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Bashar al-Assad's media and political advisor, who has been sanctioned by the US Treasury Department spoke via Skype on Thursday at an event hosted by the Global Alliance for Terminating Al Qaeda/ISIS (GAFTA), an organization that promotes the creation of an alliance between the Assad regime and the US, and accuses Israel of supporting ISIS. The Syrian official who spoke at the event, Bouthaina Shaaban, was sanctioned in 2011, and serves as the Assad regime’s spokeswoman. State Department spokesman John Kirby called her “a propaganda mouthpiece for the Assad regime.” She has consistently denied the Assad regime’s war crimes including the indiscriminate murder of civilians through the use of barrel bombs, massacres, starvation, and chemical weapons attacks, while accusing the West and the regime's opponents of fabricating the claims. The State Department said it was unsure if her speech at the event constituted a violation of sanctions.
Also speaking at the event was Bassam al-Hussain, the Iraqi government's liaison to the Popular Mobilization Forces, or Iraqi Shiite militias, some of which are trained and supported by Iran including Kata’ib Hezbollah, which was designated by the US government as a foreign terrorist organization in 2009. There is concern that Shiite militias backed by Iran will fuel a sectarian bloodbath in Fallujah, as the militias have been accused of committing atrocities against Sunnis.
On its website, GAFTA accuses Israel of creating and supporting ISIS and Al-Qaeda. GAFTA’s website states, “Using ISIS and or Al-Qaeda to achieve political goals is a dangerous game, and these four nations [referring to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey] should be warned.” GAFTA’s Treasurer, Ghassan Mansour, was implicated by the US Department of Justice in a money-laundering scheme for Hezbollah, although he states he had no knowledge of Hezbollah’s involvement. GAFTA also calls the Houthi rebels supported by Iran “the best group in Yemen.”
GAFTA seeks to encourage an alliance between the US and the Assad regime and its allies, Russia, Hezbollah, and Iran in the fight against ISIS. However, Secretary of State Kerry has repeatedly asserted that the Assad regime is “the principal reason that ISIS exists” as the regime is “a magnet for jihadists and foreign fighters from around the world.” He has also described the Assad regime and the Islamic State as having a “symbiotic relationship,” noting that Assad’s regime helps finance ISIS by buying oil from it. Furthermore, the Assad regime and its allies have refused to distinguish between ISIS and Syrian opposition groups, which the regime has targeted more frequently including those supported by the US. Syrian government forces and its allies have also frustrated the international community’s attempts to maintain cessations of hostilities with repeated violations.
State Department Spokesman John Kirby admitted on Wednesday that the department lied last month about doctoring a video of a December 2013 press briefing that included a discussion of the Obama administration’s diplomacy with Iran.
Contrary to previous assertions by the State Department, Kirby acknowledged that the exchange was deleted from the briefing video following a phoned-in request. Kirby did not identify who had made the request to delete the portion of the briefing in question, and said he saw “little foundation for pressing forward with a formal investigation.” He added that he put rules in place to ensure that similar “inappropriate” actions would not be repeated.
On December 2, 2013, Fox News reporter James Rosen asked then-State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki a series of questions about the Obama administration’s diplomatic outreach to Iran. During a portion of the exchange, Rosen asked if the State Department lied about how long the Obama administration had been secretly negotiating with Iran.
“James, I think there are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress,” Psaki responded. “This is a good example of that. Obviously, we have made clear and laid out a number of details in recent weeks about discussions and about a bilateral channel that fed into the P5+1 negotiations, and we’ve answered questions on it, we’ve confirmed details. We’re happy to continue to do that, but clearly, this was an important component leading up to the agreement that was reached a week ago.”
The video uploaded to YouTube and the State Department’s website of that day’s press briefing did not include Rosen’s questions about the secret diplomacy. After Rosen noted last month that his questions were missing from the video, with a brief flash of a blank screen appearing where the segment had been, the State Department described the missing exchange as a “glitch.”
Rosen told Fox News last month that he was surprised by the doctoring of the video, but observed that the text of the briefing on the State Department’s website did remain intact.
Rosen was prompted to revisit the exchange following The New York Times Magazine profile of Ben Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, in which Rhodes admitted that he lied about details of the negotiations in order to build legislative support for the deal. (via TheTower.org)