The United States is to accelerate its development of new cruise and ballistic missile systems following its withdrawal from a nuclear treaty with Russia, the Pentagon said on Friday.
Accusing Russia of “sustained and repeated violations” of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the US had already begun work to develop “mobile, conventional, ground-launched cruise and ballistic missile systems.”
As the United States had “scrupulously complied” with its obligations to the 1987 treaty until its formal withdrawal, “these programs are in the early stages,” Esper said in a statement.
“Now that we have withdrawn, the Department of Defense will fully pursue the development of these ground-launched conventional missiles as a prudent response to Russia’s actions.
“The Department of Defense will work closely with our allies as we move forward in implementing the National Defense Strategy, protecting our national defense and building partner capacity,” he added.
Moscow has said that Washington is making a “serious mistake” pulling out of the treaty, insisting that the US had abandoned the agreement for its own gain rather than because of alleged Russian violations.
The United States is deploying an amphibious assault ship and a Patriot missile battery to bolster an aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers already sent to the Gulf, ratcheting up pressure Saturday on archfoe Iran.
In response to alleged threats from Iran, the USS Arlington, which transports marines, amphibious vehicles, conventional landing craft and rotary aircraft, and the Patriot air defence system will join the Abraham Lincoln carrier group, the Pentagon announced Friday.
The carrier and a B-52 bomber task force were ordered towards the Gulf, as Washington reiterated that intelligence reports suggested Iran was planning some sort of attack in the region.
CENTCOM, the US forces for the Middle East and Afghanistan, said Friday on Twitter that the B-52 bombers arrived at the area of operations on May 8, without saying where they had landed.
US President Donald Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton has said the deployment aimed to send a “clear and unmistakable” message to Iran about any attack against the US or its partners in the region.
Washington has not elaborated on the alleged threat, drawing criticism that it is overreacting and unnecessarily driving up tensions in the region.
There was no immediate reaction from Tehran on the latest US moves, but earlier in the week it shrugged off the carrier deployment.
“Bolton’s statement is a clumsy use of an out-of-date event for psychological warfare,” Iran’s Supreme National Security Council spokesman Keyvan Khosravi said.
The increasing tensions come as Tehran said Wednesday it had stopped respecting limits on its nuclear activities agreed under a 2015 deal with major powers.
Iran said it was responding to the sweeping unilateral sanctions that Washington has re-imposed since it quit the agreement one year ago, which have dealt a severe blow to the Iranian economy.
US ‘not seeking war’
The Pentagon, for its part, said the deployments were “in response to indications of heightened Iranian readiness to conduct offensive operations against US forces and our interests”.
“The Department of Defence continues to closely monitor the activities of the Iranian regime, their military and proxies,” it said.
“The United States does not seek conflict with Iran, but we are postured and ready to defend US forces and interests in the region.”
Amid the rising tensions, Trump said Thursday he was open to talks with Tehran’s leadership.
“What I would like to see with Iran, I would like to see them call me,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
“We don’t want them to have nuclear weapons — not much to ask,” he said.
In the latest of a series of escalating statements, however, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the same day threatened a “swift and decisive” US response to any attack by Iran.
“Our restraint to this point should not be mistaken by Iran for a lack of resolve,” he said, adding, however: “We do not seek war.”
In May last year, Trump pulled the United States out of an agreement aimed at curtailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and reinstated unilateral economic sanctions.
On Wednesday, President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would no longer implement parts of the deal and threatened to go further if the remaining members of the pact, including the European Union, failed to deliver sanctions relief to counterbalance Trump’s renewed assault on the Iranian economy within 60 days.
North Korea is operating at least 13 undeclared bases to hide mobile, nuclear-capable missiles, a new study released Monday has found, raising fresh doubts over US President Donald Trump’s signature foreign policy initiative.
Trump has hailed his July summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as having opened the way to denuclearization of the divided peninsula, defusing tensions that less than a year ago brought the two countries to the brink of conflict.
Since the summit in Singapore, North Korea has halted nuclear and missile tests dismantled a missile test site and promised to also break up the country’s main nuclear complex.
But researchers at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said they have located 13 missile operating bases that have not been declared by the government, and that there may be as many as 20.
“It’s not like these bases have been frozen,” Victor Cha, who leads CSIS’s North Korea program, told The New York Times, which first reported on the study.
“Work is continuing. What everybody is worried about is that Trump is going to accept a bad deal — they give us a single test site and dismantle a few other things, and in return, they get a peace agreement.”
Cha had been in line for appointment as US ambassador but was dropped because of disagreement with the Trump administration’s approach.
While US sanctions on North Korea remain in place, enforcement by traditional trading partners China and Russia has relaxed since the summit, US officials have acknowledged.
The bases, which are scattered across the country, are located in underground facilities tunnelled in narrow mountain valleys, according to the researchers.
They are designed so that mobile missile launchers can quickly exit the underground facilities and move to previously prepared launch sites.
The bases are arranged in three belts across North Korea, according to the report, with those for strategic missiles deep inside the country.
Medium-range missiles capable of striking Japan and all of South Korea reportedly are deployed in an operational belt 55 to 100 miles (90 to 150 kilometres) north of the demilitarized zone.
Shorter range missiles fit into a tactical belt 30 to 55 miles from the DMZ.
The report included a detailed profile of one such tactical missile operating base, illustrated with commercial satellite imagery, that is just 84 miles northwest of Seoul.
Led by Joseph Bermudez, an authority of North Korea, the researchers’ findings were based on satellite imagery, defector interviews and interviews with intelligence and government officials.
The United States expanded its sanctions war against Russia to China on Thursday, announcing punitive measures against a Chinese military organization for buying Russian fighter jets and missiles.
Stepping up pressure on Moscow over its “malign activities,” the US State Department said it was placing financial sanctions on the Equipment Development Department of the Chinese Ministry of Defense, and its top administrator, for its recent purchase of Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets and S-400 surface-to-air missiles.
Officials said it was the first time a third country has been punished under the CAATSA sanctions legislation for dealing with Russia, and signaled the Trump administration’s will to risk relations with other countries in its campaign against Moscow.
They also said that the US could consider similar action against other countries taking delivery of Russian fighter jets and missiles. US ally Turkey is currently talking with Moscow about an S400 deal.
“The ultimate target of these sanctions is Russia,” a senior administration official told journalists, insisting on anonymity.
“CAATSA sanctions in this context are not intended to undermine the defense capabilities of any particular country. They are aimed at imposing costs on Russia in response to its malign activities.”
CAATSA, or the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, was passed in 2017 as a tool that gives the Trump administration more ways to target Russia, Iran and North Korea with economic and political sanctions.
With regard to Russia, CAATSA arises from the country’s “aggression in Ukraine, annexation of Crimea, cyber intrusions and attacks, interference in the 2016 elections, and other malign activities,” the State Department said.
The legislation allows the government to take action against those companies and individuals who have been placed on the CAATSA blacklist.
EDD and its director Li Shangfu became targets after taking delivery over the past year of the jets and missiles from Rosoboronexport, Russia’s main arms export entity already on the CAATSA blacklist for its support of the Assad regime in Syria.
Targeting Russian ‘big ticket’ arms deals
At the same time, the State Department also announced it was placing 33 Russian intelligence and military-linked actors on its sanctions blacklist under the CAATSA rules.
All of them — defense-related firms, officers of the GRU military intelligence agency, and people associated with the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency disinformation group — have been on previous US sanctions lists and 28 of them have already been indicted by Russia election meddling investigator Robert Mueller.
“We will continue to vigorously implement CAATSA and urge all countries to curtail relationships with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors, both of which are linked to malign activities worldwide,” the State Department said.
The sanctions freeze any of EDD’s and Li’s assets in US jurisdictions.
They also restrict EDD’s access to global financial markets by blocking foreign exchange transactions under US jurisdiction or any transactions in the US financial system.
The senior official stressed that CAATSA is not going to be implemented across the board, but that the US was choosing Russia’s sale of “bigger ticket items” of “new, fancy, qualitatively significant stuff” that could have a “security impact” on the United States.
“The CAATSA was not intended to take down the economy of third-party countries. It’s intended to impose appropriate pressures on Russia in response to Russian malign acts,” the official said.
The official declined to answer if the US would take similar action if Russia delivers S400 missiles to other countries such as Turkey, which is in talks to buy them.
However, he said, “You can be confident that we have spent an enormous amount of time talking about prospective purchases of things such as S-400s and Sukhois with people all around the world who may have been interested in such things and some who may still be.”
“We have made it very clear to them that these –- that systems like the S-400 are a system of key concern with potential CAATSA implications.”
Two Israeli missiles struck targets near Damascus airport early Tuesday, Syrian state media said, while a monitoring group said they hit arms depots for Hezbollah.
In a report in the early hours of Tuesday, Syria’s state news agency Sana said “two Israeli missiles came down near Damascus international airport”.
The head of monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, also told AFP that “the Israeli missiles hit arms depots for Hezbollah near the airport”.
He said the air strike took place at 1:00 am local time “without causing huge explosions” even though they hit the weapons stores.
The observatory added that the Syrian air defence “failed to intercept the missiles”.
When contacted by AFP, a spokesman for the Israeli army said: “We do not comment on foreign reports.”
Israel has warned of a growing Iranian military presence in neighbouring Syria, which it sees as a threat to its safety.
Its military has been carrying out strikes on Iranian and Iran-affiliated targets in Syria, with a US official saying it was Israeli forces that carried out a deadly strike against an Iraqi paramilitary base in eastern Syria on June 17.
Israeli seized a large swathe of the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, in a move never recognised by the international community.
Israel’s strikes on Syria saw 28 planes take part in raids with a total of around 70 missiles fired, Russia’s defence ministry said on Thursday.
“28 Israeli F-15 and F-16 aircraft were used in the attack, which released around 60 air-to-ground missiles over various parts of Syria. Israel also fired more than 10 tactical ground-to-ground missiles,” the ministry said in a statement, quoted by Interfax news agency.
Russia said Syria’s air defence systems shot down more than half of the missiles, while the extent of the damage was still being assessed.
“The locations of Iranian armed groups and also the positions of the Syrian army’s air defences in the area around Damascus and in the south of Syria were attacked,” the ministry said.
Israel carried out the raids after it said around 20 rockets were fired from Syria at its forces in the occupied Golan Heights overnight.
It blamed the rocket fire on Iran’s Al-Quds force, adding that Israel’s anti-missile system intercepted four of the projectiles while the rest did not land in its territory.
On Thursday Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov called for “restraint on all sides”, adding that Moscow was “concerned” at the development.
The strikes came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country has provided massive military and diplomatic backing to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s seven-year civil war.
At the meeting Putin also expressed “deep concern” over US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from a key 2015 Iran nuclear deal on Tuesday, a decision Netanyahu supported.
On Wednesday the Russian leader called the situation in the Middle East “unfortunately very acute”.
Netanyahu had told Putin that “it is the right of every state, certainly the right of Israel, to take the necessary steps in order to protect itself from (Iranian) aggression)”, his office said in a statement Wednesday, referring to Iran’s presence in Syria.
Iran on Thursday dismissed evidence presented by US Ambassador Nikki Haley that it had supplied Yemen’s rebels with a missile fired at Saudi Arabia as “fabricated,” saying the accusations were baseless.
“This purportedly evidence, put on public display today, is as much fabricated as the one presented on some other occasions earlier,” said Alireza Miryousefi, spokesman at Iran’s mission to the United Nations.
Haley told a news conference in Washington that a missile fired on November 4 by the Huthi rebels that was intercepted near Riyadh airport was Iranian-made.
“It was made in Iran then sent to Huthi militants in Yemen,” Haley said.
“From there it was fired at a civilian airport with the potential to kill hundreds of innocent civilians in Saudi Arabia.”
Iran “categorically” rejects the accusation “as unfounded and, at the same time, irresponsible, provocative and destructive,” Miryousefi said in a statement.
“The US government has an agenda and is constantly at work to deceive the public into believing the cases they put together to advance it,” he added.
The Iranian mission said the accusations leveled by Haley were intended to divert attention from the devastating war in Yemen being led by Saudi Arabia, a key US ally.
“These hyperboles” serve the US agenda in the Middle East including the administration’s “unbridled support for the Israeli regime,” said the spokesman.
A confidential report to the council this month said UN officials had examined debris from missiles fired at Saudi Arabia which pointed to a “common origin” but there was no firm conclusion on whether they came from an Iranian supplier.
The report from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, which was obtained by AFP, said the officials were still analyzing the information.
A separate team of UN experts who inspected the missile fragments during a visit to Riyadh last month found a possible link to an Iranian manufacturer, the Shahid Bagheri Industrial Group, which is on the UN sanctions blacklist.
The experts, who report to the sanctions committee, found a component marked by a logo similar to that of the banned group, which is a subsidiary of the Iranian Aerospace Industries Organization.
Haley has called on the UN Security Council to take a tougher stance toward Iran, accusing Tehran of making illegal arms deals in Yemen, Lebanon and Syria.
The Saudi-led coalition fighting the rebels in Yemen imposed a blockade of Yemen’s air and sea ports and borders after the missile was fired at Riyadh, citing concerns that weapons were being smuggled into Yemen.
Around 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons are held by the United States and Russia, with the remainder in the hands of another seven countries including the latest entrant to the club, North Korea.
The North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un said Wednesday that his reclusive country had completed its “state nuclear force” with the test of a long-range missile able to deliver a nuclear warhead anywhere in the United States.
Out of an estimated 15,000 weapons around the world, around 4,000 are currently deployed and ready to be used, according to figures from the Federation of American Scientists.
The United States is the only country that has ever used nuclear weapons, on August 6 and 9, 1945, on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where some 140,000 and 70,000 people died respectively.
Since 1970, when the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) entered into force, five declared nuclear powers — the US, Russia, France, Britain and China — agreed not to sell or transfer their weapons technology to other countries.
Other signatories of the treaty — there are 191 in total — also agreed not to pursue a nuclear weapons programme.
Some countries abandoned their nuclear ambitions at around the time of the treaty, including Sweden (1968) and Switzerland (1969), while others have since dropped their programmes such as South Africa (1991) and ex-Soviet republics.
– ‘Illicit trade’ –
Despite the NPT, four other countries managed to develop their own nuclear capability: India, Pakistan and Israel, which never signed the treaty, and most recently North Korea, which pulled out of the treaty in 2003.
A number of scientists are suspected of taking part in the illicit trade of nuclear secrets including Abdul Qadeer Khan, considered the father of Pakistan’s bomb who admitted to being in contact with Iran, Libya and North Korea in 2004.
Iran was suspected of trying to develop its own nuclear weapons capability over the last two decades, which top world powers feared would lead to an atomic arms race in the Middle East.
In 2015, Tehran signed a deal agreeing to inspections and promising that it would use nuclear technology only for energy or other civilian purposes in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.
US President Donald Trump is set to decide by October 15 whether to stick with the deal, which his Western allies insist is the only way of containing the threat. He once called it “the worst deal ever”.
A Russian warship on Tuesday fired cruise missiles from the Mediterranean at the Islamic State group near the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor where regime forces are battling the jihadists, Moscow said.
The Russian defence ministry said the strike, which was carried out by the frigate “Admiral Essen,” hit IS targets near the town of Al-Shula, which were controlled by fighters from Russia and other post-Soviet nations.
As a result of the strike, a “large” group of fighters was destroyed, along with a communications centre, warehouses and ammunition, the ministry said in a statement.
“The launch of the Kalibr cruise missiles has ensured the continued success of the advance by Syrian government troops and helped thwart plans of IS militants to regroup and reinforce the positions of terrorists in the vicinity of the city of Deir Ezzor,” the ministry said.
Syria’s army faces fierce resistance as it is battling to break a jihadist siege on the government enclave of Deir Ezzor.
The jihadist group has already lost more than half of its nearby bastion of Raqa to attacking US-backed forces, and the loss of Deir Ezzor city and the surrounding oil-rich province would leave it with only a handful of isolated outposts.
Government forces and civilians have been under siege in Deir Ezzor city since early 2015, and the regime-held parts are divided into a northern and southern enclave.
Japan warned on Tuesday of the acute threat posed by North Korea’s weapons programmes as Pyongyang’s continued series of missile and nuclear tests, in defiance of U.N. sanctions, brings technological progress to the reclusive state.
Japan released its annual Defence White Paper after North Korea fired two Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) in July on lofted trajectories to land off Japan’s west coast.
The White Paper said missiles launched on such a trajectory were difficult to intercept.
The 563-page document also expressed concerns over China’s expansion in the region.
Tokyo’s ties with Beijing have long been plagued by a territorial dispute over a group of tiny, uninhabited East China Sea islets and the legacy of Japan’s wartime aggression.
With North Korea pressing ahead with missile tests, a group of ruling party lawmakers led by Itsunori Onodera, who became defence minister last week, urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in March to consider acquiring the capability to hit enemy bases.
That, if realised, would be a drastic change in Japan’s defence posture as Tokyo has so far avoided taking the controversial and costly step of acquiring bombers or cruise missiles with enough range to strike other countries.
[highlight txtcolor=”#oooff”]The international community is still seeking a lasting solution to the ongoing crisis in the Korean peninsula, seeking a diplomatic solution among other things, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited China for talks, and he was received by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang who emphasized the common interest between the two countries.[/highlight]
By this, China and the US have vowed to work together to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear programme and to settle tensions through dialogue.
A Chinese statement issued during a visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry said the nuclear issue was the “shared responsibility of all parties”.
Mr Kerry said the two sides must decide “very quickly” how to proceed.
North Korea has recently threatened nuclear attacks, and is feared to be preparing a missile launch.
Li Keqiang told Kerry during their meeting in Beijing that China and U.S. indeed have huge common interest. Decades of practice after establishment of Sino-U.S. diplomatic relations has proven that our common interest is far more than dispute. In addition, as big countries, China and U.S. have responsibility to maintain the peace and stability of region and the world.
Kerry is also meeting China’s top leaders in an effort to persuade them to exert pressure on North Korea to scale back its belligerent rhetoric and, eventually, return to nuclear talks.
John Kerry believes that china, being the North’s main trading partner, financial backer and the closest thing it has to a diplomatic ally, is able to leverage its relationship and bring North Korea back on track.
“We very much look forward to building on what the president just described to me as the potential of a new model, a model relationship, obviously this is a critical time in the region as well as in the world. We are very grateful to China for its cooperation with us on Iran and on a number of other issues,” Kerry told Li during the meeting.
Kerry met Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier today and is scheduled to also meet State Councilor later.
The Israeli government has asked the United States for advanced “bunker-buster” bombs and refueling planes that can improve its ability to attack Iran’s underground nuclear sites.
Official sources say the request was made during the Israeli Prime Minister’s (Benjamin Netanyahu) visit to Washington on Monday. A front-page article in a local Israeli newspaper, Ma’ariv, on Thursday disclosed that Obama has assured Netanyahu that Washington would supply Israel with upgraded military equipment in return for assurances that there would be no attack on Iran in 2012. Isreal is widely assumed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal but its conventional firepower may not be enough to deliver lasting damage to Iran’s distant, dispersed and well-fortified facilities, many experts say.
Israel has limited stocks of older, smaller bunker-busters and a small fleet of refueling planes, all supplied by Washington. Western powers suspect Iran’s uranium enrichment program is aimed at stockpiling fissile material for nuclear weapons.
Iran says it is strictly for civilian energy uses.