SYRIA: EVACUATIONS, SANCTIONS, ARCHEOLOGY
The Governor of the Syrian province of Homs announced that evacuations and aid deliveries in the besieged city had resumed this morning after yesterday’s halt, AFP reports. The temporary humanitarian cease-fire was negotiated recently at the Geneva 2 peace talks, and is scheduled to expire later today, though the BBC reports that the Syrian government indicated that it may be extended.
Russian officials said this morning their delegation would block a UN Security Council draft resolution that plans to impose more sanctions on Syria if the government doesn’t allow unrestricted access to aid delivery. According to Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, the draft resolution is “politicized” and its purpose is “to lay groundwork for future military operations.” Read more from PressTV.
The Independent published an interesting story about archaeological treasures in Syria that include Byzantine mosaics and statues that date back to the Greek and Roman empire being destroyed by Islamic fundamentalists. La Stampa is reporting on a new effort to try to safeguard Syria’s cultural treasures, pushed forward by former Italian Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli.
THREE-DAY MOURNING AFTER PLANE CRASH IN ALGERIA
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika declared three days of mourning after yesterday’s plane crash in which at least 77 people died, website Algerie Focus reports. The crash appears to have been caused by bad weather.
TWO CRACKS FOUND NEAR RADIOACTIVE WATER TANKS AT FUKUSHIMA
Two massive cracks, possibly caused by freezing temperatures, have been found in a concrete floor next to tanks where radioactive water is stored at Japan’s nuclear power plant Fukushima, newspaper Asahi Shimbun reports. According to the plant’s operator TEPCO, contaminated water from the melting snow in the area could have seeped into the ground through the cracks.
THAILAND COURT REJECTS BID TO INVALIDATE ELECTION
Thailand’s Constitutional Court has rejected an opposition bid to annul the election that took place on February 2, The Bangkok Post reports. In their petition, opponents to the government argued that the poll was unconstitutional but the court ruled that there was “no credible evidence.”
WHY U.S. HAS SUNK IN WORLD PRESS FREEDOM RANKINGS
After a year during which Private Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in jail and the crackdown on whistleblowers, including Edward Snowden, the United States have fallen 13 places to 46th in Reporters Without Borders’ latest World Press Freedom Index. Finland, the Netherlands and Norway are in the top 3, while China, Syria and North Korea are amongst the worst-ranked.
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
TOYOTA RECALLS 1.9 MILLION PRIUS HYBRIDS
Japanese carmaker Toyota is recalling 1.9 million Prius hybrids around the world because of a software-related problem that may cause the vehicles to suddenly slow down and stop, Reuters reports.
Amnesty International says in a new report that “ethnic cleansing” of Muslim civilians is taking place in the Central African Republic.
BY THE NUMBERS
Russia sets price tag on its citizenship.
NEW DRUG SMUGGLING FLEET
Australian customs finds 180kg stash of methamphetamine in imported kayaks.
THE WAY HE MAKES THEM FEEL
A French judge ruled that Michael Jackson’s doctor must pay five grieving fans one euro each in "emotional damages" after the death of the King of Pop.
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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