U.S. BOOSTS WEAPON DELIVERY TO SAUDI-LED COALITION
The U.S. is speeding up its weapon deliveries and intelligence sharing with the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen, as the toll in the latest Middle East war begins to mount. Al Arabiya reported on U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken’s press conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh, after talks with Saudi officials on Tuesday. “Saudi Arabia is sending a strong message to the Houthis and their allies that they cannot overrun Yemen by force,” Blinken said. "In support of that effort we have expedited weapons deliveries," he added.
- The conflict is said to have killed at least 550 people, according to the BBC
- This figure includes at least 44 children, UNICEF says.
- More than 100,000 people have fled their homes and hospitals struggle to manage mass casualties with insufficient supplies.
- Marie Claire Feghali, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the situation in Aden was "catastrophic."
- The Red Cross hopes to send a first humanitarian convoy Wednesday to the Yemeni capital Sanaa. “We urgently need an immediate halt to the fighting, to allow families in the worst affected areas, such as Aden, to venture out to get food and water, or to seek medical care,” the head of the ICRC Robert Mardini said.
- Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is in Islamabad, where he is expected to urge Pakistan to reject a Saudi request to join the coalition against Iran-allied Houthi forces in Yemen, Al Jazeera reports.
ANOTHER U.S. POLICE OFFICER KILLS BLACK MAN
A white South Carolina police officer has been charged with murder after shooting dead a black man who was running away from him. The incident, which happened after a routine traffic stop Saturday in North Charleston, was filmed by a witness. The video, first post Tuesday on the website of The New York Times, shows police officer Michael Slager shoot victim Walter Lamer Scott at least eight times before he falls to the ground. It comes after other high-profile police killings of black men in New York and Ferguson, Missouri. Here are more details and how the sequence was featured on the Times’ front page.
PALESTINIAN SHOT DEAD AFTER STABBING TWO ISRAELI SOLDIERS
A Palestinian was shot dead after he stabbed and wounded two Israeli soldiers at a road junction in the occupied West Bank Wednesday morning, Reuters reports. One of the soldiers was seriously injured in the neck and was taken to a Jerusalem hospital by helicopter. The other was lightly wounded in the back before he reportedly shot the Palestinian man dead.
The Dutch population has grown by 20 centimeters (7.9 inches) over the past 150 years, making them the tallest on earth, according to Science.
ON THIS DAY
It’s been 38 years today since The Clash released their first album. This, and more, on your 57-second shot of history.
GREEK PM TSIPRAS IN MOSCOW TO SIGN ACCORDS
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras arrived in Moscow on Wednesday for controversial talks with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The visit comes the day before Greece’s deadline for the repayment of a 450 million euro loan to the International Monetary Fund. Tsipras is expected to sign accords that include gas price discounts and a possible loan, The Guardian reports. A Greek government official, quoted by Reuters, however said Wednesday the country had not asked Russia for such a financial aid. "We want to solve our debt and financial issues ... within the eurozone," he said.
"We take a strong stance against the militarization of these disputes,” the U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said Wednesday in Japan, as he starts his first Asian tour with a stern warning on the territorial rows between China and several nations in and around the East and South China Seas.
From the U.S. to India, Saudi Arabia and Honduras, Les Echos’ Benoît Georges looks at city privatization and the high-profile investors behind the phenomenon. “The U.S. may have gotten a jump on this new kind of urban trend, but it's in the development world where private cities are really starting to make inroads, in some cases on a scale that makes Zuckerberg's plans pale in comparison. In India, the HCC consortium began work a decade ago on a 100-square-kilometer town called Lavasa, located approximately 200 kilometers southwest of Mumbai. The project, which saw Italian-inspired buildings rise from the Indian mountains, is eventually expected to host more than 200,000 people. In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah Economic City (Kaec) hopes to have 2 million residents by 2035. And Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernandez, who was elected last year, has hailed the future creation of ‘model’ private cities.”
Read the full article, Mark Zuckerberg, King Abdullah And The Rise Of Private Cities.
MY GRAND-PÈRE’S WORLD
The annual European musical event that no one really understands, a.k.a. Eurovision, is approaching. Tune in to Worldcrunch’s Hit It! blog for an introduction of this year’s contestants — including Belarus’ Uzari and Maimuna, “an elf and a violinist trapped inside an hourglass.”
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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