U.S. fires missiles at Assad airbase; Russia denounces “aggression”

UNTV News   •   April 7, 2017   •   2806


U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71) fires a tomahawk land attack missile in Mediterranean Sea which U.S. Defense Department said was a part of cruise missile strike against Syria on April 7, 2017. Robert S. Price/Courtesy U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

The United States fired cruise missiles on Friday at a Syrian airbase from which President Donald Trump said a deadly chemical weapons attack had been launched, the first direct U.S. assault on the government of Bashar al-Assad in six years of civil war.

In the biggest foreign policy decision of his presidency so far, Trump ordered the step his predecessor Barack Obama never took: directly targetting Assad’s military as punishment for the chemical weapons attack which killed at least 70 people.

That catapulted the United States into a confrontation with Russia, which has military advisers on the ground assisting its close ally Assad.

“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behaviour have all failed and failed very dramatically,” Trump said as he announced the attack from his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, where he was meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack,” he said of Tuesday’s chemical weapons strike, which Western countries blame on Assad’s forces. “No child of God should ever suffer such horror.”

The swift action is likely to be interpreted not only as a signal to Russia, but also to other countries such as North Korea, China and Iran where Trump has faced foreign policy tests early in his presidency.

The Syrian army said the U.S. attack killed six people at its air base near the city of Homs. It called the attack “blatant aggression” and said it made the United States a “partner” of “terrorist groups” including Islamic State. Homs Governor Talal Barazi told Reuters the death toll was seven.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said the strike had seriously damaged ties between Washington and Moscow. Putin regarded the U.S. action as “aggression against a sovereign nation” on a “made-up pretext”, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Russian television showed craters and rubble at the site of the airbase and said nine aircraft had been destroyed.

ATTACK SAID TO BE “ONE-OFF”

U.S. officials said they had taken pains to ensure Russian troops were not killed, warning Russian forces in advance and avoiding striking parts of the base where Russians were present.

Western allies of the United States spoke out in support of the decision to launch the strikes. Several countries said they were notified in advance, but none had been asked to take part. Iran, Assad’s other main ally, denounced it.

U.S. officials described the attack as a one-off that would not lead to wider escalation, and Syrian officials and their allies also said they did not expect the attack to lead to an expansion of the conflict.

“No doubt this will leave great tension on the political level, but I do not expect a military escalation. Currently I do not believe that we are going towards a big war in the region,” a senior, non-Syrian official in the alliance fighting in support of Assad who declined to be identified told Reuters.

For years, Washington has backed rebel groups fighting against Assad in a complex multi-sided civil war under way since 2011 that has killed more than 400,000 people. The war has driven half of Syrians from their homes, creating the world’s worst refugee crisis.

The United States has been conducting air strikes against Islamic State militants who control territory in eastern and northern Syria, and a small number of U.S. troops are on the ground assisting anti-Islamic State militias. But until now, Washington has avoided direct confrontation with Assad.

Russia, meanwhile, joined the war on Assad’s behalf in 2015, action that decisively turned the momentum of the conflict in the Syrian government’s favour.

Trump’s decision to strike Syrian government forces is a particularly notable shift for a leader who in the past had repeatedly said he wanted better relations with Moscow, including to cooperate with Russia to fight Islamic State.

However, Trump had also criticised Obama for setting a “red line” threatening force against Assad if he used chemical weapons, only to pull back from ordering air strikes in 2013 when Assad agreed to give up his chemical arsenal.

Russian media long portrayed Trump as a figure who would promote closer relations with Moscow. At home, Trump’s opponents have accused him of being too supportive of Putin.

LIMP CORPSES, CHOKING CHILDREN

On Friday, a warplane hit the town of Khan Sheikhoun where Tuesday’s chemical attack took place. An activist working at an air raid warning service in opposition areas told Reuters it caused only material damage.

Tuesday’s attack was the first time since 2013 that Syria has been accused of using sarin, a banned nerve agent it was meant to give up under the Russian-brokered, U.N.-enforced deal that persuaded Obama to call off air strikes four years ago.

The Syrian government and Moscow have denied that Syrian forces were behind the attack, but Western countries have dismissed their explanation – that chemicals leaked from a rebel weapons depot after an air strike – as beyond credibility.

Video and pictures of the aftermath of Tuesday’s chemical attack were shown around the world this week, depicting limp bodies and children choking while rescue workers hosed them down to try to wash off the poison gas. In Russia, state television blamed rebels and did not show footage of victims.

Tomahawk missiles were fired from the USS Porter and USS Ross around 0040 GMT, striking multiple targets – including the airstrip, aircraft and fuel stations – on the Shayrat Air Base, which the Pentagon says was used to store chemical weapons.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the strike did not mean the wider U.S. policy on Syria had changed.

“This clearly indicates the president is willing to take decisive action when called for,” he told reporters. “I would not in any way attempt to extrapolate that to a change in our policy or our posture relative to our military activities in Syria today. There has been no change in that status.”

The attack was a “one-off,” a U.S. defence official told Reuters, meaning it was expected to be a single strike with no current plans for escalation.

“CHEMICAL WEAPONS APPALLING”

U.S. allies were strongly supportive of the U.S. strikes. French Foreign Minister Francois Ayrault said: “The use of chemical weapons is appalling and should be punished because it is a war crime.”

Over the previous few months, many Western countries had been quietly backing away from long-standing demands that Assad leave power, accepting that rebels no longer had the power to remove him by force. But after the chemical weapons attack on Tuesday, several countries said Assad must go.

Among the countries strongly backing the strikes and calling for Assad to be removed from power was Turkey. Long one of Assad’s principal foes, Turkey had in recent months reached a rapprochement with Russia and had been co-sponsoring Syrian peace talks with Moscow; its change of tone could make it harder for Russia to put forward a peace plan that would keep Assad.

The attacks spurred a flight to safety in global financial markets, sending yields on safe-haven U.S. Treasury securities to their lowest since November. Stocks weakened in Asia and U.S. equity index futures slid, indicating Wall Street would open lower on Friday. Prices for oil and gold both rose, and the dollar slipped against the Japanese yen. —  By Steve Holland, Andrew Osborn and Tom Perry | PALM BEACH, Fla./MOSCOW/BEIRUT

(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali, Yara Bayoumy, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Lesley Wroughton, Patricia Zengerle, Roberta Rampton, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Megan Davies in New York and Jack Stubbs in Moscow; Writing by Peter Graff, editing by Peter Millership)

US donates 100 ventilators to Philippines

Robie de Guzman   •   August 28, 2020

U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque, and USAID Philippines Mission Director Lawrence Hardy II lead the handover of the ventilators at Malacañang Palace on Friday, August 28.

MANILA, Philippines – The United States on Friday donated 100 ventilators and associated supplies to the Philippines in support of its fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, its embassy in Manila said.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, and Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III led the turnover of the medical supplies at the Malacañang on Friday.

“These ventilators are part of the continued partnership between the American people and our Philippine friends, partners, and allies.  We will continue to work together to overcome COVID-19,” Ambassador Kim said in a statement.

In addition to the ventilators, the embassy said the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will provide clinical training and technical assistance to support health facilities to operate ventilators. 

This donation brings the total U.S. contribution to the Philippines’ COVID-19 response to more than Php1 billion ($22.6 million), provided through the U.S. State Department, USAID, and the U.S. Department of Defense. 

The embassy said the DOH will facilitate the delivery of the ventilators to hospitals located across the Philippines in coordination with USAID and the Office of Civil Defense.

DFA condoles with US Pres. Trump on the passing of his brother Robert

Marje Pelayo   •   August 17, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Sunday (August 16) expressed its heartfelt sympathies to US President Donald Trump and Anne Marie Pallan on the passing of Trump’s younger brother Robert.

Trump expressed his message on the passing of Robert, 71, in a statement released by the Office of the Press Secretary on Saturday (August 15).

“It is with heavy heart that I share that my wonderful brother, Robert, peacefully passed away tonight. He was not just my brother, he was my best friend. He will be greatly missed, but we will meet again. His memory will live on in my heart forever. Robert, I love you. Rest in peace,” Trump said in the statement.

Robert Trump was three years younger than the 74-year-old president.

Unlike his celebrity older brother, Donald, Robert silently prospered as a business executive and real estate developer.

He died a day after President Trump paid an emotional visit on Friday (August 14) at a New York hospital before leaving for New Jersey.

There was no information about the cause of Robert’s passing but speaking before the press on Friday, Trump said his brother was “having a hard time” with an undisclosed illness.

Trump to give TikTok’s Chinese owner 45 days to reach deal to sell — sources

UNTV News   •   August 3, 2020

U.S. President Donald Trump has agreed to give China’s ByteDance 45 days to negotiate a sale of popular short-video app TikTok to Microsoft Corp, two people familiar with the matter said on Sunday (August 2).

U.S. officials have said TikTok under its Chinese parent poses a national risk because of the personal data it handles. Trump said on Friday (July 31) he was planning to ban TikTok in the United States after dismissing the idea of a sale to Microsoft.

But following a discussion between Trump and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, the Redwood, Washington-based company said in a statement on Sunday that it would continue negotiations to acquire TikTok from ByteDance, and that it aimed to reach a deal by Sept. 15.

It was not immediately clear what changed Trump’s mind. Banning TikTok would alienate many of its young users ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November, and would likely trigger a wave of legal challenges. Several prominent Republican lawmakers put out statements in the last two days urging Trump to back a sale of TikTok to Microsoft.

The negotiations between ByteDance and Microsoft will be overseen by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a U.S. government panel that has the right to block any agreement, according to the sources, who requested anonymity ahead of a White House announcement. Microsoft cautioned in its statement that there is no certainty a deal will be reached. (Reuters)

(Production: Bob Mezan)

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