US pushes sanctions to send Putin message on election interference

Republican US Senators Marco Rubio (L) and Lindsey Graham are seen in this combination photo from US Senate hearings on Capitol Hill in Washington, US on March 14, 2018 and on June 18, 2018 respectively. (REUTERS)
Updated 23 July 2018
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US pushes sanctions to send Putin message on election interference

WASHINGTON: A pair of prominent Republican US senators said on Sunday that the United States needs to prepare new sanctions against Russia to discourage interference in upcoming elections.
Senator Lindsey Graham said additional sanctions must be teed up before President Donald Trump holds a second meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the US leader came under heavy criticism for failing to confront Putin about interference in the 2016 election at a summit last Monday.
“You need to work with Congress to come up with new sanctions because Putin’s not getting the message,” Graham said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We need new sanctions, heavy-handed sanctions, hanging over his head, and then meet with him.”
Undaunted by the backlash in his own party to his first meeting, Trump invited Putin to a White House meeting sometime this fall. Congressional midterm elections will take place in November.
Senator Marco Rubio wants a vote on a bill called DETER that would impose new sanctions if US intelligence officials determine Russia meddled in US elections. Rubio co-authored the legislation with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, a bipartisan effort revived by the fallout of last week’s summit.
“What I think is indisputable is that they did interfere and they will do so in the future,” Rubio said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“If our bill passes and the director of national intelligence says they interfered in 2018, these very tough sanctions will hit them. So Putin knows going in, what the price of doing so is.”
Putin has denied that Russia tried to influence the 2016 presidential election after the US intelligence community concluded Russia interfered through cyberattacks and social media in a bid to boost Trump’s candidacy.
Under pressure from Congress, which last year passed a tough sanctions law targeting Russia, the US Treasury in April imposed sanctions on Russian officials and oligarchs for election meddling and “malign” activities.
The DETER Act would make sanctions more automatic. The US director of national intelligence would be required to conclude if any foreign nations interfered in elections one month after Americans cast their votes, triggering strict sanctions within 10 days if interference was detected.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week identified the bill as a potential step Congress could take in the coming days to push back against Russia as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for sanctions and other deterrents.
But the US oil and gas industry is lobbying against the bill due to worries that heightened sanctions could impact US investments in Russia, congressional sources said.


Natural wonders replace manmade towers as Gulf states target ecotourists

Updated 22 August 2018
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Natural wonders replace manmade towers as Gulf states target ecotourists

LONDON: Gulf tourism bodies are competing to attract “ecotourists” as they look beyond traditional attractions to generate much-needed revenues.
Dubai-based Meraas last month revealed plans to turn the emirate’s mountainous Hatta region into an ecotourism destination, siting mountain lodges and “boutique” trailers along the banks of the Hatta dam.
In Saudi Arabia, a royal order in June established nine royal reservations, to be looked after by a board of directors to preserve the natural environment and limit overfishing or overgrazing.
These are some of the efforts the region is making to attract more tourists to its “natural wonders,” with the aim of increasing the contribution tourism makes to their economies that have been reliant on oil.
To date, Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector has been dominated by those visiting for religious purposes — such as for the Hajj pilgrimage this month. Tourist visas for international visitors have been hard to obtain, though the Kingdom is looking to make it easier.
In the UAE, the average tourist is unlikely to even be aware of the mountain ranges, wadis, and nature reserves that lie just a relatively short drive from their sun lounger, choosing to spend their time in the country’s malls, hotel pools and beaches.
But this is due to change, said Anthony Hobeika, chief executive officer, Mena Research Partners.
“We expect ecotourism to be a key traction to investors during the next period, as UAE continues on its tourism push with a diversified and wider range of offerings to international as well as domestic tourists.
Meraas’ latest investment in Hatta demonstrates this potential diversification away from high-end glamor to more rustic attractions. The company’s previous developments include Dubai’s luxury Nikki Beach Residences and the Bulgari Residence.
The mock-up pictures provided by Meraas so far suggest the experience will be more “glamping” than roughing it in the wild.
“Hatta is known for its beautiful scenery — mountains, lakes, wadis, farms, dams and fresh air and the development of ecotourism demonstrates our commitment at Meraas to implementing the vision of our wise leadership by creating economic opportunities for young people,
local businesses and entrepreneurs in Hatta,” said Abdulla Al-Habbai, group chairman at Meraas in July.
Globally ecotourism is growing in popularity as a way of minimizing the environmental footprint of travel, and using tourism to benefit locals, preserve culture and look after nature.
It is a trend other areas of the Gulf have capitalized on already, said Benjamin Carey, managing director at the consultancy Carey Tourism. He has previously worked on eco-tourism projects across the Middle East and is currently working on projects in India, Laos and Yemen.
“Emirates like Ras Al-Khaimah are being very clever in terms of creating high-margin and relatively low-impact adventure tourism products in a natural heritage environment,” he said.
“They are investing heavily in marketing because they recognize the importance of destination marketing and management — and also know that the oil-rich Emirati economy needs to diversify.”
“From a demand perspective, it must be remembered that the most important markets for ecotourism are middle-class professionals and urban elites, especially those
attracted by five-star hotels in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Glamping, ecolux, expensive mountain bikes: These are all attractive short-term adventures for (those who) want to experience “ecotourism-lite,” he said.
Last December, Oman made inroads into the eco-tourism sector, with the opening of an Arabian Oryx sanctuary to the public, giving tourists a chance to see the rare desert dweller that had been hunted to extinction in the wild.
In July, the UAE launched its National Ecotourism Project in a bid to improve its marketing of eco-attractions to tourists.
The project will promote UAE’s “natural wonders” across 43 protected areas, including the Wadi Al Wurayah Nature Reserve in Fujairah where you might glimpse a rare Arabian leopard and the Al Wathba Reserve in Abu Dhabi and Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary in Dubai where flocks of flamingos gather.
A website and app will be launched to raise awareness of these protected areas and encourage travel agencies to include them in travel packages.
“The UAE seeks to leverage the fast-paced development witnessed in all sectors, particularly in the sustainable tourism domain that includes eco-friendly flights, hotels, beaches and campsites,” said Thani bin Ahmed Al-Zeyoudi, minister of climate change and environment.
However, regional developers keen to offer ecotourism breaks will need to work with local communities, Carey warned.
“Ecotourism cannot be imposed on a community. Bedouin, even if increasingly only semi-nomadic, have traditional land rights and must be involved in destination management and development,” he said.
“A green golf course is not eco-tourism. A key dimension of eco-tourism development involves working within the limits of local resources, conserving and safeguarding natural, cultural and social heritage,” he added.
Gulf economies have increasingly benefited from the growing contribution of the tourism sector to their GDP, a welcome development given recent low oil prices.
In Saudi Arabia, the total contribution of travel and tourism to GDP grew by 4.6 percent in 2017, according to statistics from the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).
Last year, the sector contributed SR240.9 billion ($64.2 billion) or 9.4 percent to the Kingdom’s GDP, with the WTTC forecasting this share will reach 10.9 percent by 2028.
In the UAE, total contribution of travel and tourism was 154.1 billion dirhams ($41.95 billion) or 11.3 percent of GDP in 2017, according to WTTC. It is forecast to rise by 4.9 percent this year. By 2028, the sector will represent 10.6 percent of GDP, according to the council’s estimates.