US envoy slams Houthi attempts to undermine peace

John Abizaid
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Updated 25 June 2020

US envoy slams Houthi attempts to undermine peace

  • Abizaid praises KSA’s ‘influential’ regional role, vows to keep pressure on Iran

RIYADH: The US envoy to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday condemned Iran-backed Houthi drone and missile attacks on the Kingdom which had “set back opportunities for peace” in Yemen.
John Abizaid said the launching of armed drones and ballistic missiles into Saudi Arabia, including one fired toward Riyadh, was counterproductive to efforts aimed at bringing an end to fighting in Yemen.
The American ambassador praised the Saudi air defense forces for thwarting Tuesday’s attacks which drew worldwide condemnation.
Speaking at a roundtable discussion with journalists to mark the 75th anniversary of the historic meeting between King Abdul Aziz and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt on board the USS Quincy, Abizaid said: “It’s a shame that Houthis continue to launch missiles at a time when the Saudi government, in particular, is working so hard to find a peaceful solution to the many problems in Yemen.
“It does not move us toward a better solution at all. It creates tension that is unnecessary. Unfortunately, one of these missiles or drones will end up striking very innocent people.”
Acknowledging the Saudi role toward restoring peace and stability in Yemen, the envoy said: “Saudi Arabia has shown a lot of forbearance in trying to find a path forward. Unfortunately, the Houthis decided to launch Iranian-designed missiles and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) across the border. It’s unfortunate, it sets opportunities for peace back.”
However, he expressed hope that UN special envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, would press ahead with his peace process, although he admitted it was “a difficult path for him and all the various parties” involved.
Abizaid described ties between Saudi Arabia and the US as “one of the most strategic relationships that exist anywhere in the world.”
He added: “As we work our way through the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) situation, we very much look forward to strengthening the relationship and continuing to form opportunity with our Saudi friends and partners.”
The diplomat pointed out that America was working alongside the Kingdom on numerous regional issues. “With regard to various problems we see emerging in Libya and other places, we always try to work closely. We always are in consultation with our Saudi friends.
“Saudi influences are so pervasive in the Middle East and among the other Arab countries. We certainly are working hard to keep the pressure on the Iranians. We do not want to punish the Iranian people. We hope that the Iranian government over time will learn that there is a path toward peaceful coexistence. Unfortunately, right now we have not seen that.”
On the situation in the US regarding ongoing protests over the killing of George Floyd and issues concerning police brutality, the ambassador said: “Certainly, we all condemn what happened to George Floyd.
It was terrible to see it on television. We have some issues that
we, as a society need to come to grips with.
“I always marvel at how we are willing to play out some of our deepest difficulties on the world stage in front of everybody. But that is how we do things. I am confident we will come to a better path. I am confident that many responsible people are working to adjust our societal issues concerning racial, injustice, income, inequality, many other things,” he added.
Abizaid gave an example of how Saudi Arabia was handling Hajj. “I can think of watching your country try to come to grips with how they’ll proceed for Hajj, which is hugely important for the whole Muslim world. We’ve watched it being done in a very open and straightforward way with a lot of consultation.
“I think there’s a lesson in that, which is to try to do things prudently and smartly at a time when there’s global disruption,” he told Arab News.
Due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Saudi students had to be repatriated in the middle of their studies. Abizaid said: “I know we’re all working very hard to re-establish them (educational opportunities). Our public affairs officer works very hard to find opportunities for Saudis to study in the US.
“And we’re also working hard to open up opportunities, which I think is even more important for Americans to study and work in Saudi Arabia.
“I’m very hopeful that as we start moving into 2021, we’ll see economic activity pick up to a large extent and educational opportunity pick up to a large extent. I’m hopeful that the long-term educational relationship that we’ve developed over the years will remain strong and viable,” he added.

 


Saudi TikTok users weigh in on potential app ban

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Updated 23 min 26 sec ago

Saudi TikTok users weigh in on potential app ban

  • Due to pandemic, interest in the app skyrocketed as many users watch videos and try to recreate them while in quarantine

RIYADH: Chinese video platform TikTok is under fire once again, as rumors of the app being a tool used by the Chinese government to spy on users resurface online.

TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is a video-sharing site similar to the now-defunct Vine, where users share short clips of themselves which can be altered using AI technology.
Lip-syncing along with a track, using filters, and adding special effects give users the chance to create short clips that can be shared and downloaded in several social media platforms.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, interest in the app skyrocketed as many users downloaded TikTok to watch videos and try to recreate them while in quarantine. The app has also gained significant popularity in the Middle East with influencers such as Saudi model Roz, UAE-based content creators Khalid and Salama, and Saudi top TikToker iimeeto, who recently celebrated reaching four million followers on the platform.
Rania Mohammed, a fourth year medical student at Dar AlUloom University in Riyadh, said that TikTok was “the only thing keeping her sane” as she struggled with the pressures of school and quarantine.
“As a med school student, my attention span and free time are both severely limited,” she told Arab News. “Taking a 15 minute break to watch silly TikToks has helped me keep motivated. The specific brand of humor on that app is the fastest way to make me laugh.”
Mai Alhumood, a government employee, said that she downloaded the app while she was bored and became “quickly addicted” to the platform’s fun short videos.
“People are so creative on TikTok, and the challenges that keep going viral are so interesting,” she told Arab News.
However, the app has long-suffered from accusations of spying and gathering users’ private information on behalf of the Chinese government, leading to both temporary and permanent bans in countries around the world.
Recently, it was reported that Amazon requested that employees remove the app from their smartphones in an email over “security risks.” The company later retracted its directive.
Saudi cybersecurity expert Abdullah Al-Jaber believed that concerns over the security of TikTok’s collected data stemmed from the app’s country of origin and its rules and regulations.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Following a provisional ban in April 2019, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology banned TikTok permanently in June this year, along with 58 other Chinese apps. The ministry claimed that the apps were a ‘threat to the sovereignty and security of the country’ following a Himalayan border clash with Chinese troops in the disputed territory of Ladakh.

• Indonesia temporarily blocked TikTok in July 2018, citing public concern regarding ‘illegal content’ such as pornography and blasphemy. However, the app was unblocked following various changes from TikTok such as the opening of a government liaison office and implementing security mechanisms.

• Recently, the US became the third country to seriously consider banning the app, according to information from President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump also weighed in on a potential TikTok ban. He said that banning the app would be ‘punishing China for its response to the coronavirus.’

“TikTok collects data in a very similar way to US applications,” he told Arab News. “However the main concern is that the US has regulations and compliance that must be met when collecting customer data, such as GDPR data privacy regulation. In the case of TikTok, we don’t know as much about how the data is being used or stored because we don’t know their regulations.”
Following a provisional ban in April 2019, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology banned TikTok permanently in June this year, along with 58 other Chinese apps. The ministry claimed that the apps were a “threat to the sovereignty and security of the country” following a Himalayan border clash with Chinese troops in the disputed territory of Ladakh.
Indonesia temporarily blocked TikTok in July 2018, citing public concern regarding “illegal content” such as pornography and blasphemy. However, the app was unblocked following various changes from TikTok such as the opening of a government liaison office and implementing security mechanisms.
Recently, the US became the third country to seriously consider banning the app, according to information from President Donald Trump’s administration.
Trump also weighed in on a potential TikTok ban. In an interview with Gray Television, Trump said that banning the app would be “punishing China for its response to the coronavirus.”
“Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful,” he said.
While Saudi Arabia has yet to announce a ban of any kind of TikTok, local users and followers are trying to practice caution while using the app anyway.
Alhumood considered making videos on the platform, but dismissed the idea and only uses it to follow other people’s videos.
“I have ideas for it, sure, but I’d rather not take the risk. I don’t even have a username or a registered account, and that’s one of the better things about TikTok. I only have the app, but I can still watch all the videos without giving them my private information.”
Mohammed also said that she had no interest in creating videos herself, though she did have a registered account in order to comment on videos and keep track of her favorites.
However Al-Jaber said that, in his opinion, registering an account on TikTok did not necessarily pose more of a risk than using other social media.
“If you use Facebook or Twitter, it’s not much different than using TikTok,” he said.