Putin, Macron discuss Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Putin, Macron discuss Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
Smoke and fire are seen after shelling by Azerbaijan's artillery in Stepanakert, the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 07 November 2020

Putin, Macron discuss Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Putin, Macron discuss Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
  • The leaders expressed serious concern over the involvement of fighters from Syria and Libya in the conflict
  • Putin informed Macron of the steps Russia had taken towards implementing a ceasefire

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh in a telephone call with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, the Kremlin said on Saturday.
The two leaders expressed serious concern over the large-scale clashes between ethnic Armenian and Azeri forces in the region and the involvement of fighters from Syria and Libya in the conflict.
Putin informed Macron of the steps Russia had taken towards implementing a ceasefire and ensuring the sides negotiate a solution to the crisis, the Kremlin said.
The presidents also expressed their desire to continue coordinated mediation efforts, including through the OSCE Minsk Group, set up in 1992 to mediate a peaceful resolution.
At least 1,000 people and possibly many more have died in nearly six weeks of fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous enclave internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.
The conflict has underlined the influence of Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, in a former Soviet region long dominated by Moscow, which has a defence pact with Armenia. It also threatens the security of Azeri oil and gas pipelines. 


Israel slammed over ‘vicious’ attacks on Palestinian civil society

Israel slammed over ‘vicious’ attacks on Palestinian civil society
Updated 12 sec ago

Israel slammed over ‘vicious’ attacks on Palestinian civil society

Israel slammed over ‘vicious’ attacks on Palestinian civil society
  • Israel listed and banned six Palestinian NGOs, including the Defense for Children Palestine and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees
  • CAABU: The UK government should pledge and demonstrate concrete support for Palestinian civil society in a vicious scenario of shrinking space in which they operate

LONDON: The Council of Arab-British Understanding has condemned Israel’s “vicious” crackdown on Palestinian NGOs and urged the UK government to act in support of Palestinian civil society.

Last week Israel listed and banned six Palestinian NGOs, including the Defense for Children Palestine and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, accusing them of links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

“Israel has yet to provide any evidence to substantiate its claims,” said CAABU. “The Israeli listing and banning of these organisations is based on confidential reports. If there was evidence against any specific Palestinians working in these groups, Israeli forces would have no doubt arrested them.

“The UK government should pledge and demonstrate concrete support for Palestinian civil society in a vicious scenario of shrinking space in which they operate. They suffer from sustained and systemic attacks from Israeli authorities. Such a move is designed to silence those who speak out against illegal Israeli policies. ”

CAABU has worked closely with many of the banned organizations, including introducing some to British parliamentarians. 

They “remain an essential and important resource to our political advocacy work as they are to governments and parliamentarians from across Europe,” the group said.

CAABU director Chris Doyle told Arab News that these actions were resonant of “tyrannical regimes using counter-terrorism legislation as a cover to stop criticisms of their actions. It’s the sort of thing one would expect from the likes of the Syrian regime, for example.”

He said the onus was on the Israeli government to demonstrate “immediately and in full that there is substantive evidence (to support the crackdown).”

Civil society, he added, viewed the latest attack on NGOs as “another part of a continuing Israeli attempt to crackdown on civil society, to shrink the space for holding them to account — all of which we’ve seen before.”

Raiding offices, freezing accounts and “using satellite organizations to smear their reputations” was something that had been happening for decades.

“One can go back to the first intifada when Palestinian universities were closed down, where Palestinian schools were closed down, to actions against specific individual NGOs that also weren’t substantiated. Most recently there was a case of so-called pro-Israel groups that had been spreading unsubstantiated accusations about Palestinian textbooks. We have seen this time and time again.”

Many international NGOs and charities, as well as human rights organizations, have also strongly condemned Israel’s attacks on Palestinian charities and NGOs.

In a rare joint statement, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch — two of the most prominent human rights advocacy organizations in the world — condemned the bans.

“This appalling and unjust decision is an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement,” they said. “For decades, Israeli authorities have systematically sought to muzzle human rights monitoring and punish those who criticize its repressive rule over Palestinians. While staff members of our organizations have faced deportation and travel bans, Palestinian human rights defenders have always borne the brunt of the repression.

“This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations.”

Echoing calls by CAABU for greater British involvement in the defense of Palestinian rights, they called on the international community to challenge Israel over its actions.

“The decades-long failure of the international community to challenge grave Israeli human rights abuses and impose meaningful consequences for them has emboldened Israeli authorities to act in this brazen manner.”

Doyle said: “The extremely strong unified reaction from civil society, and 22 Israeli civil society organizations, demonstrates that they simply attach no credibility to the Israeli claims about these organizations."


How Democrats’ progressive-moderate split imperils Biden’s climate legacy

How Democrats’ progressive-moderate split imperils Biden’s climate legacy
Updated 9 min 48 sec ago

How Democrats’ progressive-moderate split imperils Biden’s climate legacy

How Democrats’ progressive-moderate split imperils Biden’s climate legacy
  • Administration’s agenda in danger because of Congress infighting within ruling Democratic party
  • If Biden arrives empty-handed in Glasgow, there will be little hope for a breakthrough at the summit

DUBAI: Just days before he heads to the UN Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, US President Joe Biden’s climate agenda is in danger because of infighting between progressives and moderates within his own Democratic Party in Congress.

The fight is over his domestic agenda presented in two bills: A social spending bill, referred to as Building Back Better; and a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill which cleared the US Senate earlier this year. Both are considered legacy-leaving actions by the president, but one of them contains the most significant climate action ever taken by a US leader.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sounded an optimistic over a deal between Democrats over the weekend, when the president met with Congressional leaders over his agenda, but nothing is in the bag yet. Pelosi said that Democrats are very close to a deal on the two bills. “I think we’re pretty much there now,” she told CNN on Sunday.

The original social spending bill of Biden, which includes the climate provisions section, began as a $3.5 trillion package, but the bill that is being negotiated now is much lower because of fierce opposition from moderate Democrats.

Two senators hold the key to reaching a deal over the bills and to a strong US position at COP26. The US can either lead with very ambitious position — or temper the high expectations of the summit if the two Democrats succeed in scaling down the president’s agenda in the spending bills.

The US is believed to have “contributed more to global warming than any other nation,” as The New York Times said, and if the US arrives at COP26 with a modest domestic plan to cut emissions it will make it harder to convince other polluters to cut their own emissions.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse told The Guardian newspaper that the US “will look ridiculous if they show up with nothing.”

This is also a make-it-or-break-it moment for the president and the Democrats, for they might never have another opportunity to pass their agenda, including their climate policy.

They now control both houses of Congress, and although it is a razor-thin majority in the Senate, they might not have this opportunity again if they do not win big in the 2022 Congressional elections.

(L-R): US Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) take a break from a meeting on infrastructure for going to a vote at the US Capitol. (AFP/File Photo) 

The Senate is equally split now, giving each senator veto power over the budget and any policy decision, with the situation effectively making every senator “a president,” as Biden has put it.

Biden’s domestic agenda, including climate, is dependent on an agreement being reached within his own party this week, not only to preserve his legacy, but also to guarantee Democrats a chance to keep power for another term in the next elections.

The majority of the Democrats agree with Pelosi that the bill that Congress is discussing is transformational and historic, and they liken it to the New Deal, the programs enacted by Roosevelt after the Great Depression. However, they have not been able to convince the two senators to toe the party line and end their opposition to the bills.

Joe Manchin III and Kyrsten Sinema are not only opposing Biden’s bills, but also threatening his domestic policy plan. They have been so dogged in their opposition as to prompt a prominent Democratic senator like Bernie Sanders to claim that it is “simply not fair, not right that one or two senators say: My way or the highway.”

Although they are both holding off on any breakthrough on reaching a deal, the objectives of Manchin and Sinema are not identical.

Manchin, from a coal-dependent state, West Virginia, has expressed concern over rising inflation because of the size of the package and its cost, but in practical terms, it is politics that is mainly on his mind.

His state and constituents depend on coal for economic survival; entire towns might cease to exist if West Virginia’s coal mines are shut down. The state also depends on coal-fired plants for 91 percent of its electricity production.

Manchin wants the $3.5 trillion price tag of the president’s bill to be cut in half to $1.5 trillion.

He is not in favor of one aspect of Biden’s climate change agenda — the part that seeks to encourage transition to clean energy. He said that energy companies are” already making the transition” to greener technologies and thus do not need tax credits and incentives.

Sinema, by contrast, is rather vague on what she wants in the package and what she opposes. US news media has reported that she supports new programs to promote clean energy and penalize businesses, but also wants to tax the rich.

A beachgoer watches as cleanup workers search for contaminated sand and seaweed along the mostly empty Huntington Beach about one week after an oil spill from an offshore oil platform on October 9, 2021 in California. (AFP/File Photo)

Biden has spent hours meeting with congressional members of his party, especially Manchin and Sinema, in an attempt to convince them to back him before he travels to Europe for COP26 the end of the month.

Climate change is a high-priority issue for Biden and his administration. He made this clear when he signed an executive order for the US to rejoin the Paris Agreement the day he took office.

He considers climate change “everybody’s crisis,” and has called on the US to be serious about the “code red” danger of global warming. He has put his fight against climate change in the context of saving the planet, while his administration has framed it as a national security threat and an integral part of its foreign policy agenda.

This concern about climate change is shared by the US public — but along partisan lines.

Polls show that the climate provisions are very important to Democrat voters. One poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 83 percent of Democrats are very concerned about climate change. Such sentiments are not shared by the Republicans, of whom only 21 percent said that they are concerned.

When the president put his full weight behind his two bills, it amounted to a whole-of-government approach to the climate part of his agenda. Lobbying for climate action got a boost when the White House, Pentagon and the intelligence community put out two reports linking climate change and global security risks.

The Washington Post said: “Together, the reports show a deepening concern within the US security establishment that the shifts unleashed by climate change can reshape US strategic interests, offer new opportunities to rivals such as China, and increase instability in nuclear states such as North Korea and Pakistan.”

The Pentagon is reportedly incorporating “climate issues into its security strategy,” and is worried “that climate change could lead to state failure,” according to the newspaper.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said in a statement: “Climate change is altering the strategic landscape and shaping the security environment, posing complex threats to the US and nations around the world.”

Austin considers it important for the Department of Defense to understand the way that climate change affects missions and capabilities if the US wants to protect itself and deter war.

Another report, The Financial Stability Oversight, cited by Axios, referred to climate change as an “emerging threat” to US economic stability, adding that the administration is “factoring climate risk into planning at the Department of the Treasury.”

A man crosses a street in downtown Portland, Oregon where air quality due to smoke from wildfires was measured to be amongst the worst in the world, September 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

The FSOC, headed by Janet Yellen, “views climate related financial risks as an emerging threat to the financial stability of the US.” All these efforts by the administration and its departments were seen by the media as “warning measures” before the UN conference.

The Democrats are negotiating over a smaller package now and Biden has reportedly told party members that a package of up to $1.9 trillion is now the goal of the negotiations.

Other reports put the number at $2 trillion. Although this is a much smaller package than the originally proposed $3.5 trillion, it is closer to what Manchin wants and has a better chance of being accepted.

Despite the reductions, Biden has said that the Democrats are keeping the climate provisions in the infrastructure bill regardless of the opposition from Manchin.

There are also reports that a key component of Biden’s climate agenda, the Clean Electricity Performance Program, might not make it in the final version of the budget bill. The $150 billion program, which is designed to replace coal-and gas-fired power plants with wind, solar and nuclear energy, is opposed by Manchin.

If it is cut from the bill, it would represent a huge setback to President Biden’s climate policy and ambitions for the Glasgow conference. The program could “account for 42 percent of emissions reduction targets when tax credits are included,” according to news reports.

Discarded personal protective equipment (PPE) sits in a pile of trash in a trash pit at Recology on April 2, 2021 in San Francisco. (AFP/File Photo)

John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that any “Glasgow setback would carry reputational risk matching that of former president Donald Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement again.”

Biden met with Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last Sunday in Delaware to try to reach a compromise. The negotiations are about what to cut and what to keep in the reconciliation bill, and how to pay for it. They are hoping to clinch a deal this coming Wednesday.

The numbers are getting closer to what Manchin wants. But while progress has been made as the White House said, the deal is not a sure bet yet. Until that happens and Congress votes on the bills, the US position in COP26 will remain tenuous.

COP26 in Glasgow was supposed to be the “America is back” moment on climate. It is important for the world to have the US back, especially on climate action, but if Biden arrives empty-handed there will be little hope for a breakthrough.

The summit might not deliver on a global emergency that has the slogan “our house is on fire.” The international fire brigade will be coming to put out the fire without the fire extinguishers. No one at the Glasgow conference will take their fire-fighting efforts seriously.

This is why the Democrats have to get their act together and unite on this. It is their only chance to “save the planet” — something Biden says he wants to do.


London exhibition pushes UNESCO to list Palestinian refugee camp as World Heritage Site

The Dheisheh camp, near Bethlehem, has been home to thousands of displaced Palestinians since they were expelled from their homes during the Nakba. (UNRWA/File Photo)
The Dheisheh camp, near Bethlehem, has been home to thousands of displaced Palestinians since they were expelled from their homes during the Nakba. (UNRWA/File Photo)
Updated 25 October 2021

London exhibition pushes UNESCO to list Palestinian refugee camp as World Heritage Site

The Dheisheh camp, near Bethlehem, has been home to thousands of displaced Palestinians since they were expelled from their homes during the Nakba. (UNRWA/File Photo)
  • ‘Stateless Heritage’ show runs until the end of January
  • Lightboxes capture culture, geography, spirit of camp

LONDON: An immersive exhibition in London presents the heritage and culture of Palestine’s Dheisheh refugee camp and challenges the UN’s top cultural body to list it as a World Heritage Site.

The camp, near Bethlehem, has been home to thousands of displaced Palestinians since they were expelled from their homes during the Nakba — the exodus of indigenous Palestinians from their ancestral homeland upon the creation of the state of Israel.

“Stateless Heritage” uses lightboxes to capture the culture, geography, and spirit of the camp, displaying photographs from the local terrain, replete with graffiti and posters from resistance groups.

Elsewhere in the gallery, items donated by the Palestinian diaspora, such as rugs, are displayed on the walls, and photo books are presented on plinths, showcasing pre-Nakba life in the villages that Dheisheh’s many residents were expelled from before coming to the camp.

The exhibition, in London’s Mosaic Rooms, is run by the A. M. Qattan Foundation, a Palestinian charity focusing on culture and education.

The campaign by DAAR (Decolonizing Architecture Art Research) to nominate Dheisheh as a World Heritage Site was, the Mosaic Rooms said, a “provocation” designed to “expose how the definition of heritage is not universal as claimed, but subject to nation-state control and has colonial foundations.”

Flora Bains, press officer at the Mosaic Rooms, told Arab News that the exhibition questioned the “colonial and nation-state origins of what is world heritage and what is a world heritage site. It’s about questioning the idea of heritage; what heritage is viewed as important?”

The exhibition, she said, “particularly looks at UNESCO world heritage as something that is about nation-state history. That is part of the criteria.”

Bains said the exhibition questioned what the “consequences for ideas of heritage” would be if it were suggested that a refugee camp was a World Heritage Site.

The show, which runs until the end of January, also provides a space for local artists and activists to interact with the public, perform their art, and meet and interact with visitors.

This space, said Bains, was “inspired by the living room spaces in Dheisheh camp — this idea that there is a gathering space where people can make connections with each other.”

For years, DAAR has been campaigning to have the camp listed as a site of world heritage, which would see it join the Taj Mahal and Stonehenge as sites of “outstanding universal value.”

Sites chosen by the UN become protected by UNESCO upon designation, and many experience increased tourism and other forms of income as a result of the designation.

The venue said the exhibition was part of a wider movement to use heritage to “resist colonialism and occupation which continues in Palestine, and to expose colonial and imperial legacies more widely. ‘Stateless Heritage’ will raise issues of migrant justice at a time when the right to claim asylum is under threat in the UK and internationally.”


UN chief condemns military coup in Sudan and calls for release of PM

Antonio Guterres has called for the immediate release of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok following a coup in Sudan. (Reuters)
Antonio Guterres has called for the immediate release of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok following a coup in Sudan. (Reuters)
Updated 25 October 2021

UN chief condemns military coup in Sudan and calls for release of PM

Antonio Guterres has called for the immediate release of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok following a coup in Sudan. (Reuters)
  • Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all parties to return to dialogue and not to undermine the transitional process and nation’s stability
  • The UN stands with people of Sudan ‘as they strive to fulfill their aspirations for a peaceful, prosperous and democratic future,’ he added

NEW YORK: After the military seized power from the transitional government in Khartoum on Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the coup and “all actions that could jeopardize Sudan’s political transition and stability.”

He called for the immediate release of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and all others who have been arbitrarily detained, along with “the immediate reconstitution of the governing arrangements provided for under the constitutional document.”

He said: “The unlawful detention of the prime minister, government officials and politicians is unacceptable and contravenes the constitutional document and the partnership critical for the success of Sudan’s transition.”

Guterres urged all stakeholders to swiftly return to dialogue and “engage in good faith to restore the constitutional order and Sudan’s transitional process.”

He added: “The United Nations reiterates its unwavering commitment and support to the realization of Sudan’s political transition. Any attempts to undermine this transition process puts at risk Sudan’s security, stability and development.

“The United Nations will continue to stand with the people of Sudan as they strive to fulfill their aspirations for a peaceful, prosperous and democratic future.”


As Vienna talks falter, Washington is ‘prepared for anything,’ says envoy

Robert Malley, seen in his office in Washington D.C., has said that the US hopes Iran will return in earnest to talks. (AFP/File Photo)
Robert Malley, seen in his office in Washington D.C., has said that the US hopes Iran will return in earnest to talks. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 25 October 2021

As Vienna talks falter, Washington is ‘prepared for anything,’ says envoy

Robert Malley, seen in his office in Washington D.C., has said that the US hopes Iran will return in earnest to talks. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Robert Malley, the US Special Envoy for Iran, said the US wants Tehran to return to the JCPOA but is preparing for all other eventualities
  • ‘Technological, not chronological’ clock is ticking on window of opportunity for successful return to JCPOA

LONDON: Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley has said that the US hopes Iran will return in earnest to talks over curbs to its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, but that Washington is making preparations for all other scenarios.

In an online press briefing attended by Arab News, Malley explained that Iran has two paths ahead of it: Returning to diplomacy and re-engaging with negotiations, or a total breakdown of negotiations by Iran delaying talks in perpetuity or making demands that exceed the parameters of the negotiations.

“Countries, whether they are in the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) or E3 (France, Germany, Italy) see two paths clearly laid out ahead,” said Malley.

“One in which Iran, the United States and other parties in the P5+1 take their responsibilities seriously to find solutions to the remaining issues that were left open after the sixth round of talks in Vienna … so that Iran would live by the constraints on its nuclear program that it agreed to in Vienna in 2016.” He said that on this path the US would lift economic sanctions that are “inconsistent” with the 2016 agreement.

“Then there’s the other path,” Malley said, “that we need to at least be prepared for, which is that Iran chooses a different direction, and continues to either delay the resumption of talks or comes back with demands that clearly exceed the parameters of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. We are increasingly concerned that is the path Iran is on.

“It is in Iran’s hands to choose which one it wants to take.”

“If it chooses the second path President Biden and Secretary Blinken have both said if diplomacy fails we have other tools, and we will use other tools, to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon,” said Malley.

The envoy remained tight-lipped on the exact actions that Washington would take if Iran refused to return in earnest to negotations but said: “We have to be prepared for anything.”

He explained that the US would always be open to diplomacy with Iran to resolve the long-running diplomatic fissure between the two states.

However, he said, “the window for negotiations on a return to the JCPOA will not be open forever, but this is not a chronological clock — it’s a technological clock. At some point, the JCPOA will have been so eroded, because Iran will have made advances that cannot be reversed, in which case you can’t revive a dead corpse. But we’re not there yet.”