CYCLONE LEAVES 150,000 HOMELESS
Photo: Luo Xiangfeng/Xinhua/ZUMA
A tearful Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale urged the world to send humanitarian help immediately to the South Pacific archipelago after cyclone Pam devastated the country over the weekend. “The humanitarian need is immediate,,” he said. According to aid agencies, up to 150,000 people could be left homeless in the country of 267,000 inhabitants. Expressing fears that the powerful cyclone had “wiped out” development, Lonsdale said the disaster “means that we will have to start anew again.” The death toll officially stands at eight, but it’s expected to rise dramatically in the coming days.
1.5 MILLION MARCH AGAINST DILMA
A nationwide protest against left-wing Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff drew at least 1.5 million people across 147 cities in the country Sunday. Shouting "Fora, Dilma!" ("Dilma out!") and dressed in the national flag's colors of blue, green and yellow, the protestors marched against the deteriorating state of Brazil's economy, inflation and corruption. Read more on our 4 Corners blog.
PUTIN CONSIDERED NUCLEAR OPTION
Russian President Vladimir Putin admitted in a pre-recorded documentary on Russian TV yesterday that during the height of the Ukraine crisis he was ready to arm Russia’s nuclear weapons if his country had been attacked over the Crimea annexation. Of the ouster of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, Putin said the “armed coup” was masterminded by “our American friends.”
- The broadcast came amid growing rumors about Putin’s 10-day absence from public sight. But the Russian leader appeared, as planned, in St. Petersburg for a meeting with the president of Kyrgyzstan.
- Hours before the meeting, Putin ordered the Russian Navy’s Northern Fleet and paratrooper units on full alert for combat readiness drills, state media Sputnik reports.
ON THIS DAY
As Le Monde’s Adéa Guillot reports, the 38-year-old new Greek Parliament Speaker Zoi Konstantopoulou is ambitious and unafraid to anger foe or friend. And fighting corruption is at the top of the agenda for the arguably most powerful woman in Greece. “There’s a real generational and sexism problem among those who have governed Greece until now, but they’ll have to get used to it,” she tells the journalist. “I intend to change this parliament, turn it into a model of democracy and freedom but also responsibility.”
Read the full article, Zoi Konstantopoulou, Greece's Madame Speaker And Syriza Secret Weapon.
‘O LUNA MIA
Check what this week’s New Moon has in store, thanks to Simon’s latest horoscope from The Eternal City.
CHINA NOW NO. 3 ARMS EXPORTER
China has overtaken Germany to become the world’s third-largest arms exporter, behind the U.S. and Russia, The Wall Street Journal reports. Beijing’s move to produce more sophisticated weapons and its partnerships in Africa saw its exports rise by 143% in the last five years, as Germany’s and France’s fell sharply.
“In 15 years, I’ve never seen such a bad referee. In this shit country. This country doesn’t even deserve PSG.” Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain soccer team, threw this verbal grenade after his team lost 3-2 to Bordeaux in the French Ligue 1 yesterday. Urged to apologize, the sore loser said that his “remarks were not aimed at France or the French people. I was talking about football and not something else.”
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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