Peace between the Korean rivals would leave Iran as the world’s last rogue nuclear regime

Peace between the Korean rivals would leave Iran as the world’s last rogue nuclear regime
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meets South Korean President Moon Jae-in for historic peace talks. (Reuters)
Updated 02 May 2018

Peace between the Korean rivals would leave Iran as the world’s last rogue nuclear regime

Peace between the Korean rivals would leave Iran as the world’s last rogue nuclear regime
  • Iran’s response is to protest innocence, yet not allow international inspectors into its military sites
  • Iran is facing nothing less than total isolation and a descent into full pariah status

LONDON: The loudspeakers are already coming down. Barely five days since the historic meeting between the leaders of the two Koreas, South Korea has begun dismantling the speakers that have been blasting propaganda — and Korean pop music — over the border and many miles into North Korea since January 2016.

Erected in response to Pyongyang’s fourth nuclear test, they were switched off before last Friday’s inter-Korean summit. Now they are coming down altogether. It’s all go along the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone).

The meeting between North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in was choreographed to look as friendly and conciliatory as it is possible to be after you have technically been at war for 65 years. The two leaders pulled it off, even holding hands as they hopped over the dividing line between one Korea and the other.  And it was not all for show. The meeting produced a commitment to de-nuclearize the Korean peninsula and formally end the war with a peace treaty to replace the 65-year-old armistice. Supreme Leader Kim pledged to shut down his nuclear testing site at Punggye-ri this month.

A visit to North Korea by US President Donald Trump is now very much on the cards and it has emerged that Mike Pompeo, his newly-appointed Secretary of State, has already been. He met Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang in April, and says there is a “real opportunity” for an agreement between Washington and Pyongyang on halting nuclear testing.

Where then does that leave Iran, the other nation the world does not want to see armed with nuclear weapons?

On May 12, President Trump will decide whether to ratify the continuation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement in which Iran gives up its nuclear industry in return for the lifting of sanctions. It is no secret that the US president hates the JCPOA and strongly doubts the Iranians are sticking to their part of the bargain. 

Iran’s response is to protest innocence, yet not allow international inspectors into its military sites. If the JCPOA collapses, the sanctions would return and life would get harder for the Iranian people. But it would also leave Tehran free to build its arsenal, unscrutinized and unimpeded.

That would have been the likely scenario, come May 12, if two events had not happened. The first was Israel’s proclaimed discovery of evidence indicating that Iran had “lied, big time” (in the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) about not having a nuclear weapons program. European powers said the Israeli announcement only serves to support the JCPOA.

The second was the meeting of the two Korean leaders, which, say analysts, showed that confrontation is ultimately counter-productive. 

“Kim Jong-un got the message that Trump was serious. And not just Trump, but the entire international community spoke with one voice against the amassing of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles,” said Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international relations scholar, based in Riyadh. “The building of pressure on North Korea worked in making Pyongyang see reason and the futility of the policy of confrontation and threats.”

Marc Martinez, a country-risk analyst based in the UAE, said: “The signal it sends to Tehran is that after many decades of isolation, sanctions and food shortages, the North Korean leader will negotiate face to face with the president of the world’s superpower. The negotiations will be the symbol of what the French called the ‘equalizing power of the atom,’ and a constant reminder to Iranian hard-liners that the US only respects strength. Some in Iran will now be able to argue that Iran should follow the North Korean path and endure sanctions in order to reach the same status. “However, I am sure that many North Koreans are also wondering right now what would be the value of the treaty they are negotiating when the US president is about to pull out of the nuclear agreement the previous US administration signed with Iran.”

But there are two key differences in the way North Korea and Iran have been handled. One is the involvement of China, North Korea’s only remaining ally, as a mediator between Pyongyang and Washington.

“China made clear to its ally, North Korea, that it should no longer test the patience of the international community,” said Al-Shehri. 

Perhaps to hammer home the point, China is sending its foreign minister — the highest-level visitor for years — to North Korea this week.

The second factor is unanimity. Where Iran is concerned, there isn’t any. While everyone agreed that there could be no compromise over North Korea’s nuclear program, there is a clear split between the US president, who considers the JCPOA to be “the worst deal ever,” and European leaders who insist it is better than no deal at all — a mistaken view, according to Al-Shehri.

“The European nations who were party to the nuclear deal never took into consideration Tehran’s missile activities. Even today the European nations are calling for keeping the nuclear deal, despite Iran’s devastating role in the region. 

“The Iranian militias in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Yemen and in Syria have wreaked havoc. The international community should have rallied behind Trump and piled pressure on Iran. That did not happen. 

“The mistake committed by former US President Barack Obama in appeasing Tehran is being continued by Russia and European nations. As a result of this, Tehran has been emboldened to play with fire.”

One reason for that boldness is Europe’s reluctance to challenge Iran, even when Tehran has kept International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors out of its military sites, said Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. 

“The US position, both under the Obama anadminfistration and the Trump administration, as well as the European position, is that it is absolutely not what is allowed under the JCPOA. And we have to get into those military sites because that’s clearly where Iran is going to conduct clandestine military nuclear activities. Is that speculation? No, we have a decades-long track record where Iran has done exactly that.”

Marc Martinez said any de-nuclearization agreement with Kim Jong-un would certainly include a pledge not to share its nuclear knowledge.

“If an overall agreement is signed, Washington will make sure Pyongyang has enough incentives to keep its secrets,” he said. 

Iran, meanwhile, is facing nothing less than total isolation and a descent into full pariah status.


Israelis protest as rising Covid cases trigger new rules

Israelis protest as rising Covid cases trigger new rules
Updated 21 sec ago

Israelis protest as rising Covid cases trigger new rules

Israelis protest as rising Covid cases trigger new rules
  • Protesters Saturday flew a banner that read, “There’s no pandemic, it’s a con”
  • About one million Israelis still refuse to be vaccinated even though they are eligible

TEL AVIV: Several hundred Israelis demonstrated Saturday in Tel Aviv against new coronavirus restrictions and vaccines as positive cases and hospitalizations rose to levels not seen in months.

The health ministry reported Saturday that 2,435 new Covid cases had been recorded the day before — the highest number since March — driven by the more contagious Delta variant.

There were 326 hospitalizations, the highest since April, although well below the January peak, when more than 2,000 people were being hospitalized daily.

Israel has in recent days rolled out a booster vaccine shot for older citizens, reimposed mask requirements indoors and restored “green pass” restrictions requiring vaccine certificates for entering enclosed spaces such as gyms, restaurants and hotels.

The rise in infections is a step back after Israel’s world-leading vaccine campaign drove down new Covid-19 cases from 10,000 a day to fewer than 100.

Protesters Saturday flew a banner that read, “There’s no pandemic, it’s a con.” They held up placards denouncing coronavirus vaccines, with one poster linking vaccines to the Nazis.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz told Israeli Channel 12 TV Saturday that he intended to balance public health with livelihood.

“The economy must remain open,” he said.

“I don’t want to impose a lockdown and I will avoid a lockdown at all costs. Everything is open — but we need masks and we need vaccines.”

Nearly 60 percent of Israel’s 9.3 million people have gotten two shots, mostly with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

But about one million Israelis still refuse to be vaccinated even though they are eligible.

From Sunday, some children between ages five and 11 at risk of health complications will become eligible for vaccines.


Lebanese patients’ deaths due to medicine shortages ‘will become common’

Importers of medicine and medical supplies in Lebanon requires BDL ‘to pay all outstanding payments for import companies.’ (Supplied)
Importers of medicine and medical supplies in Lebanon requires BDL ‘to pay all outstanding payments for import companies.’ (Supplied)
Updated 01 August 2021

Lebanese patients’ deaths due to medicine shortages ‘will become common’

Importers of medicine and medical supplies in Lebanon requires BDL ‘to pay all outstanding payments for import companies.’ (Supplied)
  • Girl, 9, stung by scorpion, dies as vital medicines can only be found on black market at exorbitant prices

BEIRUT: A Lebanese child, Zahra Tleis, died on Friday, after being stung by a scorpion, and her family being unable to find an antidote to treat her, due to medicine shortages in the country.

Some vital medicines can only now be found on the black market, but are sold at exorbitant prices.
The director of Rafik Hariri Governmental Hospital, Dr. Firas Abiad, said “unfortunately, losing patients due to medicine shortages will become more common.”
The head of the National Health Authority, Ismail Sukkarieh, revealed to Arab News that even treatments for dog bites were missing from shelves.
“Such injections should be be available in large quantities in hospitals, and especially governmental hospitals, but have gone missing due to negligence and the medicine crisis.”
Sukkariyeh said the Lebanese people “are paying the price for the irresponsibility of officials and the accumulation of ill-conceived, corrupt and scandalous policies.” He warned that the country will completely collapse if the situation persists.

Zahra Tleis

Lebanon has been facing an economic collapse since 2019, described by the World Bank as “one of the world’s worst crises since the 1850s.” More than half of the population now lives under the poverty line as the local currency, the lira, has lost over 90 percent of its value against the US dollar.
With the depletion of foreign currency reserves at the Lebanese central bank, the Banque du Liban (BDL) and delays in opening lines of credits for imports, the health sector has been facing increasing pressure and fuel shortages.

HIGHLIGHT

Lebanese people ‘are paying the price for the irresponsibility of officials and the accumulation of ill-conceived, corrupt and scandalous policies.’

The country’s electricity company, Electricité du Liban (EDL) has also been unable to provide power due to fuel shortages, and some regions have had to ration electricity for 22 hours a day. Owners of private generators have also been affected by the diesel and fuel crisis, and have resorted to rationing as well.
On Friday the BDL said it sold $293 million in July, in addition to approvals to sell $415 million to import gasoline and diesel and $120 million to import fuel for EDL, bringing the total number to $828 million.
The BDL said in a statement that “despite all the support it (the bank) has provided and its determination to preserve social security, the Lebanese are still facing shortages in diesel.
“The Lebanese have lost access to subsidized goods, which are now sold on the black market to humiliate and deprive the Lebanese of their most basic rights. This has had dangerous impacts on the health sector and food security, due to traders’ determination to smuggle goods or store them to be sold on the black market,” the statement added.
It added that importers of medicine and medical supplies in Lebanon required BDL “to pay all outstanding payments for import companies.” It considered that “frivolous measures have led to the partial or total suspension of imports of 75 percent of companies.”
EDL warned “of the possibility of entering the danger zone and a total interruption of electricity, if the situation persisted.”
Economist Louis Hobeika told Arab News that “there is political and economic pressure on BDL to use the mandatory reserves. But this matter requires a constitutional amendment and such ‘sin’ shall not be committed twice.”
Hobeika recalled what Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab said in May that “the bank’s reserves in 2002 were drawn down to less than a billion dollars.”
Hobeika said that “removing subsidies would end the smuggling, but prices would increase a lot. A ration card was supposed to be issued as an alternative. What happened to this card? With the absence of a future economic vision, messing with the mandatory reserves can have a great risk on the fate of banks and deposits.”
He said that “the political and economic (Lebanese) mafias are stronger than the state; they fear no one, and Lebanese society is divided and fragmented and therefore, does not scare the mafias.”
Meanwhile, political leaders in Lebanon have congratulated the military ahead of Lebanese Army Day, which is celebrated every year on August 1.
President Michel Aoun said “the international community’s determination and commitment to support the Lebanese army reflects its confidence in the army’s role in protecting Lebanon and its constitutional institutions.”
The army on Saturday carried out a raid on a drug factory in Hortaala, Bekaa.
The army command announced that “a soldier was wounded during the raid, and a wanted man that had multiple warrants for his arrest, including robbing citizens, kidnapping, stealing cars, drug dealing, drug use and (firearms charges) was killed. Several other fugitives were arrested.”
Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun urged soldiers “not to allow anyone to take advantage of the poor living conditions to make you doubt your belief in your country and institution.”


Beirut’s first public skatepark breathes life into ravaged city

Local organizations will help maintain and sustain the park. (Supplied)
Local organizations will help maintain and sustain the park. (Supplied)
Updated 01 August 2021

Beirut’s first public skatepark breathes life into ravaged city

Local organizations will help maintain and sustain the park. (Supplied)
  • Twelve months ago, an explosion in Beirut’s port rocked the capital. Over 200 people were killed after a warehouse inadequately housing highly flammable chemicals caught fire

DUBAI: Dany Sultan and Mike Ritchard have spent most of their adult life on skateboards.
While both young men embraced skating from a relatively young age, Lebanon has not always accepted them back. Up until now, the small Mediterranean country lacked a place to kickflip and grind; a place of inclusivity where people from different backgrounds could come together and work on their craft.
Instead, Sultan, 25 and Ritchard, 19, started most of their morning sessions scouting urban landscapes and public spaces in and around Beirut.
“We’d street skate anyplace that had a ledge, stairs or handrails,” Ritchard told Arab News.
For him and street skaters alike, run-ins with residents and security guards were common. Given the lack of a safe haven to skate, their discipline was viewed as a public nuisance.
“We’ve had a couple of issues with security guards and police,” Ritchard said, adding that he, along with some friends, were briefly detained late last year.
But being hard-wired with a high tolerance for fear and a sense of adventure helped them look past the altercations.
“For years we have reached out to municipalities to try and convince them to support (us) but we were always met with indifference and even resistance,” Sultan said.
Little did any of them know that a group of volunteers and donors would soon pave the way for the country’s first community skatepark in the heart of Beirut: Snoubar (Pine) Skatepark.
Twelve months ago, an explosion in Beirut’s port rocked the capital. Over 200 people were killed after a warehouse inadequately housing highly flammable chemicals caught fire.
As the tragedy made rounds across the globe, it caught the attention of INGO Make Life Skate Life (MLSL).
“My friend Arne Hillerns, who runs MLSL, reached out after seeing the blast on the news back in Brussels,” Esther Chang, a skater and yoga instructor currently based in Beirut, told Arab News. She, along with Arne and another local skater, put together a relief fund to support the local skaters with anything from hospital bills to rebuilding doors and windows, to even supporting a local skater’s tuition for a few semesters at university.
After also giving away over 80 skateboards with the support of skaters around the world, only one thing was left to do: Build an actual skatepark.
“There was still this dream of building a skatepark that the locals have had for decades,” Chang said.
Horsh Beirut, the Lebanese capital’s largest park and pine forest, would serve as the optimal location.
“We pitched the idea to Beirut’s municipality —  a free-of-charge and public skatepark in Beirut for youth — asked for some land, and to our surprise they offered it to us,” Chang said.

To turn the dream into reality, a massive crowdfunding campaign was launched alongside donations from corporate and individual sponsors.

Axel A., a visual artist based in Dubai, auctioned off a customized skateboard. Decathlon, the French sports retailer, committed thousands of dollars.

“There was funding from a variety of sources including individuals as well as corporate sponsors such as the Decathlon Foundation, Air France and CHPO,” Samantha Robinson, MLSL’s creative director, told Arab News.

The nonprofit has previously completed sustainable skateparks in India, Bolivia, Jordan, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Nepal, Morocco and Iraq with free on-site skateboarding, safety equipment loan systems and lessons with partner organizations.

“Local NGO arcenciel will help maintain and sustain the park while another NGO, Just Childhood, will create a program for free skateboarding lessons for the local youth in the neighboring Shatila Palestinian refugee camp,” Chang added.

“When Arne from MLSL contacted us to help build the first public, free skatepark in Beirut we were so excited to be part of it,” Jean-Philippe Rode, a skateboarder and product manager for Decathlon Skateboarding in France, told Arab News.

After gaining the financial support of the Decathlon Foundation, which forked out €50,000 ($59,352) in June, volunteers from across the world traveled to Beirut to take part in the project, coming from as far as Colombia, the US and Costa Rica.

The park was designed and constructed through the help of over 50 volunteers and local skaters alongside professional skatepark builders, who did “extremely taxing physical labor in the blazing hot sun, through stomach illnesses, dehydration and fatigue,” Robinson and Chang noted.

“They have such an admirable dedication to spreading the love of skateboarding and helping build the skate community here in Lebanon,” Robinson added.

One such volunteer was Dave Eassa, a lifelong skateboarder, visual artist and cultural worker from Baltimore in the US.

While serving as an artist in residence at Al-Raseef 153, a new arts space that is a part of the 7Hills skatepark and organization in Amman, Jordan, Eassa caught wind of the project during a conversation with 7Hills’ director.

“After speaking with Mohammed Zakaria (director of 7Hills) and German skater Matze, I bought a plane ticket at the last minute and headed to Beirut for 8 days to help with whatever I could,” Eassa said.

Skateboarding, Chang explained, has many intrinsic qualities beyond the sport itself. It has come a long way, breaking out of the fringes where it was regarded as counter-cultural, and propelling itself into the limelight by making its debut at the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer.

The skatepark, she said, will give youths a space to “gather, share ideas, and support each other in something they all have in common, skateboarding. No matter their age, gender, religion, they come together as skaters.”

Officially completed on Thursday, the park will give skaters like Sultan and Ritchard a place to safely spin down ramps and loop around a quarter pipe, away from any harassment.

The sense of community fostered during the build has been unmatched, the skaters said.

“It is truly a beautiful thing to see so many people coming together to volunteer their expertise, time and energy toward spreading the love of skateboarding,” Eassa said. 

“Skateboarding has saved so many of us, giving us purpose in our lives, and created lifelong bonds and friendships across the globe so naturally it makes sense that so many of us wanted to give back to the existing and future generations of Lebanese skateboarders,” he added.

For the past year, Lebanon’s has faced many social, political and economic problems. Skyrocketing unemployment, inflation and rising food insecurity are only the tip of the crisis.

“For many, skateboarding represents a positive outlet of energy and emotions, which proves to be priceless in such a troubled and distressed country. In truly trying times, it is such an important outlet, a place to leave all the issues of the world behind even just for a little.” Eassa said.

“In the midst of so much chaos, people came together to create something beautiful and for one another,” Chang, who is leaving Beirut after spending over two years there, said.

Yet Rode, like Chang, Eassa and the rest of the crew, will be back.

“There is no way you work on a skatepark and don’t skate it, so we’ll have to come back soon,” the 45-year-old skating aficionado said.


UN urged to curb ‘Iranian terrorism’ after armed drone strike on tanker

UN urged to curb ‘Iranian terrorism’ after armed drone strike on tanker
Updated 01 August 2021

UN urged to curb ‘Iranian terrorism’ after armed drone strike on tanker

UN urged to curb ‘Iranian terrorism’ after armed drone strike on tanker
  • Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism”

JEDDAH: The UN was urged on Saturday to take action against “Iranian terrorism” after a tanker was attacked by explosives-laden drones in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Oman.

Two crewmen, one British and one Romanian, died in Thursday’s attack on the MT Mercer Street, which was on its way from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the UAE.

The US military said that early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street.

Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV channel, citing “informed regional sources,” said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria where Iran is backing the regime.

The Liberian-flagged Japanese-owned vessel is operated by Zodiac Maritime, an Israeli company based in the UK. On Saturday the ship was being escorted into port by the American aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

“US Navy personnel are on the Mercer Street, assisting the vessel’s crew,” the US military’s Central Command said. “US navy explosives experts are aboard to ensure there is no additional danger to the crew, and are prepared to support an investigation into the attack.”

The maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said the attack had “the hallmarks of the ongoing Israel/Iran ‘shadow war’.”

It said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February, and two ships linked to Iran had been attacked in the same period.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ordered his country’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism.”

He said: “I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York.

“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that are hurting us all.”

Lapid said he had also spoken to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, stressing “the need to respond severely to the attack on the ship in which a British citizen was killed.”

The US military said early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street. Several unmanned Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center.

Iranian state TV said the drone strike was retaliation to “a recent Israeli attack” on Iranian targets at an airport in central Syria.

Several unmanned Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack on the Mercer Street, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center, the New York Times reported citing anonymous Israeli officials.

A US official told the newspaper Americans boarded the ship to investigate the attack.

By Friday afternoon, Zodiac Maritime said the ship was “sailing under the control of her crew” to a safe location under the protection of a US naval escort.

HIGHLIGHT

Several Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center.

The strike on the tanker comes as European powers meet with Iran in an effort to shore up a 2015 agreement to curtail the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions.

The accord was strained when in 2018 former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US unilaterally and reimposed sanctions.

Negotiations in Vienna, where the US is indirectly taking part, have stalled ahead of next week’s inauguration of newly elected ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.

Retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, said the attack appeared to copy elements of an Israeli exploding drone strike on a centrifuge manufacturing site in Iran in June.

Israel “started developing drones and was among the first to develop the concept of a kamikaze,” Gen. Brom said.

“The Iranians are imitating us and adopting the same techniques.” Iran’s strike was “a certain escalation but aimed at avoiding a full-scale war,” he said. “They are not interested in a wider escalation, just as we are not interested in a wider escalation.”

In June, Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building near the city of Karaj west of Tehran.

But aerial photographs obtained by private Israeli intelligence firm The Intel Lab revealed damage to the site.

(With AFP)


Deal signed to expand Russian presence in Suez Canal Economic Zone

Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters. (Reuters/File Photo)
Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 31 July 2021

Deal signed to expand Russian presence in Suez Canal Economic Zone

Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • he SCZone chief said that work is scheduled to begin in the Russian zone by the end of 2021

CAIRO: Yehia Zaki, head of the General Authority for the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone), announced on Thursday the success of talks with Russia to expand Moscow’s industrial zone within the SCZone.

An agreement was signed by Zaki and Russian Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade of Vasiliy Osmakov in Moscow after two days of negotiations.

Zaki said the final agreement is expected to be signed before the end of 2021 after an anticipated visit in August by a high-level Russian delegation to tour the new sites in the SCZone.

Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters, Zaki said.

The first phase of the project will include an extension of 1 million square meters in East Port Said and 500,000 square meters in Ain Sokhna, he added.

The SCZone chief said that work is scheduled to begin in the Russian zone by the end of 2021 after signing the final contract.

Osmakov said the Egyptian delegation’s visit to Russia gave impetus to the project.

He said the expansion of the Russian zone will allow the entry of more Russian companies, adding that the SCZone is a window to Africa and the wider world due to its strategic location.

In September visits from Russian companies, businessmen and investors — who have expressed their desire to invest in Ain Sukhna — will take place.

The SCZone delegation held meetings in Moscow with major Russian manufacturers of vehicles, fertilizers and pharmaceuticals.