A 20-person U.N. team reached Damascus on Sunday to assess the veracity of claims that chemical arms have been employed in Syria’s civil war, the Associated Press reported.
The group is expected to launch its investigation on Monday, according to comments released by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office. U.N. officials have said the probe will steer clear of assigning blame for any chemical strikes in the Syrian conflict, which have resulted in upwards of an estimated 100 deaths. Conventional attacks in the two-year-old civil war have claimed more than 100,000 lives.
Inspectors are to travel to the town of Khan al-Assal, the site of an alleged March 19 sarin nerve gas attack that President Bashar Assad’s regime has blamed on rebel forces. The opposition, in turn, has pinned the reported strike on the government, the New York Times reported on Sunday.
The other two inspection sites remain undisclosed, but diplomats previously identified them to Agence France-Presse as Ataybah, where a chemical attack is alleged to have taken place in March, and Homs, reportedly the target of a chemical assault last December.
A Syrian diplomat said the government wants “this team to find facts on ground, especially about what happened in Khan al-Assal.” Damascus is unaware of “any other cases” of chemical arms use in the country, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told AP.
France, the United Kingdom and United States have submitted data tying incidents of chemical-weapon use to the Syrian government, and the Obama administration linked its June announcement of plans to arm opposition fighters with findings that Assad’s forces had carried out sarin nerve agent strikes. Syrian resistance members and regional envoys said U.S. arms had yet to reach any rebels, the Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday.
Louay Meqdad, spokesman for the rebels’ Western-backed Supreme Military Council, argued that the Syrian government would likely try to lead chemical investigators astray, AP reported.
“This regime that has done everything from changing signs with the names of areas to fabricating evidence with past delegations will do the same with this one,” he said.
The conflict’s shifting battle lines have raised questions about the safety of the U.N. investigators, the New York Times reported. Opposition forces have promised the U.N. team access to Khan al-Assal, which they captured in July, according to a rebel commander who spoke to the newspaper under a pseudonym. The insider said he and other rebels fear the U.N. inspectors are Assad regime “conspirators.”
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Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”
The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."