Obama Writes Khamenei, Gorbachev Defends Putin, No Hollande Love

Rowing in Cambridge
Rowing in Cambridge

Friday, November 7, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama secretly wrote a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei last month, which The Wall Street Journal reports “appeared aimed both at buttressing” the anti-ISIS campaign and “nudging Iran's religious leader closer to a nuclear deal.” Obama reportedly stressed that the two issues are deeply linked and that a possible cooperation in the fight against ISIS was “largely contingent” on Iran reaching an agreement on its nuclear program by a Nov. 24 deadline. The news is likely to anger the Republican majority in the Congress, which largely opposes any collaboration with Iran. A congressional source told Fox News that the letter “f***s up everything.” Reacting to the news, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he opposed linking Iran’s nuclear program to the fight against ISIS and added that Iran was “not a partner for any dialogue in the Middle East.”


"I am absolutely convinced that Putin protects Russia's interests better than anyone else." Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Thursday that he will defend Russian President Vladimir Putin's policies when he travels to Germany this weekend for ceremonies commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall.

A series of coordinated explosions targeted the homes and vehicles of several leaders within Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party in the Gaza Strip, Reuters reports. It’s unclear who was behind the attacks, and Fatah sources said they doubted the authenticity of a letter signed by ISIS left at the scene of one explosion, saying it was likely an attempt by attackers to spread fear and hide their true identity. Meanwhile, tensions could escalate further in East Jerusalem, as there are rumors that more right-wing Israeli politicians are planning visits to Temple Mount, the location of the al-Aqsa mosque compound. Hamas called on West Bank worshippers to march after today’s prayers to “protect” Islam’s third holiest site from the “Zionist siege.”

According to Haaretz, Israel’s Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who is also a leader of the far-right party The Jewish Home, called yesterday for an all-out military offensive in the Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem and called Mahmoud Abbas a “terrorist.”

“For its security, Israel cannot withdraw from more territory and cannot allow for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank,” Bennett writes in a New York Times opinion piece.

Francois Hollande's approval ratings hit a new low yesterday, exactly halfway into the French president's five-year term, when Pollster YouGov revealed that Hollande scored a mere 12% approval rating in its latest monthly survey — the worst for any president in modern-day polling.

Beijing and Tokyo officials have agreed to overcome “political obstacles” and will gradually resume political, diplomatic and security dialogue, news agency Xinhua reported, quoting China’s Foreign Ministry. As the AP reports, this is the “strongest indication yet” that the two leaders, Xi Jinping and Shinzo Abe, could meet at next week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. The two countries also acknowledged they had “different positions” on the disputed Diaoyu-Senkaku Islands but vowed to prevent any escalation “through dialogue and consultation,” the statement said.
For more on the ongoing dispute, we offer this Economic Observer/Worldcrunch piece, Japan V. China: The Kabuki Theater Standoff Over Senkaku Islands.

Rowers shrouded in mist train on the River Cam early Thursday. Temperatures are beginning to drop below zero in southern and central parts of England.

Chinese officials will be more respectful of the fact that Beijing and Hong Kong are “two systems,” while also stressing the "one country" aspect in the wake of the Occupy protests, a source close to the government told the South China Morning Post. He indicated, however, that Beijing would not change its mind over the preselection of candidates for the 2017 Hong Kong elections. Instead, the central government “will make appropriate adjustments in its policy towards the city,” the source said.

As Die Welt’s Eva Marie Kogel reports, a secret 60-bed hospital in the Lebanese capital of Beirut treats both ISIS patients and other Islamic extremists whose backers must pay cash in advance. Enemies share doctors in a place where medicine is a blind business, and cash is king. “The doctor's prognosis for today's patient is that he will walk again, but with a limp,” the journalist writes. “His minimum goal for his patients is to spare the young men life in a wheelchair. They are mostly aged between 20 and 22, and some are still teenagers. But they are also terrorists whose barbaric brutality is feared the world over. The slaughter in Syria and Iraq, the horrific acts they commit, are a declaration of war on the whole world.”
Read the full article, Exclusive: Inside The Secret Beirut Hospital Treating ISIS.

The South Korean National Assembly voted overwhelmingly to dismantle the Coast Guard in an attempt to prevent a disaster similar to the April ferry sinking in which more than 300 people died, Yonhap reports. The Coast Guard was heavily criticized after the tragedy, with authorities saying that swifter action could have saved many lives. Lawmakers also approved a bill calling for an independent investigation into the disaster and another that proposes to seize the wealth of those found guilty of causing “people's deaths through illegal activities.” The money would then be used to compensate victims’ families.


New Zealand prosecutors have dropped the murder-for-hire charge against AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd, just one day after he appeared in court, The New Zealand Herald reports. According to Rudd’s lawyer, “There was insufficient evidence to justify that charge,” and his client has "suffered unnecessary and extremely damaging publicity.” The 60-year-old still faces charges of drug possession and threatening to kill.

Buzz, Woody & Co. will be back on screens in 2017 for a fourth installment of Disney’s Toy Story. Toy Story 4 will be directed by John Lasseter, who made the first two animated movies. “We don't want to do anything with them unless it lives up to or surpasses what's gone before,” he said.

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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