US launches push to sell new Iran nuclear deal

President Joe Biden has said he will lift sanctions if Iran returns to compliance with the agreement. (AFP)
President Joe Biden has said he will lift sanctions if Iran returns to compliance with the agreement. (AFP)
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Updated 04 May 2021

US launches push to sell new Iran nuclear deal

US launches push to sell new Iran nuclear deal
  • Gulf concerns are ‘understandable and legitimate,’ Biden envoy says

JEDDAH: The US has launched a diplomatic drive to persuade skeptical allies in the Gulf of the benefits of a revived nuclear deal with Iran.
Top envoys and senators close to President Joe Biden are shuttling between Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Jordan, as talks continue in Vienna to breathe new life into the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The 2015 agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions collapsed in 2018 when Donald Trump withdrew from it and began reimposing sanctions, and Iran retaliated by increasing enrichment of fissile uranium beyond the purity permitted by the JCPOA.
Biden has said he will lift sanctions if Iran returns to compliance with the agreement. Iran says the US must act first. Talks to resolve the stalemate began in the Austrian capital three weeks ago, and diplomats expect a new draft agreement by the end of May.
However, US allies in the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, say that, like the original JCPOA, a new agreement will not address Iran’s ballistic missile program and its regional meddling through proxy militias in Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.
Those concerns are “understandable and legitimate,” Chris Coons, a US senator from Delaware and a Biden confidant, said in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
Coons said he was in the UAE to create “broader engagement” with Gulf partners.
The senator said “close consultation” with the UAE about the talks in Vienna was “important, expected and happening,” and he hoped the UAE “may not just be notified, but actually help.”
Meanwhile, several senior Biden administration officials, including Brett McGurk from the National Security Council and Derek Chollet from the State Department, have visited Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Amman and Cairo in a tour intended to boost “long-standing political, economic, cultural, and security ties.”
Senator Chris Murphy, another Biden ally, joined the diplomatic activity with visits to Oman, Qatar and Jordan for talks on a political solution to the war in Yemen, which he linked to the nuclear deal.
“So long as we’re still sanctioning the Iranian economy ... it’s going to be hard to push the Houthis to a ceasefire,” he said. The nuclear deal “is very important, perhaps critical to peace in Yemen,” and without it, “the Iranians are going to see Yemen as an opportunity to make mischief against the US and our allies.”


Lebanon urged to initiate reforms and restart negotiations with IMF

Lebanon urged to initiate reforms and restart negotiations with IMF
Updated 3 min 24 sec ago

Lebanon urged to initiate reforms and restart negotiations with IMF

Lebanon urged to initiate reforms and restart negotiations with IMF
  • If Aoun shows positivity, Hariri will present new ministerial formation, leading Future Movement figure tells Arab News
  • Banque du Liban launches electronic platform to attract dollars stored at home and abroad

BEIRUT: Italian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Marina Sereni on Monday reiterated to Lebanese President Michel Aoun the need to “initiate deep and structural reforms through the formation of a government that assumes all its powers.”

She renewed her call to all political parties in Lebanon to put their differences aside and give priority to the national interest by cooperating to form a government.

Sereni said that the Lebanese needed a government to put the country back on the path of sustainable development and to relaunch negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The Italian official reminded the Lebanese president that “democratic mechanisms should continue to operate regularly according to the electoral calendar expected in 2022.”

Her comment was in reference to parliamentary elections scheduled for May next year, with political voices inside Lebanon seeking to postpone the date of the vote to maintain the current ruling authority.

Sereni stressed that “Italy views Lebanon as a key player for stability and peace in the Middle East.”

Sereni said Italy “supports UNIFIL forces led by Italian General Stefano Del Col, who play a key role in maintaining stability and avoiding tensions along the Blue Line, especially in light of the current situation, with all its tensions and strains.”

Lebanon has endured a governmental vacuum since the resignation of Hassan Diab’s government after the Beirut Port explosion and Saad Hariri’s designation as prime minister on Oct. 22. 

The vacuum has been maintained due to Hariri’s refusal to form a techno-political government and Aoun’s insistence to have the blocking third and what he called “the charter and the national balance.”

The French initiative failed to form a government of apolitical specialists, which prompted the French to threaten sanctions against those blocking reforms.

Expectations rose before the Eid Al-Fitr holiday that Hariri could quit his mission, but the Secretary-General of the Future Movement Ahmed Hariri on Monday described these expectations as “media leaks.”

He said that “government matters are still as they are, and nothing has been issued by the prime minister-designate, who will have clear positions in the coming stage, including the country’s interest and people’s concerns, while studying all steps and options to reach the right decision.”

The Vice-President of the Future Movement Dr. Mustafa Alloush told Arab News: “There is talk that the president of the republic does not want Hariri to quit, but this talk is devoid of any clear positive signals.

“If Aoun shows positivity, Hariri is ready to present a new cabinet formation.”

Alloush added that Aoun’s “talk about his adherence to the charter and national balance has no meaning because the charter is guaranteed by the Muslim-Christian participation in the government according to the constitution.”

Alloush said: “As for keeping the decision inside the government, this matter is not a charter, but rather a kidnapping of the country and taking it hostage.”

While awaiting changes in the political situation, the list of economic and social crises that the Lebanese suffer from is growing.

There are fresh worries about severe electricity rationing and the loss of gasoline and medicine, which inspired new street protests.

On Monday, protesters blocked roads in Beirut with garbage bins and in Tripoli with cars. Security forces reopened the roads.

Dozens of owners of fuel stations in Hermel, in the northern Bekaa Valley, protested against a judicial decision to close more than 40 unlicensed stations.

They held a sit-in in front of the Grand Serail (a government office).

The Hermel region hosts several illegal transit routes for smuggling subsidized fuel into Syria.

In an attempt to control the unstable exchange rate of the dollar on the black market, the Banque du Liban launched an electronic banking platform on Monday that allows the dollar market to become more transparent.

The platform secures the process of buying and selling foreign cash, specifically the dollar, at a price that determines the supply and demand directed to banks.

These regulated operations are available to traders, importers, institutions and individuals.

The central bank intervenes to limit fluctuations in the exchange market rates to reduce speculation and control the dollar.

Dr. Louis Hobeika, an economist, said that this platform is a “temporary measure to gain time.”

He told Arab News: “The platform will not permanently reduce the exchange rate of the dollar, because the problem is in the dollar’s supply on the market, which is weak.

“It is doubtful that people who keep their dollars at home will present them on the platform because their problem is not in the platform, but rather in losing confidence in the country, the banks and the central bank.”

He added: “The platform’s goal is organizational. If it manages to attract money from abroad, then this is good, and Lebanon will have an average exchange rate ranging between LBP4,000 and 5,000 to the dollar, but it depends on the stability of the country. The black market will continue as long as there are dollars traded in it.

“We have to give this platform a month ​and give it a try.”


Erdogan rivals surge in polls ahead of 2023 Turkey election

Erdogan rivals surge in polls ahead of 2023 Turkey election
Updated 17 May 2021

Erdogan rivals surge in polls ahead of 2023 Turkey election

Erdogan rivals surge in polls ahead of 2023 Turkey election
  • ‘Loss of trust, pandemic failures’ damaging govt support, expert says
  • Recent meetings between leaders of the opposition have hinted at efforts to develop a joint candidate figure

ANKARA: Turkish opposition figures are gaining ground among voters ahead of the country’s critical 2023 presidential elections and are likely to pose a major threat to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling party, recent surveys show.

Istanbul mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and Ankara mayor Mansur Yavas, who head two opposition-controlled municipalities in Turkey’s largest cities, previously challenged Erdogan and his party in the March 2019 local elections.

And recent meetings between leaders of the opposition have hinted at efforts to develop a joint candidate figure who can appeal to wider segments of Turkish society.

The latest survey from Istanbul Economics, a leading research company, showed that Yavas and Imamoglu are now performing better than Erdogan in polls.

Results show that 52.5 percent of voters prefer Yavas against Erdogan’s 38.1 percent when asked who they would vote for if a presidential election was held today.

Similarly, 51.4 percent of voters would choose Imamoglu against Erdogan’s 39.9 percent  in a presidential election. They would also prefer Meral Aksener, chairwoman of the center right IYI Party, with 45.4 percent, against Erdogan’s 39.1 percent.

The survey, titled Turkey Report, was conducted across 12 cities using 1506 respondents. The polling company recently revealed that popular support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its nationalist partner MHP was down to 45 percent, with the opposition standing at 55 percent.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also undermined trust in the government, due to perceived failures in handling the outbreak in Turkey.

Erdogan recently asked for “forgiveness” from Turks who have faced financial struggles due to pandemic restrictions and the subsequent economic downturn.

Dr. Berk Esen, a political scientist from Sabanci University in Istanbul, said that there are several reasons for the decline in Erdogan’s popularity in recent months.

“The pandemic has worsened the economic downturn that had already severely hit the urban poor, many of whom are loyal to the ruling party,” he told Arab News.

“Many voters feel that the Erdogan administration has done a poor job of dealing with the pandemic, both medically and economically,” Esen said.

“Although Turkey has been spared the catastrophe seen in other right-wing populist cases like Brazil and India, case numbers are still too high and vaccination efforts have not gone smoothly. Turkey has only managed to vaccinate 13 percent of its population and has experienced difficulty acquiring more vaccines from multiple sources,” he added.

The number of COVID-19 vaccinations administered in Turkey reached 25 million on Monday, however, over-reliance on China’s Sinovac jab and shipment delays thought to be politically motivated have put the country in a dangerous position amid surging infection rates.

The pandemic has also threatened the livelihoods of disadvantaged people in the country, with family suicides and bankruptcies of small business owners becoming more prevalent. Many people, including AKP voters, are beginning to feel left behind, Esen said.

“Government precautions against the pandemic are seen by many to be insufficient, scientifically not all that helpful, ill-planned and selectively applied. Such restrictions hurt local businesses and created unemployment across the country,” he added.

During the first quarter of 2021, about 29,000 shopkeepers closed their businesses, an increase of 11 percent compared with the same period in 2020.

Large pro-government rallies and other “super-spreader” events like mass protests have also sparked public outcry in the country. Many Turks have accused the government of double standards regarding pandemic measures, including social distancing rules.

Esen said that despite rising poverty and unemployment figures, the government has offered only limited social assistance to the poor, distributing less than most other OECD member countries.

“There is a growing sentiment among voters that the AKP treats its own members favorably thanks to cronyism, vast corruption schemes and shady business deals,” he added.

“Against this backdrop, opposition mayors of major metropolitan areas like Istanbul and Ankara have seen their popularity rise due to the increased reliance on social assistance by the urban poor and the provision of public services to low-income neighborhoods,” Esen said.

Another survey by Turkey’s Gezici research company found that 51 percent of respondents would vote for Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican Peoples’ Party, against 49 percent for Erdogan in Turkey’s presidential election runoff.


Macron, El-Sisi agree ‘absolutely necessary’ to end Israel-Gaza hostilities: Elysee

Macron, El-Sisi agree ‘absolutely necessary’ to end Israel-Gaza hostilities: Elysee
Updated 17 May 2021

Macron, El-Sisi agree ‘absolutely necessary’ to end Israel-Gaza hostilities: Elysee

Macron, El-Sisi agree ‘absolutely necessary’ to end Israel-Gaza hostilities: Elysee
  • French President and Egyptian President agreed in Paris that it was "absolutely necessary" to end the hostilities

PARIS: France and Egypt on Monday called for a rapid end to fighting in Israel and Gaza as the violence that has killed more than 200 people there entered its second week.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi agreed in Paris that it was “absolutely necessary” to end the hostilities, Macron’s office said, adding that he had renewed his support for Egypt’s mediation efforts in the conflict.


What cost an education? Lebanese students fight fees hike

What cost an education? Lebanese students fight fees hike
Updated 17 May 2021

What cost an education? Lebanese students fight fees hike

What cost an education? Lebanese students fight fees hike
  • Parents are paid in local currency, which has tumbled in value against the dollar due to Lebanon’s financial collapse
  • Students got together, vowed to act and mounted legal action in February to pay fees at the official rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds/dollar

BEIRUT: When the American University of Beirut (AUB) said the cost of study at Lebanon’s top school would more than double, 21-year-old Ali Slim felt his dream career in medicine might be over before it had even began.
Like most Lebanese, his parents are paid in local currency, which has tumbled in value against the dollar due to the country’s financial collapse, rendering them wholly unable to meet what is in effect a 160 percent tuition increase for their son.
The AUB has boosted financial aid for students, but it said the crisis had made the hike in fees unavoidable.
Another top school — the Lebanese American University (LAU) — soon followed suit, prompting fears that thousands of students like Slim could be priced out of private higher education in a country with only a single, under-funded, public alternative.
So the students got together and vowed to act.
Along with scores of fellow students, Slim mounted legal action in February to pay fees at the official rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds per dollar, rather than the semi-official rate of 3,900 pounds per greenback used by the universities.
“It’s not just a fight for education, it’s a fight for what’s right and to try to get the judicial system to protect the most vulnerable,” Slim told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
When students began paying at the official rate, the AUB rejected their payments and said they would need to pay the new rate — or be dropped from class.
Students then filed two suits: one affirming their right to pay fees at the official exchange rate, the other asking for a stay on all payments until the first case is settled.
An urgent matters court ruled in their favor on the second case, saying the AUB could not exclude the students until there was a final ruling on whether their payment was legal.
The AUB’s office of communications said no students had left due to the hike and that more than 99 percent had paid their fees.
Education Minister Tarek Majzoub did not respond to a request for comment.
As other universities ponder similar hikes, the court’s ruling could have far-reaching implications for tens of thousands of students nationwide.
“We’re basically looking to secure a social safety net that protects students most at risk. That doesn’t exist right now,” said Jad Hani, a 20-year-old economics senior at the AUB.
Following the price hike, annual tuition fees for an arts or sciences degree have risen from about 35 million pounds to about 90 million pounds.
The minimum wage in Lebanon is 675,000 pounds per month, equivalent to 8.1 million pounds per year.
As the crisis decimates household incomes, an unusually large number of students appear to be opting for the publicly funded Lebanese University (LU) over private institutions – a change its president, Fouad Ayoub, linked to “economic factors.”
Some 5,000 students joined this year, after the price hikes were announced, he said, far more than its average intake and swelling the overall student body to 87,000.
The university cannot meet such demand, Ayoub said, since its budget is unchanged but its spending power has crashed in tandem with the local currency.
It has struggled to buy even the basics — lab supplies, electronics and books — as suppliers held off bidding on contracts for fear of the volatile exchange rate, Ayoub said.
“We are rationing the use of paper. The situation is very difficult,” he said.
The LU is not alone in being crippled by issues that are ultimately tied to the increasingly bankrupt Lebanese state.
The AUB said it was owed some $150 million by the state, making its dire situation still worse.
“AUB, like the rest of the country, is having to cope through a crisis not of its own making and without any support,” the university said in written comments.
Still, it has ramped up financial support leading to reductions in tuition costs, helping some 4,000 students — almost one in two — enrolled this academic year.
To ensure it can survive another 150 years, the institution said it had no choice but to up the exchange rate, insisting the new semi-official rate — used for transactions at commercial banks — was anyway still far below the volatile market rate.
With no end in sight to the country’s financial collapse, students said they felt compelled to help each other.
Razane Hishi, a 19-year-old software engineering junior at the AUB, said she chose to join the exchange rate legal fight out of solidarity, rather than need.
“It’s a moral obligation for me to help protect others that may need this now,” Hishi said. “If the trend keeps going, how are any of us supposed to afford an education in the future?”


Egypt braces for surge in virus cases

Egypt braces for surge in virus cases
Updated 17 May 2021

Egypt braces for surge in virus cases

Egypt braces for surge in virus cases
  • Cairo and Giza governorates have been hardest hit by the rise in coronavirus infections following an increase in gatherings during Ramadan and in the days before Eid
  • Health officials have called on citizens to adhere to precautionary measures, including wearing masks, washing hands frequently and minimising social contact

CAIRO: Egypt is bracing itself for a surge in COVID-19 infections, with daily cases likely to rise from 1,300 to 1,500 in the coming week, according to the Health and Population Ministry.

The pandemic’s intensity is expected to ease by July, a ministry source said, but warned that “this forecast depends on the behavior of citizens and the extent to which they commit to precautionary measures.”

Cairo and Giza governorates have been hardest hit by the rise in coronavirus infections following an increase in gatherings during Ramadan and in the days before Eid.

The two governorates are followed by Fayoum, Minya and Sohag.

Health officials have called on citizens to adhere to precautionary measures, including wearing masks, ensuring social distancing, washing hands frequently, and avoiding crowded areas and public gatherings.

Residents are also being urged to follow news updates on the virus.

The ministry source also called on citizens, especially the elderly and people with chronic diseases, to register for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Egypt is hoping to provide a choice of vaccines, with shipments expected in the coming days.

Egypt’s Health and Population Minister, Hala Zayed, announced the launch of community communication teams in seven governorates across the country on Saturday and Sunday to enhance citizens’ health awareness.

Khaled Megahed, assistant minister of health and population for information and awareness, said that teams were deployed on Monday in Cairo, Alexandria, and Fayoum.

Teams started on Sunday in Ras El-Bar city in Mayat governorate and Baltim city in Kafr El-Sheikh governorate. The teams are also targeting the Giza and Port Said governorates.