Deter and degrade: US expands target list


David Sanger. THE  AGE.September  7, 2013

aExpanding targets in Syria: Barack Obama. Photo: Getty  Images

Washington:  US President Barack Obama has directed the Pentagon to develop  an expanded  list of potential targets in Syria.

The new planning is  a response to intelligence suggesting that  President  Bashar al-Assad’s government  has been moving troops and equipment used to  employ chemical weapons while Congress debates military action.

Officials said Mr Obama  was  determined to put more emphasis on the  ”degrade” part of  the administration’s  goal in a military strike against  Syria – to ”deter and degrade” Dr Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons.

That means expanding beyond the original list of 50 or so   main target sites  developed with French forces before Mr Obama delayed action last Saturday.

 

For the first time, the administration is talking about using US and French  aircraft to conduct strikes on specific targets, in addition to ship-launched  Tomahawk cruise missiles. There is also a renewed push to get other NATO forces  involved.

The strikes would be aimed not at the chemical stockpiles themselves – which  would risk a potential catastrophe – but rather the military units that have  stored and prepared the weapons and carried out attacks against Syrian rebels,  US military officials said on Thursday.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin  Dempsey, said   other targets would include equipment that Syria uses to protect the chemicals –  air defences, long-range missiles and rockets, which can also deliver the  weapons.

Senior officials know  that to win the fight on Capitol Hill, they will have  to accept restrictions on the military response, yet to make the strike  meaningful they must expand its scope.

”They are being pulled in two different directions,” a senior foreign  official involved in the discussions said. ”The worst outcome would be to come  out of this bruising battle with Congress and conduct a military action that  made little difference.”’

One senior official said Mr Obama intended to become more  involved in direct  lobbying for a military authorisation  and there was  talk of  an  address to  the nation.

As the target list expands, the administration is moving closer to carrying  out military action that  could also  tip the balance on the ground, even though  the administration insists this is not the primary intent.

The bulk of the US attack is still expected to be  by cruise missiles from  some or all of the four destroyers within striking range of Syria in the eastern  Mediterranean. But military planners are now also preparing options to include  attacks by bombers which could carry more munitions, potentially allowing the US  to carry out more strikes if the first wave does not destroy the targets.

In recent days the US Navy has moved the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz into the  Red Sea, within striking distance of Syria.

But  Defence Department officials said  the carrier and its squadrons of F-18  Super Hornets  were not likely to join any attack unless Syria launched major  retaliatory strikes.

Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel told legislators on Wednesday that a US  operation would cost ”tens of millions of dollars”, the first time any  administration official has put even a rough price tag on the possible  strike.

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US Senate Passes Magnitsky Act & Russian Trade Bill


 RIA Novosti. December 7,2012

US Senate Passes Magnitsky Act & Russian Trade Bill

The US Senate on Thursday passed the Magnitsky Act, which targets Russian officials deemed by Washington to have violated human rights, along with a landmark trade bill with Russia.

The Senate voted 92 to 4 to approve the legislation, which would simultaneously repeal the Cold War-era Jackson-Vanik restrictions on trade with Russia, establish normalized bilateral trade relations with Moscow, and introduce visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials considered by the White House to be guilty of human rights violations.

The decision to link the rights legislation to the trade bill has angered Russia, which has promised retaliatory measures aimed at the United States.

There was little suspense to the fate of the bill in the Senate. It was widely expected to pass, and it will now go to US President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

In a statement following Thursday’s vote, Obama said he commends the US Congress for “working on a bipartisan basis” to end Jackson-Vanik and normalize trade relations with Russia and Moldova, another former Eastern Bloc country impacted by the bill.

“I look forward to receiving and signing this legislation,” Obama said.

In the lead-up to Thursday’s vote there was a question about whether provisions targeting Russian officials would be extended to every country in the world. The US House of Representatives’ version of the bill focused exclusively on Russia, while the Senate version called for purportedly corrupt officials in other countries to be punished as well.

The Senate ultimately agreed to the language in the House bill and focus just on Russia.

“This bill may only apply to Russia, but it sets a standard that should be applied globally,” Sen. Benjamin Cardin, the author of the Magnitsky Act, said in a statement ahead of the vote. “I encourage other nations to follow our lead.”

The bill specifically targets Russian officials considered by the White House to be involved in the death of Russian whistleblower lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in 2009, but it extends to other purported violators of human rights in Russia as well.

The earlier Senate bill also tasked the US State Department and the US Treasury Department with identifying the Russian officials targeted for sanctions. Like the House bill passed last month, however, the Senate bill approved Thursday places this responsibility in the hands of the US President.

The establishment of permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with Russia comes on the heels of Moscow’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in August. In line with its WTO obligations, Washington must enact PNTR with Russia in order to afford US producers the maximum economic benefit of operating on the Russian market.

A broad consensus has formed on the PNTR issue among US officials, businesses and industry lobbies, who say the US economy stands to benefit greatly from opening up the Russian market to American entrepreneurs.

The White House, however, had sought to keep the issues of PNTR and the repeal of Jackson-Vanick separate from the Magnitsky Act—a position widely seen as an attempt to prevent the Magnitsky legislation from negatively impacting US-Russian cooperation on issues such as counterterrorism and arms reduction.

Obama did not mention Magnitsky by name in his statement Thursday, saying only that his administration “will continue to work with Congress and our partners to support those seeking a free and democratic future for Russia and promote the rule of law and respect for human rights around the world.”

After Thursday’s Senate vote, the Russian Foreign Ministry called the Senate’s approval of the Magnitsky Act “a performance in the Theater of the Absurd.”

“Either Washington has forgotten what year it is or it thinks that the Cold War is not over yet,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that the senators are ignoring the obvious fact that any country can deny visas to anyone without enacting special legislation.

“We must again remind the hyperactive opponents of the normal development of Russian-US relations that their efforts look pathetic. However, the Russian side will have to respond,” the ministry added.