May 20/17

Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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Bible Quotations For Today
Take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 17/24-27/:"When they reached Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your teacher not pay the temple tax?’He said, ‘Yes, he does.’ And when he came home, Jesus spoke of it first, asking, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tribute? From their children or from others?’When Peter said, ‘From others’, Jesus said to him, ‘Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offence to them, go to the lake and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.’".

All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus
Letter to the Philippians 02/19-30./:"I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon. Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and co-worker and fellow-soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honour such people, because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 19-20/17
3 Riyadh Summits … Security and Stability through Unity and Force/Mohamed Chebaro/Asharq Al Awsat/May 19/17
Germany: Should Migrants Integrate?/"We are an open society. We show our face. We do not wear burkas."/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/May 19/17
A Historic Chance to Save what Could be Saved/Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/May 19/17
Syria: Iranians Find it’s not that Simple/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/May 19/17
Saudi Arabia Found in America the Appropriate Partner/John Sfakianakis/Asharq Al Awsat/May 19/17
A First Visit: President Trump to Saudi Arabia/Dr. John Duke Anthony/Asharq Al Awsat/May 19/17

Titles For Latest Lebanese Related News published on May May 19-20/17
U.S., Saudi Jointly Blacklist Hizbullah Official on Eve of Trump Visit
Report: Hizbullah Kept No Posts on Eastern Border, Area in Army's Grip
Report: 1960 Vote Law Chances on the Rise
Aoun asserts forthcoming legislative elections shall take place
Islamist-Led Prisoners Suspend Hunger Strike until after Ramadan
Mashnouq Says Polls This Year, President, PM to Open Extraordinary Legislative Session
Hariri Chairs Ministerial Meeting on Litani Pollution, Vows 'Serious' Approach
Man Arrested for Smuggling 248 kg of Drug Material
Qassem: 1960 Vote Law Still in Force
Geagea welcomes Issam Fares
Gemayel, Fares tackle current developments
Hariri chairs follow up meeting on Litani pollution
Riachi representing Aoun at Ophthalmology Conference: Media ethics law has become part of broad media law
Hariri, Hasbani discuss healthcare affairs
Army commander welcomes U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command chief
State Security apprehends two Syrians over links to terror organizations
Judicial Council adjourns looking into Taqwa and Salam mosques' bombing file till July 14
Geagea sends congratulatory cable to Macron, underlines deep rooted bilateral ties
Bassil: Crises Push Lebanon to the Verge of Collapse

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 19-20/17
Saudi Arabia prepares for Trump’s historic visit
Trump’s Saudi Visit Holds Important Dimensions, Strategic Issues
Bloomberg: Red carpet ready for Trump in Saudi Arabia
Top Saudi cleric ‘blesses’ Trump-Muslim summit in Saudi Arabia
U.S. Says Convoy Hit by Coalition in Syria Likely 'Iranian-Directed'
Syria Condemns Attack by US-Led Coalition
Polling Extended as Iranians Deliver Verdict on Rouhani
Netanyahu: Palestinians the stumbling block to peace
A memo to President Trump/By Michael Laitman/Jerusalem Post
Palestinians protest throughout territories in 'day of rage'
Palestinians protest throughout territories in 'day of rage'

Latest Lebanese Related News published on May 19-20/17
U.S., Saudi Jointly Blacklist Hizbullah Official on Eve of Trump Visit
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 19/17/
As U.S. President Donald Trump prepared to head to Saudi Arabia on Friday, Washington and Riyadh issued their first "joint terrorist designation" -- blacklisting a Hizbullah leader. Sayyed Hashem Safieddine is head of the executive council of Hizbullah, an Iranian-backed Lebanese armed movement which Washington has branded a "foreign terrorist organization.""The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia joined the United States in designating Hashem Safieddine," the U.S. State Department said in a statement. "As a result, any of his assets held in Saudi Arabia are frozen, and transfers through the Kingdom's financial sector, are prohibited."Separately, the department's Bureau of Counterterrorism tweeted that this marked the "first-ever" State Department and foreign nation "joint terrorist designation", underlining the close cooperation between U.S. and Saudi officials. "The action against Safieddine is the latest example of the strong partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia in combating the financing of terrorism," the State Department said.
The official Saudi news agency SPA confirmed Safieddine's listing, and alleged he had given his organization advice on carrying out “terrorist acts” and on supplying support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will continue to combat the terrorist activities of Hizbullah and those who offer consultation on their implementation through the available legal tools, and it will also maintain its cooperation with its partners across the world to effectively curb Hizbullah's extremist actions, seeing as no state should stand idly by in the face of Hizbullah's militias and its extremist activities,” a statement carried by SPA said. “As long as Hizbullah continues to spread chaos and instability, wage terrorist attacks, and practice criminal and illegal activities across the globe, KSA will continue to designate and impose sanctions on Hizbullah militants, leaders and entities,” the statement warned. Trump has chosen the kingdom as the venue of his first foreign presidential visit, and this weekend he will meet King Salman and address an audience of up to 50 leaders from across the Muslim world on the threat of extremism.
Safieddine, who is in his 50s, is the head of Hizbullah's executive council, which runs the group's political affairs and social and economic programs in Lebanon's Shiite community. He is a cousin of Hizbullah's overall leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, and is spoken of a potential candidate to succeed him and take charge of perhaps the most powerful non-state movement in an unstable region. The U.S. designation order did not link him to any recent Hizbullah attacks, but noted the group's historical involvement in the 1983 bombing of a U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut, a U.S. embassy bombing in 1984 and a passenger jet hijacking in 1985. In the same statement, the State Department also added Muhammad al-Isawi -- whom it said had taken over the leadership of the Islamic State group franchise in Egypt's Sinai peninsula in August 2016 -- to the sanctions list.
As "specially designated global terrorists," Safieddine and al-Isawi will see any assets they hold in areas under U.S. jurisdiction frozen, and U.S. citizens will be forbidden from any dealings with them.Separately but simultaneously, the U.S. Treasury added two Yemeni tribal leaders, Hashim Muhsin Aydarus al-Hamid and Khalid Ali Mabkhut al-Aradah, to its own sanctions list, branding them leaders of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

Report: Hizbullah Kept No Posts on Eastern Border, Area in Army's Grip
Naharnet/May 19/17/The Lebanese army continues to target the posts of militants in the outskirts of Ras Baalbek and Arsal, amid “absence of any Hizbullah presence” after the latter handed over to the army its military posts on Lebanon's eastern border, media reports said on Friday. “Hizbullah has no more positions in Arsal or Ras Baalbek. The army alone is positioned there and has expanded its deployment on the entire Lebanese eastern border,” a senior military source told al-Joumhouria daily on condition of anonymity. The source slammed media reports claiming that Hizbullah has targeted the positions of the jihadist al-Nusra Front from Arsal, “if the party had carried out any operation on the outskirts, it may have launched them from its Syrian positions not necessarily from Lebanon.” Last week, Hizbullah handed over to the Lebanese army its military posts in the outskirts of the eastern border towns of Tufail, Brital, Ham and Maaraboun. The move came a day after Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah declared that the group is dismantling its military posts along Lebanon's eastern border with Syria. The group will however maintain a security presence on the Syrian side of the border to protect against any infiltration by militants. The source said the army continues to target the militant positions in the said areas “the latest army airstrikes on the outskirts of Ras Baalbek and Arsal have achieved their objectives and proved once again that the army is ready for all possibilities against the gunmen.” On Wednesday, Lebanese army helicopters targeted posts of the Islamic State group in Ras Baalbek's outskirts as the army's artillery targeted cars carrying Nusra Front leaders in Arsal's outskirts. Significant casualties among al-Nusra's leaders have been confirmed.

Report: 1960 Vote Law Chances on the Rise
Naharnet/May 19/17/Chances for Lebanon's parliamentary elections to be staged in accordance with the electoral law in force (the 1960) have grown, after political parties failed to agree on a new voting system to rule the May polls, al-Akhbar daily reported on Friday.However, political forces insist that a new voting system can be “born” within a few days despite the fact that efforts have failed for many years to devise one, added the daily. The country has not organized parliamentary elections since 2009 and the legislature has instead twice extended its own mandate. The last polls were held under an amended version of the 1960 electoral law. Sources following up on the file told al-Akhbar: “Law formats that have been suggested so far were only to pass time. Serious discussions are focusing on finding a legal way to return to the 1960 electoral law, given that everyone is in trouble.”They pointed out that President Michel Aoun might be “compelled to call for staging the election based on the law in force,” to avoid vacuum or an extension of the parliament's term. For its part, Loyalty to Resistance bloc said after its periodic meeting on Thursday: “Accepting the proportional representation system by all parties is a positive indicator,” urging for an agreement within the short time remaining before the deadlines. For his part, the Premier's adviser Nader Hariri assured “we will agree on a new law before the deadline,” pointing out that the so-called qualification law format suggested by Free Patriotic Movement leader Jebran Bassil “is still on the table.”“The qualification law is still on the table as long as agreement on a specific law has not be reached,” he said. Political parties are bickering over amending the current election law which divides seats among the different religious sects. Several law formats were suggested that include a proportional representation system, the qualification law, the Orthodox law, hybrid laws and many other but none have garnered approval of all parties.

Aoun asserts forthcoming legislative elections shall take place

Fri 19 May 2017/NNA - President of the Republic, Michel Aoun, assured on Friday that the forthcoming legislative elections shall take place, saying "there is still ample time to reach agreement in this regard.""The governance approach shall change, and the reforms that we intend to carry out shall be ensued," President Aoun said during his meeting with a delegation of dignitaries of the towns and villages of the district of Jbeil, who visited him at Baabda palace this morning. "Whatever happens, don't worry... The elections shall be taking place, and there is still ample time to reach agreement," Aoun asserted before the visiting Aoun disclosed the respective implementation of a number of developmental projects in the district of Jbeil, in a bid to alleviate the longstanding deprivation sustained in that area. Earlier, Aoun met with Deputy Prime Minister, Public Health Minister Ghassan Hasbani, who briefed him on the ongoing negotiations with Egypt to sign the pharmaceutical agreement, in the framework of activating the existing cooperation between the two countries. Talks also dwelt on an array of health affairs and the work of gov-run hospitals, in addition to overall political situation on the local arena. On the other hand, National Defense Minister, Yaacoub al-Sarraf, called on the President today at Baabda palace to thank him for visiting the Defense Ministry and the army command to oversee the qualitative operation conducted by the army's air force against terrorists' posts in the outskirts of Arsal.
Aoun also met with the Secretary General of the Tashnag Party, MP Agop Pakradonian, where they held a tour d'horizon over the general situation in the country and contacts underway to reach agreement on the long simmering election law.
On emerging, Pakradonian said the Tashnag Party backs an election law that secures equity and correct representation of all Lebanese factions.

Islamist-Led Prisoners Suspend Hunger Strike until after Ramadan
Naharnet/May 19/17/Detained Islamist cleric Khaled Hoblos announced Friday that inmates in Lebanese prisons have decided to suspend their hunger strike until after the holy month of Ramadan. “We had declared a hunger strike in all Lebanese prisons on May 13, demanding a general amnesty for everyone, in order to turn the page on the past and open a new chapter towards a better future in a country that its people have suffered a lot,” Hoblos said in an audio message. “After the press conference that (Interior) Minister (Nouhad) al-Mashnouq held yesterday and announced in it that the Grand Mufti and the Prime Minister have endorsed our cause, we held a number of contacts with political and religious authorities, who confirmed that the cause of the detainees has been endorsed,” Hoblos added. “They said that the general amnesty law will be the priority after the electoral law,” the cleric explained. “Accordingly, we announce a suspension of the hunger strike in Lebanese prisons until after the month of Ramadan to give some time to the political and religious authorities, and after that we will decide the next steps,” Hoblos went on to say. Lebanon's overcrowded prisons have witnessed sporadic prison breaks and escalating riots in recent years as inmates living in poor conditions demand better treatment. There is also a demand for speedier legal proceedings and trials. Relatives of Islamist prisoners and families of inmates who hail from the impoverished Bekaa region have held dozens of protests in recent months to demand a general amnesty, especially after the election of President Michel Aoun.

Mashnouq Says Polls This Year, President, PM to Open Extraordinary Legislative Session
Naharnet/May 19/17/Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq reassured Friday that the parliamentary elections will be held “before the end of the year.”“We are open to all options and choices,” he added during a tour of the North region, referring to al-Mustaqbal Movement's stance on the electoral law. The minister also announced that President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri “will at the appropriate time issue a decree opening an extraordinary legislative session to allow further dialogue” on the electoral The country has not organized parliamentary polls since 2009 and the legislature has since extended its own term twice.The current term of parliament will expire on June 20 and the political parties are still wrangling over the electoral law format. Should the parties fail to agree on a new electoral law or secure another extension of parliament's term, they will be obliged to hold the elections under the current law within a period not exceeding three months from June 20.

Hariri Chairs Ministerial Meeting on Litani Pollution, Vows 'Serious' Approach
Naharnet/May 19/17/Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Friday presided over a ministerial meeting aimed at addressing the pollution that is affecting the Litani River, stressing that this topic is among his priorities. “Our efforts on the issue began a month ago,” Hariri said ahead of the meeting. Briefing reporters after the meeting, Energy and Water Minister Cesar Abi Khalil said the conferees discussed executing sewage water projects near the river that can "curb pollution.""We discussed this issue from the technical and financial aspects, seeing as there are projects whose funding has been secured and efforts to find funds for other projects," the minister added. He said that the ministerial committee will hold another meeting after Cabinet's session on Wednesday to "discuss the issue of industrial pollution which is also affecting the river." Asked whether there will be a timeframe for addressing the issue of Litani's pollution, Abi Khalil said "everyone is determined to resolve the issue as soon as possible and PM Hariri is dealing with it in a very serious manner and following up on its details."The committee's meeting comes amid a popular outcry in several western Bekaa towns, where residents have blamed a surge in cancer cases on the river's pollution. A huge number of pollutants flow daily into the river, which is surrounded by sand mines, solid waste dumps, medical waste dumps, and poultry and cow farms. A lot of towns are also using the river to dispose of their sewage amid an excessive use of agricultural pesticides in the region. The Litani River is an important water resource in Lebanon. The river rises in the fertile Bekaa Valley, west of Baalbek, and empties into the Mediterranean Sea north of Tyre. Exceeding 140 km in length, the Litani River is the longest river in Lebanon and provides an average annual flow estimated at 920 million cubic meters.
The waters of the Litani both originate and flow entirely within the borders of Lebanon. It provides a major source for water supply, irrigation and hydroelectricity both within South Lebanon, and the country as a whole.

Man Arrested for Smuggling 248 kg of Drug Material

Naharnet/May 19/17/The army arrested a suspect on the northern Arsal-Labweh highway over charges of smuggling materials used in the manufacturing of narcotics, the Lebanese Army Orientation Directorate said in a statement on Friday. After thorough follow-up, army intelligence units detained Mohammed Hussein Rayid on the Labweh-Arsal highway, said the statement. He is accused of smuggling 248 kg of materials utilized to make drugs. The materials were found packed inside a truck, it added. Investigations were kicked off into the incident under the supervision of related judicial authorities.

Qassem: 1960 Vote Law Still in Force

Naharnet/May 19/17/MP Qassem Hashem stressed on Friday that efforts to ease obstacles preventing an agreement on a new voting system are ongoing, stressing that Lebanon's current 1960 electoral law was still in effect "whether we like it or not".“The 1960 law is still in force whether we like it or not,” said Hashem in an interview to the VDL (93.3).The MP called on Lebanon's political parties to seek settlement that would preserve the internal scene and fortify the country, away from personal political interests. Hashem warned from reaching the set deadlines without agreeing on a new electoral law in hand, “vacuum (at the legislative authority) could push the country into a state of chaos,” he warned. "The observations that have been given on the electoral formats are substantial; however, they carry a sectarian rather than a national character,” remarked the lawmaker. Parliamentary elections are supposed to be held in May, and political parties are still bickering over amending the current 1960 majoritarian election law which divides seats among the different religious sects. Several law formats have been suggested and they include a proportional representation system, the qualification law, the Orthodox law, several forms of hybrid laws and many other but none garnered approval of all parties.The country has not organized parliamentary elections since 2009 and the legislature has instead twice extended its own mandate. The last polls were held under an amended version of the 1960 electoral law. The parliament's term ends on June 20.

Geagea welcomes Issam Fares
Fri 19 May 2017/NNA - Lebanese Forces leader, Samir Geagea, met at Maarab on Friday with former deputy prime minister Issam Fares, accompanied by his two sons. Speaking to reporters following the meeting, Fares denied that he came back to Lebanon to return to the political life.He added that talks with Geagea dwelt on the current situation on the local scene.

Gemayel, Fares tackle current developments
Fri 19 May 2017/NNA - Former President Amine Gemayel met on Friday with former Vice Prime Minister, Issam Fares, over the recent developments on the local arena, notably the stalled election law issue. Talks between the pair also touched on the critical regional situation, as per a statement by Gemayel's Media Bureau.

Hariri chairs follow up meeting on Litani pollution
Fri 19 May 2017/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri chaired, at the Grand Serail on Friday, a meeting for the ministerial committee tasked with following up on tthe pollution of Litani river. The meeting was attended by Ministers Ali Hassan Khalil (Finance), Jamal Jarrah (Telecommunications), and Cesar Abi Khalil (Energy), as well as Head of the Council for Development and Reconstruction Nabil Jisr, and Hariri's consultant for developmental affairs Fadi Fawaz. Conferees reportedly dwelt on the means to bring into effect the executive plan to treat the contaminated river.

Riachi representing Aoun at Ophthalmology Conference: Media ethics law has become part of broad media law
Fri 19 May 2017/NNA - Minister of Information Melhem Riachi on Friday said that the law on media ethics has become a part of the broad media law currently present at the table of the parliamentary media committee. "The law on media ethics shall not be issued as a separate law but rather within the broad spectrum media law," Minister Riachi said in his address at the inaugural ceremony of the 25th Ophthalmology Conference at the Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut, representing President of the Republic General Michel Aoun.
The Conference is organized by the "Lebanese Ophthalmology Association" under the patronage of President Michel Aoun. Head of the Beirut Order of Physicians, Raymond Sayegh, and scores of Lebanese ophthalmologists and experts from France and the USA attended said conference. Riachi then toured along with attending doctors among an exhibition showcasing the latest technologies in the field of ophthalmology.

Hariri, Hasbani discuss healthcare affairs
Fri 19 May 2017/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri met, at the Central House on Friday, with Minister of Public Health, Ghassan Hasbani, over an array of affairs relevant to the ministry and healthcare sector. "Talks touched on the pharmaceutical industry and the relations we are building with the Egyptian market in that respect," Hasbani explained to reporters following the meeting. "We also discussed the current general situation," he added.

Army commander welcomes U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command chief
Fri 19 May 2017/NNA - Army chief, General Joseph Aoun, met, at his Yarze office on Friday, with commander of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command, Lieutenant General William Beydler, and the accompanying delegation, with the participation of U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard. Talks reportedly touched on the U.S. military aid program, as well as the means to bolster military ties between the two countries.

State Security apprehends two Syrians over links to terror organizations
Fri 19 May 2017 /NNA - State Security in the Beqa arrested two Syrians over links to terror organizations, NNA correspondent said on Friday. The two detained persons were apprehended for collecting information.

Judicial Council adjourns looking into Taqwa and Salam mosques' bombing file till July 14
Fri 19 May 2017/NNA - The Judicial Council, headed by Judge Jean Fahd, postponed looking into Tripoli's Taqwa and Salam Mosques' bombing file till July 14, NNA correspondent said on Friday.

Geagea sends congratulatory cable to Macron, underlines deep rooted bilateral ties
Fri 19 May 2017/NNA - Lebanese Forces leader, Samir Geagea, on Friday cabled French President Emmanuel Macron, hereby congratulating him on his victory in the French presidential polls. "Amid the troubles that are storming our world, you are facing, Mr. President, too many dangerous challenges; terrorism for instance is striking without any discrimination between borders, identities, colors, beliefs, and religions," Geagea said in his cable. "Undoubtedly, facing this hatred is a challenge we have in common," he added. Geagea also reminded that the Palestinian Cause had been waiting for a permanent just solution. "Lebanon shares with France the great values of freedom, equality, and fraternity. Lebanon is the sole refuge for democracy in the Arab world. "The deep-rooted ties between our countries are a rare model in history and they require mutual cooperation and support," he concluded.

Bassil: Crises Push Lebanon to the Verge of Collapse
Asharq Al-Awsat/May 19/17/Beirut – Lebanese Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil said on Thursday that Lebanon has reached a breaking point due to the economic, living and security burdens imposed by the heavy inflow of Syrian refugees. Bassil met on Thursday with his Italian counterpart Angelino Alfano, who conducted a 24-hour visit to Beirut. The Lebanese minister thanked Italy for its contribution to the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, adding: “We hail UNIFIL’s role in maintaining Lebanon’s stability despite constant Israeli violations.”Alfano vowed that his country would continue to support Lebanon’s economy and army. In a joint press conference following the meeting, the Italian foreign minister described Lebanon as a symbol of democracy and pluralism in the Middle East, adding that the country “plays a key role in maintaining the region’s stability”. The visiting minister also praised Lebanon’s efforts in hosting a large number of Syrian refugees on its territories. “Helping Lebanon at this very difficult time means not only helping its stability but also regional stability,” he stated. According to the United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Lebanon hosts more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees. On trade ties, Bassil encouraged Italian companies to invest in Lebanon’s oil and gas sector. He also hoped that Italy would continue to build strong economic relations with Lebanon.Earlier on Thursday, Alfano told Italian UN peacekeeping troops: “This is a place that makes Italy proud, thanks to your commitment’”.In his speech at the UNIFIL base in Shamaa in south Lebanon, Alfano underlined the importance of economic and political relations between the two countries.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on May 19-20/17
Saudi Arabia prepares for Trump’s historic visit
AP, Dubai Friday, 19 May 2017
Saudi Arabia is making every effort to dazzle and impress President Donald Trump on his first overseas trip, seizing on the visit to cement itself as a major player on the world stage and shove aside rival Iran. The kingdom has arranged a dizzying schedule of events for the two days Trump will be in town — inviting figures as varied as Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Bret Baier, a host on the Fox News Channel that is popular with Trump and his supporters, and American country singer Toby Keith who is to perform in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. Trump’s decision to make Saudi Arabia his first overseas stop sends a powerful message to the kingdom: the strained ties that marked US-Saudi relations under president Barack Obama are over. The kingdom wants Trump to align US interests with Saudi Arabia’s — and is literally counting down the seconds until Trump starts his meetings Saturday. A website for the visit was launched in English, Arabic and French, featuring a countdown clock under the banner: “Together We Prevail.”“The foundation will be laid for a new beginning” to confront extremist ideology, the website declares, while also touting Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 a wide-reaching reform plan launched by Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to overhaul the economy and restyle the country through greater openings for investment and entertainment.For Saudi Arabia, the most significant event is the Arab-Islamic-US summit, where it plans to showcase the kingdom’s reach and drawing power.
Trump wants NATO-like force for the Middle East
King Salman is convening more than 50 Arab and Muslim leaders for the summit in Riyadh on Sunday. They will feast with Trump at a banquet and “forge a new partnership” in the war against extremism, the king said this week. Sudan’s president, who has been shunned by the United States for the past decade, is among those invited. “Saudi Arabia is delighted at being the No. 1 (stop for Trump’s visit), delighted by the re-emergence of a strong diplomatic relationship with the United States and delighted by the opportunity to show off Saudi leadership of the Arab and the Muslim world by getting everybody to turn up in Riyadh for multiple, overlapping summits,” said Simon Henderson, director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute.
Saudi Arabia has long vied to be the Islamic world’s center of influence. The kingdom hosts millions of Muslim pilgrims annually at holy sites in Mecca and Medina — a fact that Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, noted when announcing Trump’s decision to visit Saudi Arabia first.
Though the Saudi government is framing Trump’s visit around a theme of friendship with Washington, prominent Saudis say it boils down to strategic interests. “President Trump will not come to Riyadh because he loves us. The Gulf and Muslim leaders will not come to Riyadh because they love him,” writer Ziad al-Drees wrote in the pan-Arabic newspaper al-Hayat. “The common interests of these international leaders are what bring them together in Riyadh,” he said, including issues ranging from terrorism to rekindling US ties post-Obama.Iran and Syria were not invited to the summit and they are not part of an Islamic military alliance that Saudi Arabia is establishing to fight terrorism. The kingdom backs efforts to topple the Syrian government, which counts Iran and Russia as its closest allies. Saudi Arabia has welcomed Trump’s hard rhetoric on Iran, which contrasts with the outreach that culminated in the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Tehran. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed said earlier this month that Obama “wasted many significant opportunities” in Syria. rince Mohammed has ruled out any dialogue with Iran, framing the tensions in sectarian terms and accusing Iran of trying to “control the Islamic world”.
The prince’s foundation is hosting the forum where Trump is expected to deliver a speech to the Muslim world on Sunday. William McCants, director of US relations with the Islamic world at the Brookings Institute, says the Saudis are keen to prove to Trump that he is “getting a good deal” by aligning himself closely with Riyadh.
A parallel art exhibition focuses on modern Saudi art and a Twitter forum will engage young Saudis on how to “utilize social media networks to counter extremism and terrorism.” It is at this event where Trump is scheduled to make his address. It is also where Fox’s Baier is confirmed as a speaker.
Saudi Arabia, which wants Trump to do more to assist in its war in Yemen and help in the fight to oust President Bashar Assad, has arranged separate talks between Trump and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain.
All are members of the US coalition striking ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, as well as among the world’s top energy producers and biggest military spenders. The largest US military base in the Middle East is in Qatar, and Bahrain hosts the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which frequently has tense encounters with Iran’s navy in the Gulf. Rounding out the weekend’s events is a US-Saudi business forum with CEOs from companies like GE and Dow Chemical, as well as Saudi Arabia’s state-run oil company Aramco. Partnership agreements in energy and technology will likely be signed.

Trump’s Saudi Visit Holds Important Dimensions, Strategic Issues
Moaz al-Omari and Nayef al-Rashid/Asharq Al Awsat/May 19/17/Washington, Riyadh – US political opinions varied on the visit of US President Donald Trump to Saudi Arabia on Saturday, as some politicians described it as an opportunity to unveil the president’s stance towards Gulf, Arab and Islamic leaders, while others noted that such visit would promote partnerships and alliances with more than 55 Islamic countries around the world. Other American analysts went on to say that Trump’s speech in the Saudi capital would represent a roadmap for the US Administration’s policies in the Islamic world, and its war against terrorism and extremism. According to US Diplomat Richard Haass, former president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, Trump’s visit to the Kingdom is seen as a reassurance to America’s allies in the region, who look towards a partnership with the US to stand against Iran and the nuclear deal, in addition to supporting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, without getting the US involved in the war there. “Israel, too, is looking for reassurance. Leaders there likely will pressure the president on reports that he’ll delay acting on his promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a move that could trigger violence and set back what little chance exists for Israel-Palestinian reconciliation,” Haass said in an article published on Wednesday. For Jon Alterman, senior vice-president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Gulf leaders believe that the US president shared their priorities, including hostility towards Iran. In an article on CSIS website, Alterman said: “The Gulf’s leaders want to feel American love,” adding that they were seeking to work with the United States on fighting terrorism and boosting economic and military cooperation. Back to Riyadh, Dr. Zuhair al-Harthi, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council, told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that Trump’s visit was the result of Saudi Arabia’s steady diplomatic efforts that have contributed to the revival of historic and strategic ties between the two countries. He added that the most important message, which would be highlighted during the US-Arab-Islamic summit, was that religion had nothing to do with terrorism, and that all religions repudiate the heinous actions perpetrated by terrorist groups. Moaz al-Omari and Nayef al-Rashid.

Bloomberg: Red carpet ready for Trump in Saudi Arabia
By Staff writer Al Arabiya Friday, 19 May 2017/Saudi Arabia is putting on a show for Donald Trump on his first overseas trip as U.S. president. Bloomberg said in a report that Muslim leaders will assemble in Riyadh, and there’ll be an exhibition of classic American cars as well as sports matches and concerts. It mentioned as well an online clock , which is counting down the seconds until the big day. It said that among Gulf leaders, enthusiasm for Trump is driven by the desire for a like-minded partner in the oil-rich kingdom’s agenda. Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, hailed US president as a “true friend of Muslims” and their March meeting as a “historic turning point” it added. It’s not only in foreign affairs that the 31-year-old prince is seeking to revolutionize Saudi policy. His ambitious economic plan, to end oil-dependence and reduce the state’s role, will likely be central in talks with Trump, according to the agency. The program “clearly needs some outside assistance.. what Trump can effectively do on this is up to debate” the report quotes Paul Sullivan, a Middle East expert at Georgetown University. Trump will be looking for money to flow in the opposite direction. He was elected on an “America first” platform and Bloomberg revealed that the White House has touted joint projects, from energy to technology, worth five times as much -- without giving details.. General Electric Co., BlackRock Inc and Monsanto Co. are among the companies due to send executives to Riyadh with Trump for a business summit. The countries will sign some “big” economic deals during the visit, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told a press conference Thursday. Commercial and security ties have helped the relationship endure for decades and survive plenty of turbulence at the political level, the report. concluded.

Top Saudi cleric ‘blesses’ Trump-Muslim summit in Saudi Arabia

AFP, Saudi Arabia Friday, 19 May 2017/A top Saudi cleric on Friday described as “blessed” an Islamic summit in the capital Riyadh at the weekend to be attended by Muslim leaders and US President Donald Trump. In his Friday sermon, the imam of the holy city of Mecca, Sheikh Saleh bin Hamdi, praised the “blessed meeting that will bring together brothers and friends” on Sunday. He urged participants “to show realism... and to stress the negative impact of interferences in regional affairs”, state news agency SPA reported him as saying. He appeared to be referring to the mainly Sunni kingdom’s regional rival, Shiite-dominated Iran. The two countries have taken opposing sides in wars in Syria and Yemen. The imam said interference in the Middle East has “exacerbated confessional, religious, nationalist and ethnic conflicts”, and called on summit participants to act to “stem armed chaos provoked by terrorists and their sponsors”. Trump, who will make Saudi Arabia the first overseas stop of his presidency on Saturday, is expected to give a speech about Islam to 50 leaders of Muslim countries at the summit. In his sermon, the imam urged those attending the summit to work towards “constructive dialogue, cooperation and tolerance”. “The world must know the nation of Islam is proud of its religion, its identity, its values and its culture”, but also “believes in human and cultural diversity”, he said. “Relations between states and nations must be based on equality and mutual respect,” he added.

U.S. Says Convoy Hit by Coalition in Syria Likely 'Iranian-Directed'
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 19/17/A pro-regime convoy that was struck by U.S.-led warplanes inside Syria this week likely was directed by Iran, Pentagon chief Jim Mattis said Friday. The strike on the convoy heading toward a coalition garrison near the Jordanian border was "necessitated by offensive movement with offensive capability of what we believe were Iranian-directed forces," Mattis said, adding he was not sure if there were Iranians on the ground. Thursday's strike occurred inside an established "deconfliction zone" northwest of the At-Tanf garrison, where British and U.S. commandos have been training and advising local forces fighting the Islamic State group. Such zones are agreed upon between Russia and the coalition, and are designed to stop either side inadvertently striking the other's forces on the ground and in the air. The Pentagon says coalition attempts to stop the convoy from proceeding had included a call to the Russians -- who work with the Syrian regime -- then a "show of force" in the skies above the vehicles, followed by warning shots. It appeared the convoy had moved into the area against the advice of the Russians, Mattis said. "It looks like the Russians tried to dissuade them," he said. The Pentagon has stressed the attack did not signal broader U.S. involvement in Syria's civil war, but Damascus on Friday condemned the strike on pro-government forces as a "brazen attack" and said it would "not be intimidated."Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the strike a violation of Syrian sovereignty and said he was "unaware" that Russia had been given any warning ahead of the strike. An array of regular and irregular forces are battling alongside the government against rebels, including Russian and Iranian soldiers and militants from Iraq and Lebanon's Hizbullah group.
Thursday's strike comes in the context of growing tension over which forces will take on IS in Syria's east. President Bashar al-Assad's army is trying to prevent U.S.-backed forces from leading that fight.

Syria Condemns Attack by US-Led Coalition
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 19/17/Syria on Friday condemned a US-led coalition strike on pro-government forces as a "brazen attack" and said it would "not be intimidated" after the surprise assault. US-led warplanes carried out the Thursday strike in the east of the country against a convoy of pro-government forces headed towards a remote coalition garrison near the border with Jordan. "On Thursday at 16:30, the so-called international coalition attacked one of the Syrian Arab Army's positions on the Al-Tanf road in the Syrian Badia region, producing a number of martyrs and causing material damage," a military source told Syrian state media. "This brazen attack by the so-called international coalition exposes the falseness of its claims to be fighting terrorism," it added. "The Syrian Arab Army is fighting terrorism on its territory, and no party has the right to determine the course of its operations," the source said. "The Syrian Arab Army will... not be intimidated by the attempts of the so-called coalition to stop it from performing its sacred duties."
In a statement, the US-led coalition said it had struck "pro-regime forces... that posed a threat to US and partner forces."The coalition said the strike came after unsuccessful "Russian attempts to dissuade Syrian pro-regime movement" as well as "a coalition aircraft show of force, and the firing of warning shots." Syrian state media gave no precise toll in the attack, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, reported eight killed "most of them non-Syrian."An array of regular and irregular forces are battling alongside the government against rebels, including Russian and Iranian soldiers, and militants from Iraq and Lebanon's Hezbollah group. The Thursday strike comes in the context of growing tension over which forces will take on the Islamic State group in Syria's east. President Bashar al-Assad's army is trying to prevent US-backed forces from leading that fight.

Polling Extended as Iranians Deliver Verdict on Rouhani
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/May 19/17/Polling was extended in Iran on Friday as voters flocked to deliver their verdict on President Hassan Rouhani and his troubled efforts to rebuild ties with the world and kickstart the struggling economy.
Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate cleric who spearheaded a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, has framed the vote as a choice between greater civil liberties and "extremism."But he faces stiff competition from hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56, who has positioned himself as a defender of the poor and called for a much tougher line with the West.With long queues still seen at polling stations, authorities extended the vote into the late evening, with reformist backers of the president urging voters to keep waiting or find quieter stations. "The enthusiastic participation of Iranians in the election reinforces our national power and security," said Rouhani as he cast his vote in Tehran.By 2000 (1530 GMT), local agencies reported 30 million -- more than half of registered voters -- had cast their ballot. But Raisi's campaign was already complaining about the conduct of the election even before polls closed, saying there had been hundreds of "propaganda actions" by Rouhani supporters at voting booths, which are banned under election laws. Raisi has targeted working-class voters hit by high unemployment and austerity measures, as well as those who worry that the values of the 1979 revolution are under threat."His main focus is deprived people and he wants to fight corruption," said Mohsen, a 32-year-old Raisi supporter. "Our country is surrounded by enemies -- if we don't strengthen our domestic situation, we will be harmed."
U.S. threat
Rouhani's central achievement was a deal with six powers led by the United States that eased crippling economic sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran's nuclear program -- efforts which he said must be protected from hardliners. "One wrong decision by the president can mean war," he warned this week. His opponent says he will stick by the nuclear deal, but points to a persistent economic slump as evidence Rouhani's diplomatic efforts have failed. "Instead of using the capable hands of our young people to resolve problems, they are putting our economy in the hands of foreigners," Raisi said at a closing campaign rally in second city Mashhad. Rouhani gained a reprieve on Wednesday when Washington agreed to continue waiving nuclear-related sanctions, keeping the deal on track for now.But U.S. President Donald Trump has launched a 90-day review of the accord that could see it abandoned, and is visiting Iran's bitter regional rival Saudi Arabia this weekend.
Social justice
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei voted at his compound just minutes after polls opened, saying: "The destiny of the country is in the hands of Iranians."Reformists and many celebrities in the nation of 80 million have backed Rouhani. Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi, a vocal Rouhani supporter, voted in Cannes, France where he was attending the film festival. "I want social justice, social freedoms and political development, and good relations with all countries in the world," said Rouhani supporter Nasim, a 37-year-old university lecturer. Despite the global implications, it is the economy that has dominated the Rouhani has brought inflation down from around 40 percent when he took office in 2013, but prices are still rising by nine percent a year. Oil sales have rebounded since the nuclear deal took effect in January last year, but growth in the rest of the economy has been limited, leaving unemployment at 12.5 percent overall, and at almost 30 percent for young people. Still, many appear willing to give his policies time to bear fruit, and hope Rouhani can lift the remaining U.S. sanctions that are stifling trade. "I've almost lost my entire business in recent years. Our small importers can't afford to bypass sanctions and it's illegal," said first-time voter Amir Fathollahzadeh, 51. "I'm voting for Rouhani to try to save my dignity." Meanwhile, Raisi has promised to triple cash handouts to the poor, hoping to pick up voters who once supported Rouhani's populist predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"Unfortunately in recent years the dialogue of revolution has been weakened. People should restore the revolution's path," said Raisi supporter Mahanz Rafii, 50, a theology professor wearing her head-to-toe chador robes. Having proved too independent for the conservative establishment, Ahmadinejad was dramatically barred from standing by the Guardian Council last month as it disqualified all but six of the 1,636 hopefuls who registered. The presidential race has since narrowed to a two-horse race as other candidates either pulled out or backed Rouhani or Raisi.Iranians are also voting for local councils, with reformists hoping to overturn the conservatives' narrow majority in the capital.

Netanyahu: Palestinians the stumbling block to peace
Tovah Lazaroff/Jerusalem Post/May 18/17 /“The failure to achieve resolve the conflict with the Palestinians and achieve peace lies with the Palestinian refusal to accept the existence of the Jewish State in any borders.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Palestinians were the stumbling bloc to peace as he met with Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel A. González Sanz. “The failure to achieve resolve the conflict with the Palestinians and achieve peace lies with the Palestinian refusal to accept the existence of the Jewish State in any borders,” Netanyahu told Sanz. He spoke in advance of US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel next week, which is suppose to help usher in a new peace process with the Palestinians. Trump is expected to meet with Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Abbas in Bethlehem and will speak with both leaders about potential talks. Trump is not expected to unveil a new peace plan during his two-day trip. His envoy Jason Greenblatt is already in the area meeting with Israelis and Palestinians. “On Thurs. & Fri. I'll be in #Jerusalem, #Jericho, #Amman and #Riyadh. Excited about upcoming @POTUS trip about tolerance and hope!,” Greenblatt tweeted. Throughout the week, Netanyahu has issued a number of statements about Israeli-Palestinian conflict as he has meet with foreign leaders visiting Israel, such as Sanz. Netanyahu asked him to help sway his country to support Israel at the United Nations. Sanz said that his country would consider this. The two leaders discussed areas of cooperation including tourism, homeland security, water and agriculture. "I am pleased that we have the opportunity to meet and strengthen the friendship between Costa Rica and Israel,” Netanyahu told him. Costa Rica recognized Israel in 1948 and for many years was one of only two countries that had an embassy in Jerusalem. In 2006 it recreated the embassy back to Tel Aviv. Two years later, in 2008, it recognized Palestine as a state.

A memo to President Trump
By Michael Laitman/Jerusalem Post/May 18/17
President Trump, I wish you a pleasant visit to Israel. Still, in my view, your success in office depends on an effective implementation of the America First policy.
Dear Mr. President:
Welcome to Israel.
The Israeli public awaits your arrival with great anticipation, just as your supporters back home are eager to see the fulfillment of your America First policy. For this reason, I truly believe that turning the attention to America is the key to making your term in office a success.
You know better than anyone that joblessness in American society is a constant concern, as tens of millions are still living on various forms of government benefits. Such permanent inactivity is a recipe for trouble. Prolonged idleness creates crime, violence, substance abuse, and can ravage entire communities. On the national level, the sense of solidarity among Americans is at an all-time low. As politics creates factions and frictions within society that impede every effort for improvement, it seems as though the very nationhood of the American people is at risk.
To combat these challenges, I recommend the introduction of a nationwide program to strengthen communities and deepen the solidarity among the American people. The program consists of two interdependent elements that together will guarantee both the livelihood of all Americans and their national solidarity.
Because it is necessary to guarantee people’s livelihoods, some sort of Universal Basic Income (UBI) is required in this program. However, if we leave it at that, a permanent income that does not require any commitment from the beneficiaries will “kill” people’s ability to work and to connect with others, and will turn them into hazards to society. For this reason, reception of UBI benefits must be contingent upon partaking in courses and workshops conducted under specific rules designed to invoke in participants feelings of connection, trust, and reciprocity. These workshops are part of a method called Integral Education (IE), which has proven itself successful numerous times over many years, and in countless places around the world, including the US, Europe, Israel, and Russia. Besides workshops, IE provides practical tools for handling emotional and social crises, and includes learning about the history of the country, state, and city where people live, so as to make them feel connected to their local neighborhoods and to the US society as a whole. But most important, this method makes people feel that solidarity and a sense of community create more value for them than isolation and alienation.
Today’s technologies enable providing IE to millions of people online at minimal cost. People can participate from home or at public venues such as community centers. While facilitators will still be required in classrooms, professional instruction can be given online by a handful of trained professionals from one central location. The decrease in violence and crime, and the increase in national cohesion and positive social engagement will drastically reduce crime and violence levels, and will slash the prevalence of substance abuse. These changes will save vast amounts of government and municipal resources, making the IE program exceptionally lucrative. Beyond the economic value, IE will transform communities, creating an ambience of friendliness, trust, comprehension of social responsibility, and strong engagement in pro-social activities.
Mr. President, as you are a pragmatic individual, I think you should focus on America first and do what is best for the American society, as you have clearly stated since the onset of your presidency. If you implement a nationwide IE program, America will undoubtedly become a role model of social stability and national solidarity. Or, to use your words, it will “Make America great again.”
With best wishes,
Michael Laitman
**Michael Laitman is a Professor of Ontology, a PhD in Philosophy and Kabbalah, an MSc in Medical Bio-Cybernetics, and was the prime disciple of Kabbalist, Rav Baruch Shalom Ashlag (the RABASH). He has written over 40 books, which have been translated into dozens of languages.

Palestinians protest throughout territories in 'day of rage'
Ynetnews/May 19/17/Thousands protest in solidarity with Palestinian detainees who are hunger striking for better detention conditions; dozens of Palestinians and two IDF soldiers reportedly injured; hundreds of Gazans march on border fence. Multiple Palestinian protests took place throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Friday. Dozens of Palestinians were reportedly injured by crowd-dispersion measures taken by the IDF, and two Israeli soldiers were lightly wounded. The demonstrations were held as part of a "day of rage" that Gaza Strip factions called for on Thursday to support the current hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The prisoners, who began their strike on April 17, are calling for better detention conditions. Thousands protested across the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinian Red Crescent and Gazan Ministry of Health reported that dozens of Palestinians were wounded by tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition. The IDF reported that two of its soldiers were slightly injured. Al-Jazeera TV released a video showing undercover Israeli soldiers detaining a number of Palestinians who were rioting at the northern entrance to Bethlehem. It was reported that the undercover soldiers managed to spread among the protestors before revealing themselves and detaining six of them. In the Gaza Strip, hundreds of Palestinians marched on the border fence with Israel and attempted to damage it. They threw stones and burned tires there. IDF forces responded with attempts at crowd dispersal. The Gazan Health Ministry reported that eight Palestinians were injured by bullets and some 30 by tear gas. The Border Police said that the fire on the Gaza border was fired at Palestinians after they penetrated the "sterile area" between the Gaza Strip and Israel. They further reported injuries to the lower body of four Palestinians from shots fired by a sniper of the Border Police undercover unit. Elior Levy & Yoav Zitun contributed to this report.

Cholera kills 242, infects 23,500 people in Yemen in three weeks
AFP, Geneva Friday, 19 May 2017/A cholera outbreak in war-ravaged Yemen has killed 242 people, and left nearly 23,500 others sick in the past three weeks alone, the World Health Organization said Friday. The UN health agency said that in the past day alone, 20 cholera deaths and 3,460 suspected cases had been registered in the country, where two-thirds of the population are on the brink of famine. “The speed of the resurgence of this cholera epidemic is unprecedented,” WHO country representative for Yemen Nevio Zagaria told reporters in Geneva by phone from Yemen, warning that a quarter of a million people could become sick by the end of the year. Cholera is a highly contagious bacterial infection spread through contaminated food or water. Reining in the disease is particularly complicated in Yemen, where two years of devastating war between the Huthis and government forces backed by a Saudi-led Arab military coalition has left more than half the country’s medical facilities out of service. Zagaria pointed out that humanitarian workers cannot access some parts of the country, and that the number of suspected cholera cases could be far higher than those registered. Yemen’s conflict has killed more than 8,000 people and wounded around 40,000 since March 2015, according to the WHO. Zagaria pointed out that many of the remaining health workers in the country had not been paid for seven months. At the same time, he said, lacking electricity meant water pumping stations were only functioning in an intermittent way, and the sewer systems were damaged.“The population is using water sources that are contaminated,” he said. Zagaria said the United Nations agencies were preparing to “release an emergency response cholera plan in the next 48 hours,” aimed at dramatically scaling up the number of treatment canters and rehydration canters. At the same time, he said there was a dire need for funding to help Yemen authorities to make the necessary infrastructure repairs. “The spread of the disease is too big and they need substantial support, in terms of repairing the sewer system, ... treating and chlorinating the water sources.”Without dramatic efforts to halt the spread of the disease, “the price that we will pay in terms of life will be extremely high,” he warned.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on May 19-20/17
3 Riyadh Summits … Security and Stability through Unity and Force
Mohamed Chebaro/Asharq Al Awsat/May 19/17
Beirut – The Arab region will enter next week a new phase which will take shape by the upcoming visit of US President Donald Trump to Saudi Arabia and the three summits he will hold with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the leaders of the Gulf and the leaders of the Arab and Islamic countries. This event is significant for the messages it delivers, starting with the symbolism of the Riyadh summits and ending with the large number of dignitaries expected to attend them. The choice of Saudi Arabia as a mandatory medium for communication and dialogue between the Arab and Islamic worlds is also significant.
The summits are expected to all be dedicated towards finding means to combat the imminent dangers facing the region, which has been plagued by wars and conflicts for years. Leading the way will be the fight against terrorism, which is seen primarily as an Arab-Islamic mission, and confronting the destabilizing influence of Iran in the area.
During the latest Saudi cabinet session, King Salman stated that Trump’s visit and the three summits aim at “bolstering global security and stability.” This can be applied to Saudi-US ties, Gulf-US ties and the Arab-Islamic-US summit. The statement can be used as a slogan for the summit and placed at the top of their priorities. This stance was echoed by the official account of the event, which tweeted that the “Riyadh summit will tackle all regional and international challenges and seek means of cooperation in order to achieve security and stability.”
The Saudi position on the summits was met with a similar American one, especially after National Security Advisor Herbert McMaster had said that they are aimed at bolstering security partnership with Arab and Islamic countries. He underlined the need to confront the al-Qaeda and ISIS groups, as well as Iran and the Syrian regime that are spreading chaos and violence in the region. This can be achieved through establishing a stronger and deeper partnership with Washington’s Gulf, Arab and Muslim partners, he explained.
All this sums up the situation in the region and what it can expect in the upcoming phase, especially since Saudi Arabia had in recent years set the foundation for a Gulf-Arab-Islamic alliance. This started with the “Gulf Shield” operation, leading to the “Northern Thunder” military exercise and “Decisive Storm” operation, which saw the participation of Gulf, Arab and Islamic countries, most of which are taking part in the Riyadh summits. If “security and stability” cannot be achieved except through force against ISIS and other terrorist organizations, which is a battle that Saudi Arabia has been waging for decades, eyes will be turned towards Iran, most notably after the US Treasury announced new sanctions against a number of Iranian military officials and Chinese companies that are linked to Tehran’s ballistic program. This took place despite the policy to ease sanctions against Iran that was stipulated in the 2015 nuclear agreement that Trump had vowed to “rip up”.
This effectively means that Iran is now faced with a clear equation, at least at the current stage. It should choose between its current policy and face international, Arab and Islamic isolation, or adopt a new one. The US Treasury vowed to confront Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region, whether through its support of the regime of Bashar Assad, terrorist organizations like “Hezbollah” or violent militias that threaten governments. The US position coincides completely with that of deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, who days ago announced that Saudi Arabia will “not be stung” by Iran again. He accused the Iranian regime of being built on extremist ideology that seeks to seize control of the Arab and Muslim worlds. He vowed instead to take the battle to Iran. The three Riyadh summits and all their connotations come to emphasize Iran’s Arab and Islamic isolation and Saudi Arabia’s central role. They will be held simultaneously with Iranian presidential elections, which are being staged under the slogan of the nuclear deal with reformists defending it and conservatives who had always rejected it.
At any rate and away from Iran’s policies, it is clear that the Arab and Muslim world has entered a new phase under Saudi Arabia’s leaders. It will be cemented at the upcoming summits that seek to achieve “security and stability,” especially since Saudi Arabia and the Arab and Islamic countries form a major political and military power that cannot be ignored. The summits are also being held in wake of American reports that Trump’s visit will unveil a number of arms deals to Saudi Arabia worth more than $100 billion, a figure that could reach $300 billion in ten years.

Germany: Should Migrants Integrate?/"We are an open society. We show our face. We do not wear burkas."
Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/May 19/17
The list makes no mention of German culture as being the guiding or core culture (Leitkultur), nor does the task force explicitly demand that migrants assimilate to the German way of life. Rather, the guiding principles appear to be aimed at encouraging Germans to embrace the foreign cultural norms that migrants bring to Germany.
"We cannot ask anyone to respect our customs if we are not ready to articulate them.... Our country is shaped by Christianity.... Germany is part of the West, culturally, spiritually and politically speaking." — German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière.
Proponents of a Leitkultur argue that it necessary to prevent the establishment of parallel societies, including those governed by Islamic sharia law.
A government task force created to promote the integration of migrants into German society has published a list of the core features of German culture.
The list studiously omits politically incorrect terms such as "patriotism" and "leading culture" (Leitkultur), and effectively reduces German traditions and values to the lowest common denominator. The task force, in fact, implicitly establishes multiculturalism as the most complete expression of German culture.
The so-called Cultural Integration Initiative (Initiative kulturelle Integration) was created by the German government in December 2016 to promote "social cohesion" after Chancellor Angela Merkel opened German borders to more than a million migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
The task force — led by the German Cultural Council (Deutscher Kulturrat) in close cooperation with the German Interior Ministry and two dozen media, religious and other interest groups — was charged with reaching a consensus on what constitutes German culture. The original aim was to facilitate "cultural integration" by encouraging migrants to assimilate to a shared set of cultural values.
After five months of deliberation, the task force on May 16 presented a list of what it considers to be the top 15 guiding principles of German culture. Encapsulated in the catchphrase "Cohesion in Diversity," the list consists of mostly generic ideas about German culture — gender equality, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, pluralism and democracy — that are not at all unique to Germany.
Moreover, the list makes no mention of German culture as being the guiding or core culture (Leitkultur), nor does the task force explicitly demand that migrants assimilate to the German way of life. Rather, the guiding principles appear to be aimed at encouraging Germans to embrace the foreign cultural norms that migrants bring to Germany. The task force's focus seems to have shifted from integration and assimilation to coexistence, tolerance and to the Germans adopting the migrant's core culture.
The preamble states:
"Integration affects all people in Germany. Social cohesion can neither be prescribed, nor is it alone a task of politics.... Solidarity is one of the basic principles of our coexistence. It shows itself in our understanding of each other and in the attention to the needs of others — we stand for a solidarity society....
"Immigration changes a society and requires openness, respect and tolerance on all sides.... The stirring up of fears and hostilities is not the right way — we stand for a cosmopolitan society....
"The European integration process is not only a guarantee for peace in Europe and an important basis for prosperity and employment, it also stands for cultural convergence as well as for common European values ​​— we want a united Europe."
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, a well-known supporter of the idea of a core culture (Leitkultur), expressed disappointment at the task force's refusal to be more specific about what constitutes Germanness. "We cannot ask anyone to respect our customs if we are not ready to articulate them," he said. At a press conference in Berlin on May 16, he elaborated:
"I clearly disagree with the German Cultural Council regarding the word Leitkultur: I like the word, the council does not. It is still not clear to me whether what disturbs you is the word 'core' or the word 'culture' or the combination of both words. Or is it something else in the past."
Proponents of a Leitkultur argue that it necessary to prevent the establishment of parallel societies, including those governed by Islamic sharia law. Critics say that a Leitkultur would require migrants to abandon some parts of their identities to conform to the majority — the opposite of the multicultural ideal in which migrants should be allowed to retain their identities.
De Maizière generated a firestorm of criticism after he wrote an article, published by Bild on April 29, calling on migrants to accept a German Leitkultur. He argued that Germany needs a "core culture to act as a common thread through society, especially because migration and an open society are making us more diverse."
In his article, de Maizière outlined ten core features of a core German culture, including the principle of meritocracy and respect for German culture and history. He added: "There is something beyond our language, constitution, and respect for fundamental rights that binds us in our hearts, which makes us different, and distinguishes us from others."
Commenting on the role of religion in Germany, de Maizière wrote that "our state is neutral, but friendly towards churches and religious communities.... Church towers shape our landscape. Our country is shaped by Christianity.... Germany is part of the West, culturally, spiritually and politically speaking." He added:
"In Germany we say our name and shake our hand when greeting. We are an open society. We show our face. We do not wear burkas."
De Maizière's comments were greeted with widespread derision. Martin Schulz, chancellor candidate for the Social Democrats (SPD), said that Germany's "leading culture, consisting of freedom, justice and peaceful coexistence, is enshrined in the constitution."
German Green Party member, Jamila Schäfer, said:
"As soon as your identity is based most strongly on which country you belong to, you can easily adopt an attitude of superiority. And that is dangerous and anti-democratic because it is excluding others. A society is always changing, and one of the reasons for that is migration. I do not think that finding a way to live together peacefully is about preserving one's culture."
Schäfer's view, if taken to its logical conclusion, would surrender German culture for the chimera of social peace: accepting that Germany's Judeo-Christian heritage slowly be replaced by Islamic sharia law. Many German politicians agree with Schäfer.
The leader of the Free Democrats, Christian Lindner, accused de Maizière of reopening "an old and outdated" debate: "Once again, it is about religion."
The former general secretary of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), Ruprecht Polenz, said that the concept of a Leitkultur "does not fit into a pluralistic society." He added:
"A certain conception of Islam suggests or even forbids men from shaking hands with women. I do not think it is good, but it does not hurt. It does not have to be problematized by the debate over a Leitkultur."
Germany's Integration Commissioner, Aydan Özoğuz, denounced the debate over Leitkultur as "ridiculous and absurd." Writing in Tagesspiegel, she argued:
"A specifically German culture, beyond the language, is simply not identifiable. Historically, regional cultures, immigration and diversity have shaped our history. Globalization and pluralization have further multiplied diversity. Immigrants cannot be regulated by a majority culture."
Despite the criticism from German politicians, de Maizière appears to have the support of the German public. A May 5 Insa poll conducted for Focus magazine found that 52.5% of Germans agreed that Germany needs a Leitkultur. Only 25.3% of respondents were opposed.
De Maizière's efforts come amid attempts by the CDU to win back conservative voters angered over Merkel's liberal immigration policies. Many of those have embraced the Alternative for Germany (AfD), a party that has called for curbs to mass migration.
A May 17 Forsa poll for Stern and RTL showed that if the September federal election were held today, Merkel's CDU would win with 38% of the vote, far ahead of the SPD with 26%. The FDP would win 8% of the vote, followed by the Greens and the AfD, each with 7%. If Germans were able to choose the chancellor directly, rather than through party lists, Merkel would win with 50%, compared to 24% for her main challenger, Martin Schulz of the SPD. German voters, at least for now, appear to be happy with the status quo, with or without a Leitkultur.
**Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.
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A Historic Chance to Save what Could be Saved
Eyad Abu Shakra/Asharq Al Awsat/May 19/17
By the end of Lebanon’s Civil War (1975-1990), the Lebanese discovered a truth that a pre-Islamic young and brilliant poet named Tarafa Ibn Al-‘Abd had touched on more than 1,400 years ago when he said: Being maltreated by close relatives is more painful than being hit with a sword!
The Lebanese those days, each in his/her religiously homogeneous ‘canton’ run by a single status quo authority, realized how difficult it was to co-exist with armed bullies from the same community; sometimes even from the same clan. It felt much more painful than being maltreated by others.
During that period, state institutions had all but collapsed. In many areas road blocks were erected to protect dividing ceasefire lines and fiefdoms, manned by armed young men (and sometimes women) under various religious and sectarian justifications. As time passed by, and militiamen began to enjoy more sway than ordinary citizens, abuse of excess power emerged, and with it public resentment as well as political and personal feuds within the very same religious/sectarian camp.
This was the case with almost every Lebanese region or area. It continues today in the shadow of a fully-fledged armed sectarian hegemony, next to which the whole Lebanese political scene looks like a stage decoration, nothing else.
The same is true in other Arab entities, such as Iraq and Syria, both of which are currently going through what Lebanon has. In both countries, abuse and maltreatment have been the result of fellow citizens or communities enjoying excessive power, thus imposing their hegemony over the rest of the population. Certainly, this phenomenon will have dire consequences unless wisely dealt with in the right way and the right time, with full awareness of how important it is to contain ills of incitement, dictatorship, and marginalizing others.
Given the above, there are two inter-connected elements, both our Arab region and the Muslim world, need to address wisely and decisively when necessary: The first is terrorism of every religious, sectarian or ethnic identity. The second is how majorities treat minorities, in order to ensure that injustice does not lead to morally or humanely justifying any action detrimental to all.
Arab and Muslim identities are those of the ethnic and religious majority in the ‘Arab world’, extending from Oman in the east to Morocco and Mauritania in the west. This is a fact. However it does not tell the whole story, as there are many details worth keeping in mind. It is not acceptable any more that our youth grow up unaware of the benefit of ‘unity in diversity’, and the common interest in peaceful co-existence. In this day and age of high tech interaction and easy travel, cultural, educational and geographic borders have become almost non-existent. Thus, it would be suicidal for Arabs and Muslims to ignore what is taking place around them. They, simply, do not live in another planet!
A few days from now, Riyadh will host an unprecedented Arab-Islamic-American summit that is expected to highlight the importance of ending the fruitless dialogues between the Arabs and the West, Islam and the West, and between some Muslims and some Arabs, too.
The November victory of the current American leadership, whose ultimate political decisions are of institutional rather than personal nature, has uncovered a real problem in how American society views Islam. On the other hand, terrorist crimes committed by Arabs and Muslims in Europe, during the last few years, have also highlighted a ‘dysfunctional’ relationship between them and their host nations.
Furthermore, Donald Trump’s victory was achieved against the emergence of wrong theory inside the US, more so during Barack Obama’s two terms in office, that there is a ‘good Islam’ with which one can do business with and a ‘bad Islam’ that is extremist by nature, and thus, incorrigible.
This wrong theory has produced the JCPOA with Iran, and prevented any American action that could have stopped the Arab Region’s slide toward extremism as a reaction to Iran campaign for hegemony. Iran’s campaign has fueled civil strife in Iraq, Syria and Yemen under the pretexts of resisting Israeli occupation, and bringing down USA’s regional influence; and yet former President Obama turned a blind eye and decided to do nothing about it. Obama’s justification was twofold: One, that Iran’s Islam was of the good ‘type’; two, that its rhetoric as radical as it may sound was in fact ‘reserved for local consumption, as it had no intentions of threatening Israeli and US interests.
In the meantime, those conspiring against the future of the Middle East have been quite happy to see extremism begetting counter extremism that justifies fear, which in turn justifies seeking foreign intervention, en route to making partition an acceptable case for self-defense, indeed, self-preservation.
Today this is exactly the background of what is unfolding in Syria and Iraq, where everybody maybe a beneficiary from the future partition map except the Syrians and Iraqis themselves. Ordinary Syrians and Iraqis will not be happy to be forced out of their ancestral homes. There is no interest for them in population exchange carried out for sectarian reasons in the aftermath of mass destruction of cities and countryside, and sowing the seeds of hatred and blood feuds.
Knowingly, or unknowingly, extremists and brain-washed henchmen went along with the tit-for-tat factional violence; and gradually, those brandishing arms and trading in slogans dominated the political scene, at the expense of the sincere and honest fighters for peaceful change, justice and human rights.

Syria: Iranians Find it’s not that Simple
Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/May 19/17
A few weeks ago when the government in Tehran dispatched a team of journalists to Syria the idea was that they would report on “the historic victory” achieved by the Islamic Republic, Russia and their protégé Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo. For more than six years, that is to say since Iran threw its weight behind Assad’s beleaguered regime in Damascus, this kind of journalistic missions had been routine. The mission pursued two major gals. The first was to reassure the Iranian public about the Syrian adventurer by creating the impression that the side backed by Tehran was wining. The second was to tell part of the Syrian population that is still under the control of Assad that his regime was not as isolated as it appeared. The journalistic mission would visit a number of locations and film its comings and goings for screening on television channels in Tehran and Damascus. There would be reports about deeds of derring-do by Iranian “volunteers” and their companions from the Lebanese “Hezbollah,” and, more recently, Afghan and Pakistani mercenaries.
Television footage would show Syrians, often old women and children, thanking the Iranian “Supreme leader” for “protecting them against terrorists.” In exchange visiting Iranian journalists would tell the Damascus TV of their “great admiration” for President Assad’s “courage and steadfastness in resistance.” The exercise would try to make everyone in Tehran and Damascus feel good about themselves.
There would be “documentaries” about “holy shrines” that Iranians had never heard of but were not presented as “jewels of Islam saved by Tehran and its allies from destruction by Takfirists. The late general Hussein Hamadani, killed in combat in Syria, put the number of those “only shrines” at over 10,000, an astonishing figure by any standards. The Syrian war was presented not as a civil war between an unwanted ruler and the mass of the Syrian people but as a “Jihad” to save those “holy shrines”.
However, with Russia’s increasing involvement from 2015 onwards in the Syrian war, the line about protecting “holy shrines” gradually became harder to sell.
Why would Vladimir Putin invest blood and treasure simply to save shrines of dubious historic authenticity from demolition? Worse still, there was no evidence that anybody wanted to destroy those shrines that, though often forgotten, had been there untouched for centuries.
Thus, the “mission” organized in the wake of Aleppo’s surrender to Russian carpet-bombing was meant to inject two new themes in the narrative – the first was that, having won “a historic victory”, Russia and Iran were working together to reshape not only Syria but the entire Middle East. Iran was to be cast as the principal, the host, and Russia as the guest, the assistant, in an epoch-making enterprise.
The second theme to be injected was a massive expansion of Iran’s “cultural presence” alongside its military one.
“Syrians are thirsty for Shi’ism” claimed Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, the man in charge of Islamic Convergence (taqrib).
The idea was that, with the war supposedly won by Iran and its allies, it was time to flood Syria not with military helmets but with clerical turbans to guide wayward Syrians back towards “true Islam.”
However, the first post-Aleppo mission revealed quite a different picture. This time there were no optimistic documentaries and few website reportages with even fewer photos. Leaks from some of the participants, including a long talk with a senior member of the mission reveal a political landscape that has radically altered against Iran and whatever ambitions it might have harbored in Syria.
To start with, the Iranians noticed a dramatic increase in Russian presence. There were Russian “advisers” at the airport, to be consulted about who could and who couldn’t enter the enclave under Assad’s control. One member of the mission also claims that it was also because of a Russian veto that the Iranian media mission wasn’t allowed to travel to Aleppo.Russia is clearly trying to carve itself a secure haven between the mountains west of Damascus and the Mediterranean. There has been a substantial reduction in Russian activity from the air while Russian foot print on the ground is enlarged.
The secure haven Russia is building is closed to Iranians and, in some cases, even to Assad’s skeleton administration.
Before the civil war began, Iran had set up 14 “cultural centers” across Syria to promote its brand of Islam and propagate the Khomeinist ideology. Those centers organized classes, including in the Persian language, offered scholarships for training in Iran, screened authorized films from Iran, and held seminars on Khomeini and Khamenei’s “philosophies”.
Today, most of those centers are either shut because they were in areas controlled by anti-Assad rebels, or partly shut down because their security is no longer assured.
According to members of the mission, Iran’s presence in Syria, including its substantial military footprint, is in self-protection mode. The main aim is to reduce the level of casualties rather than try and seize area from numerous rebel groups. Even if uprooted, it will return to life.
More interestingly, perhaps, the members of the mission who responded to queries report a fragmentation of Assad’s camp into numerous armed groups controlling different chunks of territory even inside the part of Damascus still nominally controlled by the regime. Some of these groups could be regarded as bitter-enders or desperados ready to fight to the last man. Others, however, demonstrated a degree of flexibility about the possibility of making a deal with anti-regime rebels that surprised the visitors.
One member of the mission claims he was “struck” by the degree of “Syrian-ness” he and others noticed among fighters who had joined Assad’s side under the banner of sectarianism.
Unlike previous missions, the latest one to Syria was unable to offer anything more than faint echoes in Tehran’s tightly-controlled media. But the tone of what was offered clearly depicts a different picture of Syria as a nation divided into two camps motivated by sectarian sentiments. Some of us have long argued that Assad has become irrelevant, a dead horse neighing but going nowhere. What is remarkable is that even Russia and Iran do not enjoy the kind of power that many assumed they had to either prolong or to shorten the Syrian tragedy.

Saudi Arabia Found in America the Appropriate Partner
John Sfakianakis/Asharq Al Awsat/May 19/17
Saudi-US ties have never been better. Saudi Arabia will be President Donald Trump’s first stop in his first overseas tour. The Saudis have laid out a massive red carpet for Trump and his business delegation with multiple events. It’s emblematic of the importance the Saudis have bestowed on Trump and the rebirth of its relationship with the US. It’s not unusual for a US president to visit Saudi Arabia — President Barack Obama, who was viewed cautiously by Riyadh, came more times than any of his predecessors. It is, however, a first for a US president to be visiting the kingdom on his maiden trip. Business comes first.
Bilateral trade between the two nations is strong, amounting to almost $40 billion in 2016, according to the US Census Bureau. In fact, last year was the first time in 21 years the US sustained a trade surplus with Saudi Arabia, mainly due to lower oil prices.
For Trump, Saudi Arabia is a long-term business partner offering enormous potential for US companies as the Middle East nation prepares for its post-oil future. Attracting US investment is vital for its foreign-direct investment programs and successful implementation of Saudi Vision 2030. Taking a leading position in Saudi Arabia’s business opportunities is on the table with officials planning to privatize four sectors this year, including Saline Water Conversion Corp., a power generation company under Saudi Electricity Co., grain silos and sports clubs.
During Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s March visit to the US, Trump supported the development of a new US-Saudi program in energy, industry, infrastructure and technology valued at more than $200 billion in direct and indirect investment over the next four years. Trump, in turn, has said he intends to push for $1 trillion in US infrastructure investments over the next decade, with $200 billion coming from taxpayers and the rest from the private sector. Saudi Arabia, through its Public Investment Fund invested $3.5 billion in the US ride-share company Uber Technologies Inc. in 2016. Assisting Saudi Arabia in the successful transitioning of its economy beyond oil is a boon for all.
Saudi Arabia’s economic direction is clear: rid itself of oil dependency, while becoming a logistics hub, develop upstream and downstream mining capacity, deepen the tourism sector, build up the indigenous entertainment sector and increase local military manufacturing capacity. Officials and ministries are far more accountable via several new institutional mechanisms than at any time in the past. There is a sense of hope among young people that the country is changing and is addressing issues such as labor and female participation.
The Saudi Aramco initial public offering is another opportunity. It showcases the importance of US financial services in what would be the largest IPO thus far, expected to reach $100 billion. There is much to like, as a possible dual listing in Riyadh and on the New York Stock Exchange will only help to deepen the solid business relations of the two countries. The NYSE is the world’s largest stock market and includes oil majors such as Chevron and Exxon Mobil among its listings. Saudi Arabia has provided ample business to US investment banks and financial advisers working on the Saudi Aramco IPO. Two of the three leading underwriters are US firms — JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — the third is HSBC. A New York listing will bolster Trump’s business first motto.
For the Saudis, there is much to like in Trump. In Riyadh, the Obama administration was seen as being too pro-Iranian, confusing, and raised doubts about the wider role of the US in the Middle East. Trump represents the opposite.
The strategic-military relationship is central to the Saudi-US partnership. For decades the US has been a crucial supplier of land and aerial equipment. Saudi Arabia wants more sophisticated equipment and Trump has promised to stimulate the US economy by generating more manufacturing jobs.
Saudi Arabia is looking for partners as it constructs its post-oil economy and it’s almost certain that it found it in America’s Trump.

A First Visit: President Trump to Saudi Arabia
Dr. John Duke Anthony/Asharq Al Awsat/May 19/17
As a candidate for the Oval Office, Donald Trump was not shy about criticizing Saudi Arabia. Contexts change, though, and as President his administration has refrained from unjustified, unnecessary, and provocative statements in this regard.
Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Islam and home to the faith’s two holiest places, is a country that is vital to America’s national interests and strategic concerns. It has been one of the foremost US national security partners for the past eight decades – longer than any other developing nation.
If America is to be “great again,” it can and must be greater in very particular ways. One of which is to be far greater than derogatory and antagonistic rhetoric toward a country central to the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, who represent nearly a quarter of humanity.
By selecting Saudi Arabia as the first stop on his historic visit, the first official one to any foreign country, President Trump has been prudent to seize an opportunity to turn a new and more positive page towards Arabs and Muslims in the region and beyond. The President’s visit has a chance to begin healing wounds that have been inflicted on Muslims the world over.
A Historic Visit
Selecting Saudi Arabia as the first stop on this historic visit – when the American President could easily and without controversy have selected any one among numerous other countries – sends a strong message to the Arab countries, the Middle East, and the Islamic world.
The announcement of his visit to the country has already had a powerfully uplifting and relevant symbolic effect. Its impact has been greatest on the Kingdom and its neighbors.
Peoples of this region include large numbers that have longed for this kind of American leadership for quite some time. The visit speaks volumes as to how vital these countries are to the United States. It underscores their critical importance to America’s friends, allies, and the rest of the world.
Make no mistake about it: of the planet’s 212 countries and the 193 members of the United Nations, all but a few would want to host the president of the most economically, financially, scientifically, technologically, educationally, and militarily powerful nation.
What further distinguishes the President’s visit to Riyadh is its multiple benefits. Indeed, he is scheduled to meet not only with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, but also the heads of state of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). (Established in 1981, the GCC is comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.)
Peoples of this region include large numbers that have longed for this kind of American leadership for quite some time.
Americans have long been mistakenly accustomed to thinking that the largest number of US armed forces abroad are in Germany, Japan, and South Korea. For some time, however, this has no longer been true – they are stationed in the GCC. Thus, the additional significance of the visit to the Kingdom’s capital, which is also the GCC’s headquarters.
Mr. Trump’s meetings with these influential additional leaders in a matter of days ought not to be lost on anyone. Coming at this time, the President’s visit sends a strong message of American engagement, projection, and commitment to the internationally concerted, US-led action against violent extremism.
Preparations and Goals
The visit conveys a much welcomed determination for the United States to join with GCC and other Arab and Islamic country efforts to push back against Iran’s interference in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.
In fact, GCC foreign ministers recently met in Riyadh to discuss the visit. They convened with a view to placing their countries’ relations with the United States on a firmer foundation than what they came to be in the last year of the Obama administration.
A public statement released by GCC Secretary General Dr. Abdul Latif bin Rashid Al Zayani noted that the foreign ministers would “explore the on-going preparations for the consultative meeting of the GCC leaders, scheduled for Riyadh, in addition to the US-GCC Summit and Arab-Islamic-US Summit to be held in Riyadh on Sunday during the upcoming visit of US President Donald Trump to the Kingdom.” H.E. Dr. Al Zayani added that the GCC’s foreign ministers would also discuss the latest regional and international developments, together with how best to enhance their, America’s, and other countries’ global efforts against radical militancy.
The overall goal of the upcoming meetings in Riyadh will be to further advance the special strategic partnership between the United States and the Kingdom. Both sides acknowledge that specific areas in need of heightened ties include defense and security as well as trade, investment, and economic cooperation.
A Saudi Arabian goal of immense importance is to obtain an official American endorsement as well as practical support for “Vision 2030,” the country’s massive economic transformation plan.
In addition, the President will meet on Sunday with GCC leaders and the representatives of 55 Muslim majority countries.
For the significance of such an event one need look no further than to recognize that no meeting quite like this one has occurred before.
On one hand, an objective for this part of the visit will be to seek these nations’ assistance against the threats posed by radical extremists and Iranian interference. On the other, it will be to help bring an end to the bloodshed currently occurring in five of the Arab world’s 22 countries.
A New Regional Security Architecture?
Little known to many is that Saudi Arabia bears one of the highest defense burdens in the world.
The International Institute of Strategic Studies noted that the Kingdom’s military spending accounted for 12.7% of its GDP in 2015 and 8.9% in 2016, ranking it fourth behind the United States, China, and Russia. Even so, and despite the global decrease in the price of oil, Riyadh remains one of the largest consumers of American Foreign Military Sales (FMS).
Furthering this side of the relationship, President Trump is expected to arrive with an additional $100 billion in FMS packages that include ships, missile defense, and maritime security systems.
The significance of the President achieving a commercial deal of this size would not be lost on defense strategists and analysts. It would represent a significant reversal of the White House’s stance near the end of the Obama administration.
The visit conveys a much welcomed determination for the United States to join with GCC and other Arab and Islamic country efforts to push back against Iran’s interference in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.
What other meaning should one read into this component of the President’s visit?
For starters, Mr. Trump’s time in Riyadh would signal US administration agreement that Saudi Arabia is critical to countering Iran’s efforts to undermine regimes friendly to the United States. Straightening the military relationship between Washington and Riyadh would further align American and coalition countries in their joint quest to defeat ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other violent extremist groups.
As much as if not more than anything else, the President’s visit is significant because it should help to focus everyone’s attention on an important challenge: for the participants to jointly commit to a future objective, often overlooked, that has vital implications for all concerned.
This would be the summiteers’ collective vow to ensure that what must come after ongoing operations is a significantly reduced chance and capacity for violent militants to threaten these key American allies, or any other nations, again.
To these and related ends, speculation – long bantered about by Americans and others who would hope to become financial beneficiaries – has it that the United States may encourage a GCC-centric Arab “NATO” arrangement. The strategic military goal of such an undertaking, which would be to further ensure regional security and peace, is unassailable.
Without these two realities – security and peace – in place and maintained over time, there can be no prospects for sustained stability, modernization, and development.
Standing in the way of such an achievement, however, are decades-old geo-political obstacles anchored deeply in pan-Arab sentiments that have repeatedly weighed in against such an arrangement being forged.
None should doubt for a moment the complexities entailed in being able to reach such an accord. Neither should one try to gloss over the kinds of difficulties that could be expected were it achieved.
Views From Qatar
These thoughts are penned from the Arab State of Qatar, situated smack in the middle of the western side of the Gulf and directly across from Iran.
The past few days have provided opportunities for this author to speak about the President’s visit with high-ranking Qatari officials and those upon whom they rely for advice and recommendations.
All are mindful and in varying ways proud that Qatar hosts the United States Central Command’s forward deployed military presence. All are also aware and appreciative of the fact that the Command’s official Area of Responsibility includes all six GCC countries, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and beyond.
What stands out most, however, is that almost all, too, have for some time longed for a more robust American defense and other leadership role in this part of the world. This is but indicative of the hopes that many in this region have for the success of the President’s eminent visit.
A retired Qatari petroleum executive, who was not authorized to speak for the record and who spoke to me privately, echoed the sentiments of numerous others.
“A strong America is essential for a strong world,” he said. “We badly want and need such a world. A weak America is a recipe for disaster. It is an invitation for other countries – Iran in our region, Russia here and others there – behaving in ways that intimidate and undermine confidence in the future.”
“Now, though,” he continued, “one can sense a change. Indeed, in practically every GCC country in the last month or so, Iran has been less mischievous than before. We think it’s a direct correlation between Trump’s coming and Obama’s leaving.”
Vision 2030 – Opportunities for Enhanced US Bilateral Trade and Economic Relations
Another topic that will be discussed by President Trump and his Saudi Arabian hosts is how and what the implications are of the Kingdom’s economy undergoing such immense and far-reaching change. The transformation is being guided by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and other officials.
Released 13 months ago, Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030” represents a massive shift away from dependence on a commodity closely tied to the shifts of external markets. Coupled with 70% of its population under the age of 30 years old, Saudi Arabia in this regard and in numerous other ways has started planning for the future in an unprecedented manner.
Never before has this writer seen anything as bold, sweeping, and visionary as what the Kingdom is trying to achieve.
For background and context, in 1950 the Kingdom had a population of 3.9 million people. The number of inhabitants now is nearly 30 million.
Diversification, privatization, replacing foreign workers with nationals, and improving incomes and living standards for the country’s citizens are among the parts of the newly minted comprehensive plan.
There is no question that the transformation plan represents an unprecedented opening for companies. US manufacturers, retailers, and service providers stand to benefit substantially.
Never before has this writer seen anything as bold, sweeping, and visionary as what the Kingdom is trying to achieve.
These and other important private sector actors are looking for talent in places they have never looked before. Those doing so envision potential gains from employing a workforce with a high proportion of graduates from American institutions of higher learning.
According to an unofficial study by a former nationally-prominent deputy minister, such graduates exceed 300,000.
If accurate, this has to be one of the largest number of US-educated and trained university, Saudi Aramco, and a wide variety of technical school graduates living and working in one country anywhere in the world.
The opportunities from this perspective alone – and the chance to build upon them – are numerous and staggering in scope. These Saudi Arabians constitute not only a massive US-produced human resource base – they include tens of thousands who are unabashedly nostalgic about their time in the United States.
Untold thousands of the Kingdom’s citizens are highly vocal about their almost unadulterated fondness for the American people. Their emotions are rooted deep in the times and kinds of teachers, foreign student advisers, and others with whom they met and spent such quality time with when they were transitioning from their post-secondary school studies to adulthood.
Not far back, more than 100,000 of these Saudi Arabians had reportedly purchased residences in places all over America. Impressive numbers of these individuals have done so with a view to locating as near as possible to where they had gone to school before. For decades they have been bringing their spouses and children with them to America.
Together, they have basked in a country and with a people dear to their heart. Not one among them is embarrassed to admit with a pride that is often something greater than many an American tends to admit. This is that during what were the most impressionable years of their earlier preparatory life, the United States, as a country and a people, made an indelible and lasting impression upon them.
Indeed, America was the place away from home whose people, in what at first was a strange and foreign land, they had most come to love and not on their life would they ever forget.
This writer has said it often before. Each day since the late 1970s has been witness to a phenomenon likely experienced in few other countries. For nearly forty years, a greater number of American university graduates from Saudi Arabia with advanced degrees have served in their country’s Cabinet, or Council of Ministers, than there have been officials serving in the US Cabinet with advanced degrees from anywhere.
Figures pertaining to the 150 Members of the Kingdom’s Majlis Al-Shura (Consultative Council), the nearest deliberative body to the American Congress, are as astounding if not more so. Perhaps 90% have their doctoral degrees from universities in the United States. In dramatic contrast, the number of Congressmen with graduate degrees from anywhere is massively fewer.
Human Resource Challenges and Opportunities
To be sure, no country’s leaders who seek to make life better for their citizens are devoid of defect.
Mistakes are made by people who are active and try to improve things; those whose errors are few or none tend to create little or nothing of value that impacts the lives of others.
This said, few could readily find fault for the Kingdom approaching its challenges in an innovative spirit.
Saudi Arabians constitute not only a massive US-produced human resource base – they include tens of thousands who are unabashedly nostalgic about their time in the United States.
But one example among many others is that US-trained and educated Saudi Arabians citizens who are still in the United States are being encouraged to participate in internships with American companies before returning home.
Indeed, a Center for Career Development exists at the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Washington. The Center interacts and liaises with US companies already conducting or looking to do business in the Kingdom.
Each side recognizes the value of such opportunities.
Growing numbers are eager to reap the advantages and leverages that abound in both directions. Not least among the mutual advantages and potential material gain is that there is no obligation to the other by either of the parties. The host corporation doesn’t have to offer further employment or the intern to accept it, if offered.
The students are already in the United States. They are vouchsafed for by the Saudi Arabian Embassy. The intra-US travel cost per intern is minimal. And there are no undue complications in the process of extending the students’ visas, in cases where this might be necessary.
US-trained and educated Saudi Arabians citizens who are still in the United States are being encouraged to participate in internships with American companies before returning home.
Opportunities abound for US-Saudi Arabian partnership and engagement, and effective utilization of the Kingdom’s human resources is an important aspect of the changes underway.
Economic Trends to Watch
Saudi Arabia is seeking over $200 billion through the privatization of its energy, health, education, agriculture, mining, and numerous other sectors.
In addition, five percent of Saudi Aramco – the world’s wealthiest company worth more than a trillion dollars – will be sold through the Kingdom’s and select foreign stock markets.
Proceeds are destined for Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, slated to amass the world’s largest sovereign wealth holdings. The funds expected from the sales will not lie idle long. The forecast is that a large portion of the anticipated revenue is certain to increase the Kingdom’s already massive investments in the United States.
Such are among the achievements and statements of intent that President Trump’s team anticipates being able to announce during the upcoming visit.
A growing American urge to invest in the Kingdom – and vice versa – is therefore obvious. The interest is marked by US financial firms rapidly moving to establish a foothold in the country. The confidence of business representatives on both sides is buoyed by awareness that Saudi Arabia continues to produce nearly one third of all OPEC member-country oil currently exported to global markets.
All of this is in keeping with Mr. Trump’s wanting to promote his “American First” ideology.
But one among other paths towards doing so would be for him to find ways to incentivize the Kingdom to increase substantially the extent of its US monetary assets in the United States. A perennially profitable set of holdings are US Treasury instruments, heightened to seek greater levels of purchases, deposits in US banks, and investments in American financial markets.
A Wider View
In historical terms, President Trump’s visit represents an opportunity not quite on a par with President Roosevelt’s unprecedented, prodigious, and far-reaching meeting with King Salman’s father in February 1945. This said, its potential significance appears to be tilted in that direction.
Certainly, there is no question that there has been nothing like that meeting at Great Bitter Lake since. Instead, far from the atmosphere of President Roosevelt’s meeting with modern Arabia’s and the Gulf’s most powerful and influential monarch, what one has in this instance is something profoundly and categorically different.
This moment finds a President in domestic trouble but on the threshold of what, barring a serious mishap, could be one of the more phenomenal moments in contemporary US-Arab relations.