KANSAS CITY: Installers show up on time. Headquarters often tells customers when something needs to be fixed without prompting. Unsolicited credits sometimes show up on bills to account for small service glitches. Talk to a sampling of the earliest Google Fiber subscribers in the nation’s first neighborhood wired to the company’s service, and you find a pretty happy lot. Yet Google Fiber’s customers in this first, small group don’t talk about the service as life-changing. Even those with its fastest Internet hookups say things feel more evolutionary than revolutionary. So far, they’ve not found new uses for the Internet. Rather, they say, it’s just easier to handle things they were already doing.
Those who buy their TV lineups from Google mostly talk about the delight of dumping predecessors, cable and phone companies that have had the chance over decades to disappoint customers. Despite some glitches, many talk giddily about living in the first neighborhood in the country to get industrial-strength Internet connections at consumer prices. They’re regularly gleeful that they’ve found a new, endearingly attentive company willing to fill their TV screens with programming.
“The customer service is outstanding. They’re very apologetic if there’s a problem. They do their best to take care of things,” said Jennifer Tuttle, whose home was hooked up in November. “It’s not something you’re used to with that kind of service.” Her experience rings typical of what the Kansas City Star heard from many in the Kansas City, Kan., neighborhoods of Spring Valley and Hanover Heights. The newspaper contacted dozens by online survey and telephone. They’re the first to get Google Fiber service, the ultra-fast Internet and TV service that could signal to the rest of the country whether home consumers can show a demand for next-generation connection speeds.
Broadly speaking, these first-in-line customers say prices run roughly the same or less than what they paid to Time Warner Cable or AT&T for Internet or TV packages before. True, TV channels can freeze for a moment or two, Wi-Fi might not reach every corner of a house, the TV setup feels to some more attuned to Web surfers than couch surfers. None of the problems, however, seems like a deal breaker.
Home office workers seem the most grateful for the Internet upgrade – theoretically 100 times faster than most home broadband – even if the speedier Infobahn doesn’t entirely remake life online. Dramatic ways to put the full 1-gigabit-per-second speeds to use could come later, and figure to be more likely as the service spreads across the market and, next year, to Austin, Texas.
Can Google keep it up?
For now, just a few scattered neighborhoods in Kansas City, Kan, have been lit up with Google Fiber service. Google won’t say how many customers it has connected. The early satisfied customers, analysts said, speak to the resources Google poured into a service unlike any it’s tried before.
“It looks like they’re pacing their installations based on their ability to fulfill the service, to take the time and make sure the installation goes right,” said Glen Friedman, who runs the Ideas & Solutions broadband consulting firm. “The challenge will be to maintain the consistency as they get to a larger and larger customer base.” Another student of the industry, former cable trade group executive Steve Effros, said he fully expected Google Fiber to please its first customers. He’s less sure that the company will be able to keep a broader customer base as satisfied.
“If I’m the new guy in town and serving a fraction of the number of people as the old guy, my customer service damn well better be better,” said Effros, a cable industry analyst. “Do we really believe that Google is not going to have billing problems? Everybody else has security problems, but not Google? They’re human. They’ll find this only gets harder.” A Google spokeswoman said in an email: “We’re going to continue staffing our support team so that our customers can always get their questions answered quickly, and aren’t rushed off the phone.”
For now, customers largely say the California-based Internet colossus delivers well. Time and again they talk of friendly installers and helpful customer service folks – Google representatives fairly easy to reach either by email or phone. The company also responds to problems in an online forum. Several people in the neighborhood speak appreciatively how Google has opened its local sales office for neighborhood association meetings, and how it lavishly catered a block party – using local vendors.
Google Fiber isn’t without flaws. Among the observations: “There have been some growing pains.” “I have experienced periods of very slow response.” “Still has some kinks to work out.” “Fiber Internet is great. TV service stinks.” “Buggy skips in watching TV.” Google Fiber representatives talk proudly about the service but concede it has room for improvement. “We don’t claim to be perfect,” said Carlos Casas, the leader of Google Fiber’s team in Kansas City. “But we are going to learn and make it better.”
Generally, customers gripe very little about the Internet service. Some are just delighted at the price. Google offers seven years of service for a total of $300 – for relatively pokey Internet speeds of 5 megabits-per-second downloads and 1 megabit uploads. “We feel like we’re saving a ton of money,” said Elaine Mick, a part-time teacher who lives with her husband and a small child. The household still uses Time Warner for its TV package, but finds the low-end Google Fiber Internet connection more reliable than the 15 megabit service it had been buying from the cable company.
At the high end, Google Fiber sells TV service and a 1-gigabit-per-second Internet connection for $120 a month on two-year contracts. That Internet on-ramp can carry data back and forth at theoretically 100 times the speeds of conventional home broadband. Mike Karr notices the difference.
He’s an information technology specialist who regularly checks in by audio Skype with colleagues in India. He regularly sends and receives large data files. Before he got his gigabit connection, such tasks could be maddening. Now he’d rather do that work at home over Google Fiber than at work.
“Everything is pretty instantaneous,” he said. “There’s never any kind of slowdown.” It’s changed slightly, as well, the family use of the Internet. For instance, the Karrs recently moved a number of digital keepsakes to the Internet cloud, using the online storage that Google Fiber includes in its service. Uploading between 20,000 and 30,000 photos and a number of videos, Karr said, took maybe an hour. With his previous Internet connection, which cost him about $45 a month, it might have taken a week.
Reviews of the TV packages suggest something mildly more problematic: The picture can freeze. On rare channels at rare times, the audio and video seem slightly out of sync. Even people who report such glitches don’t seem much annoyed. “It’s buggy,” said Gabriel Rowe, a corporate consultant. “At the top of the hour, it will hiccup.”
He’s also puzzled at the way channels line up. On AT&T’s U-verse, his previous TV provider, all the children’s channels are grouped together. With Google Fiber, he said, a kid might be more likely to flip from Nickelodeon to more PG-13-grade programming.
Google’s numbering of channels does differ from the industry standards. High-definition channels are the low numbers rather than those above 1,000. And the system is designed more for searching – Google, is after all, about using keywords – than surfing. And sometimes what appears like a glitch is there by design. For instance, the TV system has an anti-spoiler feature. If a show is being recorded – or somebody started watching it earlier in another room – anybody who turns to that channel while the program is in progress is automatically taken to its start. Some customers find it annoying. Google said it might further customize the feature.
Users differ on the ease of mastering the TV controls. You can use a Nexus 7 tablet that Google throws into the deal, but most seem to prefer a traditional remote control. There’s also broad consensus that streaming Netflix becomes much smoother in a Google Fiber world. The boosted Internet speeds make buffering extinct, and the TV package makes finding a Netflix movie or show simple. “I’ve become more of a Netflix viewer,” said Layne Feldman, a salesman. “It takes an instant to appear and you’re up and watching a movie.” – MCT
KUWAIT: A total of 1,259 Gulf residents have applied to join a program that is aiming to establish the first human settlement on Mars by 2023, with the majority coming from Saudi Arabia, a spokesperson for the Dutch company behind the ambitious project exclusively told Arabian Business. The Mars One Astronaut Selection Program received more than 202,586 applications from people around the world seeking to be among the first to obtain a one-way ticket to live on the Red Planet. Organizers said applicants come from over 140 countries, with the largest coming from US (47,654), India (20,747), China (13,176), Brazil (10,289) and Great Britain (8,497).
A spokesperson for Mars One told Arabian Business a total of 1,259 residents from the six GCC countries applied to join the program. With 477 applications, the majority of would-be Gulf astronauts seeking to blast into space came from Saudi Arabia. Bahrain registered 421 applicants, followed by Kuwait with 142 and Qatar with 122. Just 52 UAE-based residents applied, and only 45 were willing to swap Oman for the Red Planet.
The deadline has now closed for applications and all 202,586 applicants will go forward to the Mars One Selection Committee, which will select prospective Mars settlers in three additional rounds spread across two years. By 2015, six to ten teams of four individuals will be selected for seven years of full-time training. In 2023, one of these teams will become the first humans ever to land on Mars and live there for the rest of their lives. The initial section process is expected to take several months, the company said.
Any Gulf based candidates selected for the next round will be notified by the end of this year. The second round of selection will start in early 2014, where the candidates will be interviewed in person by the Mars One Selection Committee. The project was launched in April by Stitching Mars One, a Dutch non-for-profit foundation. In the coming years, a demonstration mission, communication satellites, two rovers and several cargo missions will be sent to Mars. These missions will set up the outpost where the human crew will live and work and it is planned to have a human settlement on the Martian surface by 2023. US is already in the early stages of plans to land humans on the surface of Mars in 2036, Charles Elachi, head of NASA’s missions to the Red Planet, told delegates at the Arabian Business Forum 2012 in Dubai in November. “We don’t have a program [to send a man to Mars] but we are starting to plan,” Elachi, who heads up the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Pasadena-based NASA agency that constructs and operates robotic planetary spacecraft, said. “Interestingly enough we can go to Mars every four years or so. Every 18 years they get very close. We are thinking not for 2018 but 2036 [for a human mission],” he added.
Elachi’s team at JPL successfully masterminded the landing of a one-ton vehicle – called ‘Curiosity’ – in a deep crater on the surface of Mars in August 2012. The rover has now begun a two-year mission to look for evidence that the Red Planet may once have supported life, but Elachi said plans to send humans to Mars is possible. “It is a challenge as it takes nine months to get there. Imagine if you are sending three people for 18 months, how much food and garbage and water you have to take. It is a massive engineering challenge but it is it is feasible. “We are in the early stages. 2036 – that is the target,” he said. Lebanon-born Elachi still retains his ties with the Gulf region via a board position of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and the King Fahd University of Petrochemicals and Minerals, both in Saudi Arabia.
Last month it was the one-year anniversary of Curiosity’s landing on Mars and its findings have so far concluded that the planet could indeed have supported microbial life, the primary goal of the mission. “The stunning thing is that we found it all so quickly,” California Institute of Technology geologist and lead project scientist John Grotzinger told Reuters in August. Now scientists hope to learn whether life-friendly niches on Mars are common and whether any organic carbon has been preserved in the planet’s ancient rocks. Curiosity is expected to be joined next year by another NASA robotic probe, called MAVEN, which will remain in orbit to assess how and why the planet is losing its atmosphere.
PARIS: Syria accepted a Russian proposal yesterday to give up chemical weapons and win a reprieve from US strikes, while its warplanes bombed rebel positions in Damascus for the first time since the West threatened military action. The Russian diplomatic initiative, which apparently emerged from off-the-cuff remarks by the US secretary of state, marks a sudden reversal after weeks in which the West appeared finally headed towards intervention in a two-and-a-half year old war.
France said it would put forward a UN Security Council draft resolution for Syria to give up its stockpiles of chemical arms, threatening “extremely serious” consequences if Syria violates its conditions. Syria’s rebels reacted with deep dismay to the proposal, which would halt Western military action to punish President Bashar Al-Assad’s forces for a poison gas attack that killed hundreds of people in a Damascus suburb last month.
US President Barack Obama, for whom the proposal provides a way out of ordering unpopular strikes days before contentious Congressional votes, said it could be a “breakthrough”. Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Moualem, visiting Moscow, as saying Damascus had agreed to the Russian initiative because it would “remove the grounds for American aggression”.
While the diplomatic wrangling was under way in far-flung capitals, Assad’s warplanes bombed rebellious districts of Damascus yesterday for the first time since the Aug 21 poison gas attacks. Rebels said the air strikes were a demonstration that the government now believed the West had lost its nerve. “By sending the planes back, the regime is sending the message that it no longer feels international pressure,” activist Wasim Al-Ahmad said from Mouadamiya, one of the districts of the capital hit by the chemical attack.
The war has already killed more than 100,000 people and driven millions from their homes, and threatens to spread violence across the Middle East. The Russian proposal “is a cheap trick to buy time for the regime to kill more and more people,” said Sami, a member of the local opposition coordinating committee in the Damascus suburb of Erbin, also hit by last month’s chemical attack.
French officials said their draft resolution was designed to make sure the Russian proposal would have teeth, by allowing military action if Assad is uncooperative. “It was extremely well played by the Russians, but we didn’t want someone else to go to the UN with a resolution that was weak. This is on our terms and the principles are established. It puts Russia in a situation where they can’t take a step back after putting a step forward,” said a French diplomatic source.
The Russian proposal makes it easier for members of the US Congress to vote to authorize action as part of a diplomatic initiative, without it leading directly to missile strikes. Republican Senator John McCain, a leading hawk, said lawmakers were working on new wording of a Congressional resolution to ensure “strict timelines and guidelines that would have to be met” for Assad to give up chemical arms
Russia’s proposal apparently began life as an off-the-cuff remark by US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday, although both Moscow and Washington later said President Vladimir Putin had discussed the idea in principle with Obama in the past. Putin’s spokesman said it came up at a summit last week. With veto-wielding China also backing it, it would be the rare Syria initiative to unite global powers whose divisions have so far blocked Security Council action.
Assad’s main regional backer Iran has also signaled support, as has UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Washington and Paris have threatened to carry out strikes to punish Assad for the Aug 21 poison gas attack on Damascus suburbs, which they say Syrian government forces carried out. But after 12 years of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama has had a hard time winning over the public or members of Congress. Britain quit the coalition threatening force after Prime Minister David Cameron lost a vote in parliament.
Moscow unveiled its proposal on Monday after Kerry, speaking in London, said the only way to halt strikes would be for Assad to give up his chemical arsenal. The State Department said his remarks were rhetorical and not meant as a serious proposal. But hours later Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for Assad’s government to do just that.
Responding to the Russian initiative, Obama told CNN: “It’s possible that we can get a breakthrough,” although he said there was a risk that it was a further stalling tactic by Assad. “We’re going to run this to ground,” he said. “John Kerry and the rest of my national security team will engage with the Russians and the international community to see, can we arrive at something that is enforceable and serious.”
Robert Danin, a Middle East specialist and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the initiative spoils Obama’s strategy, but Washington was likely to be relieved. “It basically throws a bit of a wrench into the administration’s plans, but it may be a welcome wrench.” The wavering from the West was a blow for the Syrian opposition, which had thought it had finally secured military intervention after pleading for two and a half years for help from Western leaders that vocally opposed Assad.
The Russian proposal “fails to hold the Assad regime responsible for the killing of innocents,” the Syrian National Coalition said, calling it “a political maneuver which will lead to pointless procrastination and will cause more death and destruction to the people of Syria, and further threats to the countries and people of the region.”
Assad’s forces – which had been withdrawing from fixed positions and bracing for expected Western strikes – appear to have responded to the hesitation by redoubling an offensive to clear fighters from Damascus suburbs. Troops and pro-Assad militiamen tried to seize the northern district of Barzeh and the eastern suburb of Deir Salman near Damascus airport, working-class Sunni Muslim areas where opposition activists and residents reported street fighting.
Fighter jets bombed Barzeh three times and pro-Assad militia backed by army tank fire made a push into the area. Air raids were also reported on the Western outskirts near Mouadamiya. Syria is not a party to international treaties which ban the stockpiling of chemical weapons, but it signed the Geneva conventions that forbid using them in warfare. Syria has tried to avoid confirming whether it possesses poison gas, while denying it has used it.
Western countries believe Syria has a vast undeclared arsenal of chemical arms. Sending inspectors to destroy it would be difficult even in peacetime and extraordinarily complicated in the midst of a war.
The two main precedents are ominous: UN inspectors dismantled the chemical arsenal of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the 1990s but left enough doubt that suspicion he still had such weapons was the basis for a US-led invasion in 2003. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was rehabilitated by the West after agreeing to give up his banned weapons, only to be overthrown with NATO help in 2011.
Assad’s government says the chemical attack was the work of rebels trying to win Western military support, a scenario that Washington and its allies say is not credible. Human Rights Watch, the New York-based watchdog, said evidence strongly suggested Syrian government forces were behind the attack. It said in a report that the type of rockets and launchers used in the attacks suggested weapon systems in the possession only of government forces. – Reuters
WASHINGTON: In his weekly address on Saturday, US President Barack Obama urged Congress to support a limited and targeted military action against the Syrian government for its alleged use of chemical weapons.
“I call on members of Congress, from both (Republican and Democratic) parties, to come together and stand up for the kind of world we want to live in; the kind of world we want to leave our children and future generations,” he said.
Mr Obama returned to Washington on Friday night after discussing Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The US media noted that Mr Obama failed to persuade other leaders to support his decision for launching limited military strikes on Syria.
The media speculated that the failure will make it even harder for Mr Obama to persuade sceptical American legislators and public to support his decision.
Earlier, the White House released a joint statement–by leaders of Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States—condemning the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in rebel-held suburbs of Damascus.
But the statement, signed at the summit, did not have what the US wanted: an endorsement of President Obama’s call for a military strike.
Instead, it merely said that “we call for a strong international response to this grave violation of the world’s rules and conscience that will send a clear message that this kind of atrocity can never be repeated.”
President Obama is not getting much support at home either for his military option. Recent opinion surveys show that an overwhelming majority of Americans opposes the military option.
In his weekly address, Mr Obama also acknowledged that the American people were weary after a decade of war, which is why US action would not include US boots on the ground.
He pointed out that his proposed authorisation focused on clearly stated objectives–preventing and deterring the use and proliferation of chemical weapons within, to, or from Syria, degrading the Assad regime’s capacity to carry out future CW attacks, and deterring this behaviour in others who would otherwise feel emboldened to use such weapons.
Mr Obama argued that the attack on a civilian population in Syria was also a serious threat to America’s national security. “Not only because they cause death and destruction in the most indiscriminate and inhumane way possible – but because they can also fall into the hands of terrorist groups who wish to do us harm,” he said.
Addressing his nation from the White House last week, Mr Obama had announced that he had decided to take military action against the Syrian government.
“This is not a decision I made lightly. Deciding to use military force is the most solemn decision we can make as a nation,” he said on Saturday.
Mr Obama reminded his nation that instead of launching the attacks, he referred the matter to Congress because “I also know that our country will be stronger if we act together, and our actions will be more effective.”
He assured his nation that he did not want an open-ended intervention in Syria.
“This would not be another Iraq or Afghanistan. There would be no American boots on the ground. Any action we take would be limited, both in time and scope–designed to deter the Syrian government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so,” he said.
Mr Obama urged the American people to support his decision because “we are the United States of America. We cannot turn a blind eye to images like the ones we’ve seen out of Syria.”
Failing to respond to this “outrageous attack”, he warned would “send a horrible signal to other nations that there would be no consequences for their use of these weapons. All of which would pose a serious threat to our national security.”
WASHINGTON: Pakistan has a professional and dedicated security force that fully understands the importance of nuclear security, says the US State Department.
In a statement issued on Wednesday evening, the department’s spokesperson Jen Psaki also welcomed Pakistan’s reiteration of its commitment to disarmament and non-proliferation.
“We welcome Pakistan’s statement yesterday that it is fully committed to the objectives of disarmament and non-proliferation,” Ms Psaki said.
The United States is confident that the government of Pakistan is well aware of its responsibilities and has secured its nuclear arsenal accordingly.
While stating that “there is room for improvement in the security of any country’s nuclear programmes”, the State Department official noted that “Pakistan has a professional and dedicated security force that fully understands the importance of nuclear security”.
A spokesman for the Pakistan Foreign Office had assured the international community that the country had a robust control system for its nuclear weapons and also had taken extensive protection measures for ensuring their security.
Spokesman Aizaz Chaudhry also reminded the world that Pakistan’s nuclear programme was aimed at maintaining stability in South Asia.
The Pakistani official was commenting on a US media report which claimed that the Obama administration was extremely worried about the safety of the country’s nuclear weapons.
A day after Pakistan rejected the claims as incorrect; the State Department also issued a statement, backing Islamabad. “We recognise that Pakistan is fully engaged with the international community on nuclear safety and security issues, and is working hard to ensure its strategic export controls are in line with international standards,” Ms Psaki said.
“Pakistan is a state party to both Chemical Weapons Convention and Biological Weapons Convention and is a partner in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism.”
The US official said that Washington and Islamabad regularly held talks on issues of shared interest including Afghan stability and would continue to work together towards more stability and security in Pakistan and the region.
“We have regular discussions with the government of Pakistan on a range of issues of important shared interests, including nuclear security, counter-terrorism and fostering a stable Afghanistan. We will continue to work together to find ways to cooperate to make Pakistan and the region more secure, stable and prosperous,” she said.
JALALABAD: Taleban suicide bombers and gunmen dressed as Afghan police attacked a US base near the Pakistani border yesterday, sparking a shootout that left all three assailants dead, officials said. No member of the US-led NATO mission in Afghanistan was killed in the assault on the base in Nangarhar province, said a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). “There were a series of explosions that occurred in the vicinity of a forward operating base in Nangarhar province,” an ISAF spokesman told AFP.
The military later described it as an “attempted but unsuccessful coordinated attack by enemy forces”. “There were three enemy forces killed during the attack. We can confirm that no ISAF personnel were killed as a result of this incident,” it said in a statement. An AFP photographer saw the bodies of three dead attackers wearing Afghan police uniforms. NATO combat troops are gradually withdrawing from Afghanistan and are due to finish their mission completely by the end of 2014, after presidential elections next April. Afghan officials said yesterday’s attack took place at Torkham, which borders Pakistan and straddles a key NATO overland supply route into landlocked Afghanistan from the nearest sea port of Karachi.
Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, Nangarhar governor’s spokesman, said insurgents first attacked NATO supply trucks. “Today morning, Taliban insurgents attacked and burned supply trucks delivering supplies to NATO which belonged to foreign forces near the US base in Torkham,” he told AFP. “Later, three armed suicide bombers started gunfire and clashes with Afghan forces and US forces, and they were killed after three hours of fighting. “At the moment, the stand-off is over, and the situation is under control.” Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban which is leading a 12-year insurgency against Western troops and the Afghan government, claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement sent to the media.
The Taleban have launched a spate of attacks across the country in recent days, with scores killed in suicide bombings, ambushes and rocket attacks. They also killed five aid workers in the west. On Sunday the bullet-riddled bodies of seven civilians kidnapped one week earlier by the Taliban were found in Ghazni province just south of the capital. Also on Sunday Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan and potential candidate for next year’s presidential election, Omar Daudzai, was appointed acting interior minister.
President Hamid Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion removed the Taleban from power, is barred from standing for a third term. He has said he will not back anyone in the April 5 vote, but Daudzai is seen as one of his closest associates and loyalists. Daudzai, 55, from the biggest ethnic group the Pashtuns, was a member of the Hezb-e-Islami faction during the Soviet occupation and later went on to work for the United Nations. Interior minister Mujtaba Patang was voted out by parliament in July over accusations that he had failed to thwart the threat from Taleban rebels. Afghanistan’s 350,000-strong security forces are suffering a steep rise in attacks as the NATO mission winds down, with police and army casualties said to have increased by 15-20 percent since 2011.
The election to succeed Karzai is seen as the key test of whether 12 years of massive international military and aid intervention has been worthwhile. Karzai recently named controversial former warlord Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, 2009 runnerup Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani as possible candidates. Other possibilities include Qayum Karzai, the president’s brother, and former interior minister Ali Ahmad Jalali. Karzai has pledged to ensure a smooth election, but international donors have expressed concern about whether the vote will produce a credible result after the 2009 poll was marred by massive fraud. —AFP
MOSCOW: Russia is sending a reconnaissance ship to the eastern Mediterranean, Interfax news agency reported yesterday as the United States prepares for a possible military strike in Syria. US President Barack Obama has said he will seek congressional authorization for punitive action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after what Washington said was a sarin gas attack that killed over 1,400 people. Russia is a staunch backer of Assad in his war with rebels trying to topple him. The reconnaissance ship left Russia’s naval base in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol late on Sunday on a mission “to gather current information in the area of the escalating conflict”, the Interfax report quoted an unidentified military source as saying.
The Defense Ministry declined immediate comment but Interfax said the vessel, the SSV-201 Priazovye, would operate separately from a Russian navy unit already stationed in the Mediterranean. Russian lawmakers want to travel to Washington to urge the US Congress not to back President Barack Obama’s plan for military strikes on Syria, the speaker of the upper house of parliament told President Vladimir Putin yesterday. Dismissing US accusations that the Syrian government had killed hundreds of its own people with poison gas as nothing but “talk”, senior legislator Valentina Matviyenko said both chambers were ready to send delegations.
Russia is one of the main allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has already blocked several Western-led resolutions in the UN Security Council to sanction him over his crackdown on a now 2-1/2-year-old uprising. Last week, the ministry said new warships were being sent to the Mediterranean but described this as a routine rotation of ships under a permanent deployment which Moscow says is needed to protect national security interests. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said at the time that Moscow did not intend to be dragged into any military conflict over Syria. Russia reiterated yesterday that the United States had not proved its allegations and that the chemical attack may have been staged by Syrian rebels to provoke outside intervention in the more than two-year-old civil war.
Lavrov said Russia remained unconvinced following a meeting between Michael McFaul, the US ambassador to Moscow, and a senior Russian diplomat. The material the United States has shown Russia “contained nothing concrete: no geographical coordinates, no names, no proof that samples were taken in a professional manner”, Lavrov told students and staff at Russia’s main diplomatic academy. “What our American colleagues and the British and French showed us earlier and recently absolutely does not convince us,” Lavrov said, according to state-run news agency RIA. Echoing comments by Putin at the weekend, Lavrov said: “There are no facts there … and when we ask for more detailed proof. They say, ‘You know, it’s all secret, so we cannot show it’. That means there are no such facts.” Russia is one of Assad’s biggest arms suppliers and has a naval maintenance facility in the Syrian port of Tartous. Moscow opposes any military intervention in Syria and has shielded Damascus from pressure at the UN Security Council. Lavrov defended decisions by Russia and China to block three Western-backed UN Security Council resolutions to press Assad to end the bloodshed, saying Moscow and Beijing “act on principle on all issues, including the Syrian crisis”. Russia and China “oppose attempts to return to the language of ultimatums,” he said. —Reuters