Kellogg Replaces Flynn Who Resigns as National Security Advisor

On February 13th, General Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump over his phone talks with the Russian ambassador, according to the latest White House documents released. Media reports from leaked information accuse Flynn of allegedly discussing the U.S. sanctions with Russia before Donald Trump took office. He is said to have misled officials about his call with Russia’s ambassador before his own appointment, BBC reported.

Under the law, private citizens cannot conduct US diplomacy. It is an illegal activity, BBC reported, citing U.S. code for Private correspondence with foreign governments.

“Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both,” according to the law.

Initially, Flynn denied having discussed sanctions with Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. According to other media reports, the White House had been warned by the justice department about Flynn misleading senior officials and being vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

Flynn, in his letter of resignation, said he had “inadvertently briefed the vice-president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador.”

The White House announced that it has named Lt. Gen Joseph Keith Kellogg as Flynn’s interim replacement.

Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Kremlin does not want to comment on Flynn’s resignation. “This is the internal affair of the Americans, the internal affair of the Trump administration,” Peskov said. “It’s nothing to do with us.”

However, some Russian lawmakers have defended Flynn. Senator Alexei Pushkov said on Twitter that Flynn had been “forced to resign not because of his mistake but because of a full-fledged aggressive campaign”. He tweeted that “Trump is the next target”.

Flynn advocated for a softer policy on Russia. He was criticized by democrats and questioned were raised for his perceived closeness to Moscow. Senior Democrat Adam Schiff said that Flynn’s departure would not end questions about contacts between Trump’s election win and Russia. Congressional democrats John Conyers and Elijah Cummings want the justice department and FBI to give a classified briefing to Congress on Flynn.

“We in Congress need to know who authorized his actions, permitted them, and continued to let him have access to our most sensitive national security information despite knowing these risks,” the democrats said in a statement.

Iran Tests Missiles, President Trump Responds

Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan confirmed reports that Iran successfully conducted a ‘ballistic’ missile test, Tasnim News Agency reported Feb. 2.

The defense minister said that the missile test was successful and does not violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the UNSC Resolution 2231.

However, U.S. officials criticized the missile test and claimed that Iran has violated JCPOA and the Resolution 2231. They also claimed that the test-fired Iranian ballistic missile exploded after traveling 630 miles (1,013 kilometers).

Dehqan did not say anything about the missile explosion. The Iranian defense minister, however, said that Iran will not allow the others to interfere in its defense affairs.

Meanwhile, 220 Iranian MPs recently issued a statement to voice their “full-fledged support” for the country’s Armed Forces. In a prepared statement, they said that “reinforcement of the defense capabilities of the Islamic Republic of Iran in line with deterrence strategy” is essential to ensure the country’s security.

Under the Resolution 2231, Iran cannot “undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

However, Iran says that none of its missiles have been designed to carry nuclear warheads. It maintains that nuclear weapons have no place in the Islamic Republic’s defense doctrine.

In response to the reports of Iran’s missile test, Trump Administration has issued a statement, stating that Iran’s recent actions including “a provocative ballistic missile launch” underscores its “destabilizing behavior across the Middle East.”

“Recent Iranian actions, including a provocative ballistic missile launch and an attack against a Saudi naval vessel conducted by Iran-supported Houthi militants, underscore what should have been clear to the international community all along about Iran’s destabilizing behavior across the Middle East,” the White House said.

Houthi forces, which were trained by Iran, recently have struck Emirati and Saudi vessels and threatened U.S. and allied vessels transiting the Red Sea, according to the White House.

The White House criticized the Obama Administration for its failure to respond adequately to Iran’s actions including weapons transfers, support for terrorism, and other violations of international norms.

President Trump called various agreements reached between Iran, the Obama Administration, and the United Nations “weak and ineffective.”

The White House said that Trump condemns Iranian actions “that undermine security, prosperity, and stability throughout and beyond the Middle East and place American lives at risk.”

“As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” the White House said Feb. 1.

Syrian Peace Talks Begin

The Syrian peace talks, that began on January 23, 2017 in Astana, the Kazakhstan capital, are the latest moves towards ending the bloody six-year old civil war in Syria. It is an initiative by Russia, Turkey and Iran and aims at consolidating a ceasefire agreement that came into force on December 30, brokered by Russia and Turkey.

Opposition spokesman Yahya al-Aridi said there are two main objectives of the ongoing peace talk: “First is the consolidation of the accord signed by Turkey and Russia on the 30th of December, concerning the ceasefire, and making this ceasefire cover all of Syria and at the same time taking care of all the breaches by the regime and Iran, especially in Wadi Barada and Homs and in southern Damascus and other areas in Syria.”

The talks began on Monday with representatives of some of the rebel armed groups sat opposite to the Syrian government delegation on a round table. They are also joined by representatives of Russia, Iran and Turkey, the UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura and the US ambassador to Kazakhstan.

Residents in the Syrian city of Aleppo express high hopes that progress can be made in the strife-torn Syria. One woman in Aleppo said, “I hope that the conference in Kazakhstan will lead to reconciliation. I hope that they all agree to stand with us and that God stands by our side too. God willing things will be well,” said one woman in Aleppo.

Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov, said that it was time to “make the real breakthrough that Syrian people rightfully deserve”.

Some key players were not present in the talks. The prominent stakeholders like ISIS, al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, and the Kurdish-led, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Council and a powerful militant group named Ahrar al-Sham are not attending the peace talks.

A spokesman for the rebel delegation, Yahya al-Aridi said that the meeting would contribute to the UN brokered Geneva talks on a political settlement, which are scheduled to resume next month.

Syria’s permanent representative to the UN Mr. Jaafari was critical of opposition delegation Chief Mr. Mohammed Alloush’s speech and said on Monday that it had ‘irritated the attendees’ diplomatic senses and experience’. A transcript of Mr. Alloush’s speech has not been released, but a video of part was posted online by a member of his delegation.

Alloush has warned “A political solution in Syria is our choice but it is not the only one because we fight for our rights; our right to live; the right of freedom; the right to decide our fate and the people’s right to decide who will represent them.”