EU EXTENDS UKRAINE SANCTIONS
European foreign ministers agreed yesterday to extend EU sanctions against Russia until the end of January 2016 â€œto complete implementationâ€ of the shaky Minsk ceasefire agreements, EU Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic wrote on Twitter. The decision came as French President François Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met President Vladimir Putin and lamented the â€œlack of progressâ€ towards a final resolution in the Ukraine conflict, Le Figaro reports. Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine are scheduled to meet later today in Paris.
In an interview with the BBC, deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych reflects on the Maidan square bloodshed and the revolution that ultimately ousted him from power. Although he admitted there was corruption under his leadership, he denied embezzling funds from the Ukrainian state. â€œA year and a half has passed, those in power have all the means at their disposal,â€ he said. â€œShow us, where are the bank accounts of Yanukovych? They don't exist and never have.â€
U.S.-CHINA BEGIN TENSE TALKS
Senior diplomats representing the worldâ€™s two leading economies will meet in Washington today for the seventh annual summit on political, security and economic issues. But the U.S.-China dialogue is expected to be held â€œunder a cloud of mistrust and acrimony,â€ The Wall Street Journal reports, given security tensions between the two countries over the South China Sea and cyberspace. â€œThe relationship between the United States and China is extremely broad,â€ a State Department official said. â€œItâ€™s also extremely complicated.â€ Secretary of State John Kerry will begin the talks when he meets China's State Councilor Yang Jiechi, Kerryâ€™s first official public appearance since his bike accident.
The mood in China regarding its controversial Dog Meat Festival, which started yesterday, is starting to change. It is facing its largest-ever campaign to stop it, and a recent poll showed that 87.9% of respondents support introducing legislation to ban animal abuse, Xinhua reports. As many as 10,000 dogs are expected to be slaughtered during the two-day festival.
RENEWED HOPES FOR A GREEK DEAL
The mood in Brussels has significantly improved, and European leaders regard the Greek reform proposals offered yesterday as â€œprogress,â€ paving the way for a possible agreement at the next Eurogroup summit Thursday, Greek Reporter writes. A deal would see Athens receive more emergency funds, allowing it to make a $1.8 billion payment due at the end of the month to the IMF. In exchange, the government pledged more pension and tax reforms.
The Dominican Republic will send a delegation to Haiti to discuss the deportation of Haitian citizens from the country, todayâ€™s edition of El Caribe reports. The migration minister announced that the administration would consult with its neighbor before expelling Haitians illegally residing in the country. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, where many have lived for years, while others have arrived more recently because of the 2010 earthquake and ensuing economic crisis in their home country. Read more in our Extra! feature.
KURDS DEFEAT ISIS NEAR SYRIAN STRONGHOLD
A coalition force made of the Kurdish Popular Protection Units and other rebel groups backed by U.S.-led airstrikes have earned a significant win over ISIS, pushing the group â€œback to the gates of Raqqa,â€ a spokesman for the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. After taking control of a key military base yesterday, Kurdish fighters are now strongly established deep into ISIS territory and just 30 miles away from the caliphateâ€™s proclaimed capital of Raqqa. Read more from The Independent.
â€œI extend my thanks and appreciation to the honest and honorable judges of Germany,â€ Al Jazeera journalist Ahmed Mansour said after a German court ruled against his extradition to Egypt and in favor of his release.
TWIN SUICIDE BLASTS HIT NIGERIAN CITY
At least 35 people were killed in the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri yesterday afternoon after two female suicide bombers detonated their explosives near a fish market as a Muslim crowd was preparing for prayer, newspaper Vanguard reports. Islamist sect Boko Haram is being blamed for the violence amid fears that militants are using captives to carry out their operations. According to an expert AP interviewed, most bombs attached to girls or women have remote detonation devices, meaning the carrier cannot control the explosion.
ON THIS DAY
PAKISTAN HEAT WAVE CREATES EMERGENCY
The government in Pakistanâ€™s Sindh province has taken emergency health measures as the devastating heat wave continues. According to Dawn, at least 445 people have died since Saturday, including 309 yesterday alone. Opposition parties have called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to observe Friday as a day of mourning for the victims.
If it wants to grow in a balanced way, Russia shouldnâ€™t think that a rash of new agreements with China will permit it to forsake the West, Fedor Lukyanov writes for Kommersant. â€œRussia has always liked to juggle the East and West roles, trying to adopt postures that fall somewhere between the two political and cultural poles,â€ he writes. â€œBut in the past 300 years, Russia has never genuinely managed to position itself between. Before the 20th century, Russia was an undisputed player in greater European politics, while China did not yet represent a world power. During the 20th century, Russia became part of the East.â€
Read the full article, Russia Can't Afford To Choose Between East and West.
JAMES HORNER DIES IN PLANE CRASH
Film composer James Horner, famous for his work on Titanic and Braveheart, was killed in a plane crash near Santa Barbara yesterday. The two-time Oscar winner was 61.
â€œCYBORGâ€ WINS UK DESIGN OF THE YEAR
Animal and human drug testing could soon become a relic of the past after two scientists developed a microchip cyborg made from a human organ. The pair won the London-based Design Museumâ€™s Design of the Year award. Read more from the Financial Times.
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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