Macron's US visits set to be dominated by differences over trade, Iran nuclear deal

Macron's US visits set to be dominated by differences over trade, Iran nuclear deal
French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte arrive at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. Macron is in Washington for the first state visit hosted by US President Donald Trump. (AFP)
Updated 24 April 2018

Macron's US visits set to be dominated by differences over trade, Iran nuclear deal

Macron's US visits set to be dominated by differences over trade, Iran nuclear deal
  • While the French leader has tried to develop a close relationship with Trump since he took office in May, he has so far seen little tangible results on issues from Iran to climate politics.
  • Macron also wants to persuade Trump to exempt European nations from metal tariffs that are part of the US president’s plan to reduce chronic trade deficits with countries around the world, chiefly China.

WASHINGTON: French President Emmanuel Macron arrives in Washington on Monday for a state visit likely to be dominated by differences over trade and the nuclear accord with Iran.
As Macron headed west, the Iranian government urged European leaders to convince US President Donald Trump not to tear up the 2015 deal between Tehran and six world powers. Allies also spoke out in support of it.
Macron said on Sunday there was no “Plan B” for keeping a lid on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
He is on something of a rescue mission for what is formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which Trump has said he will scrap unless European allies fix what he called “terrible flaws” by mid-May.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on European leaders to support it.
“It is either all or nothing. European leaders should encourage Trump not just to stay in the nuclear deal, but more important to begin implementing his part of the bargain in good faith,” Zarif wrote on his Twitter account.
The deal reached between six powers — all of whom but Germany are nuclear-armed — and Tehran put curbs on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Macron said on Fox News Sunday that it would be better to protect the deal instead of to get rid of it as there was no other plan.
“Is this agreement perfect and this JCPOA a perfect thing for our relationship with Iran? No. But for nuclear — what do you have? As a better option? I don’t see it,” he said.
Macron’s visit is the first time Trump has hosted a state visit since he took power in January 2017. While the French leader has tried to develop a close relationship with Trump since he took office in May, he has so far seen little tangible results on issues from Iran to climate politics.
The two men will get a sense of their two countries’ shared history during an evening meal on Monday night at Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, the first US president and Revolutionary War commander whose alliance with France was critical to victory over the British.
Working meetings will be held at the White House on Tuesday before Macron addresses Congress the following day, the anniversary of the day that French General Charles de Gaulle addressed a Joint Session of Congress in 1960.
Trump and the 40-year-old French leader began their friendship a year ago in Belgium with a jaw-clenching handshake. While some other European leaders have kept a certain distance from Trump, Macron has worked hard to remain close to the US president and the two leaders speak frequently by phone.
Highlighting the difficulties Macron will face reversing Trump’s mind on Iran, US non-proliferation envoy Christopher Ford said Tehran presenteded a very real long-term challenge.
“Iran (is) a country that for years illegally and secretly sought to develop nuclear weapons, suspended its weaponization work only when confronted by the potentially direst of consequences without ever coming clean about its illicit endeavours,” he told a non-proliferation conference in Geneva.
Iran has long maintained that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes.
Macron also wants to persuade Trump to exempt European nations from metal tariffs that are part of the US president’s plan to reduce chronic trade deficits with countries around the world, chiefly China.
His visit comes at a time of mounting alarm in Europe over the knock-on effect that US sanctions on Russia will have on their own manufacturing industries.
French officials said Paris and other European governments were coordinating efforts to persuade Trump to ease sanctions on Russia, including measures against Russian aluminum producers.
“There are concerns raised by the extraterritoriality effects of the new sets of sanctions,” a French finance minstry source said. “Europeans...have jointly warned the US Administration about the economic impact and consequences and the need to find solutions.”
The official said France, Germany, Italy and Ireland were working together on the matter. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will hold talks with Trump in Washington later in the week.
Macron and Trump are also due to discuss Syria, less than two weeks after the United States, France and Britain launched airstrikes in Syria in retaliation for a suspected chemical weapons attack that killed dozens in Douma, Syria.
Macron said last week that he believed he had persuaded Trump to keep US troops in Syria, though Trump has been insistent on bringing them home.


Surge in fighting hampers drive against COVID-19

Surge in fighting hampers drive against COVID-19
Updated 27 July 2021

Surge in fighting hampers drive against COVID-19

Surge in fighting hampers drive against COVID-19
  • Afghan public health chief: Escalation of violence will have long-term effect

KABUL: The escalation of violence in Afghanistan has led to the spread of the coronavirus and severely hampered the government’s drive against the pandemic, according to the country’s public health minister.

This will have a long-term impact on Afghanistan, Wahid Majrooh told Arab News in an interview on Sunday.

“War affects all aspects of life, and service delivery and vaccination of COVID-19 cannot be an exception, especially when there is ongoing conflict when the health facilities happen to be caught in the middle of the battlefield,” Majrooh said.

“When people are displaced and their life priorities change, these all affect our vaccination program in different parts of the country, our healthcare service delivery; it has a very detrimental effect. It will have short and long-term impacts and consequences.”

Fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan government has intensified in the past two months after international troops pulled out of the country. Militant groups since then have made rapid gains, capturing government territories in rural areas and taking over main border crossings with Afghanistan’s neighbors.

According to a UN report released on Monday, more than 783 civilians were killed and 1,609 injured during May and June this year, a 47 percent increase compared with the same period in 2020.

Estimates by various government institutions calculate that more than 40,000 families have been displaced by the fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces since May when US-led troops began withdrawing their remaining forces from Afghanistan.

The total number of displaced people due to battles in recent years stands at 3 million, officials say.

Majrooh could not provide an exact figure of how many people had been deprived of COVID-19 vaccinations but thought several million may have been affected.

“War has caused the concentration of people in small spaces like tents. Displaced people do not have the facility to use masks, do not have access to sanitation facilities. There is no doubt that the displacement and war have affected the spread and growth of COVID-19,” he said. The Taliban and Afghan government agreed during their talks in Qatar last week to allow safe access to vaccines for people across the country and to ensure the safety of medical workers.

Health Ministry figures as of Sunday showed that 144,285 Afghans have been infected by the coronavirus and 6,477 had died. However, officials said that the actual numbers for both could be higher as almost all Afghans quickly bury their dead without knowing the cause of death, and possibly thousands of COVID-19 affected patients may have died without reaching health facilities.

Majrooh said that the ministry’s data showed that Afghanistan had lately passed through the peak of UK and delta types of the virus and the trend was declining. 

However, he added there were fears of another spike “given the lack of attention of people to public health measures we have proposed to the society.”

He said that authorities on Sunday had begun the gradual lifting of a two-month lockdown, mostly applied to schools, universities, wedding halls and swimming pools.

The minister warned that the curb would be reimposed as officials detected that the virus was spreading in an impoverished society where many, particularly in rural and war-affected regions, have less access to health services.

Majrooh thanked the world for offering “generous” support in cash, technical and health equipment and vaccines to foreign-aid reliant Afghanistan, which has been affected by a long drought and continual fighting.

However, he said that “COVAX failed to fulfill its commitment” of sending the millions of jabs the country was promised this year, adding they would be delivered in 2022.

“We are planning to vaccinate about 60 percent of our population. If it is a single dose, we need 24 million, if it is a double dose, we need 48 million doses,” he said.

So far Afghanistan has received more than four and half millions of doses of vaccine, 3.3 million of them (Johnson and Johnson) provided by the US, ministry officials told Arab News.

Majrooh warned that the escalation of war would severely impact Afghanistan and outlined the issues the country faced. “The context is deteriorating war, and inaccessibility issues of logistics in insecure provinces are huge challenges for the health sector. The health sector is overburdened with mass casualties caused by the ongoing conflict.”

Other challenges included people not following health recommendations, budgetary shortages and lack of oxygen, he said.


Indonesia extends COVID-19 restrictions, allows some businesses to reopen

Indonesia extends COVID-19 restrictions, allows some businesses to reopen
Updated 27 July 2021

Indonesia extends COVID-19 restrictions, allows some businesses to reopen

Indonesia extends COVID-19 restrictions, allows some businesses to reopen
  • Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced the one-week extension of restrictions in a press statement on Sunday

JAKARTA: Small and medium-sized businesses in Indonesia have been given the green light to resume limited operations despite a government decision to extend coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions for another week.

Partial lockdowns imposed on Indonesia’s most populated island of Java and neighboring Bali began in early July amid a surge in virus infections triggered by the highly contagious delta variant and had been due to end on Sunday.

The latest move by Jakarta was aimed at balancing public safety with the need to restart economic activity.

The curbs, which had ordered the closure of nonessential public places such as shopping malls, for all office employees to work from home — except for those working in sectors listed as essential or critical — and included a ban on in-restaurant dining, have now been expanded to other cities on the islands of Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Papua where there has been a recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced the one-week extension of restrictions in a streamed press statement on Sunday and pointed out that the decision was taken in consideration of health and economic aspects and social dynamic.

“But we will make some adjustments in regard to people’s activities and mobility in stages and they will be executed extra carefully,” he said.

The leeway for smaller businesses, the informal sector, and its workers who rely on a daily income, to resume operations will allow eateries with open-air settings to take dine-in customers for 20 and 30 minutes, and markets selling non-essential goods to open for limited hours, depending on local infection rates.

Indonesia has applied a four-tier system for identifying levels of infection based on World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. The capital Jakarta is among 21 regions in Java currently classed in the most severe category level four.

Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, a senior minister in charge of the Java and Bali restrictions, said on Sunday that the continuation of preventative measures was necessary to slow the spread of the delta variant while “ensuring that the small (businesses) can still operate.”

Public health professor, Tjandra Yoga Aditama, former director of the WHO’s southeast Asia regional office, told Arab News that the devil was in the detail when implementing COVID-19 curbs.

“What is necessary is to find a balance for the informal sector to remain operating while the formal sector continues to work from home.

“Markets should also be the main target for testing and tracing and the informal sector workers should be encouraged to contact the local health officers to get tested should they feel any symptoms,” he said.

Indonesia has become the latest global COVID-19 hotspot after a recent jump in virus infections which since mid-July has seen the number of deaths per day rise to more than 1,000, with many patients unable to get treatment in overstretched hospitals.

On Monday, the country reported 28,228 new cases — taking the national tally to more than 3.1 million — and 1,487 new deaths, putting at 84,766 the total number of COVID-19-related fatalities. Daily infection rates are still way above the target set by authorities for the partial lockdown to reduce numbers to 10,000 per day.

In a recent situation report on Indonesia, the WHO said that the country’s very high transmission rate was “indicative of the utmost importance of implementing stringent public health and social measures, especially movement restrictions, throughout the country.”


UK charities collaborate to tackle Britain’s minority mental health crisis 

Young British South Asian and black men are more likely to struggle with mental health issues including anxiety and depression — but significantly less likely to come forward to seek out help, say charities. (PCORI.org)
Young British South Asian and black men are more likely to struggle with mental health issues including anxiety and depression — but significantly less likely to come forward to seek out help, say charities. (PCORI.org)
Updated 26 July 2021

UK charities collaborate to tackle Britain’s minority mental health crisis 

Young British South Asian and black men are more likely to struggle with mental health issues including anxiety and depression — but significantly less likely to come forward to seek out help, say charities. (PCORI.org)
  • Men from South Asian and black communities seek out mental health support 13 years after their white counterparts
  • The two charities will focus on tackling mental health, but the positive effects of this work could translate to other areas, such as homelessness

LONDON: Two British charities have teamed up to combat the crisis of mental health among Britain’s minority communities, with a particular focus on struggling young men. 

Young British South Asian and black men are more likely to struggle with mental health issues including anxiety and depression — but significantly less likely to come forward to seek out help than other demographics. 

But two British charities have now teamed up to counter this crisis, which they said began long before the pandemic — but Covid-19 served to exacerbate and bring to the fore the importance of mental health care among these men. 

Manchester-based charity Human Appeal works across Africa, the Middle East and in the UK to provide life saving humanitarian assistance to those in need, and it has collaborated with local Bradford charity Breaking The Silence to deliver desperately needed culturally sensitive mental health care to Britain’s many South Asian men — a significant proportion of whom are Muslim. 

Breaking The Silence was founded in 2012 by psychotherapist Imran Manzoor, in response to a clear rise in mental health disclosures from South Asian boys and young men. His organization now supports over 600 men and boys from across the UK, offering one-to-one counselling and group therapy programmes.

Manzoor said: “Men from ethnic minority communities come to the attention of professional mental health services on average 13 years later, and in a more severely ill state than their white counterparts.

“Whilst the masculine maxim of ‘strength in silence’ plays an important role in their reluctance to get help, it is also the cultural-specific beliefs about the causes of mental health that impacts how they experience these issues and their disposition to disclose. They fear being ridiculed. Our service makes clear that we are aware of and understand these beliefs, and that we can help despite them.”

Fahad Khan, a manager at Human Appeal, told Arab News that this is a mission his organization were only too happy to support.

“We were blown away by Imran and the work he was doing,” Khan said. “As a charity we want to be involved in causes that are providing much-needed support to the community and what Breaking the Silence is doing is right at the fore of that.”

Human Appeal, Khan explained, will fund Manzoor’s work for the next year, and the knock-on effects of the collaboration could do far more than tackle mental health problems alone.

Mental health and homelessness, he said, often go hand-in-hand and so by tackling declining mental health among minority communities, their work could also help those living rough on the streets to get back on their feet and access the help they need.

And some of these people, particularly from minority backgrounds, need mental health care tailored to their own ethnic or spiritual backgrounds — and this is what makes Breaking The Silence such an important charity for the UK’s millions of Muslims.

Khan said: “What Imran Manzoor is doing at Breaking The Silence is providing support to people who may not be able to access other mental health services, because they're culturally sensitive, or they don't have the capacity to support people who have cultural or religious sensitivities.


UK police investigate Speakers' Corner knife attack

UK police investigate Speakers' Corner knife attack
Updated 26 July 2021

UK police investigate Speakers' Corner knife attack

UK police investigate Speakers' Corner knife attack
  • Video shared on social media appears to show someone dressed in black approaching a woman wearing a Charlie Hebdo T-shirt on Sunday
  • The woman is later shown with what appears to be blood on her face as police officers help her

LONDON: London police are looking for witnesses after an attacker slashed a woman with a knife at Speakers’ Corner, the historic spot in Hyde Park where people have gathered to speak and debate for more than 150 years.
Video shared on social media appears to show someone dressed in black approaching a woman wearing a Charlie Hebdo T-shirt on Sunday. The woman is later shown with what appears to be blood on her face as police officers help her. Police say her injuries are not considered life-threatening.
Detective Superintendent Alex Bingley of the Metropolitan Police Service’s Central West Command Unit asked people “not to speculate on the motive for the attack until we have established the full facts.”
People have gathered at Speakers’ Corner since the 1860s to exercise their right to free speech, with historic figures such as Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and George Orwell known to have visited to discuss the issues of the day. In recent years, topics such as Islamic fundamentalism have often featured in the debate.
Extremists attacked the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, killing 12 people. The attack made the magazine, which had published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed, a symbol of freedom of speech.


Pakistan reopens Afghanistan border crossing held by Taliban

Pakistan reopens Afghanistan border crossing held by Taliban
Updated 26 July 2021

Pakistan reopens Afghanistan border crossing held by Taliban

Pakistan reopens Afghanistan border crossing held by Taliban
  • Pakistani officials under pressure by traders to let trucks pass through: Customs officials
  • Relations between neighbors Afghanistan and Pakistan have taken a sharp downturn in recent weeks

QUETTA/ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday reopened a major southwestern border crossing with Afghanistan that is currently under Taliban control on the Afghan side, Pakistani customs officials said, allowing over 100 trucks carrying goods to cross into Afghanistan.
The Chaman-Spin Boldak crossing, a key port for landlocked Afghanistan, had been closed by Pakistan for commercial traffic since fierce fighting for control of the crossing erupted between Taliban insurgents and Afghan security forces earlier this month.
“Pakistan has opened its border with Afghanistan at Chaman today and resumed Afghan Transit Trade which was suspended since the last one month,” Arif Kakar, a senior official of the Chaman border district, told Reuters.
He said it would remain open six days a week.
Two Pakistani customs officials, requesting anonymity, told Reuters that Spin Boldak and the border town of Wesh were still under Taliban control, and they did not know what arrangements were in place across the border or who was clearing the goods through customs.
They said Pakistani officials were under pressure by traders to let trucks pass through as the goods they were carrying would otherwise perish.
Afghanistan’s interior and finance ministries, and the Taliban spokesman, did not respond to requests for comment.
US Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of US Central Command, which oversees American forces in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul on Sunday that Spin Boldak was a “contested space” and the Afghan government was looking to regain control of it.
The reopening came hours after 46 Afghan soldiers sought refuge in Pakistan after losing control of military positions further north along the border following advances by Taliban insurgents taking advantage of foreign forces’ withdrawal.
The Afghan military commander requested refuge at the border crossing in Chitral in the north, the Pakistan army said in a statement, adding safe passage into Pakistan was given on Sunday night after clearance from Afghan authorities.
Hundreds of Afghan soldiers and civil officials have fled to neighboring Tajikistan, Iran and Pakistan in recent weeks after Taliban offensives in border areas.
“Afghan soldiers have been provided food, shelter and necessary medical care as per established military norms,” the statement said.
Relations between neighbors Afghanistan and Pakistan have taken a sharp downturn in recent weeks, particularly over repeated allegations by Kabul that Pakistan is backing the Taliban — a charge Islamabad denies.
Afghanistan recalled its diplomats from Pakistan after the brief kidnapping of the Afghan ambassador’s daughter in Islamabad earlier in the month.
Afghan officials did not respond to a request for comment on the soldiers’ crossing.
The Taliban has escalated its offensive since the United States announced in April that it would withdraw its troops by September, ending a 20-year foreign military presence.
Washington has said it will continue to carry out air strikes to support Afghan forces facing insurgent attacks.
Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have failed to make substantive progress since beginning in September last year.
Reeling from battlefield losses, Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy to concentrate forces around critical areas such as Kabul and other cities, and border crossings.
The Pakistan army said the soldiers who sought refuge will be returned to Afghanistan after due process, as had occurred in the case of another batch of 35 soldiers earlier in July.