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Biden explains justification for Syria strike in letter to Congress

WASHINGTON DC (Axios): President Biden told congressional leadership in a letter Saturday that this week’s airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to Iranian-backed militia groups was consistent with the U.S. right to self-defense.

Why it matters: Some Democrats, including Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), have criticized the Biden administration for the strike and demanded a briefing.

“Offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances,” Kaine said Friday.

A National Security Council spokesperson has said the Pentagon pre-notified Congress and that the administration is continuing to brief the Hill at the member and staff level.

What he’s saying: “Those non-state militia groups were involved in recent attacks against United States and Coalition personnel in Iraq,” Biden wrote in Saturday’s letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President pro tempore of the Senate Patrick Leahy.

Biden said those attacks included the Feb. 15 “attack in Erbil, Iraq, which wounded one United States service member, wounded four United States contractors, including one critically, and killed one Filipino contractor. “

“These groups are also engaged in ongoing planning for future such attacks,” the president added.

“In response, I directed this military action to protect and defend our personnel and our partners against these attacks and future such attacks.”

“The United States always stands ready to take necessary and proportionate action in self-defense, including when, as is the case here, the government of the state where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory by non-state militia groups responsible for such attacks.”

“I directed this military action consistent with my responsibility to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad and in furtherance of United States national security and foreign policy interests, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct United States foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive. “

“The United States took this action pursuant to the United States’ inherent right of self-defense as reflected in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. “

Biden concluded by saying he was “providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution.”

The big picture: Iran on Saturday condemned the U.S. strike in Syria, and denied responsibility for the attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq, per Reuters.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the strike “illegal and a violation of Syria’s sovereignty,” state media reported.

An Iraqi militia official on Friday said the strike killed at least one fighter and wounded several others, AP reports.

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Prime Minister Imran inaugurates heritage trail at the Al-Biruni point

F.P. Report

JHELUM: On February 28th, Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated the heritage trail at the Al Biruni point (Baghan Wala Village) at the Nandana Fort in district Jehlum.

During his address, Prime Minister Imran remarked that the government was doing all to encourage tourism and generate employment opportunities for youth in Pakistan, which was bestowed with abundant natural resources including sea, high mountains, salt ranges and historical sites.

Mentioning the national heritage importance, Prime Minister commented that “The preservation and protection of our historical sites and national heritage is also essential to keep the coming generations informed about history.”

Imran Khan said after inaugurating the heritage trail at the Al Biruni point (Baghan Wala Village) at the Nandana Fort in district Jhelum, that

the project was undertaken as part of the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan for the promotion of tourism and in line with the National Tourism Strategy 2020-30.

The Prime Minister said no nation in the world could achieve progress and development without knowing its history which enabled it to have comparison with the current and past achievements.

“We have to protect our historical sites and buildings,” and remarked that the historical sites in Pakistan like Mohenjo Daro and Harappa were discovered by the British.

While appreciating the discovery of 40-feet Budha in Haripur by an archeologist and called for more excavations to find historical places in the country, Prime Minister commented that Baghan Wala would be made a modern village along with the development of other facilities like hotels, restaurants etc., for the promotion of tourism as well as for the development of local area.

Furthermore, he also underlined the historical significance of the new tourist point stating that development of heritage trail in the area, which was used by Abu Rehan Al-Biruni for quantification of earth’s circumference in 11th century for the first time, would help develop area and bring it on the world’s map as a tourist and historical site.

As tourists in Switzerland, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Turkey were properly taken care of by the local populace, the people of Baghan Wala would also have to take ownership of the heritage trail for the promotion of tourism in their area, he added.

“When compared with Turkey and Malaysia, which earn $ 40 billion, $ 20 billion per annum from tourism, Pakistan despite having numerous tourist sites earns nothing,” Imran Khan said.

The Prime Minister while interacting with the local people said the government would provide soft credit to youth of area for the establishment of hotels, restaurants and other allied facilities for tourists.

He assured the local people that the government would also preserve and protect forests in the area by planting olive trees.

Special Assistant to PM (SAPM) Syed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari briefed the Prime Minister about the heritage trail as well as the significance of this area in the history.

Imran Khan further highlighted that, Abu Rehan Al-Biruni found the radius of earth at this point in 11th century for having the true direction of Kaaba, whereas the western world did the same in 16th century.

“It speaks volumes about the capabilities and mathematic expertise of Muslim scientists,” he remarked.

On the occasion, SAPM Bukhari commented that PC-1 had been prepared for development of the area under which, besides the development of parks and other facilities in the area, 116 kilometer long road would be constructed and a summer campus would also be established for the education of students.

On the other the Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Chaudhry expressed his views stating that the construction of Lilla-Jhe-lum road would help addr-ess various problems faced by the people of the area.

While addressing the ceremony, Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar said the provincial government would declare Baghan Wa-la as a “modern village” a-nd would construct link ro-ads including the one to li-nk GT Road with Moto-rway.

Punjab Provincial Minister for Tourism Asif Mehmood in his remarks on the occasion said the provincial government was working vigorously for the development of area in line with the vision of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Regarding Nandana Fort site the Prime Minister was keen on preservation and conservation of the Nandana Fort site, and its conversion into an international tourism site, he said.

The site’s archeological significance dates back to 11th century when famous scholar Abu Rehan Al-Biruni during his stay quantified the circumference of the Earth.

Later he wrote a famous book about the region and mentioned Nandana as a great center of learning.

There are six more historic sites near the Nandana Fort including Nandana temple, Katas temple, salt-mines of Khewra, Malot Fort and Throne of Babur, he added.

These sites will become part of the heritage trail and the tourists will be able to visit these places in one go. 

Minister for Science and Technology Fawad Ahmad Chaudhry, Special Assis-tant to Prime Minister Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari, Chief Minister Punjab Usman Buzdar and senior officers were also present on the occasion.

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US condemns atrocities, human rights abuses in Tigray region

F.P. Report

WASHINGTON DC: Ant-ony J. Blinken, Secretary of State on Sunday issued a statement on the reported atrocities in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

According to the official press release of U.S State Department, the United States is gravely concerned by reported atrocities and the overall deteriorating situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. 

Secretary of State Blinken stressed saying that, “We strongly condemn the killings, forced removals and displacements, sexual assaults, and other extremely serious human rights violations and abuses by several parties that multiple organizations have reported in Tigray.  We are also deeply concerned by the worsening humanitarian crisis”. 

He further added that the United States has repeatedly engaged the Ethiopian government on the importance of ending the violence, ensuring unhindered humanitarian access to Tigray, and allowing a full, independent, international investigation into all reports of human rights violations, abuses, and atrocities.  Those responsible for them must be held accountable.

While highlighting the human rights abuses, Blinken commented that the United States acknowledges the February 26 statements from the Ethiopian Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs promising unhindered humanitarian access, welcoming international support for investigations into human rights violations and abuses, and committing to full accountability, the statement added.

He stated that, we ask international partners, especially the African Union and regional partners, to work with us to address the crisis in Tigray, including through action at the UN and other relevant bodies.

The United States remains committed to building an enduring partnership with the Ethiopian people, Blinken commented.

The international community needs to work collectively to ensure that these commitments are realized, he said.

Secretary of State emphasized that the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces and Amhara regional forces from Tigray are essential first steps.  They should be accompanied by unilateral declarations of cessation of hostilities by all parties to the conflict and a commitment to permit unhindered delivery of assistance to those in Tigray, he mentioned.

While concluding the statement, Secretary of State reaffirmed saying that the United States is committed to working with the international community to achieve these goals.  To that end, USAID will deploy a Disaster Assistance Response Team to Ethiopia to continue delivering life-saving assistance, he added.

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Kashmiri ‘Pheran’ in demand

Nayeema Ahmad Mahjoor

I have never overcome the nightmare of those scenes of the early 1990s when the Indian soldiers had laid pre-dawn siege to our neighbourhood one day. The soldiers had their fingers on triggers ready to shoot anybody not following their orders. Our house, which was in the lap of a green pasture, was surrounded by countless soldiers.

More military convoys were descending from the mountains of Kohi- Soleiman (also called Shankar Acharaya) towards plains like ants. Soon, the call to prayer from the mosque was replaced by an announcement, the caller was commanding that all men, young and children should come out of their houses and gather in the courtyard of the mosque whereas women should stay outside their houses. We had to leave our houses and stay outside in the sub-zero temperature of mid-January.

When my father, brother-in-law, and sixteen-year-old nephew raised their arms in hands up position and walked out of the door, the soldiers directed them to join a long queue of the people. They were all driven to the mosque, where they had to go through an identification parade for about eighteen hours without a sip of water, a morsel of food, or using the toilet.

This was the first security crackdown in my neighbourhood during which three members of my family were taken to the detention centre after an identification parade. They were kept in a notorious interrogation centre of ‘Papa2’. We, all, girls and women were left alone in our house for many days. The only thing we could do was to scream and cry while watching through the cracks of the windows the running of the heavy boots and shouting in fury over our shadows.

So many crackdowns and search operations were carried out in my neighbourhood that it was not only difficult but impossible to count them. Sometimes, one group of soldiers were not even finished ransacking our stores of rice and other stocks that another flock would follow soon; leaving us homeless for many nights, no matter it was harsh winter or scorching heat.

In every crackdown, Kashmiris had to go through beatings, humiliation, arrests, or torture, and women had to spend hours outside the house waiting to see if their children, husband, son, or father would return alive or dead. In one of the search operations, four youths were arrested in a two-day-long crackdown in my neighbourhood and taken to the interrogation centre after arresting them. The next day, morning worshipers found their mutilated bodies in the courtyard of the mosque. I can never forget the day that had left me scarred and bruised for the rest of my life. Remembering that day brings chills through my spine even after three decades. I have seen tears drying in the eyes of their mothers who have become numb and lifeless like a stone.

It was at this time that I had begun my career in journalism but I did not dare to describe the gravity or the magnitude of the volatile situation. I had to become one of the victims of my ambition and had to juggle around the dangerous web that had become Kashmir- the heaven on earth.

The military crackdowns, massacres, and growth of torture cells continued during the three-decade-old armed movement until a decade ago the incidence of getting off the buses and going through the search has eased a bit. Gathering of thousands of men or the identification parades in the squares or fields ended, searching of student dormitories by entering educational institutions, or stripping everybody before going to most of the offices stopped: though, military presence, police searches, or the security bunkers outside each office have never ceased to exist.

Then, on 5th August 2019, Jammu and Kashmir turned into a big jail after stripping of its semi-autonomous status by the BJP government in Delhi.

Who would have predicted that a few days ago, two policemen in Barzulla would be attacked by a “gunman” hiding his gun in his traditional dress, Pheran, after which the crackdown of the 1990s, which had terrorized the majority of the population, would resume? It has left such a deep impression that even today our children, who were born in that era; continue to run wild at night with fear and sweat and dread the sight of a soldier. The return of the same terror tactics will eat another generation now.

You may have recently seen viral videos of long queues of people on social media as soldiers stripping and searching them, looking at their ID cards, and asking questions such as ‘Where do you come from and where do you go?’ Only then do they get permission to leave and thank God for reaching home in one piece.

For the past few days, buses, cars, and other passenger vehicles have been stopped on the roads, mainly in city centres and other areas, where people are asked to line up, take off their clothes and then soldiers take hours to search them.

This is another tool to humiliate and cripple the local population of Jammu and Kashmir who are not even allowed to speak against the atrocities carried under the pretext of dealing with “terrorism”.

Some Hindutva leaders have demanded a ban on the wearing of traditional ‘pheran’ by Kashmiri people who mostly wear them in extremely cold weather where due to lack of electricity a kangri is kept inside the pheran that resembles a small heater.

Electricity generated from hydropower projects in Jammu and Kashmir is supplied to northern India while the locals are facing severe scarcity. That is another tragedy of Kashmir, robbing them of their own resources.

If Kashmiris do not wear pheran, they will not be able to use kangri. That could result in the loss of life due to severe cold.

Pheran is not a fashion; it is a necessity and has been the dress of Kashmiris for centuries, Hindus and Muslims.

Now if some BJP officials think that taking off the Pheran of Kashmiris can overcome the current turmoil in Kashmir and people would give up their demands for their political rights, what could be more foolish than that?

As the poet says, ‘this is a chair only, not your coffin. If you can’t do anything, why don’t you give up? The BJP’s decision on 5th August 2019 was justified that peace would prevail in Jammu and Kashmir, the development would accelerate, milk canals would flow and an environment would be created to make it a real paradise on earth. So far this dream has proved to be a mirage that has made the situation in Kashmir even more chaotic and violent.

It would have been better if the August 5 decision-makers had decided to step down morally by acknowledging their failure and atonement for their sins by apologizing to this poor nation. On the contrary, such conditions are created that the entire Kashmiri nation is so paralyzed mentally and physically that it is deprived of the ability to breathe. The land, the house, the flag, the identity, the language, and the constitution have already been robbed.

One billion people of India need to understand the volatility of the Kashmir and formulate a strategy to support JK in its fight for existence, restore the rights and identity of people or it might have serious repercussions on the rest of the country if Hindutva is not stopped to further its agenda.

Nayeema Ahmad Mahjoor is an ex-editor of BBC Urdu and Penguin author.

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Israeli media claims Defence Minister secretly met with King of Jordan

TEL AVIV (Ynet news): D-efense Minister Benny Ga-ntz recently travelled secre-tly to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah on Iran and other issues concerning the region, Ynet has learned.

According to sources, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi has also met twice meetings with his Jordanian counterpart Aym-an Safadi in recent months.

In a conference call Friday with members of his Blue & White party, Gantz hinted that he had been in contact with Jordanian officials and said that Prime Minister Netanyahu was an unwelcome figure in the kingdom.

He said that he hoped relations with the neighboring country would improve. Jordan became the second Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel in a 1994 ceremony on the border of the two countries.

“The ties with Jordan are a huge asset and could be a thousand times better,” Gantz said, claiming that he has an ongoing relationship with the king and senior Jordanian officials.

“Unfortunately, Netanyahu is unwelcome in Jordan and is hampering the furtherment of relations,” he said.

During the call with Blue & White members, Gantz lashed out at the prime minister, saying he was attempting to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat “as if it were his own personal property.”

He accused Netanyahu of sidelining the Mossad intelligence agency, the Foreign Ministry and even the IDF when it came to handling the Iranian threat.

“Mossad and the IDF have been displaying creativity, independent of Netanyahu,” Gantz said.

“We are building an offensive, defensive and intelligence response and will know how best to protect Israel,” he said.

The defense minister said that Israel must work to thwart Iranian plans to acquire a nuclear weapon through “an ongoing dialogue with the U.S. and Europe as well as with Arab countries that share our concerns and interests.”

He said that there must be a unified effort by Israel and its “friends” on this issue. Regarding the sale of sophisticated weaponry to regional states, which was the initiative of former president Trump, Gantz said that he has taken steps to ensure Israel’s qualitative edge.

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Future of Council of Europe depends on preserving independence, says Lavrov

F.P. Report

MOSCOW: Russian For-eign Minister Sergey Lav-rov addressed the Council of Europe Secretary Gene-ral Marija Pejcinovic Buric on the 25th anniversary of Russia’s membership in the organization, stating that the future of the Council of Europe will depend on wh-ether it will be able to stay independent and step away from bloc approaches.

Mentioning the importance of Council of Europe, he further added that “I am convinced that the future of the Council of Europe depends on its ability to preserve independence and its genuine common European nature, not to be a hostage to bloc approaches and thinking, to work without double standards in the interests of all countries of the continent. The experience of the recent years demonstrates that how important it is to keep the Parliamentary Assembly from slipping into an arena for settling accounts, to refrain from imposing non-consensus documents, to see to it that the activity of the European Court of Human Rights is free from political and ideological bias.”

During his address the minister also underlined that the organization’s potential is particularly needed amid the anti-coronavirus campaign to consolidate efforts of countries in the sphere of public health and to exchange advanced experience.

Lavrov congratulated Pejcinovic Buric on the jubilee and wished the Council of Europe “unity, stability and persistence in its drive towards the goals set in its charter in the interests of all Europeans.”

“Neither geopolitical nor economic considerations s-hould be above the interests of protection of health of o-wn citizens,” he pointed ou-t. Regarding the human rights violations, the Russian top diplomat emphasized that the authority of the Council of Europe is being shattered because of the lack of due reaction to such human rights violations as discrimination of the Russian and Russian-speaking population in Ukraine and the Baltic countries.

“The organization that emerged from the ruins of World War II must not be indifferent to the manifestations of historic revisionism and glorification of Nazi collaborators,” he added.

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Air Chief says, PAF deterred aggressor who miscalculated, challenged our sovereignty

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan on Saturday addressed the second anniversary of Operation Swift Retort commemorated as Surprise Day at Air Headquarters.

During his address, Chief of Air Staff commented that Pakistan Air Force (PAF) proved its capability equal to Quaid-e-Azam’s vision of being second to none on the occasion of Operation Swift Retort on February 27, 2019 and established our supremacy in the air.

He further commented that, “Thanks to Almighty Allah that the PAF had deterred the aggressor (India) who gravely miscalculated and challenged our sovereignty “, he also praised the PAF, saying that on the strength of our capability and resolve PAF responded in a manner that made our nation proud.

He also appreciated all PAF personnel for their professionalism, valour and commitment during Operation Swift Retort.

“Pakistan is a responsible and peace loving nation and its armed forces are prepared to defend its territorial integrity at all costs.”

On the occasion the Air Chief also underlined the importance of regional peace commenting that, ‘our efforts for global and regional peace particularly in Afghanistan, middle east and UN peace keeping missions were being acknowledged by the international community’, adding that

“one such manifestation of peace was witnessed by the world through unconditional return of the captured Indian pilot by the government of Pakistan.”

“However, let me make it clear that our desire for peace should not be misunderstood. In case of any misadventure, our response would be swift, resolute and unwavering, the Air Chief stressed”.

While expressing pride on the Operation Swift Resort, the Air Chief commented that in the wake of historic operation Swift Retort PAF remained proactive for maintaining peace and deterring aggression despite the challenges of Covid-19 pandemic, he said “PAF resolve and determination during the pandemic was remarkable”.

Mentioning the global pandemic challenge, the Air Chief again extended his gratitude to Almighty Allah for a successful fight against Covid-19 contagion outbreak in the country, stating that “Thanks to Almighty Allah, our well deliberated strategy, its successful implementation and team work yielded dividends while being committed to recollect, reconnect, recharge and thinking to win PAF maintained highest level of operational preparedness besides ensuring safety of its personnel which is commendable.”

Addressing the PAF personnel, the Air Chief said: “You must take pride in the sacred responsibility of national defence. We must keep our assets ready and available all the times.”

He underscored that the country was confronted with numerous challenges which demanded our capabilities for timely response. “We must remain on guard to defend ourselves on ground and in air.”

Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was continuously endeavoring to augment its potential in all spectrum operations and pursuing modernization through indigenous efforts, stressing that, ‘We pledge to protect our sacred homeland and defend the hard earned independence with our lives, the Air Chief remarked.

During the ceremonial address, the Air Chief reaffirmed support for Kashmiris, saying that we stood by our Kashmiri brethren and their just struggle for self determination, adding that “It is time to bring an end to the atrocities and longest lockdown of more than one and half year.”

Earlier, a smartly turned out contingent of Pakistan Air Force presented the Guard of Honour.

Another important event of the ceremony was a spectacular fly past by two formations of PAF fighter aircraft including F-16, JF-17, F-7 and Mirage.

The ceremony was rounded off with soulful performance by the young students of Fazaia School and College.

A documentary was also displayed on the occasion highlighting the circumstances leading to an Indian Air Force airstrike at Balakot and its subsequent rapid response by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in the shape of Operation Swift Retort leaving Indian forces badly humiliated and defeated in the encounter.

Former Air Chiefs and a large number of PAF officials witnessed the ceremony.

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US cracks down on Saudi officials following Khashoggi report

Oriana Gonzalez

WASHINGTON DC: Biden administration officials on Friday announced visa restrictions and other sanctions on specific Saudi Arabian citizens in connection with the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Yes, but: While the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday released an unclassified report assessing that Saudi Crown Prince Moha-mmed bin Salman approv-ed the operation to “capture or kill” Khashoggi, the Bi-den administration declined to directly target MBS.

The decision not to sanction MBS highlights Biden’s attempt to to recalibrate the Saudi relationship after the Trump administration made Riyadh’s preferences in the Persian Gulf a priority for U.S. foreign policy, Axios’ Hans Nichols writes.

The Treasury Departm-ent sanctioned Ahmad Ha-ssan Mohammed al Asiri, Saudi Arabia’s former deputy head of the General Intelligence Presidency, and Saudi Arabia’s Rapid Intervention Force.

The move freezes any assets that the individuals held in the U.S. and prohibits any person in the U.S. from handling them.

“Those involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi must be held accountable. … The United States stands united with journalists and political dissidents in opposing threats of violence and intimidation,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

Secretary of State Ant-ony Blinken announced the “Khashoggi ban” on Friday, which consists of visa restrictions for 76 Saudi individuals “believed to ha-ve been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas, including but not limited to the Khashoggi killing.”

“[W]e have introduced and announced a new policy that will apply the State Department’s ability to restrict and revoke visas to any individuals believed to be involved in extraterritorial activities targeting perceived dissidents or journalists – trying to harass them, surveil them, harm them or their families,” Blinken said, per a statement.

Of note: The secretary of state stressed the importance of the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia.

“We have significant ongoing interests,” he noted in his Friday statement. “We remain committed to the defense of the kingdom.”

“But we also want to make sure – and this is what the President has said from the outset – that the relationship better reflects our interests and our values. And so what we’ve done by the actions that we’ve taken is really not to rupture the relationship, but to recalibrate it to be more in line with our interests and our values.”

In five weeks, Biden has ended support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen, frozen a large arms deal and snubbed MBS by declining to speak with him directly. The moves come after Biden referred to the kingdom as a “pariah” on the campaign trail.

“We’ve been speaking quite frankly with Saudi leaders about the need for a different kind of relationship, based not only on our shared interests — and we do have many shared interests — but also one conducted with accountability and transparency and also taking into account the values of the United States of America,” a senior administration official told reporters on Thursday.

‘The aim is recalibration, not a rupture,” the official said, adding that Saudi Arabia had “lost both political parties and the support of the American people.”

Jamal Khashoggi was a prominent Saudi journalist and royal insider who became an outspoken critic of MBS in 2017 after the newly appointed crown prince began cracking down on dissent, even as he led a campaign of social and economic reforms.

Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia in 2017 and went into self-imposed exile in Virginia, where he wrote columns for the Washin-gton Post that were frequently critical of the regime.

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China’s upstream dams hurting communities and ecosystems: USA

F.P. Report

WASHINGTON DC: Ambassador Atul Keshap, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs addressed the Indo-Pacific conference on Strength-ening Transboundary River Governance on Saturday.

During his address, the diplomat commented on the launch of conference report stating that this report is excellent and summarizes our work examining the challenges facing the Mekong River basin and its ties to the economies, livelihoods, and culture of nearly 70 million people.

Regarding China, he further mentioned that, we remain concerned just as we were in October during the conference—that record droughts and the upstream dams in China that exacerbate them are hurting the communities and ecosystems that have relied for countless generations on the Mekong River’s natural flood pulse.

There are dramatic consequences for food security, economic development, and the environment, the diplomat mentioned.

It’s clear that upstream dams are withholding water with limited coordination or notification, unnecessarily exacerbating the water security challenges that Mekong communities are facing, he said.

Highlighting the Mekong River Commission (MRC), he stating that last week MRC again issued calls for China to share timely and essential water data. This was in response to what the MRC called recent “worrying” drops in Mekong River water levels, he said.

The diplomat remarked that the MRC statement cited Beijing’s agreement in 2020 to share year-round water level and rainfall data and to notify the MRC of any abnormal rise or fall in water levels. It’s clear that the PRC has not lived up to this commitment, he said.

Regarding the report, diplomat commented that the conference report will serve as an important resource guiding our efforts to improve transparency and strengthening the communities and institutions responsible for protecting the Mekong River.

Underscoring the emerging global challenges he said, the nearly 70 million people that depend on the River have much to gain from transparent governance. Expanding economic growth and addressing climate change also require coordination and information sharing, he said.

The United States and our partners developed the Mekong Dam Monitor to better provide information on water usage. Upstream dam operators need to be more transparent and consultative with downstream neighbors, the diplomat commented.

Stronger governance, institutions, and mechanisms are needed to support regional cooperation in the Mekong.

The US has supported the Mekong River Commission for decades and remains committed to sharing our expertise and working with you to preserve the autonomy of the Mekong region, he said.

Perhaps most significantly, this report emphasizes the importance of including all stakeholders in river management, the diplomat commented. This requires moving beyond just government bodies and the MRC to include civil society in the decision-making process, he said.

Moreover, the diplomat stated that the United States is committed to following through on the ideas discussed at the conference and in this report. We support the people of the Mekong and the future of the Mekong River.

Since 2009, the United States has invested over $3.5 billion of assistance in the countries of the Mekong, including, $1.2 billion for health programs, $734 million for economic growth, $616 million for peace and security, $527 million for human rights and governance, $175 million for education and social services and $165 million for humanitarian assistance.

He further added that last year, we launched the Mekong-U.S. Partnership to broaden, deepen, and better resource our collaboration.

Through the Mekong-U.S. Partnership, the United States is partnering with Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam on solutions to emerging challenges, including transboundary resource management, regional economic connectivity and human resources development, and non-traditional security issues like health security, and narcotics, weapons, wildlife and human trafficking.

Regarding MRC he said, we are strengthening our long-standing support for the MRC, guided by principles of transparency, inclusivity, good governance, and respect for autonomy and international law. He also expressed commitment to work under Mekong Water Data Initiative to improve water data sharing, including support for the Mekong Dam Monitor.

He also remarked that U.S. is empowering the skill and talent of the people of the Mekong through programs like the new Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Academy at Fulbright University Vietnam and Young Scientists Program.

Adding that U.S. is also supporting regional organizations like ACMECS and the efforts of partners like Japan, South Korea, Australia, India and countries in EU to support sustainable development and share global best practices.

These efforts are collaborative and inclusive and follow the helpful efforts of countries like Vietnam to raise the profile of Mekong issues within ASEAN, he added.

The diplomat further commented that we encourage ASEAN to regard the Mekong River basin as being as important to unity and prosperity as the issues in the maritime domain.

Finally, our work would be incomplete without the efforts of local media reporting on the value of the river and the effects of unsustainable practices. We applaud the tireless efforts of civil society advocates that strive for transparency, sustainability, and accountability, he concluded.

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Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif: Attacks in Iraq suspicious

TEHRAN (IRNA): Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a meeting with his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein in Tehran on Saturday said that some recent attacks and developments in Iraq are suspicious and could be carried out to disrupt Tehran-Baghdad relations and Iraq’s security and stability.

Zarif stressed Iraqi government’s measure to find the perpetrators of the event.

Zarif and Fuad Hussein discussed political, economic, and border trade cooperation, according to the public relations office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Condemning the US dangerous attack on Iraqi forces along the borders with Syria, Zarif said that the attacks were illegal and a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

Regarding the issue of Iranian fuel tankers in Tamarchin, northwestern Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif hoped that the problem will be solved with cooperation between the two neighboring countries.

He also urged the officials of Iran and Iraq to start and complete the Shalamcheh-Basra railway as soon as possible.

In the meeting with Zarif, the Iraqi foreign minister stressed all-out expansion of ties and expressed Baghdad’s readiness to boost relations with Iran.

Fuad Hussein referred to the negotiations between the two countries about Tehran’s access to its financial sources in Iraq and stressed facilitation of the process.

He went on to say that Baghdad does not let its good relations with Tehran be disrupted.

The two diplomats also discussed regional developments.