Geopolitics

Climate Summit, Karzai Criticism, Trump Takedown

Climate change activists demonstrate in New York.
Climate change activists demonstrate in New York.

U.S. AND ALLIES STRIKE ISIS IN SYRIA
The United States has begun striking ISIS and a new al-Qaeda group named Khorosan in Syria, “unleashing a torrent of cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs from the air and sea,” according to The New York Times. The military said its first direct intervention in the country had been backed by five Arab states — Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — which “participated in or supported” the attack, aimed at disrupting “imminent attack planning against the United States and Western interests.” Strikes in Aleppo have killed 30 fighters and eight civilians, including three children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry said Washington informed the country before the airstrike and later said it “supports any international effort that aims at fighting terrorism.” An ISIS fighter told Reuters that the group will respond to the airstrikes, and blamed Saudi Arabia for allowing them to happen.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army said it had shot down a Syrian war plane over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights region, The Jerusalem Post reports.

UN CLIMATE SUMMIT BEGINS
More than 120 world leaders will be in New York today for the United Nations’ summit on climate change but the absence of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi won’t go unnoticed, The Washington Post reports. Together the two countries represent one-third on the world’s population and are respectively the first and third largest producers of carbon dioxide emissions. In a bid to raise awareness on what the climate could be like in the future, The Weather Channel is airing a special weather forecast from September 2050. According to AP, a global anti-deforestation initiative will be announced, although Brazil’s environment minister said she would not endorse it.

Ahead of the summit, Activists gathered in Battery Park Monday before a mass sit-in, under the banner of Flood Wall Street, to confront Wall Street for financing the climate crisis. "The economy of the 1% is destroying the planet, flooding our homes, and wrecking our communities," the Flood Wall Street website says.

VERBATIM
"Today, I tell you again that the war in Afghanistan is not our war but imposed on us, and we arethe victims," outgoing Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said in a farewell address today.

UKRAINIAN BUFFER ZONE
East Ukraine rebels in the city of Donetsk have withdrawn their artillery just hours after the Ukrainian military made a similar move following a Saturday agreement to create a buffer-zone, Ria Novosti reports. Russian newspaper Kommersant, meanwhile, quotes the EU foreign policy chief's spokeswoman Maya Kocijancic as saying that Brussels may start reconsidering the economic sanctions imposed on Moscow at the end of the month. In an interview with Reuters, a chief economic adviser at Allianz SE warned that more sanctions against Russia and counter-sanctions could push the EU into recession.

WORLDCRUNCH-TO-GO
As PortalKBR’s Shadi Khan Saif reports, while cricket is almost a religion in neighboring Pakistan and India, it's only a decade old in Afghanistan — brought to the country by Afghan refugees when they returned home from Pakistan. Afghanistan Cricket executive Noor Muhamamd Murrad says the game fits well with the country’s conservative culture. “Afghanistan is an Islamic country, and the dress-code of this game allows parents to let their sons and daughters to go out and play it,” he says.
Read the full article, Afghanistan Is Falling In Love With Cricket.

ENDING DEFORESTATION
Liberia, the country most hit by the Ebola outbreak, is set to become the first African nation to put an end to deforestation. In return, Norway has pledged to pay $150 million in development aid.

LIBYA APPROVES NEW GOVERNMENT
The elected Libyan Parliament in the city of Tobruk has approved a new government proposed by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, one week after rejecting a first cabinet, Reuters reports. Thinni, a former career soldier, has a tough job on his hands, with the country deeply divided by militia fighting since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and with rebel group Libya Dawn recently having formed a rival parliament and government in the capital of Tripoli.

825
Many Syrians may have to survive the coming winter on just 825 calories per day, a World Food Programme official said during closed-door talks in Geneva last week, Reuters reports.

PALESTINIAN KIDNAPPERS KILLED
A spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces announced this morning that two Palestinian suspects in the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June were killed in a shootout near a house where they were hiding, Haaretz reports. This comes as Israeli and Palestinian delegations are expected to renew “preliminary negotiations” in Cairo, one month after agreeing on a ceasefire. The operation in the West Bank also led to the arrest of three other suspects involved in the kidnappings, which started the “Bring Back Our Boys” campaign shortly before the military operation in Gaza. It has emerged since that the Israeli government knew early on the abducted teens were dead and misled the public.

A TRUMP TAKEDOWN
Here, John Oliver challenges the dubious Miss USA Pageant claim that it gives $45 million in scholarships to its local and national contestants annually. But he also makes a number of acerbic observations about pageant owner Donald Trump, who has made comment after comment about the importance of beauty. Among them, “It is a little ironic that the Miss USA beauty pageant is overseen by one of the ugliest souls on the planet.”

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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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