April 27/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Demons also came out of many, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’

Luke 4,31-44.He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath. They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority. In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ When the demon had thrown him down before them, he came out of him without having done him any harm. They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, ‘What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!’And a report about him began to reach every place in the region. After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah. At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.’ So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.”

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 26-27/18
Voting a national duty, Aoun asserts/Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star/April26/18
Fresh Faces but Same Old Names in Lebanon Election/Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 26/18
Clarifying Lebanon’s Misguided Politics/Elie Aoun/April 26/18
Lebanon Parliamentary Candidates Charged As Much As $240,000 for Airtime/AFP/Thursday 26th April 2018
Lieberman Discusses with Mattis Iran Nuclear Deal/Tel Aviv - Asharq Al-Awsat/ April 26/18
Scrutiny of how group is getting arms could lead to fund cuts for UN mission in Lebanon: expert/Joyce Karam/The National/ April 26/18
How Trump could tell the truth about Armenian genocide/Hagar Hajjar Chemali/CNN/April 26/18
Pope joins chorus against Armenian 'genocide'/Agencies/April 26/18
Jerusalem and Muslim-Christian relations/Radwan al-Sayed/Al Arabiya/April 26/18
Awaiting May 12: What will Trump decide on Iranian nuclear deal/Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/April 26/18
The US’s November 2018 battle/Ahmad al-Farraj/Al Arabiya/April 26/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on April 26-27/18
Voting a national duty, Aoun asserts
Strong Lebanon’ to Represent FPM Party in New Parliament
Lebanon's Constitutional Council Suspends Article 49
Lebanese Govt. OKs Electricity Plan Points, Power Ships Remain Pending
Aoun Slams 'Veiled Naturalization' Call in U.N.-EU Statement
Berri Says U.N.-EU Statement Contains 'Naturalization, Fragmentation' Intentions
Bassil to Int'l Community: Stop Encouraging Syrians to Stay in Lebanon
IS Militant Arrested in Akkar Region
After 4-Year Vacancy, New Lebanese Ambassador to S.Korea Submits Credentials
Young Male Found Dead on Home Rooftop in Ain el-Hilweh
Ministry Launches Application to Guide Voters to Polling Stations
Fresh Faces but Same Old Names in Lebanon Election
Fresh Faces but Same Old Names in Lebanon Election
Clarifying Lebanon’s Misguided Politics
Legal Expert: Total or Partial Suspension of Budget Law Will Not Affect Ministries
Lebanon Parliamentary Candidates Charged As Much As $240,000 for Airtime
Sayegh Calls for Suspending Controversial Budget Clause
Power Sector Promises Fade Away as Government Fails to Reach Solution
Sami Gemayel Addresses Lebanese Expats on Eve of Overseas Vote
Scrutiny of how group is getting arms could lead to fund cuts for UN mission in Lebanon: expert

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 26-27/18
Lieberman Discusses with Mattis Iran Nuclear Deal
Macron resists Trump’s ‘America first’ in speech to Congress
Will Macron’s Paris conference help end Qatar’s terror financing?
Macron Vows Iran Will Never Possess Nuclear Arms
USA Senate Approves Pompeo as U.S. Secretary of State
Pompeo to Go to Israel, Saudi, Jordan on First Trip
French Special Forces Sent to Reinforce U.S.-Led Operations in Syria
US Concerns Rise with Report on Iran-Syria ‘Suspicious Cargo’
Moscow Challenges West by Delivering S-300 Missile Systems to Damascus
Exclusive - Syrian Democratic Forces Chief: We are Ready to Cooperate with Arab Forces
Hamas Leader Pledges to Move Demonstrations to the West Bank
Armenia to Elect New Prime Minister on May 1
N. Korea Leader to Cross Border to Meet Southern Counterpart at Historic Summit
Strongman Haftar Back in Libya after Long Absence
Nine Youths Die in Israel Flash Flooding
Iraqi PM Takes Election Campaign to Kurdish Capital
Scrutiny of how group is getting arms could lead to fund cuts for UN mission in
Latest Lebanese Related News published on April 26-27/18
Voting a national duty, Aoun asserts
Hussein Dakroub/The Daily Star/April26/18
BEIRUT: With 10 days before Lebanon’s general elections, President Michel Aoun Wednesday appealed to resident Lebanese and expatriates to participate in the vote, calling it an act of “national duty” and the only way to bring about change in a democracy. Aoun also pleaded with rival parties and candidates competing in the May 6 parliamentary elections, Lebanon’s first in nine years, to avoid confessional campaigning during their rallies, warning that sectarian incitement was a recipe for strife. The president’s 11-minute televised speech ahead of the legislative elections came as a total of registered and eligible 82,970 expats are gearing up to vote from overseas later this week.
Expats in Arab countries will vote Friday, and those in Europe, Africa and the Americas will vote Sunday. Voters in Lebanon will cast their ballots on May 6.
“You will be invited to vote in a few days, nine years after the last elections, during which Lebanon has seen major events including the scourge of terrorism that has hit the Middle East. Our country, by its strength, was able to combat terrorism, remained intact, and regained its security and stability,” Aoun said in his speech broadcast by local TV stations Wednesday night.
“After the presidential election [in late October 2016], it was normal to adopt a new law for the legislative elections, as promised in my inaugural speech. This new electoral law guarantees the fairest representation to all the components of the Lebanese people, be it the majority or the minority, and grants, for the first time, the right to vote to the Lebanese diaspora wherever they may be.”
The elections will be held under a new vote law based on proportional representation that divides Lebanon into 15 electoral districts and adopts preferential voting. The new law, which replaced the controversial 1960 majoritarian system used in the 2009 elections, is based on proportional representation and splits the country into 15 voting districts.
“In addition to the effective representation, this law determines the political choice through the closed list. Through this choice, it is now possible for the voter to show his personal appreciation of the candidates in the selected list by giving his preferential vote to the candidate he deems the best,” Aoun said. He called on the Lebanese to assume responsibility in their choice of their representatives in Parliament. “I pin high hopes that you will be up to this responsibility and therefore that you choose according to the values on which we were raised, with a pure conscience and a free will,” Aoun said.
“Democracy reforms itself and the electoral process is the way. Today, every voice gains more value and effectiveness. What remains is that you exercise your right to choose and do not cede it. Election is a national duty and the only way to change in a democracy.”“It is an act of presence, dear Lebanese, so do not obliterate yourselves,” he added. Declaring that freedom is a responsibility and the same applies for the choice, Aoun told the Lebanese: “Free yourselves from the means of pressure and temptation that corrupt the conscience. The curtain of the polling booth exists for this purpose, and behind it stands a free man.” He urged the Lebanese not to vote for candidates “who pay or offer money because those who buy you will eventually sell you and those who sell the citizen will sell the country just as easily.”“Do not vote for those who have sold and sell sovereignty on every occasion ... Do not believe those who overwhelm you with promises that go beyond reality and possibility because they will not keep their promises. Remember that election promises are only binding for those who believe them,” he said.
The president called on voters to beware of candidates who launch campaigns based on the negative aspects of others and “who only resort in their political speeches to defamation, slander and rumor without really having a concrete project to showcase.”Aoun also urged the Lebanese to reject candidates who “foment feelings of sectarianism and fanaticism because they undermine the stability of the country.”
Addressing his words to the youth and to those who vote for the very first time, Aoun said: “You represent the future of Lebanon. Do not be neutral. Do not be indifferent to what is happening around you. The expected change will only happen through you. As much as you want to stay out of politics, the politics imposes itself on you and affects the course of your life. Be proactive and take decisions so that your role is not limited to delivering results and bearing the burden of consequences. Elections are the first step to raising your voice. Participate massively so that your voice can be heard.”
Aoun decried the latest political escalation between rival parties as the electoral battle was heating up a few days before voting day and urged opposing candidates to shun sectarian mobilization in their attempts to rally their supporters.
Addressing his words to the candidates, Aoun, whose Free Patriotic Movement is fielding candidates in all districts, said: “Political ambition is legitimate and a right for those who are competent and able to exercise the public service and to address the people to convince them that they have also adopted a right that is theirs. However, avoid addressing instincts, move away from confessional and sectarian mobilization and incitement to rally support. Address the brains of the voters and not their instincts. Indeed, incitement to sectarianism is the first step toward sedition. Do not ignite it in order to win a seat in Parliament.”
Separately, the Constitutional Court is set to meet Thursday to consider an appeal brought Tuesday by Kataeb Party leader MP Sami Gemayel against a controversial article in the 2018 state budget, the state-run National News Agency reported.
The Metn MP is trying to strike down Article 49 of the budget, which allows for temporary residency for foreigners who acquire ownership of a house or apartment in Lebanon. Critics say the article could allow for permanent settlement of Syrian and Palestinian refugees within the country.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri has defended Article 49, stressing that it is designed to attract investors. He ruled out the possibility of any resettlement of refugees in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil Wednesday signed funds allocated for the 11-member Electoral Supervisory Committee, according to a statement released by the Finance Ministry. The statement did not give the exact amount of the committee’s budget, but said the funds were allocated “in full.”
The decision follows complaints from committee members that a lack of funds has hampered its ability to do its job.
The ESC is independent and does not fall under any one ministry’s jurisdiction, so funds would typically have to be approved by the body’s financial inspector before being transferred. However, no funding file was referred to the inspector from the Interior Ministry, a Finance Ministry source told The Daily Star. Following the delay, the source said, funds were exceptionally allocated via the Finance Ministry as a last resort. The committee, tasked with ensuring a smooth, transparent election process, sought to reassure the public of the body’s competence following the resignation of one of its members the previous week.
“There are no longer consequential obstacles hindering the functioning of the committee,” head of the election watchdog, Judge Nadim Abdel-Malek, told a news conference Monday.

Strong Lebanon’ to Represent FPM Party in New Parliament
Beirut - Paula Astih/Asharq Al Awsat/April 26/18/The Free Patriotic Movement headed by Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil will after the upcoming parliamentary elections change the name of its bloc from “Change and Reform” to “Lubnan Al Qawi” (Strong Lebanon). It will will include political forces and figures supporting the era of President Michel Aoun and will produce a bloc in parliament and another in the new government. According to FPM officials, the bloc will include all deputies who had run for the May 6 elections on the party’s lists. “Our alliance will be based on their support to the reform operation and fight against corruption,” they said, adding that the party could differ with some candidates on strategic issues. FPM leading figure and a candidate in the Chouf-Aley district, Mario Aoun told Asharq Al-Awsat that the party’s leadership received a verbal pledge from all candidates running in the elections on the FPM list to become part of the Strong Lebanon bloc. He added that the new bloc would be at the disposal and in support of President Aoun. The FPM candidate predicted that his party would win between 22 to 24 seats in the new parliament, revealing that the total number of the bloc’s MPs, including party and non-party members, could reach 30. Observers doubt however that the movement will win more than 22 seats given recent political shifts in the country. Bassil’s movement has been accused of striking electoral alliances with figures that are not close to its strategic and political visions.
In the north electoral district, for example, the FPM is allying with head of the Independence Movement Michel Mouawad, who is a main member of the March 14 forces. Mouawad had previously declared that his electoral alliance should not be linked to any post-elections political commitment.The current electoral alliances in Lebanon reveal that the post-May 6 political alignments will be very different from the current line-ups. Speaker Nabih Berri is expected to form a new parliamentary bloc that includes head of the Progressive Socialist Party MP Walid Jumblat and others.
It is still unclear whether “Hezbollah” will form an independent bloc or ally with pro-Syrian regime figures.

Lebanon's Constitutional Council Suspends Article 49
Naharnet/April 26/18/The Constitutional Council discussing a controversial Article 49 of the state budget decided to temporarily suspend it until a final decision is reached on the appealed article, LBCI said Thursday. The Council, which held a meeting today, scheduled another meeting on May 6, added LBCI. Earlier, LBCI said the Council was studying the appealed article and will either “totally annul its implementation,” or appoint a rapporteur to study and submit a report, within ten days, on the appeal presented by a group of lawmakers.”A member from the Council, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told LBCI that “granting Lebanese citizenship is linked to blood-bond not to land-bond,” adding that “the Council will study whether the ownership has any potential of converting into disguised naturalization.” Article 49 of the state budget stipulates granting residence permits to every Arab or foreign who buys a housing unit in Lebanon. A group of mainly Kataeb lawmakers led by Kataeb chief MP Sami Gemayel lodged an appeal Tuesday before the Constitutional Council to challenge the article. President Michel Aoun has also urged the Parliament to reevaluate the article. “Sometimes the legislative authority passes draft laws within the budget. Article 49 is the "budget knight". The council will discuss the extent to which this article harmonizes with the constitution,” added the source.

Lebanese Govt. OKs Electricity Plan Points, Power Ships Remain Pending
Naharnet/April 26/18/The Cabinet on Thursday approved some points of Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil's electricity plan, as it requested further evaluation of the controversial issues of power-generating ships and the Deir Amar power plant. Among the approved points was “hiring a consultant to devise the book of terms needed to build power plants and tasking the ministers of finance and energy to negotiate with the contractor of the Deir Amar plant in order to reach an agreement before May 20.”Abi Khalil was also asked to “provide the Council of Ministers with a comprehensive vision about the additional required megawatts.”“Accordingly, it did not approve renting new ships or extending the contract of the current ships,” a Cabinet statement said. Abi Khalil meanwhile said: “An agreement was reached on most things and we have not proposed power ships but rather several sources to purchase electricity.” “The electricity plan is an integrated plan and in the issue of the Deir Amar plant the Finance Minister was tasked to negotiate with the firm and this has highlighted the correctness of the Energy Ministry's stance,” the minister added. “In 2010 we kicked off a plan to build power plants on land and the new Jiyeh and Zouk plants have become operational,” Abi Khalil went on to say, noting that “it is normal to bring emergency and urgent megawatts pending the completion of the onshore power plants and the fulfillment of the required production capacity.” As for the electricity supply this summer, the minister said: “Electricity this summer will be the same as last summer and should we be able to bring extra megawatts in a quick time, there will be additional supply hours.”Social Affairs Minister Pierre Bou Assi meanwhile said that “the Cabinet approved the Energy Minister's general proposal to reform and rescue the electricity sector.”
“A comprehensive approach towards the electricity file was approved, including onshore plants and new books of terms, and the option of ships is one of the options and has not been ruled out until the moment,” Bou Assi added.

Aoun Slams 'Veiled Naturalization' Call in U.N.-EU Statement
Naharnet/April 26/18/President Michel Aoun on Thursday said he rejects a U.N.-EU joint statement issued during Wednesday's “Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region”, noting that it contained a call for a “veiled naturalization” of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. “The content of this statement contradicts with the Constitution and with my oath of office,” Aoun said in a press release. “It subjects my homeland to danger because it calls for a veiled naturalization of displaced Syrians in Lebanon,” the president added. He said he especially rejects the terms “voluntary repatriation”, “temporary” evacuation, “the choice to stay” and “integration into labor markets”. “We emphasize that the only sustainable solution to the Syrian displacement crisis in Lebanon is the safe and dignified return of displaced Syrians to inhabitable areas inside Syria, while respecting the principle of non-refoulement, especially that security has been restored in several Syrian regions,” Aoun added.He underlined that “it is unacceptable to link the return of the displaced to the political solution in Syria or to reconstruction efforts.”“Lebanon insists on a political solution for Syria and on restoring its stability in a manner that preserves its unity and ends the suffering of its people,” Aoun went on to say. The declaration of the co-chairs of the Brussels conference -- the U.N. and the EU -- said “the Conference stressed the need to ensure that any evacuation of civilians must be safe, informed, temporary, voluntary in nature and a solution of last resort including the destination of their choice, the right to return and the choice to stay.” “Participants agreed that present conditions are not conducive for voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity... Conditions for returns, as defined by the UNHCR and according to international refugee law standards, are not yet fulfilled. Any organized return should be voluntary and in safety and dignity,” the statement said. And while acknowledging that the countries of the region “continue to face enormous humanitarian challenges,” the Conference agreed that “it remains critical to support health and education, economic development, job creation and integration into labor markets, for both host communities and refugees.” Almost one million Syrians are registered as refugees in Lebanon, though many expect the real number is much higher.yria's war has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions since starting in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Berri Says U.N.-EU Statement Contains 'Naturalization, Fragmentation' Intentions
Naharnet/April 26/18/Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri on Thursday warned that a statement issued by the U.N. and the EU after the Brussels conference reflected intentions to “naturalize” Syrian refugees in Lebanon and to “fragment” Syria. “We had repeatedly called for coordinating with the Syrian government to return our Syrian refugee brothers to liberated and secure areas, but despite all the diplomatic and security ties and coordination in economic and electricity affairs between Lebanon and Syria, the Lebanese government remained deaf and blind until the release of the joint U.N.-EU statement in Brussels,” Berri said in a communique. He warned that the U.N.-EU statement reflected intentions to “naturalize” Syrian refugees in Lebanon and to “fragment” and “partition” Syria. “Accordingly, in my name and in the name of the Lebanese parliament, I declare the rejection of the aforementioned statement in its entirety,” Berri added. President Michel Aoun and Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil have also issued stern warnings over the U.N.-EU statement. The declaration of the co-chairs of the Brussels conference -- the U.N. and the EU – said “participants agreed that present conditions are not conducive for voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity.” “Conditions for returns, as defined by the UNHCR and according to international refugee law standards, are not yet fulfilled. Any organized return should be voluntary and in safety and dignity,” the statement added. Almost one million Syrians are registered as refugees in Lebanon, though many expect the real number is much higher. 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.

Bassil to Int'l Community: Stop Encouraging Syrians to Stay in Lebanon
Naharnet/April 26/18/Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil on Thursday called on the international community to “stop encouraging Syrians to stay in Lebanon.”“We cannot remain silent over what happened at the Brussels conference,” Bassil said after a cabinet session in Baabda. “The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) issued a statement scaring Syrians off from returning home and this behavior is suspicious,” the minister added. “The international community must stop encouraging Syrians to stay in Lebanon rather than return to Syria,” Bassil went on to say, stressing that “they cannot lecture us about being humanitarian.”He added: “We want to preserve the Lebanese identity and we are free about our national identity.”Bassil also noted that he had never accepted the “voluntary return” phrase in international statements. “What's new today is the call for a voluntary and temporary return while giving them the choice to stay in Lebanon,” the minister warned. Almost one million Syrians are registered as refugees in Lebanon, though many expect the real number is much higher. Several politicians have blamed a flurry of social and economic woes in Lebanon on Syrian refugees, and calls for them to return have increased in the run-up to the country's first parliamentary elections in nearly a decade on May 6. 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.

IS Militant Arrested in Akkar Region
Naharnet/April 26/18/An Islamic State militant has been arrested in the northern Akkar district, the army said on Thursday. “A force from the Intelligence Directorate arrested Walid Mohammed Beiruti, aka Abu Dujana, in the Akkar area of Shadra,” an army statement said. “He belongs to the terrorist Daesh (IS) group and had fought alongside it,” the statement added. “He had been tasked by the aforementioned group to carry out kidnap for ransom operations in order to finance the group,” the army said, noting that the detainee has since been referred to the relevant judicial authorities.

After 4-Year Vacancy, New Lebanese Ambassador to S.Korea Submits Credentials
Naharnet/April 26/18/Lebanon's new ambassador to South Korea, Antoine Azzam, presented his credentials on Thursday to President Moon Jae-in at the Blue House in Seoul, the National News Agency reported. The South Korean president welcomed the appointment of a Lebanese ambassador to his country after a four-year vacancy in this post, said NNA. He conveyed his best greetings to Lebanese President Michel Aoun, assuring him that the South Korean government would do its utmost efforts to strengthen cooperation and bilateral exchanges. "We are waiting for the role that the Lebanese embassy will play at this level," he said. Moon Jae-in also stated that the period spent by his country's contingent within the UNIFIL exceeds that spent by any other unit outside the borders, expressing satisfaction that the South Korean presence in South Lebanon is a factor of stability, peace and growth. He also assured South Korea's support for the Lebanese constitutional institutions, thanking Lebanon for its support and its condemnation of nuclear test.

Young Male Found Dead on Home Rooftop in Ain el-Hilweh
Naharnet/April 26/18/The dead body of a young man was found overnight on the rooftop of a residential building in the southern Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Hilweh, the National News Agency reported on Thursday. NNA said the victim was identified as Omar Z., Palestinian. He was found dead on his home rooftop in Sidon’s refugee camp. His body was taken to al-Hamshari hospital in Sidon.The security forces opened investigation into the incident.

Ministry Launches Application to Guide Voters to Polling Stations
Naharnet/April 26/18/The interior ministry launched an “application” on its website that allows Lebanese voters locate the polling stations specified for each, the ministry said in a statement on Thursday. Voters can access the ministry’s website,, where they should fill a certain form and obtain an immediate result about polling stations of Lebanese residing in various countries, said the ministry. Lebanese residing abroad must register their full names, added the statement. The website also provides a mechanism that allows Lebanese who will vote on May 6 in Lebanon to know which centers to go to.

Fresh Faces but Same Old Names in Lebanon Election
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 26/18
Fresh young faces may be campaigning to win a seat in Lebanon's parliament next month, but their family names are anything but new. For decades the same families have played a pivotal role in the small Middle Eastern country, officially ruled by a parliamentary democratic system but where political power is still informally handed down through generations. As Lebanon finally heads to the legislative polls after a nine-year hiatus, several candidates hail from a third -- or even fourth generation -- of the same political clans.
There are such cases in almost all of the 18 religious communities represented in Lebanon's complex confessional system.Faced with accusations of "nepotism" and "feudalism", these sons and daughters of influential men have defended what they say is a genuine desire for reform. Incumbent candidate Nadim Gemayel was elected a member of parliament in 2009, but politics have decades-old roots in his family tree. He is the youngest son of late president-elect Bachir Gemayel, killed in 1982, and the grandson of Pierre Gemayel, who founded the Phalangist (Kataeb) Party in which Nadim is now a leading official."The reason I'm involved in politics is of course linked to Bachir's assassination and to the values that got him killed," says Gemayel. "But it's also tied to my own frustration at seeing my country so badly managed," the 36-year-old says."Being someone's son is not necessarily something negative or anti-reform," he adds. "New generations can bring to life projects that are in the public interest that were developed by their forefathers -- and adapt them to evolving times."
- 'Forged my own path' -
First-time candidate Zaher Eido rejects any accusations his surname might have "parachuted" him into circles of power. He is running in Beirut just over a decade since his father, also a lawmaker, and older brother died in a car bomb in the capital. "Sure, I may have inherited a political past, but I'm also interested in politics," says Zaher, who like his father is a member of the leading Future Movement. The 44-year-old banker says he wants to apply his professional experience towards passing new legislation to fight money laundering. "Over 11 years, I've forged my own path, built my own career and personality... And if I can't make things evolve, I'll resign," he pledges. Eido and Gemayel are part of a familiar pattern in Beirut. Michelle Tueini, 31, has already partially followed in the footsteps of her father Gebran as a journalist after he was assassinated in 2005. She is now also running for parliament like him, taking over from her elder sister Nayla, a lawmaker for the past nine years. The country's own prime minister Saad Hariri ascended to power after his father Rafik -- assassinated in 2005 -- held the post for years. Hariri's campaign posters, plastered across Beirut, feature portraits of his father. The list goes on: candidate Taymour Jumblatt is the child of Lebanon's Druze leader Walid and the grandson of Kamal, who founded the Progressive Socialist Party. Tony Franjieh is the fourth generation of his political family: his great-grandfather Suleiman was elected head of state in 1970 and his own father was in the running for the presidency in 2016. Even current President Michel Aoun's nephew and two sons-in-law are running for parliamentary office.
- 'Pseudo-feudalism' -
Fadia Kiwan, politics professor at the Saint Joseph University, says patriarchy and the cult of the leader are still largely ingrained in Lebanese society, which keeps hereditary politics in place. While some families follow "strict centuries-old feudalism, a pseudo-feudal system has taken root in other communities since the emergence of modern Lebanon", she says. Many of those who founded today's political dynasties once headed armed groups during Lebanon's civil war from 1975 to 1990. Political power being handed down across generations has long angered scores of Lebanese voters, and rivals have taken note of their scorn. Kulluna Watani, a reformist coalition, has put forward 70 candidates across the country that it pledges will break the pattern. "Unfortunately, this blend of inherited power and nepotism applies to all political parties in power," says Wadih al-Asmar, a strategist for Kulluna Watani. "It's simply unacceptable, whatever the abilities of those concerned," he says. Slamming the current system as "sclerotic and out-of-breath," Asmar says Kulluna Watani's struggle "aims to give rise to a much more progressive and modern political era."But Gemayel says change takes time.
"Lebanon's political system is not meritocratic, I've never pretended it is. It's a blend of cronyism and confessionalism," he admits. "Traditional (political) families and parties must modernise so they don't miss the boat and end up forgotten," Gemayel tells AFP. "But it cannot happen overnight."

Clarifying Lebanon’s Misguided Politics/ايلي عون توضيح سياسات لبنان المضللة
Elie Aoun/April 26/18
It is necessary to reflect on certain views of late Parliamentarian Samir Frangieh (as published in Annahar on November 6, 2009) to correct a misguided political ideology which continues to negatively impact Lebanon today.
Criticism in itself is not sufficient. A solution is presented, in brief, at the end of this article.
Mr. Frangieh spoke in favor of the “Union for the Mediterranean” and a “new Arab regime.”
If we look at a map of the “Union for the Mediterranean” member countries and place it next to an ancient map of the Roman Empire, both maps would look almost the same. The real objective behind such a “Union” is the “reunification” of member countries. France’s former President Sarkozy said in February 2007: “within every man and woman who lives on the shores of the Mediterranean sleeps the memory, nostalgia, for the UNITY lost 15 centuries ago.” He added that he wanted to be “the president of a France that will set the Mediterranean on the path of its REUNIFICAION, after 12 centuries of division.”
Israel is a member of the “Union.” Can anyone explain why Lebanon and Israel express public animosity against one another while they are both part of a “treaty” aimed at their “integration” as part of a wider Union?
Leaders on both sides of the border know that they are servants of a regional/global agenda, not a national one. In the same manner that the 2006 war led to the deployment of about 15,000 European troops on Lebanese soil, any future “managed” war will be aimed at facilitating more “integration.”
Also, whatever Mr. Frangieh meant by the “new Arab regime,” it is intended to be of a “European Union” style. When you unify or “federalize” Arab monarchial and dictatorial regimes, what do you expect to get – a “democracy”?
Whether it is a “Union” or a “new Arab regime,” one thing is clear: there is no national sovereignty or independence. Lebanon becomes officially what it is “behind the scenes” today: leaders pretending to be national leaders when in reality they are patsies implementing orders given to them by their “superiors” (regional or global). The better traitors they are, the greater their wealth and political power.
Mr. Frangieh is also wrong in prescribing to Lebanon a role between the Arabs and the West
Most Arab countries have better relations with the West than Lebanon. They have no need for Lebanon to play such a role, and the country is not fit to play that role under the present circumstances.
Furthermore, the slogan “Lebanon is a message” is but a myth. Most countries have more religious diversity and better religious co-existence than in Lebanon. They have nothing to learn from Lebanon about ‘diversity” or “co-existence” when they are living better than the Lebanese.
The Lebanese have to abandon the delusions of a “message” or “role” and begin to think realistically about resolving more pertinent issues facing the country – such as social, economic, and political.
Mr. Frangieh supports the so-called “religious dialogue” – which is adopted by Lebanon’s existing President when he called for making Lebanon a “center for religious dialogue.” In reality, this is a dissembling label for religious fornication.
Any Lebanese or researcher is encouraged to spend some time reviewing “religious dialogue” services (pursued by the infiltrated Vatican) videotaped on YouTube and decide for themselves if that is what they want for their country. Here is a video that summarizes the story:
The Christians believe in the deity of Jesus Christ and the Triunity of God. The Muslims, Druze, and other religions do not. The God of the Christians is not the same as the Allah of the Muslims. The religious issues are matters of faith and doctrine, and are not open to a deceptive “religious dialogue” aimed at merging all religions into one, at equating what is divine with what is not.
From all the “prayers for peace” made during the meetings for “religious dialogue” held from 1986 (in the Vatican) and many other cities in the years that followed, has Lebanon or the Arab region improved as a result?
Mr. Frangieh spoke of unifying the churches under the banner of an “Arab Church” with the purpose of an “honest cooperation with Islam to renew the Christian-Muslim East.”
The unification of churches implies a church unity under the infiltrated Vatican, which means the final annihilation of any true Church.
Anyone who does not think that the Vatican and Bkirki are infiltrated is free to explain how the Lebanese and Arab Christians are better off today than they were fifty years ago as a result of Vatican and Bkirki’s politics.
Furthermore, the Christian and Muslim clergy involved in politics wish to maintain their political authority. They will not take measures to “renew” the East in any constructive way.
Mr. Frangieh stated that Lebanese Christians were at the forefront of Middle Eastern Christians in calling for the separation between state and religion.
Such a measure implies three meanings: (1) to stop the clergy from interfering in politics; (2) to remove religious affiliations as a basis for governmental posts; or (3) to remove any link to God at governmental institutions.
The clergy of Rome, Tehran, Bkirki, the Southern suburb of Beirut, and others have no intention to cease political interference. If they do, then they are free to unilaterally withdraw from politics.
With regard to distributing governmental posts based on religious affiliation, that issue has to be maintained (in most part) in a religious-sensitive Lebanon. It cannot be entirely eradicated.
However, the true objective behind the measure is not about religion, but about God. Those behind that agenda want to separate God from the institutions of government – where it becomes non-permissible for someone to pray or read a Bible within the halls of a public school or a governmental institution (similar to certain cases in the United States).
Mr. Frangieh stated that there is “no clear vision for Lebanon’s future and our role in it.” Actually, his superiors in Bkirki and the Vatican do have a vision: It is the “Union.”
Patriarch Al-Rai said in his first speech as a Patriarch that the purpose of the Vatican Synod on the Middle East is to bring the Arab nations under the banner of Mary. What does that mean?
Mary, the mother of Jesus, has no political or geographical ambition. What “Mary” is the Patriarch referring to, and does “Mary” approve of what has been taking place in Lebanon and the Arab region from the time of the Synod until the present?
Other clergy also speak of a different kind of a “union,” an Islamic one.
Both the Lebanese and the Arabs continue to pay the price for the delusions of old men wearing robes (those of the clergy and secret societies) who foolishly seek to dismantle nation-states and to create a geographical unity which carries within it the seed of its destruction.
Mr. Frangieh is also wrong in attributing to “cultural link” as a means to “future peace.”Lebanon and some European countries have gone beyond “cultural links.” Half of Lebanon’s inhabitants are non-Lebanese. Is this the path to future peace?
Peace is based on viable legal and economic principles, not cultural links, unfounded dialogues, and misguided visions.
Those who advance certain ideals, need to first present a nation which adopted those ideals and elevated itself into peace and prosperity.
For example, those who seek an “Islamic” state, can they present to us one nation today that implements the Islamic Sharia and as a result transformed itself from war and despair to peace and prosperity?
Those who support Lebanon’s President’s and Mr. Samir Frangieh’s ideas (which they adopted from Jesuitism and Freemasonry), can they point to one nation today which elevated itself from political and economic decay by declaring itself to be a “message” for others, to have some magical “role” between East and West, to be a “center for religious dialogue,” or through openness, cultural link, or a Christian-Islamic renewal? This is all nonsense.
Former CIA Director William Casey said: “We will know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false.” Similarly, the vast majority of what the Lebanese believe is actually false. They are being “sold” on certain false ideas “for their own benefit” when in reality the implementation of these ideas are for national suicide.
In brief, the proper solution for Lebanon and the Arab nations is the establishment of sovereign, independent, states with defined constitutional rights and principles similar to the ones adopted in English common law countries. Those who have a better model, let them point to it. To succeed, we must adopt models that have proven records of success – not promote unreliable theories.
Instead of seeking a vision within the Arab world or within the Mediterranean, it would be best to first pursue a vision within the Lebanese boundaries which aims at preserving the country and increasing the confidence of its citizens in their own nation.
Legal Expert: Total or Partial Suspension of Budget Law Will Not Affect Ministries 26th April 2018/Legal expert Said Malek on Thursday noted that the Constitutional Council can either abrogate the budget law as a whole or suspend the Article 49 only, assuring that, in the first case, the ministries' work won't be affected as they will opt for extra-budgetary spending as it was done over the past few years when no budget laws were being endorsed. The Constitutional Council convened on Thursday to discuss the appeal challenging the Article 49 which grants foreign nationals a Lebanese residency once they buy an apartment in the country.
In an interview on Voice of Lebanon radio station, Malek stressed that President Michel Aoun's letter asking the Parliament to revise the Article 49 proves that the Kataeb party is right about this issue, adding that the Constitutional Council should take Aoun's request into consideration. The Council has one month to study the challenge and issue a decision on it, Malek pointed out.

Lebanon Parliamentary Candidates Charged As Much As $240,000 for Airtime
AFP/Thursday 26th April 2018
(EET)/Six thousand dollars can buy a minute of air time, but a talk show episode can cost $240,000. In Lebanon, media outlets are charging parliamentary candidates exorbitant prices for coverage. Whether beamed into living rooms on television screens or heard over the radio, legislative hopefuls are keen to get their messages out to their constituents before the May 6 election. The long-awaited vote is the first since 2009, and marks the end of a years-long political stalemate that had paralysed Lebanese government institutions. The deadlock had also left news organisations across Lebanon starving for both content and funds. Most of their financial backers are politically affiliated and have found little use for their media arms in a time of muted political rivalry. But now that elections are on, the competition, the news cycle, and the money are flowing again.
In addition to paid campaign ads, private outlets are also charging candidates for one-on-one interviews and appearances on talk shows. "Election season has prompted Lebanese media outlets to offer packages that can reach up to $1.5 million per electoral list," says Roula Mikhael, who heads Maharat, a civil society group monitoring Lebanon's upcoming vote. The price lists are only recited verbally, to avoid being traced, but Maharat received a detailed breakdown from some campaigners. "A month and a half ago, a minute on a morning television programme could cost you $1,000. But the prices go up steadily as the elections get closer," says Mikhael. Now, a minute of air time on some privately owned television channels will rack up a $6,000 bill. Radio stations charge $3,000 for a 15-minute interview. And channels perceived as independent can charge more than those with clear political affiliations.
No air time In a first, Lebanon's new electoral law has set a spending limit on campaigns and established an electoral commission to monitor media appearances. Paying for coverage is not illegal, according to the law, but channels are required by the commission to identify sponsored media appearances and specify who paid for them.
Its chief, former judge Nadim Abdulmalak, told AFP the amounts cited by Maharat were higher than those reported to the commission. But he did admit outlets were violating other parts of the legislation. "Media organisations are not abiding by the law. They are not identifying paid advertisements or saying who placed the ad," says Abdulmalak. "They are also, more generally, not fulfilling the requirement of presenting a weekly report to the commission of what ads they broadcast," he says.
The commission has struggled since its delayed inception to properly flag any violations. Its only member to have come from outside the political elite resigned on April 20, blaming a shortage of resources that left the body "unable to monitor media, campaign ads, or spending." At its headquarters, 25 employees are silently scrutinising a mix of media. One unfurls a newspaper and squints her eyes at the text. Another is glued to a laptop screen, jotting down how long candidates appear on air.
"As monitors, we've noticed that media outlets host some guests more than others based on their political affiliation," says commission member Manal Ezzedine, 34.
"There are some candidates that you've never heard of or seen, because they don't have media coverage.
'For the wealthy only'
A total of 597 candidates are running for parliamentary office, including many newcomers who have railed against rampant corruption and clientelism in Lebanon.
Those first-time candidates say they struggle to get coverage because it's too expensive. "Who can pay $20,000 these days for half an hour on air, besides the traditional parties that we've known for years?" says Laury Haytayan, a candidate running in Beirut on the Kulluna Watani list. "Elections can't be for the wealthy only," she says. Maharat's Mikhael said the prices asked by Lebanese media outlets risked turning the elections into a race among the rich. "Everyone knows Lebanese media has been going through a very serious financial crisis," she says.
"Today, we're returning to a situation where people with money are the only ones able to actually come to power in Lebanon, where the rich alone are allowed to have media appearances." Lists like Kulluna Watani and other non-traditional parties are targeting first-time voters -- those that were not 21 in the 2009 election -- through social media. Raed Ataya, who is running in southern Lebanon on a list bringing together communists and local figures, announced his candidacy through a free live-streaming option online. He and fellow candidates were primarily funded by donations and could not afford the "ridiculous" press price lists. "When we announced our list, we did so on Facebook Live, without a single media outlet present," Ataya says.

Sayegh Calls for Suspending Controversial Budget Clause 26th April 2018/Kataeb's Deputy-President Salim Sayegh Thursday stressed the need to immediately suspend the controversial Article 49 of the budget law as it paves the way for the naturalization of refugees, noting that President Michel Aoun's request for the Parliament to revise the clause wouldn't have changed anything. "Nothing could have been done until a new government is formed after the elections," he said in an interview on Voice of Lebanon radio station. "Any foreign national can now buy an apartment and get the Lebanese residency given that the clause has come into effect."

Power Sector Promises Fade Away as Government Fails to Reach Solution 26th April 2018/Ten days before the government assumes a caretaker status following the parliamentary polls, all the promises that were made to introduce reforms into Lebanon's power sector and find a permanent solution to the long-standing crisis turned out to be fake. While the Cabinet approved some of the items included in the Energy Minister's power plan, no decision was made on the power barges project which has been opposed by several ministers due to its suspicious aspect. The plan proposed by Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil includes the leasing of two additional power barges, and the extension of the contract for two existing vessels provided by Turkish company Karadeniz. The Cabinet tasked both the ministers of energy and finance with conducting negotiations with the company that is operating the Deir Ammar power plant in order to reach a deal on the expansion project before May 20. During the Cabinet session held at the Baabda Palace, President Michel Aoun requested a public holiday on May 4 and 7 to facilitate the electoral process.

Sami Gemayel Addresses Lebanese Expats on Eve of Overseas Vote 26th April 2018/Kataeb leader Samy Gemayel on Thursday appealed to the Lebanese expats, who are set to cast their ballots from overseas this weekend, to seize the opportunity that has been offered to them for the first time in Lebanon's history."I call on you to take the chance to support the free people in the country," Gemayel said in a live message posted on his Facebook page on the eve of the expats vote in six Arab countries. Lebanese nationals in 34 other countries around the world will be casting their ballots on Sunday.
"We want you to help us reach the democratic and civilized life that we all want in Lebanon," he said. "With you being outside the country, you can see the truth clearly and no one can affect your choice with services, money or arms. You are free and capable of making your choice based on one thing only: your convictions.""This is an opportunity for you to express your opinion away from political calculations. There is a chance for you to leave your mark by contributing to getting competent people, who have a project to work on and favor the country's interest over all else, into the Parliament," Gemayel stressed. "Give your vote to the ones who are struggling for a better Lebanon; the ones who always say the truth, make sacrifices and seek only Lebanon's welfare.""We are counting on you! The decision you will make will determine the way Lebanon will be governed over the next four years. Your ballot will determine the fate of Lebanon," Gemayel said in an address to Lebanese nationals abroad. "It is up to you to choose between two options: either Lebanon stays as it is, or it develops through a new political approach and a new type of rulers who seek nothing but the nation's interest."Gemayel noted that the Constitutional Council's decision to suspend the Article 49 of the budget law has proved that a small number of lawmakers can protect Lebanon and safeguard its Constitution, stressing that anything is possible when the needed will and courage are available."The Constitutional Council's decision is a watertight proof that the presence of free lawmakers in the Parliament can change the whole political equation," he said. "Therefore, imagine what more than ten lawmakers can do! Now, it all depends on your vote."Gemayel stressed that a larger opposition force would make the government think twice before making any wrong decision or committing any mistake, pledging to commit to the Kataeb's 131-point platform if the party becomes part of the authority. He also called on the expats to read the Kataeb's electoral project ( and decide accordingly whether they want to give their vote to the party candidates. "We place ourselves under accountability. You will decide which Lebanon you want," Gemayel concluded. "We are asking you to help us build our country, and to elect competent and honorable people who would work for the Lebanese people's interest."

New Congress bill to 'disarm Hezbollah' and pressure UN force

Scrutiny of how group is getting arms could lead to fund cuts for UN mission in Lebanon: expert

Joyce Karam/The National/Updated: April 24/18

A Hezbollah fighter stands in front of anti-tank artillery at Juroud Arsal on the Syria-Lebanon border July 29, 2017 during an offensive against Syrian rebels groups. Ali Hashisho / Reuters

A bill to seek a US intelligence report on Hezbollah’s arsenal and to evaluate the effectiveness of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon is gaining support from both parties in the US Congress.

The Disarm Hezbollah Act requires the director of national intelligence (DNI) to produce, within 90 days of its passage, a report detailing Hezbollah’s “capabilities, arsenal, and the illicit supply routes it uses to procure weapons”, according to a final draft obtained by The National.

The six-page bill does not include punitive measures against either Hezbollah or the Lebanese government, but the DNI report will be used to evaluate the role of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil).

“For decades, Hezbollah has continued to present a clear and present danger to the United States and our allies, and despite sanctions on this terrorist organisation, they continue to grow and sow chaos in the Middle East,” Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger said while introducing the bill with Democrat Tom Suozzi.

He specified its goals as strengthening the role of the UN force in Lebanon and establishing ways to block Hezbollah’s armament process.

Mr Souzzi also emphasised the growing threat from Hezbollah. The group’s increased capabilities “threaten our Middle East interests and allies, particularly Israel”, he said, adding that the bill would “help improve our intelligence community’s understanding of a serious ongoing threat on the doorstep of one of [our] allies”.

The bill deems Hezbollah, designated as terrorist organisation by the US in 1997, a “grave danger" to the United States and its interests and allies.

It accuses the Iran-funded and backed group of “conducting armed interference in multiple conflicts, most notably those of Yemen, Iraq, and Syria”.

Congress bill urges designation of Hezbollah as a 'foreign narcotics trafficker'

The bill also examines the role of the UN force and whether its mandate to assist the Lebanese army in establishing an arms-free area in South Lebanon has been successful. The force has come under intense scrutiny from both the Trump administration and Israel for failing to demilitarise the area it operates in.

“It’s time the Security Council puts teeth in the Unifil operation,” the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said in August. “We don’t need to be giving terrorists a pass.”

She said the 10,000-strong force was “not doing its job effectively”, and that its commander “seems to be the only person in south Lebanon who is blind” to weaponry passing into or through the area of its control.

Randa Slim, a director of conflict resolution at the Middle East Institute in Washington, told The National she saw the bill as “laying the groundwork for Congress to stop funding Unifil".

The Trump administration has already sought a 42 per cent cut in funds allocated for the force in the 2019 budget, down to $84.2 million from about $146m in previous years.

While the bill, if enacted into law in its current version, could be used to cut funding or exert pressure strengthen Unifil's mandate, Ms Slim did not expect it to end the UN peacekeeping mission altogether in Lebanon. Despite the problems, “the trilateral forum mediated by Unifil between the Israeli and Lebanese armies' personnel has been quite effective in addressing conflicts related to land borders”, she said.

“It has also proven effective at preventing misperception or miscalculation on the Hezbollah and Israeli sides and another war since 2006.”

The bill could put political pressure on Hezbollah or its allies in Lebanon'S government if it led to funding cuts for either the army or the Unifil mission, Ms Slim said.

But as far as disarmament is concerned, she said, “there is no force that can disarm Hezbollah if Hezbollah does not want to disarm itself”.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on April 26-27/18
Lieberman Discusses with Mattis Iran Nuclear Deal
Tel Aviv - Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 26 April, 2018
/Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman arrived in Washington on Wednesday for talks with his US counterpart James Mattis and National Security Advisor John Bolton, in addition to other officials, on the nuclear deal and Iran's role in the Middle East, especially Syria.
Lieberman is also scheduled to meet with members from the Senate Armed Services Committee and lawmakers from the US Congress who call for scraping the nuclear deal. An Israeli defense ministry statement said that Lieberman’s talks will also focus on security coordination to confront Iranian expansion in the Middle East, namely Syria. With Israel’s keenness not to get directly involved in the Syrian war, it is holding a thorough dialogue with Washington to prevent Iran from changing the course of events in the region, said security sources in Tel Aviv.
Their remark brought back to mind a statement made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which he said Israel is ready to pay any price for the sake of preventing Iran from jeopardizing its security.
Further, political sources in Tel Aviv and Moscow revealed that Russia is holding talks with Israeli and Iranian officials to limit tension. Secretary of Russia's Security Council Nikolai Patrushev met on Tuesday in Moscow with his Israeli and Iranian counterparts, respectively Eytan Ben-David and Ali Shamkhani.
Russia’s Ambassador to Israel Alexander Shein stated that his country seeks to maintain the balance in the region and dispel dangers, demanding both parties to preserve calm. In a related matter, Israeli Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said Wednesday that a prospective US-European deal on Iran's nuclear program might dissuade US President Donald Trump from abandoning the current agreement between world powers and Tehran.
Katz did not say whether Israel backed a separate arrangement put forward by French President Emmanuel Macron in talks with Trump on Tuesday.
Israel has in the past called for the deal, which was signed in Vienna and is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), to be "fixed or nixed". Katz said the West had signed the 2015 agreement "too soon" and should have maintained tough economic sanctions that were suspended in return for Tehran agreeing to roll back technologies with bomb-making potential.
"The president of France and his colleagues in Europe must understand that putting heavy pressure on Iran today can prevent violence and perhaps war tomorrow," the minister said.
Macron resists Trump’s ‘America first’ in speech to Congress
The Associated Press, Washington/Thursday, 26 April 2018/French President Emmanuel Macron drew sharp contrasts with President Donald Trump’s worldview Wednesday, laying out a firm vision of global leadership that rejects “the illusion of nationalism” in a candid counterweight to Trump’s appeals to put “America first.”In the spotlight of a speech to the US Congress, Macron was courteous but firm, deferential but resolute as he traced the lines of profound division between himself and Trump on key world issues: climate change, trade and the Iran nuclear deal.
A day after the French leader had put on a show of warmth and brotherly affection for Trump at the White House, his blunt speech prizing engagement over isolationism reinforced the French leader’s emerging role as a top defender of the liberal world order.
“We can choose isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism. This is an option. It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy to our fears,” Macron said. “But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world. It will not douse but inflame the fears of our citizens.”
Issuing a bleak warning, he urged against letting “the rampaging work of extreme nationalism shake a world full of hopes for greater prosperity.”It was a marked shift from the simpatico Macron of only a day earlier during his state visit at the White House. In his first year as France’s president, Macron has carefully cultivated as close a relationship to Trump as any world leader can boast. But addressing a joint meeting of Congress - an honor granted only occasionally to leaders of close US allies - Macron confronted his differences with Trump head-on.
Differences on Iran
As Trump weighs pulling out of the 2015 Iran accord, Macron made clear that France will not follow his lead. “We signed it at the initiative of the United States. We signed it, both the United States and France,” Macron said. “That is why we cannot say we should get rid of it like that.” Macron later told French reporters that he has no “inside information” on Trump’s decision on the Iran deal but noted that it’s clear the U.S. president “is not very much eager to defend it.”
Macron saved some of his most pointed comments during the speech on Trump administration policy on climate change, implicitly lamenting the president’s moves to withdraw from the global emissions pact reached in Paris. Macron said humans are “killing our planet” and added: “Let us face it: There is no Planet B.”“On this issue, it may happen we have disagreements between the United States and France. It may happen, like in all families,” Macron said. “But that’s for me a short-term disagreement.”It was an allusion not to an impending Trump about-face, but to the prospect of America choosing a different path under a successor, whoever that may prove to be. Asked by French reporters about his comments later during a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Macron said with a smile that he doesn’t expect Trump to rejoin the Paris accord but does expect that America will.
Support among democrats
Macron’s hour-long speech to Congress, delivered in English, provoked obvious delight from congressional Democrats, who erupted repeatedly in cheers and standing ovations for the visiting Frenchman - a contrast to the mostly silent reaction from Republicans in the House chamber. To some, it was an ironic reminder that more than a year after being walloped by Trump in the election, Democrats have yet to coalesce behind either a cohesive message or a messenger, still plaintively searching for the kind of energetic, fresh-faced leader that Macron represents.
For Macron, the exuberant reception may have been equally ironic. At home, Macron does not enjoy the same level of applause or enthusiasm. A centrist in France, he’s currently criticized more from the left than the right, notably for ending France’s famed worker protection, and he’s often derided as the president of the rich. Still, his soaring speech to Congress and closely watched visit to the United States have buttressed the notion that Macron now carries the torch for the rules-based international system of freedoms, free markets and democratic governance that Western nations have championed since World War II.
Reaffirming French-US relations
Trump’s positions on trade and overseas obligations have chipped away at America’s position as the spokesman for that movement. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel, seen in recent years as the inheritor of that role, has faded somewhat amid domestic political challenges in her country.
That France sees itself as uniquely equipped to help fill that void seemed evident as Macron called for communal action to address “urgent” threats to what he called fundamental values. “Today, the international community needs to step up our game and build the 21st century world order,” he said.
It wasn’t all criticism from Macron. He sought to showcase the historic bond between the US and France, touting the two allies’ “constant attachment to freedom and democracy.” Yet he also mentioned “fake news,” a point of contention between Trump and others, and warned that lies disseminated online are threatening freedoms worldwide. In friendly fashion, he recounted trans-Atlantic links from the earliest days of the United States, Macron talked about a meeting between Ben Franklin and the French philosopher Voltaire, “kissing each other’s cheeks.”In an apparent reference to his affectionate rapport with Trump this week, Macron mused: “It can remind you of something.”

Will Macron’s Paris conference help end Qatar’s terror financing?
Al Arabiya English and AP/Thursday, 26 April 2018/Ministers from more than 70 countries — including bitter rivals — are working on ways to combat financing for the ISIS group and Al-Qaeda at an international conference in Paris, which still bears scars of deadly terrorist attacks in recent years. Participants scheduled to take part in Thursday's international conference include countries from the Gulf. It was launched by French President Emmanuel Macron to coordinate efforts to reduce the terror threat in the long term. A string of attacks has killed 245 people in France since January 2015 and dozens of others have been thwarted. France is pushing for international coordination and more transparency in financial transactions. But it recognizes how sensitive the issue is, and sees the conference as a first step to encourage political mobilization.
The French organizers noted that ISIS military defeats on the ground don't prevent the group from pursuing its terrorist activities, along with al-Qaeda —especially in unstable regions of Afghanistan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Yemen, Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa. Terror groups don't only rely on the cash economy — they're using increasingly using hard-to-track tools like prepaid cards, online wallets and crowdfunding operations. A French top official said "we are still facing groups that are financially very strong and that use a lot the most anonymous kind of techniques to transfer money." The ISIS group also has invested in businesses and real estate to ensure its financing. Islamic State revenues alone were estimated at $2.5 billion between 2014 and 2016, according to the French president's office.
Most of the attacks in Western countries do not cost a lot of money, but terror groups "behave like big organizations ... It costs a lot to recruit, train, equip people and spread propaganda," the official said. He was speaking anonymously under the presidency's customary practice ahead of the meeting. Funding to extremist groups in the Middle East once freely flowed across the region's informal money-transfer shops and in donations made in mosques when traveling clerics issued special appeals during sermons. While welcomed by the West when such funding went toward those fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s, the same system helped fund the rise of al-Qaeda and its brutal offspring, the ISIS. In recent years, the U.S. and other Western nations have encouraged Middle Eastern nations to close off those sources.
However, allegations over extremist funding in part sparked a nearly yearlong boycott of Qatar by Arab states. Qatar denies funding extremists, though it has faced Western criticism about being lax in enforcing such rules. However, most recently and just a day had passed following Qatar Emir’s assertion before US President Donald Trump at the White House that Doha does not support terrorism, the next day, Qatar’s Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani, along with other government officials, poses with the most prominent name on the Qatari and international terrorist lists - Abdulrahman al-Nuaimi - at the wedding of the latter’s son. The Qatari government admitted in a statement released on Saturday that their Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa al-Thani did in fact attend the wedding. UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash has hit out over Qatar’s Prime Minister recent attendance of a terror suspect son’s wedding saying Doha undermined the efforts of dozens of law and PR firms it hired to polish its image. Also a prominent human rights lawyer demanded Monday that Qatar compensate Dutch-based victims of an al-Qaeda-linked Syrian extremist group, saying the Al Nusra group was financed by Qatar-based funding networks.
In a letter sent to Qatar's ruling emir that was seen by The Associated Press, lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld accused the wealthy Gulf state of failing to take action against the al-Nusra Front and said: "Qatar is therefore liable for the damages suffered by the victims."In her letter to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Zegveld alleged that one of the victims was taken hostage by members of al-Nusra near Damascus in December 2012. The man, whose identity was not released out of safety concerns, was repeatedly tortured, forced to watch the executions of two other hostages and subjected to a mock execution. The militants demanded nearly $2 million for his release. Qatar also has supported the pan-Arab Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood, which many countries view as a direct challenge. "Henry Jackson Society" also said, recently, that Qatar’s ties with terrorism are continuing. The British think tank suggests a four-point plan of action to the British government in order to push to Qatar to change its behavior. The new report examines the charges made against the Qatari government by other Gulf states and questions whether Doha is engaged in power politics and bolstering groups and individuals, many of whom are dangerous radicals, that undermine its neighbors and regional stability. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, IMF chief Christine Lagarde, Saudi Foreign Minister Abdel Al Jubeir and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani were among dignitaries scheduled to take part in Thursday's meeting. It includes ministers of justice, finance, foreign affairs and the interior from Western countries, the Arab world and other nations as well as representatives of 18 international organizations. Participants are expected to issue a final declaration which should encourage countries to improve their domestic practices to "effectively collect, exchange and analyze financial intelligence," the French presidency said. In closing the conference, Macron is expected to call for a multilateral response as the only way to eradicate or at least reduce the global threat.

Macron Vows Iran Will Never Possess Nuclear Arms
Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 26 April, 2018/French President Emmanuel Macron vowed on Wednesday that Iran will never possess any nuclear weapons, a day after he announced his readiness to work with the United States on a new nuclear deal.
Speaking at Congress at the end of his three-day US trip, he said: “Iran shall never possess any nuclear weapon. Not now not in five years, not in 10 years, never.”
He said the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which US President Donald Trump has harshly criticized, was not perfect but must remain in place until a replacement is forged. “It is true to say that this agreement may not address all concerns and very important concerns,” Macron told lawmakers in English. “But we should not abandon it without having something more substantial instead. That’s my position.”
“This policy should not lead us to war in the Middle East. We must ensure that stability is reached in the region,” he continued. Later, he told reporters at the conclusion of his US trip that he had no "inside information" on whether Trump will pull the US out of the Iran deal, but that it is clear he "is not very much eager to defend it." Trump on Tuesday called the deal "ridiculous," but did not say whether he would withdraw the US by the May 12 deadline he has set.
Macron pointed out that withdrawing from the deal is "a campaign commitment that (Trump) took a long time ago."
Commenting on Syria, the French president hailed before Congress the air strike carried out by the US, Britain and France against regime chemical facilities.
“They acted to destroy chemical weapons and protect the credibility of the international community,” he stressed, while vowing to cooperate to reach a solution to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and reach a political end to the conflict.
He said that he discussed this issue with Trump, adding that the political solution serves the expectations of the Syrian people in the post-ISIS phase.
The Western strike on April 14 was a response to the regime’s chemical weapons attack against the town of Douma that killed at least 40 people a week earlier.
A day after Macron had put on a show of warmth and brotherly affection for Trump at the White House, his blunt Congress speech prizing engagement over isolationism reinforced his emerging role as a top defender of the liberal world order.
"We can choose isolationism, withdrawal and nationalism. This is an option. It can be tempting to us as a temporary remedy to our fears," Macron said. "But closing the door to the world will not stop the evolution of the world. It will not douse but inflame the fears of our citizens." Issuing a bleak warning, he urged against letting "the rampaging work of extreme nationalism shake a world full of hopes for greater prosperity." On climate change, he implicitly lamented Trump’s moves to withdraw from the global emissions pact reached in Paris. Macron said humans are "killing our planet" and added: "Let us face it: There is no Planet B.""On this issue, it may happen we have disagreements between the United States and France. It may happen, like in all families," he stated. "But that's for me a short-term disagreement." Asked by French reporters about his comments later during a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Macron said with a smile that he does not expect Trump to rejoin the Paris accord, but does expect that America will.
USA Senate Approves Pompeo as U.S. Secretary of State
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 26/18/The U.S. Senate voted Thursday to approve former CIA director Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, after a bruising battle by Democrats against President Donald Trump's nominee. Pompeo, who earned Trump's confidence after a year at the CIA, was accused by Democrats as being too bellicose and harboring anti-Muslim and homophobic sentiments. But after barely getting the nomination past the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Pompeo was easily confirmed by the entire body in a vote of 57-42, with a handful of Democratic senators facing tough re-election battles voting in favor. The approval came in time for Pompeo to lead the U.S. delegation to NATO foreign minister talks in Brussels this weekend and to arrange a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the coming months. Pompeo replaces Rex Tillerson, the former oil executive Trump fired in March after a year of tensions and turmoil in the State Department, where he alienated much of his staff and left the body deeply demoralized. But where Tillerson was seen as a voice for moderation in the Trump administration, Pompeo is viewed as a hawk who could combine with new White House National Security Advisor John Bolton to back more aggressive posturing by Trump on the world stage.

Pompeo to Go to Israel, Saudi, Jordan on First Trip
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 26/18/Newly sworn in U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will head from this week's NATO meeting in Brussels directly on to high level talks in Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, his spokeswoman said.
Speaking on the tarmac of Joint Base Andrews in front of the secretary's government jet as he arrived from his Supreme Court swearing-in, Heather Nauert said the stops were chosen to reflect their "importance as key allies and partners in the region."

French Special Forces Sent to Reinforce U.S.-Led Operations in Syria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 26/18/U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday that French special operations forces arrived in Syria over the past two weeks to help boost U.S.-led efforts against the Islamic State group. Speaking to senior lawmakers in Washington, Mattis responded to a question about whether the United States was planning on pulling out of Syria -- something President Donald Trump has said would happen "very soon."Right now, "we are not withdrawing," Mattis told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "You'll see a reenergized effort," he said.
"You'll see increased operations on the Iraqi side of the border, and the French just reinforced us in Syria with special forces here in the last two weeks. This is an ongoing fight right now."On Tuesday, Trump appeared to walk back his vow to yank U.S. troops from Syria, saying the United States wanted to "leave a strong and lasting footprint​" in the country. Currently, about 2,000 US troops are in Syria, most of them commandos. Even after IS -- which still control two pockets of territory along the middle Euphrates River Valley -- are defeated, the U.S. military wants to maintain a presence in Syria to prevent the jihadists from returning. Mattis said he wanted to see more "regional support" for the anti-IS fight and told lawmakers he was "confident that we would probably regret it" if the U.S. does not contribute to a long-term holding force in Syria. France is a longstanding member of the international coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria, and helped bombard the jihadists in the Mosul area during the Iraqi operation to recapture the city. France, along with the U.S. and Britain, also took part in the April 14 cruise missile strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons-related facilities.

US Concerns Rise with Report on Iran-Syria ‘Suspicious Cargo’
Washington - Cairo - Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 26 April, 2018/A US administration source revealed on Wednesday that intelligence services in his country are closely monitoring what he described as “suspicious air cargo” between Iran and Syria, suspected of carrying weapons or military systems.
Israel and the United States suspect a series of cargo flights from Iran to Syria may be transporting weapons to the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar Assad, and Iranian forces in his country, CNN reported on Wednesday. While weapons shipments into Syria are not uncommon, cargo involving Iran have caught the attention of US intelligence because they occurred in the days after the April 13 US airstrikes on regime targets in the war-torn country. Rhetoric between Iran and Israel has also escalated in recent weeks over Tehran's involvement in areas of Syria that can be used to potentially launch missiles or aircraft that could target Israel. Iran is threatening to "respond appropriately sooner or later" to the strike on the Syrian regime's T4 air base near the western city of Homs, an attack which caused Iranian casualties. Iranian reports acknowledged the killing of at least 7 Iranians in the strike. Moscow and Damascus have confirmed that Israel bombed the airport. Israeli reports have also indicated that Israel's northern border is on a state of alert amid fears of a possible response from Iran or its Lebanon-based proxy “Hezbollah.”

Moscow Challenges West by Delivering S-300 Missile Systems to Damascus
Moscow, Brussels, Tel Aviv, London - Raed Jabr, Abdullah Mustafa and Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 26 April, 2018/Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the Russian General Staff Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy said Wednesday that Moscow would soon deliver the S-300 long range surface-to-air missile systems to Damascus, challenging Israel and Western countries, including the US. “Russian specialists will continue training Syrian military personnel, as well as assist in the development of new air defense systems, the deliveries of which will be carried out in the near future,” he said.
The announcement was made in wake of the US, Britain and France launching an air strike against Syrian regime chemical facilities on April 14. The raid was in response to a regime chemical attack on the town of Douma a week earlier that left at least 40 people dead. Rudskoy said the Syrian Defense Ministry “analyzed in detail” the results of the Western strike. Russian specialists found the traces of only 22 missiles that struck Syrian targets. The American military had announced that 105 missiles were fired. Meanwhile, as Moscow was exerting efforts to ease tension between Tel Aviv and Tehran, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman arrived in Washington on Wednesday to hold meetings on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and Tehran’s expansion in Syria, particularly along the Israeli-Syrian ceasefire lines on the Golan Heights. Elsewhere, the Second Brussels Conference on "Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region" pledged $4.4 million for war-torn Syria, falling short of a target of $9 million. Held on April 24 and 25, the conference brought together 86 delegations and 57 countries. It reaffirmed that only an inclusive, comprehensive and genuine political solution in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolution 2254 and the Geneva I declaration will ensure a sustainable end to the Syrian conflict, prevent regional escalation and a return of ISIS, and guarantee a peaceful and prosperous future for Syria and the region. Participants pledged, for both Syria and the region, $4.4 billion for 2018, as well as multi-year pledges of $3.4 billion for 2019-20. More than 12 million people have now been displaced by the conflict, including more than 5.6 million refugees hosted in neighboring countries and 6.6 million displaced inside Syria.

Exclusive - Syrian Democratic Forces Chief: We are Ready to Cooperate with Arab Forces
Ain Issa (Raqqa countryside - Syria) – Kamal Sheikho/Thursday, 26 April, 2018 /Mazloum Abdi is the commander-in-chief of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Originally from the town of Ain al-Arab (Kobane) in northern Syria, he leads a force of 60,000 troops and recently held a lengthy meeting with Brett McGurk, the US Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Abdi said the meeting discussed President Donald Trump’s intention to withdraw the US troops from Syria and the SDF’s willingness to cooperate with Arab countries that might send troops to fight within the Coalition, in case the US withdrew. In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Abdi said: “Officially, there is no decision to withdraw the US troops from Syria, but President Trump proposed the matter to members of his government for discussion. We have information that the administration is discussing his proposal and the possibility of withdrawing troops or not.” “The US and the Coalition countries came to Syria to fight ISIS. The latter has not been eliminated completely, and there are sleeping cells in the liberated areas that continue to constitute a threat. There also remain pledges made by the US and the Coalition to the liberated areas and cities to rebuild and promote peace and stability,” the commander stated.
Asked about the possibility of deploying other forces in case of US withdrawal, Abdi replied: “There is nothing official to date, but countries have shown initial approval for sending their forces to Syria as part of the international coalition.” “We are working with the Coalition to expel terrorism from Syria. We have no problem if Arab forces joined the alliance and we will cooperate with them,” he stressed. The SDF commander noted that since the end of 2014 and the announcement of the anti-ISIS coalition, he had held several meetings with the US side, which pledged to provide military and financial support to enable local governments in northern Syria to expel ISIS and successfully manage these areas. As for his relation with McGurk, Abdi said: “Brett McGurk is the US president’s representative in the Coalition and a friend of the Kurdish people. He had expressed this in many meetings.”
He added that a few days ago, the two men held a long meeting and discussed the withdrawal of US forces from east of the Euphrates River.
“I understood from him that the proposal is in the decision-making and drafting stage. It is important for us that the United States and the Coalition countries implement their commitments to the forces that have fought and are still fighting ISIS. These commitments are promises they have made to the public,” he emphasized. Asked whether France was able to assume the American role in northern Syria, Abdi noted that the United States was the main force in the Coalition. “But I do not think the size of the French military presence is comparable to that of the US,” he continued. “[French] President [Emmanuel] Macron expressed his desire to expand the participation of his country’s forces in the Coalition and Britain showed a similar desire. These two countries contributed significantly to the war against ISIS,” he added. As for the areas controlled by ISIS on the northern bank of the Euphrates, Abdi said: “ISIS elements currently control an area of about 10,000 square kilometers, which is equivalent to the area of Lebanon; stretching from the south of Al-Hol and Dasheheh in the province of Hasakeh, to the Euphrates along the Syrian-Iraqi border. They still constitute a danger.” When asked why he believed ISIS has not been defeated yet in those areas, he replied: “Turkey is involved with ISIS, whose elements are engaged in proxy wars to implement Turkish agendas in Syria.”“When Turkey threatens to invade Manbij and the Kurdish areas under the control of our forces, it will execute these threats through ISIS terrorists,” he stated.

Hamas Leader Pledges to Move Demonstrations to the West Bank
Ramallah - Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 26 April, 2018 /Hamas Politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh vowed to continue the “Great Return March” and move it to the West Bank, hoping it carries out the message and achieves goals it is set out to accomplish. “Rallies will move to the West Bank and will be joined by our people abroad,” Haniyeh told a meeting organized by the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. On another hand, a Fatah official source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Palestinian nationalist political party viewed Haniyeh's comments as a national trade.
“Hamas wants to draw attention. Wants to show itself as the leader of these demonstrations—they want them to escalate in order to continue the evasion of reconciliation.”“They (Hamas) can rid Gaza of all its dire crises by handing over to the government and not sending people to die,” the source added.
“Fatah supported, acted and was the first to take part in peaceful marches in the West Bank and Gaza, even before Hamas said it supported these approaches. Fatah is moving in the West Bank and in Gaza,” he pointed out. Needless to say, Fatah works to ensure freedom of demonstration and protection of the Palestinian people, the source confirmed. The “Great Return March” is part of a six-week protest that will culminate on May 15. The day will mark the 70th anniversary of Israel's occupation and establishment-- an event Palestinians refer to as “Nakba.” Haniyeh said the marches brought the Palestinian cause back to the forefront and dropped any suspicious deals. The Hamas leader went on saying that anti-occupation protests, now in their fifth week, “have achieved their goals, most notably is the return of the Palestinian cause to the forefront again."“The holy month of Ramadan will enter this year with our people on the march,” in reference to the main march expected mid-May. “Ramadan comes to us this year in light of major events and challenges, the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, and the decision of the US administration to transfer the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem,” Haniyeh said.  “In Ramadan, the Palestinian situation will face great challenges, and there will be historic transformations in the management of the conflict with the occupation.”“This month is the month of victories,” Haniyeh declared. He described the decision to move the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem as a strategic challenge for the Palestinian people and Arab and Islamic nations. “It (May’s Great Return March) will be a blow to the American administration and anyone who wants to conspire on the Palestinian issue.”Since marches launched, Israel has killed 42 Palestinians and injured about 5,000, 170 of whom remain in critical condition. The Palestinians say the marches are peaceful, but Israel says they are aimed at breaching borders and barriers with the Gaza Strip. Palestinians and human rights organizations, as well as Israelis, accused the Israeli army of using lethal bullets against defenseless demonstrators.

Armenia to Elect New Prime Minister on May 1
Yerevan, Armenia April 25, 2018/Asharq Al-Awsat/Armenia will elect a new prime minister next week to succeed Serzh Sarkisian, who quit on Monday after days of opposition protests. Opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan, who led the rallies, appears to be the favorite to win the vote, which will take place at an extraordinary parliament session on May 1. The demonstrations, driven by public anger over perceived political cronyism and corruption, looked to have peaked on Monday when Sarkisian stepped down. But demonstrators have made clear they view the whole system tainted by his drive to shift power to the premier from the president. They want a sweeping political reconfiguration before ending their protests, which continued on Thursday. "Protests will grow throughout Armenia until authorities can hear us," Pashinyan said. Pashinyan, a former journalist turned lawmaker who has been instrumental in organizing the protests, has said he is ready to become prime minister. Tens of thousands rallied in the capital Yerevan on Wednesday in support for his bid for the premiership. If elected, he wants to reform the electoral system to ensure it is fair before holding new parliamentary elections. Sarkisian’s party still holds a majority in the parliament, however. “We will have a people’s prime minister and after the election a people’s government and parliament,” said Anna Agababyan, a 38-year-old teacher who was protesting in Yerevan on Thursday, holding a small national flag. Although the demonstrations have been peaceful, the upheaval has threatened to destabilize Armenia, an ally of Russia, in a volatile region riven by its decades-long, low-level conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan. Moscow has two military bases in the ex-Soviet republic, and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to Armenian President Armen Sarkissian by phone on Wednesday. They agreed that political forces must show restraint and solve the crisis through dialogue, the Kremlin said. Pashinyan said on Wednesday he had received assurances from Russian officials that Moscow would not intervene in the crisis, and Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian was in Moscow on Thursday for talks. Armen Sarkissian, the president, on Thursday hailed what he called “a new page” in Armenia’s history and called on lawmakers to help forge a new country while respecting the existing constitution. Pashinyan and his allies have been busy trying to build support for him with the ruling Republican Party and other parties and Pashinyan is expected to hold talks with Gagik Tsarukyan, the leader of the second-biggest party in parliament, later on Thursday.

N. Korea Leader to Cross Border to Meet Southern Counterpart at Historic Summit
Asharq Al-Awsat/Thursday, 26 April, 2018/North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will cross the concrete slabs that form the border between his country and the south where he will be received by South Korean President Moon Jae In during a historic summit on Friday. The talks on the southern side of the border village of Panmunjom are expected to focus on North Korea's nuclear program, but there will be plenty of symbolism when Kim becomes the first North Korean leader to be in the southern section of the border since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. The two leaders will plant a commemorative tree and walk together for about 10 minutes to a plaza where they will inspect a South Korean honor guard, Moon's chief of staff Im Jong-seok told reporters. After signing the guestbook and taking a photo together at Peace House, the venue for the summit, the Kim and Moon will start formal talks at 10:30 a.m. (0130 GMT). They will later plant a pine tree on the border using a mixture of soil from both counties' mountains and water from their respective rivers. The tree, which is beloved by both Koreas, dates to 1953, the year the war ended, Im said. Engraved on the stone plaque for the tree will be the phrase, "Peace and Prosperity Are Planted," as well as the signatures of the leaders. The leaders will meet again in the afternoon and later attend a banquet, Im said. Im said Kim is to be accompanied by nine top North Korean officials, including his influential sister, Kim Yo Jong. South Korea’s delegation is comprised of seven officials, including the ministers for defense, foreign affairs and unification. Im said South Korea hopes Kim's wife, Ri Sol Ju, will attend parts of Friday's summit, but Ri's attendance hasn't been agreed to yet. “This summit will focus more on denuclearization and securing of permanent peace than anything else,” Im said on Thursday. “I feel North Korea is sending their key military officials to the summit as they too, believe denuclearization and peace are important.”It is also not clear how the leaders will announce the results of the summit. The most difficult part, Im said, centers on North Korea's level of denuclearization commitment.
Friday's summit and Kim's planned meeting with President Donald Trump in May or early June were arranged after Kim recently expressed a wiliness to put his nuclear program up for negotiation after a year of nuclear and missile tests. Much of South Korea will hit the pause button on Friday to watch history unfold. In Seoul, the summit will be broadcast life on a giant TV screen and students will be given a break from classes to watch the live coverage. “It is an important moment of our history and a very good chance to feel the history,” said Park Sung-il, vice principal at Baekun Elementary School in the southern city of Gwangju, which is letting students watch events unfold on television. “Our kids can get live education about unification by watching South and North Korean leaders shake hands in real time.”It is only the third time the leaders of the countries have met, and previous summits in Pyongyang, the North’s capital, were not broadcast live. “There is the sense of excitement in Seoul that almost everybody is preparing for celebration on Friday,” said Victor Cha, a US expert on Korea who was visiting Seoul this week. If the summit goes well, “perhaps people in Washington may be more optimistic” that Kim’s meeting with Trump will go well, he added. In Gwangju, a theater is offering free admission for people to watch the broadcast on its movie screen. “Think about South Korean honor guards escorting the leader of our enemy state,” said Lee Shin, the head of a reunification research group in the city. “This is a very significant moment of our history.”
Strongman Haftar Back in Libya after Long Absence
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 26/18/Libyan military strongman Khalifa Haftar returned Thursday to the eastern city of Benghazi after a long absence, including for treatment in a Paris hospital, an AFP correspondent reported.
The 75-year-old, smiling and dressed in a black suit, greeted generals from his self-styled army after descending from a plane, in his first public appearance for weeks.

Nine Youths Die in Israel Flash Flooding
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 26/18/Nine youths died Thursday after having been swept away by flash floods in southern Israel during a hiking trip near the Dead Sea, the Magen David Adom rescue service said. Rescue efforts were ongoing to find a missing girl from a group of youths taking part in a program to prepare them for military service, according to media reports. Students in such programs are usually around the age of 18. A major rescue effort had earlier been launched to find what had initially been reported as several missing. "Police & Emergency teams working together after flash floods struck the south of Israel near the Dead Sea where students were on a day trip," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld tweeted. Military helicopters took part in the search in an area known as the Tzafit Stream, which hikers frequent for its desert scenery. Another police spokesman, Merav Lapidot, said on Israeli television that instructions to avoid this type of drama" were not respected. President Reuven Rivlin said on Twitter that "our thoughts go out to our brothers, our children and our loved ones who are dealing with a dramatic situation."He also called on the public to "respect police instructions." Two teenagers, a bedouin and a Palestinian girl, also died in a series of floods that hit Israel and the Palestinian territories on Wednesday, the first of three forecast days of heavy rain.

Iraqi PM Takes Election Campaign to Kurdish Capital
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/April 26/18/Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Thursday took his campaign for Iraq's May 12 elections to the capital of the autonomous Kurdistan region, seven months after its ill-fated independence referendum. "Today we are all under the tent of Iraq, and whoever wants separation will be torn apart by hyenas," he said on arrival at the airport in Arbil where he was greeted by his Iraqi Kurdish counterpart Nechervan Barzani. "Kurdish-Arab brotherhood is permanent and will persist. The heroes of the peshmerga (Kurdish fighters) and the Iraqi army confronted Daesh together and shared the suffering to achieve victory," Abadi said, referring to their joint defeat last year of the Islamic State group. "Today we absolutely need this unity," said Abadi who has this week been touring northern and western Iraq. The federal government imposed a battery of sanctions on Iraqi Kurdistan after the northern region voted overwhelmingly for independence in a September 25 non-binding referendum that Baghdad rejected as illegal.
Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on April 26-27/18

How Trump could tell the truth about Armenian genocide

By Hagar Hajjar Chemali/CNN/April 26/18

For years, the Armenian-American community has called on US presidents to officially recognize the 1915 mass killings of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as genocide. Their failure to do so has been a perennial feature of American politics for decades.

And yet, despite his well-known disregard for facts, the one president uniquely positioned to speak the truth after so many of his predecessors have refused is Donald Trump.

This is because of two defining aspects of his approach to international relations: he doesn't care what other countries think about his foreign policy; and he wants to achieve what he believes his predecessors could not.

We all know the reasons to make this declaration. It's the right thing to do. It respects historical facts, and appropriately honors those killed. It upholds our values as a nation to speak truth to power. It also answers the call of a key American constituency: the United States is home to roughly 1.5 million Americans of Armenian descent -- the second largest population of Armenians outside Armenia. But these reasons have always been there and every modern-day US president surely understood them.

They also understood that such a move would upset Turkey -- which vehemently denies that a genocide occurred -- and felt it could possibly undermine a number of important joint efforts with the key strategic ally.

President Barack Obama came close to making the genocide declaration several times. At the beginning of his tenure, after promising to make this declaration during his campaign, he decided against making the move because he did not want to disrupt or undermine Turkey-Armenia reconciliation talks that were taking place at the time.

Why Obama won't say 'Armenian genocide'

Why Obama won't say 'Armenian genocide' 03:04

Later in 2015, the Obama administration came close to making the declaration for the 100th anniversary of Armenian Remembrance Day, but the administration was concerned such a move would undermine joint efforts with Turkey to combat ISIS in the region.

President Ronald Reagan is the only sitting US president to have used the word "genocide" in describing the atrocities, and he called on others to follow through on an official recognition -- but neither Congress nor subsequent Presidents did this. Like President Obama, President George W. Bush also promised during his presidential campaign that he would make this declaration, but did not.

The United States continues to work with Turkey in a number of ways that support US national security objectives, for example on counterterrorism efforts in Syria. The United States also provides military aid to Turkey and has used the air base at Incirlik to support military operations in the region -- a factor that is glaringly significant given the current situation in Syria and related mounting global tension. And of course, although it is unclear how much this matters to President Trump, Turkey is a NATO ally.

Up to this point, the Trump administration has been following the apparent tradition of not making a declaration. President Trump's statement last year on Armenian Remembrance Day, made weeks before Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to Washington, like every other such statement before it, fell short of recognizing the Armenian genocide.

But now the time is ripe for President Trump to make the genocide declaration.

First, Turkey's recent actions go directly against our national security objectives and the resources we have put behind achieving them.

Pope joins chorus against Armenian 'genocide'


Pope joins chorus against Armenian 'genocide'

Agencies/April 26/18

The Turkish government has taken direct military action against Syrian Kurds whom we have armed and supported, and who helped us combat ISIS and successfully remove ISIS's territorial control in Syria. Beyond that are the concerning authoritarian steps Prime Minister Erdogan has taken within his own borders, such as last year's constitutional referendum giving the prime minister sweeping executive powers, as well as moves increasingly taken to detain journalists. Let's not forget his security detail's indefensible (and illegal) attack against protesters demonstrating in front of the Turkish ambassador's residence in Washington, DC. Second, President Trump likely doesn't care what Turkey thinks anyway, just as he doesn't care how other countries react to his other foreign policy decisions.

This is illustrated in a number of his foreign policy moves -- such as his announcement that the United States will increase tariffs on steel and aluminum, his decision to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and his undiplomatic and militaristic tweets on North Korea. So let Trump capitalize on this characteristic and make this declaration his own victory. Certainly, Turkey is likely to react negatively, even harshly, at first. This could possibly pose risks during American engagement in Syria, but as evidenced by the recent summit in Ankara where Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Prime Minister Erdogan met to discuss Syria, Turkey has appeared to forge an alliance with Russia and Iran in this crisis anyway. Like every other time a nation has recognized the genocide, Turkey will ultimately be forced to move on. Turkey is no stranger to overcoming differences with a country when doing so serves its interests. Russia, for example, officially recognized the Armenian genocide (in 1995, 2005, and 2015), and yet Turkey has recently sought warmer relations with Moscow. The relationship between Moscow and Ankara, Turkey's capital, has proven to be much bigger than this dispute. And so it is with the United States.

Armenia: 'Genocide' as a word 'exactly shows the truth' 07:34

Third, and most importantly, President Trump stands to win on other foreign policy objectives from a genocide declaration.

Such a move would underscore US resolve to hold perpetrators of atrocities accountable and would also demonstrate a willingness to unapologetically uphold our principles without fear. That kind of approach gives the United States leverage in negotiations or other diplomatic pursuits -- for example as they relate to supporting Vice President Mike Pence's promise to defend Christians in the Middle East or the persecution of other minorities -- because others will know the United States is not afraid to speak the truth.

For a President apparently unconcerned with diplomatic fallout and undeterred by threats of unsustainable retaliation, recognizing the Armenian genocide on this year's Armenian Remembrance Day is an easy win -- not only for the United States and the Armenian-American community, but for a President who has a global reputation for indifference to truth.

 **Hagar Hajjar Chemali is founder and CEO of Greenwich Media Strategies LLC. She was Director for Syria and Lebanon at the National Security Council and Spokesperson for the US Mission to the United Nations under the Obama administration. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.

Jerusalem and Muslim-Christian relations
Radwan al-Sayed/Al Arabiya/April 26/18
Earlier this month, Cardinal Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in the Vatican, visited Riyadh where he met with King Salman bin Abdul Aziz. His visit was considered historical.
Over the past six years, despite the rising number of extremist and terrorist incidents, relations between Christians and Muslims have witnessed major breakthroughs in terms of exchanging visits with the Vatican. Pope Francis has himself paid visits to Egypt and Turkey, while Arab and Muslim religious officials have also visited the Vatican, the World Council of Churches and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The debate over the usefulness of visiting Jerusalem is a waste of time and is no longer justified. Zionist colonies are expanding in Jerusalem and adjoining areas, while Palestinians, Muslims and Christians are being displaced against their will or by the purchase of their lands
There was a consensus to cooperate to combat extremism and terrorism, confront immigration and Islamophobia, issues facing Muslim minorities across the globe and the cohabitation between Christians and Muslims in the Arab world and other Islamic countries.
Pope Francis has taken distinctive positions on issues pertaining to violence and wars in Arab and Muslim countries and against the discrimination endured by Muslims in the West. The Pope was displeased with the position taken by US President Donald Trump on the Jerusalem issue, along with the halting of peace talks to bring justice to the Palestinian people.
Jerusalem at the center of conflict
Yet, there is quite some level of ambiguity over the question of Jerusalem itself. The Vatican has for a while now maintained that the holy sites in Jerusalem must be internationalized and taken out of the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Arab parties have kept their silence on this issue considering that Zionists want to take control of all of Jerusalem, especially its religious sites, and that the unification of Jerusalem as an eternal capital of Israel will further harm peace between religions in Jerusalem. Still, no one saw an interest in opposing the Vatican, given the fact that the Arab parties insist that the Old City of Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian state, of course without excluding its holy sites.
Now that President Trump’s possible visit to Israel in mid-May has neared, the US has started negotiations with the Vatican over the possible special status of Christian holy places, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the surrounding areas, to facilitate the final phase of colonization of Jerusalem for Israelis without the objection of the Catholic and Orthodox Christian authorities, especially since some Protestant and Evangelical authorities share closer positions with the Israeli stance.
There is a solid Arab and Islamic position regarding Jerusalem and its freedom and which insists that it is the political capital of the Palestinian Arab state. Then there is the position of the Arab Christians of Palestine and Jerusalem — currently living in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.
They were always against the colonization of Jerusalem by Zionists, including the holy sites. It is known that some of them opposed Trump’s statement. We also know that the former Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria had banned the Copts of Egypt from visiting Jerusalem under occupation. Muslims are still disputing over whether or not to visit Jerusalem in support of its people, despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority supports such visits.
The debate over the usefulness of visiting Jerusalem is a waste of time and is no longer justified. Zionist colonies are expanding in Jerusalem and adjoining areas, while Palestinians, Muslims and Christians are being displaced against their will or by the purchase of their lands. The Palestinian people are urging for our solidarity, even if through a visit.
The Palestinians today are trying to do something beginning from Gaza. It is then unnecessary to hesitate on whether to visit Jerusalem or not under the pretext that it is occupied. The occupation aims to displace people and remove holy places. A visit by a million or two million people to Jerusalem every year will send a message to the Palestinians that we have not abandoned them.
Moral Christian influence
The numbers of Christians in Jerusalem and Palestine have decreased because of the pressure and circumstances of the occupation. Yet the Vatican has a great moral influence, just like the Christians of Palestine and the world. The same thing can be said about the Eastern Orthodox Church, whom the majority of Arab Christians belong to, and Russian and Greek political and religious positions.
There is no doubt that the Palestinian Authority should be the one to approach the Catholic and Orthodox communities, as well as the Protestant and Anglican churches that disagree with the orientations of the new Zionized evangelical institutions.
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco and Jordan and their religious authorities have great moral and political power in Arab and Islamic societies as well as in the international community. Palestinian and Arab parties should thus work together in solidarity with the Arab Christians to complement their role towards the world’s religious and political parties.
I do not know if there has been any development in terms of communication and agreement, or in terms of taking action in this regard, but the visit of Cardinal Tauran to Riyadh may have fostered this consultative spirit and the spirit of solidarity in preserving Jerusalem’s freedom, religious safety and holy places.

Awaiting May 12: What will Trump decide on Iranian nuclear deal
Abdulrahman al-Rashed/Al Arabiya/April 26/18
After about two weeks, American President Donald Trump will have made up his mind and decided to either withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran or remain committed to it in some form. This decision will have many repercussions that are very important.
However, before we discuss what this decision will mean, we must understand the circumstances surrounding it. French President Emmanuel Macron who supports the deal with Iran came to Washington in hopes of convincing Trump not to abandon the deal. Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose stance is similar to Macron’s, will also visit Washington for the same purpose.
The aim is not to cancel JCPOA as some think, but it is to renegotiate Iran’s commitments in it. The harsh economic sanctions which had subjugated the Iranian regime were all lifted although they were imposed against Iran’s dangerous practices towards the region’s security and US interests
Before them, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has an opposing point of view was in Washington. Meanwhile, the Iranians are trying to pre-empt Trump’s decision, which will be announced on May 12, via speeches and statements that convey different messages of intimidation and enticement.
The US stance
The Iranian regime threatens Trump by threatening the security of the region, Israel and the US while at the same time it “whispers” that it’s willing to make concessions. There’s no doubt that Tehran is very worried and scared of Trumps’ decision, and had made promises to make enticing concessions such as releasing American prisoners in exchange for keeping the deal.
The US’s stance, under Trump’s administration and which he has repeatedly stated, is that he’s against the deal which the former administration of Barack Obama negotiated and signed three years ago. Trump believes that even if the deal suspended enrichment for military purposes, it strengthens Iran’s military hand in the region as it’s become a massive destructive force in Syria and Yemen, it militarily expanded in Iraq and its militias became active in Lebanon and Gaza.
Trump believes that the agreement is unfair to his country and harms its interests in the region, and above all it paid huge sums of compensatory money to the Iranian regime, of which some are Iranian funds that were frozen after the revolution.
Renegotiating the deal
The aim is not to cancel JCPOA as some think, but it is to renegotiate Iran’s commitments in it. The harsh economic sanctions which had subjugated the Iranian regime were all lifted although they were imposed against Iran’s dangerous practices towards the region’s security and US interests.
The deal only addressed the nuclear aspect which Tehran compensated for by increasing its military and terrorist activity in the region. Iran has become more dangerous and hostile after the agreement was signed. It’s responsible for the death of more than half a million people in Syria and for the failure of the central government in Baghdad. It toppled the legitimate government in Yemen and funded the war there against Saudi Arabia.
Despite all this, the possibilities of reaching a middle-ground solution with Tehran is very likely due to the intervention of Europeans, who were very careful in formulating the deal and signing it, and who are very concerned about keeping the deal in place.
The Europeans are not really concerned about curbing Iran as they do not have the military capability to deter Iran on their own and they are not enthusiastic about defying it. They think that halting its nuclear military program is a great achievement on its own and that Middle Eastern countries can solve their problems on their own despite the human and financial price.
Possible scenarios
This is the European’s perspective. They’re now afraid that Trump will scrap the deal which they worked five years to finalize. There are still two complementary stances, the Gulf and Israeli ones. Riyadh sees the deal as incomplete and that it puts trust in a regime with a bloody history instead of setting conditions that guarantee proper behavior. Meanwhile, Israel criticizes it because it is temporary as it freezes Iran’s nuclear activity only for ten years instead of putting an end to it. Later on, Israel began to see that the deal also failed in linking this activity to Iran’s regional behavior.
If Pompeo becomes the secretary of state, and he’s about to be appointed, then we will have a good duo: Pompeo himself and John Bolton who was appointed National Security Advisor. Both men have a clear vision that opposes the deal but this does not necessarily mean that they will succeed in pushing Trump to scrap it amid the several opposing pressures. There are three possibilities: scrap the deal, accept it as it is or make limited amendments to it through Europe and upon Iran’s approval.

The US’s November 2018 battle

Ahmad al-Farraj/Al Arabiya/April 26/18
When a US president is elected, it’s important, for both him and his administration, that the majority of the Congress belongs to the same party. If the majority of both Congress chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives, belongs to the same party as the president’s, it will most likely help the latter pass his decisions and plans. If this majority is only within one chamber, passing decisions and plans will not be as easy; however, the disaster is when the majority of both congress chambers belongs to the opposing party like what happened with former President Barack Obama during his second presidential term. It’s not clear what will happen in November because in the US, a single development one day ahead of the elections may completely shuffle the formula in favor of one of the two major parties
Obama suffered a great deal from this, just like the case has been with former presidents who faced a similar scenario. Partisan bickering dominates the scene thus hindering the approval of plenty of decisions and plans since in the US institutional system, powers are distributed among the president, the Congress and the Supreme Court.
Trump’s Republican majority
Trump has been very lucky when he was elected president because the majority of both the Senate and the House of Representatives was Republican. Imagine how Trump’s situation would be if the majority of the Congress was Democrat, especially amid the current challenges and problems he’s confronting and the fierce war launched against him by the media. The majority of the Senate is Republican at the moment and the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is very conservative, just like Trump. McConnell is considered a supporter of Trump and this has helped fulfill the appointment of Trump’s candidates to important posts, especially that of the Attorney General – a post held by Jeff Sessions.
This has also been the case with the House of Representatives whose Republican speaker is Paul Ryan. Ryan is a political fox who stands with Trump for purely partisan reasons. However, in a painful blow to Trump, Ryan announced his early resignation a few days ago, perhaps because he grew tired of the arguments and embarrassment which the Trump administration has caused for the Republicans in the Congress.
Democrats pushing for majority win
This relatively comfortable situation for Trump may not last because in November 2018, the midterm congressional elections to elect House of Representatives members (which happen every two years) will be held.
Elections will also be held at the Senate as 33 of the 100 seats in it will be contested (the Senate members are elected for a six-year-term). It’s not clear what will happen in November because in the US, a single development one day ahead of the elections may completely shuffle the formula in favor of one of the two major parties.
If the Republicans continue to have the majority in both Congress chambers, then this will greatly ease everything for Trump. However, if the Democrats manage to gain the majority in both chambers, Trump will be in a difficult situation because he will face a fierce war during the two remaining years of his term as president. The Democrats do not hide their intentions and they’re working hard to harvest a majority.
Meanwhile Trump has been affirming that his loyal supporters who brought him to the White House will re-elect Republicans this coming November so the Republican Party continues to dominate until the end of his presidential term. We will follow up on this as the November battle has begun now.