WASHINGTON POST, LOS ANGELES TIMES (USA)
NEW YORK - President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney took a break from the presidential race on Thursday night to trade jokes and roast each other at charity dinner, reports the Washington Post.
Every four years, the Alfred E. Smith Dinner, the Catholic Archdiocese of New York’s annual charity dinner hosts the presidential candidates. This year’s event raised $5 million for the foundation to benefit needy city children, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Dressed in white tie and tails, Obama and Romney both gave speeches mixing humor with gibes, says the LA Times, adding that the evening was an opportunity for both men “to shake off the animosity after a campaign that has grown increasingly bitter and competitive.”
Some of the evening’s best zingers:
Romney: “A campaign can require a lot of wardrobe changes: blue jeans in the morning perhaps, a suit for a lunch fundraiser, a sport coat for dinner,” he said. “But it’s nice to finally relax and to wear what Ann and I wear around the house.”
Obama: “Everyone please take your seats, otherwise Clint Eastwood will yell at them.”
Romney: “President Obama and I are each very lucky to have one person who's always in our corner, someone that we can lean on, and someone that's a comforting presence without whom we wouldn't be able to go on another day. I have my beautiful wife, Ann, he’s got Bill Clinton.”
Obama: "I had a lot more energy in our second debate. I felt really well-rested after the nice long nap I had in the first debate."
Obama: “Sometimes it feels like this race has dragged on forever, but Paul Ryan assured me that we’ve only been running for 2 hours and 50-something minutes.”
Romney: “In the spirit of Sesame Street tonight, the president’s remarks are brought to you by the letter O and the number 16 Trillion.”
Obama: ““Mitt is his middle name. I wish I could use my middle name Hussein.”
Romney: “And I've already seen early reports from tonight's dinner, headline; ‘Obama Embraced by Catholics. Romney Dines with Rich People.’”
Not to be left out, the evening’s MC, Al Smith IV: "I want to say a special welcome to all of the accomplished women here tonight. It's good to see you made it out of those binders.”
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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