Thursday, December 1, 2011

Russia Delivers Missiles to Syria: Report

MOSCOW - Russia has delivered supersonic cruise missiles to Syria despite the violence shaking the Arab country and Israel's furious condemnation of the deal, a news report said on Dec. 1.
"The Yakhont supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles have been delivered to Syria," a military source told the Interfax news agency without disclosing when the shipment was made.
Russia signed a contract reportedly worth at least $300 million (222 million euros) in 2007 to supply its traditional Arab world ally with a large shipment of the cruise missiles.
Reports said Russia intended to deliver 72 of the missiles to Syria in all.
The deal immediately angered Israel, which fears the weapons may fall into the hands of Hezbollah militants in neighboring Lebanon.
Russia has since also come under growing pressure from Washington, which wants all military sales to President Bashar al-Assad's regime halted because of his deadly crackdown on Syrian street protests.
But Moscow has defended Assad against global pressure and this week argued that its arms sales were permitted under international law and would continue.
Another Russian official told Interfax that the missiles, which operate as part of the Bastion mobile coastal defense system, "will be able to protect Syria's entire coast against a possible attack from the sea."
Each Bastion system is equipped with 36 cruise missiles as well as truck-mounted radar and other equipment.
It was not immediately clear how many of the missiles Russia has delivered to Syria so far.

Turkey Conveys Concerns Over Missile Shield Threat

ANKARA - Turkey's foreign minister has conveyed Ankara's concerns about an Iranian commander's recent remarks that Tehran will hit NATO's missile shield in Turkey if threatened, a ministry official said Dec. 1.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu "verbally conveyed our concerns to his Iranian counterpart," the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Davutoglu met Nov. 30 with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on the sidelines of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation meeting in Jeddah.
The commander of the aerospace division of Iran's Revolutionary Guards recently said Tehran will target NATO's missile shield in neighboring Turkey if it is threatened by military action.
"We are prepared to first target the NATO defense missile shield in Turkey if we are threatened. And then we'll move on to other targets," Amir-Ali Hajizadeh was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency.
Although Iranian officials have said several times they could retaliate with ballistic missiles against Israel if attacked, Hajizadeh's remark was the first time the Revolutionary Guards spoke of targeting Turkey.
Turkey has agreed to host an early warning radar system in its southeast as part of NATO's shield which the United States says is aimed at thwarting missile threats from the Middle East, particularly Iran.
Turkish officials insist that the shield targets no specific country.

Second Wave of Afghan Transition Kicks Off

CHARIKAR, Afghanistan - A second wave of Afghanistan's transition from NATO to local control officially started Dec. 1 as international forces handed over most of a peaceful province.
All but two districts of Parwan province, north of the capital Kabul, are being handed to Afghan control.
The area is the first to transition formally after President Hamid Karzai announced on Nov. 27 a list of six provinces, seven cities and dozens of districts which are expected to switch in the coming weeks.
The transition process should allow foreign combat troops to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Afghan cabinet ministers and foreign officials including the U.S. commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, attended a ceremony in Parwan's provincial capital Charikar, an AFP photographer said.
The handover was confirmed by interior ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.
Two districts in the province - Shinwari and Siagerd, where armed insurgents are believed to have more influence than in other parts - will not be included in the second wave of transition.
The first stage of transition began in July, with seven areas handed over.
Around 140,000 foreign troops are in Afghanistan, nearly two-thirds of them from the United States, battling a Taliban-led insurgency.
After combat troops are withdrawn, the main role of foreign forces in the country will be to train and equip Afghan security forces.

Barak: No Iran Strike 'For the Moment'

JERUSALEM - Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Dec. 1 ruled out a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities "for the moment," in remarks to public radio, but said that the Jewish state would keep all options open.
ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTER Ehud Barak attends a weekly cabinet meeting Nov. 27 in Jerusalem. Barak (Baz Ratner / AFP via Getty Images)
"We have no intention of acting for the moment ... We should not engage in war when it is not necessary, but there may come a time or another when we are forced to face tests," Barak said.
"Our position has not changed on three points: a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, we are determined to stop that, and all options are on the table," he added.
Israel and much of the international community fears that Iran's nuclear program masks a drive for a weapons capability. Tehran denies any such ambition and says the program is for peaceful civilian energy and medical purposes only.
Israel has pushed Washington and the EU for tough sanctions against Tehran, but warned that it would not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, and that military action to stop the program remained an option.
Barak said he was confident that military action against Iran would not be devastating for Israel.
"War is not a picnic, but if Israel is forced to act, we won't have 50,000, 5,000 or even 500 dead, so long as people stay in their homes," he said, noting that rockets fired at Israel by Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War had not killed a single Israeli.
Asked about potential differences between the United States and Israel on tactics to stop Iranian nuclear development, Barak stressed that the Jewish state would ultimately take the decisions it thought best.
"It must be understood that Israel is sovereign. The government, the army and the security services are the only ones responsible for the security and the existence of Israel," he said.
Barak declined to comment on what was behind at least two explosions in Iranian cities in recent weeks, only one of which has been confirmed by Iranian authorities.
"Anything that sets back the Iranian nuclear program, whether it is accidental or the product of other methods, is welcome," he said, refusing to say whether Israeli forces had any role in the incidents.
On Nov. 28, Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, head of research for Israeli military intelligence, told lawmakers that Iran was "using 6,000 centrifuges regularly, out of 8,000 installed."
"Until today, they have managed to accumulate approximately 50 tons of low enriched uranium, and a bit less than 100 kilos of 20 percent enriched uranium," he said.
Brun said Iran would need at least 220 kilos of 20 percent enriched uranium if it decided on a drive for the much higher levels of enrichment necessary to produce a nuclear weapon.
On Nov. 29, the former head of Israeli military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, said he estimated Iran has "enough material for four to five bombs."
But he said Tehran could not immediately assemble a nuclear weapon, if that was their goal.
"Once they decide they want to, it will take them a year to 18 months to attain a bomb," he said.

Clinton Urges Myanmar to Sever 'Illicit Ties' with North Korea

NAYPYIDAW - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Dec. 1 called on Myanmar to cut "illicit ties" with North Korea and said the regime had given assurances that it was not cooperating with Pyongyang.
"I was frank that better relations with the United States will only be possible if the entire government respects the international consensus against the spread of nuclear weapons," Clinton told reporters.
"We look to Naypyidaw to honor U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874 and sever illicit ties with North Korea," she added.
President Thein Sein gave "strong assurances" that Myanmar would abide by the U.N. resolutions, which ban weapons exports from North Korea, Clinton said during a landmark visit to the isolated capital Naypyidaw.
Her aides have, however, played down defectors' accounts of nuclear cooperation between the two authoritarian countries, saying the top U.S. concern relates to missile technology.
Thein Sein also said that Myanmar was "strongly considering signing the IAEA additional protocol and that they are already engaged in dialogue with the IAEA", according to a senior State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity.
The IAEA, or the International Atomic Energy Agency, is the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations. Signing its additional protocol would allow the IAEA to carry out inspections of suspected clandestine nuclear sites.
Allegations of nuclear cooperation between Myanmar and North Korea have been a top concern for U.S. lawmakers.
Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a frequent critic of President Barack Obama who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the weapons concerns made U.S. outreach to Myanmar problematic.
"Secretary Clinton's visit represents a monumental overture to an outlaw regime whose DNA remains fundamentally brutal," she said in a statement in Washington.

S. Korean Official Warns of Provocations from North

SEOUL - South Korea's defense chief said Dec. 1 that North Korea may use provocations next year to deal with economic woes and political instability stemming from a second dynastic succession.
Defense Minister Kim Kwan-Jin described 2012 as a critical year for security saying the military should stay alert against any provocations by North Korea.
The regime has set the goal of becoming a "great, powerful and prosperous" country by 2012, Kim said.
It also faces "economic hardships, public discontent and political instability" next year as the third-generation hereditary succession is under way, Kim added.
"To address these issues and find a breakthrough, North Korea may again resort to provocations," he told a meeting of key military commanders.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, 69, is believed to have speeded up the succession plan after suffering a stroke in August 2008.
In September last year he gave his youngest son Jong-Un senior party posts and appointed him a four-star general, in the clearest sign yet that he is the heir apparent.
The North suffers severe economic problems, exacerbated by sanctions, and persistent serious food shortages. It is also under international pressure to shut down its nuclear weapons program.
"In these extremely difficult times, our military should stay focused on our missions. As in the past, our enemy could catch us by surprise when we appear vulnerable," the minister said.
Relations have been tense since Seoul accused its neighbor of torpedoing a South Korean warship in March 2010 near the Yellow Sea border, with the loss of 46 lives.
The North denied sinking the ship, but South Korea has since staged a series of military drills alone or jointly with U.S. troops.

India Tests Nuke Missile With New Navigation

NEW DELHI - India's Dec. 1 test of its Agni-I ballistic missile was routine, according to an official with the Strategic Forces Command, which is in charge of maintaining India's nuclear-capable arsenal.
But other sources said it also was a test of an advanced navigation system that can direct the 700-kilometer-range missile to a pinpoint kill.
The 12-metric-ton Agni-I, which is already in the Indian Army's arsenal, can carry a 1,000-metric-ton nuclear warhead.
The test was conducted from India's missile testing range in the eastern state of Orissa, a Defence Ministry official said.
The Agni-I is regarded as a potential threat to Pakistan, while India's Agni-III, with a range of more than 3,000 kilometers, could target China.
India's Agni-V ballistic missile could reach the testing stage in the next two to three months, sources said. With its 5,000-kilometer range, the Agni-V could have the potential to take out targets in China and even Europe.

Dassault Critiques Financial Logic of Gripen Pick

PARIS - Dassault criticized the financial logic of selecting the Saab Gripen after Switzerland selected the Swedish single-engine fighter jet over the competition rivals Eurofighter Typhoon and the French-built Rafale.
"The 'Swiss-tailored' Gripen only exists on paper. Its technical development and production risk significantly increasing the financial efforts required of the Swiss authorities to accomplish the country's fighter aircraft program," the Dassault-led Rafale International team said in a Nov. 30 statement.
The Rafale reaction came after Switzerland earlier announced it would buy 22 Gripen fighters to replace its fleet of F-5 Tigers.
A Rafale selection would have met the Swiss operational requirements with a smaller number of aircraft "at an equivalent or lower cost," the Rafale industrial team said. Those capabilities had been "demonstrated during the assessments by the Swiss Air Force," the statement said.
The Rafale team regretted that the Swiss authorities "knowingly decided not to position Switzerland at the highest European level as regards to the performance of the new fighter aircraft," the statement said, quoting the Swiss Federal Council.
Saab welcomed the Swiss selection of the Gripen.
"Given that Switzerland is known globally for applying (the) highest procurement standards and requesting state-of-the art technologies, Saab is both proud and delighted that Gripen has been chosen as the Swiss Air Force's future multirole fighter aircraft," Saab said in a statement.
"The Gripen program will create a long-term partnership between Switzerland and Sweden. Saab assures Switzerland a long-term strategic industrial co-operation aimed at creating sustainable high tech jobs, transferring technology and generating export business," the statement said.
The Rafale team said it had reached out to 250 Swiss companies to create a local industrial partnership in the 26 Swiss cantons.
The Swiss defeat follows a setback in the United Arab Emirates for the Rafale, with Dassault's bid described as "uncompetitive and unworkable," by the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, who is also deputy supreme commander of the armed forces.