Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The US Navy plans to fire laser weapons off of ships within a year

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 USS Ponce conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research-sponsored Laser Weapon System, LaWS, while deployed to the Arabian Gulf. US Navy Photo

The US Navy plans to fire laser weapons off of ships within a year 

The US Navy plans to fire laser weapons off of ships within a year

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The U.S. Navy is moving at warp speed to develop lasers with more lethality, precision and power sources as a way to destroy attacking missiles, drones aircraft and other threats. 
“We’re doing a lot more with lasers," Rear Adm. Ronald Boxall, director, Surface Warfare Division, said earlier this month at the annual Surface Naval Association national symposium.
The Navy plans to fire a 150-kw weapon off a test ship within a year, he said. “Then a year later, we’ll have that on a carrier or a destroyer or both.”
That’s quite a jump from the kw AN/SEQ-3(XN-1) Laser Weapon System (LaWS), which deployed in 2014 on the amphibious transport dock USS Ponce.
And the kind of power needed to power such a weapon won’t come with a simple flip of a switch.
“The Navy will be looking at ships’ servers to provide three times that much power,” says Donald Klick, director of business development, for DRS Power and Control Technologies. “To be putting out 150 kws, they (the laser systems) will be consuming 450 kws.”
That is more than most currently operational ships are designed to accommodate, at least when they are conducting other tasks. “Few power systems onboard ships can support sustained usage of a high-powered laser without additional energy storage,” noted a recent Naval Postgraduate School paper titled “Power Systems and Energy Storage Modeling for Directed Energy Weapons”.
The paper said, “The new DDG-1000 may have enough electrical energy, but other platforms … may require some type of ‘energy magazine.’ This magazine stores energy for on-demand usage by the laser. It can be made up of batteries, capacitors, or flywheels, and would recharge between laser pulses. The energy magazine should allow for sustained usage against a swarm of targets in an engagement lasting up to twenty minutes.
Laser Weapon System LAWSThe US Navy Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Laser Weapon System (LaWS) while deployed to the Arabian Gulf. John F. Williams/US Navy
The ship’s integrated power system, which includes its electric propulsion, helps generate up to 78 megawatts of on-board electrical power, something seen as key to the future when it comes to ship technologies and the application of anticipated future weapons systems such as laser weapons and rail guns. The ship’s electric drive uses two main turbine generations with two auxiliary turbine generators which power up two 35-megawatt advanced induction motors, developers explained.
Ideally, it would charge up as fast as it discharges, allowing for indefinite use (as long as there is ship’s fuel to expend). Low maintenance, high safety, and long lifespan are other desirable characteristics.
DRS Power and Control Technologies is one of the companies which is developing a specialized energy source. “We have enough for well over 100 shots before we go to recharge,” DRS’s Klick said during a break at SNA, pointing out there’s even a mode for continuous recharge. “If you’ve got power this kind of power, you don’t go Winchester.”
The DRS system uses a Li-Ion battery subsystem designed and provided by Lithiumstart housed in three distributed steel, welded cabinets that are 48” x 66” x 100” – although they are modular, Klick says, and can be arranged for a tailored fit. Each cabinet contains 18 drawers with 480 Li-Ion phosphate cells in each drawer.
The redundant power modules can provide 465 k each for a total of 930 kw. It can hold that full-power mark for about three minutes, Klick says – although most “lases” are normally of relatively short duration.
An at-sea demonstration of the magazine is slated for 2018, Klick says, mostly with the 150-kw laser being developed by Northrop Grumman for the Office of Naval Research.
The system still must go through rigorous Navy certification testing, Klick says.
c130Lockheed Martin C-130 in flight. Lockheed Martin
He also sees the energy magazine as a candidate for other U.S. military units. “We’re looking at Air Force Special Forces on a C-130. You have to strike a car, but you’re worried about collateral damage. With that pinpoint accuracy, you don’t have to worry about collateral damage. You can just cause a car to stop running. There’s a lot more capability.”

Long-Term Effort

The Navy has already been working with Northrop Grumman on a three-year deal to develop a ship-board laser weapon engineered to quickly incinerate enemy drones, small boats, aircraft, ships and missiles, service officials told Scout Warrior.
"This system employs multi-spectral target detection and track capabilities as well as an advanced off-axis beam director with improved fiber laser technologies to provide extended target engagement ranges. Improvements of high power fiber lasers used to form the laser beam enable the increased power levels and extended range capabilities. Lessons learned, operating procedures, updated hardware and software derived from previous systems will be incorporated in this demonstration," Dr. Tom Beutner, director of the Air Warfare and Weapons branch, Office of Naval Research, told Scout Warrior in a written statement at the time of the contract announcement. 
A previously established 12-month, $53-million deal between Northrop and the Office of Naval Research will develop a Laser Weapon System Demonstrator through three phases; the phases include an initial design phase, ground-testing phase and then weapons testing at sea aboard a Navy Self Defense test ship, a Northrop statement said.
“The company will design, produce, integrate, and support the shipboard testing of a 150-kilowatt-class solid state (electric) laser weapon system,” the Northrop statement added. “The contract could grow to a total value of $91 million over 34 months if ONR exercises all of its contract options.”
Office of Naval Research officials told Scout Warrior an aim of the developmental program is to engineer a prototype weapons for further analysis.
“The possibilities can become integrated prototypes -- and the prototypes become reality when they become acquisition programs,” an ONR official said.
It is not yet clear when this weapon might be operational but the intention seems to be to arm surface ships such as destroyers, cruisers and possibly even carriers or an LCS with inexpensive offensive or defensive laser weapons technology.
“It is way too early to determine if this system will ever become operational. Northrop Grumman has been funded to set-up a demo to "demonstrate" the capabilities to senior leadership, who will then determine whether it is an asset worth further funding and turning into a program of record,” a Navy official told Scout Warrior.
Both Navy and Northrop Grumman officials often talk about the cost advantages of firing laser weapons to incinerate incoming enemy attacks or destroy enemy targets without having to expend an interceptor missile worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Navy officials describe this as getting ahead of the cost curve.
"For about the price of a gallon of diesel fuel per shot, we're offering the Navy a high-precision defensive approach that will protect not only its sailors, but also its wallet," said Guy Renard, director and program manager, directed energy, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.
As mentioned, the Navy has already deployed one laser system, called the Laser Weapons System, or LaWS, which has been operational for months.
LaWS uses heat energy from lasers to disable or destroy targets fast, slow, stationary and moving targets. The system has successfully incinerated UAVs and other targets in tests shots, and has been operational aboard an amphibious transport dock in the Persian Gulf, the USS Ponce.
The scalable weapon is designed to destroy threats for about $59-cents per shot, an amount that is exponentially lower that the hundreds of thousands or millions needed to fire an interceptor missile such as the Standard Missile-2, Navy officials explained.
While at sea, sailors have been using the LaWS for targeting and training exercises every day and the weapon has even been used to disable and destroy some targets, service officials said. 
Navy sailors and engineers have discovered some unanticipated intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance value from the laser weapons system by using its long-range telescope to scan for targets as well, Navy officials said.
USS Zumwalt 1U.S. Navy
Laser weapons are expected to figure prominently in the Navy's future plans in several respects. New Navy platforms such as the high-tech destroyer, the DDG 1000 or USS Zumwalt, is engineered with an electric drive propulsion system and extra on-board electrical power called an Integrated Power System. This system is in part designed to power-up ship electrical systems and accommodate emerging future weapons systems such as lasers and rail guns. 
"Laser weapons provide deep magazines, low cost per shot, and precision engagement capabilities with variable effects that range from dazzling to structural defeat against asymmetric threats that are facing the US Naval force,"  Beutner added. 
In addition, laser weapons integrate fully into the Navy's emerging "distributed lethality" strategy aimed at better arming the surface fleet with a wide array of offensive and defensive weapons. 
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Trump Is Said to Keep James Comey as F.B.I. Director

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Then, last Wednesday, during a weekly conference call, Mr. Comey relayed the news to his senior employees, who are known as special agents in charge.
Under federal law, the F.B.I. director is appointed to a 10-year term, intended to overlap more than one administration as part of post-Watergate overhauls created to give the director independence and insulate the job from politics. The president can fire the director, though. Mr. Comey, a former senior Justice Department official under President George W. Bush, was appointed by President Obama in 2013.
Those who described the plans for the F.B.I. director spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to be identified discussing confidential conversations between Mr. Trump, his aides and Mr. Comey.
Representatives for the F.B.I. and the White House declined to comment.
On Jan. 15, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, appeared on ABC News’s “This Week” program and signaled that Mr. Trump had no immediate desire to get rid of Mr. Comey.
“Yes, he has confidence in Director Comey,” Mr. Priebus said. “We have had a great relationship with him over the last several weeks. He’s extremely competent. But, look, his term extends for some time yet. There’s no plans at the moment in changing that term. And we’ve enjoyed our relationship with him and find him to be extraordinarily competent.”
Mr. Comey will have to manage an increasingly difficult relationship with Mr. Trump and his White House, as the F.B.I. is leading an investigation into ties between Mr. Trump’s associates — including his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort — and the Russian government. As part of that inquiry, agents have examined intercepted communications and financial transactions. Mr. Comey has repeatedly declined to discuss the investigation with members of Congress.
Mrs. Clinton and many Democrats blame Mr. Comey for her defeat, and it is not clear whether she would have kept him on had she won.
In July, Mr. Comey held a news conference to announce that the bureau was recommending to the Justice Department that Mrs. Clinton or her aides not be charged in connection with the mishandling of classified information on her personal email server. At the news conference, Mr. Comey took the unusual step of criticizing how Mrs. Clinton and her aides handled classified information, saying it was “extremely careless.”
When federal officials concluded their investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had a decision to make on how to announce that news. The choices he made in July set the F.B.I. on the path toward the predicament it faces today.
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Then, 11 days before the election, Mr. Comey sent a letter to Congress saying new emails that appeared related to the investigation had surfaced, which the bureau needed to analyze.
The letter set off a flurry of reports about Mrs. Clinton’s personal email server. The emails had been found as part of an unrelated investigation into illicit text messages Anthony D. Weiner — the estranged husband of Mrs. Clinton’s closest aide, Huma Abedin — had sent to a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina. Two days before the election, Mr. Comey sent another letter to Congress, saying that the emails had not changed the F.B.I.’s original recommendation to not charge Mrs. Clinton.
Republicans most likely would have attacked Mrs. Clinton if she had asked Mr. Comey to resign upon her election, but some people close to her have said that she was willing to endure whatever political cost was necessary in order to ensure Mr. Comey lost his job.
The Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating Mr. Comey’s handling of the Clinton email case, including his decision to both discuss it at a news conference and disclose just days before the election that he had new information that could lead him to reopen it.
The F.B.I. says it welcomes the investigation, and F.B.I. officials say they believe more information will be made available to the public that will help explain his actions.
On Sunday at the White House, Mr. Trump held an event to honor law enforcement officers who provided security for the inauguration. After calling the Secret Service director to the front of the room, Mr. Trump spotted Mr. Comey.
“Oh, there’s Jim; he’s become more famous than me,” Mr. Trump said.
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Встреча с участниками Форума лидеров студенческих и молодёжных организаций • Президент России

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Во время встречи с участниками Форума лидеров студенческих и молодёжных организаций.

Заседание попечительского совета МГУ • Президент России

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Заседание попечительского совета Московского государственного университета имени М.В.Ломоносова. С Первым заместителем Председателя Правительства Игорем Шуваловым (слева) и ректором МГУ Виктором Садовничим.

How Russia Hacked Our Voters In The 2016 US Election

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Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Credit: Sergei Ilnitsky/AFP/Getty Images)
Assuming that the country was, indeed, responsible for the attack on our nation's democracy, the answer to the above question should be simple to most Americans. Very, very wrong indeed. Undermining the democratic rights of a sovereign nation in an attempt to conduct cyber espionage is a very serious offense, not to mention far below the standards of moral politics. But in accusing Russia for its interference in the 2016 Presidential Election, we forget one key point, Russia didn't hack the election, it hacked the voters. While that may sound like a minor distinction to some, to others it makes a great deal of difference.
In case you have been living under an impenetrable stack of granite for the past few days, allow me to reiterate the events surrounding this massive conspiracy to you. In July 2016, infamous conspiracy news resource WikiLeaks published a series of confidential emails exchanged between several key members of the Democratic National Committee, emails supposedly leaked via an anonymous source. These emails, among other things, included the DNC's off-the-record correspondences with the media, severe derision of the Bernie Sanders campaign by some key members of the Democratic Party and highly sensitive financial information concerning high-profile donors in the Clinton campaign. The release of these highly confidential exchanges positioned the Democratic Party under a light so controversial that it caused the organization to call for the resignation of DNC chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz, CEO Amy Dacey, CFO Brad Marshall, and Communications Director Luis Miranda. Needless to say that after a breach so catastrophic, the DNC was left reeling from the effects of this attack for the majority of the 2016 Presidential Election.
Shortly after the leak, the DNC hired the private security firm Crowdstrike to investigate unusual network activity within its private servers that could have resulted in the leak. After deep investigation, Crowdstrike revealed that it had traced the said leak back to a set of two attacks on the DNC's servers, codenamed APT 28 or Fancy Bear and APT 29 or Cozy Bear. According to Crowdstrike, the attackers demonstrated a high level of expertise in their work and were supposedly responsible for similar attacks in the past that had been attributed to Russian military intelligence. This was to be the start of a ploy of chaos and conspiracy that spanned over several months following the events of the DNC hack. Multiple security firms were involved in what was called a deep and thorough investigation of the attack on the party's servers, while independent researchers from different parts of the country speculated on what could be the source of these attacks. In the end, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a joint statement last October, confirming its suspicions that it was indeed Russia that had conducted the series of attacks against the Democratic National Committee in an attempt to interfere with the US democratic procedure. 
Ever since the incident, there has been debate after debate on whether or not it was indeed Russia that sponsored the attacks on the DNC, whether the reports released by private security firms Crowdstrike and FireEye were speculative, if not outright mistaken and whether the US government was withholding additional crucial evidence as to Russia's involvement in the attacks. When seen from up top, the scenario of evidence painted against the Russian intelligence is indeed quite damning. However, when we take a closer look at the facts in front of us, things begin to smell fishy. There is no hardcore public evidence as of yet tying the Russian government to the attacks on the DNC, and the facts presented by private security firms Crowdstrike and FireEye are by and large circumstantial. However, if we were to just overlook this debate on its entirety and just assume for the moment that the attack was state-sponsored, the question that I see no one asking is whether or not Russia was actually wrong in its way of trying to sabotage the U.S. Election.
Had the Russian government found some mysterious way to hack into the voting machines prior to the election that led to the victory of Donald J. Trump, things would have been a lot simpler. The election would have been rendered invalid upon discovery and Russia's actions would be received as a clear act of war. However, that was not the case. Russia did not hack the U.S. election per se. Instead, it targeted the voters responsible for its outcome. It released confidential material that helped undermine the competition and indirectly determine the results of the election. And in doing so, it made matters a lot more complicated.
According to managed security experts, there is a lot of reasons why hackers hack. Some do it to steal private information, some to impersonate someone's identity, some for the purpose of financial profiteering and others for reasons motivated politically and ethically. When it comes to ethics, the justification for hacking is quite simple. In a world of mistaken idealism, where no one has anything to hide, complete and utter transparency should be the way of life. Such a world view is clearly naive, as even law-abiding citizens have things that they would rather keep secret, but that's a whole different story. When Russia hacked into the servers of the Democratic Party, it did nothing to fabricate false evidence or accuse the organization of doing something it didn't really do. It only released to the public, a series of emails that put the inner workings of the party on display in a completely transparent but utterly antagonizing manner. In a world where our right to privacy is no longer of the essence, where our very own intelligence agencies wiretap our private conversations as powerful corporate organizations do their best to buy their way into our private lives, is it really so shocking that something like this happened?
It is frightening what happens when our private lives are suddenly put on display, when the inner workings of our most secret conversations are suddenly revealed to the public eye. With the Democratic National Party, that's exactly what happened when their highly incompetent and largely outdated security systems were easily breached by a third party. We can blame Russia for its actions, and to an extent, we should. But at the end of the day, we must all take responsibility for how reluctant our nation has become when it comes to securing its own right to privacy.
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How to Make America’s Robots Great Again

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Industrial robots — which come in many shapes and perform a range of factory jobs, from huge, precisely controlled arms used to build cars to graceful machines that package delicate pastries — were invented in the United States. But in the last few years the Chinese government has spent billions to turn China into the world’s robotic wonderland.
In 2013, China became the world’s largest market for industrial robots, according to the International Federation of Robotics, an industry trade group. Now China is working on another big goal: to become the largest producer of robots used for factories, agriculture and a range of other applications.
Robotics industry experts said that goal could be a decade away, but they see few impediments to China’s eventual dominance.
“If you look at the comparisons in investment between China and the U.S., we’re going to lose,” said Henrik Christensen, director of the Contextual Robotics Institute at the University of California, San Diego. “The investments in China are billions and billions. I’m not seeing that investment in the U.S. And without that investment, we are going to lose. No doubt.”
There’s a way to address this problem, but it’s politically perilous: The United States should invest in robots. Mark Cuban, the internet and sports entrepreneur (and Trump nemesis), recently called on the president to offer $100 billion in funding for robotics. Frank Tobe, the publisher and editor of a trade magazine called The Robot Report, said government investment was imperative.
“We better do something, or we’re going to be behind the gun,” he said. “We should be in the robot business, not just users of foreign robots.”
If we don’t, robot scholars said the president’s plans for a resurgence in manufacturing could backfire. Today, we buy a lot of stuff made in China by Chinese people. Tomorrow, we’ll buy stuff made in America — by Chinese robots.
How China learned to love robots is instructive. For years, China’s chief selling point was cheap labor. But over the last couple of decades, its population has gotten older and richer, and its workers’ wages rose faster than the rate of economic growth. Chinese leaders worried that manufacturers would get priced out. In the same way that America lost manufacturing to China, Chinese manufacturers would lose work to India, Vietnam and other developing Asian economies.
So the Chinese did what the Chinese do: They centrally planned a revival. Over a succession of five-year economic plans, the government pushed a series of manufacturing reforms. One of its central ideas is automation. Local governments have offered billions in subsidies for companies to buy and manufacture robots. The government has been especially interested in building robots that can be installed in China’s car factories, which have been criticized for poor workmanship. Cars built by robots would not just save labor costs; the government also believes they can build better cars. In 2014, Xi Jinping, China’s president, called for a “robot revolution.”
Like other centrally planned initiatives, China’s robotics initiatives have not proceeded without trouble. There have been overinvestment and waste, and many Chinese robotics companies aren’t making very good robots.
“Many are low quality, and safety and design standards are really not good,” said Dieter Ernst, a senior fellow at the East-West Center, an organization that aims to improve Asian-American relations. “There are supposedly a bit more than 100 Chinese robot companies. I would say about 50 of these companies may survive.”
But the Chinese government and its companies are persistent. Mr. Ernst expects slow, steady gains in the Chinese robotics industry. And in five to 10 years, he predicts, China’s robot business will be producing industrial robots that are on par with those from Germany and Japan.
Pushing a robotics revival in the United States would be more difficult than in China, where there hasn’t been much outcry from workers over the government’s embrace of automation.
“There is not a public conversation in China about the pluses and minuses of automation,” said Scott Kennedy, a China scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They don’t talk about the losers in society from globalization or potential automation.”
In the United States, on the other hand, losing is all we seem to talk about. Mr. Trump rose to power in part because he crystallized a feeling among voters that we have lost our edge to China. He promised to bring jobs back to America. In a hot-take political climate that can’t stomach nuance, an investment in robots would be seen as a betrayal of the manufacturing workers he promised to save.
But that would be a mistake. Mr. Christensen of the University of California, San Diego, pointed out that even the most automated of factories still employ people. To the extent that an investment in robotics might make it easier for companies to build their factories in the United States rather than in China, it might well create new jobs in the United States.
What’s more, America enjoys many advantages in robotics that China lacks. Some of the world’s leading roboticists work at American universities. The United States has a start-up culture that knows how to create big new companies. And America has a head start in the most advanced robotics technologies. For instance, American companies are the leading purveyors of surgical robots, and they are at the forefront of “collaborative robotics,” in which robots can work side by side with humans.
“All of this robotics technology was invented in the U.S., but we basically let other companies take it from us and make it cheaper, and now we’re buying it from them,” Mr. Christensen said. “In some sense, we’re not being very good at making sure we remain competitive in areas that we’re leading.”
And that’s how huge government funding can help, the robot experts said. As in China, an infusion from Mr. Trump could turn some of the most far-out ideas in robotics into a structural advantage for the American economy.
“What we can learn from the Chinese example is that the government plays a nurturing and fostering role for developing the robotics industry,” Mr. Ernst said. “We can do the same. We must do the same.”
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Iran, Russia and Turkey Agree to Enforce Syria Cease-Fire, but Don’t Explain How

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Despite the supposed cease-fire, new clashes were reported in Wadi Barada, a besieged rebel-held area and source for most of the drinking water for Damascus, the Syrian capital. Water supplies have been cut off for weeks, and the government and rebel sides have blamed each other.
The agreement among Iran, Russia and Turkey was announced a day after the Syrian factions exchanged harsh words at the start of the talks, held in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan.
A main result of the meeting was to firm up Russia’s growing role in the Syria diplomacy, establishing the Astana talks as a part of, but not a replacement for, the Geneva process that has been spearheaded for years by the United Nations and the United States. The new document said meetings in Astana, a capital five time zones east of Geneva with close ties to Turkey but firmly within Russia’s sphere of influence, would be a forum to discuss specific issues that come up within the Geneva framework.
There had been tentative hopes among some rebel negotiators that Russia might be ready to take on a more active role in seeking a political compromise. But there was no concrete progress on political issues, which were excluded from the narrowly focused talks.
Iran, Russia and Turkey affirmed their commitment “to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic as a multiethnic, multireligious, nonsectarian and democratic state,” and their conviction “that there is no military solution to the Syrian conflict and that it can only be solved through a political process.” Those sentiments echo principles that the United Nations Security Council has laid out.
The countries also reiterated “their determination to fight jointly” against the Islamic State and against Al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, formerly known as the Nusra Front, pledging to “separate” them from armed opposition groups. That could be an important provision, since the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad tends to classify all the opposition fighters indiscriminately as terrorist groups, and many have been unable or unwilling to separate themselves from forces of the former Nusra Front on the battlefield.
The agreement did not specify how such a separation might occur, however.
In Astana, government representatives said that they still considered the rebel fighters to be terrorists and were waiting to see if Turkey followed through on the agreement. Rebel negotiators said the meetings had given them hope that Russia might be open to hearing rebel concerns and become more willing to press the Syrian government for a political resolution, but such optimism did not extend to Iran, which had stuck to a harder line.
Staffan de Mistura, the special United Nations envoy for Syria who had been invited to the Astana talks, said in an interview after the joint statement was issued that in the interactions he had watched between Russia and opposition commanders, “The body language was of people who were seriously talking to each other and taking each other seriously.”
At the same time, rebels are concerned that the new agreement puts Iran in the position of taking part in a cease-fire that its own militias have been accused of violating.
The next round of talks between the Syrian government and the opposition will occur on Feb. 8 in Geneva, according to the announcement by the three countries. But diplomats in Astana said it was unclear if that date was firm.
Bashar al-Jaafari, the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations who led his government’s delegation to the talks in Astana, said an offensive by the government and its allied troops would continue, arguing that Qaeda-linked “terrorist groups” controlled Ain al-Fijeh, a town in Wadi Barada. Residents in Wadi Barada say that some fighters from the former Nusra Front are present there, but that they are at most a tiny minority.
Also on Tuesday, United Nations officials appealed for more than $8 billion in funding this year to help millions of people displaced by the Syrian conflict.
The United Nations refugee agency is asking for $4.6 billion to help at least 4.8 million people who have fled abroad, mainly to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and around $3.4 billion for an estimated 13.5 million internally displaced Syrians.
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Trump faces ‘alternative facts’ from Putin in the Middle East

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After six years of war in Syria, Russia and Turkey have brought government and rebels together in Kazakhstan, face-to-face for the first time, but at opposite sides of the same room glaring at each other. These talks in Astana are most unlikely to bring peace to Syria — but they will probably cement realignment, leaving the US substantially out of the regional picture from the Levant to Libya.
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True, unlike at previous talks in Geneva, convened by the US and Russia under UN auspices, there are mainstream rebel fighters at the table rather than the five-star hotel rebels who have so signally failed to build a cohesive opposition and alternative government. Moscow’s ally in Syria, Iran, is minding the government delegation, while Turkey — until now set on toppling the regime of Bashar al-Assad — is supposed to be prompting the rebels. Everyone notionally agrees Astana is a bridge to resumed UN-run talks in Geneva next month; it could just as easily be a bypass. Either way, this is a diplomatic dance orchestrated in all its essentials by the Kremlin.
President Donald Trump and his team talk about what they are pleased to call “alternative facts”. The master of the Kremlin he so admires, President Vladimir Putin, is busy with his friends creating alternative facts across the Middle East.
“Putin intends to start the post-Obama chapter in Syria on his terms, confronting the new American administration with the fait accompli of [Assad] regime victory in Aleppo,” writes Fabrice Balanche of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “On the diplomatic front, the new Turkey-Russia-Iran alliance threatens to marginalise other outside actors.”
It was Nato ally Turkey’s tilt towards Russia and Iran, the architects of the Assad regime’s victory in retaking rebel-held eastern Aleppo, that changed the strategic equation in Syria. The U-turn by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan followed nearly a year of estrangement from Mr Putin, which came close to war after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near its border in November 2015.
Ankara and Moscow made up after the failed military coup in Turkey in July, in time for Turkish forces to thrust into north-west Syria, clearing Isis jihadis from almost 100km of its porous border. But Turkey needed Russia’s blessing to pursue its real aim: stopping Syrian Kurdish fighters, allied with the US against Isis, from moving westwards across the river Euphrates to join up their eastern and western territories.
Now, even though Ankara is purveying “alternative facts” to disguise its shift on Syria, Turkey no longer seeks the removal of Mr Assad. “The facts on the ground have changed dramatically,” Mehmet Simsek, Turkey’s deputy prime minister told an audience in Davos last week. “Turkey can no longer insist, you know, on a settlement without Assad,” he said. “It’s not realistic”.
Mr Putin, for whom Syria is arguably about securing Russian superpower parity with the US, has just signed long-term leases with the Assad regime for naval and airbases in Syria. Iran and its militia proxies face an unpredictable but hostile Trump administration. Tehran may be trying to replicate its success with Lebanon’s Hizbollah — the most potent paramilitary organisation in the world — with the militia coalitions it has stitched together in both Iraq and Syria.
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President Trump will have to make decisions about these emerging new facts on the ground. He may want to tilt towards Mr Putin, allying against Isis and Islamist extremism, and hoping Moscow can restrain Tehran’s muscle-flexing across the region. But that would have collateral costs, not least in Europe and within Nato.
For the moment, the US is a bystander to Russia’s “alternative facts” in the Middle East. Moscow is, for instance — along with another traditional US ally, Egypt — shifting support in Libya away from the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli towards a former Gaddafi general.
Mr Trump’s one ostensible attempt to create alternative facts on the ground in the Middle East — a lurch towards Israel’s irredentist government endorsing more settlement-building on occupied Palestinian land and a pledge to move the US embassy to Jerusalem — would alienate Washington’s Arab allies. In Saudi Arabia, the ruling House of Saud, as custodians of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, would have to react robustly. Jordan’s Hashemite monarchy, descended from the house of the Prophet Mohammed, who in Muslim belief rose to heaven from Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, is guardian of the city’s Islamic holy places, by tradition and by the 1994 treaty with Israel. Any challenge to the religious status quo in the holy city strikes at the heart of Hashemite legitimacy.
These are all facts too, and the Trump administration would be wise to consider them.
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Trump clamps down on federal agencies

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By Jordan Fabian - 01/24/17 08:09 PM EST
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Trump’s disregard for the truth threatens his ability to govern

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Trump to Order Mexican Border Wall and Curtail Immigration

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“Big day planned on NATIONAL SECURITY tomorrow,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday night. “Among many other things, we will build the wall!”
Mr. Trump will sign the executive order for the wall during an appearance at the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday, as Mexico’s foreign minister, Luis Videgaray, arrives in Washington to prepare for the visit of President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico. Mr. Peña Nieto will be among the first foreign leaders to meet the new president at the end of the month.
The border wall was a signature promise of Mr. Trump’s campaign, during which he argued it is vital to gaining control over the illegal flow of immigrants into the United States.
Mr. Trump is also expected to target legal immigrants as early as this week, White House officials said, by halting a decades-old program that grants refuge to the world’s most vulnerable people as he begins the process of drastically curtailing it and enhancing screening procedures.
In the draft of a separate executive order now being circulated inside the administration, Mr. Trump would examine the question of whether the Central Intelligence Agency should reopen its so-called black sites, secret interrogation and detention centers that it operated overseas. Former President Barack Obama ordered the closings of all in the first week of his presidency in 2009.
The black sites were a highly classified program, so their mention in an executive order would be highly unusual.
The draft of a second executive order would also order a review of the Army Field Manual to determine whether to use certain enhanced interrogation techniques.
Another executive order under consideration would direct the secretary of state to determine whether to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization. That designation has been sought by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
The refugee policy under consideration would halt admissions from Syria and suspend it from other majority-Muslim nations until the administration can study how to properly vet them. This would pave the way for the administration to slash the number of displaced people who can be resettled on American soil, and would effectively bar the entry of people from Muslim countries — including Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Syria — at least for some time.
The plan is in line with a ban on Muslim immigrants that Mr. Trump proposed during his campaign, arguing that such a step was warranted given concerns about terrorism. He later said he wanted to impose “extreme vetting” of refugees from Syria and other countries where terrorism was rampant, although the Obama administration had already instituted strict screening procedures for Syrian refugees that were designed to weed out anyone who posed a danger.
The expected actions drew strong criticism from immigrant advocates and human rights groups, which called them discriminatory moves that rejected the American tradition of welcoming immigrants of all backgrounds.
“To think that Trump’s first 100 days are going to be marked by this very shameful shutting of our doors to everybody who is seeking refuge in this country is very concerning,” said Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “Everything points to this being simply a backdoor Muslim ban.”
For Mr. Trump, whose raucous campaign rallies frequently featured chants of “build the wall,” the directive to fortify the border was not unexpected, although it may not be enough by itself to accomplish the task. Congress would need to approve any new funding necessary to build the wall, which Mr. Trump has insisted Mexico will finance, despite its leaders’ protestations to the contrary. The order would shift already appropriated federal funds to the wall’s construction, but it was unclear where the money would come from.
The Government Accountability Office has estimated that it could cost $6.5 million per mile to build a single-layer fence, and an additional $4.2 million per mile for roads and more fencing, according to congressional officials. Those estimates do not include maintenance of the fence along the nearly 2,000-mile border with Mexico. Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, said she thought even Republicans might balk at spending what she said could be $14 billion on a wall.
Mr. Trump has said immigration will be on the agenda when he meets with Mr. Peña Nieto.
The order to build the wall is likely to complicate the visit of Mr. Videgaray, who has a history with Mr. Trump. It was Mr. Videgaray, then Mexico’s finance minister, who orchestrated Mr. Trump’s visit to Mexico before the election, a move seen by many Mexicans as tantamount to treason. He was forced to resign because of the fallout, but his reputation was restored after Mr. Trump’s victory, and he was given the job of foreign minister, in part to capitalize on his relationship with the new American leader.
It is unclear whether Mexican officials were informed of Mr. Trump’s decision to sign the executive order during Mr. Videgaray’s visit.
Mr. Trump’s refugee directive is expected to target a program the Obama administration expanded last year in response to a global refugee crisis, fueled in large part by a large flow of Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war. Mr. Obama increased the overall number of refugees to be resettled in the United States to 85,000 and ordered that 10,000 of the slots be reserved for Syrians. He set the number of refugees to be resettled this year at 110,000, more than double the 50,000 Mr. Trump is now considering.
By the end of last month, more than 25,000 refugees had been resettled, according to State Department figures, meaning the plan Mr. Trump is considering would admit only 25,000 more by the end of September.
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The Press Should Skip the White House Briefings

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“Where was the enterprising work?” they asked. The piercing brand of journalism I had done in New England, that led them to unleash me on the presidency? Their questions echo, as I watch reporters today square off against President Trump, whose contempt for the press seems manifest and menacing.
Michael McCurry, the press secretary I pestered, described his job as “telling the truth slowly.” It sounds downright laudable now, but was viewed as cynical in that more innocent era. Either way, it speaks of reality. There’s no house edge in Las Vegas like the one held by the dealers at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — and the new pit boss knows the game. The advice I offer to today’s press corps is thoroughly unoriginal, but tested and true: Get out of the press room, and look for access elsewhere.
My best source worked not at the White House but a mile and a half away, on Capitol Hill. Senator Ted Kennedy had the means (his friends, liberal allies, staff and former aides pervaded the capital) to know more than all but the most senior presidential aides, and the motive (the need to remain on good terms with the hometown paper) to tell me about it.
If I was clueless on the internal politics of the Clinton administration — Labor Secretary Robert Reich must still snicker at the fat kiss I gave him, in a Sunday profile, as the liberal mastermind of White House economic policy — Kennedy and his wonks were good to me. Policy mattered to them, and to my readers. On issues of particular interest in Boston and Cambridge — like the troubles in Northern Ireland or Supreme Court appointments — their aid was invaluable.
There’s a sturdy journalistic imperative: Seek out the other side. What Kennedy and his Democrats could not tell me, the shock troops of Newt Gingrich’s 1994 revolution and a growing army of conservative interest groups were ready to supply.
Republicans may now control the elected branches in Washington, but the Trump years should be fertile time for disgruntled bureaucrats, who for reasons of policy or pique might be ready to leak to the press.
Did any group of fired employees cause more mischief for their employers, over so little, than the discharged staff of the White House Travel Office? They spurred the first Clinton “-gate” — Travelgate. The travel staff followed a path blazed by Mark Felt, the F.B.I. official who did not get the big promotion that he coveted and, as a source called Deep Throat, helped bring down Richard Nixon’s presidency.
And then there are the ideologues — the believers in activist government who, seeing a Trump administration dismantle health care coverage or environmental protections, will take their case to the press. It’s the Democrats who have been staffing the executive branch for eight years. The whistle-blowers, like Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, will be out in full force.
So take heart, my ink-stained wretches. Even in the Trump years, there will be ways — time-tested and effective — to get around the White House maledictions.
Not too long ago, one of the nation’s premier reporters, whose clout affords him access in spades, still found it necessary to go out, uninvited, to the home of a general who had been ducking his calls.
It was 8:15 p.m. when he knocked on the door. The general opened it, took a look at Bob Woodward and asked, “Are you still doing this?”
But then he invited him in.
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Iran, Russia and Turkey Agree to Enforce Syria Cease-Fire, but Don’t Explain How

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Nikolai Kapustin performing Prelude, op. 53, no. 11 - YouTube

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Uploaded on May 23, 2007
Nikolai Kapustin performing Prelude, op. 53, no. 11. Visit <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> for more information.

Рахманинов, Концерт № 2 для фортепиано - Ван Клиберн - YouTube

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Uploaded on Jan 19, 2012
Сергей Васильевич Рахманинов
Концерт № 2 для фортепиано с оркестром до минор, соч. 18
1. Moderato (00:50)
2. Adagio sostenuto (12:30)
3. Allegro scherzando (24:50)

Фортепиано: Ван Клиберн
Дирижер: Кирилл Кондрашин
Большой зал Московской консерватории, 1972
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Чайковский Сентиментальный вальс Исп Люка Дебарг - YouTube

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Published on Jun 29, 2015
Конкурс Чайковского 2015 1 тур

Iran, Russia, Turkey say will jointly enforce Syria ceasefire

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No major deals likely at Astana talks on Syria

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Participants in the Syrian peace talks attend a meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan, Jan. 23, 2017. (photo by REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov)
Author: Amberin Zaman Posted January 23, 2017
Turkey warned that there are no quick solutions to Syria’s six-year conflict as peace talks bringing together the warring sides and their regional backers kicked off Monday in the Kazakh capital Astana.
Summary⎙ Print
 The Syrian sides are making no promises at the peace talks in Astana, and despite their joint support for a political solution, neither are Turkey and Russia.
“A solution in one or two days should not be expected,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said, signaling concerns that the latest stab at peace may well fail.
The immediate purpose of the talks sponsored by Russia and Turkey is to solidify the shaky cease-fire that has largely held despite occasional violations throughout Syria.
The rebels led by Mohammad Alloush, a leading figure in the Jaish al Islam (Army of Islam) faction and Syrian government representatives led by the country’s envoy to the United Nations, Bashar al-Jafaari, did not hold face-to-face talks and relied on Turkey and Russia to relay their messages instead.
The language used by the sides was hardly promising: Jafaari referred to the rebels as “terrorists” and Alloush said that the rebels’ preferred choice was a political solution but that it was “not the only one.”
The United States, citing transition business, declined to take part at the last minute and Ahrar al Sham, one of the most powerful rebel groups with close ties to Turkey, said it wasn’t coming either, citing regime violations of the cease-fire in the Wadi Barada area near Damascus.
Still, it is the first time that armed opposition groups have parlayed with the government, albeit from separate rooms. The talks are also meant to lay the groundwork for a future round of United Nations-sponsored discussions that are due to be held in Geneva next month.
And whatever the outcome, the Astana meeting showcases the realignment of key actors in the conflict, above all Turkey.
Ankara has arguably paid a higher price than any for the carnage in its backyard, hosting three million Syrian refugees and facing the wrath of the Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the New Year’s Eve attack on an Istanbul night club that claimed 39 lives.
Kurtulmus recently acknowledged that Turkey’s woes were in part self-inflicted, calling its policy of backing Syrian rebels seeking to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad “wrong.”
In a bid to reverse course, Turkey has in recent months bowed to Russian demands to withdraw its support for the rebels in Aleppo, allowing the regime to regain control over Syria’s second-largest city seen as key to any victory. The quid pro quo was that Russia would not stand in Turkey’s way as it cleared IS from its borders and also pursued the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) around the IS-held town of al-Bab.
Russia long advocated for the participation of the YPG-affiliated groups in the peace talks but it went along with Turkey’s demands that they not come to Astana.
Washington, which previously sided with Turkey on the matter, now says the YPG’s political arm, the Democratic Union Party, must be represented. More critically, Turkey’s hopes that the new US administration will heed its calls to scotch the US alliance with the Syrian Kurds and team up with Turkish troops and their rebel proxies in a planned offensive against the IS “capital” Raqqa instead will likely be ignored.
Turkey’s three-month-old offensive to capture al-Bab, part of an effort to keep the Syrian Kurds from linking up territories under their control, is hardly burnishing its credentials. Progress has been slow and Turkish casualties are mounting despite sustained Turkish airstrikes that have destroyed entire sections of al-Bab and killed at several hundred civilians, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syrian Kurdish officials speaking anonymously told Al-Monitor there is growing evidence that Turkey is willing to let Syrian regime forces to finish the job instead. “The regime is getting closer to al-Bab by the minute and Russian airstrikes are clearing their path,” one of them said. “It’s the only outcome acceptable to Iran.”
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Helicopter crashes in mountains of central Italy with six people on board

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Russia, Turkey and Iran agree to jointly monitor ceasefire in Syria in step towards ending violence

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Bashar Jaafari, the government’s representative, immediately hailed the talks a success but the opposition said it still had major reservations.
The 14-member rebel delegation objected to the inclusion of Iran, which they said could not be a credible monitor as its proxies on the ground had repeatedly violated the ceasefire.
In particular they singled out Tehran-backed Lebanese Shia militia Hizbollah for carrying out attacks on the Wadi Barada valley outside Damascus, which has been fought over fiercely since the Dec 30 truce came into force. 
“The rebels do not trust Russia. This will be a test to see how much they can control their ally (Iran),” Asaad Hanna, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, told the Telegraph. “They presented themselves as moderators so they must moderate them.”
Iran has a great stake in the war - providing the manpower and resources that have helped Bashar al-Assad’s government. It has bolstered the regime in order to maintain its influence and secure a supply route through the country for Hizbollah in neighbouring Lebanon.
It sees the conflict in Syria as part of a broader Sunni-Shia struggle.
Such a deal seemed difficult to imagine a year ago, when the last peace talks in Geneva collapsed without agreement. 
It is the first time in the six-year-war that the armed rebels and the government had sat in the same room as each other, albeit briefly.
Talks between the two sides have seen greater success with the detente between Russia and Turkey and the sidelining of the United States. Negotiations between Moscow and Washington had been characterised by deep divisions and mistrust between the former Cold War foes
Steffan de Mistura, the UN”s envoy to Syria who has been brokering the talks in Astana, had welcomed the idea of a trilateral commission to create accountability. “We didn’t have it in the past, that’s the reason why often we failed.”
The three sponsors also agreed to joint efforts to combat Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and the need for more moderate rebels to distance themselves from Islamist groups. 
But even as talks took place in the Kazakh capital, the situation of the ground was in flux.
Jaish Fateh al-Sham, a jihadist group which formerly had links with al-Qaeda, launched an attack on moderate rebels represented at the talks in Astana. 
The attack by JFS targeted Free Syrian Army groups in northwestern Syria in Idlib, the rebellion's main territorial foothold after the opposition's defeat in Aleppo last month.
JFS surrounding the headquarters of the large rebel faction Jaish al-Mujahideen in Idlib province.
Jaish al-Mujahideen’s commander told Reuters the "extremely fierce" attack aimed to "eliminate the revolution and turn it black", a reference to the black flag flown by the jihadists in Syria.
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Persia & Armenia Music - YouTube

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Published on Mar 27, 2014
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WATCH LIVE: Oscar nominations announced - YouTube

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lock stock and barrel - Google Search

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#TCH15 - Winners Concert I: Lucas Debargue - YouTube

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Published on Aug 21, 2015
Discover the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition:

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#TCH15 Follow the XV International Tchaikovsky Competition in video with excerpts from each rounds !

Full concert here :!/xv-internatio...

The XV International Tchaikovsky Competition's Winners' Concert

Lucas Debargue plays
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky - Sentimental Waltz, Op. 51 No. 6
the Mariinsky Theatre Symphony Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev

Recorded at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, on July 2, 2015.
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Встреча с губернатором Свердловской области Евгением Куйвашевым • Президент России

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С губернатором Свердловской области Евгением Куйвашевым.
1 из 2
С губернатором Свердловской области Евгением Куйвашевым.

Dmitry Masleev - Saint Saens, Danza Macabra (Arr. Horowitz) - YouTube

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Published on Dec 4, 2014
Secondo premio ex-aequo al 14° Concorso internazionale di interpretazione pianistica "Giuliano Pecar" 2014

Trump Would Not Stop Investigations into Russian Contacts

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At his first White House briefing Monday, new Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked about U.S. intelligence agencies investigating contacts between people close to President Donald Trump and members of the Russian government.
Asked if Trump would stop those investigations now that he is in charge of the federal government, Spicer told reporters, “[Trump] He has not made any indication that he will stop any investigation of any sort.”
The Central Intelligence Agency, the FBI, the National Security Agency and the Treasury Department have assembled a task force to investigate alleged increased Russian espionage and other activities, including Kremlin-ordered cyber attacks to interfere in the U.S. presidential election. During the campaign, investigators collected communications between people close to then-Republican nominee Trump and surrogates of the Russian government.
Michael Flynn, White House national security adviser, attends "2017 Passing the Baton" conference at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, Jan. 10, 2017.
Michael Flynn, White House national security adviser, attends "2017 Passing the Baton" conference at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, Jan. 10, 2017.
Two calls between Flynn, Kislyak
The Wall Street Journal was the first to report that U.S. intelligence agents were also looking into the content of calls between Trump's newly sworn-in National Security Advisor, retired General Michael Flynn, and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. Reports say Flynn called Kislyak in late December, around the same time the Obama administration announced sanctions against Russia in retaliation for its alleged use of cyber attacks to interfere in the elections.
U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the cyber attacks into Democratic National Committee emails to discredit Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Spicer told reporters Monday there had only been two calls between Flynn and the Russian ambassador, and they focused on four subjects: setting up a phone call between Trump and Russian President Putin, exchanging holiday pleasantries, Flynn expressing his condolences for those killed in a Russian plane crash, and the possibilities of Russia and the U.S. working together to combat Islamic State.
Former counterterrorism official Malcom Nance told VOA that Trump needs to answer questions about his relationship with Russia raised by U.S. intelligence reports and by Trump's strong public support for Putin and many of his foreign policy views.
Russia's ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, speaks with reporters in Washington, Jan. 13, 2017.
Russia's ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, speaks with reporters in Washington, Jan. 13, 2017.
Question about airstrikes
In Monday's briefing, Spicer answered questions on a wide range of topics. Asked about a Russian report that the U.S. and Russia are conducting joint airstrikes in Syria, Spicer referred the reporter to the Pentagon for an answer.
But he added, "I think if there's a way we can combat ISIS with any country, whether it's Russia or anyone else, and we have a shared national interest in that, sure, we'll take it."
A Pentagon spokesman denied the Russian reports, saying: "The Department of Defense is not coordinating airstrikes with the Russian military in Syria.”
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Senate confirms Mike Pompeo as CIA director

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Russia Is a Terrible Ally Against Terrorism

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It’s often said that the United States practices counterterrorism with a scalpel while Russia uses a chain saw. That has been made clear in Syria, where Airwars, a London-based monitoring group, estimates that Russian airstrikes cause civilian deaths at a rate eight times that of United States-led coalition missions. While Mr. Trump was pilloried during the campaign for suggesting that the United States murder the families of terrorists, that has long been standard practice in Russia, along with “disappearing” and extrajudicially killing suspects. Consequently, the Muslim-majority Russian republics of Dagestan and Chechnya still smolder after decades of rebellion and oppression; other Russian Muslim communities seethe.
The experience in the Caucasus and the rest of Russia underscores the dangers of Moscow’s approach. President Vladimir V. Putin’s tactics have led to jihadist violence at home and the export of thousands of terrorists to Syria, where they make up one of the largest cohorts of foreign extremists, alongside Tunisians and Saudis. Russian citizens have also been a major presence in Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world. A Chechen-led cell is believed to be responsible for killing 45 people in an attack on Istanbul’s airport in June. Numerous smaller attacks against Russians at home have been carried out and jihadist calls for violence against Russia have been escalating worldwide.
Mr. Trump, it seems, is oblivious to these trends.
Embracing Russia and its brutal tactics has the potential to stoke anti-American sentiment and encourage radicalization among Muslims around the world. The thought that we would run that risk, particularly when the United States’ Muslim community is one of the best-integrated, least radicalized in a predominantly non-Muslim country, is simply foolish.
Joining forces with Russia in Syria would also damage American relations with Sunni governments. These governments rightly consider Russia the patron of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, the ally of Iran and de facto partner of Hezbollah — all of whom are seen as responsible for the butchery of Syria’s Sunnis. They also understand, as Mr. Trump does not, that Russia’s military engagement in Syria has been aimed at helping the Assad government survive, not targeting the Islamic State.
For now, Sunni governments from Cairo to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, are exuberant about Mr. Trump’s victory. They expect that they will no longer face American criticism for committing human rights abuses. Those high spirits will quickly fade if the United States is seen to be abetting the Damascus-Tehran-Moscow axis. This, in turn, will impede the work of America’s fight against terrorism. The United States relies on Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for much of the most valuable intelligence on jihadists. By contrast, we receive little of value from Russia.
That points to the final reason such a partnership with Moscow is a terrible idea. The United States has labored to improve its counterterrorism cooperation with Russia since the attacks of Sept. 11. As coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department, I, like my counterparts in other agencies, sought to engage the Russians on many occasions. Though we pointed to the counterterrorism work as a modestly successful part of an otherwise volatile relationship, in truth there was little to boast about.
In areas where we should have been able to cooperate, like transportation security, safeguarding special events like the Olympics and countering terrorist propaganda, Russia’s sclerotic bureaucracy and general lack of interest (especially with issues like deradicalization) made progress impossible. In more sensitive areas, like intelligence cooperation, some information routinely changes hands. But there is profound mistrust on both sides.
Russian and American intelligence agencies see one another not so much as potential allies but as persistent threats. In the wake of Russia’s meddling in the presidential election, it is utterly — and rightly — inconceivable that the American intelligence community would change its position. Mr. Trump might ponder that.
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Mike Pompeo Is Confirmed to Lead C.I.A., as Rex Tillerson Advances

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Several hours later, by a party-line vote of 11-10, Mr. Tillerson won the committee’s recommendation. As Mr. Rubio explained his vote to reporters after the hearing, a heckler sidled up beside him with a teasing prop: a model of a spine.
Mr. Tillerson must still clear a full Senate vote in order to join the administration. Mr. Trump’s aides and Senate allies had hoped to win approval on several nominees on Inauguration Day, but only two national security posts — the defense secretary, James N. Mattis, and the homeland security secretary, John F. Kelly — were filled.
On Monday, Mr. Pompeo joined them, with the Senate convening to approve his selection, 66 to 32, after a debate that stretched into the evening.
In their bid to confirm cabinet picks quickly, Republicans have been hamstrung at times by lax preparation from Mr. Trump’s team and the sprawling financial holdings of many of his nominees, which have produced reams of ethics paperwork.
Still, Democrats are powerless to stop any nominees on their own. They have sought to use the confirmation process as a showcase for what they call the extreme positions of the prospective Trump cabinet and the ethical lapses that have dogged some of his selections.
“I know why our Republican colleagues want to rush these nominees through,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, who has taken to calling Mr. Trump’s team a “swamp cabinet.”
“We’re not stalling nominations,” he added. “This isn’t sport. This is serious stuff.”
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, urged Democrats to stand down. “Let’s join hands and move forward,” he said.
Earlier, a group of Democratic senators formally requested a second hearing for Betsy DeVos, the nominee for education secretary, after an initial review of her ethics papers. They cited potential conflicts of interest and efforts by Republicans to limit questions at her hearing last week.
Ms. DeVos struggled through the hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, appearing uncertain on some basics of federal education policy.
In response to the Democrats’ letter, the office of Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee and the committee’s chairman, said there would be no second hearing, adding that Ms. DeVos had already spent more time and answered more questions than former President Barack Obama’s nominees for education secretary had.
Ms. DeVos is scheduled for a committee vote next week. Several other nominees are expected to be considered by other Senate committees this week, clearing the path for their confirmations. They include Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Mr. Trump’s choice for attorney general; Ben Carson, his pick to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development; Wilbur L. Ross, the nominee for commerce secretary; and Elaine Chao, the nominee for transportation secretary.
Hearings are scheduled on Tuesday for Representative Tom Price of Georgia, Mr. Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services; Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, his choice for White House budget director; and Linda McMahon, Mr. Trump’s pick to lead the Small Business Administration.
On Monday, the chamber’s focus was on Mr. Pompeo. Though Republicans had hoped to hold the vote just after the inauguration, some Democrats objected to what they viewed as an effort to curb debate on intelligence issues.
“We ought to have a debate in broad daylight, not when senators are trying to figure out if their tux is going to fit,” Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said at the time.
Mr. Wyden continued his push on Monday, suggesting Mr. Pompeo’s record conveyed “enthusiasm for sweeping new surveillance programs targeting Americans,” among other concerns.
But Mr. Pompeo did earn the support of some Democrats, limiting drama on the floor.
The most highly anticipated vote of the day had been Mr. Rubio’s, on another Trump selection. With his explosive questioning of Mr. Tillerson at the hearing two weeks ago, the former 2016 presidential hopeful had once again seized an outsize spotlight.
But Mr. Rubio also seemed to feed critics’ perception of him as squishy on matters of conviction, reinforcing his history of public vacillating and backtracking.
He worked on immigration reform in 2013, before distancing himself from the legislation during last year’s Republican primaries. He sold “#NeverTrump” bumper stickers on his campaign website, before announcing his support for Mr. Trump once he dropped out. He said he would not run for re-election to the Senate, weeks before revealing a change of heart.
“The only thing you can consistently count on when it comes to Marco Rubio is his capacity to cave,” said Ben Domenech, publisher of The Federalist, a conservative online publication.
In his statement on Facebook, Mr. Rubio concluded with a warning: “Upcoming appointments to critical posts in the Department of State are not entitled to, and will not receive from me, the same level of deference I have given this nomination.”
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Mattis speaks with NATO chief, highlighting importance of alliance

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analysis of trump signature - Google Search

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U.S. Senate confirms Pompeo to be Trump's CIA director

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Trump pulls U.S. out of Pacific trade deal, loosening Asia ties

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Davis-Monthan Air Force Base - Google Search

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Story image for Davis-Monthan Air Force Base from ABC15 Arizona

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on lockdown due to report of gunshot ...

ABC15 Arizona-47 minutes ago
TUCSON, AZ - Davis-Monthan Air Force Base is on lockdown Monday morning due to unconfirmed reports ... The base is currently in lockdown.
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona locked down
Washington Examiner (blog)-27 minutes ago
Davis-Monthan on lockdown after gunshots reported
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Davis-Monthan AFB placed on lockdown
Local Source-Tucson News Now-53 minutes ago
"Gunfire sounds" prompts lockdown at Tucson's Davis-Monthan
Local Source-Arizona Daily Star-24 minutes ago

Air Force base in Arizona on lockdown over possible 'gunshot sounds' | Reuters

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A U.S. Air Force base near Tucson, Arizona has been placed on lockdown following unconfirmed reports of "gunshot sounds" heard there, a base spokeswoman said.
No further details of the incident at Davis-Montham Air Force Base were immediately available, the spokeswoman said.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)
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Halie Loren - Sway / Quien sera - YouTube

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Published on Oct 28, 2014
Photography by Maurizio Raffa
When marimba rhythms start to play
Dance with me, make me sway
Like a lazy ocean hugs the shore
Hold me close, sway me more

Like a flower bending in the breeze
Bend with me, sway with ease
When we dance you have a way with me
Stay with me, sway with me

Other dancers may be on the floor
Dear, but my eyes will see only you
Only you have that magic technique
When we sway I go weak

I can hear the sounds of violins
Long before it begins
Make me thrill as only you know how
Sway me smooth, sway me now

Oh ...

Quien será el que me quiere a mi?
Quien será?, quien será?
Quien será el que me de su amor?
Quien será?, quien será?
Yo no se si lo podré encontrar
Yo no se, yo no se
Yo no se si volveré a querer
Yo no se, yo no se

Eh querido volver a vivir
La pasión y el calor de otro amor
Otro amor que me hiciera sentir
Que me hiciera feliz como ayer lo fui

Ay quien será el que me quiere a mi?
Quien será?, quien será?
Quien será el que me de su amor?
Quien será?, quien será?


Quien sera mi amor
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Iran cautious in its first comments about US President Trump

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Syria conflict: War of words as peace talks open in Astana

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The Syrian government's lead negotiator has denounced what he called his rebel counterpart's "provocative" comments at the start of peace talks in Astana.
Bashar Jaafari said Mohammed Alloush had acted in a way "removed from diplomacy" at the indirect negotiations convened by Russia, Iran and Turkey.
Mr Alloush described the Syrian government as a "terrorist entity".
He also said a political solution to the civil war was the rebels' preferred choice, but "not the only one".
The talks in Kazakhstan's capital are the first at which the opposition delegation is formed exclusively of representatives of armed groups.
UN-brokered negotiations in Geneva involving exiled opposition political figures broke down last April with little progress having been made.
More than 300,000 people have been killed and 11 million others displaced since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
The talks opened on Monday morning at a hotel in Astana with the rebel delegation sat on one side of a large round table, and government officials on the other side.
They were joined by representatives of Russia and Iran, which back Mr Assad, and Turkey, which supports the rebels, as well as UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura and the US ambassador to Kazakhstan.
The meeting was closed to the media after an address by Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov, who said it was time to "make the real breakthrough that Syrian people rightfully deserve".
Mr Jaafari, Syria's permanent representative to the UN, insisted he had delivered a "positive and optimistic" message.

The new equation, by BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet, in Astana

"Everything has changed since Aleppo," says a Western diplomat who has been engaged on Syria for the past several years. "There's a new equation."
The opposition's stinging defeat in the city of Aleppo in December robbed them of their last major urban stronghold to challenge President Bashar al-Assad's rule.
And there was another game-changer. Behind the scenes, in the Turkish capital Ankara, a new Russian-Turkish alliance forged a deal to end the final fight for Syria's second city.
Now two unlikely allies, who have always backed different sides in this war, are hoping to redraw Syria's geo-political map.
But he said the "provocative tone and lack of seriousness in the opposition delegation chief's speech" had "irritated the attendees' diplomatic senses and experience".
A transcript of Mr Alloush's speech has not been released, but a video of part of it was posted online by a member of his delegation.
The political leader of Jaysh al-Islam described the government as a "terrorist" entity and called for groups fighting alongside it, including Lebanon's Hezbollah movement, to be placed on a global list of terrorist organisations.
Mr Alloush said the rebels wanted to stop "the horrific flow of blood" by reinforcing the truce brokered by Russia and Turkey at the end of last month, which both sides have accused each other of violating.
He warned: "A political solution in Syria is our choice but it is not the only one because we fight for our rights; our right to live; the right of freedom; the right to decide our fate and the people's right to decide who will represent them."

Low expectations among media, by BBC Monitoring

Syrian state-owned daily Al-Thawra says the gathering represents a chance for Damascus to vaunt its recent military gains, and a "last opportunity" for "terrorist groups" to negotiate peace.
London-based paper Al-Quds al-Arabi believes the talks are hampered by the fact that key players are not present.
In Saudi Arabia, which backs the rebels, pro-government daily Okaz dismisses the conference as an attempt by other "regional powers" to pursue their own interests.
Russia state TV Rossiya 1 says "the fate of Syria" is being decided in Astana, but Channel One TV described the aim as "finding common ground".
A spokesman for the rebel delegation, Yahya al-Aridi, earlier told reporters that they would also seek the lifting of government sieges of opposition-held areas and "goodwill gestures", including the release of political detainees and aid deliveries.
Mr Aridi added that it was hoped the meeting would "contribute" to the UN-brokered Geneva talks on a political settlement, which are scheduled to resume next month.
Government officials said they wanted to focus on "establishing lines of the cessation of hostilities" and separating the rebels represented in Astana from the jihadist groups excluded - so-called Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.
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Halie Loren - Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps - YouTube

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Published on May 7, 2014
You won't admit you love me.
And so how am I ever to know?
You always tell me
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

A million times I ask you,
And then I ask you over again.
But you only answer
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

If you can't make your mind up,
We'll never get started.
And I don't wanna wind up
Being parted, broken-hearted.

So if you really love me, say yes.
But if you don't, dear, confess.
But please don't tell me
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Siempre que te pregunto,
Qué, cuándo, cómo y dónde,
Tú siempre me respondes,
Quizás, quizás, quizás.

Estás perdiendo el tiempo,
Pensando, pensando,
Por lo que más tú quieras,
Hasta cuando, hasta cuando.

Y así pasan los días,
Y yo desesperando,
Y tú, tú contestando,
Quizás, quizás, quizás
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At Russia-led talks, Syrian rebels and government meet for the first time

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Iran’s strategic defeat in Syria before Astana talks – Iran Commentary

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By Heshmat Alavi
The war in Syria has reached a major turning point. The Iran-Russia honeymoon is over, and Moscow is warming relations with Ankara. Reports indicate the two coordinated airstrikes targeting Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) and other terrorist groups. Such a turn of events has even been described as Russia throwing Iran under the bus.
Turkish armed forces and the Free Syrian Army, under Russian air support, advanced in northern Syria to liberate key areas. This is strikingly similar to the measures adopted by Iran-backed Shiite militias with Russia’s support in taking control over Eastern Aleppo.
This new shift in Russian policy from supporting Tehran-Damascus to Turkey-FSA clearly indicates a strategic defeat for Iran. A sudden and unpredicted change of decorations, in line with heavy military operations, parallel to political agreements in writing. We are also on the verge of Astana talks set to place all parties involved at a round table, including representatives of the new Trump administration. This is much to the dissent of Iran.
“Iran, Russia and Turkey laid the foundations for the recent ceasefire in Syria… however, Russia and Turkey have taken the helm under a framework of bilateral negotiations in Ankara,” Iran’s state-run Alef website explained.
“Concerns remain over future Russian policy… Moscow has close relations with Ankara, and specific reservations about Riyadh. Inviting Saudi Arabia to the Syria talks… can shift the balance against Iran…,” Iran’s Arman daily added.
“Russia’s actions in Syria, cooperating with Turkey… neglecting Iran shows Moscow never takes Tehran seriously, and the hoax of strategic relations with Russia is only sought by Iran, while there is no such rejoice seen in Russia,” Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported citing Sharq daily.
It has now become quite obvious that Iran’s policymakers–read the mullahs–have made yet another strategic mistake, in line with their decisions to continue the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s even after Iraqi forces withdrew to internationally recognized borders; the occupation and hostage-taking fiasco of the U.S. Embassy back in November 1979; launching the completely unnecessary nuclear program while the country sits on an ocean of God-given oil and gas reserves; and meddling in possibly all neighboring and Middle East countries, most vividly seen today in Syria and Iraq.
The only difference now is the mullahs face very serious questions, such as why have they wasted billions in fueling a war machine killing hundreds of thousands of Syrians? Especially at a time when we witnessed heart breaking scenes of Iran’s homeless having no choice but to find refuge in pre-dug graves.
Here is a brief look at how Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has actually allocated the country’s wealth.
  • May 28th, 2013:  Iran opened two credit lines for Syria worth $4 billion and provided a $3 billion loan, according to Syrian Central Bank President Adib Miale. (com)
  • August 27th, 2013: Iran has up to this day allocated $17 billion for the Syrian war. (According to Liberation)
  • September 4th, 2014: Tehran opens a new $4 billion credit line for the Assad regime. (According to Le Figaro)
  • In December 2014 Reuters reported: “If it had not been for Iranian support we could not have survived the crisis,” a senior Syrian trade official said from Damascus, requesting anonymity… In July last year, Iran granted Syria a $3.6 billion credit facility to buy oil products, according to officials and bankers at the time. Another $1 billion went for non-oil products.
  • May 7th, 2015: Iran’s state-run Sharq daily estimated Iran, China and Russia provided around $500 million to Syria each month.
  • April 27th, 2015: “Diplomatic sources in Beirut estimate that Iran spends between $1 billion and $2 billion a month in Syria in cash handouts and military support. Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations envoy to Syria, recently told a private gathering in Washington that Iran has been channeling as much as $35 billion a year into Syria, according to one of the participants at the meeting.” (Christian Science Monitor)
  • July 5th, 2015: Syrian President Bashar Assad approves a new bill consisting of a $1 billion credit from his regional ally Iran. (According to the state-run Syrian news agency)
  • August 2016: Iran has spent $100 billion in Syria, according to a report provided by Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
These numbers shed light only on a small portion of the billions Khamenei and his regime have stolen from the Iranian people to provide for their war machine, as so unfortunately witnessed in Aleppo most recently. Without a doubt the actual amount is far higher.
The question is where have the mullahs reached, strategically speaking, after wasting tens of billions in the Syria inferno, allowing a dictator to kill nearly half a million of his own people and leave more than 11 million stranded inside the country and abroad?
The Iranian opposition has time and again warned about the dangers of such a policy pursued by Tehran in Syria, and across the Middle East, and provided the sole solution to this deadly dilemma.
“The regime in Tehran is the source of crisis in the region and killings in Syria; it has played the greatest role in the expansion and continuation of ISIS. Peace and tranquility in the region can only be achieved by evicting this regime from the region,” said Maryam Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella group of organizations including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).
From day one, exporting crises, terrorism and warmongering has been one of the main pillars maintaining the mullahs’ regime intact, all meant to quell domestic crises. This is exactly why senior Iranian officials continuously explain the necessity of fighting there (Syria) to not fight here (inside Iran).
Never mentioned are the Iranian people and their interests. The mullahs only seek to preserve their establishment, at all costs. And yet with the sudden death of former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the regime in its entirety is now utterly weakened as he played the highly important role of a balancing mast.
This is a regime bracing for further strategic defeats.

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Fateh al-Sham Prepares Militarily in Anticipation for Infighting Following Astana Talks

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Militants of the Syrian rebel group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham cheer after a Russian helicopter was shot down in the north of Syria's rebel-held Idlib province. Reuters
Beirut – Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front, anticipated the outcomes of Astana talks that will be held on Monday by preparing militarily on large scale.
The group opened its spare warehouses and launched a workshop for booby-trapping vehicles, repairing armors and four-wheeled military vehicles in order to fight Syrian moderate opposition factions that accepted to participate in the conference.
Fateh al-Sham commenced implementing its schemes, aiming at deporting factions that constitute danger to it after Astana talks, by attacking brigades from Ahrar al-Sham in Idlib and sending military queue to the countryside to guarantee its forces stay close to military centers of “Fastaqim Kama Umirt Union” faction, which will participate in the talks.
In this matter, an opposing military source in the Free Syrian Army said that a military official from Fateh al-Sham confirmed that the extremist group, which is included in the international terrorism lists, fear the outcomes of Astana talks could seek mobilizing Syrian opposition forces to fight Fateh al-Sham.
The source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the extremist official tried to camouflage the reasons by saying that these are “routine security procedures taken to protect the headquarters from the continued strikes by the international coalition.”
According to the same opposing official, “the case is different from what it seems to be like since Fateh al-Sham’s preparations in the north is taken from two perspectives.”
The first, he said, is defensive to protect headquarters and centers while the second is offensive to anticipate and possible attacks based on dismantling the organizations before attacking Fateh al-Sham.
He said that this is what Fateh al-Sham has done by attacking the headquarters of its supposed allies like Ahrar al-Sham on Thursday.
Usually, Fateh al-Sham touts the same tactic to attack suspected opponents proactively, and it is repeating what it has started in 2015 when it attacked “Syria Revolutionaries Front» movement and U.S.-backed “Hazzm” movement.


Ahrar al-Sham to Sit out Astana Talks, 25 to Represent Syrian Opposition

Ahrar al-Sham to Sit out Astana Talks, 25 to Represent Syrian Opposition

Beirut- Syrian Opposition factions continue to express growing fears of what would become of the Kazakhstan-held Syria peace talks, scheduled for Jan 23. Ahrar al-Sham, an opposition group in Syria, officially announced that it would not be partaking in the negotiations at the Kazakh capital, Astana—yet reaffirmed its support to…
January 19, 2017
In "Middle East"
Syrian Rebels to Attend Astana Talks

Syrian Rebels to Attend Astana Talks

Syrian rebel groups said Monday they will attend peace talks next week, in a boost to efforts by rivals Turkey and Russia to put an end to the nearly six-year-old conflict as rebel negotiator Mohammed Alloush confirmed he would head the delegation to the meeting. The talks, beginning on January…
January 16, 2017
In "Middle East"
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Syrian US-backed forces out of Astana talks - YouTube

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Published on Jan 22, 2017
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Syria: Kurds protest their exclusion from Astana talks - YouTube

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Published on Jan 16, 2017
Hundreds of Syrian Kurds took to the streets of Al-Qamishli, Monday, prompted by their exclusion from the forthcoming Astana talks on the political future of Syria, as stated by Syrian Kurd representative in France Khaled Issa.