UKRAINE’S NEW GOVERNMENT PRESENTED TO MAIDAN
The new Ukraine government will be presented to the protesters of Kiev’s Independence Square tonight, Radio Liberty reports. A member of Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR party announced that the union government would include some of the protesters.
Acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov signed a special order to disband the country’s riot police in a bid to win confidence from an increasingly divided country, according to The Guardian.
Kerry’s Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov urged the democracy watchdog Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe “to decisively condemn the rise of nationalist and neo-fascist sentiment in the west of the country,” citing calls to ban the Russian language as a cause for concern for the population and freedom of speech.
According to RT, pro- and anti-Russian protesters are gathered in front of the Crimean Parliament with tensions rising between the two groups.
HEZBOLLAH VOWS TO RETALIATE AFTER ISRAELI AIR STRIKE
Lebanese militant group Hezbollah said in a statement it would retaliate after an Israeli air strike that targeted its positions at the border with Syria Monday night, Al Manar reports. Hezbollah, which is a strong supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, said the strike was “a flagrant aggression against Lebanon” and that it would “choose the appropriate time, place and way to retaliate.” Israel initially refused to comment on the attack, but an unnamed official later confirmed it to Time magazine, saying it was a move to prevent a missiles convoy to reach Hezbollah.
IRAQ DENIES ARMS DEAL WITH IRAN
The Iraqi government has denied reports that it signed an arms deal worth $195 million with Iran, one day after the Iranian government also denied such an agreement, according to Xinhua. Yesterday, U.S. officials expressed their concern about the reports, according to which the two countries signed an agreement in November after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki returned empty-handed from a meeting in Washington.
AL-SISI TO REMAIN EGYPT’S DEFENSE MINISTER
Egyptian army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will remain the country’s defense minister, despite the government’s resignation Monday, according to reports from Egypt’s state broadcaster. New Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab reappointed three other members of the cabinet, namely the ministers for interior, oil and planning, Al Arabiya reports. Al-Sisi is expected to become the country’s next president, although he still hasn’t announced his candidacy for the election, scheduled to be held in the next few months.
A sculpture of the late Apple founder Steve Jobs by a Serbian artist has been unveiled to mixed reviews.
THAI OPPOSITION TARGETED BY GUNMEN
Thailand’s military forces have increased their number of checkpoints around anti-government rally sites after unknown gunmen fired shots and threw grenades near protest camps overnight, The Bangkok Post reports. No casualties were reported, but attacks against Thailand’s anti-government protesters have been regular since the beginning of the political crisis four months ago, with 22 deaths and hundreds of wounded. Read more from AFP.
U.S. EXPELS THREE VENEZUELAN DIPLOMATS
The United States has given 48 hours to three diplomats from Washington’s Venezuelan embassy to leave the country, in a tit-for-tat move after President Nicolás Maduro’s expulsion of American diplomats last week, AP reports. The announcement comes as Maduro is set to preside later today over a “National Peace Conference” to which he invited all sectors of society, including political opponents, according to Infobae. AFP reports, however, that opposition leader Henrique Capriles refused to attend.
Famous flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia has died at the age of 66.
If, like us, you love GIFs, be sure to have a look at these candidates for the Motion Photography Prize.
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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