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India seeking new payment mechanism for trade with Iran

The previous mechanism involved a barter-like scheme that allowed India to make some oil payments to Tehran in rupees through a small state bank, UCO Bank. The same bank was used to make rupee payments to Indian merchants for their exports to Iran. The payments were made from the money that New Delhi owed Tehran for previous oil purchases and had been deposited over time at UCO. However, recent indications show that the deposit of rupees at the bank for previous oil purchases from Iran was already running dry, Reuters reported.  Since sanctions were partly lifted early last year the rupee account has been run down by more than 90% to just Rs2,000 crore ($305 million) because Indian refiners have resumed paying for Iranian oil in euros, the news service wrote in a report on Wednesday. Whilst the federal government and central bank have approved oil payments in euros — which Iran prefers because the currency is readily convertible — they have not given the all-clear for trade in the opposite direction to be settled in other currencies, leaving exporters stuck. “We are working on a mechanism through euros and looking for a common correspondent bank in Europe to act as an intermediary for India and Iran,” Reuters quoted R.K. Takkar, chairman of UCO Bank, as saying. “The euro payment system has not yet crystallized,” he said, adding the government was working to find a solution. /SR
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US-led coalition air-drops militants near ISIL-held Raqqah

The Pentagon said in a statement on Wednesday that US military aircraft had airlifted members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militant group near Tabqa, located 40 kilometers from Raqqah, providing air support for them to retake a major dam -- most commonly known as the Euphrates Dam -- that remains in the hands of Daesh extremists. The SDF, a Kurdish-dominated and anti-Damascus alliance, said US forces had also been deployed with them in the airdrop. It noted that the operation also aims to block any advance by Syrian government forces from the western flank of Raqqah. A local official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the airdrop took place on Tuesday. Earlier this month, US Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, the commander of the US forces purportedly fighting Daesh, said talks were under way with Turkey on the role Ankara might play in the operation to liberate Raqqah.  2017. "We are engaged in discussions with the Turks on how they might participate in the liberation of Raqqah and I don't know what the numbers of their participation might be," media outlets quoted the US military official as saying. Washington currently has about 500 Special Operations troops in Syria. However, their activities have been limited to what the Pentagon describes as training and assisting Kurdish forces in their battle against Daesh and other terrorist groups. Recently, General Joseph L. Votel, the commander of the US Central Command, said more American troops might be needed in Syria to step up their so-called campaign against Daesh. Votel also secretly visited northern Syria to meet US-backed militant groups. Turkey's Hurriyet daily newspaper reported in early February that Turkish military chief Hulusi Akar had presented his American counterpart, Joseph Dunford, with two plans for a potential operation said to liberate Raqqah. KD
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Assad criticizes ongoing war aiming at transforming Arabs’ identity

Speaking in a meeting with representatives of the Tunisian leftist alliance Popular Front for the Realization of the Objectives of the Revolution in Damascus on Wednesday, Assad underscored the important role that political parties and popular organizations could play to identify the root causes of such a menace, and devise collective measures to confront it. Tunisian politicians, for their part, stated that Syria is going through a ferocious and unprecedented crisis because it is the last bulwark against Western and Israeli plots. They stressed that Syria had been and would remain the upholder of the Arabs’ identity. The lawmakers further expressed solidarity with the Syrian government and nation, praising the exceptional steadfastness of Syrians in the face of the foreign-sponsored militancy they are subjected to. The meeting came only two days after Assad said the Damascus government was ready to discuss anything with representatives from opposition groups, noting that Syrian government forces were bound to safeguard the country’s territorial integrity. He argued that opposition delegates withdrew from the latest round of intra-Syrian talks in the Kazakh capital city of Astana under the “negative influence of Turkey,” emphasizing that Syrian government representatives welcome discussion on a vast array of subjects, including the Constitution, during the forthcoming UN-sponsored peace negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland. The Syrian leader stated that any military operation inside Syria must receive the approval of the central government, terming the presence of unapproved foreign troops on the Syrian soil an act of invasion. Assad underlined that the US-led coalition purportedly fighting the Takfiri Daesh terrorist group must clearly declare its intention as it has never been serious about fighting Daesh or any other terror groups. Assad also dismissed latest threats by Israel's minister for military affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, to destroy Syrian air defense systems, saying the Damascus government does not adjust its policies in parallel with those of the Tel Aviv regime. Syria has been gripped by foreign-backed militancy since March 2011. United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimates that over 400,000 people have been killed in the conflict. KD
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Putin sacrificed over efficiency of Russian weapons in Syria war

"The capability of Russian weapons, their exceptional reliability and efficiency, were demonstrated in the fight against terrorists in the Syrian Arab Republic and in combating terrorism throughout the Middle East,” Putin said on Wednesday at a session of the commission for Russia’s military and technical cooperation with foreign countries. "The use of aviation and air defense systems in actual combat conditions gives an absolutely invaluable experience for the flight and technical staff, the air defense detachments, as well as developers of domestic military products," the Russian leader added. Moscow launched its military campaign against Daesh and other terror outfits in Syria in September 2015 at the Damascus government’s request. Russia's airstrikes have significantly helped the Syrian forces deal heavy blows to foreign-backed militants operating in the Arab country since 2011. Putin also praised the Russian military’s role in “neutralizing the terrorists' chemical weapons" and demining operations in the Syrian cities of Palmyra and Aleppo, which was fully liberated in December last year. Elsewhere in his remarks, the Russian president called for a “constant analysis” of the country’s “practical use of the defense technologies” in order to “improve the methods of military training.” Russia second biggest weapons exporter Commenting on the value of Russia’s military hardware exports, Putin said the country signed contracts worth $9.5 billion last year. "Russian military products enjoy stable demand and are supplied to 52 countries of the world. Last year, new contracts worth a total of $9.5 billion were signed," the Russian leader said, adding that “the export order book of the defense industry remains at $50 billion." Therefore, he said, “Russia confidently holds the second place in the world by the volume of military exports, which exceeded $15 billion last year." KD