NORTH KOREA SAYS U.S. AMBASSADOR “DESERVED” ATTACK
North Korea’s official state media KCNA has described Thursday’s knife attack on the U.S. ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert by a Korean nationalist as “deserved punishment for the warmongering United States.” It also called it “the knife of justice,” adding that it reflected the anger of South Koreans opposed to military drills between the U.S. and their country.
- The attacker, identified as 55-year-old Kim Ki-jong, attacked Lippert with a small fruit knife, according to NK News, while he was giving a speech on Korean unification near the U.S. embassy in Seoul.
- Kim’s past involves several acts of nationalist violence. In 2010, he was sentenced to a two-year prison term for throwing a piece of concrete at a Japanese ambassador to Seoul, Yonhap news agency reports.
- Dressed in traditional Korean clothing, the assailant shouted that North and South Korea should be united and that the ongoing military drills between the South and the U.S. were interfering with such a reconciliation, Reuters reports.
- Mark Lippert, 42, was bleeding from deep injuries to his face and wrist, but he was taken to the hospital where he was successfully treated and underwent surgery that required 80 stitches, according to The Korea Times.
UKRAINE MOURNS DEAD MINERS
Photo above: Igor Golovniov/ZUMA
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has declared today a day of national mourning for the miners killed Wednesday in a gas explosion in the Zasyadko coal mine, in the rebel-controlled region of Donetsk, the Kyiv Post reports. The blast killed 32 miners, and one man is still reported missing.
“We have only 5% left to prepare,” Indonesian Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo told reporters in Jakarta Wednesday of the imminent executions of convicted drug smugglers, including Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran and possibly five other foreigners. Chan and Sukumaran were sentenced to death in 2006 after being accused of heading a gang that transported heroin out of the country. The sentence has damaged relations between Indonesia and Australia. Jakarta rejected Australia’s attempt to save the two men’s lives by proposing a prisoner swap. The convicts are expected to face a firing squad in days, Reuters reports.
ON THIS DAY
On March 5, 1953, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin died after a stroke. Time for your 57-second shot of history.
KIDNAPPED IRANIAN DIPLOMAT FREED
Nour Ahmad Nikbakht, an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in July 2013 in Yemen by suspected al-Qaeda gunmen, has been freed, Al Arabiya reports. As Nikbakht returned to Tehran Thursday, Iranian intelligence minister Mahmoud Alavi said none of the terrorist demands were accepted and the lowest possible price was paid, according to IRNA.
As Le Nouvel Observateur’s Aurélien Viers reports, 32-year-old Lilou lives a double life as a married mother of an infant and “libertine” blogger in France. Her endless string of lovers are shared on Twitter, with pictures as evidence. “For the past eight years, she has been taking the train every morning to work from the outskirts of Paris and writing about her extramarital affairs in the evening,” the journalist writes. “She has written more than 600 posts on her blog. But her husband knows everything. He doesn't say anything, he doesn't do anything. He approves, even likes, imagining his wife in the arms of other men. Libertine? She is, he isn't. She writes it, claims it, tweets it. He stays aside, in the shadows.”
Read the full article, Lilou, The French Mother And Libertine Blogger Who Shares It All.
FLOOD VICTIMS COULD TRIPLE BY 2030
The number of people affected by global river flooding could triple in the next 15 years, a study published today by the World Resources Institute says. Climate change and population growth are believed to be the main causes of this increase. In 2030, up to 50 million people worldwide could be affected by floods, costing the global economy almost $520 billion per year.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
HILLARY TO MAKE EMAILS PUBLIC
Amid a growing scandal over Hillary Clinton using a personal email address when she was Secretary of State, she has urged officials to make them public. “I want the public to see my email,” she wrote in a tweet. “I asked State to release them. They said they will review them for release as soon as possible.” The controversy erupted as a congressional committee subpoenaed the possible 2016 presidential candidate’s emails as part of an investigation into the deadly 2012 U.S. embassy attack in Benghazi. According to the BBC, the U.S. State Department is examining whether her use of a personal email account at the time was a breach of the law.
“IT WAS HIM,” The Boston Globe wrote on today’s front page alongside a courtroom sketch depicting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev entering the courtroom on the first day of testimony in the Boston Marathon bombing trial. Read our Extra! feature for more.
“EXCEPTIONAL” GRAVE FOUND IN FRANCE
A group of archaeologists has discovered a so-called “Celtic princely grave” — the grave of a rich Celtic prince — in very good condition near the French city of Troyes, the team announced Wednesday. The researchers described the discovery as “exceptional,” saying it dates back to around 500 B.C. and could be one of the most well-conserved of its time.
The world’s oldest person, Japan’s Misao Okawa, celebrates her 117th birthday today. Misao was born on March 5, 1898, and has said the key to a long life is eating sushi and sleeping at least eight hours a night, according to the Guinness World Records. She said yesterday that 117 years didn’t seem like such a long time.
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.
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.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.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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