EU LEADERS TRY TO MOVE ON MIGRANT CRISIS
European leaders are gathered in Brussels for a two-day meeting centered on the 28-nation blocâ€™s ongoing migrant crisis. Politico reports that proposals will be debated to reinforce external borders, including the possible creation of a new EU law enforcement body that could be sent to respond to a crisis even if the countryâ€™s authority refuse it. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has denounced the move, which he believes undermines national sovereignty. Also on the agenda in Brussels are the fight against terrorism, Brexit fears and possible new sanctions against Russia.
MARINE LE PENâ€™S REMOVES FOLEY PHOTO
Marine Le Pen, leader of Franceâ€™s Front National party, has removed a photo of late journalist and ISIS hostage James Foleyâ€™s beheaded body from her Twitter account, one day after she published it in response to a journalist who, according to her, had likened her party to ISIS. Foleyâ€™s parents had criticized the publication yesterday, saying it was â€œshameful,â€ France 24 reports. Other pictures of ISISâ€™ atrocities however still appear on Le Penâ€™s timeline and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has asked the police to investigate.
â€œWhen I look at the region and my country, I regret it all,â€ Faida Hamdy, the Tunisian woman whose action â€œstarted the Arab Springâ€ five years ago today told The Daily Telegraph. Hamdy was responsible for confiscating a vegetable stall in a central Tunisian town, which prompted the produce vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi to set himself on fire. The martyrâ€™s death in turn sparked protests that eventually toppled President Ben Ali, before spreading to other North African and Middle Eastern countries. Looking at todayâ€™s situation, she only sees â€œdeath everywhere and extremism blooming, and killing beautiful souls.â€ â€œSometimes, I blame myself and say it is all because of me,â€ she told the newspaper.
MARKETS REACT TO FED INTEREST RATE HIKE
Stock prices around the world rose after Wednesdayâ€™s much anticipated decision from the Federal Reserve to end a seven-year policy of effectively â€œfree-moneyâ€ by increasing interest rates by 0.25%. The Financial Timesâ€™ U.S. markets editor warns that the â€œhard partâ€ may come now, as the financial crisis and quantitative easing policies that followed it have deeply changed the financial system.
U.S. SEND WEAPONS TO SYRIAN REBELS
The U.S. has delivered a new load of ammunition to a group of 5,000 Syrian rebels, ahead of a battle to recapture a strategic town where ISIS is believed to store much of its weaponry, Reuters reports.
ON THIS DAY
Today's 57-second video unites a Tunisian martyr, a Filipino fighter and ... Homer (not the Greek author).
CHINA SUMMONS U.S. ENVOY OVER ARMS DEAL WITH TAIWAN
Chinese authorities have summoned U.S. envoy Kaye Lee amid reports that Washington is readying to send two warships and heavy weaponry to Taiwan as part of a $1.8 billion arms deal, AFP reports. This comes as tensions over the disputed South China Sea remain high.
Photo: Tang Ke/Xinhua/ZUMA
Heavy snowfall hit Yantai, a coastal city in east China's Shandong Province.
SPANISH PM PUNCHED WHILE CAMPAIGNING
Spanish center-right Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was left badly bruised after a 17-year old punched him in the face as he was taking part in an election event ahead of Sundayâ€™s general election. See the damage on the front page of Madrid daily ABC. According to El País, the young aggressor later told the police he was â€œvery happyâ€ with himself. Rajoyâ€™s party holds a narrow lead in the polls, and one in four voters are still undecided.
Brazilian authorities have ordered telecommunications companies to block access to instant messaging service WhatsApp for 48 hours starting at 12 am on Thursday, Folha de S. Paulo reports. According to the newspaper, the shutdown is a retaliatory move for the Facebook-owned companyâ€™s refusal to release secret data of users that are part of a criminal investigation. But telecommunications companies had also been pressuring for new regulations against WhatsApp, which they say behaves much like a â€œpirateâ€ network operator. Read more in English from TechCrunch.
For German daily Die Welt, Daniel-Dylan Böhmer and Clemens Wergin imagine what the Middle East would look like today, if Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein hadn't been ousted. Would the situation be any better? â€œSaddam would have been well past 70 years old when the Arab Spring was unleashed, as popular movements rose up and revolted against their autocratic rulers from North Africa to the Middle East. His sons were reckoned to be cruel and violent, but their political qualities doubtful. The regime, we can say, would have become extremely vulnerable during the revolts of 2011. ... Wilfried Buchta, an expert on the Middle East and Islam doubts that an extremist sect such as ISIS could have expanded under Saddam. That it has become this strong, is partly due to the dictatorâ€™s downfall, partly to the policies of the American-led occupying forces.â€
Read the full article, Origins Of ISIS, Imagining If Saddam Was Still In Power.
MOST CANCERS ARE AVOIDABLE, RESEARCH SHOWS
Most cancers result from avoidable factors such as toxic chemicals and radiation, and are not just down to bad luck, a new study suggests.
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
Watch this UK weather presenter cram an impressive 12 Star Wars-related puns in her 40-second weather update.
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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