Assad’s Future, Contraband Food, Tesla’s Model 3

Assad’s Future, Contraband Food, Tesla’s Model 3


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reiterated calls yesterday for opposition members to join him in forming a national unity government, a prospect opposition leaders have rejected. In an interview with Russian news agency Ria Novosti that comes days after the government’s recapture of Palmyra, Assad said that the main goal of such a government would be to write a new constitution. But a report published today in the UK-based Arab newspaper al-Hayat claims that Washington and Moscow have agreed to let Assad depart Syria for another country as part of a future peace plan. There has been no official reaction to these claims yet.


Photo: Aristidis Vafeiadakis/ZUMA

Clashes late yesterday between Syrian and Afghan refugees in the Piraeus port of Athens have left seven people injured, and Greek riot police were forced to intervene to restore calm, Kathimerini reports. Some 6,000 refugees are believed to be living in temporary shelters in the port, with more than 50,000 stranded in Greece. The EU-Turkey deal, under which Greece will be able to send illegal migrants back to Turkey, will become effective April 4, but hundreds continue to arrive daily.


In a scathing new report, Amnesty International accuses Qatar of “severe abuses” of migrant workers who are building a stadium ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The listed abuses include forced labor, squalid and cramped accommodations and threats against those who complain. Amnesty denounces “FIFA’s shocking indifference to appalling treatment of migrant workers,” whose numbers are expected to increase almost ten-fold to around 36,000 in the next two years. This isn’t the first time Qatar has been accused of mistreating foreign workers, with many such reports published over the past few years, including from The Guardian. Of course, there have also been allegations of corruption for Qatar to obtain the right to host the soccer competition.

10,000 TONS

A joint four-month operation between Europol and Interpol has enabled authorities in 57 countries to seize more than 10,000 tons and 1 million liters of illicit food and drink, the biggest crackdown ever. Among the goods seized during Operation Opson V are counterfeit sugar contaminated with fertilizer, monkey meat, painted olives and fake wine.


The collapse of a half-built overpass in the east Indian city of Kolkata has killed at least 10 people, with between 100 and 150 feared trapped under the rubble, Reuters reports. According to NDTV, it had been under construction since 2009 and had missed several completion deadlines. “We heard a loud sound, like a bomb blast, and then saw a lot of smoke,” a witness told reporters.


Elon Musk’s company Tesla will unveil its new electric car today, and Australian customers have already began to place their orders. The hugely anticipated Model 3 sedan will be officially released in late 2017, with prices starting at $35,000.


The Sydney-based Daily Telegraph devoted today’s front page to city plans to scrap 62 public alcohol-free zones in parks and streets. It features Lord Mayor Clover Moore as a bartender in an end-of-prohibition photomontage. See it here.


South Africa’s Constitutional Court has ruled that President Jacob Zuma “failed to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution” in not reimbursing the government for the costs of security upgrades at his home, the Mail & Guardian reports. The verdict is a victory for the opposition, and Zuma’s opponents have already started an impeachment process.


Primo Levi was a unique figure in 20th-century literature, an Italian-born Holocaust survivor, successful industrial chemist and a singularly concise author of such works as If This Is A Man and The Periodic Table. In a never-before-published interview shortly before his suicide, excerpted in Italian daily La Stampa, the Jewish-Italian author opens up about his adolescent angst and traumas beyond Auschwitz.

Read the full article, Primo Levi, Unearthed Interview Shows Author’s Intimate Struggles.


The leaders of a United Nations-backed unity government for Libya arrived in the country’s capital city of Tripoli yesterday in what The New York Times characterizes as a “bold if risky effort to break the country’s two-year political stalemate.” And to further highlight the chaos engulfing Libya since Muammar Gaddafi’s overthrow, gunfire erupted soon after the recognized leaders’ arrival. In the evening, gunmen stormed the headquarters of satellite TV station Al-Nabaa, forcing the staff out of the building.



Boko Haram gunmen killed at least six soldiers from Niger’s army and wounded three more yesterday, AFP quotes Niger’s Interior Ministry as saying. The ambush is said to have occurred early yesterday morning while the soldiers were patrolling near the Nigerian border, where the terror group has killed thousands since 2009.


What iconic architectural structure known the world over officially opened on this day in 1889? Test your knowledge in today’s shot of history.

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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


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


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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