English LCCC Newsbulletin For Lebanese, Lebanese Related, Global News & Editorials
For February 14/2020
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations For today

Jesus Changes Water Into Wine
John 02/01-11/On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman,[a] why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.[b] Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 13- 14/2021

Elias Bejjani/Visit My LCCC Web site/All That you need to know on Lebanese unfolding news and events in Arabic and English/http://eliasbejjaninews.com/
The Holy Journey Of The 40 Lent Days/Elias Bejjani/February 14/2021
Health Ministry: 2,906 new Corona cases, 46 deaths
Lebanon receives first Covid vaccines
Health Minister: The vaccine will reach every citizen without political or sectarian considerations
RHUH Staff to Get Vaccine in Less than 24 hrs, Abiad Says
Aoun commends arrival of first batch of COVID19 vaccine: Success of vaccination journey lies in citizens' positive response
United States support for the Lebanese Armed Forces highlighted by visit of Rear Admiral Frank M. Bradley
Lebanese Army receives three US helicopters
Army Commander talks military cooperation with US delegation
MoF says it has not received any letter from Central Bank Governor on forensic audit
Hariri Marks Assassination Anniversary of his Father Sunday
FPM regrets Hariri's use of precious time to wander around, return without any serious proposal
Allouch: The President Bears Responsibility for the Destruction of Lebanon
Report: Egypt ‘Concerned’ about Economy, Security in Lebanon
A tense meeting between Aoun and Hariri yields no breakthrough
Lebanese Military Receives Three Helicopters from U.S.
US Supreme Court rejects bid by Ghosn’s accused escape plotters to avoid extradition
Lebanon Facing Threat of Washington Rehabilitating Damascus-Tehran Axis/Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat/February 13/2021

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 13- 14/2021

Donald Trump cleared in impeachment vote over DC riot
Statement by Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America
Senate acquits Trump for second time, as seven Republicans join Democrats in guilty vote
Iran 'Undermining Opportunity' for Nuclear Diplomacy, Say Europe Powers
Iran’s Rouhani warns of coronavirus ‘fourth wave’
Egypt, Cyprus and Greece demand respect for maritime sovereignty
Egyptian foreign minister on new US administration: No grounds for concern or optimism
Global body criticizes Turkey over pressure against critical media
Iranian rulers fear street unrest, 42 years after revolution
Europeans see Iran breaches as ‘key step’ towards nuclear weapon
Ten years since fall of Saleh, US struggles with Yemen minefield


Titles For The Latest The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 13- 14/2021

For all America’s polarization, moderation is the only way forward/Dr. John C. Hulsman/Arab News/February 13/2021
Turkey tests the waters with new diplomatic outreach/Sinem Cengiz/Arab News/February 13/2021
Brexit border debacle threatens Ireland’s fragile peace/Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/February 13/2021
The race to Mars, and why it matters/Hafed Al-Ghwell/Arab News/February 13/2021
China and the West face off in the Indo-Pacific/Dr. Theodore Karasik/Arab News/February 13/2021
Sam Westrop and Benjamin Baird on the Changing Face of Islamism in the USA/Marilyn Stern/Middle East Forum Webinar/February 13/2021


The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on February 13- 14/2021

Elias Bejjani/Visit My LCCC Web site/All That you need to know on Lebanese unfolding news and events in Arabic and English


The Holy Journey Of The 40 Lent Days
Elias Bejjani/February 14/2021
A true believer is the one who through faith can like Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ turn the water it into wine, and enjoy genuine happiness that never ends.
Lent is a forty-day period that starts on the ASH Monday and ends on the Easter Day.
Lent in principle is a Holy period that is ought to be utilized with Almighty God in acts of genuine praying, contemplation, self humility, repentance, penances, forgiveness, and conciliation with self and others.
Lent is a privileged time for an interpersonal pilgrimage towards Almighty God Who is the fount of mercy.
Lent is a Holy pilgrimage Journey in which Almighty God accompanies us far away from the deserts of our human poverty in a bid of sustaining us on our way towards the intense joy of Easter.
During the Lent time Almighty God will be guarding us all the time to strengthen our faith and to open our eye, minds and hearts to see and understand the truth.
Through the Lent prayers and repentance we can help ourselves to understand God’s Word with particular abundance.
During the lent and though meditating and internalizing we learn how to live with the Word of God every day.
During the Lent we are ought to learn a precious and irreplaceable form of prayer; by attentively listening to God, who continues to speak to our hearts.
Via the lent we nourish the itinerary of faith initiated on the day of our Baptism.
The Act of Praying during the lent allows us to talk to Our Holy Father, Almighty God all the time.
The lent is a crossing journey from all that is a mortal lust of instincts to all that is genuine faith and spirituals through graces of Christ.
Lent is a journey of spiritual joy and an interaction with the heavenly bridegroom.
Lent is also a process of liberation from selfishness and hatred.
Lent is a time of repentance and reconciliation with Almighty God, own self and all others
Lent is a 40 day period of contemplation, prayers and all possible acts of charity.
Lent is a period of taming our own mortal hunger and lust for all that is earthly riches.
Lent is a time for sharing and helping those who are in need.


Health Ministry: 2,906 new Corona cases, 46 deaths
NNA/February 13, 2021
The Ministry of Public Health announced on Saturday the registration of 2,906 new Corona infections, thus raising the cumulative number of confirmed cases to-date to 336,992. It also indicated that 46 deaths were recorded during the past 24 hours.

Lebanon receives first Covid vaccines

AFP/February 13, 2021
BEIRUT: Lebanon on Saturday received its first vaccines against the coronavirus, a day before an inoculation drive kicks off in the crisis-hit Mediterranean country. A plane landed at the Beirut airport, an AFP correspondent reported, with authorities saying it was carrying 28,500 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech flown in from Belgium. The shipment was the first after the World Bank allocated $34 million to inoculate two million of Lebanon’s six million inhabitants. Caretaker health minister Hamad Hassan was on the tarmac to welcome the plane and expressed great “relief.” “It’s a dream being realized today thanks to the support of our UN and international partners,” he told reporters, “The vaccine will reach all Lebanese citizens across the country,” as well as Syrian and Palestinian refugees and other residents, he promised.
Lebanon has been under strict lockdown since mid-January, after an unprecedented spike in cases blamed on holiday gatherings that forced overwhelmed hospitals to turn away patients. Vaccination rollout is set to start on Sunday. Health workers will receive their first dose at the Rafik Hariri Hospital, the country’s main public hospital tackling the Covid-19 outbreak, the American University of Beirut Medical Center, and Saint George Orthodox Hospital. “The best gift one can ask for on Valentine’s Day,” wrote the director of the Rafik Hariri Hospital, Firas Abiad, on Twitter.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab, 61, is also to be vaccinated, his office said. Under Lebanon’s vaccination plan, medical staff and those over the age of 75 are to receive the jab first. In total Lebanon hopes to receive around six million vaccine doses, including two million from Pfizer/BioNTech and another 2.7 million via the international Covax distribution program. Half a million people in Lebanon have signed up to receive a vaccine, a health ministry official said, although many are hesitant to get the jab. Of 500 people surveyed by private think-tank Information International, 31 percent said they would get vaccinated, 38 percent said they would rather not, and another 31 percent were undecided. Lebanon was already in the throes of its worst economic crisis in decades when Covid-19 hit, and the situation has been exacerbated after a massive blast at Beirut’s port in August killed more than 200 people and destroyed large parts of the capital. The World Bank and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) are to monitor the rollout, they said in a statement Friday. They aim to “ensure fair, broad, and fast access to Covid-19 vaccines to help save lives and support economic recovery,” World Bank regional director Saroj Kumar Jha said. Lebanon says 334,086 people have caught coronavirus since February 2020, of whom 3,915 have died.


Health Minister from Beirut Airport: The vaccine will reach every citizen without political or sectarian considerations
NNA/February 13/2021
Caretaker Minister of Public Health, Hamad Hassan, expressed his "great satisfaction for the arrival of the Pfizer vaccine in Beirut, a year after the first Coronavirus infection appeared in Lebanon." Speaking from Beirut airport, he said: "The government was able, despite all the challenges, and with the support of the President of the Republic, the House Speaker and the Caretaker Prime Minister, to achieve this dream."Hassan stressed that "the vaccine will reach every Lebanese citizen without political or sectarian considerations, as well as every resident on Lebanese soil."

RHUH Staff to Get Vaccine in Less than 24 hrs, Abiad Says
Naharnet/February 13/2021
Firass Abiad, the head of Rafik Hariri University Hospital, said the hospital staff who led the fight against coronavirus will be among the first to get Covid vaccine arriving Saturday in Lebanon. “Less than 24 hrs to go. Almost one year after RHUH received the first Covid19 patient in Lebanon, and then hundreds more, our staff, deservedly, will be amongst the first healthcare workers to receive the vaccine,” Abiad said in a tweet. “The best gift one can ask for on Valentines’s day,” added Abiad. In recent weeks, Lebanon has seen a dramatic increase in virus cases, following the holiday season when restrictions were eased and thousands of expatriates flew home for a visit. Lebanon's vaccination program is set to begin Sunday.The World Bank approved $34 million to help pay for vaccines for Lebanon that will inoculate over 2 million people.


Aoun commends arrival of first batch of COVID19 vaccine: Success of vaccination journey lies in citizens' positive response
NNA/February 13/2021
President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, considered that "with the arrival of the first batch of the vaccine against Coronavirus, the vaccination journey to combat this epidemic begins."Aoun stressed that the condition for the success of the vaccination journey lies in citizens' positive response and wide turnout, while pointing to the need to continue taking the necessary preventive measures.The President's words came in a tweet this evening, in which he said: "With the arrival of the first batch of the vaccine against Coronavirus, the vaccination journey to combat this epidemic begins, and the condition for its success is that citizens respond to it, while continuing to take preventive measures."

United States support for the Lebanese Armed Forces highlighted by visit of Rear Admiral Frank M. Bradley
NNA/February 13/2021 
The American Embassy in Beirut issued the following statement today:
"On February 12-13, 2021, Rear Admiral Frank M. Bradley, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Central, visited Lebanon to conduct meetings with his Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) counterparts, and reiterated the United States' commitment to supporting the LAF's professionalism and advancement. During the visit, Rear Admiral Bradley met with Chief of Defense Joseph Aoun, as well as LAF officials from the Lebanese Special Operations Forces and Air Force. In these interactions, Rear Admiral Bradley stated, "For many years we have had a strong and enduring relationship with the LAF and their special forces, maintaining this relationship is essential in promoting trust and legitimacy." In addition to such high-level visits by senior U.S. military officials, the U.S. Government's partnership with the LAF also includes donations of equipment and supplies through foreign military funding. In this regard, in late January, Ambassador Dorothy Shea participated in a small ceremony to commemorate the donation of three Huey II helicopters, highlighting the importance of ongoing cooperation and coordination between the United States and Lebanon, specifically in the defense sector. The three helicopters, which will form a critical part of the LAF's border and land security operations, are valued at over $32 million. Ambassador Shea remarked that the LAF has "worked throughout the last year to respond to the needs of your country and its people," and that "this highlights your patriotism, self-sacrifice, and service to your fellow citizens, and reflects our shared values. Precisely because of those values, the United States is proud of our longstanding commitment to the LAF." She also noted that "this equipment, like donations we have made before, directly contributes to the professional capabilities of the LAF, ensuring its operational readiness to defend Lebanon and its people." Since 2006, United States Government assistance to the LAF has surpassed $2 billion. ---{US Embassy in Beirut - Media Office}


Lebanese Army receives three US helicopters
NNA/February 13/2021 
The U.S. authorities handed the Lebanese army three Huey II helicopters during a ceremony attended by Representative of the Lebanese Armed Forces Chief, Major General Milad Ishaq, and U.S. ambassador to Lebanon Dorothoy Shea. Major General Ishaq delievered a speech in which he praised the relations between the Lebanese and American armies, noting that "this occasion is evidence of the continued qualitative support provided by the U.S. to the army and the strengthening of its military air capabilities, as well as the confidence of the American authorities in the national role that the army plays in protecting Lebanon from dangers, especially the terrorist threat."For her part, the U.S. ambassador pointed out that "the helicopters provided by the United States would contribute directly to improving the operational capabilities of the army and ensuring that it performs its various tasks in the defense of Lebanon and its people."


Army Commander talks military cooperation with US delegation
NNA/February 13/2021 
Lebanese Army Commander, General Joseph Aoun, on Friday welcomed at his Yarzeh office Rear Admiral Frank M. Bradley, Commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT), who visited him with an accompanying military delegation, in presence of US Ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothy Shea. Talks reportedly focused on the best means to boost bilateral relations between the armies of both countries, as well as other areas of cooperation to train the Lebanese army’s special forces.

MoF says it has not received any letter from Central Bank Governor on forensic audit
NNA/February 13/2021 
The Information Office of Caretaker Minister of Finance, Ghazi Wazni, said, in a statement today, that "according to legal formalities, Minister Wazni did not receive any letter from the Central Bank Governor on the forensic financial audit at the end of official working hours on Friday 12/2/2020."
"What applies to the subject of auditing applies to the letter of subsidies and transfers to the EDL, unless there are new legal principles, namely correspondences through the media," the statement added.

Hariri Marks Assassination Anniversary of his Father Sunday
Naharnet/February 13/2021
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri is scheduled to mark the 16th assassination anniversary of his slain father Rafik Hariri and his companions, Hariri’s press office said in a statement. Hariri will deliver a televised speech addressing the Lebanese on this occasion, added the statement.
Media reports on Saturday said that Hariri is likely to shed the light on the government impasse. The Feb. 14, 2005 assassination killed Hariri and 21 others and wounded more than 200 people, stunning a nation long used to violence.

FPM regrets Hariri's use of precious time to wander around, return without any serious proposal
NNA/February 13/2021
The Free Patriotic Movement's political body held its periodic meeting electronically on Saturday, chaired by FPM Chief, MP Gebran Bassil, In an issued statement following the meeting, the political body expressed regret at the method adopted by the Prime Minister-designate in approaching the government formation dossier, by taking up precious time to travel outside Lebanon for weeks, only to return and pay a random visit to the President of the Republic, without making any serious proposal that respects the principles and obvious rules applied in any government formation process. "As for what is new, it is namely the PM-designate's announcement from Baabda Palace that he is to decide individually on the form of the government, the number and names of its members and their portfolios, as if Lebanon is not a parliamentary republic...without giving weight to the Constitution and the powers of the President of the Republic and his full partnership in forming the government, not just providing his signature," the statement added. "This is what makes us consider that a hidden matter is still hindering the formation of the government, which makes us warn of the outcome," the political body underlined. It also expressed concern about the slowdown and uncertainty in the course of the forensic audit into the accounts of the Lebanese Central Bank, being a logical start for auditing all public spending, while affirming that "any government that does not place forensic audit amongst its top priorities will not succeed." The FPM politburo stressed on the central responsibility of the Parliament Council in issuing the necessary legislations for combating corruption and recovering the stolen money, as well as endorsing the Capital Control Law to control foreign currency transfers abroad. "The delay in issuing these laws constitutes a threat to the vital interests of the people and strikes their rights, and gives the outside a very negative signal about the absence of any reform will in Lebanon," the statement cautioned. The political body also called on the caretaker government to carry out its duties without hesitation, in terms of stopping the financial waste resulting from the policy of arbitrary support, and taking bold and correct decisions aimed at restricting subsidies to society's well-deserving classes. On a different note, the FPM political body expressed its reverence and appreciation towards His Holiness, the Pope, who singled Lebanon in his speech before the diplomatic corps with an exceptional gesture that placed the finger on the wound of the crisis. The body endorsed the Pope's stance in considering the Christian presence as a fabric linking Lebanon historically and socially, and that the weakening of the Christian presence causes the loss of the Lebanese balance and strikes the only identity that is a guarantee for the existence of a plural and tolerant East. "In this context, the FPM political body deems any attempt to keep the refugees and displaced in the country as a stab to Lebanon's balance and role," the statement underscored. It concluded by renewing the commitment of the Free Patriotic Movement to carrying Lebanon's message of diversity and defending it, regardless of the cost, in order to preserve the formula of national coexistence.


Allouch: The President Bears Responsibility for the Destruction of Lebanon
Naharnet/February 13/2021
Al-Mustaqbal Movement MP Moustafa Allouch said Saturday that “the responsibility for the destruction of the Lebanese Republic rests with the President,” amid failed efforts to form a new government in crisis-hit Lebanon.
In remarks he made to VDL (100.5) radio station, Allouch said that “without international support, Lebanon is going to disintegrate, and the responsibility for the disintegration of Greater Lebanon, which was established by Patriarch Howayek, is with (President Michel) Aoun.”On PM-designate Saad Hariri’s meeting Friday with Aoun at Baabda Palace after a dispute between the two men, Allouch said: “PM-designate Saad Hariri has visited Baabda to break the stalemate. He was clear to say he seeks the formation of an 18-seat cabinet of experts without any blocking one-third,” powers for any political party.
Alloush pointed out that Aoun’s ally, “Hizbullah stands by watching while Iran awaits what will happen with the new US administration.”

Report: Egypt ‘Concerned’ about Economy, Security in Lebanon

Naharnet/February 13/2021
Everyone is awaiting the developments regarding the government stalemate in Lebanon, amid reports that Egypt, which was part of the PM-designate’s destinations last week, shows “apprehension” regarding the security and economic situation in Lebanon, Nidaa al-Watan newspaper reported Saturday.
Diplomatic sources told the daily that Egypt has always shown “support” for Lebanon at the “moral and political levels,” and that it has “never abandoned” Lebanon. The sources recall the “pivotal” role that Egypt played in Lebanon following the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri. But the country got “preoccupied with its internal concerns after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak,” they said. Today, Egypt reportedly returns with President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi to play its regional role, and coordinates its steps with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.
A meeting between al-Sisi and PM-designate Saad Hariri last week was a key point in Hariri’s foreign trip, that included a visit to France, to ease the hurdles of forming a government. Egypt expressed support for Hariri’s mission, but concurrently saw no no hope for Lebanon’s salvation except through forming a government of specialists that revives a French initiative launched by President Emmanuel Macron. According to information obtained by the daily, Egypt could dispatch an envoy to Lebanon for talks with Lebanese parties. Nidaa al-Watan said that Egypt was ready to provide help but it knows very well that it will face major problems, the first of which is the growing influence of "Hizbullah".The lack of political balance in the Lebanese arena constitutes another major problem, it added. Today, the presidency of the republic and the parliamentary majority are in the Iranian embrace which will impede any solution.

A tense meeting between Aoun and Hariri yields no breakthrough
The Arab Weekly/February 13/2021
BEIRUT--On Friday, Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri visited President Michel Aoun in his Baabda palace near Beirut, to brief him on his visits abroad, which included Turkey, Egypt and France. Hariri’s initiative did not apparently elicit a positive response from the Lebanese head of state who held on to his old positions. Lebanese political analysts say that Hariri’s visit to the Baabda palace, for the first time in a while, is a smart move that will put the prime minister-designate in a more comfortable position, locally and internationally, and clears him from any responsibility for obstructing the cabinet formation process. In practical terms, however, the meeting did not achieve any progress towards resolving the cabinet crisis. But the clear message that came through the meeting was that Hariri could now speak from a position of self-confidence. Aoun and Hariri have not spoken since tensions escalated between both following the leak of a recording in which Aoun was heard accusing the prime minister-designate of “lying”. A Lebanese political source close to Hariri attributed the latter’s confident posture to the full backing he received during his visit to Paris as President Emmanuel Macron assured him during their lengthy dinner session of his support for his positions. The French head of state is said to have told Hariri that France rejects any retreat from the three points he previously made, namely: a government of 18 ministers should be put in place, that all ministers should be specialists, and that no blocking third privilege should be granted to any party. “I consulted with the president and will continue my consultations. We have not made progress, but I explained to him the importance of the golden opportunity that is available to us. So we must expedite the formation of the government. Each political team must, from now on, take responsibility for its positions,” Hariri said after meeting with Aoun.
The prime minister-designate added, “During my visits to Turkey and Egypt, and especially during my recent visit to France, I sensed enthusiasm for forming the government based on the roadmap drawn up by President Emmanuel Macron, which we had agreed upon .. to save Lebanon, stop the deterioration and rebuild the port of Beirut, and all that is ready”. He pointed out that, “the problem today is that as long as there is no government of specialists who are not affiliated with political parties, we cannot carry out this task”. Hariri reiterated his commitment to a government of 18 ministers, all of whom should be specialists, and without a blocking. He said, “If someone believes that if this government includes political members, the international community will then open up to us or give us what we want, then we would be wrong, and everyone who believes that is wrong.”
He went on to say that, “the basic idea is to form a government composed of ministers who are not deemed objectionable by any political party and who work only to carry out the projects presented to them.”In response to Hariri’s statements, the presidency’s media office issued a statement in which it said that, “President Aoun received Hariri at the latter’s request and consulted with him about the formation of the upcoming government following his visits abroad. It became clear that the prime minister-designate did not bring anything new at the governmental level.”Observers believe that the stances of both sides reflected the continuing government stalemate as each party remains entrenched behind its previous positions. Hariri insists on a government of specialists based on the French initiative and on the tacit support of some forces at home, including the Amal Movement. On the other side, Aoun continues to demand that he be involved in the smallest details of the cabinet formation process, and to insist on obtaining the obstructing third. On December 9, Hariri presented President Aoun with a cabinet list consisting of 18 ministers while President Aoun made a different proposal. The rule in Lebanon is that the prime minister-designate assumes the task of forming the government, provided he submits its lineup to the president for his opinion and approval. Since last August, Lebanon has faced a continuing government crisis, after the resignation of Hassan Diab’s government, which has assumed the role of a caretaker cabinet ever since. Observers see an ongoing tug of war between Hariri and Aoun, while no other party at home, including Hezbollah, appears eager to help defuse the crisis until regional horizons are clearer.


Lebanese Military Receives Three Helicopters from U.S.
Naharnet/February 13/2021
The United States on Saturday delivered three Huey II helicopters to the Lebanese army during a ceremony attended by Army chief General Joseph Aoun, Major General Milad Ishaq, and U.S. ambassador to Lebanon Dorothoy Shea, the National News agency reported. Ishaq delivered a speech in which he praised the armies of Lebanon and the US, noting that "this occasion demonstrates the continued qualitative support provided by the U.S. to the army and the strengthening of its military air capabilities.”He also said it shows “confidence of the American authorities in the national role that the army plays in protecting Lebanon from danger.”For her part, the U.S. ambassador pointed out that "the helicopters provided by the United States would contribute directly to improving the operational capabilities of the army and ensuring that it performs its various tasks in the defense of Lebanon and its people."

US Supreme Court rejects bid by Ghosn’s accused escape plotters to avoid extradition
Reuters/February 13/2021
The US Supreme Court on Saturday cleared the way for the extradition to Japan of an American father and son accused of helping former Nissan Motor Co Ltd Chairman Carlos Ghosn flee that country while awaiting trial on financial misconduct charges. In a brief order, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer denied an emergency request by lawyers for US Army Special Forces veteran Michael Taylor and his son, Peter Taylor, to put on hold a lower court order that cleared the way for them to be extradited.
The Taylors’ lawyers in a late Thursday filing reiterated arguments that their clients could not be prosecuted in Japan for helping someone “bail jump” and that, if extradited, they faced the prospect of relentless interrogations and torture. Lawyers for the Taylors and the Justice Department did not immediately comment on Saturday. The Japanese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A federal appeals court in Boston had declined on Thursday to issue an order preventing the Taylors’ extradition while they appealed lower-court rulings. The US State Department approved their extradition in October.
“The very least the US courts owe the petitioners is a full chance to litigate these issues, including exercising their appellate rights, before they are consigned to the fate that awaits them at the hands of the Japanese government,” defense lawyers wrote. The Taylors were arrested in May at Japan’s request after being charged with helping Ghosn flee Japan on Dec. 29, 2019, hidden in a box and on a private jet before reaching his childhood home, Lebanon, which has no extradition treaty with Japan. Man who helped Carlos Ghosn flee Japan feels ‘great sense of betrayal’ from US


Lebanon Facing Threat of Washington Rehabilitating Damascus-Tehran Axis
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Alawsat/February 13/2021
The recent events in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city and one of its major Sunni bastions, should not be understood outside two contexts: the internal political impasse, and the international calculations connected to Lebanon and the Middle East.
International approaches carry several worrying pointers, especially appointments made by President Joe Biden of the leading Middle East “operators” inherited from the Barack Obama administration in which he was vice president. Indeed, although it may be too early to be sure of what Robert Malley may do as a Special Envoy for Iranian affairs, his well-known ideological convictions do not usher a change in his priorities.
On the other hand, it looks like that the new administration has finally become “aware” of an Arab presence which deserves to be listened to; rather than disregarded by US regional policies centered on the nuclear deal (JCPOA) with the Tehran regime. In fact, Washington has already announced its intentions to involve its Arab allies in any regional strategy, including Iran’s nuclear file, as well as its disruptive regional policies.
The Biden administration has also “noticed” the existence of many Arab voices that understand and respect the interests of America. Therefore, they deserve to be consulted about matters within their field of expertise; and Biden has, actually, appointed no less than six Arab Americans so far to prominent positions in the National Security Council and the White House.
Yes, it may be a bit too early to be optimistic or pessimistic; however, I believe political realism must allow Arab leaders to welcome any kind of cooperation, but not rule out disappointments.
To begin with, today the Arabs have more than one cause to fight for; which is at least what the world is hearing from them. Moreover, when Washington deals with the Middle East, it may find itself obliged to plan and fine tune its initiatives while taking into consideration realities created by the ambitions of Israel, Iran and Turkey. Then, there are the growing Russian political and military presence, China’s economic expansion, and the stances of western European powers the US Democrats respect much more than their “isolationist” Republican counterparts.
Regarding Lebanon – and to a lesser extent, Syria – France feels it has a role to play, being the former mandatory power (between 1920 and 1943) that inherited the Ottoman Empire in two political entities whose borders it created, before leaving them in the mid-1940s. But if daily events prove the interconnection between the situations in Syria and Lebanon, the two countries have become, thanks to Iran’s expansionist project, an inseparable part of a regional-global equation.
In this equation, several deals intersect - like the Iran nuclear - that were struck behind the backs of the region’s peoples, specifically, the Arabs; and, as we have learned, such deals have included the Middle Eastern reflections of the old “Eastern Question”. Among these are the notion of the “alliance of minorities”, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and the Balfour Declaration. Particularly, in the Levant, everything since 1920, has been related to some or all of the above; and nowhere are the regional political and security seismic faults more evident than in Lebanon.
Present-day Lebanon’s map was drawn up in 1920, annexing to the autonomous Mount Lebanon District “Mutassarifiyyah”, with predominantly Christian and Druze populations, the Sunni-majority coastal cities, in addition to large areas with large Shiite and Sunni populations to the north, east and south.
Tripoli was among the important areas annexed – to what became known as “Grand Liban” – against the will of its population. For decades, Tripoli and the major Sunni urban centers of Beirut and Sidon, in addition to Akkar, as well as the Shiite, Sunni, Druze and Greek Orthodox-inhabited areas in the Bekaa province in eastern Lebanon, remained closely attached to Syria and pan-Arab identity.
Lebanon’s independence in 1943 was the second historical landmark. This independence was achieved thanks to a compromise “understanding” whereby Christians refrain from seeking European protection (similar to what happened between 1860-1862), while Muslims would not call for Lebanon to “dissolve” an Arab union.This “understanding” survived several developments, shocks and challenges; among which were the founding of Israel and subsequent Arab revolutions and military coups, the Palestinian Armed Resistance and the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), which ended only with a new compromise enshrined in the constitutional Taef Accords of national entente. At the time, Lebanon was under another kind of “mandate” represented by the Syria’s security and military control, which was then exploiting Lebanon as a “bargaining chip” with Israel. The Syrian regime accepted the Taef Accords, but only allowed the implementation of the parts that suited its interests, while cementing its relations with the “mullahs” regime in Iran.
On another front, hardline Christian groups led by General Michel Aoun, then army chief, openly rejected the Accords, claiming that they ignored Christian rights and marginalized the Christian communities. Furthermore, despite Aoun’s animosity to the Syrians, and losing his military confrontation against them, ending with him going into exile in France, he continued to bet on bringing down the Accords. Aoun’s moment came with his return to Lebanon, after the assassination of ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the country’s leading Sunni politician at the time. That assassination, in February 2005, stirred up a mass uprising against the Syrian-Lebanese security apparatus popularly accused of being behind the crime; thus, leading to the withdrawal of Syrian troops.
The irony, however, was that Aoun only returned after negotiating “arrangements” for future cooperation with his “old foes” in Damascus, against the forces he joined in the 2005 anti-Damascus mass uprising.
Aoun’s aim has never actually changed, and has always been to abolish the Taef Accords in an open war against what he sees as “political Sunnism” in both Syria and Lebanon. But, because he was politically and militarily unable to achieve his aim on his own, he realized that the only player capable of fighting the Sunnis has got to be the Shiites. Moreover, betting on the common denominator of “demonizing” the Sunnis, between him and Iran, he allied himself with Iran’s Hezbollah. In other words, Aoun needed Shiite military might, and Iran needed a legitimate and constitutional cover to abolish the Accords and defeat the Sunnis. This is exactly what has happened, from the current “fabricated” government crisis… to the planned sedition through embedded agents in Tripoli.
This situation is likely to continue, if Paris and Washington are seriously thinking of keeping the Assad regime – with Israeli blessings, of course – and opening a new page with Tehran.
In conclusion, any move to rehabilitate the Damascus-Tehran axis will not be good news to the region’s peoples, especially, the Lebanese, Syrians, Iraqis … and the Iranians.


The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on February 13- 14/2021

Statement by Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America
The Office Of Donald J Trump —— Bio and Archives--February 13, 2021
Statement by Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America“I want to first thank my team of dedicated lawyers and others for their tireless work upholding justice and defending truth.
“My deepest thanks as well to all of the United States Senators and Members of Congress who stood proudly for the Constitution we all revere and for the sacred legal principles at the heart of our country.
“Our cherished Constitutional Republic was founded on the impartial rule of law, the indispensable safeguard for our liberties, our rights and our freedoms.
“It is a sad commentary on our times that one political party in America is given a free pass to denigrate the rule of law, defame law enforcement, cheer mobs, excuse rioters, and transform justice into a tool of political vengeance, and persecute, blacklist, cancel and suppress all people and viewpoints with whom or which they disagree. I always have, and always will, be a champion for the unwavering rule of law, the heroes of law enforcement, and the right of Americans to peacefully and honorably debate the issues of the day without malice and without hate.
“This has been yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country. No president has ever gone through anything like it, and it continues because our opponents cannot forget the almost 75 million people, the highest number ever for a sitting president, who voted for us just a few short months ago. “I also want to convey my gratitude to the millions of decent, hardworking, law-abiding, God-and-Country loving citizens who have bravely supported these important principles in these very difficult and challenging times.
“Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun. In the months ahead I have much to share with you, and I look forward to continuing our incredible journey together to achieve American greatness for all of our people. There has never been anything like it!
“We have so much work ahead of us, and soon we will emerge with a vision for a bright, radiant, and limitless American future.
“Together there is nothing we cannot accomplish.
“We remain one People, one family, and one glorious nation under God, and it’s our responsibility to preserve this magnificent inheritance for our children and for generations of Americans to come.
“May God bless all of you, and may God forever bless the United States of America.”

Donald Trump cleared in impeachment vote over DC riot
Simon Rushton/The National/February 14, 2021
The 57-43 vote fell short of the two-thirds majority required for conviction
President Donald Trump has been cleared of incitement charges in his historic second trial over his treatment of loyal supporters in the run up to the Capitol Hill riot. The vote, largely along party lines, means Mr Trump was acquitted of fanning the flames that led to the riot and attempts to overturn the election.
The vote was 57-43, nine votes of the two-thirds majority required in the Senate. Mr Trump celebrated his win by calling the case a "witch hunt" and saying his movement “has only just begun".
Before the vote Mitch McConnell, the senior Republican senator, had indicated he would vote in favour of acquittal. After the vote, he said Mr Trump was "practically and morally responsible" for the protests and he called out the president's "unconsciencable behaviour". He also criticised Mr Trump for not calling on the mob to retreat even when police officers lay bleeding and he "praised the criminals". “What’s important about this trial is that it’s really aimed to some extent at Donald Trump, but it’s more aimed at some president we don’t even know 20 years from now,” said Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine.The quick trial, the nation’s first of a former president, showed how perilously close the invaders had come to shattering the nation’s deep tradition of a peaceful transfer of presidential power after Trump had refused to concede the election.
“This has been yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country,” Mr Trump said in a statement.
“No president has ever gone through anything like it, and it continues because our opponents cannot forget the almost 75 million people, the highest number ever for a sitting president, who voted for us just a few short months ago,” he added. Ben Sasse, one of the Republican senators who voted to convict, attacked Mr Trump, his lies about the election and his efforts to overturn the election. “Those lies had consequences, endangering the life of the vice president and bringing us dangerously close to a bloody constitutional crisis,” Mr Sasse said. “Each of these actions are violations of a president’s oath of office.” Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate Majority leader, condemended the Republicans as voting for Trump, and said the result as a vote for infamy.
“The most despicable act that any president has ever committed and the majority of Republicans cannot summon the courage or the morality to condemn it. "This trial wasn’t about choosing country over party even not that. This was about choosing country over Donald Trump. And 43 Republican members chose Trump. They chose Trump. It should be a weight on their conscience today and it shall be a weight on their conscience in the future.”
Rallying outside the White House on January 6, he unleashed a mob of supporters to “fight like hell” for him at the Capitol just as Congress was certify Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory.
House prosecutors have argued that Mr Trump’s rallying cry to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” for his presidency just as Congress was convening January 6 to certify Joe Biden’s election victory was part of an orchestrated pattern of violent rhetoric and false claims that unleashed the mob. Five people died, including a rioter who was shot and a police officer. Only by watching the graphic videos – rioters calling out menacingly for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence, who was presiding over the vote tally – did senators say they began to understand just how perilously close the country came to chaos. Hundreds of rioters stormed into the building, taking over the Senate. Some engaged in hand-to-hand, bloody combat with police. The defence from Mr Trump’s lawyers countered that his words were not intended to incite the violence and that impeachment is nothing but a “witch hunt” designed to prevent him from serving in office again.


Senate acquits Trump for second time, as seven Republicans join Democrats in guilty vote
Jon Ward/Yahoo News/February 13, 2021
The U.S. Senate voted Saturday to acquit former President Trump on a charge of “incitement of insurrection” in connection with the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol by his supporters, concluding the second impeachment trial of his term in office. A majority of senators found Trump guilty, but the vote fell short of the two-thirds margin required to convict. A total of 57 Senators voted to convict Trump of the impeachment article brought by the U.S. House of Representatives, with seven Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in the chamber. It was the most bipartisan impeachment vote of the five in the nation’s history. Trump claimed in a statement that it was “the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country.”
Saturday’s vote marked the second time Trump was both impeached in the House and then acquitted in the Senate, with the first coming one year and one week ago. A month ago, however, Congress had moved ahead with the second impeachment on the assumption that there was a real possibility the Senate would convict him and bar him from holding future office. The events of Jan. 6 were unspeakably horrific, and many Republicans openly blamed Trump for sparking the insurrection.
At that time, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., signaled he wanted an impeachment and that he was open to voting to convict. McConnell was one of just many Republicans who minced no words in holding Trump directly responsible for the violent and deadly attack that left 5 dead, including one police officer, and injured scores, including around 150 police. Trump lied for months to his supporters that the election was stolen, disregarding over 60 court cases that found no evidence of cheating, and summoned his supporters on Jan. 6. But within days, political considerations began to push their way back into the minds of many Republican members of Congress. And it dawned on many of them that Trump and right-wing media organs that support him still controlled how many Republican voters view reality. The conclusion: many of them would lose their jobs if they voted to hold Trump accountable.
And so just a week after the vicious and unprecedented assault on democracy, only 10 House Republicans voted to impeach Trump, rather than the flood that appeared ready to do so in the hours after Jan. 6, when lawmakers of both parties feared for their lives as the mob ransacked the Capitol. McConnell, who holds significant sway over other Senate Republicans, began to waffle, and on Jan. 26 he voted that it was unconstitutional for the Senate to hold a trial for a former president. It was McConnell, of course, who on Jan. 13 had rejected talk of beginning the Senate trial immediately while Trump was still president. Still, other Republicans and the public remained in suspense over what McConnell might do, even if it appeared increasingly unlikely he would vote to convict. And then on Saturday morning, the Kentucky Republican confirmed it: he would vote to acquit, even though he did say it was a “close call.” Michael van der Veen, one of former President Trump's lawyers, gives his closing argument at Trump's second Senate impeachment trial.  For roughly two hours on Saturday morning, it appeared that the trial would extend for more than one day, and possibly for weeks or longer. House managers proposed calling witnesses, and the Senate approved the request by a vote of 55-to-45. But after it became clear that it would require 60 votes to actually approve the rules for calling witnesses, the managers backed off. Hardline Trump loyalists such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, had made it clear they would seek to bog the Senate down to a grinding halt and not allow the Senate to do any other business other than the trial, turning it into a partisan circus and blocking progress on a COVID relief bill.
During closing arguments, Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., gave a stirring speech in which he dismissed the defense of Trump’s attorneys as a collection of “distractions and excuses” and pleaded with Republican senators to put the country’s welfare above their own political interests. “The consequence of not doing so is just too great,” Neguse said. He also responded to the barrage of accusations from Trump’s attorneys that the impeachment was motivated by irrational animus for Trump. “This trial was not born from hatred. Far from it. It is born from love of country,” Neguse said.  is our desire to maintain it, our desire to see America at its best.” And he warned the senators that if they did not repudiate Trump and hold him accountable, the horrors of January 6 could be repeated.
“The cold hard truth as to what happened on January 6 can happen again. I fear, like many of you do, that the violence that we saw on that terrible day may be just the beginning,” Neguse said. “We have shown you the ongoing risks and the extremist groups that grow more emboldened every day. Senators, this could not be the beginning. It can't be the new normal. It has to be the end, and that decision is in your hands.”
The Republican senators who found Trump guilty were Richard Burr of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. Burr and Cassidy were the big surprises. Burr, who is retiring in 2022, voted that the trial was unconstitutional but voted guilty anyway. Cassidy was the surprise Republican vote in favor of constitutionality, but then earlier this week he was photographed with notes suggesting he was leaning toward a not guilty vote. The guilty vote was the biggest political risk for Cassidy, Sasse and Romney, who all represent conservative states and have not indicated any intent to resign. But Cassidy and Sasse were just reelected last fall, and will not be up for reelection until 2026.

Iran 'Undermining Opportunity' for Nuclear Diplomacy, Say Europe Powers
Agence France Presse/February 13, 2021
Iran risks losing the chance to engage in diplomacy to fully realise the 2015 deal over its nuclear programme after starting to produce uranium metal in the latest violation of the accord, European powers said on Friday. "In escalating its non-compliance, Iran is undermining the opportunity for renewed diplomacy to fully realise the objectives of the JCPOA," Britain, France and Germany said in a statement. There had been hopes that the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) over Tehran's nuclear programme could be revived through new talks under the administration of US President Joe Biden after his predecessor Donald Trump walked out of the deal in 2018.

Iran’s Rouhani warns of coronavirus ‘fourth wave’
AFP/February 13, 2021
TEHRAN: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani warned Saturday of a COVID-19 “fourth wave” as cases rise in certain areas of the Middle Eastern country hardest hit by the pandemic. “This is a warning for all of us,” Rouhani said in televised remarks. He said some cities in the southwestern province of Khuzestan were now “red” — the highest on Iran’s color-coded risk level — after weeks of low alert levels across the country. “This means the beginning of moving toward the fourth wave. We all have to be vigilant to prevent this,” Rouhani added. The country of more than 80 million people has lost close to 59,000 lives out of more than 1.5 million cases of COVID infection. Iran has officially registered less than 7,000 daily infections since late December, but the number has crossed this level since early February. Daily deaths have been below 100 as of early January, the lowest level since June. Rouhani’s remarks come a day after Iran received 100,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V jab “ahead of schedule” on Friday, according to health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour. Iran started its vaccination campaign on Tuesday, with the first shipment arriving on February 4. The Islamic republic has purchased a total of two million doses of the Russian vaccine, according to Jahanpour. Health Minister Saeed Namaki has said Iran would also receive 4.2 million doses of the vaccine developed by Anglo-Swedish firm AstraZeneca and Oxford University, purchased via the international vaccine mechanism Covax.
Iran is also working on its own vaccine.

Egypt, Cyprus and Greece demand respect for maritime sovereignty

Mohammed Abu Zaid/Arab News/February 13, 2021
CAIRO: Egypt, Cyprus and Greece have demanded respect for the sovereignty and sovereign rights of states in their maritime areas in the eastern Mediterranean. The demand came in a joint statement from the three countries’ foreign ministers during their meeting in Athens, where they discussed cooperation to deepen their political and economic commitment, regional challenges and delivering a clear message that the region had the potential to be peaceful and stable. They said this cooperation system was in the interest of promoting regional prosperity, which laid the basis for a positive agenda, and they expressed their commitment to intensifying coordination and cooperation opportunities. They welcomed the preparations for the establishment of a Tripartite Secretariat, based in Nicosia, Cyprus, that launches later this year, and for the founding charter of the EastMed Gas Forum that enters into force on March 1.
The charter establishes the forum as a regional organization based in Cairo. The forum is open to all countries that share the same values ​​and goals and have the desire to cooperate for regional security and prosperity.
The joint statement reaffirmed the three countries’ commitment to international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the UN Charter, as well as the principles stipulated as foundations for peace and security, neighborly relations and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
They stressed the importance of respecting the sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction of each state over its maritime areas in accordance with international law, while condemning any activities that violated international law.
The joint statement said that resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis of the two-state solution was an indispensable requirement for comprehensive peace and stability in the region, in addition to the importance of ensuring the establishment of an independent and viable Palestinian state on the lines of June 4, 1967 agreement, which has Palestinians living side-by-side with Israel. It also said it was important to preserve the composition, character and status of the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem, and the renewed implementation of UN Security Council resolutions that provided for a complete and immediate cessation of all settlement activities, including those in East Jerusalem. The ministers welcomed the agreement by the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum to choose a unified transitional executive authority for Libya, considering it a major achievement in the political process and an important step toward ensuring the holding of fair and inclusive elections this December. They said there was a need for the effective implementation of the cease-fire agreement, respect for the UN arms embargo and the complete withdrawal of all foreign forces and mercenaries from the country.
The ministers stressed the importance of the full implementation of the outputs of the Joint Military Committee (5+5), especially the exit of all foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libyan territory. They affirmed their strong support for a wholly Libyan political solution to the crisis, considering any foreign intervention as unacceptable, and said all agreements concluded in violation of international law were null. They called on the new Libyan government to consider the memoranda of understanding signed by Turkey and Fayez Al-Sarraj in Nov. 2019 as null. The joint statement reaffirmed the three countries’ commitment to the unity, independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria, and their support for a permanent political settlement of the Syrian crisis in full accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254.
They reaffirmed the urgent necessity for the withdrawal of all foreign and mercenary forces from the country.

Egyptian foreign minister on new US administration: No grounds for concern or optimism

Mohammed Abu Zaid/Arab News/February 13, 2021
CAIRO: Egyptian-US relations have been close and strategic for four decades and display many aspects of cooperation, according to Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. “Egypt is in constant contact with the American administration through consulates and at the ministerial level,” Shoukry said.
In televised statements, Shoukry said that the new US administration had not clarified its position on many regional issues. “When they address their positions, we can evaluate them and work together to achieve common interests, and I do not see any room for any concern or any optimism,” Shoukry said.
The foreign minister said that the relationship between Egypt and the US continued whether an administration was Democrat or Republican, and the two countries would always have different views on some issues.
This did not mean that there was complete divergence as there was always a point of agreement. Shoukry confirmed that contacts at the level of the Egyptian Embassy in Washington or the US Embassy in Cairo were continuing and communication was made with officials, whether in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the National Security Council. He said that there was constant discussion of the bilateral relationship and the development of mechanisms for the future, as there were talks about all regional issues that were in Egypt and the US’s interest.
Shoukry said that Egypt never compromised on the rights of its people, and was working to prevent harm to Egyptians from the issue of the Renaissance Dam. He said that Egypt was looking for a legal and binding agreement on filling and operating the Renaissance Dam that took into account the interests of the three countries concerned — Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia — on an equal basis. “We seek to achieve reconciliation in generating electricity, as long as water conservation is taken into account. We are open and we do not have any problem, and we see that the Egyptian position bears development since the beginning of the negotiations, as long as there is consideration for common interests,” he said. Shoukry said that the Egyptian side had presented an objective and fair proposal, and had shown flexibility to reach a result at the beginning of the negotiations. Egypt had confirmed its determination and commitment to reach an agreement in this issue, he said. Egypt adhered to and respected any document it signed. “Egypt has restored diplomatic relations with Qatar and canceled the flight ban,” he said. “We sought to hold bilateral committees with Qatar to discuss specific steps to activate the commitments made in the Al-Ula Summit and conference in Saudi Arabia.” Shoukry said that Egypt was in the process of setting a date for the meetings of the bilateral committees to review all the commitments of both parties, as well as making an assessment of the extent to which there was a commitment to the pledges and their implementation.

Global body criticizes Turkey over pressure against critical media
Arab News/February 13, 2021
ANKARA: The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of media executives, journalists and editors who advocate press freedom, condemned the latest set of fines issued by Turkey’s media regulator, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) on Thursday, against several dissident TV stations over their critical broadcasting.
RTUK is tasked with issuing licenses and monitoring TV and radio stations.
“These latest fines confirm that RTUK has become a means to stifle media content critical not only of the government or president, but also of any political allies,” the IPI said on Feb. 11, after fines were issued against Halk TV, Haberturk, Tele 1, KRT and Fox TV.
Press freedom activists claim the IPI considers these fines an instrument through which to silence critical media content and to warn free media advocates.
In 2020, these networks were subject to a total of 46 administrative fines totaling around 10 million Turkish lira (approximately $1.42 million) and eight broadcasting suspensions.
Halk TV was recently fined after having hosted a program where the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the coalition partner of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), was criticized.
Another fine against the same channel was related to commentaries about the disproportionate use of police force against countrywide student protests following the appointment by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of a political figure as the new rector of the prestigious Bogazici University.
The other TV channels were also fined over comments from guests on several programs criticizing Erdogan and pro-government judiciary members.
While RTUK members are designated by parties in parliament in proportion to their number of seats, the AKP and MHP hold six of watchdog’s nine positions, giving them the majority to design the limits of press freedom in the country.
Some media professionals have criticized RTUK of remaining biased when considering applications for broadcast licenses from independent TV channels, and posing bureaucratic challenges to the newcomers.
Last year, RTUK’s president, Ebubekir Sahin, publicly declared his political affiliation to Erdogan’s son-in-law with a tweet, considered by many as another signal of the council’s partiality.
Utku Cakirozer, a lawmaker from the main opposition party CHP and a journalist by profession, said the regulatory bodies, especially RTUK and the Press Advertising Agency (BIK), have been increasingly abusing their authority as defined by the constitution.
“These bodies are actually responsible for providing a free environment for the media channels. However, they turned into the punishment instruments for those who try to pursue independent and critical journalism,” he told Arab News.
Last year, BIK imposed public advertising bans on critical newspapers for a total of 803 days, depriving them from a significant source of revenue to sustain their journalism. “The rising fines have unfortunately pushed the media companies toward auto-censorship to protect their much-needed advertisement revenues,” Cakirozer said. Renan Akyavas, Turkey program coordinator of IPI, said RTUK’s latest fines confirmed a clear pattern to punish certain broadcasters critical of the government and its allies. “The fines have a significant negative impact on the ad revenue of these broadcasters, creating serious financial pressure that could lead to their closure given the increased level and frequency of the sanctions,” she told Arab News. According to Akyavas, Turkey has a long and established history of investigative and quality journalism, which continues to survive under extraordinary circumstances both financially and legally. “The great potential of Turkey’s journalism can only thrive if the government’s crackdown and restrictions end. Critical coverage of government officials and other public figures must be tolerated in a democracy,” she said.
Experts also note that the greater digitization of Turkish society has inevitably pushed critical journalism toward online platforms to reach a wider audience without political interference. Akyavas thinks that under these restrictive conditions, Turkey’s media has successfully adapted, and is competing with conventional, pro-government outlets in reaching Turkish citizens.

Iranian rulers fear street unrest, 42 years after revolution
The Arab Weekly/February 13/2021
LONDON - On February 11, 1978, Iran’s monarchy collapsed, ushering in the revolutionary regime of Ayatollah Khomeini. Fourty-two years later, Tehran’s rulers are still at odds with the US and much of the Western world even if their top nemesis, US President Donald Trump, has left the White House. The Trump years have taken their toll on the theocratic regime which fears social chaos amid an economic meltdown. US sanctions are still squeezing Iran’s oil income and Iranians’ economic misery is palpable. Israel’s normalisation deals with Gulf Arab states threaten Iran’s wider regional presence, and Tehran’s regional proxy wars are draining scarce resources. Iran insists the new US administration act first to save the collapsing 2015 nuclear deal but faces pent-up pressures, from ruinous sanctions to internal dissent and wider regional crises, that may impel Tehran to show flexibility in a test of wills. Despite official Islamic Republic bluster that Tehran is in no rush for Washington to rejoin its nuclear accord with world powers, the myriad pressures mean speed is of the essence with a presidential election looming in June. “Public dissatisfaction is simmering … The hopes of many Iranians that their economic misery would quickly end after (US President Joe) Biden’s election are turning to frustration and anger,” a senior Iranian official said. Iran’s clerical rulers fear a re-eruption of unrest among its core voting bloc — lower income Iranians — whose periodic bouts of protest in recent years reminded them how vulnerable they could be to popular anger over economic hardships.
“This anger over economic problems should be addressed immediately. It does not mean yielding to America’s pressure. It means showing heroic flexibility,” he told Reuters. Biden has said Washington will return to the nuclear pact abandoned by Trump if Tehran first resumes compliance with its strict limits on uranium enrichment, a potential pathway to nuclear bombs. But with mutual mistrust running deep, Tehran avers that Washington must act first. “It is a delicate decision for top leaders to make. They have to choose between sticking to their uncompromising stance or showing some flexibility,” another senior Iranian official told Reuters.There may be little time to lose to avoid the risk of the stand-off deteriorating into open conflict, some analysts say. Since Trump ditched the deal, asserting it was too lenient on Iran, Tehran has been rebuilding stockpiles of low-enriched uranium, enriching it to higher levels of fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up production. Dramatically upping the ante, a law passed by the hardline parliament obliges Tehran on February 21 to cancel the sweeping access given to UN non-proliferation inspectors under the 2015 deal, limiting their visits to declared nuclear sites only. “This will be considered a major breach by Iran and will deeply complicate the situation,” warned a senior Western diplomat whose country is a party to the deal.
First step
However, some officials and analysts see room to bypass the hardline public posturing over which side should take the first step to rescue the deal, which was touted as a key insurance policy against wider Middle East war when signed. Iran would be amenable to a step-by-step, give-and-take approach if Washington took the first step, another Iranian official who was involved in the nuclear diplomacy with six world powers before 2015 told Reuters. “Biden needs to build trust by returning to the deal as soon as possible. Then they should immediately find a way to ease the unjust economic pressure that would encourage Iran to show flexibility,” he said. Sources told Reuters that the Biden administration was weighing a wide array of ideas on how to revive the deal, including an option where both sides would take small steps short of full compliance to buy time. A viable route to agreement that would avoid either side losing face has yet to crystalise, however. “We still don’t know how all this will happen because the Americans have not defined how they see the calendar sequencing and crucially what they actually want to obtain. The Iranians have also not defined what they want,” said a European diplomat.
In a clear admission of its use of regional proxies to destabilise neighbouring countries, a senior Iranian diplomat suggested one gesture by Tehran towards resolving the impasse could be help in ending conflicts in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, saying this could offer a “quick foreign policy win” for Biden.
Ali Vaez, an Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, suggested Washington could help pave the way for a new deal by reviving a French proposal to give cash-starved Iran a $15 billion credit facility, or unblocking Iranian funds abroad. About 90% of Iran’s official reserves are frozen abroad due to sanctions. Eurasia Group analyst Henry Rome said Iran could match US gestures by eschewing further provocative moves, such as “not reducing UN inspector access, not installing more advanced centrifuges, not ramping up enriched uranium production.”Another gesture could lie in a prisoner swap — Tehran has in the past indicated readiness to carry one out with Washington. Ultimately, the Islamic Republic desires Western recognition of what it sees as its rightful place as a pre-eminent power in the Middle East, where for decades Iran and Saudi Arabia have jostled for the upper hand. Saudi Arabia and Israel both opposed the 2015 deal and fear its revival, without addressing Iran’s ballistic missile programme and role in various Middle East conflicts via proxy forces, might further embolden their mutual enemy.
Economic meltdown
As the nuclear impasse has festered, so has popular disenchantment at home — especially among women and the young, who comprise the bulk of voters — over high unemployment, soaring inflation and restrictions on political freedoms and social life. Hundreds of factories have been closed, Iran’s rial currency has lost 70% of its value against the US dollar and official data show over 40 million Iranians live below the poverty line. The election outcome in June will have no notable sway on nuclear policy, which is determined by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But the myriad privations suffered by voters make a poor turnout more likely and this could bolster critics who say the establishment must moderate domestic and foreign policy. “Any delay in reviving the economy could push Iran into chaos. People cannot take more economic pressure,” said a former Iranian official who favours policy reforms.

Europeans see Iran breaches as ‘key step’ towards nuclear weapon
The Arab Weekly/February 13/2021
PARIS--Iran risks losing the chance to fully realise the 2015 deal reducing sanctions in exchange for limits to its nuclear programme after starting to produce uranium metal in the latest violation of the accord, European powers said on Friday. There have been hopes that the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions could be revived through new talks under the administration of US President Joe Biden, after his predecessor Donald Trump walked out of the deal in 2018. But now “in escalating its non-compliance, Iran is undermining the opportunity for renewed diplomacy to fully realise the objectives of the JCPOA,” Britain, France and Germany said in a statement. The UN nuclear watchdog said Wednesday that Iran has started producing uranium metal, in a fresh breach of the limits laid out in the 2015 deal which aims to ensure Tehran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon. “We reiterate that Iran has no credible civilian justification for these activities, which are a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon,” the statement by the three countries said. It said that under the nuclear deal, Iran committed not to engage in producing or acquiring uranium metal for 15 years. “We strongly urge Iran to halt these activities without delay and not to take any new non-compliant steps on its nuclear programme,” the statement said. The nuclear deal aimed to provide a gradual lifting of international sanctions against Iran in exchange for safeguards Tehran would not seek a nuclear weapon. But it has been essentially moribund since the US pulled out, with Tehran stepping up its nuclear work in violation of the accord as retaliation. Analysts have said only a narrow window of opportunity exists this year to bring the United States back on board.
The Biden administration is impatient to move fast, while the prospect of a hardliner winning an Iranian presidential election later this year also looms large. However it will require the most delicate diplomacy to move forward, with the White House insisting Iran must move to full compliance before the US can return to the deal, but Tehran wanting no preconditions. Reacting to Friday’s statement, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said it was not up to Iran to make the first move after the US pullout and accused the three European countries of not doing enough to realise the nuclear deal. “By what logic is the onus on IRAN to stop its remedial measures undertaken a full year after the US withdrew from – and continues to violate – the JCPOA? What have E3 done to fulfill their duties?” he asked on Twitter.

Ten years since fall of Saleh, US struggles with Yemen minefield

The Arab Weekly/February 13/2021
CAIRO —With his decision to halt support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, US President Joe Biden marked the launch of a new push to bring an end to a 6-year-war that has caused the Arab world’s poorest nation to further collapse into a humanitarian catastrophe. But reaching peace will be a difficult path. The warring parties have not held substantive negotiations since 2019. A deal brokered by the UN in 2018 after talks in Sweden has largely gone nowhere; only one of its components — prisoner exchanges — has made any progress in slow steps worked out in multiple rounds of talks.
Fighting on the ground and coalition airstrikes continue. The Houthis’ drive to tighten their grip on the north of the country has only grown more aggressive as the Iran-backed militias seek to capture new territory from forces loyal to the internationally-recognised government. Peter Salisbury, a Yemen expert at the International Crisis Group, said Biden’s policy shift was “really welcome news.” But, he said, that “won’t automatically mean an end to the war, at all.”
A decade later
Yemen on Thursday marked 10 years since the fall of longtime ruler Ali Abdullah Saleh in the wake of an “Arab spring” uprising — a moment Yemenis hoped would lead to effective governance and greater freedom. Instead, a brutal war followed when the Iranian-backed Houthis in late 2014 seized the capital Sana’a along with much of the country’s north, ousting the government of Saleh’s successor, President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Saudi Arabia assembled a coalition that has waged a ferocious air campaign, while supporting allied forces controlling the south. The ensuing war is said to have killed some 130,000 people and devastated Yemen’s already weak infrastructure, from roads and hospitals to water and electricity. UN aid agencies have warned that the hunger crisis caused by the war could turn into full-fledged famine.
The administration of former US President Barack Obama green-lighted the Saudi-led coalition’s intervention in Yemen. For years, the US provided the coalition with intelligence, refueled its aircraft and sold it weapons. American involvement with Saudi Arabia’s command and control was supposed to minimise airstrikes on civilians. But often, it did not. The coalition was sharply criticised for the air strikes. But military experts blame the Houthis for endangering the lives of civilians by their tactics on top of documented human rights abuses against civilians. A decisive military victory has become highly unlikely, especially since Iran ratcheted up its intervention in Yemen through military advisers and the smuggling of advanced weapons to help their local proxies, the Houthis. The anti-Houthi ranks have also nearly fragmented several times. Most recently in 2019, forces of the Saudi-backed Hadi clashed with southern separatist factions. The infighting eased after a Saudi-brokered deal, known as “the Riyadh agreement.” But the Houthis exploited the turmoil to make gains in government-held, oil-rich Marib province. They also continued missile and drone attacks deep inside Saudi Arabia — including strikes just days after Biden’s announcement. Just a few days after Biden’s announcement, the Houthis launched a new offensive in Marib and hit Saudi territory with drone attacks.
US still in the picture
Biden appointed a new special envoy for Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, and called for a ceasefire, the opening of humanitarian channels to deliver more aid, and the return to long-stalled peace talks. Melanie Ward, executive director for the International Rescue Committee in Britain, called on London to seize a “vital opportunity” to work closely with the Biden administration to address years of gridlock in the UN Security Council and to bring Yemen a step closer to lasting peace. Houthi demands ware outlined in a proposal last year. They called for a nationwide ceasefire, the lifting of the coalition’s air, land and sea blockade and the reopening of roads in battleground areas. An interim period would follow, with negotiations among Yemenis over the country’s future. The Houthis insisted the deal be negotiated and signed between them and the Saudi-led coalition, clearly aiming to sideline Hadi’s government, Salisbury said.
The plan, according to experts, highlighted the Houthis’ desire to uphold the current status quo in their favour, whether through military means or negotations. The Saudis demand the pro-Iranian militants surrender their heavy weapons, particularly ballistic missiles. The kingdom backs a 2016 UN-brokered draft proposal that would grant the Houthis a minor role in government and pave the way for elections. Hadi’s government insists any settlement include the return of his government to Sana’a. Biden’s cutoff of support, meanwhile, does not immediately set back the coalition’s ability to keep waging the war.
The administration said it would end offensive support to the coalition, though it underlined it would continue to help Saudi Arabia boost its defences against outside threats. The Biden administration recently said it was stopping offensive support to Saudi Arabia in Yemen. However, General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of US Central Command, made the distinction between intelligence meant to help the Saudis defend themselves against attacks emanating from Yemen and intelligence in support of Saudi offensive operations in Yemen. “We will help the Saudis defend against those attacks by giving them intelligence, when we can, about those attacks,” McKenzie said. “What we will not do is help them strike, to continue to conduct offensive operations into Yemen.” Biden also reversed the Trump administration’s designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organisation. That move has been hailed by aid groups working in Yemen, who feared the designation would disrupt the flow of food, fuel and other goods barely keeping Yemenis alive. But the Houthis’ strikes at civilian targets in Saudi Arabia, including the attack on Abha airport, showed the limits of Houthis’ commitment to de-escalation and much less comprehensive peace.

The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on February 13- 14/2021

For all America’s polarization, moderation is the only way forward
Dr. John C. Hulsman/Arab News/February 13/2021
In Washington, power — like water — always follows the path of least resistance. This, above all, explains why most presidents focus on foreign policy. The founders of the American republic ingeniously devised a system of political checks and balances that is so intricate that only rarely does a White House find itself able to really take charge of domestic affairs, as the political configuration required to do so only comes along very occasionally. In contrast, the constitution makes it clear that, in terms of foreign affairs, the president is first among equals and is the driving force in American strategic thinking.
Ironically, given his decades of expertise on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, newly elected President Joe Biden finds himself at the helm of an administration that will probably be judged by what it manages to accomplish domestically, before the window to pass legislation runs out with the coming of the 2022 midterms. But history is full of such ironies.
It is not just the outcome of the 2020 US election that presents Biden with this rare chance to achieve domestically; it is the nature of his victory that is equally important. In the House of Representatives, the Democrats cling to a tiny nine-seat majority (221-212), the narrowest in a century. The Senate is even closer, being equally divided between the parties, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking tied votes. Biden himself won the popular vote by a close but clear 52 percent to 48. This amounts to Democratic control across the board, but by the narrowest conceivable margins.
These are the two great political facts to emanate from the 2020 result: A Democratic wave, but by an eyelash. These dual factors, paradoxically, amount to an almost perfect political outcome for the moderate Democratic president, for the narrowness of the result means he is forced to spurn the progressive left in his own party and govern from the center if he is to get anything done in policy terms. At the same time, with the Republicans out of power across the legislative board and embroiled in their own civil war over what to do with Donald Trump, Biden has only to marginally worry about them as well. In both cases, the outcome seems tailor-made for the moderate Biden to do as he would have ideologically liked to in any case. The election outcome seems tailor-made for the moderate Biden to do as he would have ideologically liked to in any case. As progressive leftist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rightly pointed out before the election, in Europe she and Biden would never have found themselves in the same party. There, in a proportional representation system, small, ideologically coherent parties win slivers of the vote and then do political battle in terms of forming governing coalitions with other less-than-majoritarian parties. This is not how it works in the first-past-the-post American system, where large, big tent parties first compete, with the winner then fighting things out within an administration to set the overall ideological tone of any presidency. In the US, it is the infighting within parties after an election that politically counts as much as the elections themselves. Given the lack of any margin of error at all in the Senate, this means that — while the Democrats won a majority in both houses of Congress — the progressive politics of the left of the Democratic Party surely did not. Resolutely moderate Democratic senators such as Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona now control the fortunes of any legislation that is to have the slightest chance of making it through the upper chamber.
Manchin, particularly, is forthrightly on the record in his desire to quash the progressive leftist wish list in his own party, be the issue of Supreme Court packing, an expensive Green New Deal, abolishing the Senate filibuster (which presently requires 60 votes to pass most measures, entailing cross-party compromise) or the staffing of the new Biden White House with progressives. Off the record, these political strictures, which tilt the whole process toward the center, dashing the left’s hopes of radically revamping the country, suit Biden to the ground.
So, given this odd and largely beneficial new political configuration, what major domestic legislation is likely to pass over these next two years? First, Biden will get most of what he wants in terms of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan. While the ultimate sticker price may be whittled down somewhat (largely at Manchin’s urging), the Democrats have the votes to pass this gigantic economic program, and quickly. Second, a $1 trillion infrastructure bill — to revamp America’s decayed roads, bridges, parks, and rural broadband — also looks eminently doable, especially as a good number of Republicans will at least consider voting for such a plan. If Biden can manage to pass both these major pieces of legislation — as the new, benign political configuration suggests he can — this would amount to a major historical domestic achievement.
The genius of America’s founders is plain. For all the crippling polarization of recent times, the election outcome has left moderation as the only way forward. Biden may prove himself savvy as president; he already finds himself lucky.
• Dr. John C. Hulsman is the president and managing partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political risk consulting firm. He is also senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the City of London. He can be contacted via chartwellspeakers.com.

Turkey tests the waters with new diplomatic outreach
Sinem Cengiz/Arab News/February 13/2021
February is shaping up to be a month in which we can expect to see some important regional and international developments.
On Thursday, Greece hosted a “Friendship Forum” that brought together the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Cyprus and Bahrain. There was a strong Greek outreach to the Arab world last year, in particular to Gulf nations — and it seems more of the same is likely this year.
Meanwhile, Russia, China and Iran are set to hold joint naval drills in the Indian Ocean in the middle of this month. A similar trilateral exercise took place in December 2019, followed soon after by Saudi-Chinese bilateral maritime-security exercises.
In light of these developments and interactions, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s Gulf tour this week, which included visits to Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, gains significance and deeper meaning at a time when all eyes are on the region as it enters a new era.
In an effort to reinforce Turkey’s political ties with the region and enhance economic cooperation with Gulf states, Cavusoglu met ministerial counterparts and other high-level officials during his three-nation tour. And on Monday, before setting off for the Gulf, Cavusoglu’s diplomatic activity included telephone calls to his Iraqi, Bulgarian and Tunisian counterparts. Although little was revealed about these conversations, bilateral and regional issues were surely on the agenda.
The first stop on his Gulf tour was Kuwait, which has been an important partner in the region for Turkey, particularly in the fields of economics and tourism. In an interview with Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Anbaa, Cavusoglu said this, his first visit to the country, had symbolic significance because of Kuwait’s contribution to the recent resolution of the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and other Gulf nations. He appreciated the contribution Kuwait had made through mediation to ending a dispute that had lasted for more than three years. There is no denying the efforts made by Kuwait to ensure the unity of Gulf states.
Cavusoglu met Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah and Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. He also held talks with Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah and Foreign Minister Ahmad Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah.
Last October, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Kuwait and Qatar, and during his stop in the former he met the new emir and offered his condolences over the death the previous month of Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.
From Kuwait, Cavusoglu moved to Oman and Qatar, where he held similar meetings and talks on a range of bilateral and regional issues. His visit to the region follows the reconciliation in January of Qatar and other Gulf states.
Turkey was one of the first countries to react to the restoration of diplomatic ties, in a written statement by the Foreign Ministry that said Ankara welcomed the reopening of land, air and sea borders between the countries. It also expressed hope for a comprehensive and lasting solution to the dispute.
There are many in Ankara who believe the resolution of the problems between Qatar and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states will have a positive effect on Turkey’s relations with those states. Cavusoglu said that Turkey was ready to improve cooperation with Gulf nations, building on its strategic partnership with the GCC.
By sending its top diplomat to the Gulf, Ankara seems to be seeking regional support for the struggling Turkish economy and ways to boost tourism in the post-coronavirus era. In pursuit of these expectations, Turkey seems to be demonstrating that its relations with the Gulf are part of a long-term strategy.
It remains to be seen whether Turkey’s outreach to Gulf states through the three countries Cavusoglu visited this week will bear fruit in the long term.
It is hard, however, to make any predictions about the future of Turkish-Gulf relations, as they will depend on developments that are as yet uncertain. How will the Syrian war unfold, for example? Will the instability in Iraq, Libya and Lebanon continue? Will the war in Yemen end anytime soon? How will the role of global actors (Russia, China and the US) evolve in the coming years? The answers to all of these questions are unknown.
For now, finding some common ground in these conflicts and opening new channels for dialogue seem to be the best ways to begin to make a fresh start. The arrival of US President Joe Biden in the White House creates more uncertainty for Turkey and other states in the region.
In light of all these developments, it remains to be seen whether Turkey’s outreach to Gulf states through the three countries Cavusoglu visited this week will bear fruit in the long term.
*Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz

Brexit border debacle threatens Ireland’s fragile peace
Yossi Mekelberg/Arab News/February 13/2021
Those who signed the Good Friday Agreement that brought an end to decades of conflict in Northern Ireland did so not because it was perfect. or the fulfilment of all their hopes and dreams. Rather it was a combination of fatigue from the destructive violence of what was euphemistically known as “The Troubles” by most of those leading the differentfactions; the realization that neither side could decisively win but only inflict never-ending misery; and proactive and constructive external mediation.
The negotiators needed to forgo that past, though without forgetting it, tread delicately over a number of issues that could not be resolved and brought to a closure, and most importantly build trust where it was in very short supply. All of this has now been put under considerable strain by the Brexit-induced Northern Ireland Protocol.
Like all peace agreements, the Good Friday Agreement has its fragilities and pressure points, which demand that both sides recognize the other’s sensitivities. No better example of this is the question of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom.
The 1998 agreement didn’t solve the fundamental differences between Irish nationalism and unionism that have their origins in the creation of Northern Ireland in 1920,when the British partitioned the island. Irish nationalists still aspire to see the island reunited in one republic and an end to British sovereignty over any part of it, while unionists insist that Northern Ireland remain an integral part of the UK. In other words, the agreement over the border between north and south was devised so that it could mean different things to different people.
Symbolically it has remained the border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and thus the only UK land border with the EU, but at the same time it is an invisible border that creates a one-state day-to-day reality within the context of two separate sovereign entities. This act of willing make-believe by both sides not only enabled an end to the conflict and the signing of an historic agreement, but established a peaceful border and a daily coexistence that set aside the past in favor of a better present and future.
Normality was anchored in establishing a power-sharing administration in Northern Ireland, regardless of how shaky that could sometimes be, and while not abandoning the notion of a border between the two sides, the British military presence in terms of watchtowers, checkpoints and road barriers disappeared, making the border invisible and allowing people and goods to move freely between the two countries.
Trust with London is now broken, but it might be an opportunity for further trust to be built between Dublin and Belfast.
Enter Brexit, and more than 20 years of peace and a peaceful border has become a pawn in the EU–UK debacle. Admittedly, when the Good Friday Agreement was signed the possibility that either the UK or the Republic would at any point leave the EU was in nobody’s calculus. On the contrary, the peace agreement was designed within the framework of Ireland and the UK’s membership of this supranational organisation. The preamble to the Agreement provided that it would “develop still further the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbors and as partners in the European Union.”
Back in April 1998 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, no risk assessment could have envisaged the emergent populism that was to bring about Brexit, and with it the hollow “Take back control” slogan of those who led the Brexit movement. The Irish question with all its gravity and the need to nurture the nascent post-conflict society never factored in their thinking, neither did they care. For Westminster, as for most of the UK population, Ireland hasn’t been an issue of concern for a long time. A recent opinion poll by YouGov clearly indicates that more than half of all Britons don’t care whether Northern Ireland leaves the UK or remains part of it. For the main political parties the province is inconsequential in electoral terms as they don’t stand to gain any seats there, and as long as there is no return to violence it is not a major issue. Moreover, Northern Ireland politics itself is shifting away from unionism toward those who support one Ireland.
If the Good Friday Agreement managed to let all sides believe that there was enough in it to justify their support, the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is part of the Brexit agreement and came into force on Jan. 1 this year, has effectively jump-started the process of separating Northern Ireland from Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). Northern Ireland under this protocol continues to follow many of the EU’s rules, including lorries being permitted to cross the border without being inspected, while to meet EU regulations there are some checks on goods moving from the UK mainland to Northern Ireland. For all intents and purposes the border has moved from the island of Ireland to the Irish Sea.
This has exposed the Johnson government’s pretense of never allowing a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and abolishing the one between the two sides of the island even if it’s no more than invisible one. That is exactly what he agreed with Brussels, and the clock is now ticking toward either a peaceful united Ireland, or a resumption of political tensions and even the return to a more conflict-ridden Northern Ireland.
It would be difficult to blame unionists for feeling betrayed by Boris Johnson, but knowing his character, they can hardly claim to be surprised. Nevertheless, this — especially for the younger generation — may be an additional incentive for them to rethink the supposed advantages of union with the UK, especially as that means staying out of the EU. In the Brexit referendum, the Remain cause received a resounding endorsement from Northern Ireland’s voters, and whether by design or negligent default it also presents an opportunity.
On the occasion of his 100th birthday, former US secretary of state George Shultz remarked shortly before his passing this month: “I’ve learned much over that time, but looking back, I’m struck that there is one lesson I learned early and then relearned over and over: Trust is the coin of the realm. When trust was in the room, whatever room that was … good things happened.” Trust with London is now broken, but it might be an opportunity for further trust to be built between Dublin and Belfast.
*Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg

The race to Mars, and why it matters
Hafed Al-Ghwell/Arab News/February 13/2021
Most Mars missions tend to focus on the planet’s geology, whether it is habitable, and — in the case of NASA’s Perseverance rover expected to land on Feb. 18 — if there is evidence of actual life. It is only recently that space-faring nations have shifted toward more direct and comprehensive studying of what is above Mars’s surface.
The UAE’s Hope probe, which entered Mars orbit last week, will be followed shortly by China’s three-part Tianwen-1 mission, comprising an orbiter, a lander and a rover, which launched at the end of July last year and will probably attempt a landing in May. While the UAE mission will focus on the atmospheric composition, China’s orbiter will study Mars’s magnetic fields and combine those findings with those gathered from the surface to create a geological map of the planet.
Despite the scientific underpinnings of Mars missions, the rush of established space-faring nations and private entities is fueling a new space race, well beyond the Moon. As more nations send their own probes and rovers, the world as a whole inches ever closer to what would be two of its greatest achievements since humans first ventured into space in 1961. Those are finding evidence of extraterrestrial life and, eventually, landing the first humans on another planet.
Discovering even the smallest traces of life on Mars would not only transform our understanding of the universe, it would also help us delve into the origins of life on Earth. However, the arrival of the first humans will have to wait until the world settles questions concerning Mars’s habitability. Research has long shifted toward the feasibility of converting raw Martian materials into resources humans can actually use to survive on the barren planet; trying to carry fuel and supplies for a journey that lasts 14-18 months only compounds the already complex dynamics of interplanetary travel.
Discovering even the smallest traces of life on Mars would not only transform our understanding of the universe, it would also help us delve into the origins of life on Earth.
Thus, for now, Mars will remain restricted to unmanned probes, landers, rovers and the first-ever drone onboard the Perseverance — limited only by the usual bottlenecks of timing and cost. Most missions to Mars have to be launched in a tight biennial window when the alignment of Mars and Earth are at their closest, which makes the 7 to 9-month one-way journey for unmanned vehicles, such as Hope, more feasible. That is why every 26 months there is a frenzy of activity as nations scramble to launch their programs in that tight window.
Another factor that has fueled the extraterrestrial race is the changing calculus with regard to the cost of sending humans and payloads into orbit and beyond. Since the inauguration of the space age in 1957 with Sputnik, launch costs were a massive bottleneck to further space exploration. A passenger traveling by air will cost $4-$10 per kilogram, while launching a satellite into low earth orbit could cost up to $20,000 per kilogram.
The high cost, complexity and mixed reliability of rocket propulsion restricted space to governments and wealthy corporations. However, the privatization of space and the entry of companies such as SpaceX, BlueOrigin, Planetary Resources, United Launch Alliance and Planet Labs has unleashed a tidal wave of competition that has not only fueled the space rush but also driven costs low. The UAE's Hope probe cost about $200 million, cheaper than many Hollywood films; actually going to space now costs less than making a movie about it.
As positive as these developments are, space travel remains an exceedingly dangerous and risky undertaking, more so for missions to Mars, more than half of which have failed. Nevertheless, the rush to be the first to make important discoveries on Mars and eventually transport humans to the red planet has only intensified. It has gone beyond a race of flags to cover the 225 million kilometers between Earth and Mars or to pioneer innovations borne from its successes.
A fast-growing space industry is already preparing for the next phase beyond exploration, going into tourism and commercial opportunities, including mining Martian resources such as nickel, titanium, platinum group elements and even lanthanides that are crucial for our electronic devices. Unlocking vast and as-yet untold riches will fuel the exponential growth of the space industry, which creates a strategic imperative for space-faring nations to want to monopolize interplanetary travel, the scientific discoveries they elicit and the technological innovations borne from them.
*Hafed Al-Ghwell is a senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Institute at the John Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He is also senior adviser at the international economic consultancy Maxwell Stamp and at the geopolitical risk advisory firm Oxford Analytica, a member of the Strategic Advisory Solutions International Group in Washington DC and a former adviser to the board of the World Bank Group. Twitter: @HafedAlGhwell

China and the West face off in the Indo-Pacific

Dr. Theodore Karasik/Arab News/February 13/2021
The Biden administration is off to fast start resetting relations with Japan and putting China on notice by forming a US Department of Defense China task force.
Japan is a key US security partner in East Asia. Amid a geostrategic shift to east, the two countries are renewing ties and looking at a much bigger picture.
Tokyo is one key in a link across the Indo-Pacific region. A renewed five-year security accord between the countries is underway, with negotiations on Japan’s costs for hosting US troops for another year nearing completion. The current five-year deal expires in March 2021.
Under the US-Japan bilateral security treaty, Tokyo covers part of the cost of housing 55,000 US military personnel in Japan, including labor and training. The negotiations began under the previous administration, but were put on hold until after President Joe Biden’s inauguration. This bilateral cost-sharing negotiation is usually concluded by December of the final year of the agreement to help Japan compile its budget. But the transition and the pandemic slowed the process considerably. Luckily, no real time was lost once major US foreign policy positions were filled by President Biden.
Driving the US relationship with Japan is China’s foreign and security policy objectives in East Asia. China is aggressively pursuing territorial claims not only with Japan but also other countries in the region. The US Defense Department’s wide-ranging assessment of China will be presented to key principals in May-June 2021.
Biden officials are making clear to Tokyo that Chinese assertiveness around the Senkaku Islands following Beijing’s enactment of a new coast guard law is seen as confrontational and contrary to international law.
Maritime law also is being challenged by China’s actions. Article V of the US-Japan Treaty extends to the Senkaku Islands. Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Tony Blinken have all affirmed that the agreement extends to these key islands. Coming one month after the inauguration, the statements reflect Biden and his policy team’s “hard and fast” approach.
Meanwhile, China is challenging Western interests in other parts of the Indo-Pacific, raising tensions in the region.
Last week, the US sent a navy strike group with more than a dozen ships into the South China Sea. On the same day Taiwan reported multiple incursions of Chinese bombers and fighter jets into its air defense zone near Pratas Island. The Indo-Pacific region is beginning to boil. China’s desire to encroach on Taiwan has left the island in an increasingly precarious position, even with its US backing. It is now clear that sovereignty issues involving the Taiwanese and Japanese islands are beginning to combine in one very active theater.
No doubt the security environment is changing. The Biden administration is building up capacity with the Quad (Australia, India, Japan and the US) to take on China across a large geostrategic arena.
The Quad countries are looking to share operations, and allow access to each other’s maritime bases and facilities for repair and supply replenishment. The idea is to boost overall defense and security cooperation immediately.
China’s increasing operations in Ladakh and the Senkaku Islands help the US and Japan, as part of the Quad, make their own security plans for the Indo-Pacific region. US-Japanese coordination as part of the larger Quad concept is critical, as are summits, information exchanges and military drills between member countries. France appears to be joining these strategic alignments with planned naval exercises in the Indo-Pacific region. All of this activity is based on the fact that China is pushing the boundaries of international law.
The Biden administration is building up capacity with the Quad (Australia, India, Japan and the US) to take on China across a large geostrategic arena.
Russia cannot be left out of this discussion because of Moscow’s Indo-Pacific interests. The US-Japan Article V agreement runs into trouble with Moscow’s views on the Kurile Islands as well as maritime fishing beds. Russia increasingly is making claims to the islands. The Kremlin knows well that heating up this territorial issue helps Moscow claim strategic and tactical territorial advantage.
How Moscow and Beijing coordinate — or not — on this type of behavior is of immediate interest. Both sides conduct joint operations where the sole objective is to penetrate sovereign territory. Russia and China see land and sea differently in terms of their historical destiny. The way that both countries view strategic passages ranging from the South China Sea to the Bering Strait has immediate security implications. The US-Japan security treaty and the requirements in the region now force Tokyo and Washington closer together. South Korea benefits from this activity as well given the nexus between North Korea, China and Russia. Overall, the Indo-Pacific chess game is beginning to be quite a match.
*Dr. Theodore Karasik is a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC. He is a former RAND Corporation senior political scientist who lived in the UAE for 10 years, focusing on security issues. Twitter: @tkarasik

Sam Westrop and Benjamin Baird on the Changing Face of Islamism in the USA

Marilyn Stern/Middle East Forum Webinar/February 13/2021
Sam Westrop, director of MEF's Islamist Watch, along with Benjamin Baird, director of the Counter-Islamist Grid, spoke to participants in a December 21 Middle East Forum webinar (video) about how non-violent lawful Islamism in the U.S. has evolved and grown more diverse in recent decades and discussed how the Middle East Forum is working to counter its spread.
Acknowledging the provocative title of his talk, "The Muslim Brotherhood Hardly Matters," Westrop explained that when Islamist Watch was founded in 2006, the Islamist threat was understood in terms of violent groups such as Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, on the one hand, and various ostensibly non-violent affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood seeking to undermine the U.S. through lawful avenues – most notably the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
The Muslim Brotherhood "is not the only Islamist gang in town."
Though domestic Islamism "once perhaps had its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood," said Westrop, it "has changed over time" and now encompasses a range of diverse groups with key theological, ethnic, and cultural differences, all bent on radicalizing "the next generation of American Muslims." The Muslim Brotherhood "is not the only Islamist gang in town," or even the most important.
South Asian Islamism
Westrop noted that "a plurality of American Islam is South Asian," and with it comes Islamist groups like Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), considered the "South Asian cousin of the Muslim Brotherhood." JI is active in Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, and is tied to jihadi terrorist groups in the region. JI has established an American proxy through the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and its sister organization, Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD).
Another South Asian sect with affiliates in the U.S. is the Deobandi movement, which Westrop characterized as sort of a South Asian version of Salafism. Westrop expressed surprise at how little attention has been assigned to the Deobandis, given their large U.S. network of schools, seminaries, youth groups, and community centers. The Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) offshoot of the Deobandi movement is a particular focus of current Islamist Watch research.
Shia Islamism
Westrop said that Shia Islamism and its "substantial network in the U.S.," concentrated in places like Dearborn, Michigan, have been largely ignored by counter-Islamism campaigners. These groups are not only aligned with Iran and its Lebanese Hezbollah proxy, but also with South Asian Shia Islamist currents. While law enforcement is taking an "aggressive" approach towards criminal activity by Iranian and Hezbollah networks, Islamist Watch is examining the "the lawful Islamist side of these networks" and the millions of dollars flowing within these institutions, and to and from the Middle East.
The American Islamist Way
Westrop emphasized that domestic Islamist groups in the U.S. have been "evolving and changing." They have "developed their own ideology that ... has its foundations in the Islamism of the Middle East and Islamism in South Asia, but has taken on distinctly American characteristics."
Abdullah bin Hamid Ali laments that the progressive positions embraced by other American Islamists.
Most notable is "a curious alliance with progressivism." Islamists activists who advocate for various aspects of Sharia law, which bans homosexuality, are "also attending gay rights marches without any sense of paradox." This has generated backlash from Salafis, "the purist revivalist Middle Eastern hardline conservative Islam," who "revolt against these changes, against this embrace of ideas they consider to be deeply un-Islamic."
Another notable change in American Islamism is that Muslim Brotherhood legacy groups have "refocused a lot of [their] efforts from Israel and the Palestinian Territories to India and Kashmir." Together with Jamaat-e-Islami proxy ICNA, they are using the same playbook against India that they have long used against Israel – launching boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts, for example, and inventing false reports of massacres to get Western media to report on their narrative.
Finally, American Islamist groups are becoming adept at securing government financing for their operations. A recent Islamist Watch article uncovered how Small Business Administration loans, as part of COVID funding, have "ended up in the hands of some of the most horrifying extremists operating in the U.S. today."
Islamism In Politics
Iowa State Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad (D) was one of numerous Islamist politicians elected to public office in 2020.
Baird said that many counter-Islamists have not given adequate attention to Islamism in politics, which is the focus of two MEF projects. Islamism in Politics tracks political donations from Islamist individuals and organizations, while Counter-Islamist Grid employs activists to "counter and expose Islamism" both nationally and locally, where Islamists "have found a foothold" by running in elections for school board, county commissioners, and the like.
In September 2020, members of the Counter-Islamist Grid registered for the annual Palestinian Advocacy Day organized by American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) and infiltrated its video conferences with congressional offices, alerting them to its anti-Israel agenda and spread of anti-Semitism. This enraged the AMP lobbyists "who started bickering with ... the legislative aides," said Baird.
Westrop and Baird are involved in identifying Islamists who are funding congressional races and informing members of Congress as to the actual agenda Islamists attempt to mask. Baird emphasized that Islamists and the propaganda they spread in the U.S. seek to "undermine America's democratic institutions, causing us to lose faith in our government."
In recent years Turkey "has been very active in influencing local Islamist groups in America" and "many American Islamist groups ... are taking patronage from Turkey." The impact of this burgeoning relationship was evident, for example, at an AMP protest in Washington, where the participants changed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's name, saying he was the ruler of the Muslim ummah. Turkey also exerts influence in the U.S. through five political action committees (PACs) called the "Ten Thousand Turks Campaign." MEF discovered that many donors to this campaign work on behalf of Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AKP), and some are even registered as foreign agents. Baird noted that Wikileaks released a 2016 email exchange between Ibrahim Danışmaz, then head of the Washington-based Turkish Heritage Organization (THO), and Turkish officials in which they discussed how to establish a lobbying front in the U.S. with the appearance of a non-profit with a public education mission, but with the ulterior motive of promoting the Turkish agenda. Danışmaz later left the U.S. for Turkey after coming under FBI investigation. MEF has educated politicians about the hazards of accepting donations from Turkish regime proxies.
*Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.