Russia, China object to U.S. proposal to blacklist Russian bank at U.N.: diplomats

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia and China on Thursday objected to a U.S. proposal to add a Russian bank, Moscow-based North Korean banker and two other entities to a U.N. Security Council blacklist, diplomats said.

The list of proposed designations mirrors new sanctions announced by the U.S. Treasury last week.

The United States made the proposal to the 15-member U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee, which operates by consensus.

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Russia objected to the designations because it said the U.S. proposal was not “adequately substantiated by sufficient information,” diplomats said. China gave no reason for its objections.

Russia and China have suggested the Security Council discuss easing sanctions after U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met for the first time in June and Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization.

The United States and other council members have said there must be strict enforcement of sanctions until Pyongyang acts.

Last week, Washington imposed sanctions on Moscow-based Agrosoyuz Commercial Bank, North Korean banker Ri Jong Won, China-based Dandong Zhongsheng Industry & Trade Co Ltd and North Korea-based Korea Ungum Corporation.

The U.S. Treasury Department said Agrosoyuz Commercial Bank had conducted “a significant transaction” for North Korean banker Han Jang Su, who had been blacklisted by Washington. Han is the Moscow-based chief representative of Foreign Trade Bank (FTB), North Korea’s primary foreign exchange bank.

The Security Council blacklisted FTB in August last year. Ri is FTB’s deputy representative in Moscow.

The U.S. Treasury said Dandong Zhongsheng Industry & Trade and Korea Ungum Corporation were FTB front companies.

The U.N. blacklist would impose a global travel ban and asset freeze on those designated.

Russia and China last month delayed a U.S. push for the Security Council sanctions committee to order a halt to refined petroleum exports to North Korea, asking for more detail on a U.S. accusation that Pyongyang breached sanctions, diplomats said.

Sanctions by the United States and the U.N. Security Council, which include a ban on exports of coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood from North Korea, and caps on imports of oil and refined petroleum products, are aimed at choking off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

 

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US requests UNSC vote on alleged chemical attack in Syria – reports

The US has requested a vote at the UN Security Council on a draft resolution for a new inquiry into the alleged chemical incident in Douma, Syria. It comes as Russia urges the UN to dispatch investigators to the site.

The UN Security Council is expected to vote at 3pm New York time (19:00 GMT) on Tuesday, according to media reports, citing diplomatic sources. “The vote has been requested,” an unnamed diplomat told RIA Novosti.

 
United States envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley addresses the Security Council, April 9, 2018. © Brendan McDermid

It comes as Moscow and Damascus have urged the UN’s chemical weapons watchdog to send experts to the site of the alleged incident as soon as possible.

“Due to the rapid escalation of the situation, Russia calls on the technical secretariat to urgently send the mission’s experts to establish the facts of the alleged chemical weapons usage in Syria in order to clarify all the details of the incident,” Russia’s mission to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Tuesday. It added that any delays would only play into the hands of those who desire to use the reported incident as a pretext to launch an attack on Syria.

While the US will supposedly be seeking an inquiry into the alleged incident, Washington has already pinned the blame for it on Damascus and its allies. Following the first reports that came from the controversial White Helmets and other anti-government groups, US President Donald Trump called his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad an “animal,” adding that there would be a “big price to pay” for the purported use of chemical weapons.

READ MORE: 'Post-fact mindset in US: First punishment & then search for evidence to rationalize war-mongering'

On Monday, the US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, appeared to speak of the alleged chemical attack as a proven fact, blaming Russia and the “monster” Assad for it.

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Russia & Syria call for on-the-ground probe in Douma, pledge to provide security to OPCW experts

Moscow has proposed to create an independent investigative mechanism into the alleged chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma, promising, along with the Syrian army, to guarantee prompt access for experts to the site.

Russia's envoy to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, has reiterated that Russia will support a thorough investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in the rebel-held town of Douma over the weekend.

"Let us recall that our draft resolution to set up such a mechanism is in blue. And we stand ready to adopt it today if necessary," Nebenzia said, referring to the Russia-sponsored UNSC resolution to establish an independent investigative mechanism under the auspices of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

 

A photo showing a child being washed after what the White Helmets and other anti-government groups in Syria claim was a chemical weapons attack in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, on April 7. The Russian military says the photos were staged. © Reuters

Moscow is ready to serve as a guarantor of security for those OPCW experts who would inspect the site of the incident, Nebenzia added, stressing the need for the probe to be carried out without delay. The experts may "immediately, tomorrow, fly to Damascus," the diplomat said.

"There, the Syrian authorities and Russian troops will provide conditions to travel to the area of the alleged incident for them to familiarize themselves with the situation," Nebenzia said, reminding the UNSC member-states' representatives that "that is what President Trump and other western leaders called upon us to undertake."

The Syrian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari said his country is also ready to welcome the OPCW team as soon as possible and to provide them with everything necessary for a comprehensive investigation.

"My country, Syria, stresses its unlimited cooperation with the OPCW to fulfill the commitments stated in the convention of the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons," he said.

Highlighting the importance of a swift investigation, Nebenzia noted that it should be conducted on the ground, and not through third parties. Moscow has repeatedly criticized the OPCW investigation into last April's Khan Sheikhoun incident as "unprofessional." One of the major flaws of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), as pointed out by Moscow, was that the whole investigation was conducted remotely. As a result, the findings of the OPCW report, that blamed the attack on the Syrian government, were mostly based on speculation by analysts, accounts by unidentified witnesses and material evidence submitted by third parties with no chain of custody being implemented.

In November, the mechanism's mandate expired and Moscow vetoed a resolution to extend its authority, arguing that it was effectively "dead" and couldn't be revived, stressing a need for a new, "professional, objective and unbiased" mechanism to replace its discredited predecessor. Moscow at the time proposed a resolution to create one but it was not passed by the UNSC.

Speaking to the media on Monday, Nebenzia did not specify if Russia would put the resolution to a vote on Tuesday. Meanwhile, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said she is looking forward to the Security Council voting on the resolution proposed by the US.

 

FILE PHOTO: A Syrian man collects and bags the body of a dead bird, reportedly killed by a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province © Omar haj kadour

The US draft, leaked to the media, implies that Syria might be found in violation of UNSC Resolution 2118 as a result of the investigation by a proposed "Independent Mechanism of Investigation."  The resolution, adopted in 2013, provided for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. Damascus has repeatedly stressed its compliance, denying allegations of the use of toxic agents in the offensives on rebel-held regions.

"The Syrian Arab Republic stresses once again it does not possess any chemical weapons of any type, including chlorine," Jaafari said at Monday’s UNSC meeting.

The US-sponsored draft "condemns in the strongest terms the continued use of chemical weapons" and also stipulates that measures might be taken against Syria under the UN Charter Chapter 7, which paves the way for the use of force.

Nebenzia denounced the draft, saying that it contains "some unacceptable elements." "There is nothing there that would meet the high standards of the United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention," he said.

The UNSC President, Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, Permanent Representative of Peru to the United Nations, said that he expects the countries' delegations to continue to work on the draft for the rest of Monday and on Tuesday, describing the situation as "very difficult."

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N. Korea missile tests: UNSC threatens Pyongyang with sanctions, says launches must stop

The UN Security Council has warned it may hit North Korea with a new round of sanctions in response to its latest missile launches, which it blamed for stirring up regional tension, and urged Pyongyang to stop its nuclear and ballistic missile activity.

In the wake of North Korea’s medium-range missile launch into the Sea of Japan on Saturday, the UNSC slammed the self-isolated country for “highly destabilizing behavior and flagrant and provocative defiance” it displays by turning a blind eye to multiple UN resolutions expressly prohibiting it from attempting such actions.

© Damir Sagolj

Apart from reiterating its commitment to comply with all restrictive measures imposed on North Korea under previous resolutions, the Council hinted it might look at the possibility to tighten the grip on the state’s economy, which is already suffering under a heavy burden of international sanctions.

“The members of the Security Council agreed that the Security Council would continue to closely monitor the situation and take further significant measures including sanctions, in line with the Council’s previously expressed determination,” the statement read.

READ MORE: There can be only political solutions on the Korean peninsula

It went on to call on Pyongyang to phase out its nuclear and missile program and enforce a total ban on nuclear and missile tests, arguing that the development of missile and nuclear weapons is being carried out by Pyongyang at the expense of ordinary people, who “have great unmet need.”

Earlier, the French ambassador to the UN, Francois Delattre, said that the UNSC is looking into a possible expansion of sanctions, promising a “strong” and “swift” retaliation to North Korea’s latest breach of international law.

@RT_com 'Latest North Korean missile launch didn’t pose any threat to Russia' - Defense Ministryhttp://on.rt.com/8bmj

Whether the threats will materialize into a new round of sanctions is likely to be decided Tuesday, when a closed-door UNSC meeting on North Korea is scheduled to take place.

The newest missile launch was claimed by North Korea as a successful test of a long-range strategic ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. However, the US military disputed the claim, arguing that the projectile was more likely a mid-range missile, than an intercontinental one.

The missile had reportedly covered a distance of 700 kilometers, with its altitude reported by some media outlets to be as high as 2,000 meters, before descending into the Sea of Japan, according to South Korean and Japanese militaries’ estimates.

State of paranoia?

Following the launch, one of the most vocal voices in the chorus of those denouncing North Korea and its leader Kin Jong-un was that of the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, who went as far as to suggest that Kim was “in a state of paranoia” and vowed that Washington would proceed with “tightening the screws” on the pariah state.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un © Damir Sagolj

In a separate statement, the White House labelled the North Korean weapons program “a flagrant menace for too long,” specifically mentioning an assumed displeasure felt in Moscow at the sight of the missile allegedly striking near its border.

"With the missile impacting so close to Russian soil, in fact – closer to Russia than to Japan – the President cannot imagine that Russia is pleased," the statement said.

The worrying report on the missile landing in the imminent proximity to the Russian border, some 60 miles (97 km) south of the Russian Far East city of Vladivostok, with over 1 million residents, was given by CNN, citing an unnamed US official. The map drawn by the channel shows the alleged point of impact as dangerously close to Russian territory.

The Russian Defense Ministry, however, dismissed the report, stressing that the missile did not pose a threat to Russia, and actually landed in “the central part of the Sea of Japan, some 500km from Russian territory. There are also some doubts about the missile reaching the altitude of 2,000 km (1,245 miles), with aviation expert Ron Bishop from Central Queensland University describing such a potent range non-typical and “a little bit of a stretch” rather than an accurate estimate while speaking to RT. The estimate has largely remained unchallenged in the mainstream media.

Weighing on the latest missile test while in Beijing on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged all parties, including those whom he said are “intimidating” North Korea, to drop their alarmist rhetoric and stop saber-rattling, and instead focus on a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

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Kerry’s Mid-East speech will ‘ensure chaos lasts after Obama admin’ – Israeli minister

The outgoing US secretary of state is to remark on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Wednesday. Israel’s security minister called the intention “pathetic” and accused John Kerry of “trying to make chaos” that will last past his tenure.

The US State Department announced on Tuesday night that Kerry will deliver remarks on the state of the Middle East peace process and why America abstained during a UN Security Council vote on a resolution criticizing Israel’s construction of settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Delivered less than a month before President Barack Obama steps down, the speech is expected to be the last work from his administration on the decades-old conflict. After Kerry replaced Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in 2003, he made Israeli-Palestinian peace a priority and pushed for direct negotiations. However, they didn’t last the nine months they were expected to, collapsing in April 2014 without any tangible result. In June of that year, Israel launched a 50-day military campaign in Gaza.

Commenting on the upcoming speech, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said it was “pathetic to present a [peace] plan at the last minute when [Kerry] hasn't managed in changing anything for his entire time in office.”

“It's unfortunate that the Obama Administration, that erred for years in the Middle East, is trying to make sure that the chaos will last far past its tenure,” Erdan said late on Tuesday night, as cited by the Jerusalem Post.

“Kerry's speech on parameters right before the end of his tenure will make sure that the Palestinians won't agree to any sort of negotiations [with Israel] in the coming years and will [put] off chances of advancing peace.”

The spat comes days after the US abstained at a UN Security Council vote, allowing other members pass a resolution criticizing Israel for the continued construction of settlements in occupied Palestinian territories.

Washington’s failure to veto the draft, as it routinely did with other UNSC votes targeting Israel over the decades, angered the Israeli government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Obama administration of orchestrating the passage of the damning resolution.

The US denied the accusation, saying there was “nothing pre-cooked” about it.

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Israel to approve 100s of new homes in East Jerusalem in defiance of UNSC resolution – reports

Jerusalem’s zoning committee is expected to approve construction permits for hundreds of new homes in East Jerusalem, in a move which is illegal under international law. Settlement construction was slammed by the latest resolution adopted by the UN Security Council.
 

The Jerusalem Local Planning and Construction Committee is expected on Wednesday to approve permits to build 618 apartments in Jewish neighborhoods across the Green Line, Haaretz reported. 

Some 140 homes will be erected in Pisgat Ze’ev, 262 in Ramat Shlomo and 216 in Ramot, Haaretz reported, adding that even more permit requests for Pisgat Ze’ev and Ramot may be added before this week’s meeting.

 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) told President Obama (C) that Israel was not considering a full-scale invasion, as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas remains wary. © Tim Sloan According to other Israeli media reports, the Committee might approve as many as 5,600 homes in response to the United Nations Security Council resolution which condemned Israeli settlement activities and called for a halt to illegal construction.

The planning committee will approve 2,600 new housing units in the neighborhood of Gilo, another 2,600 units in Givat Hamatos, and 400 units in Ramat Shlomo, for a grand total of 5,600 units in East Jerusalem, reported Israel Hayom. 

“We remain unfazed by the UN vote, or by any other entity that tries to dictate what we do in Jerusalem. I hope the Israeli government and the new US administration will support us, so we can make up for the lack [of construction] during the eight years of the Obama administration,” Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Meir Turgeman who heads the zoning committee told Israel Hayom.

Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967. Israel subsequently annexed East Jerusalem and considers the entire city its capital. Palestine claims East Jerusalem as its future capital.

So far this year 1,506 housing units have been approved for construction in East Jerusalem, compared to 775 units in 2014 and only 395 units in 2015, Haaretz reported. But despite the UN resolution, construction is set to continue.

“There has been no change in the position of the Jerusalem municipality ... construction in Jerusalem is necessary, important, and will continue at full strength,” the Jerusalem municipality said following Friday’s vote.

As the city of Jerusalem prepares to approve new constructions, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro on Sunday. Shapiro was contacted after Israel called in 10 representatives of 14 other states that voted for the resolution.

While the US has traditionally been an ally of Israel, vetoing numerous UN resolutions against the state, relations somewhat soured under the Obama administration, which has slammed Tel Aviv's increasingly aggressive settlement policies.

On Sunday, Netanyahu also used his weekly cabinet meeting to once again criticize Obama administration.

“From the information that we have, we have no doubt that the Obama administration initiated it [resolution], stood behind it, coordinated on the wording and demanded that it be passed,” Netanyahu told ministers on Sunday.

“As I told John Kerry on Thursday, friends don’t take friends to the Security Council,” Netanyahu said. “Over decades American administrations and Israeli governments have disagreed about settlements, but we agreed the Security Council was not the place to resolve this issue.”

“This is of course in total contradiction to the traditional American policy of not trying to impose conditions of a final resolution ... and of course the explicit commitment of President Obama himself in 2011 to avoid such measures,” he added.

Netanyahu has also reportedly instructed his ministers not to travel to the countries who voted in favor of the resolution. Earlier Sunday, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered Israeli security forces to cease all cooperation with the Palestinians on civilian matters, while retaining security coordination, army radio reported.


 
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Trump wants veto for ‘extremely unfair’ UN resolution on Israel

President-elect Donald Trump is opposed to the resolution before the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlements, and wants the US to veto it.

The resolution proposed by Egypt says the "establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace," according to a draft put forward on Wednesday.

It also demands of Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

“The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed,” Trump announced Thursday morning on Twitter.

@realDonaldTrump The resolution being considered at the United Nations Security Council regarding Israel should be vetoed....cont: https://www.facebook.com/DonaldTrump....

In a lengthier statement, posted on his Facebook page, the president elect argued that “peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians will only come through direct negotiations between the parties, and not through the imposition of terms by the United Nations.”

“This puts Israel in a very poor negotiating position and is extremely unfair to all Israelis,” Trump concluded.

Israel presently controls all of the territory of the old Palestine Mandate, which the UN Resolution 181 (II) partitioned into two states – one Jewish, one Arab – in 1947.

A war fought in 1948-49 resulted in the establishment of Israel, while the remaining Arab territories in the West Bank and Gaza were incorporated into Jordan and Egypt, respectively. Israel gained control of both territories during the June 1967 war against Egypt, Syria and Jordan.

While the West Bank and Gaza are considered occupied territories, and have been administered by the Palestinian National Authority since 1994, Israel considers all of Jerusalem its capital – including the eastern part of the city, held by Jordan until 1967. The proposed Egyptian resolution explicitly denies this claim.

During the campaign, Trump promised to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move the US embassy from Tel Aviv.

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UN Security Council unanimously passes resolution on monitoring Aleppo evacuations

The UN Security Council has unanimously passed a resolution requiring the monitoring of evacuations from Aleppo.

The resolution, initially drafted by France, was originally called a “disaster” by Russia’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin.

However, Moscow and Paris came to an agreement on the text after more than three hours of closed-door consultations by the Council on Sunday.

The resolution asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “to take urgent steps to make arrangements, including security arrangements in consultation with interested parties, to allow the observation by the United Nations and other relevant institutions of the well-being of civilians… inside the eastern districts of the city of Aleppo.”

: agrees ‘good text’ for resolution on , voting to be held Monday - Churkin

It asked for “adequate, neutral monitoring and direct observation” of the evacuations to take place, as well as for all parties to provide monitors with “safe, immediate, and unimpeded access.”

The evacuations are part of a Russia- and Turkey-brokered deal between the Syrian government and opposition. It allows for the evacuations of militants and their families from eastern Aleppo, in exchange for the departure of civilians from the northern rebel-held villages of al-Foua and Kefraya, Idlib province.

@RT_com Buses evacuate 3,000 people from last rebel-held district in http://on.rt.com/7y2e

Photo published for Dozens of buses evacuate 3,000 people from Aleppo's last rebel-held district — RT News

Syria’s UN ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, said the final evacuations of militants are currently taking place in Aleppo, and the city will be “clean” by Monday evening.

The last terrorists… are evacuating their strongholds and Aleppo this evening will be clean,” he said, as quoted by Reuters.

 
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