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New VW Scandal, Mother Teresa Miracle, Skype-Diving

New VW Scandal, Mother Teresa Miracle, Skype-Diving

ISIS STRIKES BACK, BUT FAILS

More than 300 ISIS fighters launched a vast attack against Kurdish forces in several locations near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, but their assault was repelled by the Kurdish fighters backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, The Washington Post reports. At least 180 jihadist fighters are reported to have been killed in what’s described as “the most intense fighting that northern Iraq has seen this year.” The attack, which the newspaper says shows the “resilience” of ISIS, also highlights the difficulties lying ahead for the recapture of Mosul.


ISRAEL, TURKEY RESTORE TIES

Israel and Turkey have begun normalizing their relations, five years after the Israeli navy attacked a Turkish flotilla carrying activists to Gaza and killed 10 of them, Haaretz reports. Under a preliminary agreement, Israel will pay Turkey $20 million in compensation and Turkey will drop all claims against Israel. The Financial Times notes that the deal paves the way for cooperation on natural gas, with talks of an undersea pipeline to export Israeli gas to Turkey. This comes amid high tensions between Turkey and its main gas supplier, Russia.


SNAPSHOT

Photo: Tao Zhang/NurPhoto/ZUMA

A worker carves a large snow sculpture in preparation for the 28th International Snow Sculpture Art Expo in Harbin, northern China, which opens on Dec. 20.


MIRACLE CONFIRMED FOR MOTHER TERESA

Pope Francis has officially recognized a second miracle attributed to Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mother Teresa, paving the way for her sainthood, Catholic newspaper Avvenire reports. The canonization of the iconic Albanian-born nun will likely take place next year, in September, according to the Italian newspaper. Mother Teresa was beatified in 2003 by Pope John Paul II, six years after her death.


ON THIS DAY


From ballet theatres to outer space, here’s Dec. 18 in 57 seconds.


SECOND SMOG RED ALERT IN BEIJING

Chinese authorities in Beijing have issued their highest pollution warning for a second time in the past eight days. They are forecasting at least four days of thick smog and the pollution index is expected to exceed 500 in some parts of the city, well above the 25 considered as the maximum safe level by the World Health Organization. Read more from Reuters.


MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD



$5 MILLION

Martin Shkreli, the young CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals and KaloBios Pharmaceuticals whose name became synonymous with ever-rising drug prices, was released on a $5-million bond after he pleaded not guilty to various charges of security fraud. Prosecutors believe he ran his businesses like “a Ponzi scheme.”


BOOST FOR BRAZIL’S DILMA IN IMPEACHMENT SAGA

The Brazilian Supreme Court ordered a complete overhaul of impeachment procedures, in a move that could potentially throw a lifeline to besieged president Dilma Rousseff, Folha de S. Paulo reports. The decision to scrap a lower house commission set up to deal with the impeachment procedure and instead give that power to the Senate, where Rousseff enjoys greater support, is a blow to her opponents, and especially her main rival, the lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha.


WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO

Bicycles with electric motors are becoming more popular and controversial at the same time. Environmentalists wonder if cyclists are losing their carbon neutrality in pursuit of an extra boost, Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Marco Völklein reports: “This is the so-called S-Pedelec, a bicycle fitted with an electrical motor that can reach speeds of up to 27 mph. An insurance registration number is marked underneath the saddle, and a bulky battery is attached to the down tube which in turn powers the motor situated within the chain rings. For those who ride actual racing bikes without electrical help, such as Köhler, this bicycle is a sacrilege. ‘It's not sports equipment,’ he says.”

Read the full article, The E-Cycle, Pedaling That Fine Line Of Ecology And Utility.


VW’S EX-BOSS STILL ON PAYROLL

Despite officially resigning in September at the height of Volkswagen’s emissions scandal, former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn is still on the company’s payroll and could earn millions until his contract terminates at the end of 2016, an investigation by Germany’s business daily Handelsblatt and TV network ZDF reveals. Read more here.


SKYPE DIVING

This expand=1] young Irishman thought he’d surprise his parents by Skype-calling them while … skydiving. (Warning: Contains profanity. And awesomeness.)

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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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