State Department Official: Iranians Are ‘Biggest Victim’ of Government

VOA’s Pentagon Correspondent Nike Ching spoke with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Peek about the protests in Iran.

Q: “Let me start by asking, what is the implication of the protests in Iran to Washington’s policy towards that country and to the region? What is the next step for the United States?”

Peek: “Well these protests are indicative of what the United States government has said all along. The biggest victim of the Iranian government are the Iranian people. We are watching the events extremely closely. We continue to support the Iranian people, the president has been very clear about that. We call on the Iranian government to respect the right of their people to protest peacefully, to respect the right of free-flow information and not to use violence against peaceful protesters. These are basic human rights we think they should uphold.”

Q: “Just to follow up, today, the plan for the U.S. policy for the next step.”

Peek: “Absolutely, we continue to speak with our international partners and encourage them to highlight what is happening in Iran. This is a very different approach from 2009, the protests then. We want to make it clear now through visible and vocal support of the Iranian people, that we will not let them suffer anonymously, that when they want to exercise their basic human rights we will support them.”

Q: “Has Secretary [of State Rex] Tillerson spoken with his counterparts in the region since the protests?”

Peek: “We are in touch with our counterparts, particularly in the European Union at an extremely senior level and we are working to build an international coalition to support the Iranian people.”

Q: “President [Donald] Trump has voiced his support to the protesters and people in Iran. How does the United States respond to calls and appeals to lift the travel ban which limits Iranians coming to the United States?”

Peek: “Well, the president has made it very clear that his support is with the Iranian people, I think all of us is. The travel restrictions are a measure imposed as an effort to limit some of Homeland Security vulnerabilities. And I think the United States continues to assess what the vulnerabilities and the best way you address them going forward.”

Q: “Earlier in June, Secretary Tillerson told the Congress he supports elements inside Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of government, he said, ‘those elements are there, certainly as we know.’  Could you please elaborate what are those elements?” 

Peek: “Sure, I think the secretary’s statement speaks for itself. I’ll tell you what we are thinking is a change in the Iranian government’s behavior, particularly its destabilizing regional activities, its support of terrorism and also the way it treats its people internally. So we’ve been clear about wanting to support those changes, and will continue to do so.”

Q: “About seven years ago, Syria’s civil war began with protests, but was followed by attacks from the Syrian government. In your estimation, how likely will the protests in Iran evolve into the one that’s similar in Syria?”

Peek: “Oh gosh, you know at this point it’s way too early to tell where these protests are headed. You know, I think the protesters have legitimate grievances against their government and they should be heard. You know, the Iranian government should also listen to them, it should not respond by violently cracking down on people who are peacefully demonstrating. I want to say this from our part, we will hold accountable those people or entities who are committing violence, from the top to the bottom, against the protesters. That is not something that is going to happen in a vacuum, we’re watching very closely, in the process of examining actions we can take against those individuals, like sanctions and other means.”

Q: “So, you’re saying that the next step is more sanctions against those who should be responsible to attack the protesters?”

Peek: “We’re considering a variety of options to hold those people accountable, including sanctions.” 

Q: “Could you please elaborate a little bit more on that?”

Peek: “No, I don’t want to get too much into kind of the operational detail here. There are a range of measures, including sanctions, that we can use to take action against those who commit violence against the protesters.”

Q: “You mentioned, I would like to touch on the protests in 2009. Could you please compare the latest protest with those in 2009?”

Peek: “Yeah, certainly, there are some differences, at least what we have seen reported. I think largely there is a lot of similarities though, you know, these protests were born out of some of the same elements in 2009. The fact that the Iranian people seek greater freedoms that are economic opportunities and like a movement bubbling below the surface, it sprouts up occasionally and while the form may occasionally be different, there’s these protesters sparked by one thing, those protesters sparked by another. It all is a horrific (sic) of this underlying current of discontent in Iranian society because of the limited opportunities and the restriction that the Iranian government places on its people.”

Q: “Regarding actions from the United States. What’s the difference between now and then, those measures taken by the United States government?”

Peek: “I think you’ve seen the vast difference in the way that we are handling this. This time there is vocal and immediate support for the people  Iranians who are protesting, that wasn’t in 2009. This is a whole of government support, including Secretary Tillerson, and the president and other officials. I think we are also aggressively working to amplify messages of support from our partners, including the Canadians, the British, the Germans and others, the French, the Italians. To ensure that the Iranian people are able to express their discontent. As I mentioned, we’re also looking at other options of how to hold those regime elements that would crack down, potentially on these protestors, accountable.”

Q: “Besides the coordination with the allies in Europe, how about those in the Middle Eastern — leaders in the Middle Eastern region?”

Peek: “Absolutely, I should have mentioned that while I was discussing our allies. We have been in touch with — we are working to get in touch with —important regional capitals around the world, including the Middle East, to encourage statement and awareness of what’s happening around, in support for the legitimate rights of the Iranian people.”‘

Q: “Has Secretary Tillerson spoken with his counterpart in Saudi Arabia?”

Peek: “I know we are in touch at staff level, I am not sure if the secretary has spoken with his counterpart in Saudi Arabia. No, I don’t believe so in fact.”

Q: “Thank you, before the last question anything else you would like to add?”

Peek: “Only that this administration will continue to support the Iranian people and their legitimate desires for a better life.”

your ad here

Three Big US Cities Saw Homicides Decline Last Year

New York, Chicago and Washington all experienced significant declines in homicides in 2017, though the murder rate rose in Baltimore, Maryland, amid drug problems and lingering racial tensions.

And while its number of murders was down, Washington saw some particularly brutal killings, including a gruesome decapitation blamed on a gang, and authorities in every city said they still had much work to do.

The homicide decline was dramatic in New York, which experienced 2,245 killings as recently as 1990 but just 286 in 2017 as of December 27, according to The New York Times.

That was down from 334 in 2016 and represented the city’s lowest number of murders since the 1950s.

Every major category of crime declined there, from rape to car theft, the Times reported. Indeed, violent crime in the city has declined for 27 straight years.

Chicago, which in 2016 suffered through its deadliest year in two decades with 754 killings, saw its murder total drop last year to 650, the largest year-to-year decline since 2004, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Anti-police sentiment there fueled a surge in violence after the 2016 release of a video showing a white police officer fatally shooting a black teenager.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly castigated Chicago authorities for letting violence run “out of control.” 

But police superintendent Eddie Johnson told the Tribune that new technology and tactics, the hiring of 1,000 additional police officers, and efforts to improve police-community relations had helped lower total shootings. Arrests for gun crimes were up by 27 percent.

Building ‘on the progress’

“None of us are satisfied,” Johnson said in a statement, promising in 2018 to “build on the progress we made last year.”

Homicides fell in Washington from 135 in 2016 to 116 in 2017. That returns the city to a level seen before a spike two years ago.

Mayor Muriel Bowser said her city had stepped up efforts to mediate disputes and prevent retaliation after shootings, while working with non-police agencies to help calm neighborhoods.

But there have been some vicious killings of area teens. One boy was shot in an apparent robbery of his Air Jordan sneakers; a 17-year-old girl was fatally attacked by a stranger as she walked to a mosque during Ramadan; and a teen in suburban Maryland was brutally stabbed and decapitated, allegedly by members of the MS-13 gang.

And Baltimore, which experienced violent riots after the 2015 death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray while in police custody, had at least 343 homicides last year, up from 318 killings the year before, the Baltimore Sun reported.

That left the drug-plagued city of 620,000 with more murders last year — per capita — than New York experienced with its 8.4 million residents.

your ad here

Amid Iran Protests, Trump Faces Decision on Sanctions

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been quick and forceful in his support for Iranian anti-government protests, will have a chance later this month to further step up pressure on Tehran. 

In mid-January, Trump faces another series of congressionally mandated deadlines to certify whether Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers. 

Many Iran watchers say Trump may use the deadlines to reimpose or enact new sanctions in an attempt to deliver a blow to Iran’s government at a moment of vulnerability.

Andrew Peek, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Iran and Iraq, told VOA further sanctions are possible against Iranian government elements that crack down on protesters.

“We will hold accountable those people and entities who are committing violence — from the top to the bottom — against the [Iranian protesters],” Peek said Monday.

While it is far from certain Trump will formally abandon the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), he could use the protests as further justification to chip away at it.

In October, Trump chose to “decertify” the nuclear deal, a decision that provided a 60-day window in which it was easier for Congress to apply sanctions on Iran. Congress declined to do so.

Trump this month could decide to re-open that window. Perhaps more importantly, Trump must also decide whether to continue issuing a waiver that keeps old Iran sanctions from snapping back into place. 

Reimposing those sanctions would effectively kill the nuclear agreement, which Trump has called an “embarrassment” and “one of the worst deals ever.” A middle ground could be applying new sanctions in a more limited fashion. 

The White House hasn’t previewed its decision. While Trump’s top national security officials have warned against abandoning the nuclear agreement, many congressional Republicans have remained vocal in opposing it. 

But Trump’s long-stated opposition to the deal, combined with his outspoken support for the ongoing Iranian protests, suggests to many observers that Trump could be seeking a new pressure point to squeeze further concessions from Tehran. 

“What many Iranians are fearing is that these protests, which are stemming mostly from economic pressures, might be an inspiration for the U.S. to put extra sanctions, to put extra pressure on Iran,” says Negar Mortazavi, an Iranian-American commentator and journalist with Iran International. 

At least 12 people have been killed in the nationwide protests, which began last week as a response to rising food prices but quickly morphed into sometimes violent displays of discontent with Iran’s conservative leaders. 

Shortly after the protests began, Trump tweeted his support, saying the U.S. is “watching very closely for human rights violations!” and insisting it is “TIME FOR CHANGE!” in Iran. 

While the protests may not “materially affect” the Trump administration’s stance on the JCPOA, they could make Washington’s European partners more open to the U.S. idea of further pressure, says James Carafano, a foreign policy specialist at the Heritage Institute.

“The administration is already working to pressure and isolate the regime. So, supporting the protests just adds more pressure,” says Carafano, who worked on the Trump transition team. “I think that what we are next likely to see is an executive order including additional sanctions and restrictions,” he added. 

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, views it as “quite likely” that Trump will refuse to renew the waivers.

“He is a person that likes to make snap decisions, so whatever thing that has happened to him lately is going to have a disproportionate influence on his decision,” Parsi said. 

The U.S., which cut off relations with Iran’s theocratic leaders after they came to power in 1979, has imposed sanctions on Tehran for decades. Though the measures severely damaged the country’s economy, they failed to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

​After the slightly more moderate government of President Hassan Rouhani came to power in 2013, Tehran agreed to scale back its nuclear program temporarily in exchange for sanctions relief. 

However, U.S. critics have said the deal failed to deliver a permanent solution to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program, and say Iran’s support for militants across the Middle East has gone unaddressed.

But Trump’s top defense officials — including National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — have all cautioned against abandoning the deal. 

Trump’s decision must come soon. According to Politico, the first of the sanctions waiver deadlines will come on Jan.12.

Mark Dubowitz, who heads the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which has close ties to the White House, says the protests are unlikely to change the president’s decision on sanctions waivers.

“The protests, however, may increase the incentive for all sides to come together and find a legislative solution,” he said. “The protests reinforce the administration’s view that the Iranian regime is an odious, expansionist and destructive force in the Middle East.”

your ad here

2017 Safest Year on Record for Commercial Passenger Air Travel

Airlines recorded zero accident deaths in commercial passenger jets last year, according to a Dutch consulting firm and an aviation safety group that tracks crashes, making 2017 the safest year on record for commercial air travel.

Dutch aviation consulting firm To70 and the Aviation Safety Network both reported Monday there were no commercial passenger jet fatalities in 2017. “2017 was the safest year for aviation ever,” said Adrian Young of To70.

To70 estimated that the fatal accident rate for large commercial passenger flights is 0.06 per million flights, or one fatal accident for every 16 million flights.

The Aviation Safety Network also reported there were no commercial passenger jet deaths in 2017, but 10 fatal airliner accidents resulting in 44 fatalities onboard and 35 persons on the ground, including cargo planes and commercial passenger turbo prop aircraft.

That figure includes 12 people killed on Dec. 31 when a Nature Air Cessna 208B Grand Caravan aircraft crashed minutes after takeoff into a mountainous area off the beach town of Punta Islita, Costa Rica.

In comparison, there were 16 accidents and 303 deaths in 2016 among airliners.

The deadliest incident last year occurred in January when a Turkish cargo jet smashed into a village in Kyrgyzstan as it tried to land at a nearby airport in dense fog, killing 35 on the ground and all four onboard.

The Aviation Safety Network said 2017 was “the safest year ever, both by the number of fatal accidents as well as in terms of fatalities.”

Over the last two decades aviation deaths around the world have been steadily falling. As recently as 2005, there were 1,015 deaths aboard commercial passenger flights worldwide, the Aviation Safety Network said.

The United States last recorded a fatal airline passenger jet crash in February 2009, when Colgan Air Flight 3407 crashed short of the runway in Clarence Center, New York, killing 49 onboard and one person on the ground.

In 2016, 412 people were killed in the United States in aviation accidents — nearly all in general aviation accidents and none on commercial passenger airlines.

The last fatal passenger jet airliner accident worldwide took place in November 2016 near Medellin, Colombia and the last commercial passenger aircraft crash to kill more than 100 people occurred in October 2015 in Egypt.

your ad here

У Херсоні день народження Бандери відзначили мітингом та смолоскиповою ходою

Представники націоналістичних політичних партій та громадських організацій 1 січня в Херсоні взяли участь у мітингу та смолоскиповій ході на честь 109-ї річниці від дня народження одного із лідерів українського націоналістичного руху першої половини ХХ століття Степана Бандери. 

У заході взяли участь представники ВО «Свобода», «Правого сектору», громадські активісти, депутати районних рад, обласної та міської рад. 

Смолоскипова хода пройшла центральною вулицею обласного центру, проспектом Ушакова, від площі Свободи до меморіалу «Слава Україні».

Один із лідерів українського націоналістичного руху першої половини ХХ століття Степан Бандера народився 1 січня 1909 року на території теперішньої Івано-Франківської області. Вбитий 15 жовтня 1959 року в Мюнхені агентом КДБ Богданом Сташинським.

your ad here

У Дніпрі з нагоди дня народження Бандери влаштували марш і флешмоб з виконанням гімну ОУН

У Дніпрі 1 січня відбувся марш, приурочений до дня народження Степана Бандери. Близько 400 учасників, представників громадських організацій, під синьо-жовтими та червоно-чорними прапорами зі смолоскипами в руках пройшли центральною частиною міста від облдержадміністрації до мерії.

В акції взяла участь як молодь, так і літні люди. Учасники акції йшли під звуки барабана, співали гімн України та українські пісні, а також скандували гасла «Слава Україні! Героям слава!», «Бандера, Шухевич – герої України!» тощо.

У руках вони тримали плакати з написами «Ніхто не зупинить ідею, час якої настав» та «Діди воювали». Біля будівлі міської ради учасники акції запалили фальшфеєри й влаштували флешмоб з виконанням гімну ОУН.

За словами активістів, Степан Бандера є символом української нації. «Ті, хто за українську перемогу, мають бути завжди єдині, підтримувати один одного і не доводити до розбрату. Бандера, на жаль, не прийде, Бандера порядок не наведе. Це маємо зробити ми під його прапором», – зазначив один із учасників маршу, активіст організації «С14» Андрій Куліш.

Захід супроводжувала поліція, але в дії активістів не втручалась.

2016 року активісти ВО «Свобода» встановили пам’ятний знак Бандері на в’їзді до Дніпра, пізніше його демонтували невідомі.

Степан Бандера народився 1 січня 1909 року в селі Старий Угринів Калуського району на Івано-Франківщині. Загинув 15 жовтня 1959 року у Мюнхені від рук агента КДБ Богдана Сташинського.

your ad here

Активісти вимагають знайти вбивць юристки Ноздровської

Понад 100 активістів станом на вечір 1 січня збираються прийти у вівторок, 2 січня, до управління поліції Київської області з вимогою знайти убивць юристки Ірини Ноздровської. Про акцію протесту її ініціатори домовляються у мережі Facebook.

«Завтра, 02.01.2017 року збираємося біля обласного управління поліції Київської області за адресою: вулиця Володимирська, 15, з вимогою залучити всі сили до пошуку вбивці чи вбивць Ірини Ноздровської, а також з вимогою надати охорону доньці Ірини Анастасії, оскільки їй також неодноразово погрожували. Вбивці мають бути покарані», – ідеться на сторінці акції.

На Київщині 1 січня знайшли мертвою юристку Ірину Ноздровську, повідомила поліція Київської області. «38-річну жительку села Демидів Вишгородського району, яка зникла три дні тому, сьогодні виявили бездиханною у місцевій річці», – заявили в поліції.

Правоохоронці додали, що тіло загиблої направлять на проведення судово-медичної експертизи. У поліції зазначили, що за фактом умисного вбивства відкрили кримінальне провадження.

Ноздровська займалася справою про загибель своєї сестри, яку 30 вересня 2015 року збив автомобіль. У вбивстві обвинувачують Дмитра Россошанського. 27 грудня юристка повідомляла, що Апеляційний суд Київської області відправив справу щодо Россошанського на новий судовий розгляд.

your ad here

California Begins Recreational Marijuana Sales

More than two decades after California became the first U.S. state to legalize medical marijuana use, on January first it becomes the final West Coast state to legalize pot for recreational purposes — a move approved by California voters in November 2016, in a referendum known as Prop 64.

While this is good news for cannabis enthusiasts, those with visions of unencumbered marijuana use in the California sunshine will find that reality is not quite so cut-and-dried — meaning, simple — referring to the processing of tobacco leaves.

Most importantly, while seven U.S. states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use, the U.S. federal government still considers it a controlled substance, classified with heroin and LSD as illegal drugs. Elsewhere, 29 states have legalized medical marijuana, and Maine and Massachusetts are set to legalize recreational pot in 2018.

Federal versus state law

Former White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters in February 2017 that the Department of Justice may be looking into legal marijuana use in the future.

“When you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming around so many states… the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people,” Spicer said.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an opponent of legalized pot, said in November that he is taking a close look at federal enforcement of anti-drug laws that include marijuana. “Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” he said at a Senate hearing in 2016.

Federal and state laws come more into play in California, which has several U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints, at which federal agents, mainly searching for illegal immigrants, are also empowered to seize pot stashes and prosecute the owners.

The Associated Press quotes Ronald Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner of the federal Customs and Border Protection agency, as calling drug seizures at border checkpoints an “ancillary effect”of enforcing immigration laws.

In addition to 34 permanent checkpoints along the U.S. border with Mexico, Border Patrol operates more than 100 “tactical” stops that may appear or disappear as needed, as far as 161 kilometers inside the U.S. border.

AP reports that people found with pot at those checkpoints are typically photographed and fingerprinted, and their stashes seized. The report says those people often aren’t charged with a crime, however, because pot possession in small amounts is considered a low-priority offense.

The checkpoints are legal. Border Patrol agents say they help catch illegal immigrants who have made it past the U.S. border and might disappear into a large city; and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that agents can question people at checkpoints even if they have no reason to believe anyone inside the car is in the country illegally.

Bureau of Cannabis Control

Meanwhile, California has created its own Bureau of Cannabis Control to regulate the growing and sale of cannabis.

Bureau spokesman Alex Traverso told the Los Angeles Times that about eight enforcement officers will be in place by January 1.

The bureau has issued fewer than 200 temporary business licenses so far, although cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco are expected later to issue their own local licenses, which will be required to get a state permit. Only a few dozen retail outlets are expected to be up and running by January 1.

Many localities inside California have not yet approved recreational pot use — and some may choose not to do so at all. Cannabis Control did not start issuing licenses to sell recreational cannabis until mid-December, so many applications are still in the works.

San Diego, San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley and Eureka are among the towns where pot stores can open on January 1.

Still proponents of legalized pot say bringing the drug out into the open makes it possible to tax sales of cannabis — which lawmakers hope will result in $1 billion a year in new tax revenue for the state. The money will come from a 15 percent state excise tax on every cannabis purchase. Local governments can place additional taxes on top of that — or they can ban pot shops entirely, if they choose.

Daniel Yi, a spokesman for the L.A.-area dispensary Med Men, says he expects an eighth of an ounce of pot to go for about $35 when two Med Men shops begin selling to recreational users on January 2. He told Reuters news agency that three other locations will probably not begin selling to recreational users for a few more weeks.

Keeping out of trouble

Further moves to keep control on the industry include guidelines for retailers, and age and use limits for consumers.

Pot sales will be restricted to people who are age 21 or older, but anyone visiting the state who is of age may buy and consume marijuana at legal outlets. Prop 64 specifically prohibits marketing of pot products to minors.

Pot shops cannot be within 180 meters (600 feet) of a school and they must maintain 24-hour surveillance. They also cannot open before 6 a.m. and must close by 10 p.m.

California anti-smoking laws make it illegal to smoke pot in places where regular tobacco smoking is banned. Employers may still subject employees to drug tests to ensure a drug-free workplace.

Drivers are being warned not to drive after using pot. While it is harder to measure a person’s intoxication level after smoking pot than it is after alcohol consumption, Hound Labs of Oakland is developing what it says is a “marijuana breathalyzer” for cops and employers to gauge whether a person has been using while driving or on the job.

L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell says he worries about people getting behind the wheel while high.

“The public’s perception is that weed is innocuous, that this is something they did 40 years ago and it is no big deal,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “Well, today’s marijuana is not yesterday’s marijuana. The active ingredient, THC, is so much higher today than back 40 years ago.”

As for food products containing THC, Californians will be able to consume them in any public place where food is normally consumed. The publishers of Mother Jones magazine say at least one of their readers wrote in to ask if there will be cannabis ice cream — and the answer, they say, is yes. Medical marijuana users have been consuming it for years. But there’s a catch: the amount of THC allowable in such items is limited to 10 milligrams per serving.

One other effect of the new pot law is that it will reduce penalties on people who have been convicted for pot crimes in the past. In addition to making pot more available, the law that legalized it, known as Prop 64, also makes pot crimes once viewed as felonies into lower-level misdemeanors. That means some people currently in California jails for selling or possessing pot could see their sentences reduced.

your ad here