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(the new york times) – Russian Buildup in Syria Raises Questions on Role

John Kerry, right, at a joint news conference in London on Saturday with his British counterpart, Philip Hammond. CreditPool photo by Evan Vucci

LONDON — Russia’s military buildup in Syria now includes surface-to-air missiles as well as combat aircraft with air-to-air capability, deployments that raise “serious questions” about Moscow’s role in the region, Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday.

Russian officials have said that the purpose of the buildup at a base near Latakia, Syria, is to combat the Islamic State.

But the deployment of air defense systems and fighter aircraft — weapons that can be used against a conventionally armed foe but that have little utility against extremist fighters — has spurred concerns that Moscow’s goal is also to establish a military outpost in the Middle East.

It has also added to the Pentagon’s worries about the risk of an inadvertent confrontation between Russia’s military and the American-led coalition that is carrying out airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State.

“Clearly the presence of aircraft with air-to-air combat capacity” as well as “surface-to-air missiles raise serious questions, which is precisely why Secretary Carter talked with the Minister of Defense of Russia Shoigu yesterday,” Mr. Kerry said, referring to Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Russia’s defense minister, Sergei K. Shoigu.

At the White House’s direction, Mr. Carter began a dialogue Friday with Mr. Shoigu aimed at ensuring that American and Russian aircraft avoid unintended incidents as they operate over Syria.

While Mr. Kerry did not provide details, an American official, who requested anonymity because he was discussing intelligence reports, said that a Russian SA-22 air defense system was already in place at Latakia. The United States had observed elements of the system at the base in the last week, but now the launcher and the missiles it fires are there, too, the official said.

The American official added that the four Su-27 aircraft Russia had flown to the air base were armed with air-to-air missiles.

“What’s the air-to-air threat there for them?” asked the official, who called the development “troubling.”

Other American officials suggested, however, that the deployment might simply reflect the Russian military’s standard defensive precautions as it established an air hub in a foreign country.

The prefabricated building Russia has erected at the base now has the capacity to house 2,000 military advisers and personnel. Ferrying weapons and equipment to the base has involved well over 20 flights by Russian Condor transport planes — almost all of which have flown to Syria by passing over Iran and Iraq.

Syria, and the migrant crisis it has spawned, has been a major focus of Mr. Kerry’s trip to Europe. After a meeting Saturday morning with Philip Hammond, the British foreign secretary, Mr. Kerry said that it was vital to pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis but that Moscow was not putting enough pressure on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to make him negotiate seriously.

“We need to get to the negotiation,” Mr. Kerry said at a joint news conference with Mr. Hammond. “That’s what we’re looking for, and we hope Russia and Iran, other countries with influence, will help to bring that about, because that’s what’s preventing this crisis from ending.”

Source: Russian Buildup in Syria Raises Questions on Role – The New York Times

 

Aleppo, Syria, on Thursday after what activists said was an aerial bomb attack by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. CreditReuters

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(CNNPolitics.com) – Bob Corker to John Kerry: ‘You’ve been fleeced’ by Iran – 

(abc news) –

Tom LoBianco and Stephen Collinson, CNN

At Thursday’s hearing, it was clear that Republicans and several Democrats have concerns about the Iran nuclear agreement.
The hearing was more notable for substance and detailed examination of the deal’s provisions rather than political fireworks.

Washington (CNN)A largely skeptical panel of senators grilled Secretary of State John Kerry over the Iran nuclear deal Thursday, as both sides tried out new lines of attack sure to be repeated throughout the agreement’s 60-day congressional review period.

Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that there is no “unicorn” or “fantasy” alternative if the U.S. rejects the deal, which the administration maintains will keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon but which many Republicans see as providing Iran a path to a bomb.

But Committee Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennesse Republican, said that the U.S. had been “fleeced” and that Kerry had “turned Iran from being a pariah, to now Congress being a pariah” in the course of making the agreement.

And Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, repeatedly warned that the next president could overturn the deal, which isn’t a binding treaty.

In the shorter term, Congress could vote against the deal at the end of the 60-day review. President Barack Obama has promised to veto such a vote, but would need to round up a significant number of Democrats in order to sustain the veto.

At Thursday’s hearing, it was clear that several Democrats also have concerns about the deal. In one of the hearing’s more heated exchanges, New Jersery Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez seemed to give voice to widespread frustration in Congress that members hadn’t been more closely consulted during the negotiating process.

When Kerry tried to break in when Menendez, who is extremely skeptical about the deal, was listing his reservations, the senator replied testily: “I have limited time. You’ve been with the Iranians two years. I have seven minutes.”

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who has yet to say whether he will support the deal, did praise it for rolling back Iran’s nuclear program but worried about what would happen when it expires in 15 years.

However, Sen. Babara Boxer, a California Democrat, defended the deal and took issue with Corker’s comments.

Still, though no senators appeared to climb down from entrenched positions against and for the deal, the hearing was more notable for substance and detailed examination of the deal’s provisions rather than political fireworks.

Kerry said that the U.S. could not simply ignore Iran or walk away from the plan, which calls for new oversight and controls on uranium enrichment in return for an end to economic sanctions.

He laughed briefly in the middle of his testimony before landing on a new Obama administration argument.

“Folks, they already have what they want. They got it 10 years ago or more,” Kerry said. “This isn’t a question in giving them what they want. I mean, it’s a question of how do you hold their program back?”

He told the senators: “Let me underscore the alternative to the deal we have reached is not — as I’ve seen some ads on TV suggesting disingenuously — it isn’t a ‘better deal,’ some sort of unicorn arrangement involving Iran’s complete capitulation.” He continued, “That is a fantasy, plain and simple, and our intelligence community will tell you that.”

Republican Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, however, made clear that Republicans are less than convinced and have every intention of continuing to challenge the deal, suggesting it is the deal’s supporters who are out of touch with reality.

“Anyone who believes this is a good deal joins the ranks of the most naïve people on earth,” he said.

 
Source: Bob Corker to John Kerry: ‘You’ve been fleeced’ by Iran – CNNPolitics.com

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(radio free europe) – Kerry Says Issue Of Captive Americans Brought Up At Nuclear Talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the topic of detained U.S. citizens in Iran was raised at every meeting he held with the Iranian negotiating team during the final weeks of nuclear negotiations. “We remain very, very hopeful that Iran will make the decision to do the right thing and to return those citizens to the United States,” Kerry said in a July 17 interview with MSNBC.Kerry also said he raised the issue during his last meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif before the announcement of the Iran nuclear deal on July 14.The three Americans held in Iran are Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, and former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati.Based on reporting by Reuters and AP

Source: Kerry Says Issue Of Captive Americans Brought Up At Nuclear Talks

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(reuters) – As deadline looms, Kerry says U.S. in no rush to get Iran deal

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond (not seen), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, German Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, EU Deputy…

The United States and other major powers are not in a rush to reach a nuclear deal with Iran, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday, suggesting an accord was unlikely hours ahead of a deadline set by the U.S. Congress for a quick review.

Adding to signs that a deal was not close at hand, a top adviser to Iran’s supreme leader was quoted by Iranian news agency Tasnim as saying Tehran’s “redlines” should be respected in talks aimed at a deal under which Iran would curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

“A deal can be reached only if our redlines are respected,” said Ali Akbar Velayati, the adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He also accused Kerry of making comments that were “part of America’s psychological warfare against Iran.”

Velayati’s reported remarks came after a senior Iranian official in Vienna accused the United States and others nations of shifting their positions and backtracking on an April 2 interim agreement that was meant to lay the ground for a final deal.

“We’re here because we believe we are making real progress,” Kerry told reporters in the Austrian capital. “We will not rush and we will not be rushed.”

However, Kerry said Washington’s patience was not unlimited. We can’t wait forever,” he said. “If the tough decisions don’t get made, we are absolutely prepared to call an end to this.”

He did not say how much longer the talks could continue. Shortly after Kerry spoke, the White House said the talks would not likely drag on for “many more weeks.”

Briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, the senior Iranian official sought to put the onus on the West for any failure to reach an agreement.

“There have been changes of position … particularly since last night,” said the official, “Suddenly everyone has their own red lines. Britain has its red line, the U.S. has its red line, France, Germany …”

Negotiators have given themselves until the end of the day on Friday. But if a deal is not reached by 6:00 a.m. in Vienna (0400 GMT), the skeptical Republican-led U.S. Congress will have 60 days rather than 30 days to review it, extra time U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration worries could derail it.

’96 PERCENT COMPLETE’?

The central bargain of an interim deal struck on April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland as well as of the final deal that the two sides are now trying to work out is to limit Iran’s nuclear work in return for easing economic sanctions crippling its economy.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi has said the main text of a final agreement, as well as five technical annexes, were “around 96 percent complete.”

While the lifting of sanctions was largely agreed, Araqchi said Tehran’s demand for an end to a U.N. Security Council arms embargo was among the most contentious unresolved points.

Other sticking points in the negotiations have included Iran’s research and development on advanced centrifuges and access to Iranian military sites and nuclear sites.

Tehran says a U.N. embargo on conventional arms has nothing to do with the nuclear issues and must be lifted in any deal. Western countries do not want allow Iran to begin importing arms because of its role supporting sides in Middle East conflicts.

Iran has powerful support on this issue from Russia. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a summit of BRICS countries – Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa – that the U.N. arms embargo should be among the first sanctions lifted.

Over the past two weeks, Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China have twice extended deadlines for completing the long-term nuclear agreement.

In a sign that the Friday morning U.S. congressional deadline was likely to be missed, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, a key member of the U.S. negotiating team, was due to fly to Portugal on Friday to accept an honor and make a speech, returning on Friday evening.

Western countries accuse Iran of seeking the capability to build nuclear weapons, while Tehran says its program is peaceful. A deal would depend on Iran accepting curbs on its nuclear program in return for the easing of economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations, United States and European Union.

A successful deal could be the biggest milestone in decades towards easing hostility between Iran and the United States, enemies since Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.

It would also be a political success for both Obama and Iran’s pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani, who both face resistance from powerful hardliners at home.

(Additional reporting by John Irish and Arshad Mohammed and Shadia Nasralla in Vienna and Katya Golubkova and Denis Pinchuk in Russia, writing by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Anna Willard, Peter Graff, Giles Elgood and Bernard Orr)

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