UK premier throws weight behind Saudi Arabia in decisive speech

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May talks with guests after making a speech on Monday at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London. (Reuters)
Updated 15 November 2017
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UK premier throws weight behind Saudi Arabia in decisive speech

LONDON: The UK Prime Minister Theresa May has thrown her weight behind Saudi Arabia and other “key partners” in the Middle East, as she condemned “external aggression” from Iran-backed proxies.
Addressing leading business figures on Monday at a banquet in London, the prime minister said she will “provide support” for allies in the region given the threat from terror groups.
May said: “If we are to achieve enduring stability in the Middle East, we must make an offer which supports both the long-term security and prosperity of our key partners, and encourages them to be champions of the global order.
“As we are doing in countries from Saudi Arabia to Jordan, we will provide support to help them defend and protect their borders and their cities from external aggression — from terrorists to Iranian-backed proxies.”
The premier said she would also step up efforts to help “not just contain, but solve conflicts in the region, from seeking political solutions in Yemen and Libya, to bolstering a united Iraq and working toward a two-state solution in the Middle East Peace Process.”
She said: “While we will stand firm in our support for the Iran nuclear deal, we are also determined to counter destabilizing Iranian actions in the region and their ballistic missile proliferation, working with the US, France and Germany in particular.”
May added: “This support is a matter of urgency. As we see with the events of the last few weeks, from Lebanon to the GCC dispute, our partners see the threats they face as immediate and are straining for the means to tackle them.”
Yossi Mekelberg, professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, said the speech shows that May is displaying her definitive support of Saudi Arabia.
Mekelberg said the timing of May’s speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at London’s Guildhall was also related to concerns about Lebanon’s unstable politics, which is fueling regional rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
“There is a clear departure in her position. She is very clear about what side of the fence she is on … she is siding with Saudi Arabia and Jordan against Iran and Hezbollah,” he said.
“It makes sense because British relations are traditionally closer with Saudi Arabia politically and economically and in the current environment — with the situation in Lebanon and Syria — she is more mindful that she needs to contain Iran.
“It’s refreshing for the PM to have a clear opinion on it. It’s clear that Iran is not playing ball on its nuclear terms and the UK is not happy. Does it represent a change of policy? It’s about clarifying where the UK stands … she has put it in more absolute terms.”
In the same speech on Monday, May blasted Vladimir Putin’s government for trying to “undermine free societies” and “sow discord” in the West by “weaponizing information” and “deploying its state-run media organizations to plant fake stories.”
Matthew Goodwin, professor in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent, and associate fellow at Chatham House, told Arab News: “While it is tempting to think that these US and UK (political) revolts were all about big data manipulation and Russian bots, the reality is far, far more complex. The deeper question that faces moderate centrists across the West is how can they get back on the front foot in terms of ideas and ideology. Many of those who voted for Brexit, Trump and national populists did so because they support their ideas.”
Experts have been quick to point out the “Churchillian” nature of May’s speech — and said part of the aim was also to show strength amid a number of difficulties at home.
Mekelberg said: “This is a woman who is in a very precarious position … she is being circled by vultures who want to weaken her, such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Minister Michael Gove.”
Referring to May’s recent struggles with complex Brexit negotiations and Conservative Party infighting, Mekelberg said: “The tone of her speech is unusually strong. Her job is hanging by a thread and she is trying to display a show of strength.
“In light of the dire situation at home, there are elements of her trying to deflect the issue.”
Ben Martill, Dahrendorf Fellow in Europe after Brexit at The London School of Economics (LSE), agreed that May’s strong and clear political stance is designed to divert focus from a crumbling party and the rocky Brexit negotiations.
“Why is (she) choosing to talk about it now,” he said. “It’s because she has never been in a more embattled position so she wants to change the subject.”


France’s Macron calls on US to engage world, reject nationalism

Updated 6 min 34 sec ago
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France’s Macron calls on US to engage world, reject nationalism

  • French President Emmanuel Macron drew Wednesday on the “shared bond” of US-French relations
  • Macron told Congress that Iran will “never” be allowed to develop atomic weapons

WASHINGTON: French President Emmanuel Macron drew Wednesday on the “shared bond” of US-French relations to call for a rejection of isolationism and instead for the countries to bond together anew for a 21st century security.
Macron opened a joint meeting of Congress, saying “the American and French people have had a rendezvous with freedom.”
The French president received a warm, three-minute standing ovation from US lawmakers before delivering — in English — a rare address to Congress, which he hailed as a “sanctuary of democracy.”
Macron shook hands with senators and representatives, and pressed his hand to his heart several times before a speech expected to touch on the two countries’ shared history and international challenges.
“Our two nations are rooted in the same soil, grounded in the ideals of the American and French revolutions,” Macron said.
“We have worked together for the universal ideals of liberty, tolerance, and equal rights.”
Speaking almost directly to President Donald Trump, Macron quickly turned to the top issues of Syria, free trade and the Paris accord on climate change — issues where he and Trump disagree — as he urged the United States not to retreat from world affairs, but to embrace its historic role as a military leader of world affairs.
“We are living in a time of anger and fear because of these current global threats,” Macron told lawmakers. “You can play with fears and angers for a time, but they do not construct anything.”
With a nod to great American leaders, including former President Franklin Roosevelt, he warned against sowing seeds of fear.
“We have two possible ways ahead. We can choose isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism. It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy to our fears,” he said. “But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world.”
But he said international engagement was the only solution.
“This requires — more than ever — the United States’ involvement as your role was decisive for creating and guarding today’s free world. The United States is the one who invented this multilateralism. You are the one now who has to help preserve and reinvent it,” he said.
Macron told Congress that Iran will “never” be allowed to develop atomic weapons, as the fate of a landmark 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran hangs in the balance.
“Our objective is clear,” Macron told lawmakers on the final day of a state visit during which he and President Donald Trump called for a broader “deal” that would also limit Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for militant groups across the Middle East.
“Iran shall never possess any nuclear weapons. Not now. Not in five years. Not in 10 years. Never,” Macron said.
Macron has pushed for a new approach that would see the United States and Europe agree to block any Iranian nuclear activity until 2025 and beyond, address Iran’s ballistic missile program and generate conditions for a political solution to contain Iran in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.
“Whatever the decision of the United States will be, we will not leave the floor to the actions of rogues. We will not leave the floor to this conflict of powers in the Middle East,” Macron told Congress.
“I think we can work together to build this comprehensive deal for the whole region, for our people, because I think it fairly addresses our concerns,” he said.
On climate change, Macron told US lawmakers there is “no Planet B,” acknowledging a disagreement with President Donald Trump, who pulled his nation from the landmark Paris accord.
“Let us face it. There is no Planet B,” Macron said in an address to Congress on the final day of his state visit to the United States.
“We have disagreements between the United States and France. It may happen, like in all families,” he said — but such differences would be short-term.
“We’re just citizens of the same planet,” Macron said.
“With business leaders and local communities, let us work together in order to make our planet great again and create new jobs and new opportunities while safeguarding our Earth. And I’m sure one day, the United States would come back and join the Paris agreement.”
Trump said last year that his country would withdraw from the accord, which aims to reduce damaging emissions and was signed by almost 200 countries.
Macron also lashed out against fake news — and gave a tongue-in-cheek apology for violating President Donald Trump’s “copyright” on the term.
He warned that lies disseminated online are threatening freedoms worldwide, saying: “Without reason, without truth, there is no real democracy because democracy is about true choices and rational decisions.”
Macron tasked his government this year with drafting a law to punish false information distributed during election campaigns. Macron says his presidential campaign last year was a victim of fake news, notably accusing Russian news sites RT and Sputnik.
He also warned against “terrorist propaganda that spreads its fanaticism on the Internet.”
In recounting common bonds from the earliest days of the United States, Macron talked about a meeting between Ben Franklin and the French philosopher Voltaire, “kissing each other’s cheeks.”
In an apparent reference to his friendly meetings this week with Trump, he said, “It can remind you of something.”
Macron was speaking as part of his visit to the United States. It’s the first time a president from France has addressed Congress in more than a decade, but follows a tradition of foreign leaders appearing at the US Capitol.