WORLD LEADERS SWEAT IN PANAMA SPOTLIGHT
The global fallout continues, four days after the massive leak of documents linked to a Panama firm specialized in offshore financial operations. So far, there has been just one clear high-profile political casualty: Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, who stepped aside on Tuesday â€" but the heat is still on other top leaders.
- ARGENTINE PRESIDENT FACES PROBE â€" President Mauricio Macri will appear before a judge today to address his links to two offshore companies identified in the Panama Papers leak, Argentine daily La Nacion reports. Macri, who has given resolute promises to crack down on corruption, claims he did not have any shares and did not receive any payment for acting as a director of the offshore companies.
- CAMERON CONFESSION â€" Facing mounting pressure to be fully transparent after his late fatherâ€™s name appeared in the leaked documents, British Prime Minister David Cameron admitted yesterday that he and his wife had benefited from an offshore company, The Telegraph reports. After several partial denials in the previous days, the prime minister told ITV News that he had indeed owned shares in a tax haven fund before selling his stake for 31,500 pounds just before he became prime minister in 2010 to try to avoid just the kind of firestorm he is currently facing.
- PUTIN PUNCHES BACK â€" Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed reports yesterday showing that some of his close associates had moved about $2 billion through offshore accounts, claiming the accusations to be part of a U.S. plot to destabilize Russia, Moscow daily Kommersant reports. Speaking at a media forum in Saint Petersburg, Putin also defended the cellist Sergei P. Roldugin, a close friend who was reported in the Panama papers to have hidden money from Russian state banks. Putin described Roldugin as a â€œphilanthropistâ€ who spent his own funds to buy rare musical instruments for Russian state collections, adding â€œI am proud to have friends like that!â€
- AND THE REST OF US? â€" For further Panama Papers reading from the top international sources leading the probe, Worldcrunch has translated this Le Monde story on the â€œregularâ€ folk who turn to offshore accounts, and a Süddeutsche Zeitung article on billionaires caught up in high-stakes divorce cases.
PAPAL COMPASSION FOR DIVORCED, OTHER â€œIMPERFECTâ€ CATHOLICS
Pope Francis appears to have opened the door for divorced Catholics to remarry with the Churchâ€™s blessing. But a much anticipated papal document released this morning, while urging compassion for â€œimperfectâ€ Catholics, did not explicitly lift Catholicismâ€™s ban on remarrying without an official Church annulment of a previous marriage. The pope instead suggests exceptions for â€œparticular cases.â€
ISRAEL-TURKEY MEND RELATIONSHIP
Turkey and Israel have moved close to an agreement aimed at mending ties between the two countries after a six year freeze, Turkish daily Hürriyet reports this morning. Ankaraâ€™s statement today said an accord would be finalized in the next meeting, which would happen very soon.
ISIS ABDUCTS 300 WORKERS
ISIS abducted 300 cement workers and contractors in an area northeast of Damascus yesterday as the militant group attacked the area, the state-run Syrian-Arab News Agency reports. The government and the al-Badia Cement Company have so far been unsuccessful in contacting the workers.
COLOMBIA SAYS Â¡SÍ! TO GAY MARRIAGE
Colombia's highest court ruled yesterday to legalize same-sex marriage. The historically conservative and Catholic country joins the ranks of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil in Latin America. See how Bogota-based daily El Tiempo covered the decision on Le Blog here.
BILL CLINTON SPARS BLACK LIVES MATTER PROTESTORS
Photo: Ricky Fitchett/ZUMA
Former President Bill Clinton may have again undermined his wifeâ€™s run for the White House after verbally sparring with a Black Lives Matter protester at a campaign event yesterday. Defending his 1994 anti-crime legislation that critics say unfairly targeted African-Americans, the man otherwise known as Hillary Clintonâ€™s Husband said: â€œI don't know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack and sent them out onto the street to murder other African-American children.â€ Salon suggested the Hillary-For-President campaign needs to take the loose-talking former commander-in-chief off the trail.
MY GRAND-PEREâ€™S WORLD
The growing presence of Chinese travelers in Japan has raised mixed emotions among the Japanese public, torn between the benefits for the economy and the intrusion of Chinese thinking. Yoshikazu Kato, a renowned expert on Sino-Japan relations, writes for Caixin: â€œA conversation with a Chinese female staff member at another Tokyo electronics store may shed even more light. Mrs. Nishiguchi has lived in Japan for over 30 years, a naturalized citizen as her Japanese name shows. And her complaints are reserved for the visitors from her native China, many of whom question her for trying to sell products made in Japan. â€˜These Chinese tourists' level is really appalling,â€™ she says. â€˜They make a fuss over everything. To be rich is one thing. To have quality and morality is another. It will take another 50 years for China to be as advanced as Japan.â€™â€
Read the full article, Japanese Hosts And Chinese Tourists, Itâ€™s Complicated.
ON THIS DAY
196 years ago today, one of the worldâ€™s most famous statues (minus two arms) was discovered. That, and more, in your 57-second shot of history.
HEREâ€™S MY NUMBER
Sweden takes public access to a new level by sharing its phone number with the whole world, Dagens Nyheter reports. "The Swedish Number," which you can call at +46 771 793 336, connects callers with random Swedes who have signed up as â€œambassadors,â€ despite having received no training whatsoever. The point is to offer a completely unfiltered view of Swedish life. "In troubled times, many countries try to limit communication between people, but we want to do just the opposite," says Magnus Ling, CEO at the Swedish Tourist Association.
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.
- Arab-Israeli Rapprochement: Is Saudi Arabia Next? - Worldcrunch ›
- Why Iran Is Actively Backing The Taliban For The First Time ... ›
- Iran-Azerbaijan Tensions: How Khamenei Overplayed Islamic Ties ... ›