Top News Stories for Today – December 29, 2016
Russia announces Syrian war ceasefire
On Thursday, Russian state media announced a cease-fire between the Syrian government and Syrian rebel groups. “Reports have just arrived that several hours ago there was a development that we all have looked and worked for for so long,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said.
“Three documents have been signed. A cease-fire between the Syrian government and the armed opposition is one. A package of measures to control the cease-fire is another. And a declaration of readiness to enter into peace talks on a settlement in Syria is the third.” Turkey will act with Russia as a “guarantor” of the peace process, effectively sidelining the United States. Turkey, like the US, supports the opposition groups, while Russia is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s primary ally. The cease-fire deal will take effect at 12 a.m. on Dec. 30. CNN, CBS News, The Week
John Kerry’s solution for Israel and Palestine
Secretary of State John Kerry presented the Obama administration’s final vision for Israel and Palestine in a speech Wednesday at the Department of State, arguing for a two-state solution. Kerry claimed that the US desire for a two-state solution was the driving force behind the decision to abstain last week from a U.N. Security Council vote that condemned Israel’s West Bank settlements.
“No American administration has done more for Israel’s security than Barack Obama’s,” Kerry said. It is unclear what Kerry’s goal is with his speech, other than to lay out his principles, as President-elect Donald Trump insisted Wednesday that “we cannot continue to let Israel be treated with such total disdain and disrespect.” Referring to his inauguration next month, Trump also tweeted, “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!” BuzzFeed, The New York Times, The Week
Trump on Russia election hacking
President Obama has vowed to retaliate against Russia over its apparent meddling in the 2016 presidential election, but President-elect Donald Trump expressed little interest in pursuing the accusations. “I think we ought to get on with our lives,” Trump said Wednesday night.
“I think that computers have complicated lives very greatly. The whole age of the computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what’s going on. We have speed, we have a lot of other things, but I’m not sure we have the kind of security we need.” Trump has long been skeptical of the claims that Russia was behind the hack of Democratic email accounts during the election, even as the FBI and CIA have said Russia tried to swing the election in favor of Trump. The Washington Post, The Week
Obama creates two new national monuments
President Obama on Wednesday designated two new national monuments in Utah and Nevada, protecting 1.65 million acres of federal land. Most of it, 1.35 million acres, surrounds the Bears Ears Buttes in southeastern Utah.
The rest is northeast of Las Vegas around Nevada’s Gold Butte. The moves were the latest in a series of actions Obama has made to protect public lands and waters from development as time runs out for him to seal his environmental legacy before leaving office in January. Native American tribes and others have been pushing to protect the areas for years, but some locals and Republican lawmakers have criticized Obama’s efforts to protect parts of the West as a federal land grab. The New York Times
The Obama administration is poised to hit Russia with new sanctions in response to alleged Russian hacking and interference in the November US presidential elections. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the White House had been debating how to quickly punish Russia using an executive order that President Barack Obama signed last year. That executive order allows the president to levy economic sanctions against hackers based overseas who are beyond the reach of law enforcement.
The order specifically seeks to sanction those who threaten national security, infrastructure or the US economy. It allows the government to freeze any assets held by the individuals in American banks or other financial institutions. It also prevents all Americans from doing business with those individuals. The government also can place a visa ban on these people.
The Obama administration would like the sanctions to be in place before the president leaves office in a little more than three weeks. VOA
Japan criticized for visiting WWII shrine
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada’s visit to Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine drew sharp rebukes from China and South Korea, which consider the shrine a symbol of Japan’s wartime atrocities before and after World War II, when it colonized or invaded much of the East Asian region.
“Regardless of differences in historical views, regardless of whether they fought as enemies or allies, I believe any country can understand that we wish to express gratitude, respect and gratitude to those who sacrificed their lives for their countries,” Inada told reporters after the visit.
China’s relationship with Japan has been strained by what China sees as Japan’s reluctance to apologize for the country’s past. China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying voiced disapproval of the visit, saying “This not only reflects some Japanese people’s obstinately wrong view of history, it also forms a great irony with the Pearl Harbor reconciliation trip.” VOA
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