This week on War News Radio, negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, sectarian violence in Iraq, terrorism in Nigeria, and more.
Jerry Qin: From War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Jerry Qin.
Nora Bailin: And I’m Nora Bailin. Russia, the United States, and the United Nations have failed to set a date for peace talks concerning the Syrian civil war. Senior diplomats were unable to agree on who should represent the Syrian opposition, as well as what role Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should play in the conference. The delay comes on the heels of a UN report stating that forty percent of the Syrian population has been displaced, with 6,000 people leaving the country every day. UN officials cited the Syrian opposition’s disorganization and lack of preparation for the peace conference as a major cause of the diplomatic delay.
Qin: Two separate bomb attacks occurred in the Syrian cities of Damascus and Suweida this week. In Damascus, a bomb exploded at a train station in Hejaz Square, killing eight individuals and wounding at least fifty. At least 34 people were killed and over 41 were injured in an attack on an Air Force Intelligence headquarters in Suweida. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition monitoring group, the Syrian intelligence branch chief was among the individuals killed. This week’s attacks have raised questions about the likelihood that stability will soon return to the war-torn region. The actions of extreme jihadists groups in the government-controlled Suweida, which has long stayed neutral in the conflict, have cast doubt on the ability of rebels to oust Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Bailin: The United States and other members of the United Nations might be approaching a deal with Iran that could potentially halt Iran’s nuclear program for a six month period. The US, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany, known as the P5-plus-1 countries, have shown willingness to loosen some of the economic sanctions on Iran if the country commits to halting its nuclear program. The deal would mark the first time in decades that the progress of Iran’s nuclear program has been stymied. US officials have announced that Secretary of State John Kerry will fly to Geneva tomorrow to participate in the talks, signaling that a deal might be imminent.
Qin: In the Democratic Republic of Congo this week, M23 rebel group leader Sultani Makenga surrendered. Although it has yet to be officially confirmed, the surrender closely followed announcements both of a ceasefire and of M23’s plans to disarm. Since the start of the M23 insurgency in 2012, fighting between the rebels and the government has displaced at least 100,000 people. The Ugandan government, which has facilitated talks between the rebel group and the Congolese government, has expressed optimism that a peace deal is imminent. Once a peace deal is settled, however, questions of amnesty will need to be addressed. While both the United Nations and the Congolese government have insisted that Makenga not receive full amnesty, it is likely that many other M23 members will.
Bailin: United States Secretary of State John Kerry called for Israel to cut back on its settlement of the disputed territory along the Israeli-Palestinian border earlier this week. Kerry described these settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as, quote, “unhelpful” in brokering peace between Palestine and Israel. Kerry has made many attempts to facilitate peace talks, meeting with both Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In spite of limited progress in the negotiations since their reopening last July, Kerry remains optimistic about achieving peace, stating that, quote, “both leaders…are determined to work towards this goal.”
Qin: A Swiss forensic team released findings this week corroborating the theory that late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned. According to Al Jazeera, which had exclusive access to the report, the scientists found, quote, “unnaturally high levels of polonium in Arafat’s ribs and pelvis, and in soil stained with his decaying organs”. Though an autopsy was not conducted at the time of Arafat’s death in 2004, his official cause of death was deemed a stroke. Many, however, have speculated that his death was due to an undetected poison. After Arafat’s widow Suha found trace amounts of polonium on her husband’s belongings last year, officials reopened his grave to obtain samples from his body. While the results, quote, “moderately support” that Arafat was poisoned, questions still remain as to whether the radioactive element caused Arafat’s death and, if so, which group was behind the murder.
Bailin: A series of small explosions occurred outside of a Communist Party building in Taiyuan, China this week, killing one person and injuring eight others. Ball bearings found at the scene of the explosions have led authorities to believe that the bombs were homemade. The blasts came in the wake of last week’s suicide car crash in Tiananmen Square, a terrorist attack committed by Muslim militants from the Xinjiang region of western China. Although no information about the perpetrators of the explosions has been released, the event appears similar to past incidents in which angered members of the community targeted local government buildings.
Qin: Greece’s largest public and private sector unions went on a 24-hour general walkout to protest against austerity reforms imposed by foreign lenders this week. About 15,000 protesters also marched to the parliament building in Athens, where foreign lenders were reviewing Greece’s bailout. The strike, composed of school teachers, doctors, and municipal and transport workers, shut down schools and impacted flights. The labor unions have expressed concerns that Greece will impose further wage and pension cuts, public sector job cuts, and privatizations in order to satisfy bailout targets.
Bailin: Mullah Fazlullah, the commander who planned the attack on teenage activist Malala Yousafzai, was appointed the new leader of the Pakistani Taliban this week. His unanimous election by the Taliban’s leadership council, known as the shura, came nearly a week after a U.S. drone strike killed the previous chief, Hakimullah Mehsud. Mehsud, who was believed to have designed the failed bombing in New York’s Times Square in 2010, outraged Pakistani officials with his ruthless methods. Mehsud’s death was a big blow to the Taliban, a day after the Pakistani government started peace talks with the militant group.
Qin: If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News Radio.org. This week’s newscast was written and edited by Caroline Batten, Zoe Cina-Sklar, Amy DiPierro, Sabrina Merold, Sara Morell, Rachel Sassella, Will Sullivan, Tyler Welsh, Chloe Wittenberg, and Henry Zhang. I’m Jerry Qin.
Bailin: And I’m Nora Bailin. Until next time, thanks for listening.
Host Introduction: While much of the focus of the conflict in Syria has been on violent tactics used by the opposition movement, armed resistance is not the only choice. Many highlight the success and strength of the nonviolent tactics used in the beginning months of the conflict. War News Radio’s Sabrina Merold spoke to Dr. Stephen Zunes an expert on US Middle East policy and strategic nonviolent action. Read More→
First, we hear from a memoirist about her experiences as a military wife after 9/11. Next, we present our editorial segment, “Filibusted.” Then, we talk to an expert about civil resistance in Syria. Finally, we find out what kind of college student supports drone strikes.
But first, a round-up of this week’s news.
This week on War News Radio, negotiations over the United States drone program, an Indo-China border agreement, pirates, and more.
Luke Arnone: From War News Radio at Swarthmore College, I’m Luke Arnone.
Ashley Hong: And I’m Ashley Hong. The controversy surrounding United States drone strikes continued this week as Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif urged President Barack Obama to end the drone program. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said, quote, “we regard such strikes as a violation of our sovereignty as well as international law.” The release of Central Intelligence Agency documents that reveal the complicity of the Pakistani government in drone strikes, however, cast doubt on the sincerity of Pakistan’s requests.
The leaked documents suggest that Pakistan has secretly supported and even requested certain attacks. The reports come in the wake of allegations by human rights groups that the United States has downplayed the number of civilians killed in drone strikes and violated international laws regarding civilian casualties. The United States has admitted to killing citizens, though White House Press Secretary Jay Carney denied the illegality of the attacks, stating, quote, “U.S. counterterrorism actions are precise, they are lawful, and they are effective.”
Arnone: The United States has recently encountered opposition from a number of its allies–including France, Israel, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia–over the way it has handled the Syrian civil war and the nuclear negotiations in Iran. According to anonymous sources, Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud of Saudi Arabia has warned of a, quote, “major shift” or “scaling back” in Saudi interactions with the US. These changes in the Saudi-US relationship have already begun to take shape. Saudi Arabia turned down a seat on the United Nations Security Council this week, citing the Council’s failure to protect Syrian civilians and to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. US Secretary of State John Kerry has worked to reduce tensions with Saudi Arabia and other key allies, with varying degrees of success.
Hong: United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for seven hours this week to discuss Middle Eastern diplomacy. The exchange primarily centered on Iran’s nuclear program, though Kerry and Netanyahu were unable to agree on how best to compromise with Iran. While Netanyahu called on the US to renew its economic sanctions against Iran and encourage the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program, Kerry resisted. He affirmed the willingness of the US to allow the continuation of Iran’s civilian nuclear program on the condition that Iran comply with international nuclear standards. The United States, along with China; France; Germany; Russia; and the United Kingdom, have attempted to negotiate with Iran, and discussions about the parameters for Iran’s nuclear program will continue next month. In addition to their conversation about Iran, Kerry and Netanyahu discussed further US involvement in peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine.
Arnone: India and China negotiated a deal this week to ease tensions surrounding a disputed border between the two nations. Though China has long claimed ownership of over 35,000 square miles of territory in the eastern Himalayas, India has maintained that China unlawfully occupies almost 15,000 miles of its land in the west. This border disagreement has sparked violence in the past; following a brief war in 1962, the two countries often clashed over alleged border violations by the Chinese army. Strained Indo-Chinese relations came to a head after the Chinese army set up camp in the Ladakh region in April of this year. Both nations, however, are optimistic that the agreement’s mandated communication between soldiers at overlapping borders will preclude future conflict. The border pact was one of nine agreements signed at the meeting between the two countries.
Hong: Police in Greece conducted a raid for drugs and weapons on the Farsala Roma community earlier this week. They became suspicious when they saw a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl named Maria in the care of darker-skinned parents. Officers took Maria into custody and arrested the parents. DNA tests verified that there was no biological relation between Maria and her supposed parents. This story follows a similar instance of a Roma child taken into custody outside of Dublin, Ireland after police were not persuaded by the birth certificate and passport the family presented. Unlike in the Greek case, DNA tests confirmed that the girl was, in fact, living with her biological parents.
Arnone: Human rights groups have cited these incidents as examples of the mistreatment of Roma communities across Europe. The head of the European Roma Rights Centre expressed concerns that the coverage of child trafficking cases could stir old prejudices and stated, quote, “It’s true the Roma are a vulnerable group because of extreme poverty, low income, and low levels of education. But it’s not related to cultural factors or to do with the Roma community, let’s say, getting involved in trafficking.” Europe’s total Roma population is thought to be as high as 10-12 million, making the Roma community the largest ethnic minority group in Europe.
Hong: The United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization came to a security agreement earlier this week to keep limited troops in Afghanistan after the combat mission ends in late 2014. The NATO coalition currently has 86,000 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, most of whom are Americans. While the vast majority of these individuals will return to their home countries at the end of 2014, the agreement authorized limited military forces to stay past that deadline to train and advise Afghan forces in fighting the Taliban insurgency. Afghan leaders have yet to approve the measure, though both Afghan Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi and United States Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have expressed optimism that a bilateral security deal will be signed in the coming months.
Arnone: Two United States mariners were kidnapped this week after pirates boarded their ship off the coast of southern Nigeria. Though the captain and chief engineer of the offshore supply vessel were taken captive, the remaining 11 crew members were left unharmed. The pirates have yet to articulate any ransom demands publicly. Though a representative of the Nigerian navy claimed that the US navy has begun a search-and-rescue mission, a spokesperson for the Pentagon stated that no orders have been issued to intervene in the, quote “maritime criminal act.” Though piracy dwindled in West Africa following the negotiation of an amnesty deal in 2009, attacks on oil servicing vessels in the region have skyrocketed in recent months.
Hong: North Korea announced this week that it would release six South Koreans detained for illegal entry into the country. A letter by the North Korean Red Cross articulated plans for the detainees to return to South Korea through the demilitarized border village of Panmunjom in the next week. South Korea has publicized few details about the identities of the detainees, though sources speculated that four of the men have been detained in North Korea since 2010. Relations between the two countries have been historically fraught; South Korea has alleged that over 500 of its citizens have been unjustly kidnapped and detained since the end of the Korean War. The South Korean Unification Ministry, however, expressed hope that the liberation of the South Koreans represented the first step in conciliation between the two countries and praised the, quote, “humanitarian measure” taken by North Korea.
Arnone: If you want to hear more from War News Radio, visit us online at War News Radio.o-r-g. This week’s newscast was written and edited by Nora Bailin, Caroline Batten, Amy DiPierro, Ashley Hong, Allison Hrabar, Collin Smith, Will Sullivan, Aaron True, Tyler Welsh, and Chloe Wittenberg. I’m Luke Arnone .
Hong: And I’m Ashley Hong. Until next time, thanks for listening.