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Greece Begins "Mother Of All Strikes"

BBC, GUARDIAN (UK), DIE WELT, FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINER ZEITUNG (Germany), LES ECHOS (France)

Worldcrunch

ATHENS – Greek unions are staging “the mother of all strikes” as Parliament votes on another round of budget cuts, writes the Guardian.

The bankrupt Greek government is facing a tough job: convince the Greek people that austerity measures are necessary. “This is the week of all the dangers,” says Les Echos.

The measures are necessary for the simple reason that without them, the government will not receive funds from the “troika” of institutions that are overseeing its spending: the European Central Bank, European Commission (the EU's governing body), and the International Monetary Fund, which have already provided tens of billions of euros in the past three years to fund Greece's payroll.

The troika says it will refuse to send further funds to Greece without proof of the country’s will to budget more prudently.

The Greek legislature must vote Wednesday evening whether or not to accept the austerity budget, which include cuts in pensions, holidays, the minimum wage, severance pay, and salaries for public workers, and make it easier for businesses to fire workers.

A loan of 31.5 billion euros is pending and Greece desperately needs it. A no vote and the subsequent inevitable exit of Greece from the euro zone would have grave ripple effects across the global economy.

To influence the vote, a two-day general strike, the third in six weeks according to Die Welt, was called across Greece this week, closing airports, schools, hospitals, and train stations nationwide.

Public transport workers, lawyers, air traffic controllers, taxi drivers, journalists and hospital staff are all on strike, says the BBC.

Riot police guarding Parliament. Photo: Anthony Verias on Twitter

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who has been in office since June, has promised that these budget cuts “will be the last,” reports the BBC. Greece has little choice. The prime minister warns that without a yes vote, Greece will have to leave the euro zone and go bankrupt, with income nationwide falling by 80 %, says the Guardian. If the legislature votes no, the government will run out of money on November 12th.

The Greek population, however, is tired of austerity and continual budget cuts, which have hit the poor and the old especially hard. According to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, unions say that the average pensioner will lose 2000 euros a year from these cuts alone.

The majority coalition is pledged to vote for the austerity package, but several political parties in Greece’s multi-party system plan to vote against it, including Syriza and the coalition partner Democratic Left, says the Guardian.

Even some members of the parties that officially accept the need for a fifth consecutive cut in the national budget, such as the socialist Pasok, are rebelling against their own parties’ stance in the face of popular fury.

A union leader said, “These measures must not pass! It is unacceptable that the people have to pay for funds that bankers are getting from the government,” reports Les Echos.

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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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