Russia urged “hot heads” to calm down on Friday as the United States admitted it felt “challenged” by North Korea’s warning that it could test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific and President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un traded more insults.
Trump called the North Korean leader a “madman” on Friday, a day after Kim dubbed him a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” who would face the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” in retaliation for Trump saying the U.S. would “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatened the U.S. or its allies.
"We have to calm down the hot heads,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters at the United Nations, where world leaders gathered this week for the annual U.N. General Assembly. “We continue to strive for the reasonable and not the emotional approach...of the kindergarten fight between children.”
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed hope in an interview with ABC that sanctions and “voices from every corner of the world” could lead North Korea back to talks, but admitted intensifying rhetoric had left Washington “quite challenged.”
North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, warned on Thursday that Kim could consider a hydrogen bomb test of an unprecedented scale over the Pacific. Ri, who is due to speak to the United Nations on Saturday, added that he did not know Kim’s exact thoughts.
In response, Tillerson said U.S. diplomatic efforts would continue but all military options were still on the table.
North Korea’s six nuclear tests to date have all been underground, and experts say an atmospheric test, which would be the first since one by China in 1980, would be proof of the success of its weapons program.
A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington was taking Kim’s threat seriously and added that any atmospheric test would be a “game-changer.”
The moment the first Russian jet landed in Syria at the invitation of the Assad government in 2015, Putin placed himself in the driver's seat concerning the international proxy war in the Levant...And though US relations with Russia became more belligerent and tense partly as a result of that intervention, it meant that Russia would set the terms of how the war would ultimately wind down.
Russia's diplomatic and strategic victory in the Middle East was made clear this week as news broke of "secret" and unprecedented US-Russia face to face talks on Syria. The Russians reportedly issued a stern warning to the US military, saying that it will respond in force should the Syrian Army or Russian assets come under fire by US proxies.
The AP reports that senior military officials from both countries met in an undisclosed location "somewhere in the Middle East" in order to discuss spheres of operation in Syria and how to avoid the potential for a direct clash of forces.
Tensions have escalated in the past two weeks as the Syrian Army in tandem with Russian special forces are now set to fully liberate Deir Ezzor city, while at the same time the US-backed SDF (the Arab-Kurdish coalition, "Syrian Democratic Forces") - advised by American special forces - is advancing on the other side of the Euphrates.
As we've explained before, the US is not fundamentally motivated in its "race for Deir Ezzor province" by defeat of ISIS terrorism, but in truth by control of the eastern province's oil fields. Whatever oil fields the SDF can gain control of in the wake of Islamic State's retreat will then used as powerful bargaining leverage in negotiating a post-ISIS Syria. The Kurdish and Arab coalition just this week captured Tabiyeh and al-Isba oil and gas fields northeast of Deir Ezzor city.
Though US officials disclosed few elements of this week's unusual meeting, the US side did confirm Russia's threat of returning fire should Syrian soldiers come under attack.
Russian Major-General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement,“A representative of the U.S. military command in Al Udeid (the U.S. operations center in Qatar) was told in no uncertain terms that any attempts to open fire from areas where SDF fighters are located would be quickly shut down.” He added that, “Fire points in those areas will be immediately suppressed with all military means.”
Russia has further openly accused the US of violating previously agreed to 'de-escalation' zones in Idlib (as part of Astana talks) using al-Qaeda proxies to engaged the Syrian Army in Idlib.
Though the US endgame is the ultimate million dollar question in all of this, it appears at least for now that this endgame has something to do with the Pentagon forcing itself into a place of affecting the Syrian war's outcome and final apportionment of power: the best case scenario being permanent US bases under a Syrian Kurdish federated zone with favored access to Syrian oil doled out by Kurdish partners.
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