US wants ‘freedom of action’ in nuke tests, ‘negative’ to intl commitments – ex-IAEA chief Blix

Swedish diplomat Hans Blix, a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has criticized Washington for its failure to progress with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), ratified by most of the world’s countries.

The US Senate in particular has been very negative to the ratification so far. I think this has its roots in a view of the Senate to keeping a freedom of action for the United States [regarding international nuclear weapons control agreements],” Blix told the media in Moscow on Wednesday.

Speaking ahead of a conference on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, which opens in the Russian capital on Thursday, the Swedish politician pointed out that Washington’s position “hits not only the CTBT but also hits the START agreement [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the US and Russia] which was ratified, but with a great deal of difficulty.”

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FILE PHOTO: A Virginia-class submarine USS North Dakota (SSN 784) © US Navy

The international community needs to “exercise diplomatic talents” for the CTBT treaty to finally enter into force, he added, saying that in the current international environment the agreement to ban nuclear tests “should be the least difficult of all arms control issues.”

Adopted by the UN General Assembly and opened for signature in 1996, the treaty to ban all nuclear explosions worldwide has been signed and ratified by most nations. Only a few states, including the US and North Korea, remain to take further action for the treaty to become active.

Back in 2013, then-US President Barack Obama announced that he planned to push for Washington to ratify the CTBT, but so far this has not happened.

We’ve noticed that the US has a great difficulty with ratifying any international agreements in general,” Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergey Ryabkov, said ahead of the Moscow conference.

READ MORE: Vanity & insanity: Trump gambles on Iran nuke deal

Unfortunately, there is no lobby among American legislators for the treaty to go forward to the Senate,” he said, adding that Washington’s stance might be affecting the position of other countries which have yet to sign or ratify the CTBT.

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A fire drill of ballistic rockets by Hwasong artillery units of the KPA Strategic Force © KCNA / Reuters

Pyongyang’s nuclear tests also “seriously complicate” the activation of the treaty, the Russian diplomat said, but added that North Korean actions are fueled by the situation in northeast Asia, especially by massive military exercises held by a group of countries, including the US, close to North Korea’s borders.

The CTBT is an achievement of all its participants and is aimed to serve the well-being of entire humankind. Russia is proud to be part of the treaty, which we see as the only universal international instrument to ban nuclear tests, which has no alternatives,” Ryabkov said.

Meanwhile, the executive secretary of the CTBT Organization, Lassina Zerbo, said the body is working with all eight countries – China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the US – which  haven’t yet signed or ratified the treaty “to see how we can prove the importance of the CTBT in contributing to their national security and international security in general.”

READ MORE: Every nuclear test is a red line not to be crossed – non-proliferation organization leader

Zerbo expressed hope that there might be a chance to negotiate with Pyongyang on joining the treaty, as North Korean officials will be present at the Moscow conference, RIA Novosti reports.

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At least 58 arrested in ultra-Orthodox protests against Israeli military draft (VIDEOS)

At least 58 protesters have been arrested in Israel as ultra-Orthodox anti-draft demonstrations entered a second day. Police said they were arrested for “blocking roads and causing public disturbances.”

The two days of protests were sparked in response to two ultra-Orthodox students being arrested on Sunday for failing to show up to the Israel Defense Forces draft offices. Forty were arrested on Tuesday, with nearly 60 people arrested in total, the Jerusalem Post reports.

“Police units continue to respond to illegal demonstrations in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak by ultra-religious individuals,” police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said on Tuesday night. “Police patrol units have arrested 18 demonstrators in Jerusalem and 40 in Bnei Brak for blocking roads and causing disturbances.”

Orthodox Jews studying religious texts at yeshivas (Jewish religious schools) and Arab Israelis are exempt from the compulsory military draft. All other Israelis must serve in the army once they turn 18. Men are required to serve for 32 months, and women must serve for 24 months.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews claiming exemption are required to present themselves to the IDF with a letter from their school, something many choose not to do.

On Monday night, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in the city of Bni Brak outside Tel Aviv. Video footage showed police roughly grabbing protesters in an effort to move them away. The footage showed the demonstrators blocking cars and buses on the road. At one stage they sat on the road, blocking a bus’s path.

Eight people were also arrested in Jerusalem near the International Convention Centre in Jerusalem for blocking the light rail in protest.

Video footage from Monday’s protest showed Nomi Golan, an off-duty soldier, confronting a group of ultra-Orthodox protesters who were blocking the road and shouting at her. She responded by delivering a number of karate-like kicks to move them out of her way.

A police officer was also seen pulling a gun on protesters in Jerusalem. Channel 10 aired the footage showing the officer asking the protesters, “Who wants a bullet?” reported the Jerusalem Post. The incident is under investigation.

“During the riot by members of the ultra-Orthodox community, the officer’s vehicle was surrounded and blocked by a number of protesters who threw rocks at it, began rocking it and shouted at him,” Rosenfeld said. “For his own personal safety, he exited the vehicle and pulled out his gun, which at no time was fired.”

READ MORE: Israel’s religious military exemption law is unconstitutional – Supreme Court 

In September, the High Court of Justice struck down a law that exempts ultra-Orthodox Jews engaged in military service from being drafted. The judge said the exemption undermined equality and delayed the decision for a year to allow time for officials to prepare.

A number of ultra-Orthodox political parties are in the ruling coalition and are likely to draft new legislation to overrule the decision, the Times of Israel reports.

Some ultra-Orthodox Jews oppose serving as they believe studying religious texts is as important as military service, while other, more extreme believers do so because they believe a Jewish state is not allowed before the Messiah arrives.

The Orthodox draft exemption is a source of contention for some Israelis who have to serve.

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Huge moon cave could be suitable for astronauts’ base – Japanese space agency

Japanese researchers have discovered a cavern stretching 50 kilometers beneath the surface of the moon. It is hoped that the huge subterranean area could be used as a lunar base for astronauts in the future, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has said.

The cavern, believed to be a lava tube created about 3.5 billion years ago, could protect astronauts from the sun’s radiation and cosmic rays when they build a base for exploration, according to Kyodo news. 

The expansive cavity, located beneath an area with a group of volcanic domes called the Marius Hills, is about 100 meters wide, according to data taken by JAXA’s lunar orbiter ‘Kaguya.’

The lunar orbiter first detected a hole 50 meters in diameter and depth, but further surveys of the area using radio waves led to the discovery of the lava tube, the agency said.

The JAXA researchers scrutinized data indicating that an underground structure extended west from the shaft, the Asahi Shimbun reported

The study confirmed that there is the possibility of ice or water existing in rocks deep within the cave.

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Police search Scientology HQ in Budapest over ‘numerous crimes’

Over 50 police officers surrounded the main office of the Church of Scientology in the Hungarian capital Budapest before conducting searches inside as part of an ongoing investigation into the movement.

Hungarian media reported citing authorities that the search was over “suspected misuse of personal information and other crimes,” but authorities refused to comment further as the operation was still live.

The well-funded group, founded by American science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950s, has spent millions of US dollars refurbishing a five-story, 6,000 square-meter building in central Budapest, according to local media. The former factory was opened in a highly-publicized ceremony last year by the movement’s leader, David Miscavige.

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© Mario Anzuoni

Scientology lost its status as an official religion in Hungary in 2011, and is treated as a profit-making venture by the authorities, who have repeatedly spoken out against the group.

The government has cracked down on what it perceives to be cults with the 2012 Church Act passed as a result in part of the government’s tussles with Scientology. The legislation reduced the number of recognized religions from over 300 to just over a dozen.

Scientology has defended itself – saying that it is engaged in numerous education and anti-drug programs in the country.

Outside of its Hollywood stronghold, where it is endorsed by celebrities such as actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, Scientology has repeatedly come under fire for its secrecy, vendettas against perceived enemies, and exploitation of followers and employees.

This summer, Russian security services accused Scientology’s St. Petersburg branch of illegally earning nearly $ 5 million, while earlier this year media in the UK cracked down on the movement for using its uncertified anti-drug programs as a means of recruiting new followers.

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Moscow cab driver allegedly robbed and drugged up to 100 passengers, at least one dead

A 29-year-old ‘gipsy cab’ driver has been arrested near Moscow on suspicion of killing a prominent radio host, and is potentially linked to drugging up to 100 people. The victims were given psychotropic drugs, the apparent intention being to rob them.

Footage released by Russian news outlet Zvezda shows the moment the suspect is overpowered by police officers right in the middle of the road. Law enforcement reported finding in the suspect’s apartment some 190 tablets of clozapine, an antipsychotic medication that works by altering the balance of chemicals in the brain, according to Telegram-channel Mash.

A stash of 20 mobile phones and almost 100 wristwatches was also discovered during the search. The man rented a Mercedes and offered his ‘gipsy cab’ services to clients, according to Russian media.

Allegedly, some took water from the man completely unaware that it was a drink laced with a psychoactive drug. Apparently, the sight of an expensive car might have led passengers to let their guard down.

READ MORE: ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ serial killer admits doing ‘bad things’ but says he never attacked men

Police began their hunt for the criminal after the death of a prominent 51-year-old Russian radio host, whose body was found in Moscow in April this year. Initially, it was believed that alcohol abuse had led to the journalist’s death, but forensic examination eventually showed that the man had been poisoned, robbed, and left to die on the street. The assailant is also being “investigated for involvement in almost 100 murders in Moscow,” Mash reported.

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Tycoon George Soros transfers $18bn to his Open Society Foundations

Billionaire investor George Soros has given away nearly $ 18 billion to his Open Society Foundations, transforming it into the “second largest” charity in the US after the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation.

On Tuesday, the 87-year-old tycoon moved the hefty sum from his personal funds into his non-profit group, the Wall Street Journal and Financial Times report. Soros, the 29th richest man in the world with a net worth of more than $ 25 billion according to Forbes, had reportedly been working on the transfer for several years.

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FILE PHOTO: Migrants wait in the transit zone where their asylum claims are processed in Tompa, Hungary, June 14, 2017. © Laszlo Balogh

The magnate intends to “leave the vast majority of his wealth to the Open Society Foundations,” the chief of the group’s strategic communications and public affairs, Laura Silber, said, as quoted by AFP. 

The investment heavyweight set up the Open Society Foundations in 1984. It has since become the target of criticism among the billionaire’s other projects.

The charity has been accused of inciting so-called color revolutions to install governments friendly to the US – from the Serbian ‘Bulldozer Revolution’ in 2000 to the Ukrainian uprising in 2013.

Soros’ foundations are said to be the most influential around the globe, as “there is no part of the world that they have not been,” according to Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, as cited by the New York Times. 

READ MORE: State Dept sued over funding Soros operations in Macedonia

The tycoon’s activities have been repeatedly slammed by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and other officials, who accuse him of weakening nation states, saying Soros-funded groups helped illegal migrants to enter Europe at the peak of the refugee crisis.

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George Soros © Christian Hartmann

In 2015, Soros called on EU states to share the burden “to accept at least a million asylum seekers annually for the foreseeable future.”
In July, Orban slammed the billionaire for using the EU to create a “new, mixed, Muslimized Europe” and called on European institutions to limit his influence.

Months later, WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange claimed that Soros, alongside the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), funded the mainstream media’s narrative of the Panama Papers scandal to trigger a negative propaganda campaign against Russia.

The whistleblower claimed that the scandal pushed a negative angle against Russian President Vladimir Putin, instead of focusing on the many Western figures exposed in the documents.

Some of the organizations in Soros’ charity network, including the Open Society Foundations and Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation, are outlawed in Russia as “a threat to the basics of the constitutional system… and security.”

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Mysterious ‘Planet 9’: Is this the smoking gun?

The furore surrounding the solar system’s theoretical ‘Planet 9’ reached new heights after a University of Michigan researcher discovered evidence that may shed light on the existence of the elusive world beyond Neptune.

Some researchers believe that ‘Planet 9’ exists because of the way certain space phenomena, known as Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs), behave. Conspiracy theorists, meanwhile, believe that NASA is keeping Planet 9’s existence a secret, because it’s on a collision course with Earth, which will result in our annihilation.

But let’s just stick with the scientists for now, shall we?

Research from Juliette Becker and her team indicates the answer to Planet 9’s existence lies in the life of TNOs.

Smaller than former planet Pluto, TNOs are rocky objects which orbit the sun at a greater distance than Neptune, the gas giant at the edge of the solar system. Some astronomers say that for these TNOs to occupy their current orbits, they must have been in the solar system for more than a billion years.

Others think, however, that in that vast amount of time some of these TNOs should have either crashed into another planet, been hurled into the sun or been flung out into deep space by the gravitational force of other planets.

READ MORE: Mysterious ‘Planet 9’ not victim of interstellar abduction, study finds

Using a large set of computer simulations, Becker uncovered two new pieces of information about TNOs.

First, researchers constructed a simulation of Planet 9 that would most likely cause our solar system to look the way it does now, by preventing the TNOs’ destruction or banishment to interstellar space.

Second, the simulation predicted that there’s a process called ‘resonance hopping’ by which a TNO bounces between stable orbits. Resonance hopping can prevent TNOs from being forced out of the solar system.

In each simulation, the team tested different scenarios for Planet 9 to study whether that version of the planet, complete with its gravitational forces, resulted in the same solar system that we have today.

“From that set of simulations, we found out that there are preferred versions of Planet Nine that make the TNO stay stable for longer, so it basically increases the probability that our solar system exists the way it does,” Becker said.

“Through these computer simulations, we were able to determine which realization of Planet Nine creates our solar system — the whole caveat here being, if Planet Nine is real,” she added.

Researchers also tested the orbital resonance of TNOs with Planet 9, which occurs when “objects in a system periodically exert gravitational forces upon each other that cause the objects to line up in a pattern.”

Becker and her team, found that sometimes Neptune will knock a TNO out of its resonance but, instead of sending it on a collision course with the sun, something – Planet 9 perhaps – catches it and “confines it into a different resonance.”

“The ultimate goal would be to directly see Planet Nine — to take a telescope, point it at the sky, and see reflected light from the sun bouncing off of Planet Nine,” said Becker.

“Since we haven’t yet been able to find it, despite many people looking, we’re stuck with these kinds of indirect methods.”

The search for the elusive planet has caused quite a stir over the last couple of months. Most recently, a number of outlets ran stories that NASA had ‘admitted’ its existence, although this isn’t entirely true.

“If a planet is there, it’s extremely distant and will stay that way (with no chance – in case you’re wondering – of ever colliding with Earth, or bringing “days of darkness”),” NASA said in a statement.

“It is a possible “Planet Nine” — a world perhaps 10 times the mass of Earth and 20 times farther from the sun than Neptune. The signs so far are indirect, mainly its gravitational footprints, but that adds up to a compelling case nonetheless.”

Sorry, conspiracy theorists, you’ll have to find another reason for the world to end. Luckily, there’s no shortage of ammunition.

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Palestinian media raided, shut down by Israel on suspicion of inciting terrorism

Israeli security forces have raided eight Palestinian outlets, closed two broadcasting stations and arrested two people in an overnight, large-scale counterterrorism operation across the West Bank, according to an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) statement.

The Palestinian media, which Israel suspects of distributing and broadcasting materials inciting terrorism, were raided in a joint operation of the IDF, the Israel Security Agency security (Shin Bet) and Civil Administration operating in the West Bank on Tuesday night.

READ MORE: ‘An attempt to drown out Palestinian voices’: RT’s office building raided in Ramallah (VIDEO)

The security forces also raided eight Palestinian media organizations and closed the Ramasat and TransMedia broadcasting stations. The shutdown reportedly triggered clashes between the military and locals in Ramallah and Nablus, in which some Palestinians were injured, according to Palestinian news agency Wafa. In Ramallah a man was wounded by “an Israeli rubber-coated steel round,” Wafa says.

Wafa agency reports that Amer Jabari, the director of the TransMedia office in Hebron, and his brother, cameraman Ismail Jabari, were arrested.

The Israeli forces also seized equipment and documents of companies providing services to Hamas – the Al-Aqsa and Al Quds TV channels – declared illegal by the IDF Central Command.

“The operation is part of the expanded counterrorism effort, in which the security forces operate against all elements of terrorism including incitement,” the IDF said, adding that the security forces will continue their efforts against it.

Israel has previously raided TransMedia, which runs several offices across the country, including two offices in Jerusalem, the area disputed by Palestinians and Israelis, and an office in Hebron in the West bank. In March 2016 their office in Ramallah was ransacked during an operation against the Palestine Today TV station accused of incitement on behalf of “Islamic Jihad.”

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French police arrest 10 suspected extremists, plotting attack on mosques, politicians – reports

Ten people said to have far-right links were detained in a series of raids conducted by French anti-terrorist police in the Paris and Marseille areas on Tuesday. Their intended targets were reportedly mosques, migrants and a former presidential candidate.

The arrests were made in Seine-Saint-Denis, north of Paris, and in the city of Marseille in southern France on Tuesday morning and afternoon, French TV station M6 reported. The suspects, including two minors, are nine young men and one woman, aged from 17 to 25 years.

It is not clear if the suspects had elaborated plans for an imminent attack on either a person or a religious institution, with Reuters citing a court official as saying that they had a “vague” draft that would involve mounting an attack on a place of worship, a politician or migrants.

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Muslims pray during Friday prayers in the street in front of the city hall of Clichy, near Paris, France. © Benoit Tessier

The suspects harbored “intentions to commit violent actions”, according a judicial source, cited by AFP. No details have been given as to the nature and supposed timing of the actions.

According to M6, among the targets picked by the group, were “a close relative” of French President Emmanuel Macron and a former presidential candidate. The one was named by Le Parisien as government spokesman Christophe Castaner and the other as Jean-Luc Melenchon, the far-left presidential candidate in the most recent election.

Melenchon was reportedly dropped from the list of potential targets by the would-be assailants after he failed to win the election, securing only 19 percent of the vote in the first round.

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The entrance of the prison of Fresnes, near Paris. © Patrick Kovarik

Responding to the news, Melenchon’s spokesman expressed concerns over his not being notified of an ongoing investigation that allegedly involved his assassination.

Melenchon “was not informed and requests for protection during the legislative elections were rejected,” the spokesman said.

The raids were reportedly a part of a larger investigation into Logan Alexandre Nisin, a former militant of far-right organization Action Francaise Provence, who was arrested on June 28. Nisin had been posting threats online, calling for like-minded individuals to join him on a crusade against “blacks, drug dealers, migrants and jihadist scoundrels.”

Nisin reportedly ran a Facebook page in appreciation of Anders Brevik, who massacred 77 people and injured over 150 in a combined bombing and shooting attack in Norway in 2011. Police discovered two revolvers and a rifle at Nisin’s home upon his arrest.

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Canada passes US-style sanctions bill targeting ‘corrupt’ Russian officials

The Canadian Senate has passed Bill S-226, known as the Sergei Magnitsky Law, mirroring similar US legislation. Moscow has repeatedly slammed the bill as a violation of international law and vowed to respond.

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Konstantin Kosachyov © Grigoriy Sisoev

Although the bill, titled “Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (Sergei Magnitsky Law),” envisions imposing sanctions on any foreign national, not only on Russians, it mentions exclusively the high-profile cases linked to Russia in its preamble.

Among them is the death of Sergei Magnitsky in a pre-trial detention facility in 2009. Magnitsky was a tax accountant employed by the US-British investor Bill Browder, who was accused by the Russian authorities of orchestrating large-scale tax evasion and embezzling hundreds of millions of rubles from the Russian budget. The lawyer was a prime suspect in the investigation. Browder, however, insisted that Magnitsky fell victim to persecution and torture by the Russian penitentiary system after he allegedly uncovered corruption crimes by Russian tax officials. As result of a three-year lobbying campaign, spearheaded by Browder, in 2012 the US Senate approved the so-called Magnitsky Act, allowing the US to freeze the assets of, and bar entry to, Russians accused of human rights violations. The bill has soured relations between Washington and Moscow.

The other cases listed in the Canadian bill’s preamble refer to the death of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 In London, which was blamed by British investigators on Russian secret services, the assassination of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov in central Moscow in 2015 and the detention of former Ukrainian pilot turned MP, Nadezhda Savchenko, who was tried in a Russian court and found guilty of murdering Russian journalists in Eastern Ukraine. She was subsequently freed in a prisoner swap for two Russian nationals jailed by Kiev.

A foreign national is subject to the restrictions under the Canadian version of the Magnitsky Law if he or she is found to be complicit in torture or other human right violations against “individuals in any foreign country” who wants to shed light on the illegal activity by the government or to “obtain, exercise, defend or promote” human rights. The bill also targets foreign nationals involved in corruption.

Speaking on the bill after it was unanimously approved by the Canadian House of Commons in early October, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said that the legislation was designed to enable Canadian authorities to impose sanctions and travel bans on foreigners found to be complicit in these offenses. 

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Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. © Chris Wattie

The bill’s final reading was passed by the Senate on Tuesday. To become law, it now requires royal assent to be given by Canada’s Governor General, which is usually a mere formality.

The legislation’s apparent focus on the alleged misdeeds by Russian officials was slammed by Moscow as aggression that would not be left unanswered.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova described the bill as a copy of the “odious American Magnitsky Act,” saying that it will deal a blow to already strained Russia-Canada relations.

“We warn again that in case the pressure of the sanctions put on us increases … we will widen likewise the list of Canadian officials banned from entering Russia,” Zakharova said in early October.

Konstantin Kosachyov, the head of the Upper House Committee for International Relations, dubbed the bill “yet another confirmation of the existence of the dangerous tendency when national legislation is applied to international relations.” The lawmaker argued that neither Canada, nor any other single country, has the right to play the role of a “global ombudsman.”

“Who has empowered Canada with the right to do such things in the international arena, to decide who is corrupt in other nations and who is not, to apply repressive measures to foreign citizens?” he said.

The spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, Kirill Kalinin, said that while the bill is  “disguised as a pro-human rights and anti-corruption measure” it goes against Canada’s national interests, as it will alienate “one of the key world powers,” in times when diplomacy is of crucial importance.

“Unfortunately, we are witnessing the continuation of failed policies, pressed by Russophobic elements,” he said in a statement, noting that Russia would respond “with resolve and reciprocal countermeasures.”

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