SAUDI ALLIES CUT TIES WITH IRAN
Photo: Ahmad Halabisaz/Xinhua/ZUMA
After Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait has also broken its diplomatic ties with Iran, recalling its ambassador from Tehran today, the BBC reports. The Mideast diplomatic crisis began after Saudi Arabia executed Shia Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 other people who had been accused of terrorism, sparking weekend protests and attacks against the Saudi embassy in the Iranian capital.
- The fear among global leaders is that this latest antagonism could lead to an escalation of violence and increased proxy wars between Shia and Sunni states in the Middle East. But Saudi officials said yesterday that its hostility with Iran wonâ€™t affect ongoing negotiation efforts on the wars in Syria and Yemen, Al Jazeera reports.
- Reuters quoted Saudi UN Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi as saying yesterday that Riyadh would restore ties with Tehran once Iran ceases â€œinterfering in the internal affairs of other countries.â€ He added, â€œWe are not natural-born enemies of Iran.â€
- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also said today that Saudi Arabia cannot hide â€œits crimeâ€ of executing the cleric by cutting ties with Iran, warning that discord could affect the fight against terrorism.
OBAMA TO OUTLINE NEW GUN CONTROLS
Having been thwarted by Congress on the issue of gun control for several years, the Obama administration is set to unveil today a series of modest executive measures to address U.S. gun violence. According to The Washington Post, they will include increased background checks on buyers, stricter licenses for all sellers, more federal funds to treat mental illnesses and the exploration of â€œsmart gun technologyâ€ to improve gun safety. â€œThe gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage, but they canâ€™t hold America hostage,â€ Obama wrote on Twitter last night. â€œWe canâ€™t accept this carnage in our communities.â€ Because these are executive measures, the president is side-stepping Congress, though that hasnâ€™t prevented Republican representatives from promising to oppose them.
â€œThere is an atmosphere of real fear and impunity,â€ Amnesty Internationalâ€™s Rachel Nicholson told The Guardian about the situation in Burundi, where ongoing political tensions could return the country to civil war. President Nkurunziza plunged the country into crisis last April, when he announced he would run for a third presidential term, in defiance of a 2005 peace deal that ended a 12-year civil war that killed 300,000 people. Nkurunziza is now accused of leading a killing and intimidation campaign by executing civilians protesting his third term. â€œArbitrary arrests, disappearances and cordon-and-search operations accompanied by the killing of civilians have become routine,â€ Nicholson added.
NORTH KOREA TO ATTEND DAVOS
For the first time in 18 years, North Korea is scheduled to participate in the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Le Temps reports. North Korean Minister for Foreign Affairs Ri Su-yong will travel to Switzerland for the event, which takes place Jan. 20-23.
ON THIS DAY
Whatâ€™s more than a mile-and-a-half long and one of the â€œwonders of the modern worldâ€? Weâ€™ve got the answer and much more in todayâ€™s shot of history.
U.S. automaker General Motors is set to invest $500 million in the transportation startup Lyft to form a partnership and develop a network of on-demand, self-driving cars, Bloomberg reports. This is part of Lyftâ€™s $1 billion round of fundraising. â€œWe see the world of mobility changing more in the next five years than it has in the last 50,â€ GM President Dan Ammann said. The move is widely seen as a way to counter Uber, which is also working on driverless cars.
MY GRAND-PÈREâ€™S WORLD
CHINA BUS FIRE KILLS 14
A suspected arson attack on a bus left at least 14 people dead and 32 injured this morning in China, Xinhua reports. After launching a manhunt, police later arrested the suspect. In 2013, a man killed 47 people and himself after reportedly setting fire to a bus in the coastal city of Xiamen.
College students increasingly describe how the pressure to perform well is wreaking havoc on their well-being. Research even shows a worrying trend toward psychological conditions related to the strain, Anne-Ev Ustorf reports for Süddeutsche Zeitung. â€œThere are many clichés about college life: that students party a lot, study a bit, enjoy their youth. But for most students, life is far from this happy-go-lucky description. According to a recent German government survey, half of all students are totally stressed out, and a quarter say that it's impossible to overcome the pressure with common relaxation techniques. One-fifth have even been diagnosed with psychological conditions such as depression, stress disorders and chronic anxiety.â€
Read the full article, The University Of â€¦ Stressed-Out Students.
ZIDANE TO THE RESCUE
Madrid sports daily MARCAâ€™s front page today is all about the â€œsoluZZion,â€ a day after Real Madrid announced that former French soccer star Zinedine Zidane would replace the unpopular Rafael Benítez as team coach. See the Zidane cover here.
PUTINâ€™S RAT ARMY
Russian President Vladimir Putin is apparently about to unleash his latest weapon in the fight against ISIS: an army expand=1] of cyborg rats.
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.
For 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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