May 09/2019
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For today
In the case of an athlete, no one is crowned without competing according to the rules
Second Letter to Timothy 02/01-13: “Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; and what you have heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will be able to teach others as well. Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving in the army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer. And in the case of an athlete, no one is crowned without competing according to the rules. It is the farmer who does the work who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself.

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on May 08-09/19
May 07th/2008 Hezbollah’s Bloody Invasion Of Beirut & Mount Lebanon
Al-Rahi Delays Africa Trip Due to Sfeir's 'Critical Health Situation'
Bkirki: Rahi deplores some people's rush to circulate Patriarch Sfeir's rumored death
Jarrah: Govt. to Finalize Budget Friday, BDL Very Responsive
Jarrah: High-Voltage Power Lines Above Mansourieh Have No Health Risks
Govt. to Ask BDL, Armed Forces for Numbers before Taking Budget Decisions
Aoun Says Lower and Middle Class Incomes Won't be Touched
Aoun meets Lebanese Red Cross delegation, calls for supporting its fund raising campaign
Boustani, Bou Saab visit Bkirki: By implementing harmless power plan we save 20 million dollars
Berri: Country not bankrupt, budget only chance to overcome juncture
Lebanese Cabinet to continue budget discussion tomorrow
Jarrah to Yaacoubian: Submit evidence to support your claims
Tensions Rise as Mansourieh Residents Stand Firm over Power Lines Project
Mansourieh Residents Resume Protests over Power Line Installation
Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel Stresses Support for Metn Residents in Face of Government's Obstinacy
Judges Go on Strike over Financial Benefits Cuts
Jaber Calls for ‘Structural Reform,’ End for Waste of Public Funds
Public Institutions Resume Work as Civil Servants Suspend Strike
State Security Raids Offices of al-Akhbar Newspaper
How Hezbollah evades sanctions in Venezuela and partakes in Maduro’s drug trade

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 08-09/19
Israel Won’t Let Iran Get Nuclear Weaponry, Says Netanyahu
U.N. Security Council to Meet Friday on Syria's Idlib
Iran Sends Letters on Partial Withdrawal from Nuclear Deal
Pompeo: Iran nuclear announcement ‘intentionally ambiguous’
US Warns European Banks, Businesses Against Using Iran-EU Trade Mechanism
On Visit, Pompeo Sees Iraq Guarantees on 'Imminent' Iran Threat
Pompeo Warns UK over China 5G Network Role
Britain Calls Iran Suspension of Nuclear Deal Curbs 'Unwelcome Step'
Iran tells Russia its partial roll back of nuclear deal is legal
Trump: Chinese Trade Officials Coming to U.S. 'to Make a Deal'
Turkey's Economic Rebound Will Be 'Gradual', Says EBRD
More than 500 Foreign IS Members Convicted in Iraq
U.N. Says Palestinan Food Aid Threatened by 'Serious Funding Crisis'
Sudanese protest coalition calls for civil disobedience
Sudan army rulers delaying transition to civil rule, say protest leaders
Sudan’s military council wants Islamic Sharia law to be source of legislation
Anti-Kurdish protests grow in Syria’s Deir al-Zor, say sources
Palestinians turn to EU to counter Kushner plan

Litles For The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 08-09/19
May 07th/2008 Hezbollah’s Bloody Invasion Of Beirut & Mount Lebanon/Elias Bejjani/May 07/2019
How Hezbollah evades sanctions in Venezuela and partakes in Maduro’s drug trade/Dr. Vanessa Neumann/Al Arabiya/May 08/2019
Persecuted Christian Asia Bibi arrives in Canada from Pakistan/Jihad Watch/May 08/2019
Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the perils of military involvement in the economy/Omar Al-Ubaydli/Al Arabiya/May 08/2019
Sahwa clerics must fix what they have broken/Faisal J. Abbas/Arab News/May 08/2019
Assad looks on as hectic diplomacy shapes Syria’s future/Talmiz Ahmad/Arab News/May 08/2019
American soft power beginning to weaken/Joseph S. Nye//Arab News/May 08/2019

The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News published on May 08-09/19
May 07th/2008 Hezbollah’s Bloody Invasion Of Beirut & Mount Lebanon
Elias Bejjani/May 07/2019

On May 07th, 2008 Hezbollah Armed Terrorist Iranian militia proxy invaded the Lebanese capital, Beirut, and some regions in Mount Lebanon at the backdrop of a government resolution regarding the its illegal telecommunication network The Terrorist Hezbollah, backed by its pro Syrian and pro Iranian March 08 armed terrorists, broke in some Lebanese deputies’ houses, assassinated innocent citizens on the streets, burned and looted some media institutions belonging to Future Movement, and stopped by force the Future TV News Channel from broadcasting after spreading its armed men inside its studios.
Dozens of innocent civilians were killed and injured on the streets and in their houses in this criminal invasion. The Invasion also targeted some areas of mount Lebanon few days after that of Beirut. Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah appointed Iranian leader shamelessly called the invasion a day of glory. Sadly the Lebanese army watched the Hezbollah criminal invasion without taking any deterrent procedure while totally abandoned its obligations and national duties. The Army’s Chief at the time of the invasion, Michael Suleiman was rewarded for his pro Hezbollah role and afterwards by the help and full support of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah was elected illegally as Lebanon’s president. It remains that Hezbollah is not Lebanese by any means, or under any constitutional or patriotic criteria. Hezbollah is a mere Iranian Occupation tool. This Shiite Iranian armed Militia is an Iranian Army and has been occupying Lebanon since 2005 after the Syrian Army was forced to withdraw as a result of a huge public demonstration known as the 14th Of March Demo and Revolution. While remembering the bloody and criminal invasion, the Lebanese in both Lebanon and Diaspora, citizens, officials and politicians are all ought to never ever succumb to Hezbollah’s occupation and at the same time are urgently required to call for the implementation of the two UN resolutions 1559 and 1701. On this day, our prayers go to the souls of the innocent Lebanese victims that were killed by Hezbollah on the May, 2008 invasion in both Beirut and Mount Lebanon.

Al-Rahi Delays Africa Trip Due to Sfeir's 'Critical Health Situation'
Naharnet/May 08/2019/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Wednesday postponed an upcoming visit to Africa due to the "critical health situation" of ex-patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, Bkirki said. The visit has been rescheduled from May 9 to May 21, a Bkirki statement said, adding that al-Rahi wants to stay next to Sfeir.The patriarch also asked the faithful to pray for Sfeir's recovery. Sfeir was born on May 15, 1920. He was elected Patriarch of Antioch for the Maronites on April 27, 1986.Sfeir submitted his resignation to the Congregation for the Oriental Churches in Rome in late 2010, but his resignation was not initially accepted because six Maronite bishops had submitted their resignations after reaching the retirement age of 75 in June 2010. His resignation was finally accepted by Pope Benedict XVI on 26 February 2011.

Bkirki: Rahi deplores some people's rush to circulate Patriarch Sfeir's rumored death
Wed 08 May 2019/NNA - The Bkirki Patriarchate issued on Wednesday the following statement: "Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Rahi regrets the fact that some people have rushed to spread the inaccurate news of the passing of Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir, instead of praying for his recovery.""Patriarch Sfeir is still receiving medical treatment, and he asks everyone to accompany him by prayers," said the statement.

Jarrah: Govt. to Finalize Budget Friday, BDL Very Responsive

Naharnet/May 08/2019/The government intends to finalize the draft state budget on Friday and Banque du Liban is very responsive regarding the slashing of salaries, Information Minister Jamal al-Jarrah said. "Discussions will be continued tomorrow in order to look into the ministries' budgets," he added, after a cabinet session. "The ministries of interior and defense will present a study to address the situations of security institutions, but eventually we will finalize all issues related to security agencies," Jarrah went on to say. As for Banque du Liban, the minister said its employees have a special law but noted that BDL is "among the institutions that are the most responsive in terms of cooperating with the government and the lowering of salaries."A several-day strike by the employees of the central bank had sparked fears of cash and fuel shortage crises in the country before being suspended until Friday. Central bank employees say they are protesting a decision to slash their benefits as part of a new austerity package being studied by Cabinet ahead of this year's budget. Other public sector employees have resorted to similar measures against possible austerity measures in recent weeks. Lebanon has vowed to slash public spending to unlock $11 billion worth of aid pledged by international donors during an April 2018 conference in Paris. Last month, Prime Minister Saad Hariri vowed to introduce "the most austere budget in Lebanon's history" to combat the country's bulging fiscal deficit, sparking fears among public sector employees that their salaries may be cut.Lebanon is one of the world's most indebted countries, with public debt estimated at 141 percent of GDP in 2018, according to credit ratings agency Moody's.

Jarrah: High-Voltage Power Lines Above Mansourieh Have No Health Risks

Naharnet/May 08/2019/Information Minister Jamal Jarrah dismissed health concerns on Wednesday over the controversial high-voltage power lines to be installed above the North Metn town of Mansourieh stressing that the electricity plan will be implemented and the lines will be installed. Talking to reporters after a wave of protests by residents rejecting the installation, he said: “The Cabinet decision to implement the electricity plan is final. The security forces are tasked to follow up on the installation, assaulting them can only lead to chaos.”The Minister stressed saying that according to “studies have proved that there is no harm from the high voltage lines. The standards we have committed to in the Mansourieh issue are higher than European standards.” “The state has previously offered to buy apartments from those who consider themselves harmed but didn’t receive a single request in this regard," he said.

Govt. to Ask BDL, Armed Forces for Numbers before Taking Budget Decisions

Naharnet/May 08/2019/The Cabinet continued its discussion of the 2019 draft state budget on Tuesday, announcing that it intends to ask Bank du Liban and the armed forces for "financial data and numbers.""We hope to finalize the issue of the budget on Friday or before Friday," Information Minister Jamal al-Jarrah said after the session. "Things are very good and the ongoing discussion is responsible and based on numbers," he added. "There are some financial data and numbers that we will ask from BDL and the armed forces so that they be studied and analyzed tomorrow in order to take decisions," Jarrah explained.

Aoun Says Lower and Middle Class Incomes Won't be Touched
Naharnet/May 08/2019/President Michel Aoun warned Tuesday over the economic harm caused by labor strikes, as he reassured that the incomes of lower and middle class citizens will not be touched.Meeting with a delegation from the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers and other syndicates, Aoun urged them to "evaluate the pressing situation and refrain from subjecting the country to further damage and threats."He also promised to study the concerns they raised during the meeting, reassuring that he "will not accept any measure that targets the incomes of the poor and middle classes."

Aoun meets Lebanese Red Cross delegation, calls for supporting its fund raising campaign
Wed 08 May 2019/NNA - President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, urged the Lebanese to support the Lebanese Red Cross in its fund-raising campaign, in recognition of its sacrifices and humanitarian services. President Aoun's words came during his meeting this afternoon at the Baadba palace with a delegation of the Red Cross Society in Lebanon, chaired by its head Dr. Antoine Zoghbi. The delegation also included head of the ICRC delegation in Lebanon, Christoph Martin, and the Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Sayed Hashem. Aoun hailed the Red Cross's services in the world as targeting all humanity without distinction. The delegation briefed Aoun on the launch of the Association's annual financial campaign, which coincides with the birthday of its founder Henry Dunant.
In his delivered word, Martin praised the existing cooperation between the ICRC delegation and the Red Cross Society in Lebanon, which began about 52 years ago.

Boustani, Bou Saab visit Bkirki: By implementing harmless power plan we save 20 million dollars
Wed 08 May 2019/NNA - Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros Rahi received this Wednesday at the Patriarchal Palace in Bkirki Minister of Energy and Water, Nada Al-Boustani, accompanied by Minister of National Defense, Elias Bou Saab, to discuss the issue of the Mansourieh power line.
In the wake of the meeting, Boustani said: "We do not accept the use of violence against the Lebanese people, nor does His Eminence agree on such a thing. This logic is rejected, but at the same time we remain under the logic of the State."
"Today we have an electricity plan approved by the Council of Ministers and praised by Patriarch Rahi. We will implement the plan in accordance with the decisions of the Cabinet. This plan includes the Mansourieh power link which we have discussed repeatedly. This topic is not new to anyone, it is more than 10 years old," the minister explained. "The Mansourieh power link has been studied by the world's largest companies. In addition, there are reports from international health organizations confirming and proving that it is not harmful at all. The 220 kV network is being extended in all Lebanese regions and also in Metn. It is not just in Mansourieh but in several villages and across different Lebanese areas, extending for 329 km, only 2 km of which passing through Mansourieh," Boustani went on to say. "With time, all the solutions to the Mansourieh link have been studied, and we ended up choosing to pass it underground, but studies have shown that the underground option is more harmful than the solution of passing it over the ground. This solution is technically well thought out," she said. "I affirm that the current option is not harmful in any way, according to global studies.""Today, as we discuss the budget and the deficit in Lebanon's electricity, it is important that the citizen know that by implementing this link, we will save 1% in technical waste, equal to $ 20 million, which is a significant number at this stage," she added. "There is a decision to implement the electricity plan; this plan does not cause any harm to the people whose fears we totally understand," said the Minister.

Berri: Country not bankrupt, budget only chance to overcome juncture

Wed 08 May 2019/NNA - Speaker of the House Nabih Berri said at the Wednesday parliamentary meeting "the budget is the only opportunity through which the situation can be overcome." Berri expressed his dissatisfaction with the "rumors that have been pumped into social media platforms," adding that the climate is conspiratorial and that does not reflect the reality." "The country is not bankrupt and the monetary situation is sound and under control," he maintained. He pointed out that "the rights of the poor and the people with limited income will not be tampered with.""The sectarian system is the problem, and the solution lies in a civil state, as I previously said," Berri concluded.

Lebanese Cabinet to continue budget discussion tomorrow
Wed 08 May 2019/NNA - The Council of Ministers will hold a new session tomorrow to continue to discuss the draft budget. After today's meeting, the Minister of Information Jamal Jarrah said: "We completed today the discussion of the program laws and we discussed the taxation items in general and are still waiting for answers on the financial estimates which we will get tomorrow or after tomorrow. Tomorrow we will start with the administrations and each ministry, and we hope to finish this on Friday."
Question: What about maritime properties?
Jarrah: I am surprised that the issue is raised because a law has been approved by parliament regarding this file. There was a prices decree issued by the Council of Ministers and some people already paid while others submitted applications to the Ministry of Finance to pay. There are around sixty files in the Ministry, some of which are incomplete and the work to solve the issue of maritime properties is still going on. The law is being implemented and this would provide revenues to the state.
Question: What about the article of army veteran's military equipment allowances?
Jarrah: On Friday, the Ministries of interior and defense will submit proposals to deal with the situation of the security institution and the suitable decision will be taken. There was a discussion on whether the allowance would be part of the salary or not. All these issues will be dealt with on Friday.
Question: Is it true that the cabinet put a ceiling of 13 million Lebanese pounds for the salaries?
Jarrah: Twenty times the minimum wage. If someone gets two salaries, the maximum ceiling would be 13 million and 500 or 550 thousand Lebanese pounds.
Question: Were the Central Bank employees excluded from article 61?
Jarrah: The staff of the Central Bank constitutes another issue. They have their own internal system. But the Central Bank is one of the most positive institutions in the matter of reducing salaries and the solutions we are offering. It is the most cooperative institution with the government, although it is an independent institution governed by the code of money and credit. It is the institution that responded the most positively to the government's proposals.
Question: Was item 61 canceled?
Jarrah: No, it is still under discussion. There is an idea regarding the fourteen months but it has not yet been decided.
Question: Will you able to finish by Friday knowing that you postponed many articles?
Jarrah: There are interrelated items. We want to make comparisons. The goal of the government is, if there is a reduction in some place, that it includes everyone in all the items that were postponed.
Some Ministers asked for 24 hours to give us the exact figures upon which we will take decisions.

Jarrah to Yaacoubian: Submit evidence to support your claims
Wed 08 May 2019/NNA - Minister of Information Jamal Jarrah said via Twitter: "MP Paula Yaacoubian is still insisting on circulating slander and publishing news that are groundless. If she has proof to support her claims, she should present that to the public opinion. It is worth noting that the companies operating the cellular sector are the initiators of projects to the Ministry, and the latter either agrees, rejects or asks for amendments."

Tensions Rise as Mansourieh Residents Stand Firm over Power Lines Project Wednesday 08th May 2019/Amid the Energy Ministry's insistence on executing the high-voltage power lines project in Metn despite the residents' fierce objection over health and safety concerns, tensions rose on Wednesday as security forces resorted again to the use of to force against the protesting residents.After blocking the road to Beit Mery as part of their ongoing protest against the project, residents of Mansourieh were once again confronted by security forces which prevented them from holding a march from the Saint Therese church to the location where EDL workers have initiated the installation works. Several of the residents were injured as security forces opted for excessive use of force and fired live bullets. Father Dany Frem, head of the Saint Therese diocese, hailed the Kataeb party for standing alongside the residents and advocating their cause "after they have been abandoned after the elections", wondering how a Maronite minister can turn a deaf ear to the stance of the Maronite patriarch. “The protest shall carry on and we are still waiting for a solution to the issue. We are preparing for escalation in the coming hours and will remain in the street until our demands are met,” read a statement issued by the residents. Kataeb MP Elias Hankache vowed to keep on standing firm against the forcible installation of high-voltage power lines, saying that the residents have now got an additional support from the Maronite Patriarchate. The lawmaker warned that escalation steps will be taken in case the government fails to abandon its stubbornness and intransigence, saying that any dialogue in this matter must include the residents and seek a common ground away from coercion. Hankache blamed "irresponsible" officials for the violence used to deal with the residents, adding that the problem lies in the ruling authority's obstinacy and haughtiness. “Let them enforce their authority on other regions; the ones that are known to be out of their control,” Hankache said. Kataeb politburo member and former Economy Minister, Alain Hakim, described the insistence on the project as a disobedience to the Maronite Patriarch’s statement which calls for appeasement and dialogue with the residents. For his part, the Kataeb's Deputy-President Salim Sayegh called on the "Christian" Energy Minister Nada Boustany and the Free Patriotic Movement which claims to be the defender of the Christians' rights, to obey the Maronite Patriarchate in this matter. “Even in a police state, the ministers do not treat citizens the way they did yesterday with the residents of Mansourieh,” he said, adding that people have the right to live in dignity and to resist all scheme to force them out of their region. “Why do they belittle one area while apply the highest standards of respect in others?” Sayegh asked.

Mansourieh Residents Resume Protests over Power Line Installation
Naharnet/May 08/2019/After scuffles with security forces a day earlier, residents of the North Metn town of Mansourieh resumed their protests on Wednesday rejecting a government plan to install high-voltage power lines in their area. The residents blocked the highway of Beit Mery amid heavy presence of security forces, said the National News Agency.“This protest will keep on going until a solution to this issue is found,” they said, noting that they plan to escalate their moves if their demands are not met. On Tuesday, the residents scuffled with security forces and workers of the Electricite du Liban who embarked on the installation of the lines. "The World Health Organization has warned of a potential danger in the presence of high-voltage lines. As long as the solution exists we will not accept these lines to be installed,” they said. Energy Minister Nada al-Bustani has stressed in remarks on Tuesday that the plan will carry on. The residents argue that the controversial project to connect a power plant in Mkalles to another in Bsalim to supply more power to the region is dangerous on public health and call for the installation of the lines underground. The Ministry of Energy argues that the electricity lines have no health risks on the residents. MP Elias Hankash “regretted the use of force against the people,” and voiced calls on President Michel Aoun and Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi to “intervene.”

Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel Stresses Support for Metn Residents in Face of Government's Obstinacy 08th May 2019/Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel on Wednesday renewed the party's unwavering support for the Mansourieh-Ain Saade residents as they face the government’s obstinacy in harming people’s health by installing high-voltage power lines. “Imposing draconian decisions by force is unacceptable. The right to protest and to object is sacred,” Gemayel stressed in a tweet. “The high-voltage power lines issue must be carefully approached, while taking the content of the Maronite Patriarch's statement yesterday, as a roadmap,” he added.

Judges Go on Strike over Financial Benefits Cuts
Naharnet/May 08/2019/The judicial community in Lebanon is in a state of anger in response to an austere state budget draft which calls for deductions from the financial benefits, and health and educational contributions of judges, the Saudi Asharq al-Awsat newspaper said on Wednesday. Lebanese judges, who began a strike on Friday, held a meeting on Wednesday at the Justice Palace in Beirut and discussed the steps they plan to take “to safeguard the independence of the judiciary in general and the judges in particular.”They described any possible measure to decrease their allowances as an “attack on their rights,” and plan to “prolong their strike if the government does not withdraw its decision.”A member of the Judges Association confirmed to the daily that "the precautionary strike which began on Friday was successful and the majority of the judges committed to it, but the decision excluded the hearings in which detainees were tried or released.”The budget proposes 10 percent annual cuts of the treasury's contribution to the judges pension fund, and deducting part of the medical aid, medicinal proceeds and educational contribution, benefiting 560 judges and about 1,200 judicial assistants.

Jaber Calls for ‘Structural Reform,’ End for Waste of Public Funds
Naharnet/May 08/2019/MP Yassine Jaber on Wednesday said the government must introduce “genuine structural reforms in various sectors” as part of planned austerity measures instead of cutting salaries of employees of the public sector. The government’s “austerity policy is necessary, but it is not enough. Squandering must be stopped and real structural reform in various sectors is required before they embark on deductions from the (public sector) salaries,” he told VDL (93.3). He noted that the street protests rejecting possible measures affecting wages of state employees have compelled the government to make a “careful independent budget study for each ministry particularly the defense and the military institution.”Jaber urged related authorities to take the necessary measures “to restore the national economy.”

Public Institutions Resume Work as Civil Servants Suspend Strike 08th May 2019/Head of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers, Bechara Asmar, announced on Wednesday the suspension of the strike staged by public servants. Work will be resumed starting Wednesday morning in independent, public and private institutions, Asmar said. Therefore, things will return to normal at the Beirut Port, National Social Security Fund, Electricite du Liban and Ogero where employees launched a strike next week to ptotest against the government's probable plan to cut their salaries as part of its 2019 austerity budget.

State Security Raids Offices of al-Akhbar Newspaper
Naharnet/May 08/2019/After raiding the offices of the Foreign Ministry earlier this week, the State Security agency on Wednesday searched the headquarters of al-Akhbar newspaper, media reports said. "It has been also carrying out continous surveillance of al-Akhbar's visitors and offices for the past two days," al-Jadeed TV reported, adding that the agency is also trying to know where editor-in-chief Ibrahim al-Amin lives. The daily has strongly criticized both State Security and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil over the Foreign Ministry raid. It said the raid was linked to Bassil's intention to identify the person who leaked three diplomatic reports from the Lebanese embassy in Washington to al-Akhbar. Six diplomats and an employee were interrogated during the raid.

How Hezbollah evades sanctions in Venezuela and partakes in Maduro’s drug trade
د. فينسا نيومن/موقع العربية/طرق حزب الله للإلتفاف على العقوبات في فنزويلا ولمشاركته مادورو في تجارة المخدرات
Dr. Vanessa Neumann/Al Arabiya/May 08/2019

The international media has been rife with analysis about the events of April 30th and May 1st, when Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó, recognized by more than 54 countries, launched a popular uprising (in keeping with Sections 333 and 350 of Venezuela’s 1999 Constitution) to garner the support of the military command and oust the dictator Nicolás Maduro. His # OperaciónLibertad inspired the hopes of many millions of Venezuelans, two-thirds of whom are in a slow-motion famine, while Maduro’s pockets grow fatter by the day.
To be fair, Maduro did not invent the greatest kleptocracy of the modern era, with more than $200 billion stolen, according to conservative estimates. His predecessor Hugo Chávez set the mechanisms in place, but Maduro perfected them. In 2002, in response to an oil strike and a 48-hour removal from power, Chávez militarized the state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, SA (PDVSA). Savvy, internationally-trained oil executives were ousted, and loyalist ideological military commanders – who knew nothing about the oil industry but were tied to narcoterrorist organizations, including Hezbollah – took over.
The transfer of authority enabled grand corruption schemes, with money supposedly designated for economic development flowing through slush funds. With Maduro’s ascent to power, it all got much worse. PDVSA’s finance department became a money laundering mechanism for everyone from Iran to the FARC to Russian organized crime.
How did Venezuela’s relationship with Iran originate? It was via the official policy of Hugo Chávez, which opened up Iran’s financial channels in Venezuela. During 2001 and 2003 visits to Tehran, Chávez signed joint venture accords with then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the manufacture of tractor parts and cars, as well as for banking, including the Toseyeh Saderat Iran bank.
The relationship with Hezbollah developed on a separate track. Latin America received a lot of Lebanese immigrants in the 1980s, during the civil war. In the 1990s, Lebanese Hezbollah sought to deepen its financial relationships with its Latin American diaspora, as the administrations of both presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami had slashed its funding by nearly 70 percent, and sanctions had also had a significant impact on the Iranian economy.
The two tracks came together in 2007, when then-Foreign Minister Maduro and then-Vice Minister for Finance Rafael Issa met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in a Damascus hotel room. From that meeting, Maduro flew to Tehran to join Chávez in his meeting with Ahmadinejad. From then on, many commercial ties were established, and the above-board led to the illicit. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps opened subsidiaries in Venezuela, which then moved money through PDVSA, using it to enter the international financial system and evade sanctions.
But there are much deeper ties that bind Hezbollah to Venezuela: Blood ties. A prime example is former Minister of the Interior and Justice Tareck el-Aissami, a Venezuelan of Syrian descent. El-Aissami was designated under the Kingpin Act in February 2017 for playing a significant role in international narcotics trafficking, while he was Venezuela’s executive vice president. His primary frontman Samark López Bello was also designated for providing material assistance to his activities through an international network of petroleum, distribution, engineering, telecommunications, and asset holding companies to launder the drug proceeds. Many of them had government contracts with PDVSA.
While the # OperaciónLibertad effort did not result in the ultimate goal of ousting Maduro, it did succeed in revealing a lot. The release of long-standing political prisoner Leopoldo López by his SEBIN intelligence captors, and the support of some mid-level military for Guaidó, betrayed the extent of internal fracture within the regime. We also now know that Maduro’s inner circle has been negotiating his exit. US National Security Advisor John Bolton has said Maduro is now “surrounded by scorpions in a bottle.” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserted Maduro would have gotten onto the waiting plane had it not been for Russian interference. In essence, the Russians are following their Syrian playbook. Their message to Maduro was clear: Trust us, we kept Assad in power; we will keep you in power, too.
The Russians fear they will lose the $17 billion they loaned to Maduro, $10 billion of which is still outstanding, as well as the oil refinery and gas rights they have wrangled, if Guaidó occupies the presidential palace and invokes the “odious debt” doctrine, because the loans did not follow constitutional channels of approval by the National Assembly and were designed to keep an oppressive elite in power.
While Russian interference is likely to be bought off in a repayment deal with a post-Maduro government, Hezbollah will pose a different challenge. The US sanctions on Venezuela have had a secondary effect on Hezbollah’s finances, impacting the salaries of their fighters in Syria and degrading their military and terrorist capabilities. However, they still make a lot of money through the Maduro regime’s drug running, which continues to spike to horrifying proportions, as Maduro’s military-backed cartel scrambles for cash to get around the sanctions. Maduro’s military is making an estimated $8.8 billion a year from the trafficking of narcotics, gasoline, food, gold, and coltan. As we saw this week, they will not easily be moved away from their financial interests, which suits Hezbollah perfectly.
Keeping Maduro in power is therefore in Hezbollah’s best interests, and they will work hard for that. During my visit to Beirut in 2012, they vowed that they would sustain the power of whomever succeeded Chávez. Since then Nasrallah has openly asserted he would like to see their bag man, el-Aissami, succeed Maduro.The concern is that Hezbollah will seek to keep Maduro in situ through asymmetric or terrorist operations, were Maduro to face a significant military threat to his power. Alternatively, if regime change is inevitable, they would scheme to keep their illicit financing channels open through whatever military remains past the transition, perhaps into Guaidó and beyond, by identifying allies or corruption. This is classic Hezbollah modus operandi.
If a plan is not developed to address how to deal effectively with Hezbollah, now as well as post-transition, my people’s suffering will extend and deepen. We are already projected to surpass the Syrian refugee crisis within the year, destabilizing neighboring countries that have worked hard to overcome their terrorist insurgencies and find peace and prosperity, such as Peru and Colombia. Disrupting Venezuela’s financing of criminal and terrorist groups would help improve security not only in the western hemisphere, but in the Middle East as well.
*-Dr. Vanessa Neumann is Juan Guaidó’s appointed ambassador and chief of diplomatic mission to the United Kingdom. Prior to her diplomatic appointment, she was a long-standing expert on crime-terror pipelines and the author of Blood Profits: How American Consumers Unwittingly Fund Terrorists.

Latest LCCC English Miscellaneous Reports & News published on May 08-09/19
Israel Won’t Let Iran Get Nuclear Weaponry, Says Netanyahu 08th May 2019/Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weaponry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, reiterating a long-held Israeli position after Tehran announced it was scaling back some of its commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal. “This morning, on my way here, I heard that Iran intends to pursue its nuclear program,” Netanyahu said in a speech marking Israel’s Memorial Day. He added: “We will not allow Iran to achieve nuclear weaponry. We will continue to fight those who would kill us.”On Wednesday, President Hassan Rouhani said that Iran will resume high level enrichment of uranium if world powers did not protect its interests against US sanctions. In a speech broadcast on national television, Rouhani said the remaining signatories - Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia - had 60 days to make good on their promises to protect Iran’s oil and banking sectors.

U.N. Security Council to Meet Friday on Syria's Idlib
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 08/2019/The U.N. Security Council will meet Friday to discuss the escalation of fighting in Syria's northwestern region of Idlib, where hospitals and schools have been hit by strikes, diplomats said.
Belgium, Germany and Kuwait requested the meeting that will be held behind closed doors at 10 am (1400 GMT) on Friday, they said.

Iran Sends Letters on Partial Withdrawal from Nuclear Deal

Associated Press/Naharnet/May 08/2019/Iran has delivered letters to ambassadors outlining its partial withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, state television reported Wednesday, without elaborating on what steps it plans to take. The letters were to be delivered to the leaders of Britain, China, the European Union, France and Germany. All were signatories to the nuclear deal, under which Iran limited its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. A letter was also to go to Russia. The move came a year to the date President Donald Trump withdrew America from the accord. Since then the United States has restored crippling economic sanctions on Iran, even as Tehran continued to abide by the accord, according to U.N. inspectors.Iranian officials had warned that the country might increase its uranium enrichment, potentially pulling away from the deal after spending a year trying to salvage it with European partners.

Pompeo: Iran nuclear announcement ‘intentionally ambiguous’

AFP, London/Wednesday, 8 May 2019/Iran’s announcement that it had stopped respecting limits on its nuclear activities agreed under a 2015 deal was “intentionally ambiguous”, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a visit to London on Wednesday. “I think it was intentionally ambiguous... We’ll have to wait and see what Iran’s actions actually are” before deciding the US response, Pompeo said after a meeting with British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt.

US Warns European Banks, Businesses Against Using Iran-EU Trade Mechanism

Reuters//May 08/2019/The United States on Wednesday warned European banks, investors and businesses against engaging with the so-called special purpose vehicle (SPV), a Europe-backed system to facilitate non-dollar trade with Iran and circumvent US sanctions. “If you are a bank, an investor, an insurer or other business in Europe you should know that getting involved in the … Special Purpose Vehicle is a very poor business decision,” Tim Morrison, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Weapons of Mass Destruction and Biodefense told a conference.He has also called Iran’s move to scale back some curbs to its program “nothing less than nuclear blackmail of Europe”.

On Visit, Pompeo Sees Iraq Guarantees on 'Imminent' Iran Threat
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 08/2019/Iraq has promised to guarantee the safety of US interests from Iran, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday as he paid a surprise trip to Baghdad where he accused Tehran of planning "imminent" attacks. The top US diplomat's unannounced visit marked an effort to stand up Washington's ties with Baghdad as it pushes ahead with its "maximum pressure" against Tehran -- a US arch-rival, but an ally of Iraq. Pompeo abruptly cancelled talks in Germany and made a lengthy detour from a European tour to spend four hours in Iraq, where he met both President Barham Saleh and Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi. "We talked to them about the importance of Iraq ensuring that it's able to adequately protect Americans in their country," Pompeo told reporters after the meetings. "They both provided assurances that they understood that was their responsibility," he said. Pompeo said he made the trip because Iranian forces are "escalating their activity" and said the threat of attacks were "very specific". "These were attacks that were imminent," Pompeo said. He declined to go into further detail on the alleged plot, which has been met with scepticism in numerous quarters, with leading Democratic lawmakers fearing that President Donald Trump's administration is seeking to spark a war with Iran. In the latest US move, the Pentagon said it was sending several massive, nuclear-capable B-52s to the region. The deployment was in response to "recent and clear indications that Iranian and Iranian proxy forces were making preparations to possibly attack US forces," the Pentagon said. On Sunday, Washington announced it was dispatching an aircraft carrier strike group to the Middle East as national security advisor John Bolton warned Iran that Washington would respond with "unrelenting force" to any attack by Tehran, including by its regional allies.
Pressure on Shiite militias
Iraq's majority Shiite population enjoys religious kinship with Iran, which played a significant role in helping Baghdad to fight the Islamic State extremist movement. President Hassan Rouhani paid an official visit to Iraq in March, where he denounced pressure from the "aggressor" United States, which deposed Iran's arch-enemy Saddam Hussein in a 2003 invasion. Pompeo, whose trip to Iraq is his second this year, said he spoke at length about Iran's influence with Shiite militias. "We've urged the Iraqi government for its own security to get all of those forces under Iraqi central control," Pompeo said. "In each of those meetings, those two leaders promised that that was their objective, too, they were moving towards that goal," he said. In Iraq, a debate has been raging in recent months over the fate of some 5,200 US troops stationed across the country. Their presence angers the Hashed al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force that is dominated by pro-Iran factions which played a key role alongside government forces in the fight against IS. In a press conference a few hours before Pompeo's arrival, Abdel Mahdi said Iraq would not accept any attack on foreign troops on its land. "Iraq really is taking the responsibility to avoid any attack on any of our friends here, coalition forces or any of our friends here," he told reporters. "This is an obligation that Iraq would honour, (and) not accept any attack on anyone -- whether Iraqi, foreigner, whether it's an embassy or a company or a military mission," he said.
Eve of anniversary
The Trump administration has imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran, including trying to stop all exports of its oil, although it has issued a waiver for energy-starved Iraq to keep buying power from its neighbour. Iranian media have said that Rouhani will announce retaliatory measures on Wednesday to mark the anniversary of Trump's pullout from a 2015 nuclear accord under which Tehran drastically scaled back its sensitive work. With the imposition of US sanctions, Iran has grown increasingly frustrated that it has not seen the fruits of the agreement, with which UN inspectors say it is complying. Pompeo had been travelling from Finland, where he had attended a meeting of the Arctic Council, to Germany, where he was due to meet both Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas later Tuesday. Germany has wide disagreements with the Trump administration and along with other European nations still supports the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated under former US president Barack Obama. German parliamentary foreign affairs committee chair Norbert Roettgen said that "even if the reasons for the rejection are unavoidable, it unfortunately fits in with the current climate in the relationship between the two governments". But Pompeo said that Maas was "most gracious" in a telephone call in which he told him he would scrap the visit. Pompeo, who returns to Europe for talks Wednesday in London, said he would try to reschedule his trip "as soon as we possibly could".

Pompeo Warns UK over China 5G Network Role

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 08/2019/U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Britain Wednesday to be cautious about China's role in its 5G network, during a visit to London that also highlighted the old allies' differences on Iran. Following talks with Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Pompeo also condemned "disgusting" politicians who backed Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, and urged European nations to take back captured Islamic State group fighters. In a joint press conference with Hunt, U.S. President Donald Trump's top diplomat said they had "discussed at some length the importance of secure 5G networks". "The United States has an obligation to ensure that places where we will operate, places where American information is, places where we have our national security is at risk, that they operate inside trusted networks, and that's what we'll do." The U.S. has banned government agencies from buying equipment from Chinese firm Huawei over fears Beijing could spy on communications and gain access to critical infrastructure. A leak from Britain's National Security Council last month suggested the government in London is planning a limited role for Huawei in its 5G network. But Hunt insisted no decision had been taken, adding that Britain would "never take a decision that compromised our ability to share intelligence" with its close allies. Pompeo urged Britain to be "vigilant and vocal against a host of Chinese activities that undermine the sovereignty of all nations."Noting the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing's global infrastructure project, he said: "China peddles corrupt infrastructure deals in exchange for political influence."Its bribe-fuelled debt trap diplomacy undermines good governance and threatens to upend the free market economic model on which so many countries depend."
'Disgusting' Venezuela support
Their talks also covered Iran, which said Wednesday it had stopped respecting limits on its nuclear activities agreed under a 2015 deal with major powers until they find a way to bypass renewed U.S. sanctions. The U.S. pulled out of the deal last year, but other signatories, including Britain, have tried to save the agreement with a trade mechanism meant to bypass reimposed U.S. sanctions. Pompeo said Tehran's announcement was "intentionally ambiguous" and Washington would wait and see what actions it took. He added: "There are provisions in the sanctions we put in place that allow humanitarian aid and certain products to get into the country."He added: "When transactions move beyond that... we will evaluate, review it, and if appropriate there will be sanctions against those who were involved in that transaction."Hunt said Iran's announcement was an "unwelcome step" and urged the country to stick to the deal. "Should Iran cease to observe its nuclear commitments, there would of course be consequences," he said. Elsewhere, Pompeo pressed the need for countries involved in the international coalition against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria to take back fighters and civilians captured or held in refugee camps there. "We've rounded them up, they are now detained and they need to continue to be detained so they cannot present additional risk to anyone anywhere in the world," he said. The U.S. diplomat also had tough words for supporters of Venezuelan President Maduro, following a question about British opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's criticism of outside intervention in the country. "It is disgusting to see leaders, not only in the United Kingdom but in the United States as well, who continue to support the murderous dictator Maduro," Pompeo said. "No leader from a country with Western democratic values ought to stand behind them."

Britain Calls Iran Suspension of Nuclear Deal Curbs 'Unwelcome Step'

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 08/2019/Britain on Wednesday called Iran's decision to no longer respect the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers an "unwelcome step" that could lead to new Western sanctions. "Today's announcement from Tehran is, I have to say to the House, an unwelcome step. We urge Iran not to take further escalatory steps and to stand by its commitments," Foreign Office minister Mark Field told parliament. Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman later told reporters: "We are extremely concerned about this announcement.""This deal is a crucial agreement which makes the world safer and we will ensure it remains in place for as long as Iran upholds these commitments," he said. The spokesman said Britain would hold talks with its partners, particularly France and Germany, over next steps. Field said: "We are not at this stage talking about re-imposing sanctions, but one has to remember that they were, of course, lifted in exchange for the nuclear restrictions as part of that JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action)." But he added: "Should Iran cease meeting its nuclear commitments, there would of course be consequences."

Iran tells Russia its partial roll back of nuclear deal is legal

Reuters, Moscow/Wednesday, 8 May 2019/Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told his Russian counterpart on Wednesday that Tehran’s decision to reduce some voluntary commitments within its nuclear deal with world powers was legal, the RIA news agency reported. Zarif, in Moscow for talks, told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Iran’s actions did not violate the original terms of the nuclear agreement and that Tehran now had 60 days to take the necessary diplomatic steps. Iran announced earlier on Wednesday it was scaling back curbs to its nuclear program under a 2015 deal with world powers, and threatened to do more - including enriching uranium to a higher level - if countries did not shield it from US sanctions.
Kremlin blames US
Earlier on Wednesday the Kremlin said that Iran had been provoked into rolling back some of the terms of a 2015 nuclear deal due to external pressure which it blamed on the United States. “President Putin has repeatedly spoken of the consequences of un-thought-out steps regarding Iran and by that I mean the decision taken by Washington (to quit the deal). Now we are seeing those consequences are starting to happen,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call. Peskov was speaking as talks in Moscow between avad Zarif and Lavrov got underway. Peskov said Russia wanted to keep the nuclear deal alive and that its diplomats were doing all they could behind the scenes in talks with European officials to try to save it. Asked if Russia might be ready to join other countries in imposing new sanctions against Iran over its partial roll back on the deal, Peskov said: “For now, we need to soberly analyze the situation and exchange views on this. The situation is serious.”

Trump: Chinese Trade Officials Coming to U.S. 'to Make a Deal'

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 08/2019/Chinese trade officials headed to Washington for talks this week intend to "make a deal," U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday, reviving hopes for success in negotiations that had appeared to hang by a thread. "China has just informed us that they (Vice-Premier) are now coming to the U.S. to make a deal," Trump said on Twitter, referring to top trade envoy Liu He. "We'll see but I am very happy with over $100 Billion a year in Tariffs filling U.S. coffers...great for US, not good for China!"Citing sudden backtracking by the Chinese side after months of negotiations, the White House this week announced US tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports would more than double on Friday -- a prospect that had long sent shivers through the global economy. Trump's tweet suggested he was comfortable either with making a deal or with leaving the tariffs in place, however. Following the tariffs announcement, stock markets around the world sank for two trading days and Wall Street futures were still in the red shortly after 1300 GMT on Wednesday but were moving higher.

Turkey's Economic Rebound Will Be 'Gradual', Says EBRD

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 08/2019/Turkey's troubled economy will contract one percent this year before a "gradual" rebound, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development forecast Wednesday. "Turkey's recovery from an expected 1.0 percent economic contraction in 2019 is likely to be gradual," the London-based EBRD said in a report at the opening of its annual conference in Sarajevo. "The lira's depreciation and (Turkey's) high interest rates will continue to dampen consumption and investment, although net exports should make a positive contribution to growth," said the bank founded in 1991 to help former Soviet bloc countries switch to free-market economies. "Growth of around 2.5 percent is expected in 2020" for Turkey, added the EBRD, which now invests also in countries including Turkey, Jordan and Morocco. The EBRD added that economic growth across all of its regions "of investment is broadly expected to track the global economy lower in 2019, before a likely upturn in 2020, when Turkey should return to positive territory". The bank's latest economic outlook revised down predictions for 2019 -- the EBRD now expecting average growth of 2.3 percent from a November forecast of 2.6-percent expansion. The "downward revision to overall growth forecasts primarily reflects the expected slowdown in Turkey" it said, adding that overall growth across EBRD regions of investment should recover to 2.6 percent in 2020. Turkey slipped into recession for the first time in a decade last year following a sharp currency crisis that sent inflation soaring into double digits and hit Turkish households hard. Its currency, the lira, is being hit once more by political upheaval in the country. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday welcomed an order to re-run the recent Istanbul election, a move the opposition has branded an attack on democracy. His ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost the mayorship of Turkey's biggest city by a narrow margin and has refused to accept defeat.

More than 500 Foreign IS Members Convicted in Iraq
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 08/2019/The Iraqi judiciary has tried and sentenced more than 500 foreigners since the start of 2018 for joining the Islamic State group, the country's Supreme Court announced on Wednesday. It said "514 verdicts were issued, for both men and women, while another 202 accused are still being interrogated and 44 are still being tried." Another 11 were acquitted and released, it said. The statement referred to "different nationalities" but did not list any specific countries. It said interrogations were taking about six months for those simply accused of IS membership, but anyone accused of actively taking part in the jihadist group's operations could be questioned for up to a year. Iraq declared victory over IS in late 2017 and began trying foreigners accused of joining the jihadist faction the following year. It has condemned many to life in prison, including 58-year-old Frenchman Lahcen Ammar Gueboudj and two other French nationals. It has also issued death sentences for other foreign IS members, although they have not yet been carried out.Among those awaiting trial in Baghdad are 12 accused French IS members, who were caught in Syria and transferred to Iraqi custody in February. Government source have told AFP that Baghdad would be willing to try all foreigners currently held in Kurdish detention in northeast Syria for a price. Around 1,000 suspected foreign IS fighters are in detention in northeast Syria, in addition to around 9,000 foreign women and children in camps there. Rights groups including Human Rights Watch have criticised the trials, which they say often rely on circumstantial evidence or confessions obtained under torture. Wednesday's statement by the court "urged all trials of foreign terrorists to be moved to Baghdad, as most of the embassies are in the capital and so embassy representatives from the terrorists' countries can attend the sessions."Iraq has also already tried thousands of its own nationals arrested on home soil for joining IS, including women. It has begun trial proceedings for nearly 900 Iraqis repatriated from Syria and sentenced four to death last month under its counter-terrorism law.
The country remains in the top five "executioner" nations in the world, according to an Amnesty International report released last month. The number of death sentences issued by Iraqi courts more than quadrupled from 65 in 2017 to at least 271 last year. But fewer were actually carried out, according to Amnesty, with 52 executions in 2018 compared to 125 in 2017.

U.N. Says Palestinan Food Aid Threatened by 'Serious Funding Crisis'

Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 08/2019/The U.N. warned Wednesday that its agencies providing food assistance to Gaza must raise tens of millions of dollars within weeks to avoid significant aid cuts. The U.N.'s World Food Program and its agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, currently provide food assistance to more than one million people in Gaza. But the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, Jamie McGoldrick, warned that the agencies were facing "a serious funding crisis."They needed to raise money fast to be able to make a looming order for the food needed for the remainder of the year, he told journalists in Geneva. "We envisage that if WFP and UNRWA don't get around 40 million dollars by the end of May - beginning of June, they will not be able to order the pipeline," he said. UNRWA is planning to host a donor's conference next month and another one in September, as it struggles to fill the void after Washington, traditionally its largest donor, withdrew its support. Last year, a number of countries stepped up to generously compensate for the lacking U.S. funding, but McGoldrick said that this year a huge shortfall remained. "If they don't get the funding, clearly they can't order the food," he said, adding that this would mean that in the second half of the year, either the number of people receiving aid will be cut or rations will be slashed, or both. In Gaza, where unemployment stands at 54 percent and is much higher for young people, people do not have the purchasing power to fill in the gaps, McGoldrick said. "There is no alternative," he said, describing the situation as "very, very serious." It is not only the U.N. agencies providing food aid who are facing a shortfall. McGoldrick said that the $350 million requested for U.N.'s overall humanitarian response plan for the West Bank and Gaza so far this year was so far only 14-percent funded. "There is something happening in terms of donor support to the Palestinian situation, which we have to better understand," he said.

Sudanese protest coalition calls for civil disobedience
Reuters, Khartoum Wednesday, 8 May 2019/Sudanese protest and opposition leaders called on Wednesday for civil disobedience in response to the military’s “disappointing” answer to their interim constitutional proposals. The Transitional Military Council (TMC) said it broadly agreed with the draft but that it neglected some important issues such as a reference to Islamic shari’ah as a source for legislation. But the opposition groups’ umbrella body, the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF), said shari’ah was not a matter for the interim constitution, and that the TMC response would in effect give the military control of a proposed interim government. “We call for and prepare for civil disobedience,” Madani Abbas Madani, a DFCF leader, told a news conference in Khartoum. Thousands of protesters have been camping outside the Defense Ministry in central Khartoum and, having secured a military overthrow of president Omar Hassan al-Bashir, are now demanding that the TMC hand over power to civilians. The TMC has said it is willing to agree to a government of technocrats, but wants to retain overall control, pending elections, to prevent Sudan sliding into chaos. Khalid Omar Yousef, another protest leader, said the aim was not to start a confrontation with the military but to speed up efforts to resolve the impasse.

Sudan army rulers delaying transition to civil rule, say protest leaders

AFP, KhartoumWednesday, 8 May 2019/Sudanese protest leaders Wednesday accused the military rulers of delaying the transfer of power to a civilian administration, amid disagreements between the two sides over the country’s new governance structure. “The military council’s response... is moving in the direction of extending the negotiation and not in the direction of transition” of power, the Alliance for Freedom and Change said in a statement. The protest movement said the military council is looking to “prolong the negotiations” after the generals took over following the ousting of leader Omar al-Bashir on April 11. The 10-member military council has said they agreed overall to proposals submitted by protest leaders, but have “many reservations.”The two sides are grappling over whether an overall ruling council should have a civilian or military majority. The Alliance for Freedom and Change has also remained silent on the military council’s aim for Islamic law to remain the bedrock of Sudanese legislation. It said the generals had “irrelevant issues including the language and sources of legislation in a tedious repetition of the biddings of the former regime.”“We call on the military council to reach an agreement to transfer power,” the protest leaders said.

Sudan’s military council wants Islamic Sharia law to be source of legislation

Reuters, Khartoum/Wednesday, 8 May 2019/Sudan’s military rulers said on Tuesday they generally agreed with proposals made by protest leaders on the structure of an interim government, but want Islamic Sharia laws and local norms to guide legislation. Protesters whose months of street demonstrations helped force longtime President Omar al-Bashir from office last month have kept up their demands for change, calling on the military officers, who took over, to hand over power to civilians. Responding to a draft constitutional document presented by a coalition of protest groups and political parties, the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) noted that the document omitted Sharia law. “Our view is that Islamic Sharia and the local norms and traditions in the Republic of Sudan should be the sources of legislation,” TMC spokesman Lieutenant General Shams El Din Kabbashi told reporters. He also said the council believes that the power to declare a state of emergency in the country should go to the sovereign authority, not the Cabinet as the opposition suggested. The transitional period should last two years, not four, which was the opposition’s proposal, he said. Discussions with the opposition were ongoing, but calling early elections within six months would be an option if they could not reach an agreement, Kabbashi said. Former intelligence chief Salah Gosh was under house arrest, he added. Another council member said more than four members of the TMC had resigned and that the TMC was dismantling an unofficial militia group, known as Popular Security, which was operated by Bashir’s party. This came after Sudanese forces seized explosives belts, guns including rifles fitted with silencers, devices used to detonate explosives remotely and satellite telephones in a raid on a property in the capital Khartoum, on Monday. The TMC said on Tuesday that those weapons belonged to Popular Security. The Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces, an alliance of activists and opposition groups, sent the military council the draft constitutional document on Thursday outlining its vision for the transitional period. Earlier on Tuesday, the main group spearheading protests in Sudan said that the TMC had responded to its plans for an interim government structure, and it would announce its position once it had studied the reply. Amjad Farid, a spokesman for the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which has played the leading role in the protests, said the council had sent a written reply.“We will study the response and will announce our position later,” Farid told reporters. The constitutional draft, seen by Reuters, describes the duties of a sovereign transitional council that the opposition groups hope will replace the TMC but does not specify who would sit on it. It also outlines the responsibilities of the Cabinet and a 120-member legislature. The military removed Bashir on April 11 after months of demonstrations against his 30-year rule.

Anti-Kurdish protests grow in Syria’s Deir al-Zor, say sources
Reuters, Amman/Wednesday, 8 May 2019/Arab inhabitants of Syria’s Deir al-Zor began a third week of protests against Kurdish rule, the largest wave of unrest to sweep the oil-rich region since the US-backed forces took over the territory from ISIS extremist group nearly 18 months ago, residents, witnesses and tribal figures said. The protests which erupted weeks ago in several towns and villages from Busayrah to Shuhail have now spread to remaining areas where most of the oilfields are located in the SDF controlled part of Deir al-Zor, east of the Euphrates. Arab residents under YPG rule who have been complaining of lack of basic services and discrimination against them in local administrations run by Kurdish officials have been growing restive in recent months. The forcible conscription of youths into the SDF as well as the fate of thousands imprisoned in their jails have been major bones of contention, according to residents and tribal figures. “Their repressive rule has turned many against them,” said Abdul Latif al-Okaidat, a tribal leader. The protests took a violent turn when angry mobs took to the streets and disrupted the routes of convoys of trucks loaded with oil from nearby fields that cross into government held areas. In some villages, SDF forces fired at angry protesters. “No to the theft of our oil!” chanted demonstrators in the town of Greinej, part of the Arab-Sunni tribal heartland seized over a year ago by the Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and spearheaded by the Kurdish YPG militia. The YPG has long sold crude oil to the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, with whom it maintains close economic ties and exports wheat and other commodities through several crossings between their territory.
The stepping up of oil sales to alleviate a fuel crunch facing Damascus has infuriated the local Arab protesters, with many placards saying they were being “robbed” of their wealth. “We are deprived of everything while the Kurds are selling our oil to help the regime and enriching themselves,” said Abdullah Issa, a protester from al-Tayaneh town. Syria’s most productive fields are now in Kurdish hands since the YPG extended control over large swathes of north eastern Syria after capturing the city of Raqqa from ISIS in late 2017. The Syrian government controls areas west of the Euphrates river that are less endowed with oil resources. Diplomats say Washington has also in recent weeks tightened efforts to clamp down on small shipments of oil by smuggler networks that are exported across the Euphrates river to traders working on behalf of the Syrian government. The SDF has not publicly commented on the most serious challenge so far to its rule over tens of thousands of Arabs. The YPG has sought to redress decades of repression against minority Kurds under Syria’s Arab Baath party. SDF commander in-chief Mazloum Kobani, in remarks that seem to refer to the unrest, said his group was the only “institution that had steered away from any form of racism.”The protests persisted after YPG commanders failed to make significant concessions to tribal figures who gathered at their invitation last Friday in the city of Ain Issa, two attendees said. Among the Arabs demands were ending forcible conscription, releasing detainees and stopping oil sales from their region to the Syrian government. The risks of wider confrontation were now growing, analysts say. “The protests are now more organized and wider with a higher ceiling and developing gradually to a popular uprising where people are asking to be ruled by themselves and ending Kurdish hegemony,” said Feras Allawi, a political analyst from the area. “The response of SDF to the popular demands will dictate whether this leads to a more violent confrontation,” he added.

Palestinians turn to EU to counter Kushner plan
AFP, United Nations/Wednesday, 8 May 2019/The Palestinians are asking the European Union to pick up the mantle in defense of the two-state solution if the upcoming US peace plan ditches Palestinian statehood, their UN envoy said Tuesday. President Donald Trump’s administration is expected to unveil the long-awaited plan possibly as early as next month, but the Palestinians have already rejected it as heavily biased in favor of Israel. Palestinian ambassador Riyad Mansour told reporters that he urged European officials during recent meetings in Brussels to seize the initiative and not allow the United States to be the preeminent player in the Middle East peace process. The Palestinians urged the EU to call for an international conference that would reaffirm the global consensus of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reject the US approach. “We are engaging them,” Mansour told reporters about his meetings with EU officials. “They have to act… We would be extremely happy to show that there is more than one player in the field, trying to determine how we move forward.”The Palestinians have also urged European countries, in particular, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Belgium and Luxembourg, to recognize Palestine as a state. UN resolutions have advocated a two-state solution providing for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and stressed that this outcome is to be agreed on by the parties. Mansour said the Palestinians also wanted Russia to step up its Middle East diplomacy and suggested that the United Nations could convene the Middle East peace quartet.
Deal of the century
The US peace plan is expected to feature proposals for regional economic development that would include Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, but the Palestinians have been adamant that it will fail. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is the chief architect of the proposals. Mansour said the US plan, which he has not seen, appears to be aimed at providing a “pretext” for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to annex more Palestinian territory. Netanyahu promised during the election campaign to annex West Bank settlements, a move that would kill off prospects for a viable Palestinian state.
Mansour said he was convinced that the Palestinians still enjoyed “massive support in the international arena”, but suggested that if diplomacy failed, the battle could then turn to demographics. “If this is what they want to force on us, one-state reality, the Palestinian people will accelerate their reproduction machines and increase the number of Palestinians to face apartheid,” he said.

Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 08-09/19
Persecuted Christian Asia Bibi arrives in Canada from Pakistan
وصول الباكستانية المسيحية اسيا بيبي إلى كندا وهي التي ذاقت العذاب في سجون بلادها لمدة 8 سنوات على خلفية اتهامها زوراً بالتحديف
Jihad Watch/May 08/2019
It’s a moment every human rights advocate has awaited….
Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy against Islam before she was freed last year, is now safely in Canada and reunited with her family, her lawyer has said. Because of Muslim outrage, outbreaks of riots and death threats against Bibi, she remained incarcerated for her own safety upon the announcement of her release, amid many offers of asylum from countries. Britain openly refused to offer Bibi asylum to appease the sector of its Muslim community who wanted to see Bibi further punished on bogus charges of blasphemy, a common plight of Christians living in Pakistan. The UK feared Muslims who would riot and endanger innocent lives if she entered its country. To read the list of troubling reports about Asia Bibi, click here. Her ordeal sheds much light on the nature of Sharia blasphemy laws, the zealousness of its adherents and appeasing Britain. Although it is great news that Asia Bibi is now in Canada, there is an irony involved. Canada is a country that has implemented anti-Islamophobia Motion M-103 in its parliament, where a followup document was unveiled–along with 23-million-dollar financing and the participation of groups like CAIR-CAN (renamed National Council of Canadian Muslims) and IRFAN (Canada’s branch of Islamic Relief ). The document, titled Taking Action Against Systemic Racism and Religious Discrimination”, included “monitoring citizens for compliance“. Anti-Islamophobia Motion M-103 is an assault on Western free speech and amounts to a tacit implementation of Islamic blasphemy laws. Motion M-103 accused Canadians of fostering “a climate of fear” toward Muslims, one which must be “quelled.” For more information about the highly questionable Islamic supremacist influences behind M-103, click here. For an extended report about M-103, its dangers and why it was broadly opposed by many Canadian citizens,.May Asia Bibi succeed in her long road again to full recovery from her ordeal in a country that is struggling to remain free. With elections this year, the announcement of Asia Bibi’s arrival in Canada is beneficial for Trudeau, but his policies do not support the continuation of a free society, nor has Trudeau offered asylum to other persecuted Christians, save for Asia Bibi’s high profile case during this election year.Another high profile (and welcome) case was the safe arrival to Canada of Saudi teen, Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who fled her family after they threatened to kill her for leaving Islam..
“Persecuted Christian Asia Bibi Arrives in Canada After Leaving Pakistan
 by Simon Kent, Breitbart, May 8, 2019:
Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian woman who spent eight years on death row for blasphemy against Islam before she was freed last year, is now safely in Canada and reunited with her family, her lawyer has said. “It is a big day,” Saiful Malook told the Guardian. “Asia Bibi has left Pakistan and reached Canada. She has reunited with her family. Justice has been dispensed.” Pakistani TV channels Geo and ARY, citing unidentified sources, also reported Bibi had left the country. Roman Catholic Bibi was acquitted of her religious crime last year but has since faced death threats in Pakistan and was offered asylum by multiple countries including Italy, the Netherlands, and Canada. The latter has finally provided her with safe haven. The British government turned her away, allegedly to appease “certain sections of the community” at home and Islamist terrorists who might be inclined to attack British embassies abroad.
Blasphemy against Islam is a proscribed crime in multiple Pakistani statutes. Insulting Mohammed specifically is a crime carrying the death penalty in Pakistan. Bibi was originally sentenced to hang in 2010. Islam is Pakistan’s national religion and underpins its legal system. Public support for the strict blasphemy laws is strong. Bibi’s release last year followed a period of intense international pressure on Pakistan to respect its Christian minority. In January, the United States Department of State placed the country on its Special Watch List for severe religious freedom violations, citing, among other infractions, Bibi’s imprisonment. The Pentagon also cut military aid to the country that month arguing that the Pakistani government did not sufficiently curb its Islamist elements, while President Donald Trump announced cutting American taxpayers’ dollars going to aid the country for the same reason…..

Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the perils of military involvement in the economy
Omar Al-Ubaydli/Al Arabiya/May 08/2019
The IMF’s April 2019 Regional Economic Outlook for the Middle East and Central Asia offered some positive news for the Saudi economy, revising its 2019 growth estimate for the economy upward from 1.8 percent due to improvements in the non-oil sector. In contrast, the Iranian economy was set to contract by six percent, accompanied by inflation of nearly 40 percent, following a contraction of 3.9 percent in 2018.
While the IMF report emphasizes US sanctions as the proximate cause of the difficulties faced by the Iranian economy compared to the relative success of the Saudi economy, there are in fact deeper structural factors at play. The role of the military in the Iranian economy is one of the most important forces that has prevented it from realizing its potential.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – the military branch in charge of protecting the country’s Islamic system – controls arguably as much as 20 percent of the gross domestic product. It is involved in a wide range of industries, including construction, infrastructure, telecommunications, and petrochemicals. The last 40 years have shown that the IRGC is good at military activity, but not very good at serving consumers. It undermines competition via extortion and has become a serious obstacle to foreigners doing business in Iran.
One of the most famous illustrations of this is the government’s decision to award the license for operating the main terminal of Tehran’s airport to a Swiss-Turkish consortium, only to have to renege once the IRGC closed the airport in protest. The IRGC – whose own bid was initially defeated in the tender – classified the decision as a threat to national security, and had a series of economic and political interests in securing the deal. The Basij, which is a subsidiary of the IRGC, has been able to purchase stock in state-owned enterprises at artificially low prices, distorting the functioning of capital markets. It also provides preferential employment opportunities for its wide array of members, distorting labor markets.
The IRGC’s propensity to take actions that serve its own interests rather than those of the general public are arguably reflected in its financial support for foreign militias, such as those in Lebanon and Syria. Thus, in addition to exposing Iranians to bad quality services, military involvement in the economy also diverts scarce resources (on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars) to foreign ventures with questionable economic returns.
Most recently, the IRGC’s involvement in the economy has been a contributor to the deployment of wide-ranging economic sanctions against Iran, and is a reason why the Iranian economy has been forced to be inward-looking, despite the fact that it would benefit immensely from foreign investment and trade. In fact, in the brief aftermath of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the economy grew at 12.3 percent as Iran re-engaged the global economy, compared to contractions in three out of the four years prior, including a decline of almost eight percent in 2012.
In the case of the Gulf economies, including Saudi Arabia, military engagement in the economy has been virtually nil, beyond its role as a standard purchaser of goods and services in the market. This has been an important contributor to the attractiveness of the Gulf economies to foreign investors, and in turn to the countries’ high living standards.
This is because military involvement in the economy makes engaging with the global economy much more complex. Prospective foreign economic partners become much more wary of the political consequences of trade and investment, as they inevitably empower the military.
Moreover, the military has access to special resources which can completely undermine the competitive process, such as the de jure power to designate competitors as security concerns and the de facto power to extort competitors via its armed personnel. This can lead to market concentration – and even monopolization – with consumers suffering from higher prices, decreased choice, and low levels of innovation.
When a company such as Italian oil giant Eni wants to explore for oil in Saudi Arabia, it doesn’t have to worry about its personnel being physically threatened by a Saudi military contractor who is competing for control of the oil, nor does it have to buy off generals who might otherwise designate it as a security threat and remove its access to any oil it discovers.
Respect for property rights – especially those of foreign investors – and openness of markets has been critical to the rapid advancements in human development in the Gulf. Moreover, despite the geopolitical challenges that the Saudi government has been facing, it has continued to be able to secure critical foreign investment, because the economy and the government are relatively independent from the perspective of foreign diplomatic relations.
In light of the uniformly negative consequences of military involvement in the economy, why would a country even permit it? The military itself will support such an expansion as it allows it to diminish its financial dependence on the state, and frees it from civilian oversight. Moreover, it will support any broader political aspirations of the military. From the perspective of the government, it may allow such expansion as a defensive tactic if it feels threatened by other groups in the economy, such as civilians or other military branches, or it may simply be powerless to prevent the military’s gradual encroachment.
But military personnel are trained for combat, not for managing production and satisfying consumer needs. Putting the army in charge of the economy is in principle the same as putting a regional supermarket manager in charge of air defense, which would naturally lead you to worry about the integrity of your country’s airspace. Naturally, there are some shared managerial skills, but for the most part, when it comes to performance, there is no substitute for dedicating oneself to one’s craft for 30 years.
While economists disagree on the best growth model for development economies, one area of consensus is that the military should stay away from the economy. The Gulf countries have been able to harness their oil wealth in a much better way than their regional neighbors for a variety of reasons, with one of them being keeping the military away from the organization of commercial activity. Until countries such as Iran heed this lesson, they will continue to perform significantly below their potential.

Sahwa clerics must fix what they have broken
Faisal J. Abbas/Arab News/May 08/2019
The public apology aired on TV this week by the Saudi cleric Ayed Al-Qarni for offenses committed by the Sahwa, or “Awakening” movement, was both significant and welcome. However, it came nowhere close to undoing the harm caused by the extremist ideas so widely spread by Al-Qarni and his fellow Sahwa leaders. In March, Arab News began a campaign exposing Preachers of Hate. Each week we have shed light on controversial clerics from all religions and explored their malign influence on those who follow them. What these hate-mongers have in common is that they have all used faith, be it Islam, Judaism or Christianity, to manipulate minds and incite violence.
It was no surprise that our first series, which concluded this week with a profile of the Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, included two prominent figures from the Sahwa movement — Salman Al-Odah and Safar Al-Hawali.
Researching these two men was simultaneously both simple and complicated. Difficult because, for decades, these clerics misled millions into believing they were the protectors of Islam. Of course, the truth is that nothing has done more harm to our religion than the hate and extremism they spread. However, the task was also simple because of the superstar status these preachers very much enjoyed, particularly Al-Odah. Their love of fame meant that most of the incriminating fatwas, videos and sermons we collected and documented were readily available on their own verified social-media accounts and websites.
We also made sure to document the “reforms” and U-turns some of these clerics have executed, or appeared to; like chameleons, they altered their rhetoric to suit different times and political circumstances, particularly after the 9/11 attacks in the US and when terror hit home in Saudi Arabia.
At this important juncture in the history of Saudi Arabia, there is no room for half measures or half-hearted efforts to confront extremist ideas
However, much of the extremism they propagated is still out there and the authenticity of their U-turns remains questionable. For instance, if Al-Odah had truly renounced his past, why did he retain his controversial fatwas on his official website?
At this important juncture in the history and development of Saudi Arabia, when the leadership has declared its commitment to bringing the nation back to moderate Islam, there is no room for half measures or half-hearted efforts to confront extremist ideas.
As the Kingdom empowers women, reconnects with other faiths and embraces art, music and entertainment, clerics who once mistakenly denounced all this must now take a firm and clear stand to interpret and present Islam in the tolerant form it was always intended to take.
This is important, not just for Saudi Arabia, but for the whole Muslim world, which will eternally seek guidance and direction from the land of the two holy mosques.
Conceding past errors, as Ayed Al-Qarni has done, may be viewed as courageous; but we must also be clear that this is not the end of a necessary course correction — merely the start.
*Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News. Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas

Assad looks on as hectic diplomacy shapes Syria’s future
Talmiz Ahmad/Arab News/May 08/2019
As the fighting has reduced across Syria, domestic and external players are jostling to maximize their advantages at the expense of their rivals. This has made the future of Syria the subject of extraordinary diplomatic activity, with senior leaders and officials rushing from meeting to meeting and, in between, catching up with each other on the phone.
The most active in this regard last month were the Russian and Turkish presidents and their officials. Vladimir Putin’s principal interest is to take advantage of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s disenchantment with the US and, by pandering to his interests, ensure that Turkey remains firmly tied to Russia.
The two leaders met in Moscow in early April. There, Russia focused on strengthening bilateral ties in the political, economic and military spheres, consolidating relations that go beyond Syria. They noted the extraordinary achievements in their ties with regard to trade, energy projects and military cooperation, with both sides affirming the Turkish commitment to purchasing the S-400 missile system from Russia. Moscow also offered its own combat aircraft if the US decides to exclude Turkey from the F-35 development project.
With regard to Syria, two issues that are crucially important for Turkey are those on which Russia does not share the same view: Idlib and the Kurds in the northeast of the country.
Russia is exasperated with Turkey’s inability to make any headway in Greater Idlib — which includes the Idlib governorate and parts of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia — where Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), the former Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Al-Nusra, holds sway and refuses to be co-opted into the Turkey-sponsored Syrian National Army. Though President Bashar Assad has been seeking the green light for a military assault, Russia, fearing a bloodbath and thousands of refugees flooding Turkey, has agreed to give Erdogan more time to handle the extremists. But, to placate Assad, Russia has also stepped up bombings on HTS targets.
On the question of the Kurds on the other side of the Euphrates, Erdogan is straining to launch military action but he is being held back by Russia and the US. American troops are still in place and remain the guardians of the Syrian Kurds. Russia is promoting a Kurdish-Assad reconciliation, with the latter particularly anxious to regain his country’s oilfields in the region.
The other active player in Syria is Iran. Tehran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif visited both Damascus and Ankara in mid-April. His mission was to ensure that Assad and Erdogan remain on the same page in regard to Idlib and the Kurds. Anxious to maintain good Iran-Turkey ties in the face of increasing US hostility, Zarif counselled restraint in Damascus. He expressed concerns about the continued presence of radical elements in Idlib and advocated patrolling of the Syria-Turkey border by Syrian government troops.
Separately, Iraqi national security adviser Falih Al-Fayadh and Russia’s Syrian envoy Alexander Lavrentiev also visited Damascus. This was possibly to prepare the ground for greater interaction between Syria and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, thus broadening Syria’s political and economic options.
Russia is promoting a Kurdish-Assad reconciliation, with the latter particularly anxious to regain his country’s oilfields.
The Americans are exasperated by Erdogan’s brinkmanship but are not ready to sever ties just yet. To encourage Turkey to give up the S-400 deal, they propose the setting up of a “safe zone” along the Kurdish-Turkey border. While ostensibly protecting the Kurds, the safe zone will allow the US to maintain a military presence to restrict Iranian influence in the region.
The safe zone was discussed by Jim Jeffrey, US special envoy for Syria, in Turkey at the end of April. Turkey welcomed the safe zone, but only if it was 32 kilometers inside Kurdish territory and patrolled by Turkish forces. The Kurds accept, at best, a 5-kilometer safe zone under Arab and Kurdish control and insist that Turkey return Afrin to them. They are concerned that the US’ primary interest in confronting Iran might lead it to abandon them and keep Turkey on its side. Turkey, meanwhile, has stepped up the military training of its Syrian National Army for an imminent assault on the Kurds.
These different interests were reflected at the 12th round of peace talks on Syria that took place at Nur-Sultan, the new name of the Kazakh capital Astana. It was attended by officials of the sponsors — Russia, Iran and Turkey — and representatives of the Syrian government and opposition.
Interestingly, all Syrians, government and opposition alike, were united in criticizing the US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights and also US plans to remain in Syria as “attempts to create new realities on the ground.” They also insisted on upholding “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria as well as the security of neighboring countries.” Beyond this, decisions on other issues, including the setting up of the constitution committee to kickstart the political process, have been deferred to the next Geneva conference.
Damascus is in turn bemused and concerned by the diplomatic shenanigans of regional and external players seeking to determine its future. Its immediate concern is to see how effective Russia is in managing Turkey at Idlib and in the northeast. If ongoing diplomatic efforts are not productive, renewed hostilities will be the unfortunate outcome.
**Talmiz Ahmad is an author and former Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE. He holds the Ram Sathe Chair for International Studies, Symbiosis International University, Pune, India.

American soft power beginning to weaken
Joseph S. Nye//Arab News/May 08/2019
US President Donald Trump’s administration has shown little interest in public diplomacy. And yet public diplomacy — a government’s efforts to communicate directly with other countries’ publics — is one of the key instruments policymakers use to generate soft power, and the current information revolution makes such instruments more important than ever.
Opinion pollsand the Portland “Soft Power 30”index show that American soft power has declined since the beginning of Trump’s term. Tweets can help to set the global agenda, but they do not produce soft power if they are not attractive to others.
Trump’s defenders reply that soft power — what happens in the minds of others — is irrelevant; only hard power, with its military and economic instruments, matters. In March 2017, Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, proclaimed a “hard power budget” that would have slashed funding for the State Department and the US Agency for International Development by nearly 30 percent.
Fortunately, military leaders know better. A month before Mulvaney’s announcement, then-Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis warned Congress: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition ultimately.” And, as Henry Kissinger once pointed out, international order depends not only on the balance of hard power, but also on perceptions of legitimacy, which depends crucially on soft power.
Information revolutions always have profound socioeconomic and political consequences; witness the dramatic effects of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press on Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. One can date the current information revolution from the 1960s and the advent of “Moore’s Law,” which observes that the number of transistors on a computer chip doubles roughly every two years. As a result, computing power increased dramatically and, by the beginning of this century, cost 0.1 percent of what it did in the early 1970s.
In 1993, there were about 50 websites in the world; by 2000, that number surpassed 5 million. Today, more than 4 billion people are online; and that number is projectedto grow to 5 to 6 billion people by 2022, with the “internet of things” connecting tens of billions of devices. Facebook has more users than the populations of China and the US combined.
In such a world, the power to attract and persuade becomes increasingly important. But long gone are the days when public diplomacy was mainly conducted through radio and television broadcasting. Technological advances have led to a dramatic reduction in the cost of processing and transmitting information. The result is an explosion of information, which has produced a “paradox of plenty” — an abundance of information leads to scarcity of attention.
When the volume of information confronting people becomes overwhelming, it is hard to know what to focus on. Social media algorithms are designed to compete for attention. Reputation becomes even more important than in the past, and political struggles, informed by social and ideological affinities, often center on the creation and destruction of credibility. Social media can make false information look more credible if it comes from “friends.” As US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s reporton Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election showed, this enabled Russia to weaponize American social media.
Reputation has always mattered in world politics, but credibility has become an even more important power resource. Information that appears to be propaganda may not only be scorned, but may also turn out to be counterproductive if it undermines a country’s reputation for credibility — and thus reduces its soft power. The most effective propaganda is not propaganda. It is a two-way dialogue among people.
Reputation has always mattered in world politics, but credibility has become an even more important power resource.
Russia and China do not seem to comprehend this, and sometimes the US fails to pass the test as well. During the Iraq War, for example, the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraibin a manner inconsistent with American values led to perceptions of hypocrisy that could not be reversed by broadcasting pictures of Muslims living well in America. Today, presidential “tweets” that prove to be demonstrably false undercut America’s credibility and reduce its soft power. The effectiveness of public diplomacy is measured by minds changed (as reflected in interviews or polls), not dollars spent or number of messages sent.
Domestic or foreign policies that appear hypocritical, arrogant, indifferent to others’ views or based on a narrow conception of national interest can undermine soft power. For example, there was a steep decline in the attractiveness of the US in opinion polls conducted after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In the 1970s, many people around the world objected to the US war in Vietnam, and America’s global standing reflected the unpopularity of that policy.
Skeptics argue that such cycles show that soft power does not matter much; countries cooperate out of self-interest. But this argument misses a crucial point: Cooperation is a matter of degree, and the degree is affected by attraction or repulsion.
Fortunately, a country’s soft power depends not only on its official policies, but also on the attractiveness of its civil society. When protesters overseas were marching against the Vietnam War, they often sang “We Shall Overcome” — an anthem of the US civil rights movement. Given past experience, there is every reason to hope that the US will recover its soft power after Trump, though a greater investment in public diplomacy would certainly help.
*Joseph S. Nye is a professor at Harvard and author of the forthcoming “Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump.” Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2019.