INTERVIEW: Veteran US diplomat Dennis Ross on significance of Biden’s Saudi visit and what it can achieve

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Updated 15 July 2022

INTERVIEW: Veteran US diplomat Dennis Ross on significance of Biden’s Saudi visit and what it can achieve

INTERVIEW: Veteran US diplomat Dennis Ross on significance of Biden’s Saudi visit and what it can achieve
  • The former peace negotiator said that the rhetoric employed by presidential candidates while they are campaigning is often adjusted when they take office
  • He said he hopes the US president’s visit ‘will shine a spotlight on the changes that are taking place within Saudi Arabia’ which ‘may be creating a model in the region’

CHICAGO: Ambassador Dennis Ross, who served as point man for peace under US President Bill Clinton, told Arab News on Wednesday that President Joe Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia can not only help address America’s economic challenges but also strengthen the groundwork for peace between the Palestinians and Israelis.

Ross, the William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who also served under presidents George H. W. Bush and Barack Obama, said that what presidential candidates say while they are campaigning and what they actually do once they take office are reflective of their needs at the time, and that Biden’s past criticism of Saudi Arabia is now overshadowed by the importance of the Kingdom to American needs.

“Every American president, when he runs in a campaign, tends to make statements that seem to respond to the needs of the moment,” Ross said during an exclusive interview.

“There were plenty of presidents I worked for that were mindful of what they said in campaigns and then they faced the reality of decisions and choices they had to make. What you say in a campaign may at times limit what you can do.

“But ultimately presidents make hard decisions, they face dilemmas. He made a decision to go to Saudi Arabia because he understood this is something that is important to the United States right now. And I would say not just right now. I would say we are in a competition with Russia and China over what the shape of the international system is going to look like. What are the rules of the game? What’s going to shape the norms. If Russia and China are the ones defining that then you will see spheres of influence where big nations can dictate to little nations what they can do.”

He continued: “The trip to Saudi Arabia is important because the Saudis need to be part of this broader coalition. They need to be part of an American partnership as we try to transition away from fossil fuels. It is going to take a couple decades.

“If we don’t want to see lurches where suddenly the price of oil and gasoline goes up dramatically, we need to have a set of understandings with the Saudis. This is important to us and I think he realizes this and that is why he is making the trip.”

Ross said that Biden’s visit could result in benefits not only for the US but for Middle East peace and for the Palestinians.

“I think it is going to achieve several things,” he said. “It is going to re-establish the US Saudi relationship and, really, a relationship and partnership. It’s important to re-establish that. I think there were tensions on both sides; it wasn’t just on one side, it was on both sides.

“But I think the relationship will be put back on a solid footing and that’s critical. I think we are going to see agreements emerge on 5G and telecommunications. I think we are going to see agreements emerge on the future of Green Energy. This is very much in America’s interests but it is also very much in Saudi interests.

“I think we will see agreements in the security and defense area. I think we will see a much more integrated approach to security in the region. From a Saudi standpoint, that has a benefit of embedding the US more in the region. The more you see greater integration of air early warning, missile defense … the more the US is embedded under the umbrella of Central Command.”

He added that the more integration there is among countries in the region in terms of security and defense, and not only with the US, the more the burden can be shared.

“So, our role, which is going to be more embedded in the region, is also more sustainable as a result,” said Ross. “This is a relationship that meets the needs of both sides and I think we are going to see that emerge from this trip.”

He praised the recent changes and developments in the Kingdom ushered in by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“Saudi Arabia is transforming itself in a way that addresses the needs not just of Saudi Arabia but it may be creating a model in the region, at least for the Arabs that have never had a successful model of development. That is hugely in our interests,” Ross said.

“The reason we have seen so much turmoil and conflict is precisely because extremists on both ends, whether they were radical nationalists or radical Islamists, they said, ‘We have the answer for the failure of these states to advance.’ And they didn’t, by definition. And here is a new model, at least for a larger state.”

He said that some regional states with smaller populations have embarked on a process of transformation but added: “Here you have a larger Arab state that is undertaking a fundamental approach to modernization. And if it succeeds in that, it sends a message to the rest of the region that there is a different way. There has been a promotion of religious tolerance.”

Ross highlighted the recent choice of Mohammed Al-Issa, a religious moderate, to deliver the sermon for Eid Al-Adha as an important example of the ways in which Saudi Arabia is changing its dynamics to improve the world.

“We had Mohammed Al-Issa give the sermon for Eid,” he said. “Here is someone who made a trip to Auschwitz and who is emphasizing ... respect for other faiths and promoting interreligious dialogues. Some clearly attacked him because of what he represents and what he stands for, and he was the one asked by the crown prince to give the sermon.

“It speaks volumes about the changes taking that are taking place in Saudi Arabia. I hope this visit — and some of what is likely to emerge from the visit in terms of agreements in the high-tech area, in the area of renewable energy — I hope some of this will shine a spotlight on the changes that are taking place within Saudi Arabia that have received far less attention than they should have.”

Saudi Arabia has initiated a wide range of social developments and changes which, Ross said, take time to fully realize but can help to undermine the extremist messages that fuel violence throughout the world.

The transformation of any society, culturally, politically or socially, is not like flipping a light switch and suddenly everything changes, he added.

“It has to be a process,” Ross said. “You are dealing with human endeavors. You have generational change taking place and it takes time to create different kinds of habits and different kinds of norms. But what we are seeing is transformation that is pretty remarkable in terms of the speed.

“I have been coming to Saudi Arabia since 1991. I wrote an article in the Washington Post when I went there in 2016, and I said this is a different country than I have been coming to. It is because of what you see outwardly.

“It is completely different in the sense that I am struck by the fact that there is a place in Riyadh called UWalk. And when you walk down that promenade, you see large numbers of Saudis walking and … you are going to cafes and restaurants and women will be the maitre d’s and they will be servers. There is a complete mixing of men and women.”

Ross said he was impressed by the reality of the changes he saw in Saudi society.

“I saw two women — I call this, kind of, the new emblem of the new Saudi Arabia — I saw two women walking, arm-in-arm,” he said. “One woman was completely covered, veiled. The only thing you saw were her eyes. (She was) walking arm-in-arm with a woman completely Westernized: No head covering, no scarf, her hair actually dyed so it stood out. Why was that significant? Because it showed that they were comfortable with each other. For me that is an extraordinary statement.

“So, yes, I see a very different Saudi Arabia. Every country has its worst (aspects) … and yes, there are issues and we should raise them. But a relationship is a two-way street and this visit of President Biden is an opportunity to put the relationship back on the right footing and realize that we have common stakes with each other.

“This is a relationship that reflects the needs and interests of both sides and I am confident the results of this trip (will be that) we are going to be able to pursue those needs and interests much more effectively now.”

Ross, who played a critical role in President Clinton’s efforts to broker peace between the Palestinians and Israelis in the 1990s, said that those two societies are more skeptical of peace efforts today. The normalization of relations between the Arab world and Israel, he argued, can help to break the stalemate that is keeping Palestinians and Israelis locked in a cycle of violence and conflict.

 

 

“Even if you had a left-wing Israeli government, you don’t have any capability on the Palestinian side to negotiate an outcome,” he said. “First thing that has to be done is to restore belief in the sense of possibility. There is a lot that can be done from the ground up.

“Here is where Arab outreach to Israel becomes a very useful element in terms of changing the equation. We have a complete stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians but we have a new element in the equation, which is the Abraham Accords on one hand; the normalization process.

“Arab states see not just the security benefits of the relationship with Israel but they are looking at a need for water security, food security, health security, cyber security. Israeli is cutting edge in all of these technologies, it is a world leader in all of these technologies. Arab States, Arab leaders, are not going to deny themselves what is in their interests, because they perceive the Palestinian leadership not being able to move.”

Ross argued that normalization agreements provides Arab countries with leverage they can use to encourage a move toward a final peace accord for the Palestinians.

“Arab state outreach to Israel can also be used to get Israelis to move towards the Palestinians,” he said. “When the Emirates made a decision to fully normalize, they came to the Trump administration and said, ‘We will fully normalize but the price is Israel does not annex the territory allotted to it under the Trump peace plan.’ So they created a reverse linkage.

“The Palestinians have wanted no normalization until after the end of occupation but Arab states are not prepared to deny themselves what is in their interests. But they can use their relationship to say OK, we will make this move but we want to see you take the following step.

“In the case of the UAE they did something that prevented annexation. They prevented a negative. But the Arab states can actually ask for a positive, saying OK, we are taking this step toward you, here is what we would like to see you do toward the Palestinians. That is a way to break the stalemate.”

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5-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir dies after UK hospital refuses admittance

5-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir dies after UK hospital refuses admittance
Updated 17 sec ago

5-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir dies after UK hospital refuses admittance

5-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir dies after UK hospital refuses admittance
  • Rotherham General Hospital staff said ‘there are no beds and not enough doctors’
  • Uncle: ‘We begged and begged and begged for help. We couldn’t get it’

LONDON: A family in Britain who “begged and begged” for their nephew to be admitted to hospital have told Sky News the boy would still be alive if they had been listened to.
Five-year-old Yusuf Mahmud Nazir died on Nov. 21 after being refused admittance to Rotherham General Hospital as staff said “there are no beds and not enough doctors,” even though the doctor treating him described it as “the worst case of tonsilitis he had ever seen.”
Nazir first complained of a sore throat on Nov. 13, with his GP prescribing antibiotics, but as his condition worsened his parents took him to the Rotherham emergency department.
Nazir’s uncle Zaheer Ahmed told Sky News that the family waited all night to be seen by a doctor, who after examining the child sent him home despite Nazir struggling to breath, being unable to swallow and clearly in a distressed state.
Paramedics were called to the family home, but with the infection having spread to his lungs, he experienced multiple organ failure leading to a series of cardiac arrests that killed him.
Ahmed told Sky News that Nazir “stopped breathing, he stopped talking, when he was choking, he couldn’t breathe. He was struggling. And it’s led to his life being taken at 5 years old.
“If they would have treated him where we wanted him to be treated, he would be here with us now. He would have been here playing like he was.
“We’ve lost a beautiful child … It’s not his fault. We begged and begged and begged for help. We couldn’t get it. We just did not get the help we wanted, or we needed, or we should have got.”
Senior paediatric consultants have warned of unsustainable pressure on emergency children’s services.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “All children deserve the highest levels of care and we are taking urgent action to ensure no families have to experience these kinds of tragedies.
“Last week we announced up to £8 billion ($9.67 billion) for health and social care in 2024/25 and we’re giving an extra £500 million to speed up hospital discharge and free up beds.”


Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles

Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles
Updated 7 min 3 sec ago

Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles

Bangladesh’s urea imports from Middle East up 15% as local supply dwindles
  • Global energy price hike, gas crisis forces fertilizer companies to cut production
  • Country has imported over 1.1m tons from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar this year

DHAKA: Bangladesh is relying more on Middle Eastern countries to meet its demand for urea, a state agency official said, as an ongoing gas crisis tightens local supply and raises concerns about food security in the South Asian nation.

With a population of about 166 million and an agriculture sector making up more than 11 percent of its gross domestic product last year, Bangladesh needs around 2.6 million tons of urea, a fertilizer widely used in food crops.

As local gas fields struggled to meet rising demand amid a global hike in energy prices sparked by Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, fertilizer companies in Bangladesh were either shut down or forced to cut their production, leading to a dwindling supply of urea. To resolve the supply gap, the Bangladeshi government has been importing more fertilizer from countries in the Middle East.

“We can say our fertilizer imports from Middle Eastern countries have increased around 15 percent due to the gas supply crisis in the local market,” Kazi Mohammad Saiful Islam, a director at the state-run Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corp., told Arab News in an exclusive interview.

He said more than 1.1 million tons of urea had been imported from three countries — Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar — and there were plans to increase that quantity later this year.

“Considering the present global situation, we have already confirmed the respective countries to buy this additional amount,” Islam said.

He added that Bangladesh normally imported about a quarter of the urea it needs, but since the start of the Ukraine invasion in February, the price per ton had more than doubled.

“Due to the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict, the global fertilizer market has turned very volatile,” agricultural economist and researcher Dr. Jahangir Alam told Arab News.

Due to its dwindling reserves of foreign exchange, he said Bangladesh should consider setting up a long-term contract with its foreign suppliers to buy urea “at a cheaper rate” and “pursue the urea purchase on a credit basis.”

Dhaka should also look to boost local fertilizer production, said Alam, who is a former vice chancellor of the University of Global Village in southern Bangladesh.

“Producing urea locally is much cheaper for us. So, the authorities should try to increase the production ability in the country.”


March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls to take place in London

March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls to take place in London
Updated 26 November 2022

March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls to take place in London

March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls to take place in London
  • British government urged to create safe asylum route for those at risk
  • MP: ‘Those who supported the UK and others over the last two decades have been left behind’

LONDON: Thousands of marchers will descend on London on Sunday to demand that the UK government create a safe asylum route for Afghan women and girls at risk, The Guardian reported on Saturday.
Organized by the campaign group Action for Afghanistan, Sunday’s March for Freedom for Afghan Women and Girls follows MPs’ demands that Foreign Secretary James Cleverly renew the government’s focus on those left at risk after Britain’s 20-year military endeavor.
“The Afghan relocations and assistance policy isn’t working, and there isn’t a dedicated route for women and girls,” Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain told The Guardian.
“It has been lost in the narrative around Ukraine, but also lost in the narrative around small boats.
“We’ve gotten to the stage where the Afghanistan situation is in the too-difficult basket and those who supported the UK and others over the last two decades have been left behind.”
The appeal follows a clampdown by the Taliban on women’s rights and freedoms, including the banning of girls from secondary school and the banning of women from parks.
Fawzia Koofi, the Afghan Parliament’s first female deputy speaker, said six women communicating with those planning the London march had been arrested in Kabul.
“I think it’s time for the UK to lead a feminist foreign policy, a human rights-centric foreign policy,” she added.
Chamberlain, who coordinated the appeal to Cleverly with an incoming all-party group, has urged the continuation of aid to Afghanistan, a consultation mechanism including Afghan stakeholders, and a dedicated asylum route.
Zehra Zaidi, a lawyer and co-founder of Action for Afghanistan, said a new settlement route would give hope.
Two resettlement schemes launched in 2021, which brought 7,000 eligible Afghans to the UK, came under intense scrutiny for failing to prioritize the most vulnerable, and was described by a House of Commons committee report as a “betrayal of our allies.”
Zaidi said those left behind in Afghanistan after the UK withdrawal “need to know people still care … They need to know that allies like the UK have not completely abandoned them.”
A Foreign Office spokesperson told The Guardian: “We remain committed to using all our diplomatic and development levers to support the Afghan people and protect the rights of women and girls.”
More than 40 civil society organizations are expected to attend the London march alongside Afghan politicians and activists.
Coordinated marches are also set to take place in Washington DC and four Canadian cities, with organizers saying they are expecting to see other countries follow suit after the UN said: “In no other country have women and girls so rapidly disappeared from public life.”


Wales fan dies in Qatar

Wales fan dies in Qatar
Updated 26 November 2022

Wales fan dies in Qatar

Wales fan dies in Qatar
  • Kevin Davies, 62, had not attended the Wales match against Iran after feeling ill
  • He was rushed to Doha Hamad General Hospital after ‘medical incident’ at apartment where he was staying

LONDON: The UK Foreign Office is supporting the family of a Wales fan who died in Qatar on Friday while attending the World Cup, Sky News has reported.
Kevin Davies, 62, from the Welsh county of Pembrokeshire, was rushed to Doha Hamad General Hospital on Friday following what is being described as a “medical incident” at the apartment where he was staying. He had not attended the Wales match against Iran after feeling ill.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said British officials are “supporting the family of a British man who has died in Qatar.”
Noel Mooney, CEO of the Football Association of Wales, tweeted: “So sorry to hear that one of our supporters has passed away here. Our condolences go to the family and of course we are here to support however we can.”
It is believed more than 2,500 Wales supporters have gone to Qatar for the World Cup — Wales’ first since 1958 — which has seen them draw with the US and lose to Iran.


Kyiv summit promotes ‘Grain from Ukraine’ for most vulnerable

Kyiv summit promotes ‘Grain from Ukraine’ for most vulnerable
Updated 26 November 2022

Kyiv summit promotes ‘Grain from Ukraine’ for most vulnerable

Kyiv summit promotes ‘Grain from Ukraine’ for most vulnerable
  • The Ukrainian leader said the plan demonstrated that global food security was "not just empty words" for Kyiv
  • The summit was attended in-person by the prime ministers of Belgium, Poland and Lithuania and the president of Hungary

KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hosted a summit in Kyiv on Saturday to promote its “Grain from Ukraine” initiative to export grain to countries most vulnerable to famine and drought.
The Ukrainian leader said the plan demonstrated that global food security was “not just empty words” for Kyiv. The Kremlin has said that Ukraine’s Black Sea exports during the war have not been reaching the most vulnerable countries.
Zelensky said Kyiv had raised around $150 million from more than 20 countries and the European Union to export grain to countries including Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.
“We plan to send at least 60 vessels from Ukrainian ports to countries that most face the threat of famine and drought,” Zelensky told the gathering.
The summit was attended in-person by the prime ministers of Belgium, Poland and Lithuania and the president of Hungary. Germany and France’s presidents and the head of the European Commission delivered speeches shown by video.
Announced by Kyiv earlier this month, the initiative is in addition to a UN-brokered deal that has allowed some Ukrainian grain shipments through the Black Sea, a vital route for the major wheat producer’s exports that had been blocked.
Flanked by his chief of staff and prime minister on Saturday, Zelensky said the Grain from Ukraine initiative aimed to demonstrate that for Kyiv global food security is “not just empty words.”
“This will be one of the biggest contributions to global stability – a real and very necessary step,” he said.