Wary of refrained US reaction, Iran drums up new threats

UNTV News   •   January 10, 2020   •   345

A handout photo made available by the Supreme Leader office shows Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addressing a meeting in Tehran, Iran, 08 January 2020. According to media reports, Khamenei was speaking hours after Iran targeted the US airbase of Ain al-Assad in Anbar province in western Iraq and he was quoted as saying ‘the Iranian nation slapped them in the face’. The attack comes days after the Top Irani General Qassem Soleimani, head of the IRGC’s Quds force, was killed by a US drone strike in Baghdad.

By Marina Villén

Tehran – Iranian authorities on Thursday were suspicious of the United States moderate reaction to a series of strikes against military bases housing American troops in Iraq and threatened further retaliatory action.

Uncertainty reigns supreme in the ongoing US-Iran crisis given that Iran said attacks on two bases in Iraq on Wednesday were just the beginning of an operation to avenge the death of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by a US drone strike outside Baghdad’s international airport on Friday.

Any further military action, however, is likely to be limited as both sides insist they do not want a full-scale war.

Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Air Force, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, said the strikes against the two military facilities, one in western Iraq, the other in the north, were “the beginning of a large operation that would continue in all of the region.”

What cannot be ruled out, therefore, is that Iran-backed militias across the Middle East, such as the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon, could still carry out attacks on targets of US interest given that all share the aim of expelling US troops from the region.

“We didn’t seek to kill anyone in the operation,” Hajizadeh said in a televised address. He did, however, downplay the US account that there were no casualties.

He said troop accommodation was not targeted in the barrage of missiles because the intention had been to hit “the machinery of war.”

The commander specified that the IRGC used Iranian-made Fateh and Ghiam missiles.

US President Donald Trump was firm in insisting there had been no deaths in the Iranian strikes either in the US or Iraqi personnel.

Satellite images released by American company Planet showed damage sustained to a hanger at the Ain al-Assad based.

In his speech from the White House on Wednesday, Trump said the US was ready to “embrace peace” and suggested that the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal — Trump’s withdrawal from which in 2018 was a prelude to the current crisis — be renegotiated.

At the same time, he announced “powerful” new sanctions on Tehran.

The Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht Ravanchi, on Thursday said Iran would not be fooled by Trump’s statements, which were both conciliatory and threatening.

It is not the first time that Washington has called for a revised nuclear treaty with Iran. The one in 2015, which saw Tehran swap out much of its nuclear program for an easing in sanctions, is also signed by the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China.

The three EU signatories have expressed their concern at Iran’s decision several days ago to scale back its commitments to the deal.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, told European Council chief Charles Michel in a phonecall Thursday that Europe had to react to the US’ “terrorist moves,” according to the IRNA news agency.

Similarly, in a call with the United Kingdom’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, the Iranian president said: “You would not be so comfortable in London today without Soleimani’s efforts.”EFE-EPA
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US, PH soldiers build two classrooms in Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Robie de Guzman   •   February 21, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Two new classrooms jointly built by United States and Philippine troops have been opened in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

The new classrooms were inaugurated on February 19, at the Malatgao National Elementary School, the US Embassy in Manila said in a statement.

US Navy Lt. Joshua Moore said the new learning facilities, built by American and Filipino soldiers under arrangements through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), will be used by over 100 students residing in the community.

“This project provides a much-needed schoolhouse for the Malatgao National Elementary School in Palawan, which will be utilized by over 120 students,” Moore was quoted as saying in the statement.

“We are proud to assist this community working hand-in-hand with our Filipino counterparts,” he added.

Under the VFA, US and Philippine troops participate in war and disaster response drills and assist in humanitarian projects like erecting multi-purpose buildings or helping repair schools.

The deal, which came into force in 1999, was terminated by President Rodrigo Duterte last week. The notice of termination will take effect after 180 days.

The US Embassy said that in the last four years, its Navy engineers, known as Seabees, have completed 24 humanitarian projects across the Philippines.  

These projects include single- and double-room classrooms, water catchment systems, multipurpose school huts, and multipurpose communal buildings.

Joint construction operations such as these between the Philippine Navy Seabees, U.S. Navy Seabees, Philippine Marines, and local Barangays serve to strengthen the U.S.-Philippine partnership.

“I think working with U.S. troops will make our alliance stronger and continue to increase our bonds for years to come,” said Apprentice Fireman Construction Electrician Joel Nioda from Zamboanga City.

“This will help unify and grow our bilateral relationship,” he added.

Since October 2016, the U.S. Navy Seabees construction projects for Philippine communities are valued at more than PHP100,000,000 ($1.9 Million).

US, evacuate citizens from Japan cruise ship; South Korea to follow suit

Aileen Cerrudo   •   February 17, 2020

The United States (US) has evacuated its citizens from the virus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess off the coast of Japan.

Two planes carrying around 300 American citizens left Haneda Airport on Monday morning (February 17).

South Korea also plans to bring home their citizens in the said cruise ship.

“Even before February 19, the government plans to bring those South Koreans home if they are tested negative from screenings by the Japanese authorities and are willing to return. We will first check our people’s intentions and then cooperate with the Japanese government,” according to South Korea Minister of Health and Welfare, Park-Neung Hoo.

Canada and Hong Kong will also send planes to evacuate their citizens.

Meanwhile, the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) said they will assist in repatriating Filipino crewmen aboard the cruise ship.

538 Filipinos are aboard the Diamond Princess, 531 are crewmen while 7 are passengers. There already 27 of them who tested positive of COVID-19.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Assistant Secretary Ed Meñez said the Filipinos who tested positive of the virus are already brought to the hospital for better care.

“We received information that aside from the 11 Filipino crew members who are earlier identified, another 16 have been identified over the weekend to have been identified as COVID positive,” he said.

The DFA also said the Inter-Agency Task Force will discuss their planned action in a meeting to assist the Filipinos aboard the cruise ship.—AAC (with reports from Joan Nano)

PH-US military drills within 180 days of VFA scrapping to push through — Lorenzana

Robie de Guzman   •   February 13, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The military exercises between the Philippines and the United States scheduled for the following months will still push through despite the Duterte government’s move to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Thursday.

In a statement, Lorenzana said the training between Filipino and American soldiers will still proceed as scheduled within the 180 days that the VFA remains in force.

“With the formal serving of the notice of termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, this year’s planned military exercises with the Americans shall proceed as scheduled within the 180 days that the VFA remains in force,” he said.

The Defense chief, however, said American troops may opt to discontinue the exercises before the 180 days are up.

Once the VFA’s termination is final, Lorenzana said Filipino troops will stop conducting military drills with their American counterparts.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Wednesday confirmed that they have received the notice of termination sent by the Philippine government. — RRD (with details from Correspondent Lea Ylagan)

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