SEPARATISTS BREACH UKRAINE CEASEFIRE
The Ukrainian military accused pro-Russian separatists yesterday of using heavy weaponry that is supposed to have been withdrawn per a ceasefire both parties agreed to in February, Reuters reports.
- One Ukrainian soldier has been killed and six wounded in rebel-held territory since yesterday, Ukraine military spokesperson Oleksandr Motuzyanyk Photo: Ukraine Crisis Media Center said. “The rebels have not stopped firing at Ukrainian positions,” he said. “Over the past day, the enemy has used weapons banned under the Minsk agreements.”
- In response to the surge in fighting, French, German, Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers gathered in Berlin late yesterday for discussions, The Guardian reports. The four parties expressed “grave concern” about the situation and called for the ceasefire to be “more comprehensively” respected.
Nigerian newspaper Daily Trust joins the rest of the world today in marking the first anniversary of the terrorist organization Boko Haram’s abduction of 276 schoolgirls from the northeastern town of Chibok. There are 219 still missing. The anniversary coincides with an extensive Amnesty International report showing that the Islamist sect has abducted more than 2,000 women and girls. Describing the group’s brutal methods, the organization says that many of the abducted have been forced into sexual slavery and even trained to fight. Read more on our 4 Corners blog.
SOMALIA EDUCATION MINISTRY ATTACKED
Gunmen blasted their way into the the higher education ministry in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu this morning, the AFP reports. Local police reported a car bomb explosion, followed by heavy fighting. According to witnesses, several people were killed. No group has yet claimed responsibility, but al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab rebels have carried out several similar attacks in the Somali capital and in neighboring countries.
“How does one have to behave at 65? They can see it how they want to, and I’ll see it the way I think is right.” In an interview with theGerman newspaper Bild, 65-year-old Annegret Raunigk, a mother of 13 who is now pregnant with quadruplets, defended her decision to seek out a high-risk pregnancy through in vitro fertilization.
ON THIS DAY
The first Volvo was introduced in Sweden 88 years ago today. Time for your 57-second shot of history.
UN TO VOTE ON HOUTHI SANCTIONS
The UN Security Council is set to vote on a resolution imposing an embargo on Yemen’s Houthi rebels and their allies, who are fighting government supporters backed a Saudi-led coalition, Al Jazeerareports. The draft resolution says the rebel forces must “immediately and unconditionally” end all violence and withdraw their forces from the capital Sanaa and other areas they have seized since September 2014.
- Houthi militias are blocking humanitarian aid from entering areas in Yemen, according to Al Arabiya.
EX-BLACKWATER GUARDS SENTENCED
A federal judge sentenced a former Blackwater Worldwide guard to life in prison and three others to 30 years yesterday for killing 14 unarmed civilians in a Baghdad traffic circle in 2007, The Washington Post reports. The massacre led to worldwide outrage and criticism of the presence of the private military company in Iraq. The defendants claimed they opened fire in self-defense. But the the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement that “in killing and maiming unarmed civilians, these defendants acted unreasonably and without justification.”
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
RUSSIA TO SUPPLY IRAN WITH MISSILE DEFENSE
Russia has lifted a ban on supplying Iran with a sophisticated missile defense system, starting an oil-for-goods swap with the Islamic Republic. This comes days after six world powers, including Russia, reached a framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Pentagon officials have expressed concern about the Russian move, the BBC reports. The defense system in question is a surface-to-air missile system that can shoot down jets and other missiles.
ISIS LOSES GROUND IN IRAQ
ISIS has lost 25% to 30% of its urban territory in Iraq since U.S.-led airstrikes against the terror group began in September, according to the Pentagon.
As La Stampa’s Maurizio Molinari reports, Israel’s harsh Negev desert is a scientific frontier where the country is using emerging technology and human ingenuity to find solutions to the planet's food security needs amid severe environmental challenges. “At the Hatzeva research station, Noa Zer accompanies us to the greenhouses where more than 40% of Israel's agricultural exports are produced,” the journalist writes. “As far as the eye can see, there are fields of fruit, vegetables and flowers, where even the most diverse can grow ‘thanks to the human ability to invent solutions,’ Zer says. He points out the wet mattresses, which are strategically placed in several directions ‘to allow the temperate air to circulate’ via fans that take advantage of the desert air.”
Read the full article, In Israel's High-Tech Desert, Food Solutions For The Third World.
OKLAHOMA OFFICER CHARGED WITH MANSLAUGHTER
Robert Bates, the 73-year-old volunteer sheriff's deputy who fatally shot a black man after reportedly mistaking his gun for a Taser, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter, The Tulsa World reports. The charges carry a prison sentence of up to four years. The incident follows a series of killings of black men by white police officers in the U.S., sparking anger across the country.
RUBIO LAUNCHES PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
One day after Democrat Hillary Clinton’s announcement that she will run for president, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio announced his 2016 presidential bid Monday, The Miami Herald reports. He is the third Republican, after Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, to officially announce a White House bid.
GOPRO FROM SPACE
NASA attached GoPros to two of its astronauts working on the International Space Station. Join the spacewalk.
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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