An Israeli missile has struck Iran


Important Takeaways:

  • The strike came less than a week after Iran’s unprecedented retaliatory drone and missile attack on Israel, to which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed to respond.
  • U.S. officials did not provide any information about the location or extent of the Israeli strike, and the Israel Defense Forces would not comment on the attack when asked by CBS News.
  • State media and Iranian sources speaking with various news outlets mentioned only small drones flying around a couple sites in the country, without any reference to a missile strike.
  • Iran’s President, Ebrahim Raisi, spoke of Iran’s assault a week earlier against Israel, which he called “necessary, obligatory” and a “sign of the power of the Islamic republic and its armed forces.”
  • Iran announced that it had grounded commercial flights in Tehran and across areas of its western and central regions, but state television later said normal flight operations had resumed.

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Iran to download plane black box after missile blamed for crash

By Alexander Cornwell and Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Friday it wanted to download black box recordings itself from a Ukrainian airliner that crashed, killing all 176 people aboard, after Canada and others said the plane was brought down by an Iranian missile, probably by mistake.

Iran, which has denied the Boeing 737-800 was downed by a missile, said it could take one or two months to extract information from the voice and flight data recorders. It said it could ask Russia, Canada, France or Ukraine if it needed help.

Tehran also said the probe might take one or two years.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he could not rule out a missile strike but this had not been confirmed. Kiev has said its investigators wanted to search the crash site for any debris of a Russian-made missile used by Iran.

The Ukraine International Airlines flight to Kiev from Tehran crashed on Wednesday, when Iran was on alert for a U.S. military response hours after firing missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq.

The incident adds to international pressure on Iran, after months of tension with the United States and tit-for-tat military strikes. Washington killed an Iranian general last week in a drone attack in Iraq, prompting Tehran’s missile launches.

On social media, many Iranians expressed anger that the plane was allowed to take off and voiced worries as images, which could not be independently verified, circulated on Twitter suggesting the crash site had been cleared by bulldozers.

Iran’s ambassador to Britain denied that debris had been bulldozed from the crash site.

“We prefer to download the black boxes in Iran. But if we see that we can’t do that because the boxes are damaged, then we will seek help,” Ali Abedzadeh, head of Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation, told a news conference in Tehran.

State television earlier showed the battered black boxes, saying their information could be downloaded and analyzed.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, citing intelligence from Canada and other sources, has blamed an Iranian missile for bringing down the plane that had 63 Canadians on board, although he said it “may well have been unintentional”.

“The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile,” he said.

Ukraine’s general prosecutor asked Canada “to provide information available to the Canadian side that may facilitate criminal investigations” into the crash.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister said Moscow saw no grounds to blame Iran for the crash, TASS news agency reported.


France’s BEA air accident agency said it would be involved in the investigation. BEA helped analyze data from the flight recorder of a Boeing that crashed in Ethiopia last year.

A U.S. official, citing satellite data, said Washington had concluded with a high degree of certainty that anti-aircraft missiles brought down the plane in error.

The official said the data showed the plane airborne for two minutes after departing Tehran when heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected. There was an explosion in the vicinity and heat data showed the plane on fire as it fell. U.S. military satellites detect infrared emissions from heat.

U.S. President Donald Trump said he believed “somebody could have made a mistake”.

A defense expert said the plane’s radar signature would have been similar to a U.S. military transport plane.

The New York Times said it had obtained a video appearing to show an Iranian missile hitting a plane near Tehran airport.


Iran denied the airliner had been hit by a missile, saying such reports were “psychological warfare against Iran”.

“All those countries whose citizens were aboard the plane can send representatives and we urge Boeing to send its representative to join the process of investigating the black box,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei said.

U.S., Canadian and French representatives were to travel to Tehran to attend meetings for the Iranian-led crash investigation, Iranian state media reported. Washington and Ottawa do not have diplomatic relations with Tehran.

Iran’s civil aviation organization said in an initial report less than 24 hours after the incident that the three-year-old airliner, which had its last scheduled maintenance on Monday, encountered a technical problem after takeoff and was heading to a nearby airport before it crashed.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said it was making arrangements to tour the site after an Iranian invitation.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it had designated a representative to join the probe.

Boeing said it would support the NTSB. The company is reeling from two deadly crashes of 737 MAX planes, including the one in Ethiopia, that led to the model’s grounding last year.

The crash plane was built in 2016 and is the prior generation of the 737 before the MAX.

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Pavel Poliyuk in Kiev, Dominique Vidalon in Paris; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Ukraine wants to search Iran plane crash site for possible missile debris

By Alexander Cornwell, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Natalia Zinets

DUBAI/KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine outlined four potential scenarios on Thursday to explain the deadly crash of one of its airliners in Iran, including a missile strike and terrorism, as Iranian investigators said the plane was on fire before it fell to the ground.

Kiev said its investigators wanted to search the site of Wednesday’s crash southwest of Tehran for possible debris of a Russian-made missile used by Iran’s military. An initial report by Iran’s civil aviation organization said the plane had experienced an unspecified technical problem.

The Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737-800, flying to Kiev and carrying mostly Iranians and Iranian-Canadians, crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport, killing all 176 people on board.

The Iranian report cited witnesses on the ground and in a passing aircraft flying at a high altitude as saying the plane was on fire while in the air.

It said the three-year-old airliner, which had its last scheduled maintenance on Monday, encountered a technical problem shortly after take-off and started to head toward a nearby airport before it crashed. The report said there was no radio communication from the pilot and that the aircraft disappeared from radar at 8,000 feet (2,440 m).

It is so far unclear if any technical issue could be related to a maintenance fault or defective part.

The disaster puts a renewed spotlight on Boeing, which faces a safety crisis over a different type of 737, though the plane that crashed in Iran does not have the feature thought to have caused crashes of the grounded 737 MAX.

The Iranian report referred to the crash as an accident.

Investigations into airliner crashes are complex, requiring regulators, experts and companies across several international jurisdictions to work together. It can take months to fully determine the cause and issuing an initial report within 24 hours is rare.

A Canadian security source told Reuters there was evidence one of the engines had overheated.

The crash happened hours after Iran launched missile attacks on U.S.-led forces in Iraq, leading some to speculate that the plane may have been hit.

The initial assessment of Western intelligence agencies was that the plane had suffered a technical malfunction and had not been brought down by a missile, five security sources – three Americans, one European and the Canadian – who asked not to be named, told Reuters.


Ukraine Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danylov said the country’s investigators wanted to search for possible Russian missile debris after seeing information on the internet.

He referred to an unverified image circulated on Iranian social media purportedly showing the debris of a Russian-made Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile of the kind used by the Iranian military.

Ukrainian investigators into the crash include experts who participated in the investigation into the 2014 shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, Danylov said.

The Malaysian airliner was shot down on July 17, 2014, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board.

In a televised statement, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy earlier asked people to refrain from speculation, conspiracy theories and hasty evaluations regarding the crash. He declared Thursday a day of national mourning.

Zelenskiy said he would speak by telephone with the Iranian president to step up cooperation in investigating the crash.

Ukraine is looking at various possible causes, including a missile attack, a collision, an engine explosion or terrorism.

Countries recognized under a UN-administered convention as participants should nominate who they wish to be involved in the Iran-led investigation, the Iranian report said.

Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne called his Iranian counterpart to stress the need for Canadian officials “to be quickly granted access to Iran to provide consular services, help with identification of the deceased and take part in the investigation of the crash”, a Canadian statement said.

“Canada and Canadians have many questions which will need to be answered.”

Britain wants a transparent investigation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said on Thursday following a call between the British leader and Zelenskiy.

“The prime minister said that there needed to be a full credible and transparent investigation into what happened,” the spokesman said.

As the country where the plane was designed and built, the United States would usually be allowed to be accredited but neither side has said whether U.S. investigators will be dispatched to Iran.

Iran’s aviation body could not be reached for comment to clarify its position.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have risen with the United States’ killing of a top Iranian general on Friday. Tehran retaliated with a missile strike on U.S. targets in Iraq.

The Ukrainian airliner took off at 6:12 a.m. local time and was given permission to climb to 26,000 feet, the report said. It crashed six minutes later near the town of Sabashahr.

Bodies and body parts recovered from the site of the crash have been taken to the coroner’s office for identification, the report said.

Smouldering debris, including shoes and clothes, was strewn across a field where the plane crashed on Wednesday. Rescue workers in face masks laid out scores of body bags.

Onboard were 146 Iranians, 10 Afghans, 11 Ukrainians, five Canadians and four Swedes, the report said, but said some may have held citizenship of other countries.

Ukrainian authorities have said those on board included 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, and 11 Ukrainians.

The Tehran-Toronto via Kiev route was a popular for Canadians of Iranian descent visiting Iran in the absence of direct flights.

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell & Babak Dehghanpisheh in Dubai, Natalia Zinets & Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris, Jamie Freed in Sydney, Allison Lampert in Montreal, Steve Scherer in Ottawa, Laurence Frost in Paris, Matthias Williams in Kiev, Mark Hosenball in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Elizabeth Piper in London; Writing by Alexander Cornwell, Editing by Angus MacSwan, Catherine Evans and Nick Macfie)

Iran warns Israel against further air strikes in Syria

FILE PHOTO: Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Iran?s Supreme National Security Council Director, speaks to the media after his arrival at Damascus airport, September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri/File Photo

LONDON/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Iran warned Israel on Tuesday of a “firm and appropriate” response if it continued attacking targets in Syria, where Tehran has backed President Bashar al-Assad and his forces in their nearly eight-year war against rebels and militants.

Without responding directly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nevertheless said it was important to block Iranian influence in Syria.

Israel, which views Tehran as its biggest security threat, has repeatedly attacked Iranian targets and those of allied militia in Syria. With an election looming in April, Israel has been increasingly open about carrying out air strikes.

In a meeting with Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in Tehran, the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said the Israeli attacks violated Syria’s territorial integrity and were unacceptable.

“If these actions continue, we will activate some calculated measures as a deterrent and as a firm and appropriate response to teach a lesson to the criminal and lying rulers of Israel,” Shamkhani was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.

In Jerusalem, Netanyahu said he would hold talks in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 21, focussing on Iran’s threat along the Syrian border.

Moscow is a main backer of the Damascus government.

“It’s very important that we continue to prevent Iran from entrenching in Syria. In many ways we blocked that advance. But we are committed to continuously blocking it, continuously preventing Iran from creating another war front against us right here opposite the Golan Heights,” Netanyahu said.

In January, Israeli warplanes carried out a strike on what they called an Iranian arms cache in Syria, and Netanyahu has said attacks will continue.

Syria’s Moualem was quoted on Tuesday by a Hezbollah-run media unit as saying: “The Syrian government considers it to be its duty to keep Iranian security forces in Syrian territory.”

Iran has also repeatedly said it will keep forces there.

Moualem was in Tehran for negotiations before the meeting of the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran in the Russian Black Sea resort town Sochi on Feb. 14 about the situation in Syria.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Gareth Jones and Andrew Cawthorne)

North Korea considers missile strike on Guam after Trump’s ‘fire and fury’ warning

North Korea considers missile strike on Guam after Trump's 'fire and fury' warning

By Maureen N. Maratita and Christine Kim

GUAM/SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea said on Wednesday it is considering plans for a missile strike on the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, just hours after President Donald Trump told the North that any threat to the United States would be met with “fire and fury”.

The sharp increase in tensions rattled financial markets and prompted warnings from U.S. officials and analysts not to engage in rhetorical slanging matches with North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy the United States.

North Korea said it was “carefully examining” a plan to strike Guam, which is home to about 163,000 people and a U.S. military base that includes a submarine squadron, an airbase and a Coast Guard group.

A Korean People’s Army spokesman said in a statement carried by state-run KCNA news agency the plan would be put into practice at any moment, once leader Kim Jong Un made a decision.

Guam Governor Eddie Calvo dismissed the threat and said the island was prepared for “any eventuality” with strategically placed defenses. He said he had been in touch with the White House and there was no change in the threat level.

“Guam is American soil … We are not just a military installation,” Calvo said in an online video message.

North Korea, which is pursuing missile and nuclear weapons programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, also accused the United States of devising a “preventive war” and said in another statement that any plans to execute this would be met with an “all-out war, wiping out all the strongholds of enemies, including the U.S. mainland”.

Washington has warned it is ready to use force if needed to stop North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs but that it prefers global diplomatic action, including sanctions. The U.N. Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Saturday.

Trump issued his strongest warning yet for North Korea in comments to reporters in New Jersey on Tuesday.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen,” Trump said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, before landing in Guam on a pre-arranged visit, said Trump was trying to send a strong message.

“So I think the president, what the president is doing, is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Tillerson told reporters.

Just moments after Tillerson’s remarks were reported, Trump hammered home his tough talk in a Twitter post about the U.S. nuclear arsenal, in what looked like another warning to North Korea.

“My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal,” he said. “It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before.”

China, North Korea’s closest ally despite Beijing’s anger at Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programs, described the situation as “complex and sensitive”, and urged calm and a return to talks.

“China calls on all sides to uphold the main direction of a political resolution to the Korean peninsula nuclear issue, and avoid any words or actions that may intensify the problem and escalate the situation,” it said in a statement sent to Reuters, repeating its customary stance.


North Korea has made no secret of its plans to develop a nuclear-tipped missile able to strike the United States and has ignored all calls to halt its weapons programs.

Pyongyang says its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are a legitimate means of defense against perceived U.S. hostility, including joint military drills with South Korea.

The standoff drove investors out of stocks on Wednesday and into the safety of the yen, Swiss franc, gold and government debt. South Korea’s benchmark index <.KS11> and Japan’s Nikkei <.N225> both closed down more than 1 percent. [MKTS/GLOB]

“Tensions will continue to mount and could eventually develop into a ‘black swan’ event that the markets are not prudently considering,” Steve Hanke, professor of Applied Economics at Johns Hopkins University, told the Reuters Global Markets Forum.

South Korea and the United States remain technically still at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

The South Korean capital, Seoul, is home to roughly 10 million people and within range of massed North Korean rockets and artillery, which would be impossible to destroy in a first U.S. strike.

Tens of thousands of U.S. troops remain stationed in South Korea and in nearby Japan, the only country to have been attacked with nuclear weapons. Wednesday marked the 72nd anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city of Nagasaki by the United States.


A senior official at South Korea’s presidential Blue House rejected talk of a crisis on the Korean peninsula, saying Seoul saw a high possibility of resolving the issue peacefully.

North Korea needed to realize its provocations are making the country more isolated and it should respond to the South’s proposal for dialogue, the official said.

In Dandong, a Chinese trading hub across the border from North Korea, residents said they were unperturbed by the escalating rhetoric.

“North Korea always talks about war, war, war, but it never happens,” said a restaurant owner who asked to be identified only by her surname, Yang.

“We now live in peaceful times. But if war does break out it will be us ordinary people that suffer.”

Tension in the region has risen since North Korea carried out two nuclear bomb tests last year and two ICBM tests in July.

Japanese fighters conducted joint air drills with U.S. supersonic bombers in Japanese skies close to the Korean peninsula on Tuesday, Japan’s Air Self Defence Force said.

On Monday, two U.S. B-1 bombers flew from Guam over the Korean peninsula as part of its “continuous bomber presence”, a U.S. official said, in a sign of the island’s strategic importance.


Guam, popular with Japanese and South Korean tourists, is protected by the advanced U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system, deployed in South Korea.

“I know they’ve not been successful,” Vilma Quichocho, a treasurer at Guam’s Department of Administration, said of previous attempts to launch missiles from North Korea. “But now they’re talking about nuclear warheads and it’s kind of scary.”

Madeleine Z. Bordallo, the U.S. Congresswoman for Guam, said she was confident U.S. forces could protect it from the “deeply troubling” North Korean nuclear threat. She called on Trump to show “steady leadership” and work with the international community to lower tension.

Seoul resident Kim Sung-un, 29, said North Korea tended to make a lot of threats about missile attacks, but did not follow through.

“So I am leaning toward going to Guam, but also at the same time, I can’t help feeling anxious about it,” she said.

Republican U.S. Senator John McCain said Trump should tread cautiously when issuing threats, unless he is prepared to act.

“I take exception to the president’s comments because you’ve got to be sure you can do what you say you’re going to do,” he said in a radio interview.

Former U.S. diplomat Douglas Paal, now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank in Washington, said Trump should not get into a war of words with Pyongyang.

“It strikes me as an amateurish reflection of a belief that we should give as we get rhetorically. That might be satisfying at one level, but it takes us down into the mud that we should let Pyongyang enjoy alone,” said Paal, who served as a White House official under previous Republican administrations.

In a small show of goodwill, North Korea said on Wednesday it had released a Canadian pastor serving a life sentence there on humanitarian grounds.

There was no obvious direct connection between the release and the standoff with the United States, but North Korea has in the past attracted the attention of Washington, and visits by high-profile Americans, with the detention and release of U.S. citizens.

(Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim in SEOUL, Amy Miyazaki, Linda Sieg and Tim Kelly in TOKYO, Philip Wen in DANDONG, Martin Petty in MANILA, James Oliphant, Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey, John Walcott, Idrees Ali and David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON, Rodrigo Campos in NEW YORK, and Divya Chowdhury in MUMBAI; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

Russia says U.S. missile strike on Syria was a threat to its forces

FILE PHOTO: Battle damage assessment image of Shayrat Airfield, Syria, is seen in this DigitalGlobe satellite image, released by the Pentagon following U.S. Tomahawk Land Attack Missile strikes from Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, the USS Ross and USS Porter on April 7, 2017. DigitalGlobe/Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense/Handout via REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu complained on Wednesday that a U.S. missile strike on a Syrian air base earlier this month had posed a threat to Russian troops and was forcing Moscow to take extra measures to protect them.

Speaking at a security conference in Moscow, Shoigu restated Russia’s view that the strike — which Washington conducted in response to what it said was a deadly chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces — was “a crude violation of international law.”

U.S. officials said at the time that they had informed Russian forces ahead of the strikes. No Russian personnel were injured in the attack.

As well as housing Syrian military jets, satellite imagery suggested that the base which was struck was home to Russian special forces and military helicopters, part of the Kremlin’s effort to help the Syrian government fight Islamic State and other militant groups.

“Washington’s action created a threat to the lives of our servicemen who are fighting against terrorism in Syria,” said Shoigu.

“Such steps are forcing us to take extra measures to ensure the safety of Russian forces.” He did not specify what those measures were.

The Russian Defence Ministry said after the U.S. strike that Syrian air defenses would be beefed up, while Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev complained that the attack was just one step away from clashing with the Russian military.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Andrey Ostroukh)

North Korea says it is ready to strike U.S. aircraft carrier

The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transits the Sunda Strait April 15, 2017. U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M.

By James Pearson and Steve Holland

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea said on Sunday it was ready to sink a U.S. aircraft carrier to demonstrate its military might, in the latest sign of rising tension as U.S. President Donald Trump prepared to call the leaders of China and Japan.

The United States ordered the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to sail to waters off the Korean peninsula in response to mounting concern over the North’s nuclear and missile tests, and its threats to attack the United States and its Asian allies.

The U.S. government has not specified where the carrier strike group is as it approaches the area. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday it would arrive “within days,” but gave no other details.

North Korea remained defiant.

“Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier with a single strike,” the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, said in a commentary.

The paper likened the aircraft carrier to a “gross animal” and said a strike on it would be “an actual example to show our military’s force”.

The commentary was carried on page three of the newspaper, after a two-page feature about leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a pig farm.

A senior U.S. administration official said Trump was expected to speak later on Sunday with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

In another sign of the intense focus on Pyongyang in Washington, the White House is expected to host U.S. senators for a top-level briefing on North Korea on Wednesday, a White House official said.

The official said the briefing would be led by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

U.S. and South Korean officials have been saying for weeks the North could soon stage another nuclear test, something the United States, China and others have warned against.

South Korea has put its forces on heightened alert.

China, North Korea’s sole major ally, opposes Pyongyang’s weapons programs and has appealed for calm. The United States has called on China to do more to help defuse the tension.

Speaking during a visit to Greece, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there were already enough shows of force and confrontation and appealed for calm.

“We need to issue peaceful and rational sounds,” Wang said, according to a statement issued by China’s Foreign Ministry.


Adding to the tensions, North Korea detained a Korean-American man in his 50s, bringing the total number of U.S. citizens held by Pyongyang to three.

The man, Tony Kim, had been in North Korea for a month teaching accounting at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the institution’s chancellor, Chan-Mo Park, told Reuters. He was arrested at Pyongyang International Airport on his way out of the country.

The arrest took place on Saturday morning local time, the university said in a statement, and was “related to an investigation into matters that are not connected in any way to PUST”.

North Korea will mark the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army on Tuesday.

It has in the past marked important anniversaries with tests of its weapons.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, two of them last year, and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.

It has also carried out a series of ballistic missile tests in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat is perhaps the most serious security challenge confronting Trump.

He has vowed to prevent the North from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile and has said all options are on the table, including a military strike.


North Korea says its nuclear program is for self-defense and has warned the United States of a nuclear attack in response to any aggression. It has also threatened to lay waste to South Korea and Japan.

The U.S. defense secretary said on Friday that North Korea’s recent statements were provocative but had proven to be hollow in the past and should not be trusted.

“We’ve all come to hear their words repeatedly; their word has not proven honest,” Mattis told a news conference in Tel Aviv, before the latest threat to the aircraft carrier.

Two Japanese warships, the Samidare and Ashigara, left western Japan on Friday to join the Carl Vinson and will “practice a variety of tactics” with the U.S. strike group, the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force said in a statement.

The Japanese force did not specify where the exercises were taking place, but the destroyers by Sunday could have reached an area 2,500 km (1,500 miles) south of Japan, which would be east of the Philippines.

From there, it could take three days to reach waters off the Korean peninsula. Japan’s ships would accompany the Carl Vinson north at least into the East China Sea, a source with knowledge of the plan said.

Japan’s show of naval force reflects growing concern that North Korea could strike it with nuclear or chemical warheads.

Some Japanese ruling party lawmakers are urging Abe to acquire strike weapons that could hit North Korean missile forces before any imminent attack.

Japan’s navy, which is mostly a destroyer fleet, is the second largest in Asia after China’s.

(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in SEOUL, Tim Kelly in TOKYO and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Writing by James Pearson and Phil Stewart; Editing by Alexander Smith and Peter Cooney)

Despite tough talk, Turkey caught between U.S. and Russia in Syria

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a ceremony in Bursa, Turkey April 5, 2017. Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

By Nick Tattersall, Humeyra Pamuk and Orhan Coskun

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish calls for tough action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after U.S. missile strikes on one of his airbases may overestimate Washington’s appetite for deeper involvement in Syria’s war and threaten Ankara’s fragile rapprochement with Russia.

Within hours of the U.S. cruise missile strikes, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan described the action as a “positive and concrete step against the war crimes of the Assad regime” and said the international community must do more.

The first direct U.S. assault on Syria’s government in six years of war appeared to vindicate Erdogan’s long-standing calls for Assad’s overthrow. It comes at an opportune moment for the Turkish leader, as he campaigns ahead of a closely fought referendum on constitutional changes to increase his powers.

But it highlights the rudderless nature of Turkish policy in Syria, as Ankara tries to forge stronger relations with both Moscow, Assad’s main backer, and Washington, a NATO ally hitherto reluctant to confront the Syrian leader head-on.

“I think Erdogan can spin this into a win, but it really isn’t one. The U.S. strike is one-off and limited,” said Aaron Stein, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think-tank.

“Turkey can’t enact regime change with Russia in Syria, and neither can the United States. The (U.S.) strikes are tactics without strategy, leaving Turkey sandwiched between its only powerful ally, the United States, … and Russia.”

Turkish policy in Syria is in disarray. Assad remains in power despite Turkey’s long-standing determination to see him ousted, Kurdish militia fighters it sees as a hostile force are making gains with U.S. support, and Turkey has been increasingly targeted by Islamic State jihadists from across the border.

Turkey has more recently appeared to accept a transitional role for Assad as it adjusts to the realities on the ground and tries to rebuild ties with Moscow, shattered after it shot down a Russian warplane in 2015, sparking a diplomatic row which cost it billions of dollars in lost trade and tourism.

“There is a struggle for power between Russia and the United States over the future of Syria and Turkey is stumbling back and forth between the two,” said Metin Gurcan, a former Turkish military officer and an analyst at the Istanbul Policy Center.

“Sometimes we are extremely pro-Washington and sometimes pro-Moscow. That could lead to Turkey being perceived as an inconsistent, unpredictable and therefore unreliable actor.”


The U.S. missile strikes targeted an airbase from which President Donald Trump said a deadly chemical weapons attack on Idlib province, near the Turkish border, had been launched.

At a rally in the southern province of Hatay, which borders Idlib, Erdogan urged the international community to go further.

“Is it enough? I don’t find it enough. It is time to take serious steps for the protection of innocent Syrian people,” he said of the U.S. action.

His foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, was more explicit, saying Assad’s administration should immediately be removed.

“If he doesn’t want to go, if there is no transition government, and if he continues committing humanitarian crimes, the necessary steps to oust him should be taken,” Cavusoglu told reporters.

That stance sets Turkey at direct odds with Russia less than four months after the two powers brokered a ceasefire in Syria and peace talks in the Kazakh capital Astana. Moscow, which has military advisers on the ground supporting Assad’s forces, denounced the U.S. action as illegal.

“Despite differing statements from Turkey and Russia on the U.S. strike, there’s still a communication channel between us and efforts to solve the Syria problem will continue,” said one senior Turkish official, vowing the Astana process would go on.

A second official said Turkey’s disconnect with Russia had “become much more obvious” after the missile strikes, but also said it did not want its partnership with Moscow to be damaged.


Can Acun, a researcher at the SETA think-tank in Ankara, said Russia and Turkey had been moving apart over Syria for some time, pointing to Moscow’s readiness to work with Kurdish militia fighters in Syria and its failure to prevent ceasefire violations by Assad’s forces.

“The chemical attack in Idlib, and Russia’s silence and attempts to defend the Syrian regime, was the drop that filled the glass,” he said. “This will strain Turkey’s ties with Russia and Iran, but in the end, the determining factor will be how decisively the United States acts.”

Despite its quick endorsement of the U.S. action, Ankara has been deeply at odds with Washington in other areas of Syria policy. It has been incensed in particular by U.S. support for the Kurdish YPG militia, which it views as a terrorist group and an extension of Kurdish militants fighting on its own soil.

Just a month ago, Ankara was ruling out compromise with Washington over the involvement of YPG fighters in a planned assault on Raqqa, one of Islamic State’s two de facto capitals along with Mosul in Iraq.

The YPG is a key part of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance which is receiving U.S. military support.

Erdogan has said Turkey, which hosts warplanes from the U.S.-led coalition in its southern Incirlik airbase, would be ready to support further U.S. action in Syria. But it remains to be seen what that role would be.

“I don’t expect there to be a role for Turkey, other than to continue to host coalition strike assets at Incirlik,” said Stein from the Atlantic Council, pointing out that those assets were primarily used to support the SDF not fight Assad.

“Turkey is where it was on April 6, 2017. A major player in northern Syria, albeit with no good options to escalate.”

(Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Giles Elgood)

U.S. strikes not seen as gamechanger by Arab political analyists in complex Syrian conflict

U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Porter conducts strike operations against Syria while in the Mediterranean Sea.

By Katie Paul and Asma Alsharif

RIYADH/CAIRO (Reuters) – U.S. strikes on Syria in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack marked a sharp escalation in the country’s civil war but were not viewed in the Arab world as a gamechanger in a six-year conflict that has divided the region.

Two U.S. warships fired cruise missiles at a Syrian air base controlled by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces early on Friday in response to the poison gas attack which killed at least 70 people in a rebel-held area.

U.S. officials said the strike was a “one-off” intended to deter future chemical weapons attacks, and not part of a wider expansion of the U.S. role in the war.

The reactions were predictable from Damascus’ ally Iran and foe Saudi Arabia, two regional powers waging proxy wars in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.

Saudi Arabia hailed the strike as a “courageous decision” by President Donald Trump, and Saudi ally the UAE, a member of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamist militants in Syria, also expressed its support.

Iran denounced the “unilateral strikes”.

“Such measures will strengthen terrorists in Syria … and will complicate the situation in Syria and the region,” the Students News Agency ISNA quoted foreign ministry spokesman Bahrem Qasemi as saying.

It was the toughest direct U.S. action yet in Syria, but Arab political analysts were skeptical it would make much difference in the direction of the conflict in Syria or in efforts to find a political solution.

It did, however, indicate how far Trump was willing to go, possibly with his domestic audience in mind, even if it risked contradicting previous positions as well as confrontation with Assad’s other main military backer, Russia.

Trump had repeatedly said he wanted better relations with Moscow, including to cooperate with Russia to fight Islamic State, and has so far focused his Syria policy almost exclusively on that effort.

But he also criticized his predecessor Barack Obama for setting a “red line” threatening force against Assad if he used chemical weapons, only to pull back from ordering air strikes in 2013 when Assad agreed to give up his chemical arsenal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has condemned the missile strikes as an illegal move that would hurt U.S.-Russia ties.

“This kind of strike will not bring down the Syrian regime,” said Abdulaziz al-Sager, a Saudi academic and chairman of the Jeddah-based Gulf Research Center.

“But it shows a new attitude from the U.S. administration in the region which is to take initiatives individually if needed.”

Over the past few months, many Western countries have been backing away from long-standing demands that Assad leave power, accepting that rebels no longer had the power to remove him by force. After the chemical weapons attack on Tuesday, however, several countries said Assad must go.

Among the countries strongly backing the strikes and calling for Assad to be removed from power was Turkey. Long one of Assad’s principal foes, Turkey had in recent months reached a rapprochement with Russia and had been co-sponsoring Syrian peace talks with Moscow.

Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid, professor of political science at Cairo University, doubted that the attacks would undermine these kinds of efforts.

“I don’t consider this a change in the United States policy toward Syria but rather a limited strike, which Trump probably aimed to use in order to strengthen his position inside the United States,” he said.

Iraq has been put in the difficult position of balancing its interests between its two key allies, the United States and Iran. Officials have so far maintained silence on the strikes.

“The Iraqi side will not rush into a reaction that could backfire,” said Baghdad-based analyst Fadhel Abu Ragheef.

On the streets of the Iraqi capital, Trump’s actions were seen as just another sign that the United States wants to dominate the Middle East.

“He (Trump) wants to isolate Iran and build American military bases in Iraq,” said Qassim, a shopkeeper, giving only his first name.

(Additional reporting by Sami Aboudi and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai, Maher Chmaytelli in Erbil, Maher Nazeh in Baghdad, Daren Butler and Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)