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Putin builds China links as ties with west fray

10 Nov

Putin builds China links as ties with west fray

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a bilateral meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit on November 9 2014 in Beijing, China

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing

When Vladimir Putin met China’s president Xi Jinping, a memorandum of understanding for a second massive gas supply deal caught most of the attention.

For the Russian president, the deal may be less appealing for its commercial benefits than its ability to advance the larger goal of cementing ties with its eastern neighbour.

 According to Russian officials and security analysts, Moscow’s worst stand-off with the west since the end of the cold war has convinced Mr Putin’s government that it must moor its security interests to China because the Euro-Atlantic security architecture is broken beyond repair.

“Co-operation between Russia and China is extremely important to keep the peace in the framework of international law, making it more stable,” Mr Putin told his Chinese counterpart, just two weeks after he accused the US of destabilising the world by frequently violating international law.

Russia’s updated military doctrine is expected to target Nato and the US more clearly as the Ukraine crisis has frayed Moscow’s relations with the western alliance. The current doctrine lists only Nato expansion, foreign troop deployments in neighbouring states, destabilisation in certain countries and deployment of missile defence systems as “external military dangers”.

People familiar with the document said Nato and the US would be openly designated as threats or adversaries in the document’s new version, due to be published next month.

Russian diplomats and analysts also said Moscow hoped to build the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, founded by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tadjikistan in 1996, into a more meaningful security alliance.

In a speech last month that left western observers bewildered for its rabid anti-Americanism and its lack of proposals for a positive agenda, Mr Putin bemoaned what he described as the destruction of the mechanisms that used to govern international security affairs.

“Sadly, there is no guarantee and no certainty that the current system of global and regional security is able to protect us from upheavals. This system has become seriously weakened, fragmented and deformed,” Mr Putin said. He accused the US of creating a world order in which brute force could become the only means for resolving conflicts.

According to people involved in drafting Mr Putin’s speech, it initially contained a reference to “Helsinki II” – the idea that Russia, the US and Europe should try to work out a new framework governing their security relations similar to the 1975 Helsinki Accords. A proposal by then-president Dmitry Medvedev in 2008 for a new version of the agreement credited with lowering tension during the cold war failed to get off the ground because western countries saw it as a bid to undermine Nato.

Putin snubs Europe with Siberian gas deal that bolsters China ties

Moscow and Beijing signed an agreement to supply gas from western Siberia to China, in a deal that could eventually see more of Russia’s gas flowing to its vast eastern neighbour than to its traditional European markets. Assuming crucial details such as price are agreed, the deal would mark another big step in President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to build a closer energy relationship with China to offset increasing isolation from the west.

“The concept had been prepared for Putin back then, but they have lost confidence that this could work now, so it was dropped from Putin’s speech last month,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the Council for Foreign and Defence Policy, a Moscow think-tank. “Helsinki was about fixed spheres of influence, and it worked as long as there was balance of power and deterrence. That spirit is gone now.”

Another longstanding piece of the European security architecture is the Nato Russia Act, in which Nato pledged not to create permanent bases on Russia’s borders.

But the tension over the Ukraine crisis has fuelled Russian fears that this promise is being undermined.

In addition, even though Nato has little intention of welcoming Ukraine and Georgia into the alliance, member countries see it as politically impossible to openly rule out their membership in order to keep them as buffers between the western alliance and Russia.

Mr Putin is under no illusion that things will get any easier. The next US president is almost certain to be more hawkish towards Russia than Barack Obama, who entered the White House seeking a hopeful reset of relations.

“This forces Russia to head in a different direction – towards China and Iran, out of the western international system,” says Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group risk consultancy.

Moscow is already giving Nato a taste of what that means. The Russian air force has been probing the air space of Nato members with increasing frequency and range over the past two years, repeatedly forcing European militaries from Norway to Turkey scramble fighters.

New ISIS Recording Urges Muslims to Kill Civilians in US-Led Coalition Countries

22 Sep

 Sep 22, 2014, 6:24 AM ET

By BRIAN ROSS and ANTHONY CASTELLANO

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A 42-minute audio recording by an ISIS spokesman was released on social media Sunday, in which the group calls on Muslims to kill civilians in countries that belong to the anti-ISIS, U.S.-led coalition.

“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European, especially the spiteful and filthy French, or an Australian, or a Canadian or any other disbeliever, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be,” an ISIS spokesman says.

This latest threat comes as the Islamic State group posts new pictures of some of its British recruits, and President Obama heads to the UN to seek an international effort to stop such ISIS fighters from traveling unimpeded to spread their war of terror.

But U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power Sunday told George Stephanopoulos on “This Week,” stopping the threat from ISIS and its fighters won’t happen anytime soon.

“We think again the strategy can succeed, and most importantly that we have the greatest military in the world, they believe that,” Power said. “I think the president has said it will be over several years.”

U.S. and British authorities this morning are also bracing for word on the fate of ISIS hostage Alan Henning.

The White House declined to comment on the new recording today.

Over the weekend there were new pleas for mercy from his wife and from leaders of the Muslim community, even al Qaeda, that he be spared because the one time British taxi driver only went to Syria as a driver for an Islamic relief mission.

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U.S. Suspects More Direct Threats Beyond ISIS

21 Sep

OBAMA VIEWED AS SLUGGISH ON TERROR THREATS

By MARK MAZZETTI, MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and BEN HUBBARD

SEPT. 20, 2014

ISLAMIC STATE IN BLACK

WEARY TRAVELERS Thousands of people journey daily between Iraqi Kurdistan and territory controlled by the Islamic State. Credit Andrea Bruce for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — As the United States begins what could be a lengthy military campaign against the Islamic State, intelligence and law enforcement officials said another Syrian group, led by a shadowy figure who was once among Osama bin Laden’s inner circle, posed a more direct threat to America and Europe.

American officials said that the group called Khorasan had emerged in the past year as the cell in Syria that may be the most intent on hitting the United States or its installations overseas with a terror attack. The officials said that the group is led by Muhsin al-Fadhli, a senior Qaeda operative who, according to the State Department, was so close to Bin Laden that he was among a small group of people who knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before they were launched.

There is almost no public information about the Khorasan group, which was described by several intelligence, law enforcement and military officials as being made up of Qaeda operatives from across the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa. Members of the cell are said to be particularly interested in devising terror plots using concealed explosives. It is unclear who, besides Mr. Fadhli, is part of the Khorasan group.

JAME CLAPPER

The director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., said on Thursday that “in terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as the Islamic State.”

Some American officials and national security experts said the intense focus on the Islamic State had distorted the picture of the terrorism threat that has emerged from the chaos of Syria’s civil war, and that the more immediate threats still come from traditional terror groups like Khorasan and the Nusra Front, which is Al Qaeda’s designated affiliate in Syria.

Mr. Fadhli, 33, has been tracked by American intelligence agencies for at least a decade. According to the State Department, before Mr. Fadhli arrived in Syria, he had been living in Iran as part of a small group of Qaeda operatives who had fled to the country from Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks. Iran’s government said the group was living under house arrest, but the exact circumstances of the Qaeda operatives were disputed for years, and many members of the group ultimately left Iran for Pakistan, Syria and other countries.

OBAMA FOREIGN POLICY

In 2012, the State Department identified Mr. Fadhli as Al Qaeda’s leader in Iran, directing “the movement of funds and operatives” through the country. A $7 million reward was offered for information leading to his capture. The same State Department release said he was working with wealthy “jihadist donors” in Kuwait, his native country, to raise money for Qaeda-allied rebels in Syria.

In a speech in Brussels in 2005, President George W. Bush referred to Mr. Fadhli as he thanked European countries for their counterterrorism assistance, noting that Mr. Fadhli had assisted terrorists who bombed a French oil tanker in 2002 off the coast of Yemen. That attack killed one and spilled 50,000 barrels of oil that stretched across 45 miles of coastline.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is viewed as more focused on consolidating territory it has amassed in Syria and Iraq than on attacking the West. Some even caution that military strikes against the Islamic State could antagonize that group into planning attacks on Western targets, and even benefit other militant organizations if more moderate factions of the rebellion are not ready to take power on the ground.

James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, identified the group called Khorasan as a danger “to the homeland.” Credit T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images

The Islamic State’s recent statements, including a video using a British captive as a spokesman, have sought to deter American action against the group and threatened attacks only as revenge for American strikes.

At the same time, the rise of the Islamic State has blunted the momentum of its rival groups in Syria, including the Nusra Front, once considered to be among the most capable in the array of Syrian rebel groups. The Islamic State’s expansion across northern Iraq and in oil-rich regions of eastern Syria has sapped some of the Nusra Front’s resources and siphoned some of its fighters — who are drawn by the Islamic State’s battlefield successes and declaration of a caliphate, the longtime dream of many jihadists.

It is difficult to assess the seriousness and scope of any terror plots that Khorasan, the Nusra Front or other groups in Syria might be planning. In several instances in the past year, Nusra and the Islamic State have used Americans who have joined their ranks to carry out attacks inside Syria — including at least one suicide bombing — rather than returning them to the United States to strike there.

Beyond the militant groups fighting for control of territory, Syria has become a magnet for Islamic extremists from other nations who have used parts of the country as a sanctuary to plot attacks.

“What you have is a growing body of extremists from around the world who are coming in and taking advantage of the ungoverned areas and creating informal ad hoc groups that are not directly aligned with ISIS or Nusra,” a former senior law enforcement official said.

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Spokesmen for the C.I.A. and the White House declined to comment for this article.

The grinding war in Syria, well into its fourth year, has led to a constant shifting of alliances among the hard-line rebel groups.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of Al Qaeda, anointed the Nusra Front as its official branch in Syria and cut ties with the Islamic State early this year after it refused to follow his orders to fight only in Iraq. Officials said that Khorasan was an offshoot of the Nusra Front. According to fight only in Iraq. Officials said that Khorasan was an offshoot of the Nusra Front. According to a new report by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit research and analysis organization, the rifts among these various groups “threaten to create a conflict throughout the jihadist movement that is no longer confined to Syria and Iraq.”

While Nusra has been weakened, it remains one of the few rebel organizations that has active branches throughout Syria. Analysts view the organization as well placed to benefit from American strikes that might weaken the Islamic State.

Jennifer Cafarella, a Syria analyst with the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, said that American strikes could benefit the Nusra Front if the United States did not ensure that there was another force ready to take power on the ground.

“There is definitely a threat that, if not conducted as a component of a properly tailored strategy within Syria, the American strikes would allow the Nusra Front to fill a vacuum in eastern Syria,” she said.

She noted that the Nusra Front had been the primary force in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour before it was pushed out by the Islamic State earlier this year, and that the group had maintained better relationships with the local tribes than ISIS had. This could make it easier for the group to return if ISIS is chased out by American airstrikes.

MILITARY AIR

While the Nusra Front does not openly call for attacks on the West, it remains loyal to Mr. Zawahiri, whose clout among jihadists has waned with the rise of the Islamic State.

A great deal remains uncertain about the Nusra Front’s ultimate aims inside Syria. Hamza al-Shimali, the head of the American-backed rebel group the Hazm Movement, said that he and his allies did not trust the Nusra Front. He said he feared that one day he would have to fight the Nusra Front in addition to the Syrian government and the Islamic State.

American intelligence officials estimate that since the Syrian conflict began, about 15,000 foreigners, including more than 100 Americans and 2,000 Europeans, have traveled to the country to fight alongside rebel groups. Syria’s porous borders make it relatively easy to get in and out of the country, raising concerns among Western officials that without markings on their passports they could slip back undetected into Europe or the United States.

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Mark Mazzetti and Michael S. Schmidt reported from Washington, and Ben Hubbard from Gaziantep, Turkey. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.

Obama’s ‘Strategy’ Has No Chance of Success

12 Sep

Just going through the motions…

• By FREDERICK W. KAGAN and KIMBERLY KAGAN

crisis mode

President Obama just announced that he is bringing a counter-terrorism strategy to an insurgency fight. He was at pains to repeat the phrase “counter-terror” four times in a short speech. Noting that ISIL is not a state (partly because the international community thankfully does not recognize it), he declared, “ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.”  Neither of those sentences, unfortunately, is true.

ISIL is an insurgent group that controls enormous territory in Iraq and Syria that it governs. It maneuvers conventional light infantry forces supported by vehicles mounting machine guns and occasionally armored personnel carriers against the regular forces of the Iraqi Army and the Kurdish Peshmerga—and wins.

It is purely and simply not a terrorist organization any longer. Neither is it the simple manifestation of nihilistic evil the president makes out.

ISIL has described a very clear vision of seizing control of all of the territory of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories.  It intends to abolish all of the borders and redraw them according to a new structure of governance suitable to its hateful version of an old Islamic heresy.  That vision also makes it more than a simple terrorist organization.  It’s awfully hard to develop a sound strategy when you start by mis-diagnosing the problem so profoundly. That’s why the “strategy” the president just announced has no chance of success

U.S. Confirms ISIS Planning Infiltration of U.S. Southern Border

10 Sep

 

President’s “strategy” may not be enough…

Militants from the al Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) removing part of the soil barrier on the Iraq-Syria borders and moving through it / AP

Washington Free Beacon,

A senior Homeland Security (DHS) official confirmed to Congress on Wednesday that militants associated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) are planning to enter the United States via the porous southern border.

Francis Taylor, under secretary for intelligence and analysis at DHS, told senators during a hearing that ISIL supporters are known to be plotting ways to infiltrate the United States through the border.

“There have been Twitter, social media exchanges among ISIL adherents across the globe speaking about that as a possibility,” Taylor told Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) in response to a question about “recent reports on Twitter and Facebook of messages that would urge infiltration into the U.S. across our southwestern border.”

“Certainly any infiltration across our border would be a threat,” Taylor said, explaining that border security agents are working to tighten measures that would prevent this from taking place.

“I’m satisfied we have the intelligence and the capability on our border that would prevent that activity,” Taylor said.

However, McCain was dubious, referring to recent videos released by activist James O’Keefe showing him crossing the border while wearing an Osama bin Laden mask.

Asked by McCain why agents did not stop O’Keefe, Taylor could not provide an answer.

“You can’t answer it because they weren’t there to stop him,” McCain responded.

“The fact is there are thousands of people who are coming across our border who are undetected and not identified, and for you to sit there and tell me that we have the capability or now have the proper protections of our southwest border, particularly in light of the urgings over Facebook and Twitter [by ISIL] for people to come across our southwestern border, is a great concern to the citizens of my state.”

Taylor admitted that more must be done to shore up border security in light of ongoing threats.

“The security at the southwestern border is of great concern to the department and I certainly understand the concerns of the citizens of your state,” he told McCain. “If I gave you the impression I thought the border security was what it needed to be to protect against all the risks coming across the state that’s not what I meant to say.”

There is little evidence to prove that ISIL militants or other terror actors would be stopped if they attempt to cross the border, McCain said.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt, I don’t see when you look at ISIS and the growth and influence of ISIS that it would be logical [to claim they would be stopped], as they’re saying on Facebook and Twitter, to come across our southwest border because they can get across,” he said.

Other U.S. officials have warned ahead of President Obama’s speech this evening that ISIL is growing in strength and seeking the capability to attack America directly.

“We remain mindful of the possibility that an ISIL-sympathizer—perhaps motivated by online propaganda—could conduct a limited, self-directed attack here at home with no warning,” Matthew Olsen, director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, said in a recent speech.

“We have seen ISIL use a range of media to tout its military capabilities, executions of captured soldiers, and consecutive battlefield victories,” Olsen said. “More recently, the group’s supporters have sustained this momentum on social media by encouraging attacks in the U.S. and against U.S. interests in retaliation for our airstrikes. ISIL has used this propaganda campaign to draw foreign fighters to the group, including many from Western countries.”

NEW YORK TIMES : A President Whose Assurances Have Come Back to Haunt Him

9 Sep

 ISLAMIC STATE IN BLACK

WASHINGTON — When President Obama addresses the nation on Wednesday to explain his plan to defeat Islamic extremists in Iraq and Syria, it is a fair bet he will not call them the “JV team.”

Nor does he seem likely to describe Iraq as “sovereign, stable and self-reliant” with a “representative government.” And presumably he will not assert after more than a decade of conflict that “the tide of war is receding.”

As he seeks to rally Americans behind a new military campaign in the Middle East, Mr. Obama finds his own past statements coming back to haunt him. Time and again, he has expressed assessments of the world that in the harsh glare of hindsight look out of kilter with the changed reality he now confronts.

To Mr. Obama’s critics, the disparity between the president’s previous statements and today’s reality reflects not simply poorly chosen words but a fundamentally misguided view of the world. Rather than clearly see the persistent dangers as the United States approaches the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, they said, Mr. Obama perpetually imagines a world as he wishes it were.

“I don’t think it is just loose talk, I think it’s actually revealing talk,” said Peter H. Wehner, a former adviser to President George W. Bush now at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. “Sometimes words are mistakes; they’re just poorly put. But sometimes they’re a manifestation of one’s deep belief in the world and that’s what you really get with President Obama.” .

White House officials said the president’s opponents distorted what he said to score political points or hold him responsible for evolving events that were not foreseen. They also say Mr. Obama’s past statements are hardly on a scale of Mr. Bush’s unfounded assertions about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, not to mention Mr. Bush’s May 2003 speech in front of a banner that said “Mission Accomplished,” meant to signal an end to the major combat in Iraq.

“There is context or facts that explain what the president meant at the time, or things change over the course of time,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “The people who try to beat us up over these things will continue to do so.”

The comment that has caused Mr. Obama the most grief in recent days was his judgment about groups like ISIS. In an interview last winter with David Remnick of The New Yorker, Mr. Obama sought to make the point that not every terrorist group is a threat like Al Qaeda, requiring extraordinary American action.

“The analogy we use around here sometimes, and I think is accurate, is if a JV team puts on Lakers uniforms, that doesn’t make them Kobe Bryant,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Remnick. He drew a distinction between Al Qaeda and “jihadists who are engaged in various local power struggles and disputes, often sectarian.”

Asked about that by Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” last weekend, Mr. Obama denied that he necessarily meant ISIS. “Keep in mind I wasn’t specifically referring to ISIL,” he said, using an alternate acronym for the group.

“I’ve said that regionally, there were a whole series of organizations that were focused primarily locally — weren’t focused on homeland, because I think a lot of us, when we think about terrorism, the model is Osama bin Laden and 9/11,” Mr. Obama said. And some groups evolve, he noted. “They’re not a JV team,” he added of ISIS.

But the transcript of the New Yorker interview showed that Mr. Obama made his JV team comment directly after being asked about terrorists in Iraq, Syria and Africa, which would include ISIS. After Mr. Obama’s initial answer, Mr. Remnick pointed out that “that JV team just took over Fallujah,” a city in western Iraq seized by ISIS. Mr. Obama replied that terrorism in many places around the world was not necessarily “a direct threat to us or something that we have to wade into.”

OBAMA FOREIGN POLICY

Journalistic organizations like PolitiFact, Factcheck.org and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker all rejected the contention that Mr. Obama was not referring to ISIS when he made his comment about JV teams.

Other statements by Mr. Obama look different today as well. When the president pulled American troops out of Iraq near the end of 2011 against the urging of some Republicans, he said the armed forces were “leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq with a representative government.”

Aides defended the conclusion, saying that was the president’s hope and it was up to the Iraqis to make good on that promise, an opportunity they squandered, leading to the emergence of ISIS as a major threat.

Just a few months before that, Mr. Obama told the United Nations that “the tide of war is receding.” Aides said that statement had to be viewed in the context of two wars fought with hundreds of thousands of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 13 years. Even with new airstrikes in Iraq and potentially in Syria, they noted, just a fraction of those troops were still overseas.

Other statements that have come under fire lately include Mr. Obama’s comment setting a “red line” if the government of President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his people, which he eventually did. Mr. Obama vowed to retaliate but instead accepted a deal to remove and destroy Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons.

Just a month ago, Mr. Obama told Thomas L. Friedman, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, that it had “always been a fantasy” to think that arming moderate rebels in Syria a few years ago would have made a difference in Syria. But now his emerging strategy for combating ISIS in Syria involves bolstering those same rebels rather than using American ground troops. Aides said Mr. Obama was referring to the rebels as they were three years ago, arguing that they have developed a lot since then.

Either way, Aaron David Miller, author of the forthcoming “The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President,” said Mr. Obama would have a real challenge selling his new approach to the public on Wednesday.

“Presidents rarely persuade through speeches, unless the words are rooted in context that seems real and credible,” Mr. Miller said. “Obama has a problem in this regard because his rhetoric has often gone beyond his capacity to deliver, especially on Syria.”

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SAUDI KING WARNS JIHADISTS WILL REACH WEST IN MONTHS

30 Aug

KING ABDULLA

Jeddah (Saudi Arabia) (AFP) – King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has warned that the West will be the next target of the jihadists sweeping through Syria and Iraq, unless there is “rapid” action.

“If we ignore them, I am sure they will reach Europe in a month and America in another month,” he said in remarks quoted on Saturday by Asharq al-Awsat daily and Saudi-backed Al-Arabiya television station.

“Terrorism knows no border and its danger could affect several countries outside the Middle East,” said the king who was speaking at a welcoming ceremony on Friday for new ambassadors, including a new envoy from Saudi ally the United States.

The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group has prompted widespread concern as it advances in both Syria and Iraq, killing hundreds of people, including in gruesome beheadings and mass executions.

Lack of action would be “unacceptable” in the face of the phenomenon, King Abdullah said.

“You see how they (jihadists) carry out beheadings and make children show the severed heads in the street,” he said, condemning the “cruelty” of such acts.

“It is no secret to you, what they have done and what they have yet to do. I ask you to transmit this message to your leaders: ‘Fight terrorism with force, reason and (necessary) speed’.”

President Barack Obama has yet to decide whether the United States should launch raids against positions held by the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria to follow US air strikes on IS activities in Iraq.

US Secretary of State John Kerry called Friday for a global coalition to combat Islamic State fighters’ “genocidal agenda”.

Writing in the New York Times, Kerry said he and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet European counterparts on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Wales next week, to enlist assistance.

They will then travel on to the Middle East to build support “among the countries that are most directly threatened”.

“With a united response led by the United States and the broadest possible coalition of nations, the cancer of ISIS will not be allowed to spread to other countries,” Kerry said in Friday’s op-ed piece.

Asharq Al-Awsat said the king urged other countries to join the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre, set up in 2011 to respond to new threats, and to which Saudi Arabia has made a grant of $100 million

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