DUBAI: Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan regional government said on Friday it opposed changes in the draft Iraqi federal budget that infringe on the rights of the Kurdish people.
The Kurdistan Regional Government’s opposition poses a challenge to the prime minister of Iraq’s federal government, Mohammed Al-Sudani, in adopting a three-year budget, a flagship policy of his government that came to power late last year backed by a coalition of Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish parties.
KRG said it would not abide by any other decision outside the agreement signed with Al-Sudani’s government, which appeared to be a reference to a deal between the two governments setting a framework for the resumption of oil flows from the northern Iraqi region via Turkiye.
Before Al-Sudani formed his government, he struck a deal with the powerful Kurdish Democratic Party, which dominates the administration in Irbil, capital of the semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq. The agreement included ending a long-running dispute over budget transfers to Irbil and oil revenue sharing between the national government and Kurdistan, according to three Kurdish officials.
Under the Iraqi constitution, the Kurdish region is entitled to a portion of the national budget. But the arrangement collapsed in 2014 when the Kurds began selling crude independently from Kurdistan.
In 2017, Iraqi forces retook disputed territories including the oil city of Kirkuk. Baghdad resumed some budget payments, but they have been sporadic.
KRG called the changes in the draft budget, introduced by members of the parliament’s finance committee, unconstitutional and “inconsistent with the agreement signed between the regional government and the federal government.”
In March, Al-Sudani’s Cabinet approved the 2023 draft budget of 197.828 trillion Iraqi dinars ($135.6 billion) that would be referred to parliament for approval.
Israel strikes Gaza again amid new violence at border
Israel has imposed an air, land and sea blockade on the impoverished Palestinian enclave ever since the Islamist group Hamas seized control in 2007
Updated 24 September 2023
GAZA CITY: The Israeli army launched a drone strike on the Gaza Strip on Saturday after violent protests in which three Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire, sources on both sides said.
The early evening strike is one of a series that have come amid near-daily protests at the border by Palestinians after Israel closed the Erez crossing from Gaza.
A drone “struck a military post belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization, adjacent to the area where a violent riot was taking place,” the army said.
It added that “shots were fired toward” Israeli soldiers near the border during the strike, without reporting any casualties.
A Palestinian security source told AFP that an “Israeli aircraft had targeted a Hamas surveillance site east of Gaza City,” without mentioning any casualties.
Earlier in the day, Palestinian demonstrators faced off against Israeli soldiers stationed along the border fence, an AFP journalist reported.
Demonstrators set fire to tires and threw stones at Israeli soldiers.
Three Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire, according to the Gaza health ministry.
Israel has imposed an air, land and sea blockade on the impoverished Palestinian enclave ever since the Islamist group Hamas seized control in 2007.
Thousands of Palestinian workers from Gaza have been prevented from entering Israel by the closure of the Erez crossing, which an Israeli NGO, Gisha, condemned as “collective punishment.”
Israel has issued work permits to some 18,500 Gazans, COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, said on Tuesday.
Since September 13, six Palestinians have been killed and nearly 100 wounded during violence at the border, according to figures from the health ministry in Gaza.
Armed conflict sporadically erupts between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip.
In May, an exchange of Israeli air strikes and Gaza rocket fire resulted in the deaths of 34 Palestinians and one Israeli.
Interview: Rosatom ready to take on competition for KSA’s nuclear energy requirements, says Russian exec
Kirill Komarov says the Russian state-owned company has almost 80 years of experience on nuclear energy development
Adds that Rosatom has built 81 units with VVER reactors, which comply with all post-Fukushima safety requirements
Updated 24 September 2023
Dr. Salam Al-Obaidy
Described as a recognized leader in the field of nuclear technologies, with a share of about 40 percent of the global market, the Russian state-owned corporation Rosatom is bidding to win a contract for the construction of a nuclear power plant in the Kingdom.
During an exclusive interview with Arab News, Kirill Komarov, Rosatom’s first deputy director general for corporate development and international business, spoke about the potential for Russian-Saudi cooperation in the field of nuclear energy and his company’s plans in the Kingdom.
What agreements currently exist between the Russian state-owned nuclear energy company Rosatom and Saudi Arabia?
Our cooperation with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on an Intergovernmental Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, signed in the summer of 2015. Since 2017, Saudi Arabia has been carefully working on the selection of a suitable technology for the first nuclear power plant in the Kingdom.
Rosatom, as one of the world’s leading vendors, is certainly part of this process. In addition, there is a program of cooperation in a number of promising areas: the nuclear fuel cycle, low-power reactors, nuclear science and technology centers.
We have great respect for the ambitious development goals that the Kingdom has formulated in the Saudi Vision 2030 program. Thanks to the unique experience, and significant scientific and technical base, we are confident that Rosatom and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have many points of contact not only in the energy sector, but also in healthcare, environmental solutions and the creation of smart cities.
Which areas of cooperation between the two countries in the nuclear industry are most interesting and in demand?
Saudi Arabia has great potential in the development of both nuclear energy and non-energy applications of nuclear technologies. We see the interest of our Saudi partners in creating a full-fledged nuclear industry and building their own competencies.
I would also like to note the high level of development of the Saudi industry. It is, of course, ready to solve the complex tasks that production enterprises face when implementing projects in the field of nuclear energy and technology.
In this regard, the construction of a large-capacity nuclear power plant is, of course, a flagship for the development of the industry but it is equally important to develop infrastructure, the competence of specialists, and use all the capabilities and resources of Saudi Arabia in the field of the nuclear fuel cycle.
Being one of the global technology leaders, Rosatom State Corporation can offer its resources, competencies and almost 80 years of experience for the development of nuclear energy, in both energy and non-energy applications of nuclear technologies. Which of them to use is up to our partner to decide. Saudi Arabia is actively seeking to develop its nuclear power industry. In particular, authorities want their own nuclear power plant. What could Russia offer in this regard? How strong is the competition for the implementation of such a project in the Kingdom?
Rosatom offers VVER-1200 reactors to its foreign partners. These reactors are operating all over the world. In total, Rosatom has built 81 units with VVER reactors. This is one of the most common types of reactor in the world today and, importantly, the safest. Nuclear power plants with reactors of this type comply with all post-Fukushima safety requirements.
The units based on the VVER-1200 reactors offered by Rosatom belong to the latest safety class, “3+,” and combine active and passive safety systems that make the NPP (nuclear power plant) as resistant to external and internal influences as possible.
One example of such systems is the “melt trap.” This is one of the main elements of the passive safety system of the power unit, the unique know-how of Russian nuclear scientists, which ensures safety for the environment and humans under any scenarios of NPP operation.
At the stages of design, construction and operation, a wide range of technical and organizational measures are also provided to prevent the development of emergency situations under any scenarios and their combinations.
Let me remind you that Rosatom was the first company to launch a generation 3+ nuclear power plant, in 2018. There are already five such reactors in operation, including one at the Belarusian NPP (BelAS power unit No. 2 is currently in the final stage of pilot operation). Nuclear power plants with VVER-1200, our flagship project, are being built in Bangladesh, Belarus, Hungary, Egypt and Turkey.
As for the competition, it certainly exists. Nevertheless, the position of our company in the world is obvious; Rosatom is one of the leaders of the global nuclear market, cooperating with partners in more than 60 countries around the world.
We have 33 power units at various stages of implementation in 10 countries; that is to say, we have more projects for the construction of reactors abroad than all of our competitors combined. We account for 85 percent of the world’s nuclear power plant exports. For 18 years, we have connected 18 power units around the world to the grid, as well as a floating nuclear power plant. Rosatom is successfully developing nuclear power in Egypt. How is the implementation of this project going?
In Egypt, Rosatom is implementing the El-Dabaa NPP project, the first nuclear power plant in the country. It is the largest Rosatom project in Africa and is also one of the largest nuclear construction projects in the world.
The active phase of construction began last year, when the so-called “first concrete” was poured into the foundation of the first power unit. Today, the project is moving dynamically and in accordance with the directive schedule. We are already building three power units at the same time.
At the end of August this year, we received a license for the construction of the fourth block from the Egyptian supervisory authority, the Egyptian Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Authority. This allows us to proceed to the full-scale construction stage on the fourth block.
Which countries in the Arab world have approached Russia to express an interest in developing nuclear energy?
The Middle East and North Africa region is now one of the drivers of the development of nuclear energy. In addition to the implementation of large-scale projects for the construction of large-capacity nuclear power plants, we see a high interest among Arab partners in small-capacity nuclear power plants.
The region, rich in oil and gas, invests in the implementation of clean-generation projects while, despite the abundance of solar and wind resources, it is increasingly investing in the development of nuclear energy. This not only eloquently testifies to the irreplaceable role of nuclear energy in terms of the formation of a green energy balance for the future by these countries, but also fits into the global trend; interest in nuclear generation is steadily growing around the world, even in those countries that have not previously considered nuclear energy for themselves.
We are connected with Middle Eastern partners by decades of successful cooperation in the field of nuclear energy and not only that. Historically, Russia was the first country to lend a helping hand at the initial stage of the development of important national infrastructure and industrial programs in the region, from the construction of hydroelectric power plants and personnel training, to the first research reactors and the development of nuclear infrastructure.
Today, Rosatom’s competencies are absolutely in demand. Agreements on cooperation in the field of peaceful use of nuclear energy of various formats have been signed with 16 countries in the region. The geography here is the most extensive: Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan, Morocco, etc.
Successful cooperation has been built with the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation; Rosatom provides the Barakah NPP project with enriched uranium products.
In Egypt and Turkey, we are “turnkey” (a term referring to ready-to-go solutions that are relatively easier to deploy) implementing two of the world’s largest nuclear power plant construction projects, the El-Dabaa NPP and the Akkuyu NPP, respectively.
Throughout its history, the enterprises of the Russian nuclear industry have accumulated a unique set of products and solutions in the field of nuclear energy, which make it possible to successfully implement projects for the construction of nuclear power plants not only from A-to-Z, but also to provide support at any stage of their life cycle.
Based on our own experience, we are convinced that the long-term use of nuclear energy creates opportunities for improving the quality of life and the level of development of science and education. Rosatom is open for cooperation with all countries of the region and is ready to offer its expertise.
How does Rosatom cope with sanctions pressures?
Rosatom State Corporation itself is not on any sanctions list. We continue to actively engage in foreign nuclear projects; we are building 22 power units in seven countries. Only one nuclear power plant construction project abroad has been stopped. This is the Hanhikivi NPP in Finland, where the decision was made for purely political reasons. We are negotiating new nuclear power plant construction projects in various regions of the world.
In the nuclear fuel cycle sector, Rosatom retains world leadership: first place in uranium enrichment, second place in its production, and third in the fabrication of nuclear fuel. We continue to work in 60 countries around the world.
There are obvious logistical difficulties but as new routes are developed, they are overcome. Rosatom has sufficient resources and the necessary organizational flexibility to adapt to new business conditions.
For years at loggerheads over the issue, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed agreed in July to finalize a deal within four months, resuming talks in August
Updated 24 September 2023
NAIROBI: Ethiopia said Saturday it had begun a second round of talks with Egypt and Sudan over a controversial mega-dam built by Addis Ababa on the Nile, long a source of tensions among the three nations.
Ethiopia this month announced the completion of the fourth and final filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, prompting immediate condemnation from Cairo, which denounced the move as illegal.
Egypt and Sudan fear the massive $4.2-billion dam will severely reduce the share of Nile water they receive and had repeatedly asked Addis Ababa to stop filling it until an agreement was reached.
For years at loggerheads over the issue, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed agreed in July to finalize a deal within four months, resuming talks in August.
Ethiopia’s foreign ministry wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the three countries had opened a second round of negotiations in Addis Ababa.
“Ethiopia is committed to reaching a negotiated and amicable solution through the ongoing trilateral process,” it said.
Protracted negotiations over the dam since 2011 have thus far failed to bring about an agreement between Ethiopia and its downstream neighbors.
Egypt has long viewed the dam as an existential threat, as it relies on the Nile for 97 percent of its water needs.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, in an address to the UN General Assembly, said that Cairo wanted a “binding agreement” on the filling and operation of the dam.
“We remain in anticipation of our goodwill being reciprocated with a commitment from Ethiopia to arrive at an agreement that will safeguard the interests of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia,” Shoukry said.
“It would be a mistake to assume we can accept a fait accompli when it comes to the very lives of more than 100 million Egyptian citizens.”
The dam is central to Ethiopia’s development plans, and in February 2022 Addis Ababa announced that it had begun generating electricity for the first time.
At full capacity, the huge hydroelectric dam — 1.8 kilometers long and 145 meters high — could generate more than 5,000 megawatts.
That would double Ethiopia’s production of electricity, to which only half the country’s population of 120 million currently has access.
The position of Sudan, which is currently mired in a civil war, has fluctuated in recent years.
The United Nations says Egypt could “run out of water by 2025” and parts of Sudan, where the Darfur conflict was essentially a war over access to water, are increasingly vulnerable to drought as a result of climate change.
NEW YORK: The international community must honor the climate action pledges it made at last year’s COP27 summit, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Saturday.
During his speech at the 78th UN General Assembly in New York, Shoukry warned about the future effects of climate change and said that at the UN Climate Change Conference in Sharm Al-Sheikh last year, Egypt “managed to mobilize international consensus to achieve climate justice.”
He said: “We reached balanced decisions based on the agreed-upon responsibilities and principles as per the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and Paris Agreement.”
Shoukry called for the improvement of access to development funding for developing countries, and the creation of a “sustainable and comprehensive mechanism to look into the debts of low-income and middle-income countries in addition to looking into the restructuring of the complex structure of debts.”
The minister criticized what he described as an inadequate response to the climate crisis, saying that “certain countries have reneged on their pledges,” and urged the international community to commit to pledges and agreements reached at COP27, particularly the Loss and Damage Fund.
Water and climate change are undoubtedly linked, Shoukry said, adding that Egypt is in the midst of a severe water crisis that has forced the country to reuse water.
In the same vein, he added that Egypt depends on the Nile River to sustain itself, and strongly condemned any unilateral actions taken regarding transnational bodies of water.
“We refuse any unilateral procedures regarding the management of transboundary water, for example, the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which was created without consultation and without previous adequate studies or even any studies for the impact of other states,” he said.
However, Shoukry expressed his country’s desire to reach an agreement on the operation and filling of the dam that would take into account the needs of Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan.
He also expressed concern over the humanitarian situation in Palestine, saying that Egypt supports “the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to establish their independent state … with eastern Jerusalem as its capital.”
Regarding its southern neighbor, the minister called on countries neighboring Sudan to “settle the current crisis and to mitigate the humanitarian repercussions thereof,” adding that Egypt is working to negotiate a cease-fire and political solution to the conflict.
On the global economic stage, Shoukry said that Egypt “looks forward to playing an active role in BRICS to advocate for the interests and aspirations of 30 percent of the global economy in the global south.”
Egypt applied to join the economic bloc this year and will become a full member of BRICS in early 2024.
‘This is the best opportunity for peace in Yemen since the war broke out,’ US special envoy tells Arab News
On the sidelines of UNGA, Tim Lenderking discussed how truce might pave the way for an end to conflict
He said “I am 24/7 on Yemen. Yemen is my goal. It is my heart’s mission. It is my team’s mission”
Updated 33 min 31 sec ago
NEW YORK CITY: On their first official visit to Saudi Arabia since the Yemen war erupted in 2014, a delegation of Houthi rebels held talks in Riyadh over a five-day period last week on a potential agreement that could hasten the end of hostilities.
Progress has been reported on many of the main sticking points, including a timeline for foreign troops to leave Yemen, and a mechanism for paying public servants’ salaries. A full reopening of Houthi-controlled ports and Sanaa airport, along with reconstruction efforts, was also among the issues discussed.
Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, praised the meetings — the highest-level, public negotiations with the Houthis in the Kingdom in the past nine years — as “a moment of opportunity.” The Saudi government “welcomed the positive results of the serious discussions.”
But despite the general decline in violence in Yemen, UN officials have cautioned that the situation on the ground remains “fragile and challenging” and “the front lines are not silent.”
According to Timothy Lenderking, the US special envoy for Yemen since February 2021, Washington is working tirelessly to end the conflict, which has killed and maimed hundreds of thousands, and left 80 percent of Yemen’s population dependent on humanitarian aid.
“I am 24/7 on Yemen. Yemen is my goal. It is my heart’s mission. It is my team’s mission,” Lenderking told Arab News in an interview in New York City on the sidelines of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly.
“It’s the (Biden) administration’s mission to see that this terrible war, which has displaced and killed so many people and distracted the region, can be brought to a close in a just and comprehensive manner.”
Although the past year has been marked by both humanitarian challenges and de-escalation in Yemen, Lenderking, a career diplomat whose official title is deputy assistant secretary for Arabian Gulf Affairs, has generally voiced optimism since the internationally recognized Yemeni government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels reached a truce agreement in April 2022.
Last year on the sidelines of the 77th General Assembly, a few months after the truce came into effect, he told Arab News that the benefits accruing to the Yemeni people had opened the door for a durable ceasefire to be agreed in the following months.
Tim Lenderking said meetings held by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Yemen show the international community’s determination to move the peace process forward.
Saudi Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman reaffirmed the Kingdom’s “commitment to promoting dialogue among all parties” when he met Houthi negotiators during their recent five-day visit to Riyadh.
“My optimism last year was not misplaced because after the truce we have continued in a period of de-escalation that has lasted 18 months, with no cross-border attacks,” Lenderking said.
“Recall the pace and the fury of those attacks in the earlier days of the war, including more than 400 attacks from Yemen in 2020. The commercial capital’s airport, Sanaa, has been open for commercial flights. Those have expanded from three to six per week.”
Lenderking described the development as “a drop in the bucket,” but added that “it still represents good progress and tangible benefits” for the Yemeni population.
“After all, these are two sides who have been fighting intensely for the past several years. And to have them talking and visiting and spending days in each other’s capitals is a very important development,” he said.
“No one’s saying there is a breakthrough, but it appears that these contacts were positive enough that they will continue. We are very keen to see them drive to positive results, begin to untangle the distrust that has prevailed. They are going to have to live together eventually.”
He added: “The considerable efforts that have been exerted very positively between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, that needs to transition to the UN-led process. We want to move beyond the current truce — which is very positive but not enough — into a durable ceasefire and Yemeni-Yemeni political talks.
“This is how Yemen’s future gets decided. Not by the outside powers. Not by one party in Yemen dictating to another. (It) has to be an inclusive Yemeni-Yemeni process. And there is an international consensus behind this and supporting it.”
Lenderking said that the presence of Rashad Al-Alimi, chairman of the Presidential Leadership Council in several meetings involving the US and the P3 (the three permanent members of the Security Council: US, UK and France) underscored the strong signals of international support for his leadership.
All these factors provide reason to believe that with international backing, progress toward a UN-led initiative and Yemeni-Yemeni dialogue is possible in the near future, he said.
(At the UNGA general debate on Thursday, Al-Alimi urged the international community to do more to stop the flow of arms and resources to the Houthi, and warned that “the institutions of Yemen will not have the necessary resources to deal with these cross-border challenges” if funds are not directed to recognized governmental financial institutions.)
Asked whether the Saudi-Iran rapprochement played a role in bringing the warring Yemeni parties to the present point, Lenderking said that much of the groundwork that was done to achieve and maintain the truce was well in motion even before the Chinese-brokered deal between the two Middle East powers was announced on March 10 this year.
“What we are looking to see from the Saudi-Iran deal is whether Iran’s posture toward Yemen has changed. Is it moving away from smuggling lethal weapons and aid for the Houthis that fueled the war effort, violating Security Council resolutions? And is Iran going to support a political solution?” Lenderking said.
“We hear that they are moving in this direction. We have seen some positive public statements from Iran. A new posture from Iran toward Yemen supporting the positive trajectory would be well received by the United States.”
The fact that the Houthis have chosen not to resume hostilities despite the lapse of the truce is of great significance, Lenderking said, adding that this could point to a change in the Houthi mindset while the extended phase of de-escalation continues.
He believes the group has demonstrated a refreshing willingness to release detainees and engage in discussions with the opposing party in the context of military committees.
This level of engagement “was not happening at this pace throughout the entirety of the war; this is the best opportunity for peace that Yemen has had since this war broke out almost 10 years ago. And that’s why US efforts are so energetic and so vigorous at this point,” he said.
“Here in New York City, Secretary Blinken (had) at least three meetings that focused on Yemen while he was here. Bear in mind the (extensive list of topics on the) international agenda in New York: climate, Russia-Ukraine, other humanitarian considerations. So, Yemen is getting some time here among world leaders, which we think is very positive.”
Although diplomatic channels between the US and Russia have been all but cut off since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, there is no disagreement among the P5 on the way forward in Yemen.
The P5 are united on the need for a political solution, and this unity is a “great asset for us to have,” Lenderking said.
“The Security Council has shown considerable unity, a strong support for (Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Yemen Hans) Grunberg’s efforts, support for (the) humanitarian crisis. This is a blessing. We really have to take advantage of the fact that there is this united positioning between key players.
“We don’t take anything for granted when it comes to support for peace in Yemen. We have to work toward solutions. We have to be very, very aggressive about maintaining what progress we make.”
One of this year’s notable success stories of the multilateral system also has to do with Yemen. The threat of a massive oil spill in the Red Sea had been averted, after more than a million barrels of oil were transferred to a salvage ship from the Safer tanker, a decaying storage vessel that had been moored off the coast of Yemen for years and described as a “ticking time bomb.”
“I think it is an incredible story because (of) an unlikely coalition of private sector, including oil companies, national governments, and a crowdfunding effort that tapped into individuals around the world. School kids in Bethesda, Maryland, sold lemonade because they got swept up by the environmental consequences of this oil spill had it happened,” Lenderking said.
“And it’s kind of a model for cooperation because we worked together to avert a problem before it became a crisis. That doesn’t happen very often on the world stage. Here in New York, nearly every conversation is about something that has happened already and needs to be dialed back. So, this was a terrific effort.”
On the downside, Yemen continues to be one of the world’s biggest humanitarian crises. In 2023, 21.6 million Yemenis require some form of humanitarian assistance as 80 percent of the population struggles to put food on the table and access basic services. The UN has appealed for funding, with only 30 percent of the target having been met so far.
“Yemen’s economy has been in ruins. The country’s economic capacity has to be revitalized,” Lenderking said. “I think there’s eagerness to do this. We are in regular contact with the international financial institutions ... IMF, World Bank. And then there’s the distrust that has to be worked at through the kind of personal engagement that we’re seeing between the parties that until recently were shooting at each other. They are talking now.
“Now, the common outcome and objective must be peace: a peace agreement, threading together these various positive strands and pushing them with international support under UN leadership. It ultimately falls to the UN to put a roadmap together, capitalize on all of this positive movement and drive it toward Yemeni-Yemeni negotiations.”