UKRAINE PM RESIGNS
Ukraine Prime Minister Mykola Azarov offered his resignation early Tuesday in an effort to end the country’s political crisis. This was followed by news that the Ukrainian Parliament had voted to repeal nine of the 12 anti-protest laws that reignited the anti-government protests two weeks ago.
SYRIAN DEFENSE MINISTER’S HOMETOWN BOMBED
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the hometown of Syria’s Defense Minister was hit by a suicide bomb yesterday evening, killing at least 13 soldiers from the Syrian army. The attack, which was carried out by a fighter linked with al-Qaeda groups, happened as representatives of the Syrian government and opposition are still gathered in Geneva. Read more from Reuters.
ISLAMISTS KILL 99 IN NORTHERN NIGERIA
At least 99 people were killed in a small Nigerian village after being attacked by a group of Islamist militants from Boko Haram, Al Jazeera reports. During the Sunday attack, the gunmen shot people as they were attending a church service and burned some 300 houses.
SHOTS FIRED AS THAI PM MEETS ELECTORAL COMMISSION
One protester was injured by a gunshot as anti-government demonstrators in Thailand gathered outside an army facility where Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was meeting with the Electoral Commission, The Bangkok Post reports. Despite recommendations to postpone the upcoming vote to prevent the situation from escalating further, Shinawatra announced the election would take place Sunday as planned.
MORSI APPEARS IN COURT
Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi appeared in public for the second time since his ousting in July 2013, as he stands trial for escaping from prison during the uprising in 2011, Al-Ahram reports. Morsi supporters are gathering in Cairo, where they clashed with the police. Earlier today, two gunmen on a motorbike shot a police officer dead in the capital. Read more from AFP.
SUSPECTED WAR CRIMINAL CALLS THE HAGUE “SATANIC”
Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb commander accused of serious war crimes, appeared before the Hague this week to testify in the trial of his former leader, and lashed out at the court. Read here what he had to say.
American folk singer and political activist Pete Seeger has died at age 94.
COW FLATULENCE SPARKS FIRE
We don’t know if it was silent, but it certainly could have been deadly. Flatulence from 90 cows in a German farm shed caused an explosion Monday when their gas was met with a static electric charge. One of the animals was treated for burns.
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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