Assad behind chemical attack, says Macron; China-Philippines agree on South China Sea boundaries

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  • Macron says he has proof Assad used chemical weapons – French President Emmanuel Macron said he has proof that Bashar al-Assad’s government allegedly used chemical weapons in an attack last weekend on the rebel-held Syrian town of Douma. The attack killed at least 34 people, according to investigative platform Bellingcat. Macron said he would decide in due course whether to retaliate against Syria. Western nations are reportedly preparing to strike with the United States and France taking the lead.
    • A fact-finding team is on its way to Syria and will start its work on April 14, a spokesperson for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed on Thursday.
    • Earlier, British Prime Minister Theresa May summoned her cabinet to consider military action against Damascus. A source told the BBC that May is willing to act against the Assad regime without seeking parliamentary consent. Assad denies any responsibility, though May has said that all the indications suggested his forces were involved. U.S. President Donald J. Trump tweeted on Wednesday that actions against Syria “will be coming.” On Thursday, he said an attack will be “very soon or not so soon at all!”
  • China, Philippines agree to ‘red lines’ in South China Sea – There may be a cooling of the heated dispute over maritime boundaries in the disputed South China Sea. Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told the South China Morning Post this week that his country and China have worked out a deal to accept each other’s red lines over sovereignty claims. According to Cayetano, as part of the agreement, Manila has a firm guarantee from Beijing to not build new installations on the Scarborough Shoal. The rocky outcrop in a fishing-rich area was claimed by both countries and Taiwan. The shoal may lie in an area with large underwater deposits of oil and gas. In 2012, the Philippine Navy seized eight Chinese fishing vessels in the Scarborough Shoal standoff. Countries with competing claims to areas in the South China Sea include China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei (BBC).
  • Trump reconsiders TPP – President Donald. J Trump is reconsidering the Trans-Pacific Partnership, what could be the largest global trade deal ever signed, indicating a possible reversal to his strong opposition to the agreement. Renewed interest in the TPP comes as the U.S and China have imposed tariffs on one another, damaging industries in both world powers. The Barack Obama administration supported the TPP in part because it would loosen U.S. ties with China by strengthening ties with it’s Asian neighbors. Lawmakers from states with major agriculture sectors, such as Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, championed Trump’s change of heart.
  • Chemical weapons watchdog confirms nerve agent – The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has confirmed the UK’s findings on the nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia. The UK requested the international investigation. Britain, and dozens of its allies, have blamed the attack on Moscow. The Kremlin has denied involvement, creating an ongoing diplomatic crisis. (Read our report on the attack on the Skripals.)
  • Pompeo close to becoming U.S. Secretary of State – Former CIA Director Michael Pompeo faced a Senate confirmation hearing today in order to replace Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State (CNN). At the hearing, Pompeo acknowledged that Special Counsel Robert Mueller interviewed him, though the details of the encounter are unknown. Pompeo was a fierce critic of the Iran nuclear deal negotiated under the Barack Obama administration, but said that he would accept the deal if it were “fixed.”  (NBC News). 
  • UK launched cyber-attack on Islamic State – The director of the UK’s intelligence agency said that Britain conducted a major offensive cyber-campaign against the Islamic State group. The campaign’s goal was to suppress the group’s propaganda and hinder its ability to co-ordinate attacks. “This is the first time the UK has systematically and persistently degraded an adversary’s online efforts as part of a wider military campaign,” said director Jeremy Fleming (Bloomberg).


  • Facebook hearing shows senators’ lack of tech knowledge  – After two days of interrogation by Congress over real and potential misuse of data gained from Facebook, analysts agree that Mark Zuckerberg got off lightly. General consensus was that Congress should’ve asked harder questions (Recode) instead of basic inquiries about Facebook. That lack of understanding, as Vox explained, will make regulating the tech giant much harder for Congress. (Read WikiTribune’s analysis of Facebook’s business model.)

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  • The close relationship between President Donald J. Trump and supermarket tabloid The National Inquirer is examined by The New York Times. David J. Pecker, chief executive of American Media, Inc., the company behind the Inquirer, is a close friend of Trump. The publication has taken a more political turn during this presidency. After former Playboy model Karen McDougal sold a story about her affair with Trump to them, the publisher shelved it. Last year Pecker told a magazine that an attack on Trump was an attack on his company. – Angela Long

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