Assad Once Pushed For Ban On WMDs In The Middle East

SANA, File / AP

Syria once pushed at the United Nations to make the Middle East a “zone free of weapons of mass destruction, in particular nuclear weapons.” The draft resolution from the now war-torn regime of Bashar al-Assad came in December 2003, after the United States had accused Syria of developing weapons of mass destruction in the wake of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

The move was aimed at Israel, which is believed to possess nearly 100 nuclear weapons, something the Israeli government neither confirms or denies.

The proposed resolution called on Middle East states to adopt the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (PWC), and the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction.

The United States’ representative to the United Nations at the time, John Negroponte, said the U.S. was still “concerned” about Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.

“We think the focus at the moment is the search for WMD in Iraq,” Negroponte said. “Secondly, we are concerned about Syria’s own WMD and obviously, if a council member or any member of the United Nations proposes a resolution for consideration, we are prepared to consider it, that doesn’t mean to adopt it, embrace it or endorse it in any way, shape or form.”

The draft resolution, which was never adopted, was a regular move by Arab states hoping to take a stand against Israel’s nuclear weapons.

“As the Arab representative on the council, they wanted to take a strong stand against Israel. It’s a move that regularly comes up in the General Assembly but can usually be fought off in the Security Council before it is brought to a vote. The Syrians turn on the council was tumultuous as they tied everything they could to Israel,” former U.N. spokesman Ric Grenell said.

According to a declassified United States intelligence estimate, more than 1,400 people died in the chemical weapons attack that took place in the Damascus suburbs on August 21st. The report says the Syrian government carried out the attack.

A PDF of the resolution draft has been embedded below:

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International Olympic Committee Will Not Object To Arrests And Beatings Of Russian LGBT Activists

LGBT activist Elena Kostyuchenko (above) is arrested in Moscow on Friday during a protest in Red Square. / Via

The International Olympic Committee has said Russia was acting in accordance with its laws when police detained 14 protesters in Moscow and St. Petersburg on the day of the Olympic opening ceremonies. Some of those held in Moscow report being beaten while in police custody.

“We understand that the protesters were quickly released,” Emmanuelle Moreau, the IOC’s head of media relations, said in an email to BuzzFeed. “As in many countries in the world, in Russia, you need permission before staging a protest. We understand this was the reason that they were temporarily detained.”

Four LGBT activists were arrested Friday afternoon in St. Petersburg while taking a picture holding a banner that read, “Discrimination is incompatible with the Olympic Movement.” It was not even a real protest, said Anastasia Smirnova, one of those arrested, but rather intended as a private commemoration of the start of the games.

As the opening ceremonies began at 8 p.m. that evening, police descended on 10 LGBT activists in Moscow’s Red Square as they sang the national anthem while holding rainbow flags. Two Swedish nationals in the group were quickly released, but the rest were held for several hours during which some were reportedly kicked, choked, and threatened with sexual violence.

The speed of the police response in both cases made organizers believe police may have been tapping their phones to monitor their movements.

Russian police arrested at least 61 protestors nationwide on Friday — some protesting for causes other than LGBT rights — according to a count by the New York Times.

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Mexican Supreme Court Upholds Equal Public Benefits For Same-Sex Couples

Claudia Daut / Reuters

The Mexican Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the ministry overseesing pensions and health benefits — the Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social — must give same-sex couples who are married or registered under state civil union laws all the same benefits of opposite-sex couples.

The ruling specifically addressed the question of whether someone whose spouse dies is entitled to survivor’s benefits under Mexico’s Social Security law, which includes pensions and access to medical services. The case was initially brought by a couple who were refused the right to enroll in full spousal benefits, but one of them died before the case was decided.

Mexico’s Supreme Court does not usually release written opinions until several weeks after judgements are announced. But according to press reports, Minister José Fernando Franco González Salas explained when announcing the ruling that the court interprets the Social Security law as requiring a same-sex couple’s union be treated “the same as if it were a marriage between people of opposite sexes.”

Mexico City is the only Mexican jurisdiction to have enacted marriage equality legislation, but the Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that Mexico City’s marriages must be recognized throughout the country. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not deny marriages to same-sex couples, and couples in several other states have since successfully petitioned courts for the right to marry. Mexico City and three other states also have civil union statutes open to same-sex couples.

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LGBT Rally In St. Petersburg Ends With Arrests And Violence

Alexander Demianchuk / Reuters

Gay rights activists kiss as they are detained by police officers during a gay rights protest in St. Petersburg October 12, 2013.

St. Petersburg police arrested 67 people Saturday after a scuffle broke out between LGBT activists and anti-gay protestors, reports RIA Novosti.

The AP says that fighting began between the dozens of LGBT supporters and almost 200 anti-gay religious activists after “anti-gay protesters tore a rainbow flag out of a woman’s hands.” Police arrested members of both sides of the protest.

The protest, which was being held against St. Petersburg’s anti-homosexual propaganda laws and in honor of National Coming Out Day, took place in The Field of Mars, which RIA Novosti describes as a normally safe protest space or “Russia’s Hyde Park.”

Some photos from the protest below.

Alexander Demianchuk / Reuters

Anti-gay protesters dressed in cossack uniforms form a human chain as they try to prevent gay rights activists from staging a protest in St. Petersburg October 12, 2013.

Alexander Demianchuk / Reuters

A gay rights activist shouts during a gay rights protest in St. Petersburg October 12, 2013.

Alexander Demianchuk / Reuters

Police detain an anti-gay protester who took part in a gathering to prevent gay rights activists from staging a protest in St. Petersburg October 12, 2013.

Alexander Demianchuk / Reuters

Police detain a gay rights activist during a protest in St. Petersburg October 12, 2013.

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Assad’s Favorite Nun To Meet Republican Conservatives

Mother Agnes in Washington, D.C. Rosie Gray/BuzzFeed

WASHINGTON — Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross, the Lebanese nun who is one of the most prominent critics of the Syrian opposition, has arrived in Washington to persuade Christian conservatives that their interests are aligned with Syria’s dictator.

“Some senators and some politicians are interested because they are motivated concerning the fate of minorities, especially Christians,” said Mother Agnes, who had a scheduled meeting with Sen. Ted Cruz canceled for the funeral of Nelson Mandela, but who will meet House conservatives. “Yes I am happy to meet them and to address this issue because it is an issue related to human rights.”

Mother Agnes has spent the past six weeks traveling across the United States and speaking at churches and other venues as part of a tour organized by the Syria Solidarity Movement, a U.S.-based group led by a steering committee composed of several activists including International Solidarity Movement activist Paul Larudee and Gaza-based writer Eva Bartlett. On Monday she arrived in Washington, D.C., where she is staying at the Madonna House just a block or two away from Capitol Hill. She is in Washington to meet with “decision-makers,” she said, including Rep. Frank Wolf and Rep. Louie Gohmert.

The Levant’s bitter sectarian divides have long played into American politics, with some of the most strident anti-Muslim voices on the American scene tracing their roots to Lebanon’s scarring 1970s and 1980s civil war.

Mother Agnes, who has no official tie to the Assad regime, has been one of the most outspoken proponents of the theory that rebels, not the regime, carried out an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb. She dismissed critics who charge that she is a propagandist for the Syrian regime and advances its chosen narrative as a protector of religious minorities.

“It is to discredit this voice,” Agnes said of the allegations. “I am not Syrian, I am involved in the humanitarian approach of the crisis. I do not accept and I will not accept the false information because the false information about what is really going on threatens the security of innocent Syrian population, so it is important to be able to transmit the other side of the story.”

Mother Agnes, who says she moved to Syria in 1994 to renovate a monastery in Qara, claims that the initial uprising that set off the Syrian conflict was not peaceful and was “infiltrated by a third column that would induce violence or stage violence.”

Agnes said she only deals with the Syrian government as much as any NGO or human rights organization would, in the context of “Musalaha” (“Reconciliation”), the mysterious movement she is a part of and that she says is composed of “many reconciliation committees” and is headed by a “tribal leader” and a Syrian Catholic priest. The government, she said, has created a Ministry of Reconciliation as a response to Musalaha’s growth.

She praised an explosive Seymour Hersh report in the London Review of Books that claimed that the Obama administration knew that a Syrian rebel faction could make sarin gas, the same weapon used in the Aug. 21 chemical attack in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus.

“I praise, I thank Mr. Hersh to be courageous, to be audacious, to be full of honesty, to be able because he is free and he is powerful, he is a reference so he can speak without fear what maybe others cannot,” Agnes said. “He confirms our doubts. He does not answer all our doubts but he lifts the omerta that was imposed by all the mainstream media that since the beginning of the conflict are always aligned with the politically correct, and not really making a breakthrough to inform the people and at least stay neutral and stay really like the echo of the reality and not the echo of what the politicians want to impose.”

Mother Agnes published a long report after the August attack that concluded that video evidence pointing to the culpability of the Syrian army in the attack was a fabrication. The report was widely rejected by other analysts, including Human Rights Watch, where a top official said that “there’s just no basis for the claims advanced by Mother Agnes.”

On Monday, Agnes stood by the report and said it made no difference that she is not an expert in munitions or video analysis.

“I do not pretend to be an expert and I am not talking out of any expertise,” she said. “I say it’s not out of a military point of view, not medical, not forensic. It’s only to observe. I am a spectator and video is offered to the spectator. We have our right to have a position concerning any items that are offered to our consumption.” She said she will come out with another study after she has finished her tour and returned to Syria.

Apart from her speaking engagements in other cities, Mother Agnes is in D.C. to meet with lawmakers. Christian conservatives like Mike Huckabee, who conducted a sympathetic interview with her on his radio show on Monday, have taken an interest in Agnes because of their concern over the persecution of Christians in Syria.

Of her aborted meeting with Ted Cruz and planned meetings with Wolf and Gohmert, Agnes said: “I am here to talk with as many decision-makers as possible for the sake of reconciliation and a peaceful settlement in Syria.”

“I do not support the Assad regime with all its cruel actions nor do I support the Islamist terrorist rebels infested with al Qaeda,” Gohmert said through a spokesperson. “There is no good side in this. However, the ruthless persecution of Christians in the area is of very deep concern. The atrocities must come to an end. My meeting with Mother Agnes is to discuss what she knows about the situation.”

“I don’t know her,” said Wolf on Tuesday. “People are bringing her by, people who were on the ground in Iraq who are working for the American government.” Wolf said he didn’t know in what capacity the people were working for the government.

Asked about Mother Agnes’ stance on the August 21 chemical weapons attack, Wolf said “I don’t know anything about that.”

“I think both sides are bad, Assad’s bad and what’s going on with some of the rebels is bad,” Wolf said.

A spokesman for Cruz did not respond to a request for comment.

“As to why Mother Agnes is only meeting with Republicans, that is not our preference for sure,” said Rick Sterling, a member of the Syria Solidarity Movement steering committee. “It’s because the Democrats are ‘loyal.’ Heck, the two California ‘liberal’ senators were both on board for bombing Syria. Mother Agnes is prepared to meet and explain her experience and views to anyone who will listen.”

Mother Agnes has been accused of complicity in the death of Gilles Jacquier, a French journalist for whom she obtained a visa and who was killed in Syria in 2011. Agnes has sued Jacquier’s wife, who wrote a book asserting this claim, for defamation.

“It is a real calumny,” she said. “It is an intimidation to make me shut up because France is very much related to the ongoing uprising and the way they infiltrate the Syrian population with terrorists.”

She said she has been threatened by the Syrian opposition and has even been offered a bribe for her silence by a government, though she wouldn’t say exactly which one beyond specifying that it was a “Gulf state involved in financing all these things.”

She addressed evidence uncovered by journalist Michael Weiss that her role in the evacuations of Damascus suburb Moadamiyah was not as simple as it may have seemed and that she had a role in the arrests of young men who were leaving Moadamiyah. Weiss wrote that the number of young men detained was 300 or higher; Agnes told BuzzFeed that 550 men “surrendered” but only eight were detained.

And she expressed anger with the way journalists Jeremy Scahill and Owen Jones threatened to pull out of an antiwar conference in the U.K. where she was also scheduled to speak, leading her to drop out instead of them.

“I am really scandalized that the press, the media they create an accusation, they spread it and it is taken as and becomes the identity of the person,” she said. “We are today in a total dictatorship of the media.”

“I am very happy I withdrew to let them do whatever they want,” Agnes said. “But this has contributed to show me a very huge movement of approval of my actions toward peace in Syria and the people are not fooled by the false rumors and by the false accusations.”

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment about why it granted Mother Agnes a visa.

This post has been updated with Wolf’s and Sterling’s comments. An earlier version of this post incompletely described the types of venues where Agnes has been speaking and the article has been updated.

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Inside The Syrian Opposition’s Media War

A Syrian refugee is reflected in a mirror as he watches the Geneva peace conference on a television in Lebanon. Ali Hashisho / Reuters

GENEVA — It was a little past 10 a.m. in Geneva on Saturday, and the Syrian opposition’s media center was a hive of frantic activity as peace talks got underway. Wearing an unassuming navy suit and eyeglasses that hung from a cord around his neck, Monzer Akbik clapped his hands and bellowed at his 30-person staff: “Excuse me please! We are still in a meeting!”

On the floor below, the lobby of the 5-star Intercontinental Hotel had become a magnet for international journalists chatting up diplomats around faux fireplaces. Others packed into the pressroom at the United Nations compound down the street to await word from closed-door meetings. The U.N. had issued more than 1000 press credentials — a record number — for the peace conference, the first time the Syrian regime and opposition were talking amid a spiraling civil war.

In this media frenzy, Akbik and his team saw their efforts as a crucial counterpart to those at the negotiating table. Both sides wanted to convince the world that they were the ones who should be running Syria — and more importantly, to convince those Syrians watching from afar. “I think most people realize that the Geneva conference will be won and lost in the media,” said Rafif Jouejati, a veteran opposition spokeswoman.

After nearly three years of amateurish press efforts — always mismatched against the regime’s well-oiled propaganda machine — the opposition now seemed to be playing hardball. In the media center, there was a team for newsgathering, a team for mainstream press and a team for social media. Media officers spoke Arabic, English and French, and there were press packets and a special Geneva Twitter feed, plus a small team of international consultants. The team responded right away to new developments and PR offensives from the regime — something Oubai Shabandar, an activist helping with outreach, called “rapid-countering.” As he saw it: “This is revolution 3.0. It is faster, sleeker and more effective on the world stage.”

But there were still growing pains.

“Do you know that our Facebook page was hacked?” Akbik asked the room. He detailed some other problems: the numbers for the press hotlines kept getting mixed up; there was no English-language Facebook page. Journalists were having a hard time setting up interviews with opposition delegates and were starting to get pissed.

“How many followers do we have on Twitter?” Akbik asked.

The new account got 500 followers in just 24 hours, someone said.

“Is that good? Is there a maximum?”

Akbik was told that his personal account had 37.

“I don’t want anyone to follow me,” he said. “What about a star? Jennifer Lopez—how many does she have?”

A successful businessman, Akbik became chief of staff last summer for the opposition-in-exile, the Syrian National Coalition. He had since worked to make its media efforts more effective, bringing on new staff and reaching out to the press, in an effort aided by international advisors brought on at the expense of the British Foreign Office. When Akbik took on the role, the regime’s narrative was ascendant, as it painted its fight in Syria as part of a war on terror — even though much of the opposition blamed it for the Al-Qaeda-linked groups threatening to overtake the rebellion.

The opposition media team in Geneva had been reinforced with new bodies and about 10 Western consultants, mostly Brits. But the bulk of it was made up of Syrians with long histories as media activists, such as Ghassan Yasin, who had often risked his life to gather news from the frontlines in Aleppo. Amid the hectic pace of the conference, some saw their efforts as more akin to chaos than a well-oiled machine.

In the Intercontinental lobby, one British staffer was even overheard to say that she wanted to order “a half a bottle of whiskey in vitro,” to alleviate the stress.

Each day of the conference, however, the opposition was winning on the media front. It pushed the blame for Al-Qaeda on the regime and turned the spotlight on the suffering Bashar al-Assad had inflicted with his brutal military campaign. The regime, meanwhile, seemed only to be flailing. “The opposition has shown much more competence and coherence than expected,” said Steven Heydemann, a veteran Syria watcher and a vice president and director of Syria programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Heydemann said the improved media efforts were part of a wider push from the opposition to present an effective front at Geneva — something its Western backers had been keen to support. The opposition and its allies have brought in international experts to advise it on things like negotiations and putting together a transition plan. “They’re corralling as much support as they can,” Heydemann said. “They’re taking this very seriously.”

In the media center on Saturday morning, Akbik focused the conversation on the day’s messaging. With the two sides entering negotiations for the first time, he warned, some Syrians might think the opposition had betrayed them just for sitting down with the regime. A British consultant put forward an idea: the opposition should say this was the first time in the regime’s history that it was forced to sit and listen to the people’s demands. Akbik liked the idea and moved along.

After the meeting, the consultant approached this reporter and said that the messaging exchange should be off the record. When that was declined, he became angry and stormed off. He worried it might seem that the media team was taking its directions from the outside. But it was clearly the Syrian staff, many of whom had been at their work for years, who were the driving force behind the media team — working 20-hour days, setting the tone and calling the shots. “They give advice, and we Syrians decide if that advice is what we want,” said Jouejati, the opposition spokeswoman, who is a veteran of the Local Coordination Committees, a respected activist group with networks across Syria.

Jouejati pointed out that the work was deadly serious for the Syrians on the team — it was the first real push to bring the bloody conflict to an end, she said, and a chance to save lives.

If the opposition was winning the media narrative, she said, it was also because of the facts on the ground — the suffering inflicted by the regime’s constant bombardment of civilian areas and starvation campaigns. (The regime’s performance at the conference, meanwhile, had been surprisingly poor.) “Our job is to show Assad’s crimes to the world by leveraging this political process,” she said.

The campaign to win the narrative in the international press, she added, was secondary to the efforts to reach regular Syrians. There, she claimed, support for the Geneva conference had received a “huge upswing” since it got underway.

One of Jouejati’s colleagues, Ahmed Fakoury, said it was important to keep in mind what they were up against inside Syria. He’d once been a key player on the other side, as one of the most popular evening news anchors on Syrian state television. Regime-friendly TV and radio stations dominated Syria’s airwaves. “They are a lobby — and they are well-organized and very good,” he said. It was the opposition’s job to make their message heard anyway. “We have a very good narrative: We are the Syrian people,” he said.

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Story Of Sisi’s Millions Not Allowed On Front Page Of Egyptian Newspaper

Amr Dalsh / Reuters

A report claiming that Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has amassed a fortune of over LE30 million (U.S. $4.2 million) was pulled from one of Egypt’s largest newspapers over the weekend at the request of its owner.

The Al-Watan newspaper had already printed its Friday edition, with an exclusive report documenting Sisi’s private funds, when its owner Magdy El-Galad ordered his editors to remove the story on Sisi from the front page.

“The editor of the newspaper called us and gave the order that the subject be removed immediately, before it the newspaper was published,” said one correspondent at Al-Watan, who spoke to BuzzFeed on condition of anonymity to protect his job. “The editor was very nervous while giving us the orders.”

He could not say what had spooked the owner, or if there had been an explicit request by the Egyptian military to remove the story. Al-Watan often takes a pro-military stance, and has long-standing ties to Egypt’s security establishment.

An original version of the story viewed by BuzzFeed and included below cites a source from within Sisi’s family who disclose that he inherited the funds from his family, who own a stall in Cairo’s famed Khan el-Khalili market.

The article also claimed that Sisi intends to officially throw his hat in the ring for the upcoming presidential elections on Feb. 11, the day marking the third anniversary of former President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation.

Egyptian media embraced Sisi’s expected presidential run months ago, although the defense minister has yet to make a public announcement confirming his candidacy. Earlier this month, Egypt’s army announced that they were endorsing Sisi to run for president, adding that it was his duty to lead Egypt.

A slew of stories have appeared in the Egyptian press backing Sisi and touting the benefits of strong military leadership. Over the weekend, Mohamed Amin, owner of the Egyptian CBC television network defended a police officer who assaulted one of his reporters by saying that “in these times of terrorism” it was important to stand behind the Egyptian army and police.

“I am sorry for the reporter and the violence he experienced… but he must take into account the circumstances and we all have to be supportive of the Ministry of Interior in these times,” said Amin.

The reporter had arrived at the scene of a bombing on Cairo’s Giza bridge, when a police officer “kicked and slapped” him, according to an account he gave on air.

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WikiLeaks Party Members Visited Top Syrian Regime Officials

WASHINGTON — A delegation from Australia’s WikiLeaks Party visited with top Syrian officials in Damascus last week as part of a “solidarity delegation” to oppose Western intervention in the civil war.

“The WikiLeaks Party will participate in a solidarity delegation to Syria to promote peace and reconciliation,” read a post on the party’s website from Dec. 22. The delegation “consists of representatives from The Wikieaks [sic] Party, academics and activists on Syrian issues.”

“The WikiLeaks Party was the first party in Australia to warn of the deadly consequences of any Western military intervention in Syria,” the post continues. “It went further by questioning the credibility of the excuses of such intervention based on unsubstantiated reports of the Syrian Army’s use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians. Such claims that reminded us the same excuses used to invade Iraq. Such claims that turned out to be no more than fabrications and lies.”

A Syrian TV report (above) shows members meeting with top regime officials like the prime minister, the deputy foreign minister, and the health minister. In an interview at 3:45 in the segment, WikiLeaks Party chairman and Julian Assange’s father John Shipton says, “We’ll continue to expose the truth to the Australian people and to our international audience, and next year we will set up an office in Damascus.”

A photo posted to Twitter appears to show the delegation meeting with Bashar al-Assad. According to state news agency SANA, the delegation also met with the speaker of Syria’s assembly.

The delegation included Tim Anderson, a professor at the University of Sydney who was convicted in 1989 on charges relating to the 1978 Sydney Hilton Hotel bombing, though he was later acquitted.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange ran as a WikiLeaks Party candidate for an Australian senate seat this year and vowed to run again with the party after he lost.

Representative for WikiLeaks and the WikiLeaks Party did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Anderson was convicted but failed to say that he was later acquitted.

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The “Creative Process” Explained By Comics

3. A good take on the worst buzz-phrase in the history of business.

4. We all know this asshole.

7. Exactly why “creativity” sucks right now.

8. Yes. But also, write it down.

9. Finding the right partner is key.

10. Just relax, but keep pushing the idea.

11. If you “Think Different” as the old Apple ads put it, you will be rejected.

13. “Yes, but…” has killed a kajillion great ideas.

15. They all suck, but the Blender and Crammer are the WORST.

More here:

See 15 more comics about creativity here @ Stock Logos.

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