KIEV LAUNCHES NEW ASSAULT IN EASTERN UKRAINE
The Ukrainian military launched an offensive against pro-Russian militants just outside the eastern city of Sloviansk, sending armored vehicles and a helicopter, according to RTÉ, with Ukraine’s Interior Ministry reporting at least five dead on the pro-Russian side. According to AFP, civilians in the town hall have been evacuated as Ukrainian troops took up positions at the town’s entry. Citing local sources, RT says that all shops and schools have been closed and reports the presence of three snipers from the Ukrainian army.
- Further south, in the coastal town of Mariupol, Ukrainian forces and “civic activists” described by some as members of Right Sector, have “liberated” the city hall, the BBC reports. Read more about the overnight assault from The Kyiv Post.
- On its Twitter feed, AFP reports Russian President Vladimir Putin as saying that Kiev’s decision to use force in Eastern Ukraine was a “serious crime against its own people” and added that the move “will have consequences.” This comes after Moscow and Washington traded more blame overnight for the current situation. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the U.S. and the EU of having orchestrated “another color revolution” in Kiev, adding that Ukraine was a “pawn in a geopolitical game” against Russia. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the claims absurd. Speaking from Tokyo, President Barack Obama explained that Moscow was not abiding “by the spirit or the letter of the agreement in Geneva.”
- Meanwhile in Germany, daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that the government has blocked the export of military equipment to Russia, a move with an estimated price tag of over 5 million euros.
THREE AMERICANS KILLED IN KABUL HOSPITAL
Three Americans were shot dead and another was left injured at a hospital in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul after a police officer opened fire on a group of foreigners entering the hospital before turning the gun on himself, the BBC reports. It is still unclear whether the policeman has died, with reports suggesting he was instead taken into custody.
OBAMA’S BALANCING ACT
President Barack Obama reiterated his previous statements that Japan’s claim over the disputed Senkaku-Diaoyu islands with China was covered by a security treaty between Washington and Tokyo,USA Today reports. The president was, however, cautious not to antagonize China. According to The New York Times, Obama said, “We don’t take a position on final sovereignty. But historically, they have been administered by Japan, and we do not believe they should be subject to change unilaterally.” Beijing replied to the statement by saying that it “resolutely” opposes applying the disputed islands to the security treaty, which China Foreign Ministry’s spokesman argued “is a bilateral arrangement made during the Cold War period, and it should not be used to damage China's sovereignty and legitimate interest,” the South China Morning Post quoted him as saying.
For more on the disputed islands, we offer this Le Monde/Worldcrunch piece: Tiny Islands, Big Worries: What's Really Driving The China-Japan Showdown.
A strong sandstorm hits northwestern China. Read more about it here.
U.S. TO REASSESS AID TO PALESTINIANS
U.S. officials have admitted Washington would have to reconsider its assistance to the Palestinians if Fatah and Hamas were to form a unity government after their official reconciliation yesterday, Reuters reports. “Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties,” the unnamed official was quoted as saying. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an emergency meeting of his security cabinet, which according to The Times of Israel is expected to announce “fresh retaliatory measures.” Yesterday, the U.S. State Department said the reconciliation deal between the two Palestinian factions was “disappointing.”
As Caixin’s Betty Ng reports, admission to prestigious American universities continues to grow more competition, especially for Asian students. “Ethnic minorities in America, including Asians, are all part of the U.S. university selection mechanisms,” the journalist writes. “However, it's disturbing that evidence shows that in relation to other ethnic groups such as African Americans or Latinos, Asian students are often treated unfairly in the admission processes of prestigious schools.”
Read the full article, University Admissions, Now Twice As Hard For Asian Americans.
131 STILL MISSING IN SOUTH KOREA
Search operations continued today for those killed on a sunken South Korean ferry, with the confirmed death toll now standing at 171 while 131 people are still unaccounted for, Yonhap news agency reports. Newspaper The Chosun Ilbo, meanwhile, published a scathing report based on revelations from the investigation, showing that “endemic disregard for safety regulations, bad judgment and botched rescue efforts” were responsible for the tragic accident.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a surprise statement ahead of the 99th anniversary of Armenian genocide. “The incidents of World War I are our shared pain,” he said. “To evaluate this painful period of history through a perspective of just memory is a humane and scholarly responsibility.”
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
If you're here searching for the secret to eternal life, forget it. We're not there yet. But in the meantime, here are some supercentenarians from around the world with their own secrets to a long life. Some might surprise you!
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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