NASA Fail, 60 Days To Save Africa, Google Vs. Death

A NASA rocket carrying cargo to the ISS exploded shortly after launching Tuesday night.
A NASA rocket carrying cargo to the ISS exploded shortly after launching Tuesday night.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have arrived in Kobani to fight alongside Syrian Kurds in the besieged border city, more than a week after Turkey announced it would let them cross into Syria, The New York Times reports. The 150-strong group were reportedly to be joined by as many as 150 additional fighters from the Free Syrian Army, which has mostly been engaged in the fight against Syrian government forces. Kurdish officials in Kobani believe that these new reinforcements will enable them to open up new fronts against ISIS. The jihadist group meanwhile launched a deadly attack on an oil and gas field near the Syrian city of Homs, killing at least 30 pro-Assad fighters, London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP.

An Antares rocket carrying cargo to the International Space Station exploded shortly after launching Tuesday night, in the first failure of a NASA commercial space mission. The rocket was carrying an unmanned spacecraft packed with about 2.5 tons of supplies for astronauts on the International Space Station. NASA has come under intense criticism online for describing the dramatic explosion, the first since the space agency outsourced resupply operations to private space companies, as a "mishap." The bill is expected to top $200 million. Russia has offered to help the U.S. with deliveries to the ISS should the NASA require its assistance. Read more from AFP.

“Parts of West Africa face catastrophe within 60 days” if urgent action against the Ebola virus is not taken, a UK umbrella group representing 13 aid charities warned yesterday as it launched an aid appeal, the BBC reports. It is the first time in its 50-year history that the Disasters Emergency Committee is calling for aid for a disease outbreak, “a sign of how serious the situation has become,” its chief executive said. According to the World Health Organization, the worst affected countries could see 5,00 to 10,000 new cases every week by December. Meanwhile, Time reports that Asia is also preparing to face a potential Ebola outbreak but notes that the continent’s recent experiences with epidemics gives Asian nations an edge. Professor Peter Piot, one of the doctors who discovered the deadly virus in 1976 recently warned that China would be at risk “one day” given the number of Chinese citizens working in Africa.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff edged out reelection, thanks in part to her charismatic predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. But what role will the former president seek in Dilma’s second term? According to Folha de S. Paolo’s Valdo Cruz, “With an eye on maintaining the Workers’ Party project in power, the former president wishes to have a bigger influence on his protege's second term. Brazilian law prevents a president from running for a third consecutive term in office. Meaning that nothing would stop Lula — who served from 2003 to 2011 — from deciding to be a candidate four years from now, to succeed his own successor.”
Read the full article, After Dilma's Reelection, The Lula Question Looms.

At least 10 people died and some 300 are missing in central Sri Lanka after a landslide which came after heavy monsoon rains, the BBC reports quoting disaster officials.

In its quest to “cure death,” Google is working on a pill containing nanoparticles that could “patrol the human body” and diagnose cancers, impending heart attacks or strokes and other diseases, The Wall Street Journal reports. According to the newspaper, such a pill and its accompanying wearable device are “likely more than five years off” and will face “huge challenges, both technical and social.” Just over a year ago, the search giant launched Calico, a health company focused on “the challenge of aging and associated diseases.”

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg reports that U.S.-Israeli relations are at an all-time low, and the colorful word that an unnamed White House official used to describe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t help. Read our daily Verbatim item here, and Goldberg’s article here.

Unclassified White House computer networks have been breached in recent weeks with unnamed officials quoted in The Washington Post suggesting the hackers could be working for the Russian government. Although the FBI and the NSA are currently investigating, the White House officials said there had been no damage to the systems and that no classified data was hacked. Meanwhile, Russia and China appear to be finding harmony on Internet security questions, reports Moscow daily Kommersant.


Zambian President Micheal Sata has died in London at the age of 77 from an undisclosed illness that had taken him off the public stage since June. Sata, whose sharp tongue earned him the "King Cobra" nickname, was elected in 2011.

Who said aging rockers are destined to turn into furniture? Still, for the right price, they can adorn your living room coffee table: A new limited edition signed book by The Rolling Stones is fetching a $5,000-pricetag. There’s also a “cheap” smaller version, available for $150. Sometimes you get what you need ...

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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


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

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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