World powers rally to defend value of Iran nuke accord

The Associated Press reports: Top diplomats from Germany, Russia, China and Italy insisted Thursday there can be no turning back on the Iran nuclear deal after President Donald Trump suggested that he may seek a renegotiation or simply walk away from the pact.

“How are we going to convince countries like North Korea that international agreements provide them with security — and in so doing make them commit to future disarmament efforts — if the only international example for such an endeavor being successful, the agreement with Iran, no longer has effect?” asked Germany’s Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, addressing the U.N. General Assembly.

Italy’s U.N. Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi said after a Security Council meeting that the escalating situation with North Korea should serve as a cautionary tale for not abandoning the Iran deal. “When you see the DPRK proliferation issue, which is not controlled of course because (it is) a rogue state, and then you have the kind of controlled agreement on Iran, that is the way to go.” DPRK is an acronym for North Korea’s official name. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea warns of hydrogen-bomb test over Pacific Ocean

The Wall Street Journal reports: North Korea’s foreign minister said the country could detonate a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean in response to President Donald Trump’s speech before the United Nations that warned the U.S. would annihilate North Korea if forced to defend itself or its allies.

The threat, made in remarks by North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho in New York, would mark a dramatic escalation in action from Pyongyang, which in the past month has already launched two intermediate-range ballistic missiles over Japan and tested what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb.

“In my opinion, perhaps we might consider a historic aboveground test of a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean,” Mr. Ri said in a video broadcast on a South Korean news channel. The last aboveground nuclear detonation in the world was China’s atmospheric test of a hydrogen bomb on Oct. 16, 1980.

Mr. Ri said he didn’t know for sure what North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was planning.

The remarks from Mr. Ri came hours after Mr. Kim said through Pyongyang’s state media early on Friday that he was considering the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure” after Mr. Trump’s speech. [Continue reading…]

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Kim Jong-un calls Trump a ‘rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire’

In the first statement known to be issued directly in his name, Kim Jong-un says: The speech made by the U.S. president in his maiden address on the U.N. arena in the prevailing serious circumstances, in which the situation on the Korean Peninsula has been rendered tense as never before and is inching closer to a touch-and-go state, is arousing worldwide concern.

Shaping the general idea of what he would say, I expected he would make stereotyped, prepared remarks a little different from what he used to utter in his office on the spur of the moment as he had to speak on the world’s biggest official diplomatic stage.

But, far from making remarks of any persuasive power that can be viewed to be helpful to defusing tension, he made unprecedented rude nonsense one has never heard from any of his predecessors.

A frightened dog barks louder.

I’d like to advise Trump to exercise prudence in selecting words and to be considerate of whom he speaks to when making a speech in front of the world.

The mentally deranged behavior of the U.S. president openly expressing on the U.N. arena the unethical will to “totally destroy” a sovereign state, beyond the boundary of threats of regime change or overturn of social system, makes even those with normal thinking faculty think about discretion and composure.

His remarks remind me of such words as “political layman” and “political heretic” which were in vogue in reference to Trump during his presidential election campaign.

After taking office Trump has rendered the world restless through threats and blackmail against all countries in the world. He is unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of a country, and he is surely a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire, rather than a politician.

His remarks which described the U.S. option through straightforward expression of his will have convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last.

Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy the D.P.R.K. [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.

Action is the best option in treating the dotard who, hard of hearing, is uttering only what he wants to say. [Continue reading…]

After eight months in office, this is Donald Trump’s singular accomplishment on the world stage: he has managed to make the president of the United States appear less predictable and less credible than the leader of North Korea!

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The White House’s preposterous policy analysis on refugees

In an editorial, the Washington Post says: A quirky thing about government programs is that, in addition to costs, there are benefits, the latter of which may also include revenue. Yet in the case of U.S. refugee programs, xenophobes seeking an upper hand in the Trump administration have covered up half the ledger.

A report ordered up by President Trump in March, and produced by officials in July, concluded that refugees had delivered $63 billion more in federal, state and local tax revenue than they had cost in federal benefits through the decade ending in 2014. According to the New York Times, however, the administration sent the report back for a redo, insisting that any mention of revenue be dropped. The Department of Health and Human Services obliged in a final, three-page report this month, which concluded that per-person departmental program costs for refugees were $3,300, compared with a per-person cost of $2,500 for the U.S. population as a whole.

That’s not exactly a shocker. Refugees, by definition legal immigrants, tend to be poor or penniless. As the report from Health and Human Services says, they naturally draw more heavily on the department’s programs, particularly in their first four years of residency. The fact that they pay more in taxes than they draw in benefits cuts against the administration’s spin and, according to the Times, was suppressed by Stephen Miller, Mr. Trump’s nativist senior policy adviser.

Mr. Miller is leading the charge to slash the number of refugees admitted in the fiscal year starting in October, below even the cap of 50,000 that Mr. Trump imposed this year — itself the lowest number in more than 30 years. (Before leaving office, President Barack Obama had set this year’s target at 110,000.) In addition to his general dislike of immigration, Mr. Miller sees refugees in particular as a terrorist threat and a fiscal burden. The fact that there’s extremely little historical evidence of the former, and that the latter is demonstrably false, doesn’t interest him — or Mr. Trump, who on Tuesday told the U.N. General Assembly that it would be much cheaper for Washington to send money for refugees rather than resettle them in the United States. [Continue reading…]

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Iranian president aptly describes Trump as a ‘rogue newcomer’ to world politics

The Washington Post reports: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blasted President Trump on Wednesday for his “ignorant, absurd and hateful” speech before the United Nations a day earlier and vowed Iran would not be the first to walk away from the historic 2015 nuclear deal.

Rouhani, during a 23-minute address at the U.N. General Assembly, never mentioned Trump by name. Instead he referred to him obliquely, at one point saying it would be a pity if the nuclear deal were undone by “rogue newcomers to the world of politics.”

Rouhani denied that Iran had ever sought to obtain nuclear weapons and said the ballistic missiles it has been testing would be used only for defensive purposes.

“Iran does not seek to restore its ancient empire, impose its official religion on others or export its revolution through the force of arms,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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Rex Tillerson viewed as one of the worst secretaries of state in history

Vox reports: The United Nations General Assembly is usually a time for America’s secretary of state — the country’s chief diplomat — to shine. That, to put it mildly, isn’t what’s happening with Rex Tillerson.

Instead, this week’s confab of world leaders in New York is taking place with Tillerson’s hold on his job looking shakier than ever. A pair of reports this week in Axios and Politico say he’s fallen out of favor in the White House. Rumors are flying about possible new secretaries, with UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said to be at the top of Trump’s list.

There is a simple reason why Tillerson is at such risk of getting canned: His tenure, observers say, has been an unmitigated disaster.

“Tillerson would be at or near the bottom of the list of secretaries of state, not just in the post-Second World War world but in the record of US secretaries of state,” says Paul Musgrave, a scholar of US foreign policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The former Exxon Mobil CEO — whose nomination was initially greeted warmly by prominent foreign policy hands — has failed to wield any significant influence in internal administration debates over issues like Syria, North Korea, or Russia.

His push to slash “inefficiencies” in the State Department and seeming disinterest in working closely with longtime staff were even more damaging. By failing to get people into vital high-level posts and actively pushing out talented personnel, he ended up making America’s response to major crises incoherent and weakening the State Department for a “generation,” according to George Washington University’s Elizabeth Saunders.

This can’t all be blamed on Tillerson: Even a skilled and experienced diplomat would have had trouble maintaining influence in the chaotic Trump White House, where people like Haley and Jared Kushner wield major influence and foreign policy is often made by tweet.

Yet both nonpartisan experts and high-ranking State Department appointees in the past two administrations believe he personally deserves much of the blame. [Continue reading…]

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Trump offers a selective view of sovereignty in UN speech

The New York Times reports: President Trump, in declaring Tuesday that sovereignty should be the guiding principle of affairs between nations, sketched out a radically different vision of the world order than his forebears, who founded the United Nations after World War II to deal collectively with problems they believed would transcend borders.

Mr. Trump offered the General Assembly a strikingly selective definition of sovereignty, threatening to act aggressively against countries like North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, whose policies he opposes, yet saying almost nothing about Russia, which seized territory from its neighbor Ukraine, and meddled in the American presidential election.

But more important than how he defined sovereignty was Mr. Trump’s adoption of the word itself — language more familiar to small countries, guarding themselves against the incursions of larger neighbors or defying the judgments of a global elite, than to a superpower that fashioned a web of global institutions to enshrine its national interests.

“I will always put America first, just like you, as the leaders of your countries, will always and should always put your countries first,” Mr. Trump declared to a smattering of applause from an audience that included gimlet-eyed diplomats from some of the countries he criticized.

Mr. Trump rooted his philosophy in President Harry S. Truman, the Marshall Plan and the restoration of Europe. But the vision he articulated was smaller and more self-interested. America, he said, would no longer enter into “one-sided” alliances or agreements. It would no longer shoulder an unfair financial burden in bodies like the United Nations. [Continue reading…]

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Trump uses Putin’s arguments to undermine the world

Spencer Ackerman writes: The leader stepped to the podium of the United Nations General Assembly, as close to a literal world stage as exists, and issued a stringent defense of the principle of national sovereignty.

“What is the state sovereignty, after all, that has been mentioned by our colleagues here? It is basically about freedom and the right to choose freely one’s own future for every person, nation and state,” he said, attacking what he identified as the hypocrisy of those who seek to violate sovereignty in the name of stopping mass murder.

“Aggressive foreign interference,” the leader continued, “has resulted in a brazen destruction of national institutions and the lifestyle itself. Instead of the triumph of democracy and progress, we got violence, poverty and social disaster.”

The leader was not Donald Trump on Tuesday, but Vladimir Putin in 2015. Whatever nexus between Putin and Trump exists for Robert Mueller to discover, the evidence of their compatible visions of foreign affairs was on display at the United Nations clearer than ever, with Trump’s aggressive incantation of “sovereignty, security and prosperity” as the path to world peace. “There can be no substitute for strong, sovereign, and independent nations, nations that are rooted in the histories and invested in their destiny,” Trump said, hitting his familiar blood-and-soil themes that echo from the darker moments in European history. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. warns that time is running out for peaceful solution with North Korea

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration escalated its rhetoric against North Korea on Sunday, warning that time is running out for a peaceful solution between Kim Jong Un’s regime and the United States and its allies.

Administration officials said the risk from North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is rising, and they underscored that President Trump will confront the looming crisis at the U.N. General Assembly this week. Trump, who spoke by phone with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Saturday, referred to Kim on Twitter as “Rocket Man” and asserted that “long gas lines” are forming in the North because of recent U.N. sanctions on oil imports.

Though Trump’s top aides emphasized that the administration is examining all diplomatic measures to rein in Pyongyang, they made clear that military options remain on the table.

“If North Korea keeps on with this reckless behavior, if the United States has to defend itself or defend its allies in any way, North Korea will be destroyed,” Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “None of us want that. None of us want war. But we also have to look at the fact that you are dealing with someone [in Kim] who is being reckless, irresponsible and is continuing to give threats not only to the United States, but to all of its allies. So something is going to have to be done.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump and Netanyahu ready united assault against Iran nuclear deal

The Guardian reports: Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu will meet in New York on Monday, at the start of a week in which they intend to launch a concerted assault at the United Nations against the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

The US and Israeli leaders are expected to use their speeches to the UN general assembly on Tuesday to highlight the threat to Middle East stability and security represented by Tehran.

While anxiety about Iran’s expansive role in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon is widely shared, Trump and Netanyahu’s antipathy to the multilateral deal agreed in Vienna two years ago binds them together, even as it sets them apart from the overwhelming majority of other world leaders attending the annual UN summit.

Western allies in Europe – most notably the UK, France and Germany, co-signatories of the 2015 deal – remain committed to the agreement and have signalled they are willing to disagree sharply and openly with Trump on the issue.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN who made herself the principal channel for the president’s critique of the deal, has been a lonely voice against it on the security council.

The stance taken by Netanyahu and Trump has also set them apart from their most senior national security advisers. [Continue reading…]

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McMaster says no redo on Paris climate deal decision

The Washington Post reports: National security adviser H.R. McMaster denied Sunday that President Trump is reconsidering his decision to pull out of the Paris climate change accord but said the door remains open to a better agreement down the road.

“That’s a false report,” McMaster said of published reports over the weekend that the administration might not pull out of the deal after all and might seek new terms instead.

“The president decided to pull out of the Paris accord because it’s a bad deal for the American people and it’s a bad deal for the environment,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” [Continue reading…]

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Conflicting statements on Trump administration’s position on Paris climate accord

The Wall Street Journal reports: Trump administration officials said Saturday the U.S. wouldn’t pull out of the Paris Agreement, offering to re-engage in the international deal to fight climate change, according to multiple officials at a global warming summit.

The U.S. position on reviewing the terms of its participation in the landmark accord came during a meeting of more than 30 ministers led by Canada, China and the European Union in Montreal. In June, President Donald Trump said the U.S. would withdraw from the deal unless it could find more favorable terms.

U.S. officials in Montreal, led by White House senior adviser Everett Eissenstat, broached revising U.S. climate-change goals, two participants said, signaling a compromise that would keep the U.S. at the table even if it meant weakening the international effort. Still, the move would maintain international unity behind the painstakingly negotiated Paris accord, after Mr. Trump suggested he might seek a new agreement.

“The U.S. has stated that they will not renegotiate the Paris accord, but they will try to review the terms on which they could be engaged under this agreement,” European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete said.

In a statement Saturday afternoon, a White House spokeswoman said the administration’s position on Paris had not changed, but also noted that the president’s stance on withdrawing from the deal had never been set in stone.

“There has been no change in the U.S.’s position on the Paris agreement,” said deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters. “As the president has made abundantly clear, the U.S. is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country.”

Multiple participants at the Montreal gathering said Mr. Eissenstat’s approach, though it is likely to entail a significant reduction in the U.S.’s ambition to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, fueled optimism among proponents of the Paris deal. Since Mr. Trump’s inauguration in January, officials from China to the EU and Canada have tried to convince his administration that fighting climate change is also a boon for the economy and jobs, and not just an ideological battle.

“We are pleased the U.S. continues to engage and recognize the economic opportunity of clean growth, including clean energy,” said Canadian Environment Minister Catherine McKenna in a statement to The Wall Street Journal. [Continue reading…]

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Ban on North Korean clothing exports will hurt women the most, experts say

The Washington Post reports: There are few areas in the North Korean economy, outside its nuclear weapons program, that could be called booming. But the garment industry has been one of them.

Over the past few years, North Korea has been sending increasing numbers of seamstresses to China to sew clothes for international buyers, and it also has been encouraging the expansion of the garment industry at home.

There are factories around the country producing suits, dresses and children’s clothes — almost all of which are labeled “Made in China.”

That should all theoretically come to an end now, after the United Nations Security Council unanimously decided this week to prohibit North Korea from exporting labor and textiles, adding to existing sanctions on coal, iron ore and seafood.

“Today’s resolution bans all textile exports,” Nikki Haley, the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations, said Monday when the resolution passed. “That’s an almost $800 million hit to its revenue.”

North Korea exported about $725 million worth of clothing last year, according to South Korea’s trade-promotion agency, making it a significant source of income for the cash-strapped country.

Adding textiles to the sanctions list means that more than 90 percent of North Korea’s publicly reported exports last year are now banned, Haley said. Coal, iron ore and seafood exports were prohibited in a previous resolution.

While diplomats have been describing this week’s ban as being on “textiles,” economists say it should more accurately be called a “garment” ban. North Korea does not export bolts of fabric but instead produces labor-intensive articles of clothing. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea is dodging sanctions with a secret bitcoin stash

Bloomberg reports: North Korea appears to be stepping up efforts to secure bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which could be used to avoid trade restrictions including new sanctions approved by the United Nations Security Council.

Hackers from Kim Jong Un’s regime are increasing their attacks on cryptocurrency exchanges in South Korea and related sites, according to a new report from security researcher FireEye Inc. They also breached an English-language bitcoin news website and collected bitcoin ransom payments from global victims of the malware WannaCry, according to the researcher.

Kim’s apparent interest in cryptocurrencies comes amid rising prices and popularity. The same factors that have driven their success — lack of state control and secretiveness — would make them useful fund raising and money laundering tools for a man threatening to use nuclear weapons against the U.S. With tightening sanctions and usage of cryptocurrencies broadening, security experts say North Korea’s embrace of digital cash will only increase. [Continue reading…]

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Trump administration may make the Iran deal the Senate’s problem

J. Dana Stuster writes: The Trump administration continued laying the groundwork for decertifying Iran’s compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) last week. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on the nuclear agreement and broader U.S. policy toward Iran. Though she stressed that she was “not making the case for decertifying”—instead she said she was arguing that “should [Trump] decide to decertify, he has grounds to stand on”—it was hard to read Haley’s comments as any anything else.

Haley’s speech was mostly a rehash of criticisms leveled against the JCPOA at the time of its proposal in 2015. Like previous critics, Haley expressed frustration that the agreement deals with Iran’s nuclear weapons program in isolation from Iran’s other aggressive actions in the Middle East, raised concerns about inspectors’ ability to detect potential clandestine enrichment sites, and cited Iran’s record of sponsoring terrorism as a check against its credibility. None of this is new, and the counterarguments have been made well for years. But as President Barack Obama pointed out at the time, “You don’t make deals like this with your friends.” The agreement addressed the foremost U.S. security interest with regard to Iran: the rapid expansion of its uranium enrichment that could be used to make a nuclear weapon. Haley’s speech didn’t articulate an alternative for containing Iran’s nuclear program.

The JCPOA was an international agreement only made possible by the participation of a coalition that included Russia and China; that Washington, Moscow, and Beijing could all agree to the terms is still an incredible diplomatic achievement by itself. But those international partners to the agreement got short shrift in Haley’s speech, only coming up in the question and answer portion. “This is about U.S. national security. This is not about European security. This is not about anyone else,” she said, which the New York Times reports left “several European diplomats in the audience fuming.” [Continue reading…]

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After U.S. compromise, Security Council strengthens North Korea sanctions

The New York Times reports: The United Nations Security Council on Monday ratcheted up sanctions yet again against North Korea, but they fell significantly short of the far-reaching penalties that the Trump administration had demanded just days ago.

While the sanctions were described in Washington and other capitals as the most extensive yet, in the end they amounted to another incremental increase of pressure on the country, even after it detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear device.

It was far from clear that the additional penalties would accomplish what the Trump administration said was its goal: To force North Korea to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile tests and reopen some kind of negotiation toward eventual nuclear disarmament.

The North has claimed that last week’s detonation, in an underground site, had proven it could build a hydrogen bomb, far more powerful than ordinary atomic weapons. It is still unclear how far along the road to a hydrogen bomb the country has gone.

Although the resolution won backing from all 15 council members, the weakened penalties reflected the power of Russia and China. Both had objected to the original language calling for an oil embargo and other severe penalties — with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia declaring last week that such additional sanctions would be counterproductive and possibly destabilizing. [Continue reading…]

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More than a quarter-million Rohingya have fled Burma in the past two weeks, UN says

The Washington Post reports: On Friday, the United Nations’ refugee agency significantly revised upward its estimate of how many Rohingya people had fled Burma to neighboring Bangladesh over the past two weeks, to 270,000 from just 125,000 earlier this week.

Renewed violence has engulfed Burma’s Rakhine state, where tension between the mostly Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority and the country’s Burmese and largely Buddhist majority have simmered and flared for decades. Some 300,000 and 500,000 Rohingya already lived in refugee camps in Bangladesh before this summer. An estimated 1.1 million remained in Burma. Since Aug. 25, nearly a quarter of that remaining population has reportedly fled.

Human rights groups and journalists have been reporting a statewide scorched-earth campaign by Burmese security forces to kill or otherwise expel Rohingya from the country. A BBC reporter who was on a government-chaperoned trip around Rakhine state said he spoke with Burmese men who admitted to burning a Rohingya village with the help of local police. The U.N.’s special rapporteur on Burma — also known as Myanmar — said Friday that more than 1,000 mostly Rohingya people may have been killed over the past two weeks. [Continue reading…]

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China agrees UN action, and talk, needed to end North Korea crisis

Reuters reports: China agreed on Thursday that the United Nations should take more action against North Korea after its latest nuclear test, while also pushing for dialogue to help resolve the standoff.

North Korea, which is pursuing its nuclear and missile programmes in defiance of international condemnation, said it would respond to any new U.N. sanctions and U.S. pressure with “powerful counter measures”, accusing the United States of aiming for war.

The United States wants the U.N. Security Council to impose an oil embargo on North Korea, ban its exports of textiles and the hiring of North Korean labourers abroad, and to subject leader Kim Jong Un to an asset freeze and travel ban, according to a draft resolution seen by Reuters on Wednesday. [Continue reading…]

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UN report: Syrian government forces used chemical weapons more than two dozen times

Reuters reports: Government forces have used chemical weapons more than two dozen times during Syria’s civil war, including in April’s deadly attack on Khan Sheikhoun, U.N. war crimes investigators said on Wednesday.

A government warplane dropped sarin on the town in Idlib province, killing more than 80 civilians, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria said, in the most conclusive findings to date from investigations into that chemical weapon attack.

The panel also said U.S. air strikes on a mosque in Al-Jina in rural Aleppo in March that killed 38 people, including children, failed to take precautions in violation of international law, but did not constitute a war crime.

The weapons used on Khan Sheikhoun were previously identified as containing sarin, an odourless nerve agent. But that conclusion, reached by a fact-finding mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), did not say who was responsible.

“Government forces continued the pattern of using chemical weapons against civilians in opposition-held areas. In the gravest incident, the Syrian air force used sarin in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, killing dozens, the majority of whom were women and children,” the U.N. report said, declaring the attack a war crime. [Continue reading…]

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