Dead Sea’s revival with Red Sea canal edges closer to reality

This file image shows evaporation ponds at the southern part of the Dead Sea, where both sodium chloride and potassium salts are produced, near the Neve Zohar resort, as Jordan’s mountains are seen in the back. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Updated 18 March 2018
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Dead Sea’s revival with Red Sea canal edges closer to reality

GHOR AL-HADITHA, Jordan: Israel and Jordan have long pursued a common goal to stop the Dead Sea from shrinking while slaking their shared thirst for drinking water with a pipeline from the Red Sea some 200 kilometers away.
Geopolitical tensions have stalled efforts to break ground on the ambitious project for years, but the end of the latest diplomatic spat has backers hoping a final accord may now be in sight.
The degradation of the Dead Sea, on the border of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian West Bank, began in the 1960s when water began to be heavily diverted from the Jordan River.
“Before 1967, the water was just a 10-minute walk from my house,” said Musa Salim Al-Athem, a farmer who grows tomatoes on the banks on the Jordan side.
“Now it takes an hour,” he said, standing amid the resulting lunar landscape of spectacular salt sculptures, gaping sinkholes and craters.
“Only the sea can fill up the sea.”
“Since 1950, the amount flowing in the Jordan has dropped from 1.2 billion cubic meters per year (42 billion cubic feet) to less than 200 million,” said Frederic Maurel, an engineering expert at the French development agency AFD.
Heavy production of potash, used for making fertilizer, has also accelerated evaporation that has seen the sea’s surface area shrink by a third since 1960.
Experts say water levels are falling one meter (three feet) a year, and warn it could dry out completely within 30 years.
Already 100 years ago, Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism, had envisaged filling the Dead Sea via a canal dug to the Mediterranean.
The sea’s natural beauty and mineral-rich black mud have also provided a source of tourism revenue.
“The Dead Sea has historical, biblical, natural, touristic, medical and industrial values that make it an invaluable cultural, environmental and economic treasure,” said Avner Adin, a specialist in water science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
After years of studies, the $1.1 billion Red Sea “Peace Conduit” deal was signed by Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian authorities in 2013.
The project, located entirely on Jordanian territory, includes a desalination plant near Aqaba.
After producing drinking water, the remaining highly saline liquid will be sent by pipeline to fill the Dead Sea, powering two hydroelectric plants along the way.
A subsequent 2015 deal would see Israel get 35 billion cubic meters of potable water from the desalination plant for its parched southern regions.
The mostly desert Jordan, for its part, would get up to 50 billion cubic meters of freshwater from the Sea of Galilee.
Israel also agreed to sell 32 billion cubic meters to the Palestinian authorities.
Jordan announced in November 2016 that it had chosen five international consortiums to build the first phase of the canal.
But talks on how to finance the deal, which calls for $400 million of public funding, and geopolitical flare-ups have kept the project from moving forward.
Some $120 million has already been pledged by donors including the US and Japan, while France’s AFD agency has secured the backing of the EU and some member states for $140 million in preferential loans to Jordan.
Talks were frozen last year after an Israeli security guard shot and killed two Jordanians at the Israeli embassy in Amman, prompting a diplomatic standoff that ended only in January.
“We have never been so close to starting the project,” Maurel said. “It only needs a final push by the Jordanian and Israeli authorities.”
A diplomatic source in Amman said the project remained essential for the region given the environmental and economic stakes, “but it’s still at the mercy of diplomatic hazards.”
For Adin at the Hebrew University, “It seems to be that the situation is improving. The main obstacle in my mind could be financial.”
Officials in Jordan say they are determined to press ahead with or without Tel Aviv to cope with the needs of a rising population which has been swelled by about one million refugees fleeing the war in neighboring Syria.
“We are proceeding with the project because desalination eventually is the future of Jordan when it comes to water,” said Iyad Dahiyat, secretary general of the country’s water authority.
“Water is part of the stability of the kingdom itself,” he added. “It’s a national security issue.”


Iran’s top diplomat warns US is ‘playing with fire’

Updated 16 July 2019
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Iran’s top diplomat warns US is ‘playing with fire’

  • Iran announced last week that it had enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the nuclear deal
  • The US quit an international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program last year, hitting Tehran with crippling sanctions

UNITED NATIONS: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Monday that the United States is “playing with fire,” echoing remarks by President Donald Trump as the two sides are locked in a standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program.
The United States quit an international deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program last year, hitting Tehran with crippling sanctions.
Tensions have since soared, with the US calling off air strikes against Iran at the last minute after Tehran downed an American drone, and Washington blaming the Islamic republic for a series of attacks on tanker ships.
“I think the United States is playing with fire,” Zarif told NBC News.
Iran announced last week that it had enriched uranium past the 3.67 percent limit set by the nuclear deal, and has also surpassed the 300-kilogram cap on enriched uranium reserves.
But “it can be reversed within hours,” Zarif told the channel, adding: “We are not about to develop nuclear weapons. Had we wanted to develop nuclear weapons, we would have been able to do it (a) long time ago.”
Zarif’s comments came as the United States imposed unusually harsh restrictions on his movements during a visit to the United Nations.
Weeks after the United States threatened sanctions against Zarif, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Washington issued him a visa but forbade him from moving beyond six blocks of Iran’s UN mission in Midtown Manhattan.
“US diplomats don’t roam around Tehran, so we don’t see any reason for Iranian diplomats to roam freely around New York City, either,” Pompeo told The Washington Post.
No US diplomats are based in Iran as the two countries broke off relations in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the Western-backed shah.
“Foreign Minister Zarif, he uses the freedoms of the United States to come here and spread malign propaganda,” the top US diplomat said.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that the UN Secretariat was in contact with the US and Iranian missions about Zarif’s travel restrictions and “has conveyed its concerns to the host country.”
The United States, as host of the United Nations, has an agreement to issue visas promptly to foreign diplomats on UN business and only rarely declines.
Washington generally bars diplomats of hostile nations from traveling outside a 40-kilometer (25-mile) radius of New York’s Columbus Circle.
Zarif is scheduled to speak Wednesday at the UN Economic and Social Council, which is holding a high-level meeting on sustainable development.
Despite the restrictions, the decision to admit Zarif is the latest sign that Trump’s administration appears to be retreating from its vow to place sanctions on him as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on June 24 that sanctions against Zarif would come later that week.
Critics questioned the legal rationale for targeting Zarif and noted that sanctions would all but end the possibility of dialogue — which Trump has said is his goal.
Zarif said in an interview with The New York Times he would not be affected by sanctions as he owns no assets outside of Iran.