Trump administration lifts hold on Lebanon security aid

Trump administration lifts hold on Lebanon security aid
US President Donald Trump gestures after disembarking from Air Force One after landing at Stansted Airport, northeast of London. (AFP)
Updated 03 December 2019

Trump administration lifts hold on Lebanon security aid

Trump administration lifts hold on Lebanon security aid
  • As lawmakers demanded answers from the administration about why the aid had been withheld

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump’s administration has lifted a mysterious “hold” on more than $100 million in security aid for Lebanon, congressional and State Department officials said, more than a month after lawmakers learned the funds were being blocked.
As first reported by Reuters, the US State Department told Congress on Oct. 31 that the White House budget office (OMB) and National Security Council had decided to withhold $105 million in foreign military assistance, without providing any explanation.
As lawmakers demanded answers from the administration about why the aid had been withheld, some compared it with a similar decision from the administration to withhold nearly $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine that also had been approved by Congress.
That decision has been at the center of an impeachment inquiry into Trump.
Members of Congress and US diplomats had strongly opposed the move to withhold the aid to Beirut, saying it was crucial to support Lebanon’s military as it grappled with instability within the country and the region.
Congressional aides said on Monday the administration had still provided no explanation for the decision to withhold the money, which had been approved by Congress and the State Department.
They said the OMB released the hold last Wednesday and the administration had begun to “obligate” it, or finalize contracts for how it should be spent.
A senior State Department official confirmed that the money had been released but declined to provide an explanation for why it was suspended or why it was released, beyond referring to recent comments by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale.
Hale said during congressional testimony that there had been some disagreements about the efficacy of US aid to the Lebanese armed forces.
On Monday, the senior State official said on a conference call with reporters that Lebanon’s army is “an excellent partner to the United States” in fighting extremism.
Lebanon also houses thousands of refugees from war in neighboring Syria.


UN chief to name Swedish diplomat as new Yemen envoy: diplomats

UN chief to name Swedish diplomat as new Yemen envoy: diplomats
Updated 2 min 10 sec ago

UN chief to name Swedish diplomat as new Yemen envoy: diplomats

UN chief to name Swedish diplomat as new Yemen envoy: diplomats
  • UN officials informally floated his name to council members to solicit views by mid-July
  • The 15-member Security Council approved Grundberg as a replacement for Martin Griffiths

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expected to shortly name Swedish diplomat Hans Grundberg as his new Yemen envoy, diplomats said, after China informally gave the green light for the appointment following a delay of several weeks.
The 15-member Security Council has to approve Grundberg — by consensus — as a replacement for Martin Griffiths, who became the UN aid chief last month after trying to mediate an end to the conflict in Yemen for the past three years.
The war has killed tens of thousands of people and caused a dire humanitarian crisis, pushing Yemen to the brink of famine.
Grundberg has been the European Union ambassador to Yemen since September 2019. UN officials informally floated his name to council members to solicit views by mid-July and 14 members said they would agree to the appointment, diplomats said.
But China said it needed more time. An official with China’s UN mission in New York said on Monday that China had now signed off on Grundberg’s appointment, but declined to comment on why Beijing’s approval had been delayed.
Guterres will now formally notify the council of Grundberg’s appointment and the council will respond in a letter giving the green light. A spokesman for Guterres declined to comment.


How Arab connection to World Expos has evolved over time

People walk past the official sign marking the Dubai Expo 2020 near the Sustainability Pavilion in Dubai on January 16, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
People walk past the official sign marking the Dubai Expo 2020 near the Sustainability Pavilion in Dubai on January 16, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 5 min 20 sec ago

How Arab connection to World Expos has evolved over time

People walk past the official sign marking the Dubai Expo 2020 near the Sustainability Pavilion in Dubai on January 16, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Beginning in the mid-19th century, expos have grown to reflect trends in globalization and technology
  • After delays caused by the  pandemic, the first World Expo hosted by an Arab country opens in Dubai in October

DUBAI: Those unfamiliar with the concept of World Expos may have the misguided impression they are excruciatingly dull, corporate affairs. But the chronicle of such events, and the Arab world’s participation in them, tell a very different story.

For a host nation, a World Expo can be a rare occasion to stand front and center on the world stage. Participating countries can cultivate their national image and vie for acclaim, while visitors can feel as though the whole world has been put on display.

Part museum, part theme park and part political theater, World Expos are a kind of window on the collective global consciousness.

The earliest events, in the mid- to late-19th century, were a celebration of the Industrial Revolution, featuring mechanical wonders and architectural marvels such as the Crystal Palace in London and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

These events of mass spectacle brought together crowds of all nationalities and social class, accelerating globalization at a time when few had the luxury of world travel.

As mass production accelerated, consumerism began to feature more prominently. In the 20th century, world expos became a launchpad for all kinds of new products: The ice cream cone (1904), nylon stockings (1939), live television (1939), the mobile phone (1970), and touchscreens (1982), to name a few.

More recently, the gatherings have sought to address collective global challenges. In 2010, Shanghai focused on making cities more livable. In 2015, Milan addressed the issue of sustainable agriculture.

Likewise, Dubai’s forthcoming Expo Live program is taking a grassroots approach, funding more than 140 global innovators tackling world problems.

CaptionJournalists visit the Sustainability Pavilion during a media tour at the Dubai Expo 2020, a week ahead of its public opening, in the United Arab Emirates, on January 16, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

For Arab states, as for all participating countries, a World Expo is a chance to showcase their achievements in architecture, food, agriculture, industry, the arts and intellectual pursuits.

Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco participated in the earliest expos. The first ever, the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, featured around 400 artefacts from Egypt and 103 from Tunisia. Egypt’s contributions included minerals, agricultural products, textiles, and leather goods, as well as 165 books from its oldest printing house, the Bulaq Press.

Tunisia was represented through textiles sent by a single exhibitor, “His Highness Mushir Basha, Bey of Tunis.” In a style ahead of its time, the Tunisian display was truly experiential. The center of the exhibit featured a recreated Tunisian street market, including a tent lined with furs, textiles, and perfumes.

The 1867 Exposition Universelle de Paris marked the unveiling of the Eiffel Tower. It was also Morocco’s first World Expo, in which it offered visitors a rich, memorable, sensory experience.

From Queen Victoria opening the 1851 London exhibition (top left) to Seville 1992 (bottom right), Arab nations have participated since the earliest expos. (AFP/Public Domain)

Omitting anything related to commerce, industry or agriculture, Morocco and Tunisia’s neighboring pavilions were ornate tents, displaying a genteel, regal way of life. The tents featured soft couches, thick carpets, and a white marble fountain, with colorful inlaid Moroccan tiles.

Levantine countries made their expo debuts in the early to mid-20th century. At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, Lebanon made its first appearance independent from France.

Al-Hoda, the leading Lebanese newspaper in the US, ascribed great significance to Lebanon’s participation in the fair, saying it put Lebanon “among the free and independent nations of the world for the first time in modern history.”

Cedar branches were brought into the pavilion, filling it with the fragrance of Lebanon. Some Lebanese Americans were so overcome with emotion they kneeled to kiss the branches, tears running down their faces.

The six-month Dubai Expo world fair is a milestone for the emirate, which has invested $8.2 billion on the event. (AFP/File Photo)

Four months into the fair, however, the Second World War broke out, and the event’s initial theme, “The World of Tomorrow,” was changed to “For Peace and Freedom.”

Expo ’58 took place in Brussels at the start of a historic era of peace and prosperity in Western Europe. Organizers were resolutely focused on telling a story of progress, both past and future.

That year, five Arab states — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq — occupied one pavilion. At its center was a ceramic mural depicting the Arab world as “the cradle of civilization.” The pavilion’s theme was focused on the rising standard of living in the Arab world.

The 1967 Montreal Expo was the centerpiece of Canada’s centennial celebrations. It was originally intended to be held in Moscow to mark the 50th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, but owing to high costs and other issues, the USSR cancelled the event and Canada was awarded the expo instead in late 1962.

People walk towards the Sustainability Pavilion, a week ahead of its public opening, at the Dubai Expo 2020 in Dubai on January 16, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

Despite this late change of venue, the 1967 event became one of the most successful to date, with more than 50 million visitors — more than twice the population of Canada at the time — and a record 62 participating countries.

In Montreal, as part of the Arab pavilions complex, Kuwait and Algeria both participated for the first time. Algeria’s pavilion was a serene, simple design of marble and tile. It focused on Algerian history and culture, with films about its history and development of agriculture, technology, and art.

Kuwait’s pavilion illustrated the nation’s relationship with oil and featured a model desalination plant. However, owing to rising tensions in the Arab region, the pavilion was closed just one month into the six-month expo.

Dubai’s forthcoming Expo Live program is taking a grassroots approach, funding more than 140 global innovators tackling world problems. (AFP/File Photo)

Most GCC nations first participated in a World Expo in 1970 or later. In its inaugural World Expo at Osaka in 1970, Abu Dhabi — which became the capital of the UAE within a year — created a replica Arabian fort. The structure was designed by an Egyptian city planner, Abdulrahman Makhlouf, who also worked on the city plan for Abu Dhabi.

The pavilion featured two minarets, one cylindrical and the other square. It was not elaborate. Aramco World reported Abu Dhabi’s contribution was, “simple … a memorable display … a symbol of the bright future awaiting Islam and the Arab world.”

At the 1992 Seville Expo in Spain, Oman made its first World Expo appearance. The Sultanate set a traditional tone with a large, heavy cedar door, steeped in the scent of frankincense. The pavilion focused on Oman’s history as a seafaring nation (and its most famous sailor, Sinbad), and highlighted traditional industries such as woodcraft and pottery.

A renaissance dome told visitors the story of how Oman had evolved from an ancient sultanate into a modern one.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai has promised that Expo 2020 Dubai will be the best World Expo ever. (AFP/File Photo)

The 2010 event in Shanghai breathed new life into the institution of World Expos. The Chinese government’s support for the Shanghai Expo netted a staggering 73 million visitors. Arab pavilions, including those of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, were among the most popular, with long lines of visitors snaking around them.

Shanghai 2010 was Bahrain’s inaugural World Expo. Its pavilion was compact and took visitors on a journey from the past to the present and into the future, with a focus on Bahraini craftsmanship. As with many national pavilions at the event, Bahrain showcased an interactive story through touchscreen technology.

After delays brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the first World Expo to be hosted in the Middle East opens in Dubai in October, with tickets now on sale.

Expo Dubai 2020 promises to celebrate humanity’s successes, relish its present and set a course for its future. One thing is certain — the next chapter in the story of World Expos will mark a historic moment for the Arab world. 


Morocco to extend night curfew to limit COVID-19 surge

Morocco to extend night curfew to limit COVID-19 surge
Updated 27 min 34 sec ago

Morocco to extend night curfew to limit COVID-19 surge

Morocco to extend night curfew to limit COVID-19 surge
  • The move is expected to hurt tourism business which pinned hopes on the summer season to attract national tourists
  • Daily COVID-19 infections have oscillated between 4,000 and 9,000 over the past week

RABAT: Morocco will lengthen its night curfew, starting two hours earlier at 9 p.m. (2000 GMT) from Tuesday, as it tightens restrictions to counter a surge in coronavirus infections, the government said on Monday.
The business and tourist hubs of Casablanca, Agadir and Marakech will be closed except to holders of the vaccine pass or those on necessary travel, the government said in a statement.
The move is expected to hurt tourism business which pinned hopes on the summer season to attract national tourists after travel receipts dropped 70 percent in the first half this year.
Daily COVID-19 infections have oscillated between 4,000 and 9,000 over the past week as the total number of cases people rose to 569,452 cases, including 9,885 deaths.
However, Morocco has outpaced other African peers in its vaccine push, administering 24 million doses of the AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccines.
Last week, the country started administering Johnson and Johnson doses after receiving a shipment of 300,000 jabs. 


Israel free to make decisions it deems appropriate on Iran: White House

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday renewed his vow of a
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday renewed his vow of a "collective response" to Iran, which had warned adversaries against reprisals after Tehran was blamed for an attack on an Israeli-linked tanker. (AFP)
Updated 17 min 10 sec ago

Israel free to make decisions it deems appropriate on Iran: White House

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday renewed his vow of a "collective response" to Iran, which had warned adversaries against reprisals after Tehran was blamed for an attack on an Israeli-linked tanker. (AFP)
  • US, Britain and Israel blame Iran for fatal attack on Israeli-linked oil tanker off coast of Oman
  • Secretary of State Blinken said “there will be a collective response”

WASHINGTON D.C.: Israel was “free to make the decisions it deemed appropriate” on Iran after an attack on an Israeli-managed tanker off the coast of Oman last week which has been blamed on Tehran, the White House said on Monday.

The US, Britain and Israel have blamed Iran for the fatal attack on the Israeli-linked oil tanker. Iran denies involvement.

In Washington on Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was “confident that Iran carried out this attack.”

He added that Iran’s steps posed a challenge and a threat in light of an unrestricted nuclear program.

Meanwhile, Israel's defense minister also said Monday that Iran's alleged attack on the ship was “a stepping-up of the escalation” of hostilities by Iran, and called for international action.

Benny Gantz addressed Israel's parliament, the Knesset, and said the drone strike on the Mercer Street that left two crew members dead — one from the UK and one from Romania — was “in violation of international law and human morality.” He charged that Iran was behind at least five attacks on international shipping in the last year.

While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iran and its militia allies have used so-called “suicide” drones in attacks previously. The region has seen a rise in attacks on commercial vessels in the aftermath of the disintegration of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

“This is exactly the reason why we must act now against Iran, which is not only striving toward nuclear arms, but is also bringing about a dangerous arms race and intends to destabilize the Middle East with terrorist militias who are armed with hundreds of drones in Iran, Yemen, Iraq and other countries in the region,” Gantz said.

He added that any future agreement between world powers and Iran to rein in its nuclear program must also address Iranian's “aggression in the region and harming both innocent people and to the global economy.”

He also said that it was not a future threat, rather a “tangible and immediate danger.”

Blinken said the US was in close contact with the UK, Israel and Romania and "there will be a collective response.” He did not elaborate on what that response might be.

“It follows a pattern of similar attacks by Iran, including past incidents with explosive drones,” he told reporters at the State Department. “There is no justification for this attack on a peaceful vessel on a commercial mission, international waters rise action is a direct threat to freedom of navigation and commerce, took the lives of innocent sailors.”

* With AP


Egypt, Algeria agree on ‘full support’ for Tunisian president

In this Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021 file photo, Tunisian President Kais Saied waves to bystanders as he strolls along the avenue Bourguiba in Tunis, Tunisia. (AP)
In this Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021 file photo, Tunisian President Kais Saied waves to bystanders as he strolls along the avenue Bourguiba in Tunis, Tunisia. (AP)
Updated 10 min 1 sec ago

Egypt, Algeria agree on ‘full support’ for Tunisian president

In this Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021 file photo, Tunisian President Kais Saied waves to bystanders as he strolls along the avenue Bourguiba in Tunis, Tunisia. (AP)
  • Nile dispute, anti-terror policies also discussed in Cairo meeting hosted by Egyptian leader

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra agreed to support embattled Tunisian leader Kais Saeid in a bid to maintain stability in the country.

The consensus was reached during a meeting in Cairo after the two sides discussed recent developments in the nearby country.

As a result of the meeting, El-Sisi agreed with Lamamra to “fully support” President Saied.

The announcement came in an official statement following the talks.

Both sides agreed to implement the “will and choices” of the Tunisian people in order to preserve the security of the North African country.

El-Sisi also affirmed Egypt’s keenness to develop relations with Algeria in various fields and boost cooperation, construction and development between the two countries.

He also reiterated his firm stance over Egypt’s “historical rights to the Nile waters” and the country’s position on maintaining its water security.

El-Sisi urged the importance of engaging in the negotiation process to reach a comprehensive and legally binding agreement on the rules for filling and operating the Renaissance Dam, according to a statement from the official spokesman for the presidency.

The statement said that the meeting of El-Sisi and Lamamra also focused on developments of common concern, especially the situation in Libya.

The two parties discussed political and security coordination and the exchange of information in regard to combating terrorism and extremist ideologies, which pose a threat to the entire region.