WHILE YOU SLEPT

A New Diplomat-In-Chief For A Messy World

Since its birth in the aftermath of World War II, the United Nations has faced innumerable crises. The eternal messiness of global affairs is, of course, exactly why the UN was created. But perhaps never in its 71 years of existence has the biggest of global institutions been faced with so many simultaneous fires â€" and seemed to struggle so hard to be heard above both the hostilities and cries for help.


After what was largely considered an unremarkable tenure by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, it is time for somebody new to take over one of the toughest jobs in the world. The choice announced yesterday of António Guterres, 67, has been a cause for some degree of optimism. Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, proved his worth during 10 years as the head of the UN’s refugee agency, demonstrating what The New York Times called a wealth of “experience, energy and diplomatic finesse.” Officials in Portugal also lauded his appointment, with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa writing in Diário de Notícias that Guterres was “the best candidate” for the job. Former President Anibal Cavaco Silva, meanwhile, declared that “all the world listens to him.”


He will need all ears indeed to help stem the killing in Syria, avoid escalation in Ukraine and North Korea, solve a series of refugee crises, reset the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, hold countries to their promises of last year’s Paris Agreement on climate change ... and the list goes on and on.


Writing in the Portuguese paper Público, Jorge Almeida Fernandes sums up the challenge: “There are always more crises to control and always fewer means to do so,” he writes. “Guterres knows he won’t be the leader of the world. He only knows that the UN is in the eye of the storm.”



WHAT TO LOOK FOR TODAY



U.S. EVACUATIONS AS HURRICANE NEARS

Some two million people in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida were ordered to evacuate with Hurricane Matthew, described as the most powerful Caribbean storm in almost a decade, expected to reach Florida’s east coast tonight, ABC reports. In Cuba and Haiti, at least 350,000 people are in need of immediate assistance, according to the UN, and 15 people have been reported killed in the past two days.


DEADLY BOMBING AT SYRIA-TURKEY BORDER

At least 20 people, most of them rebels fighters from the Free Syrian Army, were killed this morning in an explosion at the rebel-controlled Atmeh crossing between Syria and Turkey, CNN Türk reports. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.


â€" ON THIS DAY

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević resigned 16 years ago on this day. That, and more, in your 57-second shot of history.


VERBATIM

“This gives us the best possible shot to save the one planet we've got,” U.S. President Barack Obama said yesterday, as the climate accord reached in Paris last year passed above the 55 % threshold needed for implementation with the backing of the EU, Canada and other nations. Obama added that “history may well judge it as a turning point for our planet.”


AL-SHABAAB ATTACK KILLS SIX IN KENYA

Six people were killed early this morning in Mandera, a Kenyan town on the border with Somalia, in an attack carried out by al-Shabaab terrorists, Daily Nation reports.


â€" MY GRAND-PERE’S WORLD

Parisian Prestige â€" Paris, 1958


BRAZIL ALLOWS FOREIGN INVESTMENTS IN OIL FIELDS

Brazilian lawmakers voted yesterday to open up the country’s pre-salt oil fields to foreign investment, meaning state-owned Petrobras will no longer be the sole operator of Brazil’s vast oil reserves, Folha de S. Paulo reports. Bloomberg describes the move as a “major policy shift,” as part of the new government’s strategy to reduce state interventionism.


$152,000,000,000,000

Global debt has reached an all-time high of $152 trillion, according to the International Monetary Fund. That’s more than twice the size of the global economy.


â€" WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Behind a facade of luxury hotels for the Kim Kardashians of this world and its picture-perfect Haussmannian buildings, Paris also hides a gloomier reality with about 7,000 people living in micro-apartments, Caroline Piquet writes in Le Figaro.

“Albert is sitting on his single bed on the sixth floor of a typical Haussmann-style building in the 13th arrondissement in south Paris. It is a sweltering late July day, and the 56-year-old keeps the door of his flat open. "Here you are. This is where I live," he says of the 6.5-square-meter (70-square-foot) apartment. The cramped room is poorly ventilated, with only a narrow transom that provides natural light. On the right, a small water spigot is located at the foot of the bed. On the other side, a mound of suitcases, bags and other boxes cover the entire wall. "What you see here is my whole life," Albert sighs.”

Read the full story, Micro-Apartments, Not The Paris You Always Dreamed Of.


NSA CONTRACTOR ARRESTED

The FBI arrested an NSA contractor and charged him with stealing classified information from the U.S. government, The Washington Post reports. The arrest, which was kept secret until now, took place in late August. The suspect, Harold Thomas Martin III, 51, was a contractor for the consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton, where Edward Snowden had also worked.


MORE STORIES, BROUGHT TO YOU BY WORLDCRUNCH

PARLIAMENT GO

If you thought Pokémon Go was lost on anybody over 30, the example of the 55-year-old Norwegian prime minister should convince you otherwise. She was caught playing during a parliamentary debate.

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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