DESPITE VIOLATIONS, SYRIA TRUCE STANDS
Saudi Arabia accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assadâ€™s regime and its ally Russia of â€œceasefire violationsâ€ yesterday, Al Arabiya reports. â€œWe are discussing this with (the 17-nation) Syria Support Group,â€ co-chaired by Russia and the United States, said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. Despite the accusations of 15 ceasefire breaches of over the weekend, the Syrian opposition said yesterday that it would stick to the truce.
- The Russian military also said Sunday that the ceasefire had been breached nine times over the past 24 hours, but concurred that it was mostly holding. â€œWe do not know which planes carried out the strikes, and also we are not sure if this is considered a breach to the truce because it is not clear if these towns are included,â€ reads a statement from The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights, which monitors the conflict. Meanwhile the UN and partner organizations plan to deliver aid to 154,000 Syrians in besieged areas in the next five days, Reuters reports.
Defying doomsday predictions about traditional journalism, the UK welcomed its first standalone national print newspaper in 30 years today. The New Dayâ€™s publishing company Trinity Mirror, whose flagship paper is the tabloid Daily Mirror, hopes the new title will find a particular readership among women. Read more from Le Blog here.
DEADLY BOMBINGS ROCK IRAQ AND SOMALIA
At least 73 people were killed in Baghdad yesterday after a twin suicide bombing claimed by ISIS, Reuters reports. The bombers were riding motorcycles and blew themselves up at a market in a Shia district of Sadr City, also wounding more than 100 people. â€œOur swords will not cease to cut off the heads of the rejectionist polytheists, wherever they are,â€ ISIS wrote in an online statement,referring to Shia Muslims. The suicide bombings in Sadr City were the deadliest attack in a wave of explosions that targeted other commercial areas in and outside Baghdad yesterday and brought the dayâ€™s overall death toll to 92.
- Another twin suicide bombing by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab killed at least 30 people and injured at least 60 others in Baidoa, Somalia, the BBC reports. Witnesses said the first explosion was a car bomb outside a popular restaurant and the second was a body bomb inside a restaurant a kilometer away. The attacks were part of the terror groupâ€™s violent campaign to topple Somaliaâ€™s UN-backed government.
MERKEL AGAIN DEFENDS MIGRANT POLICY
In a nationally televised interview Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel once again defended her open-door migrant policy, rejecting any limit on the number of refugees allowed into the country despite deep divisions within her government, Deutsche Welle reports. â€œI have no plan B,â€ she said, adding that she was convinced she was on the right track with efforts to redistribute refugees within Europe.
The village of Sutera, Italy, was facing demographic doom with the constant exodus of young people leaving for opportunities elsewhere. Then locals started to wonder about those migrants coming into the country, Niccolo Zancan reports for La Stampa. â€œSuteraâ€™s decision to welcome migrants began after the sinking of a boat in October 2013, when 366 people died near the island of Lampedusa. It wasnâ€™t easy for the town to embark upon this path, and some of Suteraâ€™s elderly had serious doubts, and even fears, about the plan that cut against the widespread policy of confining migrants to the peripheries and out of public view. â€˜The isolation is the only problem,â€™ says Chris Richy, a Nigerian immigrant. â€˜Thereâ€™s only one bus that leaves at 5:50 in the morning, but in Sutera there are good people, not racists. They really do help us, and when I finally get a job as an electrician I want to repay them for the help theyâ€™ve given us.â€™â€
Read the full article, A Dying Town In Sicily, Reborn With Immigrants.
NORTH KOREA DETAINS U.S. STUDENT
During a press conference this morning, 21-year-old American student Otto Frederick Warmbier confessed to crimes against North Korea, CNN reports. Warmbier was detained in Pyongyang on Jan. 2, accused of trying to steal a banner bearing a political slogan. North Korea alleges he was encouraged by a secretive university society and the CIA. â€œI apologize to each and every one of the millions of the Korean people, and I beg that you see how I was used and manipulated,â€ he said after confessing to the attempt of stealing the banner. Itâ€™s unclear whether the student was forced by North Korean authorities to speak.
ON THIS DAY
On the morning after an Academy Awards ceremony that some boycotted for its lack of diversity, learn about the first-ever black Oscar winner in todayâ€™s 57-second shot of history.
TRUMP RETWEETS FASCIST
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump once again caused media hysteria yesterday after retweeting a quote from a Mussolini parody Twitter account, Newsweek reports. When asked during a Sunday morning talk show why he had retweeted the words, â€œIt is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep,â€ Trump simply replied that â€œitâ€™s a very good quote.â€ The incident has fueled further questions about why the candidate has not disavowed endorsements from white supremacists such as former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. The Republican frontrunner initially told CNN Sunday that he didnâ€™t know â€œanything about David Dukeâ€ or â€œwhite supremacy,â€ but later in the afternoon changed his statement in a tweet, writing that he â€œdisavowsâ€ the former Ku Klux Klan leader.
MY GRAND-PERE'S WORLD
REFORMISTS WIN IN TEHRAN PROVINCE
Early election results from Iran this morning indicate major support for reformists and supporters of President Hassan Rouhani, BBC reports. Iranians went to the polls Friday to vote in two key elections: for a new parliament, and for the top clerical body known as the Assembly of Experts. Rouhani and his allies won 15 of 16 seats in Tehran, while votes for the rest of the country are still being counted.
Children are pushing their bikes through high water to get back home in Cipinang Melayu, Jakarta. Two days of heavy rain have caused flooding in many areas in the Indonesian capital.
LEO FINALLY GETS HIS OSCAR
The fifth time was the charm for Leonardo DiCaprio, who finally won a best acting Oscar at last nightâ€™s Academy Awards for his role in The Revenant, the Los Angeles Times reports. Spotlight, the film about the Boston Globeâ€™s investigation into priest sexual abuse, was the surprise win for best picture, while Mad Max: Fury Road led all films with six awards, including several in technical categories.
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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