US wants PLO’s Washington office to stay open

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Office is seen in Washington, DC, on November 21, 2017. Palestinian officials announced they had suspended meetings with the US, following a quarrel with President Donald Trump's administration over the future of their representative office in Washington. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2017
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US wants PLO’s Washington office to stay open

WASHINGTON: The US wants the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to keep its Washington office open and is in talks with Palestinian officials about the issue despite a US decision that could trigger its closure, the State Department said on Tuesday.
A State Department official on Saturday said under US law, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could not renew a certification for the PLO office to operate “given certain statements made by the Palestinian leaders about the International Criminal Court (ICC).”
The PLO reacted with fury and claimed to have broken off ties with the Americans — imperiling President Donald Trump’s stated goal of a negotiated Middle East peace deal.
Under long-standing law, the PLO, the main Palestinian umbrella political body, cannot operate a Washington office if it urges the ICC to prosecute Israelis for alleged crimes against Palestinians.
In September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN called on the ICC “to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggressions against our people.”
When questioned on the closure by reporters, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert went as far as to say: “I think we’d like for them to be able to keep it open.”
Speaking at the press briefing, Nauert said the matter was under discussion and that, as far as she knew, the office was up and running for now.
“We are in contact with the Palestinian officials about the status of that PLO office. I don’t want reporters to get ahead of themselves in reporting on this,” she added, suggesting that talk of the office’s closure might be premature.
“Shutting down an office — that’s not what we are talking about today. There are some conversations underway,” she said.
Tillerson was examining the issue, she said, insisting: “In our view, communications are not frozen.
Nauert added that Tillerson had made his decision in close consultation with the White House, but added that discussions about the office in Washington continue.
“There are some conversations underway. The secretary is taking a look at this, and we’ll get back to you when we have more,” she said.
According to a weekend report by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, the Palestinian presidency expressed surprise at the US certification decision, first reported by the Associated Press.
WAFA quoted Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki as saying that Palestinian leaders would not give in to blackmail or pressure regarding the operation of the PLO office or negotiations on an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
It was not immediately clear what effect the State Department’s move might have on the Trump administration’s efforts to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which are led by Jared Kushner, the US president’s son-in-law and senior adviser.
The PLO office in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A source familiar with the matter said that the office remained open and that Arab television channels had taken footage of the Palestinian ambassador entering the building this week.


Saudi Arabia pledges $100m to help ‘stabilize’ Syria’s northeast

Updated 26 min 47 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia pledges $100m to help ‘stabilize’ Syria’s northeast

  • United States, which leads the anti-Daesh coalition, expressed its  thanks for the funds
  • The money will help ensure the militants cannot re-emerge as a threat

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has contributed $100 million to help reconstruct areas of north-eastern Syria formerly held by Daesh.

The Kingdom said the contribution would go toward a campaign by the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS to “stabilize” the former Daesh bastion and help ensure the militants cannot re-emerge as a threat.

The United States, which leads the coalition, expressed its  thanks and appreciation to Riyadh.

“This significant contribution is critical to stabilization and early recovery efforts,” a State Department spokeswoman said. “Saudi Arabia has been a leading partner in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS from the outset.”

The funds are the biggest single financial  contribution yet for reconstruction efforts in areas formerly controlled by the extremists.

The money would “save lives, help facilitate the return of displaced Syrians, and help ensure that Daesh cannot reemerge to threaten Syria, its neighbors, or plan attacks against the international community,” the Saudi Embassy in Washington said.

The contribution aims to support “stabilization projects” and “will play a critical role in the coalition’s efforts to revitalize communities, such as Raqqa, that have been devastated by Daesh terrorists.”

The statement said the money showed Saudi Arabia’s continued commitment to serve as a stabilizing force in the region.

The funds, part of a pledge made by Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir last month, will go towards projects to restore essential services in the areas of health, agriculture, electricity, water, education, and transportation.

The United Nations has said reconstruction in Syria would cost at least $250 billion. The Daesh takeover of large areas of territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014 led to huge levels of destruction. 

A conference on the reconstruction of Iraq held in Kuwait in February raised $30 billion in funding commitment. Saudi Arabia said at the event it would contribute $1.5 billion in financial and reconstruction support. 

Saudi Arabia also hosted the founding conference for the coalition in Jeddah in September 2014, and soon after flew the first air missions to bomb Daesh targets in Syria.