UN chief warns world is one step from ‘nuclear annihilation’

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UN Secretary-General António Guterres speaks during the 2022 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at the UN on August 1, 2022. (AFP)
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Iran's delegates look at each other while US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken addresses the 2022 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference on Aug. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)
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Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken makes remarks after addressing the 2022 NPT review conference at the United Nations Hon Aug. 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)
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Updated 01 August 2022

UN chief warns world is one step from ‘nuclear annihilation’

  • Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gave the dire warning at the opening of the high-level meeting to review the landmark 50-year-old Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed the warning, citing the "nuclear saber-rattling" of Russia, Iran and North Korea as reckless and dangerous

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations chief warned the world Monday that “humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation,” citing the war in Ukraine, nuclear threats in Asia and the Middle East and many other factors.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gave the dire warning at the opening of the long-delayed high-level meeting to review the landmark 50-year-old treaty aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and eventually achieving a nuclear-free world.
The danger of increasing nuclear threats and a nuclear catastrophe was also raised by the United States, Japan, Germany, the UN nuclear chief and many other opening speakers at the meeting to review progress and agree to future steps to implement the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, known as the NPT.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said North Korea is preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear test, Iran “has either been unwilling or unable” to accept a deal to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement aimed at reining in its nuclear program, and Russia is “engaged in reckless, dangerous nuclear saber-rattling” in Ukraine.
He cited Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning after its Feb. 24 invasion that any attempt to interfere would lead to “consequences you have never seen,” emphasizing that his country is “one of the most potent nuclear powers.”
This is contrary to assurances given to Ukraine of its sovereignty and independence when in gave up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons in 1994, Blinken said, and sends “the worst possible message” to any country thinking it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself and deter aggression.
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said divisions in the world since the last review conference in 2015, which ended without a consensus document, have become greater, stressing that Russia’s threat to use nuclear weapons in the Ukraine war has contributed “to worldwide concern that yet another catastrophe by nuclear weapon use is a real possibility.”
Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock accused Russia of “brutally violating the assurances” it gave Ukraine in 1994 and said Moscow’s “reckless nuclear rhetoric” since its invasion of its smaller neighbor “is putting at risk everything the NPT has achieved in five decades.”
Most recently, Blinken said Russia seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhya and is using it as a military base to fire at Ukrainians, “knowing that they can’t and won’t shoot back because they might accidentally strike a nuclear reactor or highly radioactive waste in storage.” He said this brings the notion of having “a human shield to an entirely different and horrific level.”
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi said the Ukraine conflict is “so grave that the specter of a potential nuclear confrontation, or accident, has raised its terrifying head again.”
He warned that at the Zaporizhzhya nuclear plant “the situation is becoming more perilous by the day,” and he urged all countries to help make possible his visit to the plant with a team of IAEA safety and security experts, saying his efforts for the past two months have been unsuccessful.
Guterres told many ministers, officials and diplomats gathered in the General Assembly Hall that the month-long review conference is taking place “at a time of nuclear danger not seen since the height of the Cold War.”
The conference is “an opportunity to hammer out the measures that will help avoid certain disaster, and to put humanity on a new path toward a world free of nuclear weapons,” the secretary-general said.
But Guterres warned that “geopolitical weapons are reaching new highs,” almost 13,000 nuclear weapons are in arsenals around the world, and countries seeking “false security” are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on “doomsday weapons.”
“All this at a time when the risks of proliferation are growing and guardrails to prevent escalation are weakening,” he said, “And when crises — with nuclear undertones — are festering from the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and to many other factors around the world.”
Guterres called on conference participants to take several actions: urgently reinforce and reaffirm “the 77-year-old norm against the use of nuclear weapons,” work relentlessly toward eliminating nuclear weapons with new commitments to reduce arsenals, address “the simmering tensions in the Middle Est and Asia” and promote the peaceful use of nuclear technology.
“Future generations are counting on your commitment to step back from the abyss,” he implored the ministers and diplomats. “This is our moment to meet this fundamental test and lift the cloud of nuclear annihilation once and for all.”
Japan’s Kishida, recalling his home city of Hiroshima where the first atomic bomb was dropped in August 1945, echoed many of Guterres’ points saying the path to a world without nuclear weapons has become harder but “giving up is not an option.”
In force since 1970, the Nonproliferation Treaty known as the NPT has the widest adherence of any arms control agreement, with some 191 countries that are members.
Under its provisions, the five original nuclear powers — the United States, China, Russia (then the Soviet Union), Britain and France — agreed to negotiate toward eliminating their arsenals someday and nations without nuclear weapons promised not to acquire them in exchange for a guarantee to be able to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
India and Pakistan, which didn’t join the NPT, went on to get the bomb. So did North Korea, which ratified the pact but later announced it was withdrawing. Non-signatory Israel is believed to have a nuclear arsenal but neither confirms nor denies it. Nonetheless, the treaty has been credited with limiting the number of nuclear newcomers (US President John F. Kennedy once foresaw as many as 20 nuclear-armed nations) as a framework for international cooperation on disarmament.
The meeting, which ends Aug. 26, aims to generate a consensus on next steps, but expectations are low for a substantial — if any — agreement. There were 133 speakers as of Monday, plus dozens of side events.
The NPT’s five-year review was supposed to take place in 2020, when the world already faced plenty of crisis, but was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Patricia Lewis, former director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Research who is now in charge of international security programs at the international affairs think tank Chatham House in London, said “President Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons have shocked the international community.”
Russia is not only an NPT signatory but a depository for treaty ratifications and in January it joined the four other nuclear powers in reiterating the statement by former US President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that “a nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought,” she told The Associated Press.
Lewis said countries participating in the review conference will have a difficult decision to make.
To support the treaty and what it stands for, “governments will have to address Russia’s behavior and threats,” she said. “On the other hand, to do so risks dividing the treaty members — some of whom have been persuaded by Russia’s propaganda or at least are not as concerned, for example, as the NATO states.”
And “Russia no doubt will strenuously object to being named in statements and any outcome documents,” Lewis said.

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UK charity Penny Appeal working to provide aid for victims of Turkiye earthquakes

Updated 08 February 2023

UK charity Penny Appeal working to provide aid for victims of Turkiye earthquakes

  • The initial magnitude 7.8 quake and a series of strong aftershocks cut a swath of destruction across hundreds of miles of southeastern Turkiye and northern Syria

LONDON: British charity Penny Appeal said on Tuesday it is liaising with partner organizations that are working in the areas hit by the devastating earthquake in Turkiye on Monday to provide aid for those worst affected by the disaster.

“Penny Appeal will be working with its partners on the ground to support the affected communities and provide much-needed assistance to the victims of this calamity,” the Yorkshire-based charity said.

“This will include those who have lost their homes, who have lost family members and who have no means of obtaining food, water or medicines.”

Charitable organizations in many countries have quickly mobilized to send aid and deploy rescue teams after the earthquakes and aftershocks, which killed more than 7,200 people. The initial magnitude 7.8 quake and a series of strong aftershocks cut a swath of destruction across hundreds of miles of southeastern Turkiye and northern Syria. They toppled thousands of buildings, heaping more misery on a region already suffering as a result of the 12-year civil war in Syria and the resultant refugee crisis.

“The initial 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck near the city of Gaziantep in Turkiye has been reported as the worst earthquake to hit the region in a century,” Penny Appeal said.

“This earthquake that caused hundreds of deaths and widespread damage was followed by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake reported to have caused further deaths and destruction across the Elbistan district of Turkiye’s Kahramanmaras province.

“The third earthquake, of 6.0 magnitude, followed within hours of the first, causing complete havoc and despair for communities across Turkiye and Syria, leaving thousands injured and many more expected deaths.”

The charity added that its partners on the ground “are working closely with the local authorities and other aid agencies to coordinate their relief efforts and ensure that aid reaches those who need it most.”

Ahmad Boston, director of marketing and communications at Penny Appeal, said: “The victims of the earthquake in Turkiye desperately need our help.

“With the support of the public, we can provide essential aid to those affected and help them through this difficult time. Every donation, no matter how small, will make a significant difference.”

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UK accuses Syrian president of rebuilding chemical weapon stockpile

Updated 08 February 2023

UK accuses Syrian president of rebuilding chemical weapon stockpile

  • British ambassador to the UN told Security Council that Bashar Assad has been restocking his regime’s arsenal for at least five years
  • The council met to discuss a report by watchdogs that confirmed Assad’s forces used chemical weapons in a 2018 attack on Douma that killed 43 civilians

NEW YORK CITY: The UK on Tuesday accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of restocking his regime’s arsenal of chemical weapons for at least the past five years.

Barbara Woodward, Britain’s permanent representative to the UN, told the Security Council that her country is “gravely concerned that the Assad regime has been working actively to rebuild its chemical weapons stockpile since at least 2018, in flagrant violation of its obligations (under) the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

Her allegation came during a meeting of the council to discuss the implementation of Resolution 2118. It followed a recent report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the watchdog responsible for implementing the CWC, that concluded there is enough evidence to conclude that a chemical attack on the city of Douma in April 2018 was carried out by the Syrian Arab Air Force.

Resolution 2118 was unanimously adopted in September 2013 following a UN investigation that confirmed the use of chemical weapons against civilians during an attack in a suburb of Damascus.

It ordered the Syrian regime to destroy its stockpiles of chemical weapons by mid-2014, and set out punitive measures to be imposed in the event of non-compliance. It also banned Syria from using, developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling or retaining chemical weapons, or transferring them to other states or non-state actors.

In October 2013, Syria submitted to the OPCW a formal initial declaration of its chemical weapons program, including a plan for destroying its stockpiles.

Fernando Arias, the director general of the OPCW on Tuesday briefed the council on the latest report by the organization’s Investigation and Identification Team. He said there were “reasonable grounds” to believe the Syrian Arab Air Force was responsible for the chemical attack on Douma five years ago.

The IIT, which is responsible for identifying the perpetrators of such attacks in Syria, concluded that on the evening of April 7, 2018, at least one helicopter belonging to the Syrian army’s elite Tiger Forces division dropped two yellow canisters filled with toxic chlorine gas onto two residential buildings in the city.

The attack resulted in the confirmed deaths of 43 named civilians. Some estimates put the true toll at 50. At least 100 people were injured.

Now that the world knows the facts, Arias added, it is up to the international community to take appropriate action.

The IIT said it reached its conclusions about the identity of the perpetrators on the basis of “reasonable grounds,” the standard of proof consistently adopted by international fact-finding bodies and commissions of inquiry.

According to the report, the third published by the team, investigators, analysts and several external independent experts scrutinized physical evidence collected from the scene of the attack, which included environmental and biomedical samples, witness statements and other verified data such as forensic analyses and satellite images.

“The IIT considered a range of possible scenarios and tested their validity against the evidence they gathered and analyzed to reach their conclusion: That the Syrian Arab Air Forces are the perpetrators of this attack,” the OPCW said.

Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins, the under secretary for arms control and international security at the US mission to the UN, also expressed concerns about Assad’s efforts to rebuild his regime’s chemical weapons program.

“It is not lost on us that many of the Syrian first responders now pulling civilians from the rubble (after Monday’s Earthquake in neighboring Turkiye) were, just a few years ago, helping civilians who had been burned or suffocated by the Assad regime’s chemical weapons,” she told the Security Council.

The IIT has now identified five separate instances of chemical weapons use it attributes to the Assad regime, Jenkins said. The latest report notes that Russian forces were stationed at the base from which the Assad regime helicopters launched the 2018 attack, she added, and jointly controlled the airspace over Douma with the Syrian Air Force.

“The United States and others have also long pointed out the extremely troubling role of the Russian forces in the aftermath of the attack, when Syrian and Russian military police denied and delayed OPCW inspectors access to the site,” Jenkins said.

“In an effort to set up their own staged investigations, they also attempted to sanitize the site and remove incriminating evidence of (chemical weapons) use.”

She added that the OPCW report “puts to rest Russia and Syria’s baseless allegations that opposition forces were to blame for the Douma attack. The IIT made clear that it found such a fable lacked any shred of credibility.”

In common with the majority of council members, Jenkins called for the perpetrators of the attack to be held accountable, and for the Assad regime to comply with its international obligations and provide OPCW staff with “immediate and unfettered” access so that they can continue their investigations.

However, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN repeated his country’s claim that the IIT report is a “hoax.” Vassily Nebenzia also again alleged that the work of OPCW and IIT is biased and politicized.

He described the Douma incident as a “staged chemical weapons attack” and a “brash falsification by the West.”


UN nuclear chief underscores importance of Iran talks

Updated 08 February 2023

UN nuclear chief underscores importance of Iran talks

LONDON: The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog on Tuesday underscored the urgency of resuscitating diplomatic efforts to limit Iran’s nuclear program, saying the situation could quickly worsen if negotiations fail.
Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the diplomatic effort “is not at its best point,” but it wasn’t his place to declare whether the process was “dead or alive.’’ However, he said progress is not impossible.
“I hope to be able to re-set, restore, reinforce that indispensable dialogue,” he said during a discussion at the Chatham House think tank. “Without that, things are going to get worse.’’
Iran began rebuilding its nuclear stockpile after former US President Donald Trump abandoned a 2015 agreement that limited the Islamic Republic’s atomic energy program. Talks on restoring the deal ended in August when western countries presented the “final text” of a roadmap for progress, which Iran has yet to accept.
Grossi warned last month that Iran had enough highly enriched uranium to build “several” nuclear weapons if it chose to do so. But diplomatic efforts aimed at once again limiting the country’s atomic program seem more unlikely than ever as Tehran provides arms for Russia’s war in Ukraine and as unrest shakes the Islamic Republic.
Grossi said the Middle East has a “unique set of problems” that will be aggravated if diplomatic efforts fail.
“I don’t see it in anybody’s interest that there will be proliferation there. I think we would be aggravating … the already fragile situation,’’ he said. “We’re not there yet. But we cannot really afford to fail.’’


Pakistan sets up relief fund as earthquake kills over 6,200 in Turkiye, Syria 

Updated 07 February 2023

Pakistan sets up relief fund as earthquake kills over 6,200 in Turkiye, Syria 

  • Officials say nearly 4,544 people killed in Turkiye and at least 1,712 killed in Syria 
  • PM Sharif will depart for Ankara on Wednesday to express solidarity with Turkiye 

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has established a relief fund to help earthquake-hit people of Turkiye and appealed to Pakistanis to generously donate to the fund, his office said on Tuesday, as death toll from Monday’s quake in Turkiye and Syria rose above 6,200. 

Rescuers in Turkiye and Syria battled frigid cold on Tuesday in a race against time to find survivors under buildings flattened by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake.

Tremors that inflicted more suffering on a border area, already plagued by conflict, left people on the streets burning debris to try to stay warm as international aid began to arrive. The latest toll showed 4,544 people killed in Turkiye and 1,712 in Syria, for a combined total of 6,256 fatalities. 

Pakistan PM Sharif presided over a meeting of his cabinet, wherein members announced donating their one-month salary to the relief fund for the Turkish people. 

“Turkiye generously helped Pakistan during the 2005 earthquake and the 2010 and 2022 floods,” PM Sharif’s office quoted him as saying in a statement. 

“I have established PM’s Relief Fund for Turkiye Earthquake Victims. People and well-off individuals should deposit their generous donations into account G-12166.” 

Pakistan on Tuesday called for “tangible and timely material support” for Turkiye and Syria, and dispatched rescue teams and emergency goods, as the confirmed death toll across the two countries soared above 5,000 after a deadly earthquake hit the region a day earlier. 

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said PM Sharif would depart for Ankara on Wednesday to “express his condolences,” adding that a planned all-parties conference on Feb. 9 would be rescheduled. 

“It breaks the heart to witness sheer scale of unfolding human tragedy,” Sharif wrote on Twitter. “Solidarity should translate into tangible & timely material support for suffering humanity.” 

 

“Special teams consisting of Pakistani doctors, paramedics and rescue personnel are being sent to Turkiye to lend a hand in the ongoing rescue and relief operations,” Sharif had said on Monday, adding that planeloads of essential items and medicines would also be dispatched. 

On Monday night, a Pakistan military plane was sent, “carrying Army’s Search and Rescue Team, directly to Turkiye earthquake area.” 

On Tuesday morning, a 51-member rescue team left from Lahore for Turkiye via national carrier PIA with seven tons of rescue equipment. 

“They will be on ground soon as part of government of Pakistan’s contributions in rescue efforts. Hearts & prayers,” PIA said. 

Another military plane flew out to Turkiye on Tuesday, carrying nine tons of cargo, including winterised tents, blankets and other articles, according to Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). 

Hundreds are still believed to be trapped under rubble across the two nations, and the toll is expected to rise as rescue workers search mounds of wreckage in cities and towns across the area. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, preparing for a tough election in May, has called the quake a historic disaster and said authorities were doing all they could. 

“Everyone is putting their heart and soul into efforts although the winter season, cold weather and the earthquake happening during the night makes things more difficult,” he said. He said 45 countries had offered to help the search and rescue efforts. 

The earthquake, which was followed by a series of aftershocks, was the biggest recorded worldwide by the US Geological Survey since a tremor in the remote South Atlantic in August 2021. 

It was the deadliest earthquake in Turkiye since a quake of similar magnitude in 1999 that killed more than 17,000. 


Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight

Updated 07 February 2023

Russia’s Lavrov vows aid for West Africa’s extremist fight

  • Lavrov made the remarks at a press conference during a visit to Bamako that the Russian envoy described as a ‘historic’ first
  • Lavrov promised Mali further military support and declared Russia’s wider backing for Africa in the face of what he described as the West’s ‘neo-colonial approach’

BAMAKO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday promised the Kremlin’s help for states in West Africa’s Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea which are facing a ruthless extremist insurgency.
“The fight against terrorism is of course an issue for the other countries in the region,” Lavrov said during a visit to Mali, which Russia is already helping militarily.
“We are going to provide our assistance to them to overcome these difficulties. This concerns Guinea, Burkina Faso and Chad and the Sahel region generally and even the coastal states on the Gulf of Guinea,” he said.
Lavrov made the remarks at a press conference during a visit to Bamako that the Russian envoy described as a “historic” first.
Since seizing power in 2020, Mali’s ruling junta has brought in Russian planes, helicopters and paramilitaries to strengthen its fight against extremist militants.
The closer ties with the Kremlin have coincided with the departure of France, the country’s former colony and traditional ally, which says the Russian operatives are Wagner mercenaries.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the UN have implicated Wagner and the Malian army in an alleged massacre at Moura in central Mali last March in which several hundred people were rounded up and killed.
The landlocked state is the epicenter of an extremist insurgency that began in northern Mali in 2012 and spread to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015.
Thousands of civilians have died across the three countries, and millions have fled their homes.
Discontent within the military in Mali and Burkina has spurred two coups in both countries.
Sporadic cross-border attacks have also taken place in Togo, Benin and Ivory Coast in recent years, spurring fears that the extremists are seeking to push southwards to the Gulf of Guinea.
France wound down its long-running military presence in Mali in the face of mounting hostility with the junta and pulled out its last troops in 2022.
Similar tensions have recently broken out between France and Burkina Faso. The French military contingent there, a unit of special forces numbering around 400 men, is to be withdrawn this month.
Lavrov promised Mali further military support and declared Russia’s wider backing for Africa in the face of what he described as the West’s “neo-colonial approach.”
“We are going to provide our support for resolving problems on the African continent,” he said.
“We always start from the basis that African problems must be resolved by African solutions.”

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