KERRY AND LAVROV EXCHANGE BLAME
In a phone conversation with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Moscow to "tone down escalatory rhetoric," criticizing Russia for failing “to de-escalate” the crisis, The Guardian reports. During the conversation, Lavrov replied that Ukrainian ultranationalists were responsible for the collapse of the deal reached in Geneva last week, after they killed pro-Russian protesters on Sunday in the eastern town of Sloviansk.
- The Russian Foreign Minister went further in an interview with RT, saying that in his view, “There is no reason not to believe that the Americans are running the show” in reference to Kiev’s decision to resume its “anti-terrorist operation” in eastern Ukraine as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in the capital for a two-day visit. Lavrov also said that Russia would “respond in accordance with international law” if its “legitimate interests” were attacked.
- This comes as the military buildup in the region intensifies, with 10 vessels and 400 sailors from the Russian navy involved in military exercises in the Caspian sea. Meanwhile, Reutersreports that the United States is sending frigate USS Taylor in the Black Sea as well as 600 soldiers to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia for drills, in a bid to “reassure NATO allies.”
- Pavel Durov, the founder of the Russian equivalent of Facebook, VKontakte, fled the country after he said he was forced out as the company’s CEO for refusing to share users’ personal data with Russian law enforcement agencies. Read more from The Moscow Times.
HAMAS AND FATAH TO FORM PALESTINIAN UNITY GOV’T
The two main Palestinian organizations, Fatah and Hamas, are on the verge of reaching what Israeli daily Haaretz describes as a “historic reconciliation deal,” seven years after the two factions split. According to reports from Israeli media, a unity government will be formed in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, a member of Fatah, needed to choose between making peace with Hamas or with Israel, with the negotiations to salvage the Palestine-Israel talks still stalled. Read more from The Jerusalem Post.
“ABOMINATION” IN SOUTH SUDAN
South Sudanese rebels have made important advances in oil-producing towns, leading to scores of civilian deaths, as fights with the army have intensified in the northeastern states of the country, according to theThe Wall Street Journal. Yesterday, the White House condemned the "abomination" described in a United Nations report, showing that rebel forces had killed some 200 people because of their ethnicity in the oil-rich town of Bentiu.
YELLOW BUTTERFLIES FOR GABO
Bogota bids “adios” to its greatest writer.
FERRY DEATH TOLL REACHES 152
Search teams have recovered dozens of bodies from the wreck of the South Korean ferry that sank last week, taking the death toll to 152 victims, while some 150 are still missing, Yonhap reports. Public outrage with the ferry’s crew is intensifying, with South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbonow reporting that pictures published by the Korea Coast Guard show that claims that “the ship had tilted too much to allow them to reach the cabins and manipulate the lifeboats have turned out to be completely false.”
BRAZILIAN LAWMAKERS PASS INTERNET BILL OF RIGHTS
The Brazilian Senate unanimously approved a “bill of rights” of the Internet aimed at securing civil rights for Internet users and pushed forward by President Dilma Rousseff after last years’ NSA revelations from Edward Snowden, Folha de São Paulo reports. The “Internet Constitution,” which according to Reuters “limits the gathering and use of metadata on Internet users in Brazil” will be presented today by Rousseff at the NetMundial conference in São Paulo.
Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza takes a look at the recent Geneva deal on Ukraine, and a potential unspoken license for Russia to continue to pursue control of the rest of the country: “Regarding Geneva, Russians do not feel bound to anything, because they have already achieved what they wanted most. Kiev's negotiators did not use the summit to claim Crimea back for Ukraine — at least not officially. Choosing silence, they have accepted the annexation of the peninsula in the hope of protecting eastern Ukraine. The spirit of the Munich Agreement, which untied Hitler’s hands, is clearly in the air.”
Read the full article here, translated by Worldcrunch: Why Geneva Deal On Ukraine Smells Like Munich 1938.
On International Mother Earth Day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for tougher action to protect the planet from the impact of human activity.
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
Beijing is struggling to find enough places in schools for its 10,000 "Olympic Babies" born in 2008, which was considered a lucky year in China.
TO CELEBRATE OR NOT TO CELEBRATE
Today marks the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. To remember the greatest English writer of all time, The Independent listed 50 everyday phrases coined by the Bard. For those looking for more original material, be sure to check out this online Shakespeare Insulter.
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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