swamps and puts it out under the imprimatur of law enforcement intelligence, so it becomes an amplifier of disinformation rather than a corrective to that disinformation,” he said.

“At a time where there’s much more public sensitivity to foreign influence in domestic affairs, having a foreign country’s security services aligned with the beat cop on the streets of American neighborhoods is concerning.”

Another group that has advised law enforcement, according to the leaks, is LA Clear, which provided “analytical and case support” to drug investigations in California.

However, the group’s BlueLeaks files show that it recorded information relating to conflicts in the Gaza Strip sourced from the IDF.

One such document is a recreation of an IDF PowerPoint presentation titled “Escalation in the Gaza Strip,” bearing the insignia and name of Israel’s Strategic Division.

The Dado Center, a military studies department of the IDF, authored another presentation that was used by LA Clear.

It offers an analysis of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, the 22-day invasion of Gaza in 2008, and highlights challenges including “legitimacy (external & internal, strategic narrative)” and “media coverage (a controlled information environment).”

Cast Lead resulted in the IDF targeting civilians and carrying out “indiscriminate attacks that failed to distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilian objects,” Amnesty International said in a 2009 report.

BlueLeaks also shows LA Clear’s use of a 2011 report issued by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, an Israeli research group founded and staffed by former IDF intelligence personnel.

The intelligence documents related to Israel lack any links to LA Clear’s stated mission of targeting US drug networks, raising questions about the presence of IDF-linked intelligence networks in American policing.

The documents fail to show US law enforcement seeking training or consulting from other community groups, including Muslim organizations.


India drugs regulator orders quality checks on cough syrup ingredient

India drugs regulator orders quality checks on cough syrup ingredient
Updated 09 December 2023
Follow

India drugs regulator orders quality checks on cough syrup ingredient

India drugs regulator orders quality checks on cough syrup ingredient
  • Syrups made by three Indian firms have been linked to the deaths of dozens of children in Gambia, Uzbekistan and Cameroon in over a year 
  • Drugmakers have denied allegations their products were responsible for the deaths, which have cast a shadow over quality of Indian exports 

NEW DELHI: India’s drugs regulator has ordered that the source and quality of an ingredient used to make cough syrups be checked and verified as a “top priority,” in the wake of the deaths of at least 141 children globally. 

In one of the world’s worst such waves of poisoning, cough syrups made by three Indian manufacturers have been linked to the deaths of dozens of children in Gambia, Uzbekistan and Cameroon since the middle of last year. 

The drugmakers have denied allegations that their products were responsible for the deaths, which have cast a shadow over the quality of exports from India, often dubbed the “world’s pharmacy” due to its supply of life-saving drugs at low prices. 

In a letter this week, India’s Drug Controller General Rajeev Singh Raghuvanshi directed state and regional authorities to carry out inspections and verify the source and quality of propylene glycol (PG) either produced domestically or imported by cough syrup makers. 

He also directed drugs inspectors to submit a supply chain verification report for PG manufacturers and importers 

The direction was issued to rule out “possible quality issues” related to toxins diethylene glycol (DEG) and ethylene glycol (EG) in cough syrups and the diversion of industrial grade PG, Raghuvanshi said in a letter dated Dec. 6 and seen by Reuters. 

PG is a colorless, viscous liquid that does not react with other substances, making it an ideal solvent for syrupy medicines. Reuters has reported that some Indian drugmakers were buying key ingredients from suppliers who were not licensed to sell pharmaceutical-grade products. 

DEG and EG are used as industrial solvents and antifreeze agents and can be fatal when consumed even in small amounts. 

The syrups linked to the deaths of the children were found to contain high levels of DEG or EG in tests done by the World Health Organization and other authorities. 

Raghuvanshi has requested details including the number of cough syrup batches manufactured across India in 2023, the PG used and whether it was tested before use. 

Raghuvanshi also issued an advisory on Dec. 5 asking all drugmakers to purchase and use only pharmaceutical grade ingredients in their products. 

India has introduced mandatory testing for cough syrup exports since June and stepped up scrutiny of drugmakers, finding a string of deficiencies in recent inspections including poor documentation and a lack of self-assessment. 


US, South Korea and Japan urge stronger international push to curb North Korean nuclear program

US, South Korea and Japan urge stronger international push to curb North Korean nuclear program
Updated 09 December 2023
Follow

US, South Korea and Japan urge stronger international push to curb North Korean nuclear program

US, South Korea and Japan urge stronger international push to curb North Korean nuclear program
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has lately been accelerating the expansion of his nuclear and missile program
  • US and its Asian allies have responded by increasing the visibility of their trilateral security cooperation in the region

SEOUL, South Korea: The national security advisers of the United States, South Korea and Japan called on Saturday for a stronger international push to suppress North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles and its military cooperation with other countries amid concerns about its alleged arms transfers to Russia.
The meeting in Seoul came as tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest in years, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un accelerating the expansion of his nuclear and missile program and flaunting an escalatory nuclear doctrine that authorizes the preemptive use of nuclear weapons.
The United States and its Asian allies have responded by increasing the visibility of their trilateral security cooperation in the region and strengthening their combined military exercises, which Kim condemns as invasion rehearsals.
In a joint news conference after the meeting, Cho said the three security advisers reaffirmed North Korea’s obligations under multiple UN Security Council resolutions that call for its denuclearization and bans any weapons trade with other countries.
“We agreed to strengthen a coordination among the three countries to secure the international community’s strict implementation” of the UN Security Council resolutions, Cho said.
Cho said the three also highly praised South Korea, the US, Japan and Australia announcing their own sanctions on North Korea over its spy satellite launch last month. North Korea argues it the right to launch spy satellites to monitor US and South Korean military activities and enhance the threat of its nuclear-capable missiles.
Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have also expressed concerns about a potential arms alignment between North Korea and Russia. They worry Kim is providing badly needed munitions to help Russian President Vladimir Putin wage war in Ukraine in exchange for Russian technology assistance to upgrade his nuclear-armed military.
Following the meeting, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington is working with Seoul and Tokyo to strengthen defense cooperation. He said they also seek to improve response to North Korean missile testing and space launch activities, including a real-time information sharing arrangement on North Korean missile launches that the countries plan to start in December.
Sullivan said the countries will also respond to North Korean cybercrimes, cryptocurrency money laundering and other efforts to bypass US-led international sanctions aimed at choking off funds going to its nuclear weapons and missile program.
“When it comes to the DPRK, we are keeping our eye on the ball, because it continues to represent a threat to international peace and security and regional peace and security,” Sullivan said, using the initials of North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Sullivan held separate bilateral talks Friday with South Korea’s national security office director, Cho Tae-yong, and Japan’s national security secretariat secretary general, Takeo Akiba.
Sullivan also met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.
At a dinner reception for Sullivan and Akiba on Friday, Yoon said it is critical the three countries continue to build on his August summit with US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at Camp David, where they vowed to deepen security and economic cooperation.
South Korea’s presidential office said Sullivan expressed support for the South’s recent decision to partially suspend a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement on reducing border tensions, which had established border buffers and no-fly zones, to strengthen front-line surveillance of the North.
At their one-on-one meeting Friday, Cho and Akiba discussed building broader “international solidarity” in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear and missile program. They said it poses a threat “not only to the Korean Peninsula, but also to the regional and international community as a whole,” Seoul said.
The US, South Korean and Japanese national security advisers last held a trilateral meeting in June in Tokyo.
The discussions between the national security advisers in Seoul came after the US, South Korean and Japanese nuclear envoys met in Tokyo for separate talks on North Korea.
The nuclear envoys shared their assessments about North Korea’s recent satellite launch and weapons development and discussed ways to more effectively respond to North Korea’s cyber theft activities and other illicit efforts to evade US-led international sanctions and finance its weapons program, the South Korean and Japanese foreign ministries said.
South Korean intelligence officials have said the Russians likely provided technology support for North Korea’s successful satellite launch in November, which followed two failed launches.
North Korea has said its spy satellite transmitted imagery with space views of key sites in the US and South Korea, including the White House and the Pentagon. But it hasn’t released any of those satellite photos. Many outside experts question whether the North’s satellite is sophisticated enough to send militarily useful high-resolution imagery.
Kim has vowed to launch more satellites, saying his military needs to acquire space-based reconnaissance capabilities.
South Korean intelligence and military officials have said North Korea may have shipped more than a million artillery shells to Russia beginning in August, weeks before Kim traveled to Russia’s Far East for a rare summit with Putin that sparked international concerns about a potential arms deal. Both Moscow and Pyongyang have denied US and South Korean claims about the alleged arms transfers.


Man who fired shotgun outside New York synagogue cited events in the Mideast, federal agent says

Man who fired shotgun outside New York synagogue cited events in the Mideast, federal agent says
Updated 09 December 2023
Follow

Man who fired shotgun outside New York synagogue cited events in the Mideast, federal agent says

Man who fired shotgun outside New York synagogue cited events in the Mideast, federal agent says
  • Mufid Fawaz Alkhader was arrested a short distance away from the temple after laying down the shotgun, police said
  • Alkhader, an Iraqi-born US citizen, told investigators he felt affected by events in the Middle East

ALBANY, New York: A man who fired a shotgun into the air outside a synagogue in New York’s capital city is an Iraqi-born US citizen who told investigators he felt affected by events in the Middle East, a federal agent said in a court filing.

No one was injured by the gunfire Thursday afternoon outside Albany’s Temple Israel, but children attending preschool had to shelter in place while police searched the area.
Mufid Fawaz Alkhader, 28, was arrested a short distance away from the temple after laying down the shotgun, police said. He said “Free Palestine” when officers arrested him, according to Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins.
Federal prosecutors charged Alkhader with possession of a firearm by a prohibited person — a charge authorities said was related to his admitted use of marijuana. He could also face state charges. Hawkins said the episode was being investigated as a possible hate crime.
The episode happened on the first night of Hanukkah amid rising fears of antisemitism worldwide and fallout from Israel’s intensifying war in Gaza. Threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities have increased across the US during the war, which entered its third month on Friday.
Speaking from the synagogue on Friday during Shabbat services, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul condemned the shooting episode, saying her top priority is to ensure everyone has the ability to practice their religion safely.
“I wanted to come here tonight and recognize that the tranquility of this wonderful community has been upended,” she told worshippers. “All hate crimes must be condemned and not tolerated here.”
Alkhader, who lives in Schenectady, which is near Albany, waived his right to remain silent and spoke with law enforcement officers after his arrest, a task force officer with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said in a court filing.
The officer’s affidavit didn’t detail what Alkhader said about his motivation, but the officer wrote that he offered that “the events in the Middle East have impacted him.”
A person who answered the door at Alkhader’s address in Schenectady and identified himself as his father declined to be interviewed, but said his son was mentally ill.
After a brief appearance in federal court Friday morning, Alkhader was sent back to detention. He entered the court shackled and wearing a green jacket over his orange jail uniform. At times, he seemed to have difficulty following instructions from the judge.
“My English is limited,” he told the judge softly. He said he speaks Arabic.
Federal prosecutors and Alkhader’s public defender, Timothy Austin, declined to comment after the appearance. There was no date set for a preliminary hearing or a possible detention hearing.
FBI spokesperson Sarah Ruane praised the “swift coordination” between federal, state and local law enforcement.
Hank Greenberg, a member of Albany’s Temple Israel and spokesperson for the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York, decried what he called the “heartbreaking reality” that Jewish houses of worship need police protection.
“Even with this grieving and suffering and fear we’re experiencing,” he said, “at the same time we know we will endure and prevail as we have in the past.”