April 04/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it.
Mark 11/19-25: "And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. Then Peter remembered and said to him, ‘Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, "Be taken up and thrown into the sea", and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you. So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. ‘Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.’"

Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them
Letter to the Hebrews 12/28-29-13/01-09: "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire. Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honour by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’ Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food, which have not benefited those who observe them.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 03-04/18
Judases Of the Cedar’s Revolution & the 14th Of March CoalitionظElias Bejjani/02 April/18
To Make Our Easter’s Commemoration Godly & Righteous/Elias Bejjani/01 April/18
The hidden chapter of Zahle's battle/Dr.Walid Phares/Face Book/April 03/18
Lebanese Parliamentary Coming Elections: A Gigantic Political Rivalry/Sondoss Al Asaad/Moder Diplomacy/April 03/18
The "Moderate" Muslim Scholar Industry/Majid Rafizadeh/Gatestone Institute/April 03/18
Iran using religious indoctrination to gain influence in Georgia/Ali Hajizade/Al Arabiya/April 03/18
Saudi Arabia’s bravery in confronting problems/Hassan Al Mustafa/Al Arabiya/April 03/18
How relations between China and the US are heating up/Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/April 03/18
Trump and Syria, reality and fantasy/Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/April 03/18
How Will Iran Prepare for Potential U.S. Withdrawal from the JCPOA/Omer Carmi//The Washington Institute/April 03/18
If Trump walks away from the Iran deal, Tehran will win/Dennis Ross/The Washington Institute/ April 03/18
Turkish-Russian-Iranian Summit: Limits to a Tripartite Entente/Soner Cagaptay, Anna Borshchevskaya, and Nader Uskowi/The Washington Institute/April 03/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on April 03-04/18
Judases Of the Cedar’s Revolution & the 14th Of March Coalition
To Make Our Easter’s Commemoration Godly & Righteous
The hidden chapter of Zahle's battle
Aoun Receives Saudi Invitation to Arab Summit
Rifi: Their Battle is against Me, Not against Syrian Regime
Hariri Meets al-Rahi, Blames Jumblat for Relation's 'Ups and Downs'
Hariri, Geagea, Jumblat Attend Inauguration of King Salman Avenue in Beirut
Saudi Charge d'Affaires Holds Talks with al-Rahi in Bkirki
Jumblat: Naming Beirut Avenue after King Salman an Honorable Chapter
Mashnouq Stresses that Mustaqbal Backs Berri's Reelection
LF Spearheading Electoral Battle in Baalbek-Hermel
EU to Send Election Monitors to Lebanon
Shiite Cleric Opposed to Hezbollah Threatened in East Lebanon
Saudi Arabia officially invites Aoun to Arab Summit
Jumblatt Escalates Rhetoric Against Bassil, Dissociates Aoun
Aoun: Brussels conference to help lift refugee 'burdens'
Berri, interlocutors tackle current developments
Fighting fake news: International bodies launch new standards for journalists
Hariri inaugurates King Salman Avenue: Lebanon’s Arabism takes precedence over all allegiances
Bukhari during inauguration of King Salman Avenue says Saudi Lebanese relations deeply entrenched
Chbib during inauguration of King Salman Avenue says event outright message Beirut sticking to Arab roots
Jumblatt: Naming boulevard in Beirut after King Salman reminder of Beirut's struggle history
Lebanese Parliamentary Coming Elections: A Gigantic Political Rivalry
Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 03-04/18
Despite Trump Vow, Quick U.S. Pullout from Syria Unlikely
Rouhani Pressured to Fulfill Campaign Promise on Lifting Mousavi, Karroubi House Arrest
Syria Regime Prepares Evacuation, Eyes Total Ghouta Reconquest
Putin Tightens Turkey Alliance with Nuclear Project, Syria Talks
China Begins Counter-Measures in Trade Tariffs War with US
Saudi Crown Prince Says Israel Has 'Right' to a Homeland
Saudi Crown Prince Meets Warner Bros CEO in Los Angeles
Husband of British-Iranian Prisoner in Tehran Urges UK PM May to Intervene
North Korea Foreign Minister in China to Meet Counterpart
Ehud Barak’s New Book Reveals Intelligence Operations in Arab Countries
After Egypt's Sisi Wins 97%, Eyes on Next Term
Kuwait to Recruit Ethiopians amid Philippines Labor Crisis
Latest Lebanese Related News published on April 03-04/18
Judases Of the Cedar’s Revolution & the 14th Of March Coalition
يوداصيو ثورة الأرز و14 آذار
Elias Bejjani/02 April/18
Sadly there are no politicians in Lebanon, but mere thugs, mercenaries and merchants. 99% of the so called Lebanese politicians, as well as the majority owners of the so called parties which are in reality commercial corporations ..have No dignity, No self respect, No patriotic background, No vision and no faith or hope.
They do not fear Almighty God or even take into consideration His Judgment Day.
These thugs are 100% totally accountable for all the hardships that Lebanon and the Lebanese have been encountering since 2005..
The worst among these thugs are those who falsely allege to be patriotic and hide behind the Cedar’s Revolution national tags.
the same revolution that they betrayed, abandoned and sold to Hezbollah, Iran and the Syrian butcher. Definitely, we do not have actual politicians in Lebanon at the present time.
To Make Our Easter’s Commemoration Godly & Righteous
Elias Bejjani/01 April/18
There is no doubt that our commemoration of the resurrection of Christ remains meaningless unless we humble ourselves and reconcile with our actual enemies and open a new page of respect and love with those who we are in conflicts with, especially parents and family members. In conclusion the righteous celebration of the lords’ resurrection is not genuine without actual deeds of love and forgiveness.
يبقى احتفالنا بذكرى قيامة المسيح دون معنى إيماني ما لم نتواضع ونتصالح مع الذين نعاديهم أو يعادننا حيث لا قيامة دون محبة وغفران
The hidden chapter of Zahle's battle
Dr.Walid Phares/Face Book/April 03/18
During April 1981 while the battle of Zahle was underway and the Syrians were trying to push via the "Gurfet el Frensewiye" in Oyoun el Simane, intense diplomatic efforts were taking place to end the conflict. I was one of the (very young) persons in charge of the outreach to the UN as a volunteer in a commission under the Kasleek Group and the Lebanese Front. I remember when Western diplomats told the commission that Assad had ordered his forces to take the city (Zahle) as soon as possible because he was afraid that his army is threatened in Lebanon. Surprised the participants asked the diplomats: "His forces are pounding the coast from Beirut to Kesrwan, are advancing in the jurd and suffocating Zahle. What is he afraid of?" The diplomat answered that Assad assessment is different: "He was fighting the militias in Ashrafieh in 1978 and now they are fighting him in the heart of the Bekaa in 1981. If he doesn't stop there, they would surge in Besharre and Batroun and other communities could follow." We were surprised and wondered if this was a joke. But Albert Sara a Lebanese Melkite bourgeois, member of the Christian Leagues, who was born in Syria whispered in my ear: "That's how Assad think. He has read about Lebanon more than many Lebanese have. He has read Boutros Daou's book. He fears that a prolonged fight will draw international support."Indeed the international intervention materialized after few weeks. All it took was for the local resistance to stand firmly for as long as it took and the leaders demonstrating strategic resolve. How far is Lebanon from these times of clarity...
(From memoirs)
Aoun Receives Saudi Invitation to Arab Summit
Naharnet/April 03/18/Saudi charge d'affaires in Lebanon Walid al-Bukhari on Tuesday handed President Michel Aoun an invitation from Saudi King Salman to the Arab League summit that will be held in the Saudi city of Dhahran on April 15. In his invitation letter, the Saudi monarch said Aoun's participation in the summit “would greatly contribute to its success,” hoping the summit will “strengthen joint Arab action and confront the challenges that our Arab nation is facing.” Aoun for his part asked Bukhari to relay his greetings to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, conforming that he will lead the Lebanese delegation to the summit. The president also hoped the summit will “enhance Arab unity, especially amid these difficult circumstances in the Arab countries.”

Rifi: Their Battle is against Me, Not against Syrian Regime

Naharnet/April 03/18/Ex-minister and Tripoli parliamentary candidate Maj. Gen. Ashraf Rifi has vowed to hold his rivals “accountable” in the May 6 parliamentary elections. “They tried to wage a psychological war against people and to intimidate them, but the scenes (of Rifi's electoral rallies) in Akkar, Beirut and Tripoli have toppled their illusions and bets. We promise them that the score will be settled in ballot boxes,” Rifi told al-Joumhouria daily in remarks published Tuesday. “The attempt to delude people into believing that they are confronting the hegemony scheme and the Syrian regime has also failed,” Rifi added, in an apparent reference to Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his al-Mustaqbal Movement. “Their battle is against Ashraf Rifi, not against the Syrian regime,” the former minister claimed. He noted that “there are reports that the cronies of this regime on their lists are still in contact with this regime.” “We know very well that they have received a green light from Hizbullah to attack me, whereas they are in agreement on everything with the presidency, which is Hizbullah's ally,” Rifi added. “After the elections, they want to carry on with this humiliating settlement. We tell them to be prepared for people's accountability on May 6,” the ex-minister went on to say. Rifi had on Monday announced his 11-member electoral list for the Tripoli-Dinniyeh-Minieh district. A list backed by Rifi had achieved a landslide victory in Tripoli's 2016 municipal elections.

Hariri Meets al-Rahi, Blames Jumblat for Relation's 'Ups and Downs'
Naharnet/April 03/18/Prime Minister Saad Hariri held talks Tuesday in Bkirki with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi and said that his relation with Druze leader MP Walid Jumblat has always witnessed “ups and downs.”Talks with al-Rahi tackled “the various topics in the domestic arena and the latest developments,” Hariri's office said, noting that discussions with the patriarch were continued over a lunch banquet. Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury and Hariri's adviser Daoud al-Sayegh attended the talks. Asked by reporters about the reported deterioration in his relation with Jumblat, Hariri said: “My relation with Walid Beik witnesses ups and downs and we all know this, but this is not because of Saad Hariri. That's why in this issue I always look at the strategic relation, whereas the daily trivialities of this relation are part of Lebanese politics.”“Walid Beik and I will not disagree. He knows what he represents to me and I know what I represent to him,” the premier added. Asked whether he will resume communication with his allies in the March 14 camp after the elections, Hariri said: “I have not abandoned my March 14 allies.” As for his relation with Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, the premier said: “My relation with Dr. Geagea is excellent and I called him yesterday to offer Easter greetings.” Asked when he would meet him, Hariri said “soon.”

Hariri, Geagea, Jumblat Attend Inauguration of King Salman Avenue in Beirut
Naharnet/April 03/18/A ceremony to inaugurate the King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Avenue was held Tuesday evening in Beirut's Minet El Hosn area, in the presence of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea and Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat. Saudi royal envoy Nizar al-Aloula and Saudi charge d'affaires in Lebanon Walid al-Bukhari attended the ceremony. According to Lebanon's National News Agency, the avenue stretches from the Four Seasons Hotel Beirut in Minet El Hosn to the seaside Zaitunay Bay area. It has a length of 1.3 kilometers and a width of 45 meters.
Speaking at the ceremony, Bukhari said “Saudi Arabia has always been and will always be keen on Lebanon's safety, security, stability and national unity.” “We laud the efforts of President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Saad Hariri in consolidating the pillars of peace despite the difficulties,” the Saudi envoy added. “The Saudi-Lebanese ties are deep-rooted and will remain deep-rooted like cedars,” Bukhari went on to say. Hariri for his part said Beirut is “honoring a great Arab leader who has stood by Lebanon during the most difficult circumstances.” "Between Lebanon and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia there is a history that will never be broken, no matter how much they try. This Beiruti evening is a clear message that Lebanon's Arab identity comes before all loyalties, axes and equations,” Hariri added. Beirut Municipality sources told al-Akhbar newspaper in remarks published Tuesday that the decision to name an avenue after King Salman “was taken by the municipal council following a suggestion from its chief Jamal Itani, who fulfilled a wish from the Saudi charge d'affaires in this regard.” Sources loyal to al-Mustaqbal Movement said the move is part of efforts to “strengthen the Lebanese-Saudi historic ties.”Beirut's municipality had in 2005 named Beirut's new seaside corniche after late Saudi King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz.

Saudi Charge d'Affaires Holds Talks with al-Rahi in Bkirki
Naharnet/April 03/18/Saudi charge d'affaires in Lebanon Walid al-Bukhari held talks Tuesday in Bkirki with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Bukhari said he paid a “protocol” visit to al-Rahi after being reappointed as charge d'affaires. Noting that he extended Easter greetings to the patriarch, the Saudi envoy said the meeting was an occasion to discuss al-Rahi's “historic visit to Saudi Arabia and its positive outcome.” Bukhari had held talks Monday in Clemenceau with Druze leader MP Walid Jumblat.

Jumblat: Naming Beirut Avenue after King Salman an Honorable Chapter
Naharnet/April 03/18/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat on Tuesday hailed the move of naming an avenue on Beirut's seafront after Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz. “It is an honorable chapter of Arab history and solidarity in the face of colonialism. Naming a Beirut avenue after King Salman reminds of Beirut's history of Nasserite struggle and the Lebanese-Palestinian cohesion during the (1982 Israeli) siege of Beirut,” Jumblat tweeted. Jumblat accompanied his tweet with a link to an article detailing the story of King Salman's volunteering in the Egyptian army during the 1956 war on Egypt. The PSP leader later arrived in Beirut's Minet El Hosn area to take part in a ceremony to inaugurate the avenue. He had met Monday with Saudi charge d'affaires in Lebanon Walid al-Bukhari. The developments mark an improvement in the ties between Jumblat and the kingdom after they were strained during Prime Minister Saad Hariri's resignation crisis and because of tweets by Jumblat about the Yemen war.

Mashnouq Stresses that Mustaqbal Backs Berri's Reelection

Naharnet/April 03/18/Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq emphasized Tuesday that al-Mustaqbal Movement backs the reelection of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri to his post after the May parliamentary elections. “We are with Speaker Berri as PM Saad Hariri has affirmed, contrary to reports claiming that al-Mustaqbal Movement will not vote for him after the parliamentary polls,” Mashnouq said during an electoral tour in Beirut. “He has always asserted his patriotism and his Arab identity and this issue is non-debatable,” the minister added. MP Hani Qobeissi of Berri's AMAL Movement had warned Saturday that there are attempts to "weaken" Berri. "Their main slogan is weakening Speaker Nabih Berri and rejecting his reelection as parliament speaker," the MP said. Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat had cautioned in remarks published Friday that President Michel Aoun, PM Hariri and the Free Patriotic Movement "are targeting Berri."

LF Spearheading Electoral Battle in Baalbek-Hermel
Naharnet/April 03/18/The Lebanese Forces party is spearheading the electoral battle in the key Baalbek-Hermel district, a media report published Tuesday said. “In the Baalbek-Hermel district, al-Mustaqbal Movement is not leading the electoral battle. It has rather left the mission to the LF in terms of management, organization and rallying,” al-Akhbar newspaper reported. “Saudi Arabia will provide the financial support for this battle at the request of LF leader Samir Geagea,” the daily said. It noted that prior to the latest LF-Mustaqbal rift, Geagea had tried to convince the Saudis that “the LF should oversee March 14's electoral battles” and that “any funds should go through him.”“Geagea's proposal has succeeded in one place – north Bekaa,” al-Akhbar added. The Saudi and Emirati envoys to Lebanon paid Friday a rare visit to the eastern city of Baalbek. State-run National News Agency said they performed the Friday prayer at the Grand Ommayad Mosque in Baalbek, at an invitation from Mufti of Baalbek and Hermel Sheikh Khaled Solh. The visit by the two Gulf envoys comes amid a heated electoral battle in the Baalbek-Hermel district where a list backed by Mustaqbal and the LF is seeking to snatch seats from Hizbullah in its main stronghold.

EU to Send Election Monitors to Lebanon
Naharnet/April 03/18/The European Union has decided to send a specialized delegation to Lebanon led by Spanish MEP Elena Valencia with the aim of monitoring the May 6 parliamentary elections, a media report said. A report published Tuesday by al-Joumhouria newspaper quoted EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini as saying that the European Union is paying special attention to these elections, the first that Lebanon organizes in around a decade. Mogherini noted, according to the daily, that Lebanon's stability and economic growth are important for the entire region. The EU official also hoped that new parliament will lead the EU-demanded urgent reforms. “A nine-member team of monitors has already started its work in Beirut and it will remain in Lebanon after the vote in order to prepare a comprehensive final report,” al-Joumhouria said. “Another 36 monitors will be deployed as of the beginning of May,” the daily added.
Shiite Cleric Opposed to Hezbollah Threatened in East Lebanon
Beirut- Asharq Al Awsat/Tuesday, 3 April, 2018/A Shiite cleric opposed to Hezbollah said he had received an indirect threat from two masked men in Baalbek when his driver came under fire in the eastern city of Lebanon.
Sheikh Abbas al-Jawhari said the driver was passing through a Baalbek neighborhood on Monday, when gunmen intercepted his vehicle, stepped out of a Mercedes car and fired shots to intimidate him while cursing the Shiite sheikh.
In a news conference reported by the Central News Agency (Marzakiah), Jawhari said that gunmen attacked his car, which forced the driver to get out and fire in the air, noting that the two armed men have threatened him. Jawhari added: “We have received from them an ISIS-like message that is far from tolerance, and which accuses everyone, who is running against them, as being an ISIS supporter. This is the result of their provocative rhetoric.” The Shiite cleric urged the Lebanese Judiciary to look into the incident, adding that the perpetrators have defamed the image of Hezbollah. On the other hand, some media reports said that a few days ago, Jawhari’s driver fired at a young man from Wehbi family, without injuring him, so a group of the family retaliated by attacking him, according to Markaziah.

Saudi Arabia officially invites Aoun to Arab Summit
The Daily Star/ April 03, 2018 /BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun Tuesday received an official invitation to attend the Arab Summit to be held in Saudi Arabia later this month. Aoun was handed the invitation, extended by Saudi King Salman, during a meeting at Baabda Palace with Saudi Minister Plenipotentiary Charges d’Affaires in Lebanon Walid Bukhari. The Arab Summit will be held on April 15 in Dhahran. In the written message, King Salman said that Aoun's personal attendance at the summit would "have a great effect on its success," according to a statement from the presidency. The king also expressed hope that the summit will assist “the mutual work of the Arabs and the combat against the challenges that our Arab nation is facing, and ... the goals and ambitions that our people are aiming for." Aoun, the statement added, thanked the Saudi King for the invitation, saying that he would head the delegation to Saudi. He expressed hope that the summit would lead to results that would strengthen Arab unity, particularly at these difficult times. During a Cabinet session last month, Aoun confirmed that he intended to attend the summit, in what will be an ice-breaking move after the president took a critical stance towards Saudi Arabia during Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation crisis last year. Hariri later revoked his resignation, and local media have reported that the premier will accompany Aoun on his visit to the Arab Summit. Aoun first visited Saudi Arabia as president in January 2017. The Free Patriotic Movement, which he founded, is allied with Hezbollah, which Saudi Arabia has accused of fomenting instability in the region and targeting Gulf nations in its capacity as a proxy for Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran. The upcoming Arab Summit is being held in an effort to block Israel’s ascension to the U.N. Security Council as a non-permanent member – a position that is allocated on a rotating basis. Israel is a candidate for a two-year term on the council beginning on Jan. 1, 2019. Elections for the council are slated for mid-2018 during the U.N. General Assembly’s 72nd session.

Jumblatt Escalates Rhetoric Against Bassil, Dissociates Aoun
Beirut- Wajdi Al- Aridi/Asharq Al Awsat/Tuesday, 3 April, 2018/A political conflict between the Progressive Socialist Party, led by MP Walid Jumblatt, and the Free Patriotic Movement, headed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, has gone public as the country prepares to hold parliamentary elections on May 6. Jumblatt, however, is dissociating President Michel Aoun from his harsh criticism of Bassil and the FPM, touching on issues ranging between electricity generating ships and the upcoming parliamentary polls, which will see a tense rivalry between the two parties in the Chouf-Aley constituency, as well as in other regions.In this regard, political sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that the electoral understanding between the FPM and Minister Talal Arslan led to the escalation of the dispute between the FPM and the PSP, forcing the latter’s leader to issue a series of tweets, criticizing Bassil’s policies and directives.
The electoral battle in the Chouf-Aley district is likely to witness a confrontation between four lists, particularly between the Recoiliation List headed by Taymour Jumblatt, and the list formed by Arslan and the FPM, in addition to another list led by former Minister Wiam Wahhab and a fourth list formed by representatives of the civil society. Meanwhile, sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that disagreements between the PSP and the FPM might mark the next stage of the political life, in the wake of Bassil’s efforts to impose his policies and projects in the Chouf Mountain, hence directly entering into Jumblatt’s stronghold, which will have negative repercussions at many levels. In this regard, member of the PSP and the Democratic Gathering parliamentary bloc, MP Nehmeh Tohme, said that his party would not engage in any political confrontation or escalation with any side, in order to guarantee the holding of democratic elections, in which the Lebanese people freely choose their representatives.

Aoun: Brussels conference to help lift refugee 'burdens'
The Daily Star/April 03/18 /BEIRUT: President Michel Aoun expressed hope Tuesday that international funding gathered at this month’s conference in Brussels would help Lebanon “face the burdens” of the Syrian refugee presence, according to a statement from the president’s office. The so-called Brussels conference, slated for later this month, is aimed at garnering international aid to support Lebanon in coping with the at least one million Syrian refugees within its borders. “Lebanon is crying out right now for the results of the Brussels conference,” Aoun said Tuesday, at a meeting with the General Union of Employees and Workers of Hotels, Restaurants, Nutrition and Entertainment. Repeating an often-used refrain, Aoun lamented the economic impacts of the large number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, whom he blamed for “entering the Lebanese job market” and driving up unemployment. The president estimated that Lebanon’s unemployment rate was at 46 percent, a number he also cited last week at a meeting with a delegation from the Lebanese Press Syndicate at Baabda Palace. Aoun expressed hope that the Brussels conference would have “positive repercussions on this issue, which will help Lebanon reduce the competition of foreign labor for Lebanese workers,” according to the statement. Syrian refugees hoping to find formal employment face significant barriers to entry into many Lebanese sectors.
Berri, interlocutors tackle current developments
Tue 03 Apr 2018/NNA - House Speaker, Nabih Berri, on Tuesday welcomed at his Ain Tineh residence US Ambassador to Lebanon, Elizabeth Richard, with whom he discussed the current situation in Lebanon and the region. Speaker Berri also met with the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Bernell Dahler Cardel, with talks between the pair reportedly touching on most recent developments. This afternoon, Berri met with MP Boutros Harb, with the forthcoming legislative elections and the general political situation featuring high on their talks. On emerging, MP Harb stressed commitment to maintaining principles and standards in addressing the electoral topic. Berri also received former PM Nejib Mikati, with discussions centering on the general situation and the elections' issue. Among Berri's itinerant visitors for today had been former Vice Prime Minister, Head of the INTERPOL Foundation, Elias Murr. The general situation highlighted their talks. The Speaker also received a delegation from the army command, led by Brigadier General Fadi Abi Farraj, who presented him with an honorary shield.

Fighting fake news: International bodies launch new standards for journalists
Tue 03 Apr 2018/NNA - Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and leading broadcasters launched a drive against fake news Tuesday with a new set of trust and transparency standards for journalists.The Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI), which hopes to be able to certify outlets and news sources with high standards of ethical norms and independence, is being backed by Agence-France Presse, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and the Global Editors Network. RSF head Christophe Deloire said the idea was that search engines and social media platforms would give preferential treatment in their algorithms to media outlets that met the standards. He hopes that it will lead to the setting up of a "trusted media label" in a world increasingly assaulted by fake news.--AFP

Hariri inaugurates King Salman Avenue: Lebanon’s Arabism takes precedence over all allegiances
Tue 03 Apr 2018/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri inaugurated on Tuesday King Abdullah Salman Avenue in Beirut (Minet elhosn - Zaituna Bay), in the presence of President Michel Sleiman, former Prime Ministers Fouad Siniora, Najib Mikati and Tamam Salam, the representative of the Guardian of the Two Holy Mosques, the adviser to the Royal Court Nizar al-Alula, the Saudi Chargé d'Affaires Walid Al-Bukhari, MP Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Forces head Samir Geagea and many ministers and MPs. Hariri said: "Many Lebanese and many people in this capital know very well the special status of Beirut in the heart and memory of the Guardian of the two Holy Mosques, King Salman ben Abdel Aziz. They know how much he loves Lebanon and its people. He is one of the great men in the Kingdom, who know Lebanon and its regions, and has a wide network of friends including dozens of political, cultural and social figures as well as journalists.I never met King Salman since he was Prince of the city of Riyadh, without him having a good memory of Lebanon to tell, to the point that one had the impression that one is facing a historian of Lebanese affairs who talks to you about successive presidents, leaders he met, the governments that were formed, the parliaments, the conflicts during parliamentary sessions. He also talks about the affairs of the Lebanese press and its symbols, the festivals of Baalbeck, the markets of Beirut and Tripoli, the restaurants of Zahle, the intellectuals' cafes of Hamra and Raouché. He is from the generation that is a witness to the grandeur of this city and its role in the lives of Arabs and Arab leaders. Beirut is here today to celebrate the fact that the name of Salman ben Abdel Aziz will be enthroned on the waterfront. All Beirut is here to honor an important Arab figure who stood alongside Lebanon in the most difficult circumstances. It honors through it the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which in the history of the relationship with our country, has glorious pages of kindness, support and generosity, the big brother who translated the true meaning of fraternity by sponsoring the Taif agreement and ending the Lebanese tragedy, and helping Lebanon at all stages and in all crises. Between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, there is a history that will not be broken, no matter how much they tried to do it. This evening in Beirut is a clear message that Lebanon's Arabism takes precedence over all allegiances, axes and equations. In loyalty to the kingdom and its leadership and in appreciation of its supportive role in Lebanon, I am pleased to inaugurate King Salman Ben Abdel Aziz Avenue on the seafront of the city of Beirut."

Bukhari during inauguration of King Salman Avenue says Saudi Lebanese relations deeply entrenched
Tue 03 Apr 2018/NNA - Saudi Minister Plenipotentiary Charges d'Affaires Waleed Bukhari deemed Lebanese Saudi relations as deeply rooted, saying Saudi Arabia has been and will always remain keen on preserving Lebanon's safety, security, stability and national unity. Bukhari's fresh remarks on Tuesday came during the ceremony to mark the inauguration of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Avenue in Beirut's Mina El Hosn, attended by scores of officials and dignitaries. The Saudi Charges d'Affaires hailed the efforts of President Michel Aoun, House Speaker, Nabih Berri, and Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, in the face of difficulties to consecrate the pillars of peace. Bukhari underlined that Saudi Lebanese relations shall remain deeply rooted akin to the embedded "cedar". The freshly inaugurated avenue was named after the Saudi Monarch, King Salman, who embodies peace and humanity. The avenue spans across 1.3 kilometers with a width of 45 meters. Among the speakers during today's ceremony were most notably Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Beirut Mayor Jamal Itani and Beirut Governor Ziad Chbib. Attending the ceremony were former Lebanese presidents, former prime ministers and religious representatives from all Lebanese sects, as well as scores of Lebanese MPs and figures from all religions and sects that have a strong affection for the Kingdom. Tuesday's ceremony is the latest event that reaffirmed the long-lasting relationship between Riyadh and Beirut. The event also portrayed the real image of Lebanon as it is -- a beautiful Arab country trying to keep itself distant from all conflicts surrounding its borders and the region. Lebanon, as was shown today, is a country that unites people from all backgrounds. Around 7,000 balloons along with a number of doves were released into the air as a glamorous firework show was performed against the backdrop of Solidere's dazzling skyline and high-rise buildings. The doves represented the sign of peace, which King Salman focuses on through the King Salman Center for International Peace and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center. A band from the Lebanese Army performed the national anthems of Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. This is Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, which was, is and will continue to be the crown jewel of the Middle East. This is the true image of the city of coexistence and peace.

Chbib during inauguration of King Salman Avenue says event outright message Beirut sticking to Arab roots
Tue 03 Apr 2018/NNA - The Municipality of Beirut held a ceremony on Tuesday, April 3, 2018, marking the inauguration of King Salman Avenue in Downtown Beirut. "Our celebration today is a tribute to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; a tribute that reflects a history of relations that have always been so profoundly fraternal and unique, thanks to the KSA's endless support to the Lebanese state and people," Beirut Governor, Ziad Chbib, said. Named after the Saudi monarch, who embodies peace and humanity, the avenue spans across 1.3 kilometers at a width of 45 meters.
Among the speakers were most notably Prime Minister Saad Hariri, Minister Plenipotentiary Charges d'Affaires Walid Bukhari, Beirut Mayor Jamal Itani and Beirut Governor Ziad Chebib. Former Lebanese presidents, all former prime ministers and religious representatives from all Lebanese sects attended, as well as a number of Lebanese MPs and figures from all religions and sects that have a strong affection for the Kingdom. In his delivered word, Chbib added that the Lebanese government knew best the importance of maintaining steadfast Lebanese-Saudi relations, adding that the Lebanese state has always defended, fortified, and worked on deepening Saudi-Lebanese ties at all levels. "Thank you Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, for everything you have done and will do for Lebanon's best interest (...) naming this avenue after His Majesty, King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, is a message to the world that Beirut remains committed to its Arab roots, as it has always been throughout its modern history -- a beacon of Arab thought since the 19th century and during the 20th century," Chbib concluded. Tuesday's ceremony is the latest event that reaffirmed the long-lasting relationship between Riyadh and Beirut. The Kingdom also reiterated its support and respect for Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the work he has carried out since assuming his role as the leader of Cabinet. The event also portrayed the real image of Lebanon as it is -- a beautiful Arab country trying to keep itself distant from all conflicts surrounding its borders and the region. Lebanon, as was shown today, is a country that unites people from all backgrounds. Around 7,000 balloons along with a number of doves were released into the air as a glamorous firework show was performed against the backdrop of Solidere's dazzling skyline and high-rise buildings. The doves represented the sign of peace, which King Salman focuses on through the King Salman Center for International Peace and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center. A band from the Lebanese Army performed the national anthems of Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom remains a firm believer in Lebanon and looks forward to continuing its relationship with the Lebanese government and its people, which dates back decades. This is Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, which was, is and will continue to be the crown jewel of the Middle East. This is the true image of the city of coexistence and peace.

Jumblatt: Naming boulevard in Beirut after King Salman reminder of Beirut's struggle history

Tue 03 Apr 2018/NNA - "Democratic Gathering" head MP Walid Jumblatt said naming a boulevard in Beirut after King Salman is a reminder of Beirut's history of Nasserite struggle and Palestinian national cohesion. MP Jumblatt's words on Tuesday came during his participation in the ceremony to mark the inauguration of King Slaman bin Abdul Aziz Avenue in Beirut's Mina El Hosn. Jumblatt deemed the inauguration of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Avenue in Beirut's Mina El Hosn as an "honorable page of Arab history and solidarity in the face of colonialism."In reply to a question about his relation with Saudi Arabia, he said: 'Let's open a new page of relations with Saudi Arabia."

Lebanese Parliamentary Coming Elections: A Gigantic Political Rivalry
Sondoss Al Asaad/Moder Diplomacy/April 03/18
The Lebanese constitution stipulates that the parliamentary electoral process take place every four years; however, the political unrest during the recent years has delayed this election, rankling voters and galvanizing a campaign to change electoral laws. Per Lebanon’s constitution, it is committed that the president is a Maronite Christian; the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of the parliament a Shiite Muslim.In May 2018, Lebanon will hold its first parliamentary elections after postponing it several times since 2009.
The new electoral dynamic could significantly change the political calculus. This law has eventually granted the Lebanese immigrants their right to vote; has reduced the number of electoral districts in the country from 26 to 15 and has replaced the current plurality system with a system of proportional representation; increasing the sectarian diversity of MPs within each district.
Each of the eighteen religious sects, which the Lebanese constitution recognizes, the designations by which political seats are allocated, court foreign support. In response to Lebanon’s failure to condemn attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran following the kingdom’s execution of a Shi’ite cleric, the Saudis cancelled a three billion dollar aid package for the Lebanese army. Additionally, they increase the level of their aggressive threatening rhetoric anti Lebanon.
The expected election will take place after the consecutive political debates and since the former president; Michel Suleiman finished his term in 2014 without an agreement on who would succeed him. After two years of the presidential vacant, the Lebanese Politicians overcame the political deadlock in October 2016, electing General Michel Aoun as president.
In a televised speech, Hezbollah Secretary General, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah urged the Lebanese to effectively take part in order to get the largest electoral outcome. He asserted that the relative law allows people to take their natural size in contrast to the law of majority, stressing, “The great harvest that we have achieved in Lebanon has cost us dear blood and it is our responsibility to keep our country strong.”
Lebanon is considerably polarised because of the continuous political unrest, Zionist attacks, security drastic events and the impact of the Syrian civil war. With this situation, President Aoun would play an effective role in terms of implementing changes and reforms. Undoubtedly, he stores experience of having an ability to weave understandings, build national bridges, address diverse forces and demonstrate strong leadership to rebuild the state.
Analysts consider that Aoun’s impending election would be an immense victory for Hezbollah, in terms of its political allies as well as its position in Lebanon and a painful climb down for the Saudis after their disengagement with Lebanon since February 2018. This co-operation dates back to 2006 when President Aoun signed a formal agreement of alliance between his Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah. President Michel Aoun has consistently backed Hezbollah ever since.
The Lebanese electoral system has followed sectarian allocations, entitled ‘consociational democracy’, since the independence from French Mandate in 1943. Seats in both the parliament and the government are reserved for the 18 different religious sects’ representatives. This sectarian designation divides sects and prevents political mobilisation around specific issues. As a result, the interests of outside powers take precedence over the interests of Lebanese voters.
Addressing his followers,Sayyed Nasrallah further highlighted, “Your votes in favour of the Resistance’s candidates would preserve the blood of the martyrs who have fallen in the Resistance’s path especially amid the current direct US interference in the region.”
After the 2005 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri, the Lebanese public was divided, either supporting the March 8 Alliance i.e. Resistance axis, or the March 14 Alliance i.e. anti-Resistance axis. Disagreements between these two groups at the very beginning intensified, and then subsided correspondingly with political developments.
Since the adoption of the new law, which is based on the proportional representation system, electoral experts confirmed that the distribution of seats among the political forces was almost conclusive. They emphasised that the “Shi’ite duo” Hezbollah and Amal Movement agreed that the sect’s parliamentary seats would be shared consensually. Such a deal means that Hezbollah and Amal would maintain additional parliamentary seats; particularly in the two districts: Baalbek/Hermel and Nabatieh/Bint Jbeil/Zahrani.
Amid the consecutive Zionist-American-Saudi failures in the region, analysts expect that the coming election, which many Lebanese are awaiting enthusiastically, might interrupt almost the nine years of stability.In the announcement of the electoral program for Hezbollah’s MPs and the Loyalty to the Resistance Bloc, the Secretary-general of Hezbollah Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said, “Be careful there are American-“Israeli” exercises. There are developments in the region and the world.”
Mostly all Lebanese understand that the stagnant political status quo can undermine security in the long run due to the foreign blatant interference in the Lebanese internal issues. A robust debate and concerns remain heavily centred on security and the status quo. It is obvious that the Zionist Saudi American powers aligned with some Lebanese actors would react undesirably to any significant shifts in the Lebanese political scene.
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addressed his followers, “To the Lebanese, the upcoming parliamentary elections represent a serious opportunity for the Lebanese people to re-produce their national authority, benefiting from the state of stability and safety provided by the protection umbrella thanks to the equation of the army, the people and the resistance. The security presence in Lebanon is due to this equation. There is a dispute in the evaluation, but this is our opinion. There is a new electoral law based on proportionality in which we contributed greatly to its adoption. It will allow the Lebanese to better express their choices better and correct the parliamentary representation as much as possible.”
Analysts, further, assume that the Saudis could leverage the power and launch an economic boycott over Lebanon as they have done with Qatar. Sayyed Nasrallah expressed, “Everyone has come to realize that the country’s situation on the financial level has become dangerous. Thus, discussions were held that if we continue like this, will Lebanon become like Greece or not?” He added, “It is necessary for everyone to deal with the issue of fighting waste and corruption in all departments and institutions of the state that is linked to public money.” “The issue of fighting [corruption and waste] is an absolute national priority. We will commit ourselves and work on the basis of this priority in the coming stage,” Sayyed Nasrallah read.
**Sondoss Al AsaadSondoss Al Asaad is a Lebanese freelance journalist, political analyst and translator; based in Beirut, Lebanon. Al Asaad writes on issues of the Arabs and Muslims world, with special focus on the Bahraini uprising.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 03-04/18
Despite Trump Vow, Quick U.S. Pullout from Syria Unlikely
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 03/18/When President Donald Trump vowed U.S. forces would shortly quit Syria, observers were left wondering if he was signalling an epic policy shift -- or whether it was more a case of wishful thinking. Trump, who campaigned on a pledge of "America First," is said to be frustrated by the open-ended U.S. commitment in Syria, where special operations forces are training and advising Kurdish and Syrian Arab fighters who are battling the Islamic State group. Now that the jihadists have lost 98 percent of the ground they once held, according to the Pentagon, Trump last week told supporters it is almost time to bring the 2,000 or so U.S. troops home from Syria. "We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now," Trump promised in an address to industrial workers in Ohio. "We're going to have 100 percent of the caliphate, as they call it -- sometimes referred to as 'land' -- taking it all back quickly, quickly," he added. Analysts were quick to question the consequences of a rapid withdrawal from Syria, and by Monday it was clear that the current Syria policy is not shifting, at least for now. "Our mission has not changed," Pentagon spokesman Major Adrian Rankine-Galloway said. "We are continuing to implement the president's strategy to defeat ISIS."Officials told AFP that Trump's aside in his speech was not a slip, but that for several weeks he had been resisting the idea of a long- or medium-term U.S. commitment to stabilizing eastern Syria after the defeat of IS. The State Department refused to confirm or deny a report in The Wall Street Journal that Trump had placed on hold $200 million in U.S. funding to help stabilize areas of eastern Syria recaptured from IS. But, speaking on condition of anonymity, U.S. officials confirmed that Trump has been privately questioning the strategy for several weeks.
Total U.S. capitulation
Since late 2014, the United States has led an international coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, where most of the combat has been conducted by local partners on the ground. Trump's apparent readiness to quit the chaos of Syria runs counter to a new U.S. strategy announced in January by then secretary of state Rex Tillerson -- who has since been sacked. Tillerson argued U.S. forces must remain engaged in Syria to prevent IS and al-Qaida from returning and to deny Iran a chance "to further strengthen its position in Syria."Charles Lister, a senior fellow and director of the Extremism and Counterterrorism Program at the Middle East Institute, noted that a sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces would immediately bolster Iran, Russia and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Trump's "comments come so much out of nowhere that it's hard to take them totally seriously," said Lister, of the Washington think tank. The president has picked a new national security advisor, John Bolton, and nominated a new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, both of whom are hawkish on Iran. "Trump and his new team basically now are kind of violently anti-Iranian and leaving Syria would represent a total U.S. capitulation to Iranian influence in the region," Lister told AFP. Trump's advisors including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other officials "will at least for now overpower Trump's tendency to just pack up and leave."But Daniel Davis, a retired army lieutenant colonel and fellow at the Defense Priorities military think tank, said Trump is right to desire a withdrawal of U.S. troops because ultimately, America's presence would have no impact on Syria's seven-year civil war, and that the real players are Iran and Russia. "Why would the president want to continue to do something that is guaranteed to fail? I think (withdrawal) is the right thing to do," Davis told AFP, noting that America should only get involved in foreign military interventions when U.S. national security interests are directly threatened. More than 340,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since Syria's civil war started in 2011, spiralling into a complex conflict involving multiple world powers.

Rouhani Pressured to Fulfill Campaign Promise on Lifting Mousavi, Karroubi House Arrest
London - Adel al-Salmi/Asharq Al Awsat/Tuesday, 3 April, 2018/Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is facing several internal challenges in regards to fulfilling pledges he made during his presidential campaign. He has faced mounting pressure over the ongoing house arrest of reform movement leaders former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Rouhani had vowed to end their arrest, a promise that has yet to be fulfilled. Restrictions curbing the activity of reformist former president Mohammad Khatami were also promised to be rolled back. Reformist MP Elias Hazrati sent an open letter to Rouhani asking him to meet his constitutional duty on releasing Mousavi and Karroubi. When analyzing the internal situation, the ongoing status quo is unacceptable, said Hazrati. “In view of your responsibility to implement the Constitution, I affirm your legal duty in the case of compulsory house arrest imposed on Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi,” Etemad cited Hazrati as saying when addressing Rouhani. He said that ending the house arrest “is a necessary step for national unity and reducing social and political divisions.”Karroubi had sent an open letter to supreme leader Ali Khamenei demanding that he take responsibility for his policies over the past three decades instead of criticizing others. He said the current political, economic, cultural and social conditions are a result of Khamenei's strategic and operational policy “adventures.”Karroubi also called the recent popular protests in Iranian cities “a warning bell” against corruption, injustice and discrimination, stressing the need to take the concerns of the Iranian people into account. Backing his father’s position, Hussein Karroubi said in an interview with reformist Insaf News that “his father will not remain silent even after the lifting of house arrest.”He stressed that his father “is still a believer in the Islamic Republic.” However, he disagreed with Khamenei’s approaches. Despite rising differences between the reformist camp and the moderates, reformist movement's leaders have confirmed continued support for Rouhani. Their backing of the president aims to reduce the chances for a conservative government takeover backed by Khamenei and Revolutionary Guards forces.
Syria Regime Prepares Evacuation, Eyes Total Ghouta Reconquest
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 03/18/Buses entered the last rebel holdout of Syria's Eastern Ghouta on Tuesday in preparation for a possible second day of evacuations as the regime eyed the total reconquest of the enclave. Evacuations of Jaish al-Islam fighters and their families from the former bastion's main town of Douma started Monday under a Russia-brokered deal. Jaish al-Islam has not yet confirmed the accord, amid reports hardliners within the group were refusing to leave their positions. The reported deal is the latest in a string of agreements that have seen tens of thousands of people -- rebels and civilians -- leave the onetime stronghold outside Damascus for the north of the country. Russia-backed regime forces have retaken control of 95 percent of Eastern Ghouta since February 18 through a combination of a deadly air and ground assault and evacuation deals. The reconquest of Eastern Ghouta would mark a major milestone in President Bashar al-Assad's efforts to regain control of territory seized by rebels during Syria's seven-year civil war. Buses entered the enclave on Tuesday to prepare for a second day of evacuations, a military source and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said. But there were no reports of any having exited at the start of the afternoon. "The operation could continue today or not. There are divisions among the Jaish al-Islam group on their leaving but we are continuing preparations," the military source told AFP.
Will not leave
In a first wave of the evacuations from Douma under the deal, more than 1,100 people -- Jaish al-Islam fighters and family members -- set off late Monday to the rebel-held town of Jarabulus in northern Syria, state news agency SANA said. In the morning, an AFP reporter saw dozens of empty buses waiting by the side of the highway and near a government-held checkpoint used by the buses to enter and exit Eastern Ghouta. The Observatory, which relies on sources on the ground, said the evacuations were set to continue on Tuesday but that divisions continued within the group. "There is still a hardline wing in Jaish al-Islam that refuses the deal," Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said. Jaish al-Islam has around 10,000 fighters in its ranks, the Observatory says. In video footage published by the group online on Sunday, leader Essam al-Buidani told men in a mosque: "We will stay in this town and will not leave."
But "those who want to leave should leave," he said. Monday's evacuation came after more than 46,000 people -- including fighters from other areas of Eastern Ghouta -- left on buses to the northwestern province of Idlib, the last in Syria to remain largely outside regime control. Backed by Russia, Assad's forces have scored a series of victories over rebel forces in recent years, often through campaigns of siege, aerial bombardment and ground offensives that have drawn widespread international condemnation.
Spider's web
Before February 18, some 400,000 people in Eastern Ghouta had lived under regime siege for five years, facing severe food and medicine shortages. The regime assault on Eastern Ghouta since mid-February has killed more than 1,600 civilians and caused tens of thousands to flee into regime-held territory. Aid workers have criticized the living conditions in the temporary camps in government-controlled territory receiving the displaced. On Tuesday, SANA quoted a military source as saying more than 40,000 people have returned to their homes in areas of the former rebel enclave. Syria's war has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests. Eastern Ghouta lies within mortar range of the capital, and last month the deadliest rebel rocket attack on the capital in months killed 44 civilians.
Rebels have left behind a labyrinth of tunnels under Eastern Ghouta, fitted with hospitals and military headquarters, and some of them wide enough to drive a car through. A Syrian army official who escorted journalists on a visit Monday described them as "a real spider's web." SANA said the military also found two underground field hospitals, equipped with medical equipment and medicine.
Putin Tightens Turkey Alliance with Nuclear Project, Syria Talks
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 03/18/President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday embarked on a two day visit to Russia's increasingly close partner Turkey to launch the construction of its first nuclear power plant and coordinate policy on the war in Syria. Putin was to hold an afternoon of talks with his counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan before the two strongmen leaders are joined on Wednesday by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for a summit devoted to Syria. Their meeting in Ankara opened with Putin and Erdogan, via video conference, launching construction of Turkey's first nuclear power station in the Mediterranean Mersin region, a massive project that will come online in half a decade. In a sign of the importance of the alliance, Putin's visit to Turkey is his first trip abroad since he won a historic fourth presidential mandate in March 18 polls. Putin and Erdogan -- who have both led their post-imperial states out of economic crisis but also into a new era of confrontation with the West -- have forged an increasingly close alliance in recent months. The Russian leader was driven to the vast presidential palace surrounded by an escort of Turkish troops in ceremonial dress on horseback and was warmly greeted by Erdogan who was waiting in person at the gate.
Close cooperation
Their meeting comes as ties between Russia and the West are nosediving to post-Cold War lows after the March poisoning of Russian ex-double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK. While EU powers have rushed to join Britain in condemning Russia and expelling diplomats over the attack on Skripal, Turkey has been much more circumspect. Erdogan, who in 2017 held eight face-to-face meetings with Putin and has already spoken to the Russian leader seven times by phone this year, has said that Ankara will not act against Moscow "based on an allegation". In a move that has troubled Turkey's NATO allies, Ankara has agreed to buy S-400 air defense missile systems from Russia. But Ankara-Moscow relations were also tested by a severe crisis from November 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian war plane over Syria, a confrontation both sides are trying to put behind each other. Despite being on different sides of the Syrian civil war, key regime backers Russia and Iran have joined with rebel-supporting Turkey to push forward a peace process but also to ensure influence in Syria once the conflict ends.
"We are also in close cooperation with Russia to end as soon as possible the terror threat and clashes in Syria," said Erdogan.
'New stage for Turkey
The Akkuyu power station -- a project costing over $20 billion (16 billion euros) and heavily disliked by environmentalists -- was already launched once before in February 2015 but then put on hold due to the row over the downed Russian plane. "The scale of this project is difficult to exaggerate," Putin said at the ceremony. "This marks a new stage in the development of Turkey's economy." Erdogan declared: "We are witnessing a historic moment." The project was launched with Erdogan declaiming "in the name of God!" and work immediately began on the site, with the first concrete pouring as celebratory fireworks were let off. Once completed the power station will provide 10 percent of the electricity needs of Turkey, which has few energy resources of its own. The first stage is due to come online in 2023, the 100th anniversary of modern Turkey's founding, and be completed entirely in 2026. Russia and Turkey are also building the TurkStream gas pipeline under the Black Sea that will allow Moscow to pump gas to Europe avoiding Ukraine and increase Turkey's importance as a transit hub. Half of the offshore section of the pipeline has already been installed. "We are realizing a number of strategic projects with the Russian Federation," said Erdogan.

China Begins Counter-Measures in Trade Tariffs War with US
Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 3 April, 2018/China announced on Monday its "retaliatory and practical" measures in the trade tariff crisis sparked by the United States, revealing the entry into force of customs duties on 128 US goods, 120 of which now have 15 percent tariffs and eight others have 25 percent.
However, Beijing has also urged trade talks with the US to prevent further damage to relations. China has criticized the administration of US President Donald Trump for imposing taxes on steel and aluminum and has responded by targeting some US products, including meat, fruit and wine.
In its first response, China did not target major US goods, like airplanes, instead focusing on several small products, such as coconuts, cashew and almond nuts, as well as scrap aluminum. According to analysts, imposing fees on such products will first confirm Beijing's position on its threats that it will respond strongly to the US move to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum. Secondly, it means that targeting small commodities may spark pressure on Trump’s administration more than major products or factories, given the wide range of farmers and manufacturers affected by this move.
Beijing may have preferred to postpone imposing fees on major products to a later stage, amid an expected escalation from Washington. According to the figures, China's imports of 128 US products annually amount to $3 billion. The Customs Tariff Commission of the State Council imposed the fees, after weeks of exchanged statements which raised fears of a trade war between the world's two largest economies, the official Xinhua news agency said. Trump's administration said the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports were aimed at protecting the national security of the United States, but China's Ministry of Commerce considered it a "violation" of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. "China advocates and supports a multilateral trade system,” the ministry said. Trump had attacked China on several occasions over the huge trade deficit, and promised during his presidential campaign to take action to reduce it.
In March, Beijing warned that it was considering imposing tariffs ranging from 15 to 25 percent on a number of US products. On Sunday, China's Ministry of Commerce expressed hope the US government would withdraw the tariffs "as soon as possible so that the trading of products between China and the United States will return to a normal track."
Saudi Crown Prince Says Israel Has 'Right' to a Homeland
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 03/18/The crown prince and de facto leader of Saudi Arabia said Israel has a "right" to a homeland, a notable shift in the kingdom's position published overnight. Saudi Arabia and Israel still have no formal diplomatic relations, but behind the scenes, improvements in their ties have accelerated in recent years. Both countries see Iran as their biggest outside threat and the United States as their key ally, and both see danger from armed Islamist extremists. Israel's conflict with the Palestinians has long proved an obstacle to a full rapprochement, however, as Riyadh still supports their claim to sovereignty. But now Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman -- speaking to the editor-in-chief of U.S. news magazine The Atlantic -- appeared to put the rival land claims on an equal footing. The prince was asked by Jeffrey Goldberg whether the "Jewish people have a right to a nation-state in at least part of their ancestral homeland?" "I believe that each people, anywhere, has a right to live in their peaceful nation," said the prince, who is on a three-week U.S. tour. "I believe the Palestinians and the Israelis have the right to have their own land," he added. "But we have to have a peace agreement to assure the stability for everyone and to have normal relations." Since 2002, Saudi Arabia has been the main sponsor of the Arab Peace Initiative, which envisions a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But no such senior Saudi official is known to have previously accepted that Israel has a "right" to any land beyond the practical need to secure a lasting deal. If, as expected, the crown prince succeeds his octogenarian father King Salman and ascends to the Saudi throne, he will also become guardian of Islam's holiest shrines. But he told Goldberg he had no "religious objection" to Israelis living alongside Palestinians, so long as the main Muslim holy site in Jerusalem -- the Al-Aqsa mosque compound -- is protected. "We have religious concerns about the fate of the holy mosque in Jerusalem and about the rights of the Palestinian people," he said. "This is what we have. We don't have any objection against any other people."

Saudi Crown Prince Meets Warner Bros CEO in Los Angeles
Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 3 April, 2018/Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, held talks with Warner Bros. Chairman Kevin Tsujihara in Los Angeles as part of his ongoing official visit to the United States. The talks, which included a number of officials from firms affiliated with the entertainment company, tackled opportunities for a promising media, entertainment and cultural partnership. The meeting was attended by Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz and members of the Crown Prince’s delegation.

Husband of British-Iranian Prisoner in Tehran Urges UK PM May to Intervene
London - Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 3 April, 2018/The husband of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman jailed in Tehran, Monday accused Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson of "not doing enough" to secure her release and urged Prime Minister Theresa May to act. According to AFP, Richard Ratcliffe said that “Nazanin is still in prison, so in simple terms, the foreign secretary has not done enough.” “The prime minister is more important, and just as we were pushing to meet the foreign secretary, at some point, if that is not enough, we have to push up another level and that's the prime minister,” he added. Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation - the media organization’s philanthropic arm - was arrested at Tehran airport on April 3, 2016. She is serving a five-year jail sentence for alleged sedition - charges she has always denied. The couple's young daughter, Gabriella, was in Iran with her mother at the time of her detention and has remained there in the care of relatives. Ratcliffe insisted that "the ball is absolutely in the [British] government's court". He added that the head of the prison where his wife is being held had told her "I approved your release many months ago". Ratcliffe believes her release is being held up by a battle over interest that Britain owes over a historic arms deal that went sour following the Iranian revolution of 1979.

North Korea Foreign Minister in China to Meet Counterpart
Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 3 April, 2018/North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho arrived in Beijing for talks with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, a week after Pyongyang's leader Kim Jong Un made a surprise trip to China before planned summits with the US and South Korean presidents. The latest visit, disclosed by China's foreign ministry, is part of a flurry of diplomacy that has eased regional tensions after months of bellicose rhetoric between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang's nuclear program. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman did not say when Wang would meet Ri. The spokesman, Geng Shuang, indicated that the visit would be short. Wang is scheduled to be in Russia on Wednesday. "Details on the meeting will be provided in a timely manner," Geng said. North Korea's official KCNA news agency said Ri was heading a government delegation that left on Tuesday for a conference of foreign ministers of the Non-Aligned Movement in Azerbaijan. Ri will also visit Russia and other former Soviet states. Kim last week met President Xi Jinping on his first trip abroad since inheriting power from his father Kim Jong Il in December 2011. China is the North's only significant ally and trade partner, but ties had cooled since it began enforcing UN sanctions aimed at curbing its neighbor's nuclear and missile programs. Kim's secretive visit was dubbed "unofficial" but bore all the trappings of an official state occasion, with honor guards, bouquets, red carpets and meetings with most of China's top leaders. Kim is now due to hold a summit with South Korea's Moon Jae-in on April 27 and a landmark meeting with US President Donald Trump is also planned -- events that give both Pyongyang and Beijing new incentives to repair their strained relationship. Wang hoped on Tuesday that the summit can advance smoothly and that all sides maintain focus and avoid “disruptive factors”. He said there had been positive changes on the Korean peninsula and that all sides were engaging in “sincere exchanges”. “China hopes all sides can cherish this hard to come by situation, maintain the momentum of contact and dialogue, and create conditions to smoothly restart dialogue,” Wang said during a joint news briefing with visiting Swiss Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis. he hoped the Kim-Trump summit would “increase mutual understanding”. “But historical experience tells us that at the moment of easing of the situation on the peninsula and as first light dawns on peace and dialogue, frequently all manner of disruptive factors emerge,” the minister added. “So we call on all sides to maintain focus, eliminate interference, and firmly follow the correct path of dialogue and negotiation.” Cassis said that he would discuss with Wang the role that Switzerland could play in the strategic meetings between Kim and “some important partners on the international level”, but he did not elaborate.

Ehud Barak’s New Book Reveals Intelligence Operations in Arab Countries
Tel Aviv – Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 3 April, 2018/Ehud Barak’s New Book Reveals Intelligence Operations, Assassination Plots in Arab Countries
Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently finished his autobiography in which he revealed several Israeli intelligence and assassination operations, as part of his military activity in several Arab countries. Some of those operations have remained under wraps for over 50 years and are now revealed in his book, “My Country, My Life: Fighting for Israel, Searching for Peace.”Chaired by Benjamin Netanyahu, the ministerial committee that reviews books by former senior officials allowed their former colleague to go ahead with publishing his memoir. Sources revealed that the book discusses the story of Israel’s most secret intelligence-gathering operations, which laid the ground for victory in the Six-Day War of 1967 and could possibly have prevented its defeat in the Yom Kippur War in 1973. In one of Barak’s personal stories, he recalled leading his first operations deep in Syria and Egypt as one of the first officers of the Sayeret Matkal commandos. The authorization for the first operation came in August 1963, when Barak was ordered to plan and command an incursion of a five-man team into the Golan Heights to wire-tap a Syrian army communications line. In his book, Barak gives the first detailed account of the operation that led to a historic and strategic breakthrough for Israeli intelligence. Each member carried an Uzi gun and two grenades, and then crossed the border after nightfall north of Kibbutz Dan. They had orders to return by 1:15 A.M., but on the way they had to move passed three sleeping Syrian soldiers and the Banias River, which was deeper and wider than expected at the spot Barak had chosen to cross. When the order came over the radio to return, he told his men to switch it off. Once they installed the device at the top of a telephone pole, they returned to Israeli territory undetected, but three hours late. They were greeted at the border by the Military Intelligence chief, Meir Amit. The intelligence that would be gathered by the planted devices would be a key factor less than four years later when Israeli forces captured the Golan Heights in the last 36 hours of the Six-Day War.
However, the Syrian front wasn’t Israel’s main concern in the 1960s. Egypt boasted the largest Arab army and a president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was determined to unify the Arab world against Israel. Tapping into the communications of the Egyptian army deep in Sinai would take a much larger and more powerful device, not one that could be carried on the backs of commandos. At the time, the Israeli Air Force received its first large transport helicopters, Sikorsky S-58s, and it was decided that Barak would lead the Sayeret Matkal’s first major helicopter-borne mission. “Even now,” he writes, “most of the details of how we planned to tap into the Egyptians’ communications remain classified.”He still gives a good deal of new details, including the fact that geologists were consulted to help work out the best locations to hide the tapping devices from Egyptian desert scouts. Barak did not mention how the device was connected to the Egyptian communication line and hidden in early 1964, but he does reveal that all five men made sure it was installed before they had to get back. This was Barak’s first mission that was approved by the new Chief of Staff, Yitzhak Rabin, and would be followed by similar operations. Early 1970, the third secret operation to install listening devices took place. Barak stated that this operation needed larger helicopters and included diversionary attacks on Egyptian installations to hide the true mission. The helicopters flew over the Suez Canal and installing and hiding the device was much more difficult than expected. The team nearly aborted midway, but the generals radioed that they had more time and the work was completed. “For the first time since we’d captured Sinai, Israel was again receiving real-time communications from inside Egypt,” Barak wrote. These devices and others installed were called the "special sources" that Israel used sparingly to minimize the risk of detection.

After Egypt's Sisi Wins 97%, Eyes on Next Term
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 03/18/Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will be in a stronger position than ever after winning 97 percent of valid votes for a second term, but the big question is whether it will be his last. His next four years are expected to resemble his first term, in pursuing economic reforms, and further slashing wasteful subsidies. He is also expected not to let up a crackdown on dissent. Sisi often warns that the country is on the brink of collapse and that he will not tolerate anything that threatens his efforts. Sisi has said he has no ambition to stay after the end of his second term in 2022 -- something the current constitution prohibits anyway. But analysts say that can change. "All options are open," said Hassan Nafea, political science professor at Cairo University. Sisi won last week's election against a sole rival who himself is a supporter of the president. Other candidates had withdrawn, been sidelined, or arrested. Despite Sisi's appeal for a large turnout, only 41 percent of registered voters cast their ballots, with seven percent spoiled ballots. "Although I don't consider what happened an election, because it had no real competition, what concerns me now is the future," Nafea said. "The question now is whether he will resort to amending the constitution to cancel the article that stipulates a president may not rule for more than two terms, or whether he will find another military man to take his place, or will he take the democratic choice," Nafea said. Sisi, a former army chief, had ousted his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Morsi was the republic's first democratically elected president, and the first leader not from military ranks, but his year in office was divisive and sparked massive protests demanding his resignation. Since his election, he has imposed tough economic reforms that have been welcomed by foreign investors but sent inflation sky rocketing. He is also fighting a tenacious Islamic State group insurgency based in Sinai, but although military campaigns have degraded the jihadists, it is not expected they will be defeated soon. Mostafa Kamel al-Sayed, a political science professor at Cairo University, said there was a "big chance" Sisi would have the constitution amended. "His supporters have started discussing this (in media), especially to amend the article" on two presidential terms, he said.
Unliteral decisions
The article, drafted after the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak, has been considered one of the main successes of the uprising. Sisi's second term, al-Sayed said, is expected to see more of his unilateral decision making. "These are decisions meant to dazzle without achieving anything on the ground nor agreeing with development priorities," he said, referring to mega projects such as a Suez Canal extension and a new administrative capital. He is also expected to continue cracking down on dissidents, and "restraints on freedoms and organizing" will remain, al-Sayed said. Sisi has proven adept at consolidating power, whether through having a pliant parliament or loyal media that rarely step out of line, said Karim Emile Bitar, a senior fellow at the IRIS think tank in Paris. Bitar also pointed to a favorable international atmosphere for Sisi. The election, "which international observers agree is a charade," came "in an international context suitable to supporting authoritarianism and with a blank check from U.S. President Donald Trump." Trump was among the first leaders to congratulate Sisi after the official results on Monday, with the White House saying in a statement the two leaders "look forward to advancing this partnership and addressing common challenges."

Kuwait to Recruit Ethiopians amid Philippines Labor Crisis
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 03/18/Kuwait will recruit Ethiopian nationals to make up for a "deficit" in domestic workers, authorities said Tuesday, following the grisly murder of a Filipina maid in the Gulf state. The Philippines banned its citizens from working in Kuwait after the body of 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis was found in a freezer earlier this year, bearing signs of torture. "We aim to open the door to the recruitment of Ethiopian workers to fill the deficit of domestic servants and reduce prices," General Talal Al-Maarifi, head of Kuwait's General Department of Residency Affairs, told AFP. Ethiopia five years ago instituted a similar ban, following reports of abuse and complaints that employment agencies lured its citizens to work under illegal and appalling conditions. The ban was lifted last Thursday. Maarifi said there were more than 15,000 Ethiopians currently living and working in Kuwait. Kuwaiti police in March 2017 detained a woman for filming her Ethiopian maid falling from the seventh floor without trying to rescue her. The 12-second video shows the maid hanging outside the building, with one hand tightly gripping the window frame, as she begs for help.  Rights groups have voiced alarm over the plight of workers in the Gulf and other Arab countries, where migrant labor is regulated under a system known as "kafala." The kafala, or sponsorship, system ties migrant workers' visas to their employers, prohibiting workers from leaving the country or changing jobs without prior consent.

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published
on April 03-04/18
The "Moderate" Muslim Scholar Industry

Majid Rafizadeh/Gatestone Institute/April 03/18
I have lived for years in these places in the Middle East and seen with my own eyes the cruelty and abuse that takes place under extremist Islamic law. I have heard the screams of families as their loved ones were tortured and slaughtered for the simplest acts -- singing, dancing, voicing an opinion, or simply being a non-Muslim -- all of which are crimes.
If we play the game of misinforming and misleading people about Islamism, by making irrelevant analogies to whitewash the violence and terrorism which are generated by Islamic fundamentalism, we are indoctrinating the literally millions of innocent children who will be either the perpetrators or victims of the next radical Islamic terror attacks -- including Muslims.
Meanwhile the real scholars of Islam, such as Robert Spencer, who are trying to warn the public about these apologists, are called "Islamophobes," poisoned, often fired from work, censored on social media and barred from entering democratic countries such as Britain.
When I was new to the United States, a so-called "moderate" Muslim scholar pulled me aside and gave me some "friendly" words of advice:
"In the West, there is a trend unfolding. If you follow it, you will find great success, more than you can imagine. It is very easy, all you have to do is stick to a few simple rules. No matter what your personal views are, you must be a Muslim apologist -- an apologist for radical Islam -- and present yourself as a 'moderate' Muslim scholar. If you can accomplish this, they will lap it up. You will never want for anything again. You will easily gain wealth and become the most in-demand 'moderate' Muslim scholar in the West!"
It sounded reasonable enough. "As you have the advantage of being from the region," he continued, "you will come across as authentic."
His advice was accurate. There is a huge industry of so-called "moderate" Muslim scholars, who are actually apologists for Islam. This industry began to grow after the catastrophe of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and from there, expanded.
There seems to exist a symbiotic relationship between the mainstream media and liberal organizations on one side, and the "moderate" Muslim apologists on the other.
It is these "moderate" Muslim apologists, commentators, and organizations that are creating -- directly or indirectly -- the rise of Islamic extremism and with it, terrorism. They provide a window for all sorts of acts of evil to take place: from raping women and children to blowing up public places or running people over with vans. These are the people who are preventing any positive changes or reforms from taking place. By not criticizing these extremists, they are not only failing to address the underlying problem of extremism and Islamic terrorism; they are also stealing attention away from the root of the problem.
If you scrutinize the uptick in recent terrorism, their approach leads to even more radicalization. There appears to be a direct correlation between the expansion of this "moderate" Muslim apologist industry, and the increasing rate of terrorist attacks in the West. If officials were actually interested in saving lives -- rather than just in cozying up to the Muslim vote to keep their jobs -- they should jump at the chance to reveal the truth behind fundamentalist Islam and Islamic terrorism. If not, they should be voted out of their jobs.
The West, unfortunately, encourages these "moderate" Muslim apologists to keep on advancing these false views: that one must not blame extremists, that nothing is the fault of the Islamic teachings, that all of these radical and that Islamist terrorist attacks "have nothing to do with Islam." More doors and opportunities keep opening for these apologists to get cash. The Muslim apologists are handed megaphones, invited to international forums, handed book deals, given scholarships, and offered jobs with elite but false titles such as "Islam and Counter-Terrorism Expert." With such incentives, why would anyone ever stop? Meanwhile the real scholars of Islam, such as Robert Spencer, who are trying to warn the public about these apologists, are called "Islamophobes," poisoned, often fired from work, censored on social media and barred from entering democratic countries such as Great Britain.
It does not even matter that many of these so-called "moderate" Muslim apologists in the West may never have lived in an Islamist state or experienced first-hand what it is like to be ruled by extremists. The majority of them seem to have been born and raised in the West under a democratic system of governance where they can freely voice their opinions and practice their religion without fear of prosecution. The concepts they talk about -- such as sharia, jihad, or the "true" interpretation of Islamic teachings -- are as foreign to them as they are to any other Westerner.
I have lived for years in these places in the Middle East and seen with my own eyes the cruelty and abuse that takes place under extremist Islamic law. I have heard the screams of families as their loved ones were tortured and slaughtered for the simplest acts -- singing, dancing, voicing an opinion, or simply being a non-Muslim -- all of which are crimes.
If we play the game of misinforming and misleading people about Islamism, by making irrelevant analogies to whitewash the violence and terrorism which are generated by Islamic fundamentalism, we are indoctrinating the literally millions of innocent children who will be either the perpetrators or victims of the next radical Islamic terror attacks -- including Muslims. With the lure of money and fame tempting so many, unless we begin to wake up to the damage they are doing to their victims, their families and the whole of society, it will not stop.
*Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, is a business strategic and advisor, Harvard-educated scholar, political scientist, board member of Harvard International Review, and president of the International American Council on the Middle East. He has authored several books on Islam and US Foreign Policy. He can be reached at Dr.Rafizadeh@Post.Harvard.Edu
© 2018 Gatestone Institute. All rights reserved. The articles printed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editors or of Gatestone Institute. No part of the Gatestone website or any of its contents may be reproduced, copied or modified, without the prior written consent of Gatestone Institute.

Iran using religious indoctrination to gain influence in Georgia
Ali Hajizade/Al Arabiya/April 03/18
Media outlets and research centers of the world write a lot about Iran’s expansionary policies in the Middle East. In fact, Iran’s hegemonic tendencies in the region are a matter of serious concern and should be studied in-depth.
However, few in the global media and the wider research community pay adequate attention to Iran’s growing interference in South Caucasus. This region has three important former Soviet republics: Georgia — which has complicated relations with Russia and has taken the path of European integration; Christian Armenia — which is an ally of Russia, Turkey and Israel as well as has the highest percentage of Shiite population after Iran – and secular Azerbaijan.
Missionary influence
Each of these countries is of specific interest for Tehran. Iranian authorities have to act selectively and more carefully than they did in the Middle East, for a number of reasons.
This article focuses on Iranian approach towards Georgia, which is a small country in South Caucasus. According to official data in 2014, the population of Georgia (without the provinces, which are not controlled by Tbilisi) officially stands at 3.7 million..
There are, mainly two Muslim ethnicities in Georgia – Azerbaijanis, who live in the South of Georgia, on the border with Azerbaijan and a certain part of Ajarians, who live in the autonomous republic of Ajaria.
Iranians have their eyes on Azerbaijani Georgians, majority of whom profess the Shiite sect while s smaller section follows Sunni doctrine. It is noteworthy that Azerbaijanis are second ethnic group in the country only after the Georgians.
Iranian activities in Borchali — which is a Georgian region with high concentration of Azerbaijani population — has been blatantly conspicuous since the last ten years. Some Azerbaijanis and Georgians are seriously concerned about Iranian missionary and promotional activities and its consequences. Today, there are some tensions between Azerbaijanis influenced by Iranian propaganda and Azerbaijani Sunnis, who don’t accept the Iranian version of Shiism.
Iranian influence lies primarily in organizing various free training and schools, sending young people to Iran to receive religious education, publishing pro-Iranian promotional literature (part of which is sent to Azerbaijan), financing activities of various pro-Iranian organizations (Ahl ul-Bayt, Alul Bayt, Ali Hikmet etc.) and organizing events related to Ashura. In addition, religious preachers from Iran who deliver pro-Iranian teachings are not always sermons of peace. These preachers are increasing their presence in Azerbaijani Mosques in Georgia. There are also accusations against Iran of using Georgia as its route for delivering drugs to Europe. An Ashura procession in Georgia. (Photo courtesy: Jeikhun Muhamedali)
Pro-Iranian websites in Azerbaijani and Georgian languages are also operating in the region. I can give two examples of such websites –, Both websites are registered in the Georgian domain zone and both of them are of poor quality (this is a common feature of Iranian propaganda websites operating in the South Caucasus), however, propaganda news and articles can be found on both websites.
We should also consider the attitude of Georgia’s authorities towards these processes. Obviously Iran couldn’t have developed such activity without a tacit acceptance by Georgian authorities. It is noteworthy that in 2011 the Georgian authorities established the “Council of Muslims of Georgia”, which is a non-governmental organization whose stated objective is “to monitor activities of Islamic communities and Mosques in the country”. Before this, Mosques were under the patronage of the Caucasus Muslims Office with the centre in Baku (Azerbaijan). In most cases this patronage was nominal.
In cohorts with Georgian authorities
In Baku this step was treated as an attempt by authorities of Georgia to drive a wedge between Muslims of Azerbaijan and Georgia. It is noteworthy that the number of Iranian clerics has increased dramatically since 2011 and there is a surge in the activity of the Iranian missionary involvement among Shiites in Georgia. Clearly, the authorities of Georgia have taken this step in order to minimize the possible impact of Azerbaijan on Azerbaijani community in Georgia and to undermine the credibility of the Caucasus Muslims Office in Georgia. Nevertheless, let’s not forget that the replacement of moderate, often apolitical clerics by rabid apologists of Iran may lead to problems which will directly threaten future stability of Georgia. Unlike Iranian or deeply pro-Iranian clerics, members of Azerbaijani Shiite clergy have never given anti-Semitic, extremely radical speeches and extremist political appeals. I think that vigorous Iranian missionary activities may pose problem for Georgia, a country which took the path of active European Integration. In March 2017, citizens of Georgia were granted a visa-free entry to EU. This opportunity may be used also by the citizens of Georgia, who have been influenced by the Iranian propaganda and received religious education in Iran. This is the matter of concern. That essentially means free movement of Iranian agents around EU. And if Tbilisi turns a blind eye on it, I believe that the West such developments in Georgia seriously.
Busting sanctions through Georgia Georgia is also interesting for Tehran from the standpoint of a “back door” channel for evading international sanctions imposed on Iran. Since the imposition of the first sanctions, Iranian authorities have built an entire infrastructure, covering several countries and channels for circumventing sanctions. Georgia is one such country.
However, the matter of Iran’s economic expansion in the South Caucasus is not that simple. There is a general feeling in certain circles in the West that Moscow and Tehran are allies, but in fact this is not entirely true. Russia tries to fend off Iranian sway and marginalizes Tehran on a range of issues. One such area of rivalry is South Caucasus. In fact, Moscow is currently trying to discourage Tehran from implementing major economic projects.
In general, Iranian activities in Georgia, both economic and missionary, should be viewed in the context of Iran’s regional strategy for expanding and strengthening its influence in the region and around the world.

Saudi Arabia’s bravery in confronting problems
Hassan Al Mustafa/Al Arabiya/April 03/18
There is great significance in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to the US that goes beyond the close political relations between Riyadh and Washington as well as the military and economic agreements. It relates to changes sweeping through Saudi Arabia, which have picked up pace since King Salman bin Abdulaziz became ruler in 2015. Through his press interviews, speeches and political stances, Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been altering the stereotypical image of Saudi Arabia in the foreign media, which usually presents the country as medieval state that possesses a lot of wealth and exports terrorists around the world! The modern response of Saudi Arabia, particularly when dealing with Western media is not based on hostility and rejection, but is based on the concept of dialogue and correcting the latter’s misconceptions.
Saudi Arabia is not ashamed of admitting its past mistakes and admits there have been hard-line voices promoting hatred and takfir. However the crown prince has stated clearly: “We will eliminate extremists now and immediately.” These “terrorists” would not have a place in the new Saudi Arabia, because it is a country that respects differences and diversity and renounces violence. Prince Mohammed bin Salman was quite candid in his interview on CBS channel’s “60 minutes” program, in which he talked about how after 1979 “we were victims (of extremism), especially my generation.”
The victims — whom the Prince is referring to — are those who have been under the sway of Islamic sahwa and takfiri Salafism. Consequently, they were lured by militias like Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra front and ISIS which exploited their religious enthusiasm, as well as the conservative and strict way in which they were raised. It was thus easy to exploit them to promote a fundamentalist doctrine and carry out terrorist operations. The new Saudi response in dealing with Western media is not based on hostility and rejection, but on dialogue and correcting the latter’s misconceptions
The importance of such a frank approach is that it rejects the premise of those who criticize Saudi Arabia thus making them incapable of attacking it like they used to do. The political leadership is now openly talking about the “the hard-line era” and criticizing it. Moreover, it is striving diligently to get out of that mindset, confront the issues of this era, and create a different environment based on civilized living, modernity and belief in individuals’ right to choose their way of life without constraints. Saudi Arabia faces up to its problems bravely and does not feel ashamed about it. The solution to any problem starts by admitting it, thoroughly diagnosing it, knowing its causes and then uprooting or removing it effectively.
The power of the new rhetoric allows Saudi Arabia to forge non-traditional alliances and makes western public figures support Saudi politics and the ongoing change and reformation process as they began to see practical procedures and a modern language without justification or veneration that suggests a qualitative shift which will affect the entire Gulf and Middle East region.

How relations between China and the US are heating up

Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady/Al Arabiya/April 03/18
As the world lurches from one geo political crises to another, especially between Russia and some major western countries, the relationship between the USA and China is also entering a period of cold spell following the glowing praises that President Trump heaved on Chinese President Xi in the USA last year at his Florida resort. A major contention and what seems to be a red line for China is the complex issue of Taiwan. President Xi Jinping considers the signing of the Taiwan Travel Act by US President Donald Trump to be a severe – and deliberate - escalation of tensions in Sino-US relations, coming on the heels of already heightened tensions over trade. The appointment of John Bolton, a leading neo -con hawk as National Security Advisor who does not believe that the USA should recognise a One China policy will only add to this tension.
While the Chinese can live with the upheavals of the U.S tariff hikes on imported Chinese products and see it as a starting negotiating point between the two countries, the Taiwan Travel Act has raised the stakes to a new level, and if President Trump were to allow the US Secretary of Defence or Secretary of State to visit Taipei, or welcome Taiwan officials to visit the White House, Chinese officials warn Beijing will not hesitate to expel the US Ambassador to China, and to take “unprecedented retaliatory measures” that would deliver a heavy blow to US agricultural producing states and to the US financial markets.
On the trade war front, the Chinese are set to prepare a full slate of countermeasures on trade, including specific and targeted actions against certain US goods through retaliatory, high tariffs, and through the imposition of new, strict import standards. Beijing, nevertheless, does still interpret Trump’s latest moves as "opening positions" in negotiations before the two leaders meet face to face, and believes the US president will continue to push for concessions from China even while averting an outright collapse in talks. They see the current tactics following the same template, albeit a much more alarming one, as the White House positioning in the run-up to the first Xi-Trump summit held at Mar-A-Lago last year.
On a knife’s edge
With the signing of the Taiwan Travel Act, on the heels of heightened tensions over trade, and the firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in favour of the more hawkish CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Beijing is bracing for a period of instability in relations with the US for months to come, relations some believe will remain on knife’s edge until the two leaders agree to set their first summit of this year. The Chinese have issued the first warning shots and already five departments, including, most pointedly, China’s Ministry of National Defence, issued warnings that the Trump administration refrain from the implementation of relevant clauses of the act, and stop seeking any official contacts and military ties with Taiwan. President Xi has made it clear that he considered it a deliberate provocation by Trump himself. The act, though not legally binding, is said to “severely violate” the One-China principle, as well as the three joint communiqués the U.S. signed with the People's Republic of China. Foreign Minister Wang Yi for his part also lodged a formal protest and “stern representations” over the Taiwan Travel Act. Wang relayed China’s position that it will take all necessary measures to deal with the situation if US warships were to anchor in Taiwan, and to expel the US Ambassador to China from Beijing if US Secretary of State or Secretary of Defence was to visit Taipei, or Taiwan officials visit the White House. Mr. Xi said "achieving total unity" was the "collective hope of all Chinese people" and any attempts to divide it were "doomed to fail". The speech was a strong warning against any attempt at separatism from places like Taiwan and Hong Kong. With Trump’s recent sacking of several key administration officials, Chinese officials expect policy from Washington to continue to turn more hawkish and confrontational. They are specifically alert to the implications of the recent firing of Rex Tillerson, and Trump’s plan to replace Tillerson with CIA head Mike Pompeo, and believe Pompeo may prove to become the most hostile US Secretary of State to China in recent US history, and this is without the recent John Bolton appointment. With Trump’s already tough stance on Sino-US bilateral trade, Taiwan, and the South China Sea, officials in Beijing are now bracing for instability in Sino-US relations for months to come. This is one more headache the world can do without.

Trump and Syria, reality and fantasy
Mashari Althaydi/Al Arabiya/April 03/18
American President Donald Trump made a shocking statement during the recent Ohio rally as he voiced his intent to withdraw from Syria noting that he won the fight against ISIS and accomplished the task. Is this just a “populist” political remark to appeal to the sentiment of the masses he was addressing – crowds that are ignorant in terms of foreign policy and what American national security necessitates? Perhaps this is the case. However, this statement contradicts with Trump’s intent to confront Iran and eliminate its “malicious activities” in the region. It also contradicts with the current American mood against Russia’s ascendancy over the West and with America’s anger towards Turkey’s role in North Syria, i.e. in Afrin, as decision makers in Washington believe that Ankara is “dispersing” the real battle and deviating the compass from the right direction by not focusing on ISIS which is the West’s approach in Syria.
The enemies of American presence in Syria are Russia, Iran and Turkey. Turkish, Russian and Iranian officials will meet on Wednesday in Ankara to coordinate efforts in Syria. Russia and Iran are about to achieve their planned aims via the “crime” they committed in eastern Ghouta to complete the sectarian displacement which began with Madaya, Zabadani, Qusayr and other areas.
Everything that Trump is doing and that he’s done in the past year and few months since he’s become president has absolutely nothing to do with the statement made in Ohio.Trump’s announcement also contradicts with other indicators such as appointing John Bolton as the new national security advisor. Bolton had clearly called for ending the Iranian Khomeini regime. It also contradicts with appointing Mike Pompeo, a bitter enemy of Iranian influence, as secretary of state. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has a realistic approach regarding Syria told the American Time magazine: “American troop presence inside Syria is the last effort stopping Iran, from continuing to expand influence with regional allies.” The Washington Post which is usually not that friendly towards Trump published an article by Josh Rogin to comment on Trump’s announcement. Rogin wrote that the most important reasons behind American presence in Syria is “containing Iranian expansionism, preventing a new refugee crisis, fighting extremism and stopping Russia from exerting influence over the region.”Forget about all this. The Khomeini regime understood Trump’s message when he appointed Bolton as a national security advisor. In an interview with the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), Hossein Mousavian, a former high-ranking member of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said: “Except for Obama’s era – oh alas – enmity has always existed between the Islamic Republic and the US. However, the policy of changing the Iranian regime (within the framework) of Trump’s cabinet has become public.”Everything that Trump is doing and that he’s done in the past year and few months since he’s become president has absolutely nothing to do with the statement he made in Ohio.

How Will Iran Prepare for Potential U.S. Withdrawal from the JCPOA?
ما هي تحضيرات إيران لإحتمال انسحاب أميركا من الإتفاق النووي معها
Omer Carmi//The Washington Institute/April 03/18
Tehran seems to believe that President Trump will kill the deal next month, so it may start prepping its dormant nuclear facilities, sowing division between U.S. allies, or courting other global powers.
Many observers believe that President Trump's recent appointment of Iran hawks for two top positions—John Bolton as national security advisor and Michael Pompeo as secretary of state—is a further sign that he will withdraw from the nuclear deal next month, when the next deadlines for extending sanctions waivers arrive. Although Tehran's response to the appointments has been fairly muted so far, this is no surprise given that the country effectively shuts down for two weeks around the Nowruz celebration in late March. After the holiday, Iran will likely start preparing more actively for a potential U.S. decision to reapply old sanctions and essentially nullify the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
John Bolton is a well-known commodity among Iran's leadership. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tangled with him for years going back to the 2003 nuclear negotiations with Europe, when Bolton was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Later, they both served as ambassadors to the UN, where they spent two years arguing with each other on the Security Council podium.
Over the past decade, media outlets in the Islamic Republic have portrayed Bolton as an anti-Iran neoconservative who supports the opposition group Mujahedin-e Khalq, and whose policies toward the country are obsolete and counterproductive. For instance, when Bolton issued his August 2017 "memo" to the White House—a National Review article in which he outlined a strategy to withdraw from the JCPOA—Zarif declared that such a policy would be a "huge failure for Washington," resulting in further international isolation for the United States. He emphasized that Bolton's policies were proven wrong in the previous decade, claiming that they spurred Iran to increase its number of uranium enrichment centrifuges "from 200 to 20,000 in ten years." Zarif concluded that this is why no one in Washington "is listening to these proposals anymore."
As for Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, his basic narrative has always been that America seeks to topple the Islamic regime, and that the nuclear file is only a cover for reaching that goal. Bolton's return to the scene will probably reinforce that line of thinking.
Iran's Supervisory Committee on Implementing the JCPOA—composed of officials such as Zarif, President Hassan Rouhani, Supreme National Security Council secretary Ali Shamkhani, and Atomic Energy Organization director Ali Akbar Salehi—will presumably meet again soon, and one can assume that they will devote at least some attention to Bolton's writings in order to understand his potential impact on U.S. policy. In addition to his 2017 roadmap for annulling the nuclear deal, they are no doubt aware of his January Wall Street Journal op-ed advocating the regime's ouster—and of Pompeo's similar rhetoric over the years.
In light of this background, Iran will likely begin preparing the ground now for the possibility of Trump taking action against the JCPOA after his May deadline. Its options for doing so are numerous.
Readying the nuclear program for a restart. Iranian leaders have consistently threatened that U.S. reimposition of sanctions or withdrawal from the deal would result in rapid development of the nuclear program. In August, for example, Rouhani warned that the program would be ramped up to "a situation much more advanced" than before the JCPOA "in a matter of hours and days." Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi recently repeated this threat, claiming that Iran has been preparing for every possible scenario and will respond promptly to a Trump withdrawal according to its national interests. In practical terms, this means Iran may soon take necessary steps to ready its nuclear facilities for a quick restart after the May deadline—while carefully avoiding any measures that would violate the JCPOA.
Deterring U.S. and Israeli pressure. Soon after Bolton's appointment, a former Iranian diplomat with apparent ties to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force asserted that the "enemies of the region only understand force," emphasizing Tehran's influence abroad and its "defensive power." Indeed, Iran has a long history of exercising this "logic of power" via frequent missile launches (accompanied by slogans vowing to annihilate Israel), harassment of U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf and Bab al-Mandab Strait (the latter using Houthi proxies), and threats of retaliation against U.S. forces and bases in the region (as seen when Congress passed new non-nuclear sanctions last year).
Driving a wedge between Washington and Europe. In August, nuclear official Salehi promised that "if the Americans cast the deal aside, it is highly likely that Europe won't follow suit, [and] America will remain alone." By this logic, Iran will probably continue its talks with the EU3 (Britain, France, and Germany) and cast itself as the aggrieved party, hoping to bring the Europeans to its side and prevent a unified Western front if sanctions are reimposed in May. It may take a similar approach with major trade partners and oil importers (e.g., India, South Korea, Japan) in an attempt to dissuade them from complying with U.S. pressure tactics.
Coordinating with Russia and China. Shortly after leading Iran's negotiations with Europe in 2003-2005, Rouhani expressed regret for not investing enough resources to secure Russian and Chinese diplomatic support, admitting that Tehran "would have had an easier time" with their assistance. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of Iran's Majlis Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy, echoed this line of thinking last month when he claimed that expanding relations with Beijing and Moscow would help "neutralize and reduce the impact of U.S. pressure."
Preparing the public and economy for renewed sanctions. During his recent Nowruz speech, the Supreme Leader declared the theme of the new year to be "Support for Iranian Products," repeating his constant demand to pursue a "resistance economy" and increase the country's self-sufficiency. Despite this familiar "call to arms," however, Iran's economy is still greatly flawed and dependent on foreign investments. The rial has lost around a quarter of its value over the past six months, with the gap between official and unofficial rates widening every day. Thus, Tehran will likely complement its longstanding efforts to increase the economy's resilience by building a strong "rally around the flag" narrative over the next couple months, hoping to unite the public and prevent (or at least postpone) another outburst of mass unrest. Last month, for example, Shamkhani declared that the millions of dollars America has invested in "anti-Iran strategies" are for naught because the Islamic Republic has only improved its "strength and spiritual influence."
Tehran will have to decide between two basic courses of action in the coming weeks: retaliating harshly against the Trump administration's hostile signals in order to deter Washington from intensifying the pressure, or restraining itself and playing the grievance card in order to maintain European support and prevent the emergence of a Western coalition against Iran. History shows that on similar occasions, the regime chose the former path and regretted it—indeed, escalation now might provoke the Trump administration to respond in kind rather than back down.
Khamenei and Rouhani seem to have learned their lesson, however, reacting patiently to perceived "U.S. violations of the deal" in order to avoid falling into an "American trap," which in their view would give Washington an excuse to revoke the JCPOA. They are now searching for the perfect middle path: a way to deter President Trump from intensifying the pressure while maintaining enough international support to foil a unified coalition against Iran.
**Omer Carmi is director for intelligence at the Israeli cybersecurity firm Sixgill. A 2017 military fellow at The Washington Institute, he previously led analytical and research efforts in the Israel Defense Forces pertaining to developments in the Middle East and national security arenas.

If Trump walks away from the Iran deal, Tehran will win
Dennis Ross/The Washington Institute/ April 03/18
Dennis Ross, a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute, served in senior national security positions in the Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations.
I was not a fan of the Iran nuclear deal. While it imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, it also legitimized a large Iranian nuclear infrastructure by imposing no real limits on its size or character after 2030. Rather than ending Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, it deferred it. True, the Iranians committed to not acquire or develop nuclear weapons, but they also claimed they had never attempted to do so — despite clear evidence to the contrary.
So the danger in 12 years when some of the deal’s provisions end is real, but that does not mean President Trump should walk away from the deal in May. If he withdraws, he withdraws alone. The Europeans will not join him, especially after having been willing to negotiate with the administration and accept a number of concessions: sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile testing, a joint statement on limiting what Iran should be able to do after 2030 and a readiness to raise the costs to the Iranians of their destabilizing actions in the region. Even if the British, French and Germans are not prepared to go as far as the administration might like, they have acknowledged the Trump administration’s concerns about the deal and been willing to address them at least in part.
Walking away will end that. It will isolate the United States, not the Iranians. Pressure on the Iranians has always been most effective when the United States was joined by others. In fact, it was only when the European Union decided to impose a boycott on Iranian oil that Iran truly felt squeezed, beginning to negotiate after declaring it would never do so as long as it was under sanctions.
Unfortunately, the Europeans won’t simply stick with the deal; they will go to great lengths to keep the Iranians in — and the Iranians know how to play on European fears. Already Tehran is declaring that it could move swiftly to install new and far more effective centrifuges, and not limit their output. That will surely stoke European fears about an increasing risk of war and lead them to offer incentives to the Iranians to stay in the deal.
For those who say the administration can pressure Europe by threatening to impose sanctions on European companies that do business with the Iranians, don’t bet on it. The Europeans have always resisted such secondary sanctions, and given Trump’s unpopularity with European publics, few leaders there will want to appear to give in to American threats.
Of course, some European banks and companies will be chary of potential U.S. sanctions, with a chilling effect on their willingness to invest in Iran. But that fear exists even without our withdrawing from the agreement. Our sanctions on Iran for its support for terrorism and human rights violations remain — a reality that helps to explain why Iran continues to complain that it has not reaped the economic benefits it expected from the deal.
But my concerns about an American walkaway go deeper. It would create the illusion of toughness on Iran without the effect. The danger that Iran poses is its expansion in the region. It is using Shiite militia proxies to gain a stranglehold over governments. It is embedding itself militarily in Syria, even trying to change the demographic balance by importing Shiite militias (and Shiite civilians ) to populate Sunni areas — something designed to prevent refugees from returning to their homes but also something likely to ensure an ongoing insurgency in Syria. Worse, Iran seems increasingly less risk-averse in Syria. It acted out of character when it chose to challenge Israel directly, and not through one of its proxies, when it flew a drone into Israeli airspace.
Israel has made clear that it cannot live with an expanding Iranian military presence in Syria, which the Israelis believe includes plans to fabricate advanced guidance systems in Syria and Lebanon for the more than 120,000 rockets Hezbollah possesses. Israel’s size and relatively small number of critical military and civilian infrastructure targets mean that it does not have the luxury of waiting if Iran makes this move. It is easy to see how a war between the Israelis and Iran/Hezbollah starts but not how it ends.
Containing the spread of the Iranians, their proxies and the development of their military capability in Syria should be the Trump administration’s focal point. But it is not, with Trump making clear that he wants to “let the other people take care of it now.”
Our priority should be to blunt the real Iranian threat there, and that requires mobilizing support for that purpose, not saying it is up to others.
Trump may believe that walking away from the deal makes him look tough on Tehran. It doesn’t. It ignores the real threat and gives the Iranians a win. They will know we are alone and that there will be no meaningful pressure to stop what they are doing in the region. The great irony is that one way to deal with the vulnerabilities created by the agreement and bolster our deterrence is to demonstrate to the Iranians that we will react whenever their behaviors cross the line, starting in the region. The Iran deal bought time on the nuclear issue, and now is surely not the moment to throw it away.

Turkish-Russian-Iranian Summit: Limits to a Tripartite Entente
القمة التركية الإيرانية الروسية: حدود الحلف الثلاثي
Soner Cagaptay, Anna Borshchevskaya, and Nader Uskowi/The Washington Institute/April 03/18
Although any attempts at coordinated action will be hampered by historical rivalries and modern disagreements, Moscow and Tehran can still use the Ankara meeting to harm U.S. interests in Syria.
On April 4, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan will host his Russian and Iranian counterparts, Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani, for their first trilateral meeting since a November 22 summit in Sochi. Putin has already commenced his visit, co-chairing the seventh Turkish-Russian High-Level Cooperation Council meeting and attending the groundbreaking ceremony for the Akkuyu nuclear power station in southern Turkey, to be built by Russian nuclear firm Rosatom.
Erdogan, Putin, and Rouhani have been meeting more frequently of late, suggesting the emergence of a tripartite relationship. In reality, however, ties between Ankara and Tehran are wrought with tensions, and Moscow remains Turkey's historic adversary despite their common cause on certain regional issues.
During six centuries of Ottoman rule, the Turks defeated and ruled over all of their neighbors except Russia and Iran, a fact that elevates the two countries in the Turkish Weltanschauung. Accordingly, Ankara tends to tread carefully with the Russians and Iranians, neither confronting nor ignoring them.
The relationship with Moscow suffered from historic rivalries before the twentieth century and throughout the Cold War, but they improved after the fall of the Soviet Union. Helped by booming trade, Turkish-Russian ties took off during the 1990s and 2000s, allowing the two countries to enter a lengthy period of improved relations for the first time in history. Yet the Syria war undermined these ties as Moscow threw its lot behind the Assad regime and Ankara backed his adversaries. The situation worsened in November 2015, when Turkey shot down a Russian plane that violated its airspace. Putin responded by slapping Ankara with economic sanctions and threatening to target Turkish forces entering Syria in support of the rebels.
Yet the tide turned again after the failed 2016 coup against Erdogan, which spurred Putin to soften his policy in order to take advantage of growing anti-Western sentiment in Turkey. Many opinion-makers, including members of Erdogan's party, alleged that the United States and other NATO allies were behind the coup. And while some of these same allies were slow in reaching out to Ankara once the coup was put down, Putin called Erdogan the day after and wished him well. Bilateral ties have improved ever since.
In Syria, the Turks and Russians have arrived at a modus vivendi whereby they cut deals and deconflict their forces in the north on a case-by-case basis. Most recently, Putin gave Ankara a green light for Operation Olive Branch, which resulted in Turkey capturing Afrin from the People's Defense Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Turkey's longtime enemy. In return, Erdogan has stayed quiet while Russia helps the Assad regime bomb civilians in East Ghouta, one of the last remaining rebel-held de-escalation zones.
Going forward, Putin will likely offer Erdogan further ad hoc deals in northern Syria, such as in Tal Rifaat, allowing Turkey to make new advances at the YPG's expense in exchange for continued acquiescence to Russian moves. Erdogan would accept most any deal that helps him defeat the YPG and PKK, two organizations that are almost universally despised in Turkey. Putin will also presumably request Ankara's support for the Astana peace process, Russia's alternative to the UN's Geneva-based negotiations aimed at ending the war.
In short, Putin has Turkey exactly where he wants it: as an upset NATO ally willing to break ranks with the alliance's stance toward Russia. Most recently, Turkey joined a few other NATO members in refusing to follow the U.S. path of ejecting Russian diplomats in response to the Kremlin's suspected assassination of a former intelligence officer in Britain. Putin does not want Turkey to leave NATO—he wants it to remain in the alliance as a nonparticipating member, thereby undermining the organization's effectiveness.
As for Turkey and Iran, the relationship is wrought with differences, many of them rooted in Tehran's discomfort about the Afrin operation and similar deals that have allowed Ankara to capture Syrian territory with Putin's blessing. Unlike Moscow, Iran is uncomfortable with a "soft partition" outcome in Syria and objects to any Turkish military presence there. Accordingly, Iranian-backed militias have repeatedly targeted Turkish forces in the north even as Russia green-lights Ankara's cross-border moves.
Putin will therefore face a tall order if he aims to get Rouhani and Erdogan on the same page during this week's summit. Historically speaking, the rival Ottoman and Persian Empires fought themselves into bankruptcy after two centuries of inconclusive wars, so they settled on a power parity relationship in the mid-1600s, agreeing to avoid future conflict against each other at any cost. In Tehran's view, however, Ankara's support for rebels fighting the Iranian-backed regime in Damascus violates that historic parity—indeed, the Syria war is the closest the two countries have come in recent memory to outright conflict. Iran's fortunes and allies are currently ascendant there, so it will likely attempt to restore its power parity with Turkey on its own terms—namely, by demanding complete cessation of Ankara's support to the rebels and otherwise forcing the Turks to recognize full Iranian control over Syria.
Syria will be Putin's focus during the trilateral talks, while his bilateral conversations with Turkish officials will focus on their tentative agreement to purchase Russian S-400 air-defense systems, currently scheduled for delivery to Turkey in 2020. Although Putin will publicly confirm the sale, it is yet to be seen whether Russia will actually send the missiles—in addition to the quandary of providing sensitive weapons to a long-time rival, this would also expose them to greater U.S. intelligence scrutiny.
Moscow's goal is to make Turks angry at Americans, and Americans angry at Turks. Therefore, its game seems to lie in making the sale look as real as possible, knowing that this impression will further sour NATO's view of Turkey and facilitate Russia's goal of isolating Ankara within the alliance. Putin will exploit the threatened S-400 transfer for as long as he can, and Washington should not dismiss the possibility that the sale might go through in the end.
More broadly, the Turkey visit is Putin's first trip abroad since securing a fourth presidential term on March 18, showing the importance he places on the Middle East and his desire to usurp Washington's role as regional peacemaker. The summit should also highlight his determination to reach a Syria settlement on his terms, with Bashar al-Assad remaining in power and America potentially retreating from the region, to Moscow's benefit. Discussions on Syria will likely focus on Idlib province, the last opposition stronghold. Putin may pressure Erdogan to convince rebel groups there that they should stop fighting Assad; in return, Moscow could agree to allow further Turkish moves against the YPG.
Iran expects a pullout or significant drawdown of U.S. forces from Syria in the near term. Accordingly, Rouhani's strategy during the Ankara summit may be to contain Turkey's incursion by limiting its advance to immediate border areas following a U.S. withdrawal. In particular, Tehran wants to keep Turkish forces out of Manbij and Afrin city.
Toward that end, Iran seems ready to offer Ankara a deal: namely, guaranteeing Turkey's border security by deploying Syrian forces to Kurdish-majority frontier zones, advised and assisted by Iranian forces. In short, Tehran does not want to see any Turkish troops in Syria once U.S. forces leave. Iran's fundamental strategy there is to regain its primacy and extend its influence in Syria's political and security institutions, much like it has done in Iraq.
**Soner Cagaptay is the Beyer Family Fellow and director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute. Anna Borshchevskaya is the Institute's Ira Weiner Fellow. Nader Uskowi joined the Institute as a visiting fellow after four years as the senior civilian policy advisor to U.S. Central Command.