Summit in Sochi
The fourth summit of the Astana process on the settlement of the crisis in Syria was held on February 14 in Sochi.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan considers the summit to have been an important step.
“The Summit in Sochi was very efficient and useful. The second round of talks began with Sochi, we hope that the fifth meeting in this format will be held in Turkey”, he said.
Putin announced that all three countries had agreed that the withdrawal of US troops from Syria is a positive development.
According to the Russian president, the leaders discussed humanitarian assistance to Syria and facilitating the return of refugees to their home country. Putin noted that with the support of the countries involved the settlement process (Russia, Iran and Turkey), conditions had been created in the Arab Republic to accommodate up to 1.5 million returning refugees.
“I am convinced that we need to cooperate even more constructively and coordinate efforts in the fight against this evil. We need to actively engage in dialogue both on the international agenda and on regional security issues, ”said Rouhani.
It is necessary to do so in order to prevent a human catastrophe like the one in Idlib, he added.
The first summit of the Russian Federation, Turkey and Iran on Syria was held in November 2017 in Sochi. As a result, the heads of state declared that the creation of de-escalation zones in Syria should not undermine territorial integrity and violate the country’s sovereignty, and also called on the Syrian government and opposition forces to participate in the Syrian National Dialogue Congress.
The following summits of the “Astana trio” took place in Ankara (in April 2018) and Tehran (in September 2018).
USA – state of emergency
Donald Trump has signed a document declaring a state of emergency in the United States, according to WH press secretary Sarah Sanders.
As the American leader announced his intention to journalists on the White House lawn, Sanders tweeted a photo of the president in the Oval Office already signing the document.
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) February 15, 2019
As a result of the declaration, Trump expects to receive up to eight billion dollars to build a wall on the US’ southern border with Mexico.
This is an even higher sum than the president’s initial demand that Congress allocate $ 5.7 billion for the wall, which was blocked by Democrats opposed to Trump’s border security strategy.
The disagreement led to government offices being suspended for a record 35 days.
‘Heinous and cowardly’ terrorist attack kills 27 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard
On February 13th, a suicide bomber drove a car packed with explosives into a military bus carrying members of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) traveling between the cities of Zahedan and Khash in south-eastern Iran. 27 members of the guard were killed and 13 were injured in what the UN described as a “heinous and cowardly terrorist attack.”
Yesterday's terrorist attack in Zahedan was one of the deadliest in string of recent incidents…. pic.twitter.com/QY9iNAHVej
— Ali Vaez (@AliVaez) February 14, 2019
The ‘Jaish al-Adl’ (Army of justice) group, an offshoot of ‘Jundallah’, a Sunni terrorist organization which has carried out a number terror attacks inside Iran and killed up to 400 Iranian soldiers in recent years, claimed responsibility for the attack.
‘Jundullah’ itself was more or less defeated after the group’s founder and leader Abdolmalek Rigi was captured by the IRGC and executed in 2010.
The Iranian government had accused the USA and their allies, particularly Saudi Arabia and Israel, of supporting Jundullah. The group has well-known connections to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
— Iran (@Iran) February 17, 2019
After the suicide bombing, top Iranian military commanders discussed how the terrorist group operated from safe havens in Pakistan and how the attacks had been carried out at the order of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, two Arab governments hostile toward Iran.
Iran also called on the Pakistani government to adopt immediate and appropriate measures to identify and arrest those behind the deadly attack.
#Iranian general said terrorists who recently attacked #IRGC forces in southeastern province of Sistan and Balouchestan had been trained in #Pakistan whose intelligence agency should be held accountablehttps://t.co/6by1WxeDEb pic.twitter.com/2BYzsyZDqP
— Tasnim News Agency (@Tasnimnews_EN) February 16, 2019
IRGC Chief-Commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari and President Hassan Rouhani both suggested that Iran may launch operations inside Pakistani territory if Islamabad fails to identify and punish the Jaish al-Adl terrorists.
“Our nation will undoubtedly take the revenge of the martyrs of the #Zahedan terrorist attack,” said Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressing the people in #Hormozgan province. pic.twitter.com/XmaJG9gGX2
— Iran Gov Website (@Iran_GOV) February 17, 2019
Given the fact that Iran has been able to launch successful missile strikes against ISIS camps in neighboring Syria, we can expect that the IRGC’s revenge on the ‘Jaish al-Adl’ leaders will be swift.
New spy games between Washington and Tehran
Last week, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Monica Elfriede Witt, a former US former counterintelligence officer from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, with transmitting critical information about US Intelligence efforts to the Iranian authorities.
The federal court indictment said that M. Witt helped Iranian intelligence carry out a special operation against the US intelligence personnel. She provided top-secret information to the Iranian authorities and helped them to identify American intelligence officers working as spies.
According to the DOJ, during a counterintelligence operation for the Pentagon in 2012, M.Witt attended a conference on US cultural influence in Iran which was organized by a group called ‘New Horizon’ a special platform serving as a front for the of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) aimed at recruiting and collecting intelligence from attendees. M. Witt converted to Islam and in 2013 she was recruited by the IRGC.
The indictment also charges four Iranians with conspiracy, attempts to commit computer intrusion and aggravated identity theft as part of a 2014 – 2015 effort to target “through and other cyber-enabled means, at least eight US government agents, all of whom at one time worked or interacted with Monica Witt”.
Monica Elfriede Witt is #wanted by the #FBI for her alleged involvement in criminal activities to include espionage & conspiracy to commit espionage. If you have info concerning Witt, contact your local FBI office or the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. https://t.co/f0OsA1hayy pic.twitter.com/eb4pe5UsEe
— FBI (@FBI) February 13, 2019