Le Drian and Borrell in Saudi Arabia: two visits to seal bilateral relations

Le Drian and Borrell in Saudi Arabia: two visits to seal bilateral relations
The French minister’s visit helped to deepen Franco-Saudi relations in the cultural, environmental and economic fields. (File/AFP)
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Updated 15 October 2021

Le Drian and Borrell in Saudi Arabia: two visits to seal bilateral relations

Le Drian and Borrell in Saudi Arabia: two visits to seal bilateral relations
  • The French minister’s visit helped to deepen Franco-Saudi relations in the cultural, environmental and economic fields
  • On the Iranian nuclear issue, the two sides agreed on the need for an arrangement that blocks Iran’s access to nuclear weapons

PARIS: Two European ministerial visits made the headlines in the Saudi capital last week. Meetings with French Minister for Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell underline the growing European interest in consultations with Saudi Arabia, which is a key player. However, from Riyadh’s point of view, it is the European and French acts on several regional issues which give credibility to these European initiatives.

Constructive Franco-Saudi exchange

Jean-Yves Le Drian was received by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He also met his Saudi counterpart and the Kingdom’s Culture and Energy ministers.

French sources said the visit helped to deepen relations in the cultural, environmental and economic fields, particularly in the digital, transport and green energy sectors.

The talks covered the major regional crises. The French minister reaffirmed France’s commitment to stability and security in the region, recalling the dynamic of regional dialogue initiated by the Baghdad conference at the end of August. On the war in Yemen and Gulf security, Paris reiterated its support for the Saudi initiative for the cessation of hostilities and the continuation of Saudi-Iranian dialogue. On the Iranian nuclear issue, the two sides agreed on the need for an arrangement that guarantees Iran’s non-access to nuclear weapons.

The French minister pointed out the obstacles that complicate the relaunch of the Vienna process and put forward the European point of view, which considers the return to the joint action plan (JCPOA) of 2015 to be the only way to block the scenario of a nuclear Iranian state or “nuclear threshold state.”

Riyadh reminded its visitor of the importance of dealing with matters closely linked to the nuclear issue, such as ballistic missiles and Iranian interference at the regional level.

The critical Lebanese issue

Lebanon has been on the agenda of all recent meetings between Paris and Riyadh.

Despite the French minister’s denial of any Franco-Iranian bilateral deal concerning Lebanon, Riyadh remains unconvinced by the new formation of power in Beirut and its ability to liberate Lebanon from the Iranian grip embodied by Hezbollah. The Saudi leadership reportedly informed Le Drian that “the government formed and lead by Mikati has maintained this supremacy instead of softening it.”

Le Drian therefore returned to Paris disappointed in this regard.

In response to Paris’ desire for Riyadh to regain its traditional role of donor to a drained Lebanon, Saudi Arabia pointed out that it has been providing aid for a long time. It said that in recent years primarily the dominant role of Hezbollah had been responsible for the multidimensional crisis. Moreover, the involvement of a party that relies on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the transport of fighters, arms, advisers and equipment from Syria to Yemen clearly harms the strategic security of the Kingdom, as well as that of other Arab countries.

Paris may be betting on the new Lebanese Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, but an Arab source in Cairo understands that Riyadh does not share this view and doubts the potential performance of this Prime Minister, who seems “hesitant and ineffective.”

New European orientation

The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, visited Saudi Arabia as part of a tour of the Gulf states. He was looking to gain support and strengthen strategic cooperation between Europe and the Arabian Peninsula on issues such as the crisis in Afghanistan.

This is the first time that Borrell has toured the Gulf since taking office in 2019. The interest of Brussels in this region derives in particular from the reforms undertaken in countries such as Saudi Arabia with its Vision 2030. Besides its political and strategic interest, this opening could offer a great economic opportunity to Europe. European investments in the Gulf offer benefits for both sides in an uncertain economic context still undermined by the pandemic.

During his talks in Riyadh with his Saudi counterparts, the Spanish diplomat said that geopolitical cooperation was one of the EU’s priorities. Brussels is looking to develop its foreign policy by building alliances with reliable partners. The EU is placing emphasis on the importance of ties with the Arab Gulf states after Washington shifted its foreign policy focus to the Indo-Pacific. Discussing his visit, Borrell said that “the meetings in Riyadh were essential because Saudi Arabia is an important player on the global and multilateral stage.”

More generally, the EU intended to relaunch its cooperation with the GCC so that clear commitments can be made at the conference of signatory countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow in November.


Pakistan army helicopter crashes in Kashmir; 2 pilots killed

Pakistan army helicopter crashes in Kashmir; 2 pilots killed
Updated 36 sec ago

Pakistan army helicopter crashes in Kashmir; 2 pilots killed

Pakistan army helicopter crashes in Kashmir; 2 pilots killed
ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani army helicopter crashed on Monday in bad weather in the Pakistan-administered section of disputed Kashmir, killing the two pilots on board, the military said.
A statement from the military said the helicopter went down on the Siachen glacier, one of the world’s longest mountain glaciers, located in the Karakoram Range, and often referred to as the “highest battleground on earth” because of the wars that Pakistan and India have fought over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Rescue helicopters and troops have been dispatched to Siachen, the military said. No further details on the crash were immediately available. The two pilots were identified as Maj. Irfan Bercha and Maj. Raja Zeeshan Jahanzeb.
Siachen is known for tragedies, a desolate place where more troops have died from avalanches or bitter cold than in combat. Since gaining independence from Britain in 1947, Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir.

Gunmen kill town mayor, wound another in south Philippines

Gunmen kill town mayor, wound another in south Philippines
Updated 31 min 48 sec ago

Gunmen kill town mayor, wound another in south Philippines

Gunmen kill town mayor, wound another in south Philippines
  • Investigators were trying to identify the two gunmen and two companions who escaped on motorcycles and determine their motive
  • The two mayors were reportedly running in May 9 elections

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines: Motorcycle-riding gunmen killed a town mayor and wounded another in a brazen attack Monday that also killed their driver and caused villagers to flee to safety in a coastal village in the southern Philippines, police said.
Mayor Darussalam Lajid of Al-Barka town was killed and Mayor Alih Sali of Akbar town was wounded by at least two men armed with pistols while walking in Zamboanga city shortly after arriving on a speedboat from their island province of Basilan, police said.
A bodyguard of the two mayors was wounded and a driver who came to pick them up was killed, police said.
Investigators were trying to identify the two gunmen and two companions who escaped on motorcycles and determine their motive, including the possibility that it involved a political rivalry.
The two mayors were reportedly running in May 9 elections. Philippine elections have been marred in the past by bloody feuds and accusations of cheating, especially in rural regions with weak law enforcement and a proliferation of unlicensed firearms and private armies.


Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated

Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated
Updated 39 min 40 sec ago

Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated

Italy imposes new COVID-19 rules on unvaccinated
  • Only those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 are exempt from the rules

ROME: People in Italy unvaccinated against COVID-19 can no longer go to the theater, cinemas, live music venues or major sporting events under new rules that came into force Monday.
Only those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 are exempt from the rules, which represent a significant tightening of restrictions in the face of rising infections.
New measures are also being enforced on public transport, with a so-called Green Pass showing proof of vaccination, recent recovery or a negative COVID-19 test now required even on local services.
A man in his 50s was fined $452 (€400) for not having his pass on Monday morning as he got off a bus near Piazza del Popolo in Rome, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
“I don’t have it because I wanted to get vaccinated in the next few days,” he was reported as saying.
A record 1.3 million Green Passes were downloaded on Sunday ahead of the change.
Meanwhile in Rome at the weekend, new rules requiring face masks to be worn outdoors in the busiest shopping streets came into effect.
Italy was the first European country to be hit by coronavirus in early 2020 and has one of the highest death tolls, at more than 134,000.
However, it is currently faring better than many of its neighbors, with 15,000 cases out of a population of 60 million reported on Sunday.
Almost 85 percent of over 12s have been vaccinated, a booster campaign is in full swing and jabs will soon be available for younger children.
The Green Pass was introduced in August for access to theaters and cinemas, museums and indoor dining, and extended to workplaces in October — a move that sparked widespread protests.
From now until January 15, a new “Super Green Pass,” which can only be obtained through vaccination or recent recovery, will be required for cultural activities — although not museums — and inside restaurants.
However, having a coffee at the bar of a cafe and eating outside is allowed without a Green Pass.
The restrictions will be further tightened in regions at higher risk of coronavirus.
Currently most of Italy is classed as the lowest of four levels, which range from white to yellow, orange and red.
Two regions are yellow — Friuli Venezia Giulia and Bolzano, which both border Austria, a country in partial lockdown over the number of cases there.


Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus
Updated 06 December 2021

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus

Omicron spreads in India, full vaccination in focus
  • India has fully vaccinated 51 percent of its 944 million adults and given at least one dose to 85 percent
  • Most other cases have been in people who have recently come from abroad

NEW DELHI: Cases of the omicron coronavirus variant have risen to 21 in India over the weekend and people must step up for vaccination, officials said on Monday.
The western state of Rajasthan reported the most number of omicron cases with nine, followed by eight in Maharashtra, two in Karnataka and one each in Gujarat and the capital New Delhi.
“The people of Delhi must get fully vaccinated, wear a mask and maintain social distancing,” its health minister Satyendar Jain said on Twitter.
He said the city’s first omicron patient was being treated at a state-run hospital. Some 94 percent of its adults had received at lease one dose, he added.
The country has fully vaccinated 51 percent of its 944 million adults and given at least one dose to 85 percent. Tens of millions of people, however, are overdue for their second dose despite ample vaccine supplies, government data shows.
India reported its first two omicron cases in the southern state of Karnataka on Thursday, in one person with no recent travel history.
Most other cases have been in people who have recently come from abroad, but doctors said the mutated virus was already spreading in the local population as well.
“omicron is here, community spread is underway,” surgeon Arvinder Singh Soin, who has been treating COVID-19 patients, said on Twitter. “Mask up. Get FULLY vaccinated.”
India reported 8,895 new COVID-19 cases for the past 24 hours, taking the total to 34.64 million. Deaths rose by 211 to 473,537.
Since a record surge in infections and deaths in April and May due to the Delta variant, new cases have hovered around 10,000 in the past few weeks.


27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15

27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15
Updated 06 December 2021

27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15

27 still missing after Indonesia volcanic eruption kills 15
  • Mount Semeru spewed thick columns of ash as high as 12,000 meters into the sky in a sudden eruption triggered by heavy rain

SUMBERWULUH, Indonesia: Rescuers dug out the body of 13-year-old boy with their bare hands on Monday, as improved weather conditions allowed them to resume their search after the highest volcano on Indonesia’s Java island erupted with fury, killing at least 15 people with searing gas and ash and leaving 27 others missing.
Mount Semeru in Lumajang district in East Java province spewed thick columns of ash as high as 12,000 meters into the sky in a sudden eruption Saturday triggered by heavy rain. Villages and nearby towns were blanketed by tons of volcanic debris.
Searing gas raced down the sides of the mountain, smothering entire villages and killing or seriously burning those caught in its path.
National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesperson Abdul Muhari said 56 people had been hospitalized, mostly with burns. He said rescuers were still searching for 27 villagers reported missing. Nearly 3,000 houses and 38 schools were damaged, Muhari said.
The body of the 13-year-old boy was recovered in the worst-hit village of Sumberwuluh, where houses were buried to their rooftops and cars were submerged. Crumpled roofs, charred carcasses of cattle and broken chairs covered in gray ash and soot dotted the smoldering landscape.
Search and rescue efforts were temporarily suspended Sunday afternoon because of fears that heavy rain would cause more hot ash and debris to fall from the crater.
The eruption of the 3,676-meter-high mountain eased pressure that had been building under a lava dome in the crater. But experts warned that the dome could further collapse, causing an avalanche of blistering gas and debris trapped beneath it.
More than 1,700 villagers escaped to makeshift emergency shelters after Saturday’s powerful eruption, but many others defied official warnings and chose to remain in their homes to tend their livestock and protect their property.
Semeru, also known as Mahameru, has erupted many times in the last 200 years. Still, as on many of the 129 volcanoes monitored in Indonesia, tens of thousands of people live on its fertile slopes. It last erupted in January, with no casualties.
Indonesia, an archipelago of more than 270 million people, is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity because it sits along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped series of fault lines.