March 18/2018
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani


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Bible Quotations
Jesus Heals The Blind Beggar Bartimaeus the Son of Timaeus
Mark/10/46-52/Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called to the blind man, "Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you."Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him. The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see.""Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 17-18/18
The Healing Miracle Of the Blind Beggar, Bartimaeus Son Of Timaeus/Elias Bejjani/ March 18, 2018
In north Lebanon battle, Christian parties eye big leadership plans/Benjamin Redd/The Daily Star on March 17, 2018
Trump’s Five Demands from Tehran Shake the Mullahs/Amir Taheri/Asharq Al-Awsat/March 17/2018/
British Council Excuses Islamist Warfare as Welfare/Andrew Harrod/American Spectator/March 17/18
German Interior Minister: "Islam Does Not Belong to Germany"/Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/March 17/2018
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince will seek clarification from the US over its role in the Middle East/Raghida Dergham/The National/March 17/ 2018
Exclusive: Norah O'Donnell on how CBS landed Saudi Crown Prince interview/O’Donnell. (CBS News/60Minutes)/March 18/18
Another Trump Surprise, And It’s Bad News For Iran/Camelia Entekhabifard/Arab News/March 18/18
Riyadh And Washington Ready To Face Down Iran/Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/March 18/18

Titles For Latest LCCC Lebanese Related News published on March 17-18/18

The Healing Miracle Of the Blind Beggar, Bartimaeus Son Of Timaeus
UN Chief Demands End to Lebanese Meddling in Syria
UN Chief Expresses ‘Serious Concern’ over ‘Hezbollah’ Arms
Nasrallah Accuses Electoral Opponents of Backing ISIS, Nusra
Qaouq: Saudi Arabia Intervening in Lebanon, Inciting Lebanese
Hariri inaugurating Barbour Souk: We have to protect the country with our actions
Hariri: Rome Conference aims at supporting the army and security forces to strengthen the State's authority
Jumblatt in memory of his father: We embarked on basis of Palestine since 1977, and we will continue
Berri says coexistence, national unity most important
Rahi from Zgharta: We renew the call for supporting private schools in Lebanon
Russia Announces 'Free' Military Assistance for Lebanon
Palestinian Security Forces Member Assassinated in Sidon Camp
In north Lebanon battle, Christian parties eye big leadership plans
Journalist Sentenced to Six Months in Prison as Media Suppression Goes On

Titles For Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 17-18/18

Air Strikes on Syria's Ghouta Kill 30 Civilians
Intensifying Assaults in Syria Spark Dual Evacuations
UN ‘failed to prevent’ Syria crimes: opposition
Pope, Organization of Islamic Cooperation chief discuss terrorism and Rohingya plight
May: Russia's UK diplomat expulsion does not change Moscow's culpability
Russia Expel 23 British Diplomats in Spy Poisoning Crisis
UAE Official: Saudi Arabia Moves Forward While Iran Sticks to Past
Egyptian Security Delegation Discusses Reconciliation File in Ramallah
Small Plane Crashes Outside Philippine Capital, 10 Dead
More People Flee Afrin, Civilians Killed in Turkish Airstrike
EU Mulls Sanctions on Iran's Ballistic Missiles
Latest Lebanese Related News published on March 17-18/18
The Healing Miracle Of the Blind Beggar, Bartimaeus Son Of Timaeus
Elias Bejjani
John 09:5: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world”.
We become blind not when our two eyes do not function any more and lose our vision. No, not at all, this is a physical disability that affects only our earthly body and not our Godly soul. We can overcome this physical blindness and go on with our lives, while our spiritual blindness makes us lose our eternal life and end in hell.
We actually become blind when we can not see the right and righteous tracks in life, and when we do not walk in their paths.
We actually become blind when we fail to obey God’s commandments, negate His sacrifice on the cross that broke our slavery bondage from the original sin, and when we refuse to abandon and tame the instincts’ of our human nature, and when we stubbornly resist after falling into the evil’s temptation to rise to the Godly nature in which we were baptized with water and the holy spirit.
Meanwhile the actual blindness is not in the eyes that can not see because of physical ailments, but in the hearts that are hardened, in the consciences that are numbed and in the spirits that are defiled with sin.
Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear”
When we know heart, mind and soul that God Himself, is LOVE, and when we practice, honour and feel LOVE in every word we utter and in every conduct we perform, we shall never be blind in our hearts, conscience and faith, even though when our eyes cease to perform.
In its spiritual essence and core, what does love mean and encompass? Saint Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (13/01-07), answers this question: ” “If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but don’t have love, I have become sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don’t have love, I am nothing. If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don’t have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient and is kind; love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked, takes no account of evil; doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails”
In every community, there are individuals from all walks of life who are spiritually blind, lacking faith, have no hope, and live in dim darkness because they have distanced themselves from Almighty God and His Gospel, although their eyes are physically perfectly functional and healthy. They did not seek God’s help and did not repent and ask for forgiveness, although they know that God is always waiting eerily for them to defeat the evil, get out his temptations and come to Him.
On the sixth Lenten Sunday, our Maronite Catholic Church cites and recalls with great piety Jesus’ healing miracle of the blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus. This amazing miracle that took place in Jerusalem near the Pool of Siloam is documented in three gospels; Mark 10/46-52, John 9/1-41, Matthew 20/:29-34.
Maronites in Lebanon and all over the world, like each and very faithful Christian strongly believe that Jesus is the holy and blessed light through which believers can see God’s paths of righteousness. There is no doubt that without Jesus’ light, evil darkness will prevails in peoples’ hearts, souls and minds. Without Jesus’ presence in our lives we definitely will preys to all kinds of evil temptations.
The Miracle: Mark 10/46-52: ” They came to Jericho. As he went out from Jericho, with his disciples and a great multitude, the son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the road. When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out, and say, “Jesus, you son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him, that he should be quiet, but he cried out much more, “You son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still, and said, “Call him. ”They called the blind man, saying to him, “Cheer up! Get up. He is calling you!” He, casting away his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “Rabboni, that I may see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go your way. Your faith has made you well.” Immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way. The son of Timaeus, Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who was born to two blind parents truly believed in Jesus. His heart, mind and spirit were all enlightened with faith and hope. Because of his strong faith he knew deep inside who actually Jesus was, and stubbornly headed towards him asking for a Godly cure. He rebelled against all those opportunist and hypocrites who out of curiosity and not faith came to see who is Jesus. He refused to listen to them when they rebuked him and tried hardly to keep him away from Jesus. He loudly witnessed for the truth and forced his way among the crowd and threw himself on Jesus’ feet asking Him to open his blind eyes. Jesus was fascinated by his faith, hailed his perseverance and gave him what he asked for. He opened his eyes.
John’s Gospel gives us more details about what has happened with Bartimaeus after the healing miracle of his blindness. We can see in the below verses that after his healing he and his parents were exposed to intimidation, fear, threats, and terror, but he refused to succumb or to lie, He held verbatim to all the course details of the miracle, bravely witnessed for the truth and loudly proclaimed his strong belief that Jesus who cured him was The Son Of God. His faith made him strong, fearless and courageous. The Holy Spirit came to his rescue and spoke through him.
John 9/13-12: “As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been born blind. 2 His disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents’ sin?” Jesus answered, “His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents’ sins. He is blind so that God’s power might be seen at work in him. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light for the world.” After he said this, Jesus spat on the ground and made some mud with the spittle; he rubbed the mud on the man’s eyes and told him, “Go and wash your face in the Pool of Siloam.” (This name means “Sent.”) So the man went, washed his face, and came back seeing. His neighbors, then, and the people who had seen him begging before this, asked, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?”
Some said, “He is the one,” but others said, “No he isn’t; he just looks like him.” So the man himself said, “I am the man.” “How is it that you can now see?” they asked him. He answered, “The man called Jesus made some mud, rubbed it on my eyes, and told me to go to Siloam and wash my face. So I went, and as soon as I washed, I could see.” “Where is he?” they asked.“I don’t know,” he answered.
Sadly our contemporary world hails atheism, brags about secularism and persecutes those who have faith in God and believe in Him. Where ever we live, there are opportunist and hypocrites like some of the conceited crowd that initially rebuked Bartimaeus, and tried with humiliation to keep him away from Jesus, but the moment Jesus called on him they changed their attitude and let him go through. Meanwhile believers all over the world suffer on the hands of ruthless oppressors, and rulers and men of authority like the Pharisees who refused to witness for the truth.
But despite of all the dim spiritual darkness, thanks God, there are still too many meek believers like Bartimaeus who hold to their faith no matters what the obstacles or hurdles are.
Colossians 03:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”
Lord, enlighten our minds and hearts with your light and open our eyes to realize that You are a loving and merciful father.
Lord Help us to take Bartimaeus as a faith role model in our life.
Lord help us to defeat all kinds of sins that take us away from Your light, and deliver us all from evil temptations.
In conclusion, let us never blind ourselves from knowing where is the light and who is the light: “I came into this world for judgment, that those who don’t see may see; and that those who see may become blind.” (John 09/39)

UN Chief Demands End to Lebanese Meddling in Syria
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 17/18/United Nations chief Antonio Guteres urged all Lebanese parties to stop meddling in the Syrian conflict, in a report naming the Lebanon-based and Iran-backed movement Hizbullah. "The presence of unauthorized weapons in the hands of Hizbullah remains of serious concern and warrants condemnation," the secretary-general said in a quarterly report distributed to the 15 Security Council members ahead of a debate set for Tuesday. Washington, which is involved in a major diplomatic offensive to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East, is expected to reprise the accusations against Hizbullah. At the Security Council, Israel's staunch ally the United States is nonetheless limited by Russia, which also holds veto power. Moscow has recently defended Tehran's maneuvers in Yemen by vetoing a condemnation of the Islamic Republic for allegedly supplying ballistic missiles to Huthi rebels despite an arms embargo. Moscow questioned the findings by a UN panel of experts that concluded in January that Iran was in violation after determining that missiles fired by the Huthis at Saudi Arabia last year were made in Iran. Russia said the report did not contain conclusive evidence of Iran's violation of the arms embargo. On Syria, Gutteres said "no progress was achieved with respect to the disarmament of armed groups.""The maintenance of arms outside the control of the state by Hizbullah and other groups continues to restrict the ability of the government of Lebanon to exercise full sovereignty and authority over its territory," he added. "Hizbullah continued to acknowledge publicly that it maintains its military capacity." Noting that "crises in the region continue to pose a risk to Lebanon's stability," Guterres said he was still "concerned" about "almost daily" Israeli overflights of Lebanese territory in violation of a UN resolution and Lebanese sovereignty. In the area of operations of the UN's UNIFIL mission in southern Lebanon, involving some 10,500 troops, the situation "remained generally calm." And the UN chief hailed the mission's increased visibility and activities aimed at halting hostilities.
UN Chief Expresses ‘Serious Concern’ over ‘Hezbollah’ Arms
Beirut - Asharq Al-Awsat/March 17/2018/United Nations chief Antonio Guterres urged all Lebanese parties to stop meddling in the Syrian conflict, saying in a report that “the presence of unauthorized weapons in the hands of Hezbollah remains of serious concern.”
“No progress was achieved with respect to the disarmament of armed groups," Guterres said in a quarterly report distributed to the 15 Security Council members ahead of a debate set for Tuesday. "The maintenance of arms outside the control of the state by Hezbollah and other groups continues to restrict the ability of the government of Lebanon to exercise full sovereignty and authority over its territory," he added. "Hezbollah continued to acknowledge publicly that it maintains its military capacity." Guterres said he was still "concerned" about "almost daily" Israeli overflights of Lebanese territory in violation of a UN resolution and Lebanese sovereignty. In the area of operations of the UNIFIL mission in southern Lebanon, involving some 10,500 troops, the situation "remained generally calm,” said the report. At the Rome II Conference that was aimed at shoring up support for the Lebanese army and security forces, Prime Minister Saad Hariri pledged to send more troops to southern Lebanon. "Israel remains the primary threat to Lebanon,” he said. Hariri added that the National Defense Strategy will be discussed following the legislative elections in May.

Nasrallah Accuses Electoral Opponents of Backing ISIS, Nusra
Beirut - Nazeer Rida/Asharq Al-Awsat/March 17/2018/In an effort to mobilize electorates, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has said that certain sides opposing his party’s joint list with Amal movement in eastern Lebanon’s Baalbek-Hermel district were allies of terrorist organizations. “We will not allow those who are allied with al-Nusra Front and ISIS to represent the people of Baalbek-Hermel,” Nasrallah said Thursday. According to rivals, his comment came over growing frustration by the residents of the district, which is mainly Shi’ite, at the failure of “Hezbollah” lawmakers to develop the region and provide services to its people. “The question is not about what Hezbollah has provided for the region, but what contestants from other lists have done,” said Nasrallah, who was cited by the National News Agency. He urged “Hezbollah” supporters to turn out to vote in the May parliamentary polls, and said he himself would travel to villages and towns in the region to secure favorable election results if necessary, “no matter the cost, and no matter what harm it may cause to me.”Political activist Dr. Hareth Suleiman said: “The party is facing a huge problem in Baalbek-Hermel. It is using all sorts of weapons to confront it.” “Its lawmakers and officials have lost credibility,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat. If Shi’ite voices opposing the joint list were able to unify, then it would become obvious that the party does not represent all Shi’ites, said the activist. “Hezbollah” is resorting to slogans such as resistance and protection from extremist organizations, while forgetting that it’s the people who have paid the price of martyrdom in defense of Lebanon in the face of terrorist organizations, he said. The area of Baalbek-Hermel has suffered several deadly explosions and has been targeted by shelling from al-Nusra Front and ISIS militants who had been based in Syria’s Qalamoun region overlooking Lebanon. Hezbollah, followed by the Lebanese army, launched military operations against them, leading to their ouster from areas lying on the Lebanese-Syrian border. There are around 224,000 Shi’ite voters in the Baalbek-Hermel district. There are also respectively 44,000 and 42,000 eligible Sunni and Christian voters.

Qaouq: Saudi Arabia Intervening in Lebanon, Inciting Lebanese

Naharnet/March 17/18/Senior Hizbullah official Sheikh Nabil Qaouq accused Saudi Arabia of “interfering in Lebanon's affairs and inciting the Lebanese against each other,” the National News Agency reported on Saturday. “Saudi Arabia's latest interference in Lebanon's internal affairs is embodied in interference in the country's upcoming parliamentary elections. Saudi interventions are inciting the Lebanese against each other and restoring divisions and political tension among them,” claimed Qaouq. In remarks he made at a memorial service in South Lebanon, he added: “Saudi Arabia wishes to change the internal political equations by interfering in the elections, in the formation of electoral lists and in supporting candidates to confront Hizbullah.”Turning to the Resistance's capabilities in confronting the Israeli enemy, Qaouq said: “The great maneuver being carried out these days between the Israeli army and the United States, officially documents Israel's recognition that the Resistance can reach the depth of Israel, and that Israel has no ability to confront the Resistance's rockets, nor to confront Hizbullah alone.”He stressed saying “the Resistance today is the main obstacle to the expansion of the Israeli project in the region, which is frightening the Israeli enemy.”

Hariri inaugurating Barbour Souk: We have to protect the country with our actions
Sat 17 Mar 2018/NNA - Prime Minister Saad Hariri deemed Saturday that "we have to protect the country with our work and actions." "This is what Martyr PM Rafic Hariri has taught us, and what we shall translate in politics and action, God willing," he added, as he inaugurated this evening the "Spring Sun Festival" organized by the Barbour Traders' Association in Barbour Street Market. "The most beautiful thing about this day is seeing life and vitality return to this Street, which Martyr Rafic Hariri wanted to revive, and today we see life restored to it through you," he added. Commending Barbour traders and festival organizers, Hariri vowed to pursue the path of his late father in serving the city of Beirut against all odds. "God willing, in the upcoming elections, we will place the 'Blue Bead' in the ballot box and in the eyes of haters...and God willing, on May 7, the results will be in favor of Lebanon and the Lebanese, especially Beirut," Hariri concluded.

Hariri: Rome Conference aims at supporting the army and security forces to strengthen the State's authority
Sat 17 Mar 2018/NNA - "The goal of the Rome Conference is to support and strengthen the Lebanese army and all security forces. This will reinforce the authority of the whole country and ensure stability in all of Lebanon, because the State remains the umbrella and guarantor of the security of all Lebanese without exception," said Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Saturday. Hariri's words came during his meeting with a popular delegation from various areas in Beirut, who visited him at the "House of Center" this afternoon.
"The problems we face are numerous and we are working to resolve them through dialogue with other political parties," Hariri added. "We have been able to reach an agreement with the President of the Republic and all other parties to preserve the country and prevent its slide into the fires and wars of the region, and we will continue this approach to maintain stability and improve the country for the better," vowed the Prime Minister. "Beirut has always been dear to the heart of Martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri and has a special position in our hearts as well," he added, promising to lift all injustice off the city in all necessary and vital dossiers. Hariri concluded by urging all Beirutis "to vote heavily in the upcoming parliamentary elections, in order the preserve the city and guard it against any attempt to undermine its political decision in service of foreign agendas."

Jumblatt in memory of his father: We embarked on basis of Palestine since 1977, and we will continue
Sat 17 Mar 2018/NNA - Democratic Gathering Chief, MP Walid Jumblatt, said in a statement to "Al-Anbaa" on the sidelines of the 41st commemoration of his late father, Martyr Kamal Jumblatt's assassination on Saturday, that "the march continues after 41 years, and Teymour has to choose his approach." "But at the same time, there are principles and a certain path to which Teymour has referred, namely Palestine and Syria: the rejection of injustice in occupied Palestine and against the Syrian people," he added. "Ever since 1977, we have embarked on the basis of Palestine and we are bound to continue," vowed Jumblatt. Earlier today, crowds of citizens and supporters of the Progressive Socialist Party gathered in Al-Mukhtara to pay tribute to the memory of their national leader, the late Kamal Jumblatt. Several political officials, prominent figures and senior spiritual clerks marched alongside MP Jumblatt and his family members towards the late Kamal Jumblatt's tomb, where they laid a wreath and raised prayers for his soul to rest in peace.

Berri says coexistence, national unity most important
Sat 17 Mar 2018/NNA - House Speaker Nabih Berri said Saturday that all matters remain details before the preservation of coexistence and national unity in the country.
"Our loyalty is in the South, which has always been and will remain great in its resistance, national unity and coexistence...All electoral or non-electoral deadlines, regardless of their importance, remain details before the preservation of coexistence and national unity," deemed Berri. The Speaker's words came following his meeting with spiritual sects' representatives who visited him at his Mseileh residence earlier today.
"All Lebanese parties are concerned with portraying a bright image of Lebanon, which is greater than a country and a nation...It is a message, as expressed by His Holiness the late Pope John Paul II, and as declared by Imam Moussa al-Sadr on more than one occasion," Berri added in a chat with journalists after the meeting. "This is the conviction of all Southerners and all spiritual sects' representatives in the whole South region, who are gathered today around the table of unity and the bread of kindness for the sake of Lebanon, the final nation for all its citizens," stressed Berri.

Rahi from Zgharta: We renew the call for supporting private schools in Lebanon
Sat 17 Mar 2018/NNA - Maronite Patriarch Bechara Butros Al-Rahi called Saturday on the Lebanese State to support private schools by bearing the cost of the six-grade salary increase grid. This came during his religious sermon as he presided over a Mass service at the "Our Lady's Church" in Mejdlaya, Casa of Zgharta, marking 60 years since the establishment of the Monastery and School of the Maronite Sacred Family. "Today, our Catholic, private and public schools are at a stage that threatens their existence because of the Law No. 46/2017 pertaining to the Wage Act," said Al-Rahi.
"If the State does not bear the cost of the six-grade salary increase, this would lead to two major crises: at the educational level it would result in the closure of a significant number of schools, especially in the mountain and suburbs regions, and at the social level it would cause the unemployment of a significant number of administrators, teachers and employees," the Patriarch explained. "We are, thus, renewing with you the appeal to the President of the Republic, the Government and the Parliament at this time when the general budget is being debated and international conferences are being held in support of Lebanon, namely the Rome Conference for assisting the army and security forces and the Paris Conference for economic development," Al-Rahi underscored.

Russia Announces 'Free' Military Assistance for Lebanon
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 17/18/In a demonstration of support for the Lebanese army and security agencies, Russia has announced at the Rome II Conference that it will provide “part of military products to Lebanon at no charge,” emphasizing the necessity to boost the army's combat abilities, al-Joumhouria daily reported on Saturday. “Moscow considers essential the contribution to strengthening the combat capabilities of the Lebanese army and internal security forces, which are responsible for the security and stability of the country,” Russian special envoy to the Middle East and Africa, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said at the conference. “Given the limited financial capacity of the Lebanese side, as a result of unfavorable regional economic conditions and unprecedented influx of Syrian refugees, the decision to supply part of the military products within the framework of the military-technical relations was made free of charge,” he added. On Thursday, Lebanon received increased military support from the international community with France opening a 400 million euro ($492 million) line of credit to the country's army. Rome II, an international conference held in Rome to drum up money to bolster the armed forces of the country.

Palestinian Security Forces Member Assassinated in Sidon Camp
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 17/18/Unknown assailants assassinated a member of the Palestinian National Security Forces at dawn on Saturday in the Palestinian refugee camp of Mieh Mieh in the southern city of Sidon, the National News Agency reported. Cautious calm prevailed in the camp early in the morning, while UNRWA schools and shops closed their doors in anticipation of any security reaction, said NNA. The assassination of Mohammed abu Mgasib triggered security tension in the camp. Heavy gunfire was heard after he was killed, as armed individuals took to the streets in protest. The Palestinian security forces deployed their elements to prevent further deterioration. They formed an investigative committee to look into the incident. General Sobhi Abu Arab, head of the Palestinian National Security Forces, denied any political motives behind the assassination. However, he voiced fears “that fifth column could be involved with the aim of triggering strife between the Palestinian forces,” added NNA.

In north Lebanon battle, Christian parties eye big leadership plans

Benjamin Redd/The Daily Star on March 17, 2018
BEIRUT: The 2022 presidential election appears to be in full swing. Although four years away, the contest is being foreshadowed in an early battle for May’s election between partisans of the major candidates in the “North III” electoral district that comprises Batroun, Koura, Bsharri and Zgharta. At least four lists appear to be forming, clustered around the four main Christian parties: the Free Patriotic Movement, the Lebanese Forces, the Marada Movement and the Kataeb Party.
Their leaders’ reputations are all on the line. FPM head Gebran Bassil is running for a seat in Batroun; LF leader Samir Geagea’s party is defending four seats, including his wife’s; Marada chief Sleiman Frangieh is looking to pass his seat to his son; and Kataeb leader Sami Gemayel is attempting to reinvent his party. Whoever wins, or shows well, will have a claim to leadership of the Christians, and thus leadership of the country, since convention dictates only a Maronite can be president. Each party is scrambling to piece together the strongest coalition to contest the 10 seats on the line, with many looking to independent candidates. Zgharta heavyweight Michel Moawad, son of assassinated President Rene Moawad, is set to announce Saturday that he will run on the FPM’s list. Jawad Boulos, part of Moawad’s Independence Movement, will also be on the list.
It’s a marriage of convenience for the pro-March 14 Independence Movement and pro-March 8 FPM.
“We are not FPM,” Boulos told The Daily Star, but rather in an electoral alliance with them.
That’s a common refrain under the new electoral law, whose rules will likely pit those on the same list against each other on preferential votes.
Boutros Harb, an independent, pro-March 14 MP for Batroun, has made a similar deal. He signed up to a list with Frangieh’s Marada Movement and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party – both on the other end of the ideological spectrum that has defined Lebanese politics for over a decade. “It’s [an electoral] law that doesn’t permit those who share the same opinion to be together,” Harb laments. He stresses that “it’s not a question of alliance, it’s a question of being part of a list.”
Under the new electoral law, lists must cover for 40 percent of the seats. Since the North III district has 10 seats, any list must have at least four candidates to compete.
That puts independents like Harb at a disadvantage: In order to win, one must join with larger forces.
Harb’s choice was made clearer by his opponents. In Batroun, he faces stiff competition from the FPM and LF, but not Marada.
One independent who hasn’t yet decided is Koura MP Nicolas Ghosn. His Future Movement decided to vacate the district this year, leaving him to fend for himself – but also making him a prime target of the major parties. There are some 12,000 Sunnis in the area, according to fellow Koura MP Fadi Karam. And they are expected to take their voting cues from the Future Movement, as represented by Ghosn.
“Everyone wants Ghosn as an ally,” Karam said, but claimed that the decision was not up to Ghosn, but Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the president of the Future Movement.
That notion is flatly rejected by Abdel-Ghani Kabbara, a Hariri adviser. “Our position is very clear ... that we do not have anybody from our side running,” he told The Daily Star. “We do not want to interfere with our allies. We are on good terms with Geagea, on good terms with the president, [Michel Aoun, founder of the FPM], on good terms with Frangieh, on good terms with Moawad.”
Not everyone is buying it.
The Future Movement is trying to help the FPM, a senior LF member said on condition of anonymity, “but they can’t be too overt about it” because that would risk upsetting their allies. It would also upset Saudi Arabia, they said, which accuses the FPM – and Bassil in particular – of taking pro-Iranian stances in the past. A source close to Moawad’s Independence Movement also has suspicions about Future. “I think they’re playing a double game” or trying to signal their preference to their supporters without any overt endorsements, they told The Daily Star on condition of anonymity.
Ghosn was unavailable for comment on the matter, but a representative said negotiations were ongoing. Lists must be finalized by March 26.
At the moment, the LF’s list consists of Fadi Saad in Batroun; Strida Tawk Geagea and Joseph Ishaq in Bsharri; Marius Baaini in Zgharta; and Fadi Karam in Koura.
The FPM-Independence Movement list includes Gebran Bassil in Batroun; Michel Moawad, Jawad Boulos and Pierre Raffoul in Zgharta; and George Atallah in Koura. Said Touk (Bsharri), Roy Issa Khoury (Bsharri) and Abdullah Zakhem (Koura) may also join the list.
The Marada-SSNP-Boutros Harb list reportedly includes Harb in Batroun; Melhem “William” Touk and Raymond Zaaouq in Bsharri; Salim Karam, Estephan Dweihi and Tony Frangieh in Zgharta; and Fayez Ghosn and the SSNP’s Salim Saade in Koura.
The Kataeb Party has put forward Samer Saadeh in Batroun, Roy Keyrouz in Bsharri, Michel Dweihi in Zgharta and Albert Androus in Koura. “We are aiming at having people from civil society and local people” join the Kataeb list, Vice Secretary-General Patrick Richa told The Daily Star. “We will not have any alliance with the Future Movement or the FPM.” Richa added that much would be decided in the coming hours and days.
That appears to go for all parties concerned. And these deliberations are important – after all, the fate of the 2022 presidential election may rest in decisions made over the next 10 days.

Journalist Sentenced to Six Months in Prison as Media Suppression Goes On 16th March 2018/Mount Lebanon's Court of Publications sentenced in absentia the manager of the Lebanon Debate website, Michel Kanbour, to six months in jail and fined him with LBP 10 million (around $7,000) in the defamation lawsuit filed against him by the Customs Department Director-General, Badri Daher. “How can such a verdict be issued against a journalist who is only expressing his opinion?” Kanbour told the Kataeb website, deeming this imprisonment ruling as unprecedented."Is this prison sentence a message to all journalists to prevent them from expressing their viewpoints?" he asked, adding that summoning a journalist to appear in court is a means to put him under pressure. "The pressure and constraints targeting the freedom of expression are no longer acceptable," criticizing the failure to ratify the draft law pertaining to electronic media. Kanbour stressed that it is the State’s responsibility to protect all journalists, deploring the fact that prison sentences are being issued instead of laws that safeguard the media. “The verdict issued against me deals a harsh blow to the media freedom,” he concluded, noting that his lawyer will be appealing the court's ruling.

Latest LCCC Bulletin For Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 17-18/18
Air Strikes on Syria's Ghouta Kill 30 Civilians
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 17/18/Air strikes on Eastern Ghouta killed at least 30 civilians on Saturday, a monitor said, almost a month into a blistering Russia-backed regime assault on the Syrian rebel enclave outside Damascus.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights could not say who carried out the strikes on the town of Zamalka in a southern pocket of the enclave. Regime forces have retaken 70 percent of the last rebel bastion on the outskirts of the capital since February 18, carving it up into three shrinking pockets held by different rebels. "Warplanes targeted civilians in Zamalka as they prepared to flee" the southern area of the enclave held by the Faylaq al-Rahman rebel group, Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said. The regime assault has killed more than 1,390 civilians in the enclave, according to the Observatory, which relies on a network of sources on the ground. The offensive has pushed thousands more to flee their homes into government-controlled areas. On Saturday morning, "around 10,000 civilians streamed out of the rebel enclave into regime-held areas", Abdel Rahman said. More than 40,000 civilians have poured out of the enclave since Thursday morning, fleeing bombardment and advancing troops. Syria's war has killed more than 350,000 people and displaced millions since it broke out in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.

Intensifying Assaults in Syria Spark Dual Evacuations
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 17/18/Syrian civilians in the last rebel-held pockets of besieged Eastern Ghouta have been urged to flee as Russia-backed regime forces storm into the beleaguered area near Damascus, with intense airstrikes killing dozens and causing thousands more to evacuate. The latest deaths on Friday brought the toll for the nearly month-old offensive to over 1,360, with world powers still unable to stop one of the devastating conflict's worst crises. The Syrian army in a message broadcast on state television urged all residents to use "corridors" it had established to leave the enclave, saying it had recaptured 70 percent of rebel territory. Syria's war enters its eighth year with another deadly assault also unfolding in the north, where Turkish-led forces pressed an operation to seize the Kurdish-majority region of Afrin. The operation has sent thousands onto the roads, with bombing of the city of Afrin on Friday killing 43 civilians, a third of them killed in a deadly strike on a hospital. On the edge of Ghouta, a sprawling semi-rural area within mortar range of central Damascus, more than 2,400 civilians streamed out of destroyed towns, carrying scant belongings in bags and bundles. Crowds crammed into a government centre on the edge of Eastern Ghouta on Friday, unsure what the next step would be after walking straight into the arms of the forces that have relentlessly pounded their homes for weeks. - Exodus -"We were afraid of leaving -- they had told us the army would arrest us," said 35-year-old Abu Khaled, who used to run a retail clothing shop in Ghouta.  "We reached the army and didn't find that, but now we're basically living in a camp," he told AFP. Syria's envoy to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari said 40,000 people fled Ghouta on Thursday, and the sudden exodus appeared to have caught the government flat-footed. Long lines formed outside public bathrooms, and displaced families complained of lack of access to water or mattresses. The ground offensive pressed by Syrian troops and allied militia has splintered Eastern Ghouta into three pockets, each held by a different faction. Those three Islamist groups said Friday they would be willing to negotiate directly with Russia on a ceasefire for Ghouta, but did not mention talks with the Syrian government. Their statement came hours after UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said talks were ongoing between Russia and one of the groups, Jaish al-Islam. That negotiations track had already produced six days of calm for Ghouta's largest town of Douma, he said. Douma has also seen deliveries of food, and hundreds of civilians have been bussed out as part of medical evacuations. 
Hospital bombed -The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 96 civilians were killed in Russian and regime air strikes on the southwestern Ghouta pocket on Friday. The Observatory says it determines whose planes carry out raids according to type, location, flight patterns and munitions used.
Russia's defence ministry on Friday denied its jets were taking part in the Ghouta operation, calling the Observatory report "fake", according to news agencies. The heaviest of Friday's raids were on Kafr Batna, where at least 70 civilians died and where the Observatory said incendiary weapons were used. A reporter in the town contributing to AFP saw eight charred bodies in the streets and said wounded people were left in the roads as rescue centres had been put out of service by bombing. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has in recent months recovered swathes of territory lost at the beginning of the conflict and Ghouta was one of his key remaining targets. An exodus of similar proportions was under way hundreds of kilometres (miles) to the north in the city of Afrin, where Kurdish forces have been nearly encircled by Turkish troops. The Observatory said Thursday more than 30,000 people had fled the city in 24 hours, and another 15,000 escaped on Friday, fearing a siege.
The monitor said a Turkish strike on Friday hit Afrin's hospital, killing 16 civilians, including two pregnant women. "There was bombing on the city during the day that got close to the hospital, but this evening it was directly hit," Serwan Bery, co-chair of the Kurdish Red Crescent, told AFP. "It was the only functioning hospital in Afrin city," he said. The deadly strike brought to 43 the number of civilians killed in the town on Friday, the Observatory said. Turkey's military denied hitting the hospital, saying on Twitter that its operation in Afrin "is carried out in such a way as to not cause any harm to civilians." The UN said it was worried the forces staying inside were not allowing civilians to flee, as that would leave them more exposed to Turkey's superior firepower. Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN's Rights Office, decried "reports that civilians are being prevented from leaving Afrin city by Kurdish forces... (and) are being held to be used as human shields."
UN ‘failed to prevent’ Syria crimes: opposition
AFP | Published — Saturday 17 March 2018/RIYADH: The head of Syria’s main opposition group on Saturday accused the United Nations of failing to prevent violence raging in the war-wracked country, including the assault on the Eastern Ghouta rebel enclave. “We hold the United Nations, the Security Council and the international community ... directly responsible for their silence around these crimes and for failing to take action to prevent these crimes,” Nasr Al-Hariri, president of the Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC), told reporters in Riyadh. “But let us not forget that the party that holds direct responsibility for the crimes are the Syrian regime and the countries that continue to stand by it.”Russian-backed Syrian regime forces have waged a blistering assault on Eastern Ghouta that has retaken 70 percent of the enclave near Damascus since February 18. The offensive has killed around 1,400 civilians, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor which relies on a network of sources on the ground. The assault has sparked an exodus with more than 40,000 civilians pouring into surrounding government-held areas over the past 48 hours. More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced since the Syria war broke out in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government
Pope, Organization of Islamic Cooperation chief discuss terrorism and Rohingya plight
Arab News/March 18/18/JEDDAH: “Terrorism has no religion,” the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Yousef Al-Othaimeen, has told Pope Francis. During a Vatican meeting on Friday, both men emphasized the importance of interfaith dialogue in the campaign against terrorism and violence. Al-Othaimeen condemned all terrorist acts associated with religions. He also praised the Pope’s stand on the rights of Christians and Muslims in Jerusalem. The OIC chief thanked the Pope for his involvement in other issues, including his positive contribution toward the Rohingya people’s bid for national rights. Pope Francis expressed his support for the Rohingya, and thanked neighboring countries, especially Bangladesh, for offering them refuge. He praised the OIC’s “clear and decent position” toward terrorism, saying that terror has nothing to do with Islam. Al-Othaimeen also held talks Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin on the need for continued dialogue between the OIC and the Vatican.

May: Russia's UK diplomat expulsion does not change Moscow's culpability
AFP/March 18/18/LONDON: Russia’s expulsion of 23 British diplomats “doesn’t change the facts of the matter” of the poisoning of a former double agent in an English city, Prime Minister Theresa May said Saturday. Russia was “in flagrant breach of international law,” she told her Conservative Party’s spring forum, adding that Britain “will consider our next steps in the coming days.”“Russia’s response doesn’t change the facts of the matter — the attempted assassination of two people on British soil, for which there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable,” she said. May blames Russia for the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury on March 4, which has left them both fighting for their lives. She warned that Britain “will never tolerate a threat to the life of British citizens and others on British soil from the Russian government.”
But she said Britain had “no disagreement with the Russian people.” Earlier this week, Britain announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats and suspension of high-level contacts over the poisoning. Moscow responded on Saturday by expelling 23 British diplomats from Moscow in a tit-for-tat measure. It also said it would halt the activities of the British Council, the country’s international organization for cultural relations, in Russia. “We are profoundly disappointed at this development,” the British Council said in a statement. “It is our view that when political or diplomatic relations become difficult, cultural relations and educational opportunities are vital to maintain on-going dialogue between people and institutions.”

Russia Expel 23 British Diplomats in Spy Poisoning Crisis
Agence France Presse/Naharnet/March 17/18/Russia said Saturday it would expel 23 British diplomats and close a British consulate following London's "provocative" measures over the poisoning of a double agent that has triggered an escalating war of words. And it also said it would halt the activities of the British Council in Russia in a tough series of retaliatory measures announced after summoning British ambassador Laurie Bristow. The Russian response was announced on the eve of a presidential election which is expected to hand Vladimir Putin a fourth term in the Kremlin, but which comes as the country appears increasingly isolated. The crisis erupted after Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were exposed to a Soviet-designed nerve agent on March 4 in the English city of Salisbury, leaving them in critical condition. London has blamed Moscow and on Friday, even directly implicated Putin in the attack, prompting the Kremlin's fury. "Twenty three diplomatic staff at the British embassy in Moscow are declared persona non grata and to be expelled within a week," a foreign ministry statement said. It said this was a response to Britain's "provocative actions" and "baseless accusations over the incident in Salisbury on March 4". - 'Harsh, but deserved' -Russia also said that it was withdrawing permission for Britain to operate its consulate in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg, citing a "disparity" in the number of diplomatic missions held by the two countries. And it said it had halted the activities of the British Council, Britain's international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities, across the country. "Due to the unregulated status of the British Council in Russia, its activity is halted," the foreign ministry said. "The measures are more harsh, but the British deserved them. And I don't rule out that something else could follow," first deputy head of the Russian Senate's foreign affairs committee Vladimir Dzhabarov told Interfax news agency. A representative for the British Embassy in Moscow told AFP it had no immediate statement in response to the moves but would release one on social media. The ministry said it had also warned Britain that "if further unfriendly actions are taken towards Russia, the Russian side retains the right to take other answering measures."
Earlier this week, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats and suspension of high-level contacts over the nerve agent attack. And she also warned more measures could follow, noting that the US-led NATO alliance and the UN Security Council had discussed the attack.
First nerve attack since WW2 -Skripal had taken his daughter, who was on a visit from Moscow, out for lunch in Salisbury before they both collapsed on a bench. The incident revived memories of the fate of Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian dissident who died of Polonium radiation poisoning in London in 2006 in an attack that Britain also blamed on Russia. Russia insists it had no motive to target Skripal with what Britain says was a highly-potent Soviet-designed nerve agent called Novichok, in the first such attack in Europe since World War II. On Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said statements by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tying Putin to the attack were "shocking and unforgivable". Putin himself has yet to make a public comment on the attack, aside from one remark to a BBC reporter earlier this week in which he said: "Sort things out from your side and then we will discuss this with you."
Western leaders have strongly backed Britain's response. EU leaders are to discuss the incident at a Brussels summit next week and it is also on the agenda for talks on Monday between Johnson, his EU counterparts and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
- Suspicious deaths -Following the Salisbury incident, the British government has also pledged to re-examine 14 deaths on UK soil following a report that they could have been carried out by Moscow or the Russian mafia.
On Friday, police said they were treating the March 12 death of exiled businessman Nikolai Glushkov as murder after a post-mortem found he died from "compression to the neck". The murder is not believed to be linked to the attack on Skripal and his daughter.
Russia has also said it is opening a probe into the murder of Glushkov, who was found dead at his London home. Glushkov was an associate of the late Kremlin opponent Boris Berezovsky, a one-time Putin supporter who then turned against him. Berezovsky was found hanged in a bathroom at his home outside London in 2013.

UAE Official: Saudi Arabia Moves Forward While Iran Sticks to Past
Abu Dhabi– Asharq Al-Awsat/March 17/2018/A senior UAE official said the vitality of the Saudi approach reflects the hopes and aspirations of a new generation while Iran's approach and policies are a reflection of a regressive ideology. He said that those who criticize Saudi Arabia know now that this weapon has become unusable. "A positive Saudi vision recognizes the need to deal with the aspirations of a young generation and its aspiration for development and stability while an expansive Iranian vision stands for no development or consideration for the needs and aspirations of young people,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash tweeted. "Interestingly, the critics and opponents of Saudi Arabia find that their conventional ammunition has become unusable in the face of vitality, renewal and a leadership role that imposes itself every day,” Gargash added.

Egyptian Security Delegation Discusses Reconciliation File in Ramallah

Gaza - Asharq Al-Awsat/March 17/2018 /An Egyptian security delegation left Gaza Strip on Friday, heading to Ramallah via Beit Hanoun crossing, for the second time to follow up the Palestinian reconciliation file. The delegation aims at holding talks with Palestinian Authority officials on a number of issues, including the reconciliation with Hamas and the attempt to assassinate Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah and Head of General Intelligence Service Majed Faraj in Gaza a few days ago. The delegation took a long way off the road, which is usually taken to welcome delegations, security sources told Asharq Al-Awsat, noting that the delegation had not followed the known route because of the bombing attempt that targeted the PM’s convoy. While other sources said that the delegation will return Sunday or Monday to Gaza Strip to complete the talks on the reconciliation file and on reducing the tension and verbal attacks on media between Fatah and Hamas following the bombing attempt. It is still unknown whether the delegation would convey to the PA and Fatah movement in Ramallah any official letters from Hamas, or that it would convey information regarding the conduct of investigations carried out by the movement's security services in Gaza after the bombing of the Palestinian prime minister's convoy. The Ministry of the Interior in Gaza announced the arrest of suspects in the incident, explaining that it is conducting large-scale investigations to reach quick results and make them public. The delegation has been in Gaza for weeks, during which it held meetings with various factions and ministers of the unity government, who arrived to the Strip before the assassination attempt. The delegation was scheduled to meet with Majed Faraj, who accompanied Hamdallah to Gaza last Tuesday; however, the bombing let the visit last only half an hour.
It also led to an escalating tone of accusations and tension between Fatah and Hamas movements, of which Cairo oversees their reconciliation file.

Small Plane Crashes Outside Philippine Capital, 10 Dead
Asharq Al-Awsat/March 17/2018 /Ten people were killed when a small plane crashed into a house north of Manila on Saturday, police and aviation officials said. The Piper 23 Apache twin-engine aircraft crashed shortly after taking off in Plaridel town in Bulacan province, killing all five aboard as well as three children, a mother and a grandmother from the family in the house, said Superintendent Julio Lizardo. "We had to dig through the rubble to find the bodies," he said, explaining why the toll rose from an initial figure of seven dead. "The house was burned while the aircraft was totally wrecked," police spokesman Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao said. Officials declined to say what may have caused the crash of the plane, operated by a local charter company. Eric Apolonio, spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), said the aircraft, which was operated by Lite Air Express, was bound for northern Laoag city. All aircraft operated by Lite Air Express were grounded pending investigations, Apolonio said.

More People Flee Afrin, Civilians Killed in Turkish Airstrike
Asharq Al-Awsat/March 17/2018/A Turkish air strike killed 11 civilians trying to leave Afrin in northern Syria on Saturday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, adding that more than 200,000 civilians have fled the city in less than three days. According to the British-based monitor, more than 280 civilians have been killed since the Turkey-led offensive against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in the Afrin region began on January 20. Ankara has repeatedly said it takes the "utmost care" to avoid civilian casualties. "There was fierce fighting throughout the night on the northern outskirts of the city as the Turkish forces and their Syrian allies tried to break into the city," the Observatory said.
The exodus continued on Saturday with at least 50,000 civilians fleeing the city since the early hours of the morning, it said. More than 200,000 civilians have fled Afrin in less than three days to escape the Turkish-led offensive, the war monitor added. Earlier this week, Turkey and its Syrian Arab rebel allies largely surrounded the enclave's sole city, which was home to some 350,000 people, including people displaced from other parts of the enclave already overrun. A single escape route remains open to the south to territory still held by the YPG or controlled by the Damascus regime. "Civilians are fleeing through the southern corridor," said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
"The situation is terrifying," he added. On Friday, YPG official Redur Khalil and the Observatory reported a deadly airstrike on the general hospital in Afrin.
But the Turkish military tweeted aerial footage and photographs of the hospital from Saturday morning, showing it was intact. The army said in a statement the YPG were trying to create a "negative perception" of the Turkish military.

EU Mulls Sanctions on Iran's Ballistic Missiles
London- Adil al Salmi/Asharq Al-Awsat/March 17/2018
Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) entered yesterday an intensive care unit amid talks in Vienna and Berlin, a planned EU move, and expected high-level consultations in the upcoming two months, before US President Donald Trump announces his final decision on the nuclear deal. Tehran's files took an upward turn when officials from the international group "5 + 1" and Iran met for the eighth time to assess the course of the nuclear deal, amid mounting questions about the future of the deal after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired.
Britain, France and Germany have proposed fresh EU sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missiles and its role in Syria’s war, according to a confidential document seen by Reuters. The new sanctions are a bid to persuade Washington to preserve the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
German media outlets reported a visit of Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron to the US next month to try and convince Trump of maintaining the nuclear deal.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi held negotiations on the eve of the committee's meeting with the European Union, Germany, France and Russia before all sides sat at the negotiating table at the Palais Coburg Hotel in central Vienna.
The joint commission was chaired by EEAS Secretary General Helga Schmid and US senior State Department official Brian Hook.
Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron are scheduled to make a joint visit in April to Washington, although the newspaper stressed that Iran will not be the focus of negotiations with Trump, it pointed out that the visit aims to prevent a real unwanted war with Iran.
The joint paper was sent to European Union capitals on Friday, said two people familiar with the matter, to sound out support for such sanctions as they would need the support of all 28 EU member governments. For its part, Associated Press reported that EU foreign ministers, who will discuss the issue Monday in Brussels, are expected to affirm that they believe the deal with Iran is good, and work to discourage Trump from pulling out of the deal. At the same time, they're expected to start putting greater stress on Iran's missile development and its destabilizing role in the region.
Senior State Department official Brian Hook said on Friday after talks in Berlin and Vienna that Trump wants to reach a “supplemental” deal with the European signatories to the agreement by then, according to Agence French Press (AFP).
Hook indicated that it would cover Iran’s ballistic missile programme, its regional activities, the expiration of parts of the nuclear deal in the mid-2020s and tighter UN inspections.
“We are taking things one week at a time, we are having very good discussions in London, Paris and Berlin,” indicated Hook who visited Berlin on Thursday to meet with his British, French and German counterparts "There is a lot we agree on and where we disagree we are working to bridge our differences," Hook said. However, he declined to indicate what would happen if and when such an agreement is reached, saying: "We are not under instructions from the president to go beyond seeking an agreement with our European allies." "We all have concerns about missiles, regional instability, support for terrorism, and the malicious activities of Iran," a European diplomat said, adding: "We are ready to take steps to address to those concerns," he said. Since the nuclear deal entered into force, the committee holds a meeting every three months to discuss the course of implementation, and this was the last meeting before May 12, when US President will announce whether he would ratify the agreement. In January, Trump granted European countries a final deadline of 4 months to bridge the gaps in the nuclear agreement and renegotiate, especially on the inspection of military sites and the ballistic missile program, as well as Iran's destabilizing regional role and support of armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
The importance of the meeting grew especially after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was sacked for several reasons, including his position on Iran and JCPOA. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif told reporters that considering what has been envisaged in the JCPOA in the field of research and development and the Islamic Republic of Iran's continued measures to develop its peaceful nuclear capability, "if the US makes the mistake of exiting the JCPOA, it will definitely be a painful mistake for the Americans."
On Friday, chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi refused to make statements to the media after the meeting ended, but the official IRNA news agency quoted a source accompanying Araqchi as saying that he would "return to Palais Coburg Hotel for further consultations, including a possible meeting with the US delegation."Iran's ambassador to UK and member of the Iranian negotiating team, Hamid Baeidinejad, wrote on his Twitter account: "At the meeting of the Joint Commission for the Nuclear Agreement, the United States in exchange other countries' cooperation, was under pressure and isolation more than ever."
Araqchi said he discussed the "violations" of the nuclear deal with EU, Russia, Germany and France on the eve of the joint committee meeting, adding that he would hold bilateral negotiations with other delegations, without specifying if he had the intentions to meet the US delegation on the sidelines of the negotiations. Speaking to IRNA, Araqchi acknowledged that the developments of the nuclear file in the next phase "will not be easy," hoping that the meeting of the joint committee will lead to a common understanding "under the current circumstances."
He also ruled out any possibility of resuming negotiations on Iran's nuclear program, indicating: "From our point of view, there is no possibility of a supplementary or additional agreement or terms that are being used today," he said, adding that talk of renegotiation is "against the nuclear agreement."

Latest LCCC Bulletin analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 17-18/18
Trump’s Five Demands from Tehran Shake the Mullahs

London- Amir Taheri/Asharq Al-Awsat/March 17/2018/
By all accounts, US President Donald Trump’s decision to dismiss his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been received in Tehran’s ruling circles as the probable end of the policy of “accommodation with Iran” designed and applied by former President Barack Obama.
Despite Trump’s repeated hostile remarks on the Islamic Republic, the faction built around President Hassan Rouhani continued to believe that the new American administration could still be influenced in favor of “accommodation with Iran”.
Several members of the Obama administration played a key role in injecting that belief into the Iranian official analysis. According to Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad-Javad Zarif the belief was put to him by former US Secretary of State John Kerry as late as last month on the margins of the Security Conference in Munich. The same line was taken by Valery Jarrette, one of Obama’s key advisers and a strong supporter of “accommodation with Iran”. The continued presence of more than a dozen Obama leftover officials in the State Department and the National Security Council under Trump lent credibility to the analysis. Zarif and his group, known as “The New York Boys,” also believed that Tillerson’s background as a senior oilman might persuade him to take a longer view of Iran and its immense oil reserves. The fact that Tillerson adopted a less hostile tone vis-a-vis Russia, now emerging as the main foreign protector of the Iranian regime, was also seen in Tehran as a sign that he might succeed in restraining Trump in his threat of tough action against the Islamic Republic.
Leaving aside all such speculations, could Tillerson’s departure become a game-changer as far as US policy on Iran is concerned?
At first glance, the answer could be yes.
Tillerson had no history of hostility towards the ruling mullahs of Tehran. But his successor, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a rising star of the Tea Party and an intellectual heavyweight of the American “new Right” has a 20-year history of campaigning against the Khomeinist regime. In fact, Pompeo built part of his reputation as a would-be strategist by developing a coherent position vis-à-vis Iran which he has classified among “rogue regimes.”
However, it must be noted at the outset that policymaking in the Trump administration does not follow the classical pattern in which the State Department, the National Security Council, the Pentagon and The Treasury develop ideas in consultation with the “think tanks” and various lobbies before agreeing on a common position that is then presented to the President as a policy option.
That classical pattern was first disrupted by Obama who, on more than one occasion, publicly disowned his own Secretary of State by “instructing” him to give more concessions to Iran. Trump is using the precedence set by Obama by making policymaking even more of a personal privilege for the president.
So, Tillerson or Pompeo, what matters is what Trump will decide in the end.
The sacking of the one and the appointment of the other only offer an indication of the direction which Trump’s thinking on Iran is taking. Whether or not a change of direction is in the cards will quickly become clear. The first test is likely to come within weeks as the so-called P5+1, that is to say the five veto-holding members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, is scheduled to hold a joint meeting with Iran to review progress made in the implementation of the Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action (CJPOA), more commonly known as “the Obama nuke deal”. On several occasions, Trump has indicated that he isn’t interested in such meetings which are designed to keep the CJPOA alive at least as a “process” which is what Iran wants above all. Keeping the “process”, even if only in name, would mean that neither the P5+1 nor Iran would do anything that might cause tension in relations. As far as Iran is concerned, the “process” will pin down the US to a position of immobility for the remaining portion of Trump’s tenure until Tehran allies in the US, that is to say the democrat Party, regain control of the Senate in November and get into pole-position to win the White House in 2020.
So far Trump, and despite pressure from the European Union has not taken a clear position on the putative session between the P5+1 and Iran. Instead, he has suggested a broadening of the scope of the “dialogue” with Iran to include “all issues of concern” which have not been fully spelled out.
However, the issues that Trump has hinted at could be divided into five categories.
The first category is humanitarian and concerns the continued holding by Iran of eight American citizens and the mortal remains of a former CIA station chief in Beirut and a former FBI agent kidnapped in an Iranian island.
The second category, concerns Iran’s overall human records, especially the holding of hundreds of “prisoners of conscience” among them an unknown number of new converts to Christianity whose cases are adopted by US evangelical movements close to the Republican Party. In 2017 Iran ranked number-two in the world for the number of prisoners and executions. To that must be added what Trump has designated as “suppression of freedoms” as highlighted in last December’s non-violent uprising in more than 120 Iranian cities.
The third category deals with Iran’s allegedly hegemonic ambitions in the Middle East, notably in Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, not to mention smaller operations financed against Egypt, Tunisia, and Kuwait. The US would want Iran to also stop financing and arming the various branches of Hezbollah including those set up in Latin America, but most notably the one operating in Lebanon, and stop writing cheques for Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine. All that would mean the dismantling of what Iran’s “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei has labeled “The Resistance Front.”
The fourth category of Trump’s putative demands concerns Iran’s ambitious missiles project. General Muhammad-Ali Aziz Jaafari, Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), often boasts about Iran as “the missiles superpower” of the Middle East. In a meeting with military commanders last year, Khamenei ordered them to “continue and speed up” the missile project. “Build as many missiles as you can, as fast as you can,” he said. Western analysts believe that while Iran’s short-term and medium missiles may make sense in military terms, the long-range missiles being developed make no sense unless they are designed to carry nuclear warheads. Spending billions to manufacture missiles that can carry payloads of 100 kilograms to a distance of 3000 kilometers is bizarre if the warhead is nothing but ordinary explosives. Such missiles make sense only if they carry nuclear material with a high capacity for destruction.
And that brings the whole thing back to the fifth category which concerns the demand for a full cessation of uranium enrichment by Iran as agreed upon by former President Muhammad Khatami’s administration in 2003. With or without Tillerson, the Trump administration was set for a showdown with Tehran. Tillerson’s departure may hasten that showdown. Trump’s apparent success in forcing North Korea’s Kim Jong-on into at least a tactical retreat might give Pyongyang’s allies in Tehran some food for thought.

British Council Excuses Islamist Warfare as Welfare
Andrew Harrod/American Spectator/March 17, 2018
A recent British Council report on the "Muslim Humanitarian Sector," funded by the European Union (EU) and presented on February 21 at the British Embassy in Washington D.C., attacks the supposedly "pervasive myth that Muslim aid and development organizations and charities are disproportionately used as fronts for terrorist activity." The charities named in the report, however, are prominent Islamist organizations, some of which are undeniably connected to extremism and terror.
The report's running theme is that over-zealous officials have unfairly targeted innocent charities. Writing about a Saudi charity, the Al-Haramain Foundation, for example, the authors claim that counter-terrorism officials simply "assumed that the humanitarian organization was a front for al-Qaeda." The authors neglect to mention, however, that both the United Nations (UN) and the U.S Department of the Treasury have designated Al-Haramain branches as terrorist organizations, with the UN stating that it was "one of the principal NGOs active throughout the world providing support for the Al-Qaida network."
Equally outrageous are the report's excuses for organizations openly tied to Hamas — such as the British-based charity Interpal. The authors claim: "After nearly a decade of legal inquiry and media scrutiny, the British charity was cleared by the UK Charities Commission from accusations that it was a funding mechanism for Hamas." Yet they add that Interpal "is still listed by the US Department of Treasury as a foreign terrorist organization without reason."
There is a quite a bit of reason: Interpal is not merely suspected of ties to Hamas; it openly works with Hamas. Interpal directors Essam Yusuf and Ibrahim Hewitt have regularly visited Gaza, where they have been honored at rallies led by Hamas leaders, prayed at the tombs of Hamas terrorists, and visited Hamas terrorists' homes. In 2013, Yusuf even stood next to Hamas leaders in a videoed singalong praising the "martyrs" of the Qassam Brigades, Hamas's suicide bombing wing.
Elsewhere, the British Council's report praises Islamic Relief. The authors claim that this global charitable franchise has sought "to build an infrastructure of efficiency and transparency" concerning regulatory oversight." If only the report's authors applied such transparency to discussing Islamic Relief's links to extremism and terror. Both Israel and the United Arab Emirates have designated Islamic Relief as a terrorism-financing organization. And both UBS and HSBC have closed down Islamic Relief's bank accounts, reportedly over terror financing fears. Islamic Relief branches openly fund Hamas-linked organizations in the Gaza Strip and promote extremist preachers in the U.S. and Europe who incite hatred against Jews and other minorities. The current chairman of Islamic Relief's U.S. branch, Khaled Lamada, has circulated textpraising the "jihad" of the "Mujahidin of Egypt" for "causing the Jews many defeats."
To launch the report, the British Council invited the head of Islamic Relief's U.S. branch, Anwar Khan, to speak on its panel, along with the CEO of Human Appeal International (HAI), another British Islamist charity. Both the CIA and FBI have previously stated that HAI serves as "a fundraiser for Hamas," and Israel has named the charity as Hamas-affiliated. Leaked State Department cables claimed there are "indications that HAI was sending financial support to organizations associated with Hamas and that members of its field offices in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Chechnya had connections to al-Qaeda associates."
The report also lists HAI as one of many "consulted" organizations for its study, along with a number of other extremist charities tied to terror. Muslim Aid, for example, is the charitable arm of Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), a violent South Asian Islamist movement. Just a few years ago, a Bangladeshi war crimes tribunal convicted Muslim Aid's founder, Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, for the mass-killing of teachers and intellectuals during the 1971 Liberation War in Bangladesh. In 2010, Muslim Aid admitted to funding two Palestinian charities run by the two terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The authors also consulted Turkey's Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), a prominent supporter of Hamas. Germany, Holland, and Israel have banned IHH branches, and frequent reports link IHH Turkish headquarters to jihadist funding in Syria. Today, IHH's website features a tribute to Shamil Basayev, the Chechen terrorist responsible for the Beslan school siege, in which 350 people were murdered, including 186 children.
"Participants in this study," the authors write, "consistently expressed a 'compliance fatigue'" with antiterrorism regulations. Perhaps compliance would be a lot less fatiguing if there are no terrorism links to hide. The report ultimately recommends that "policy makers and NGO practitioners should become better acquainted with the Muslim humanitarian landscape." But if the authors were in fact better acquainted with the charities recommended in their report, they might be less willing to paint them as victims.
The report's conclusions are less surprising, however, in light of one of the authors, Georgia State University professor Abbas Barzegar. He advocates "natural steps of accepting Islamic experiments in modern governance" such as the "democratically elected Hamas." And he has praised the terror group Hezbollah's lethally anti-Semitic leader Hassan Nasrallah as a "moderating force in a whirlwind of extremism."
The British Council report is a whitewash of Islamist charities, paid for by the European taxpayer and offered the legitimacy of a D.C. audience. Taxpayers should demand greater scrutiny of Islamists using charities as fronts, not less.
**Andrew Harrod is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.

German Interior Minister: "Islam Does Not Belong to Germany"

Soeren Kern/Gatestone Institute/March 17/2018
"Islam does not belong to Germany. Germany is shaped by Christianity. This tradition includes work-free Sundays and church holidays and rituals such as Easter, Pentecost and Christmas.... My message is that Muslims have to live with us, not next to or against us." — Horst Seehofer, Germany's new interior minister
"Many Muslims belong to Germany, but Islam does not belong to Germany. Islam is at base a political ideology that is not compatible with the German Constitution." — Beatrix von Storch, Alternative for Germany (AfD)
"The state must ensure that people feel safe whenever they are in the public realm. People have a right to security. This is our top responsibility. It means that there should not be any no-go areas — areas where no one dares to go. Such areas do exist. We must call them by name. We must do something about it." — German Chancellor Angela Merkel, RTL television, February 26, 2018
Germany's new interior minister, Horst Seehofer, in his first interview since being sworn in on March 14, has said that "Islam does not belong to Germany." He has also vowed to pursue hardline immigration policies, including the implementation of a "master plan" for speedier deportations.
Seehofer's remarks prompted an immediate firestorm of criticism from the self-appointed guardians of German multiculturalism, including from Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has repeatedly insisted that "Islam belongs to Germany."
The backlash will raise questions about how much Seehofer — a former minister-president of Bavaria and a vocal critic of Merkel's open-door migration policies — will be able to accomplish during his tenure.
Germany's new interior minister, Horst Seehofer, whose hardline remarks about immigration elicited harsh criticism from the country's multiculturalists, as well as from Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo: Wikipedia.
In a March 16 interview with Bild, Germany's largest daily newspaper, Seehofer was asked if Islam belongs to Germany. He responded: "No. Islam does not belong to Germany. Germany is shaped by Christianity. This tradition includes work-free Sundays and church holidays and rituals such as Easter, Pentecost and Christmas."
Seehofer added that Muslims living in Germany are "of course" part of Germany. But that does not mean, he said, "that we therefore, out of false deference, give up our country's traditions and customs." He added: "My message is that Muslims have to live with us, not next to or against us. To achieve that, we need mutual understanding and consideration, which is only achieved by talking to one another."
Seehofer's commonsensical remarks opened yet another chapter in the decade-long debate over the phrase, "Islam belongs to Germany." The words were first uttered in September 2006 — at the time there were 3.5 million Muslims in Germany, compared to more than six million today — by then Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.
Speaking ahead of the first-ever German-Islam Conference, an institutionalized dialogue between representatives of the German government and of Muslims in Germany, Schäuble said:
"Islam is a part of Germany and a part of Europe. Islam is a part of our present and a part of our future. Muslims are welcome in Germany."
The phrase was repeated in October 2010 by Germany's then president, Christian Wulff, during a keynote speech to mark the 20th anniversary of German reunification. Wulff proclaimed that "Islam belongs to Germany" because millions of Muslims now live there:
"Christianity doubtless belongs to Germany. Judaism belongs unequivocally to Germany. This is our Judeo-Christian history. But now Islam also belongs to Germany (Der Islam gehört inzwischen auch zu Deutschland)."
Wulff then quoted the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who in his West-Eastern Divan (West–östlicher Diwan, 1819) wrote: "He who knows himself and others will understand: East and West are no longer separable."
Since then, Merkel has repeatedly stressed that "Islam belongs to Germany." During a January 2015 meeting in Berlin with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, she declared: "Former German President Christian Wulff said: 'Islam belongs to Germany.' That is true. This is also my opinion." Six months later, during Ramadan, Merkel said: "It is indisputably obvious that Islam now belongs to Germany."
The same day that Bild published Seehofer's comments, Merkel, through her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, distanced herself from the new interior minister: "Muslims belong to Germany, their religion also belongs to Germany, Islam too. We must do everything we can to ensure good relations between different religions."
By contrast, the AfD parliamentary leader in Saxony-Anhalt, André Poggenburg, said that Seehofer's statement that well integrated and loyal Muslims belonged to Germany, but that Islam does not, was a "core message" of his party. He said that Seehofer's comments "affirm how right we are."
The deputy leader of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), Beatrix von Storch, has said: "Many Muslims belong to Germany, but Islam does not belong to Germany. Islam is at base a political ideology that is not compatible with the German Constitution."
Alexander Gauland, another deputy leader of the AfD, elaborated: "Islam is not a religion like Catholicism or Protestantism. Intellectually, Islam is always linked to the overthrow of the state. Therefore, the Islamization of Germany poses a threat."
Seehofer has also promised to crack down on criminal migrants and speed up the deportation of migrants whose asylum applications have been rejected. He added: "There must be a consensus throughout Germany that we will no longer tolerate lawless zones."
On February 26, Merkel publicly admitted, for the first time, the existence of no-go zones — lawless areas in German cities where the state has effectively lost control to migrant gangs and where native Germans, including the police, increasingly fear to go. In an interview with RTL television, Merkel said:
"Naturally, the arrival of so many refugees has raised many questions regarding internal security. The state has the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force (Gewaltmonopol). The state must ensure that people feel safe whenever they are in the public realm. People have a right to security. This is our top responsibility. It means that there should not be any no-go areas — areas where no one dares to go. Such areas do exist. We must call them by name. We must do something about it."
Merkel made the comments after pledging earlier in the day that her new coalition government would adopt a "zero tolerance" policy on homeland security. "Security is not negotiable," she said at a conference of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Berlin. "Security is one of the core tasks of a strong state," she added. "Zero tolerance is our motto."
Some commentators quickly dismissed Merkel's comments as mere empty words — a belated attempt to win back angry CDU voters who have defected en masse to the AfD over her 2015 decision to allow into the country more than a million migrants from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
Other commentators noted that Merkel's comments on no-go areas reflects of the growing power and influence of the AfD, which, according to a recent INSA poll, has overtaken the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) as the second-largest party in Germany. In fact, Merkel's decision to form a coalition government with the SPD has thrust the AfD into the role of being the main opposition party in the German parliament. The AfD's presence there will almost certainly ensure that migration and security remain top public policy issues.
Arguably the greatest consequence of Merkel's admission is that it has pierced the veil of silence over no-go zones. European political and media elites have long tried to stop discussion of the negative consequences of mass migration by branding opposing voices as racist and xenophobic. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who has been relentlessly disparaged by Europe's self-appointed guardians of multiculturalism for his politically incorrect stance on mass migration, hailed Merkel's comments as a victory. A blog post on the Hungarian government's website stated:
"Remember that time back in the autumn of 2016 when the government of Hungary had the audacity to talk about 'no-go zones'?
"In voicing our opposition to the EU's compulsory migrant resettlement quotas and policies that would continue to encourage further immigration to Europe, we pointed to the 'no-go zones' found in certain urban areas of western Europe. Inhabited by significant numbers of immigrants, these areas suffer from notoriously high crime rates and are called 'no-go' because local police and authorities are no longer able to maintain public order and security.
"Critics dismissed it as fiction and denounced us as intolerant or worse. How dare that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán draw a link between immigration and a decline in public security....
"Today, it seems this taboo has been broken. Guess who is talking about 'no-go zones'? Chancellor Angela Merkel. In an interview with the daily news program RTL Aktuell, the German chancellor referred specifically to 'no-go zones.' And she also said this: 'Freedom can only prevail if security is guaranteed.'
"Prime Minister Orbán has been saying virtually the same thing for years now when urging Europe to make border security the first priority. If we cannot defend our borders and maintain our security, he has said, then our hard-won liberties — like the freedom of movement in the EU — will be in jeopardy.
"In addition to calling them by name, Chancellor Merkel pledged to adopt a policy of 'zero tolerance' for no-go zones to get to a place where 'there are no public spaces where no one dares to go.'
"That we're finally calling them by name signals a step in the right direction."
**Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.
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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince will seek clarification from the US over its role in the Middle East
Raghida Dergham/The National/March 17/ 2018
Mohammed bin Salman's American tour arrives at a key moment in US-regional relations, writes Raghida Dergham
The sacking of the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was replaced by CIA chief Mike Pompeo, happened just before the visit this week of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Washington DC. In truth, this represents an opportunity to force some firmness and exactitude into the US administration’s position on Saudi Arabia’s policy lines.
Indeed, Donald Trump’s fickleness has not only affected his administration but also US policy positions as a whole, despite them showing some coherence recently. Some figures in the Trump administration have clashed while others have worked well together. Some continue to try to influence the administration even after they had left the White House, such as Steve Bannon, while others are probably cursing the day they had agreed to work with the administration; perhaps most prominent among those is Mr Tillerson. But his sacking will be relief to some in the region, especially because of what was seen as his erstwhile sympathy for Iran and Qatar.
In contrast, Mr Pompeo is considered one of the hawks when it comes to Iran, while simultaneously being, like Mr Trump, an advocate of strengthening US ties with Saudi Arabia. Yet US policy and the performance of the administration has not instantly become clearer after the mixed signals of Mr Tillerson.
Therefore, in order to be successful, the crown prince’s US tour must seek to diagnose the root of the schizophrenia in US foreign policy and its symptoms. The Saudis must raise obvious and crucial questions, such as what does the US want in the Middle East?
Because without a clear answer, the ambiguity, deliberate or otherwise, might lead to something close to the April Glaspie scenario – the former US ambassador to Iraq who supposedly “lured” Saddam Hussein into the invasion of Kuwait by being vague about Washington’s stance, even suggesting consent. What happened next is history.
It will be crucial for the crown prince to put pressure on the US president and his team to forsake this ambiguity, because the current stage, whether in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in the Middle East, cannot tolerate such an approach. The Saudis have a right to ask Mr Trump and his men for clarity, especially with Mr Pompeo in the State Department now alongside another solid pair of hands, National Security Adviser HR McMaster. For example, the Americans must clarify whether they are true committed partners when it comes to curbing Iranian meddling in Yemen. On this issue, despite the US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley’s tough line, the actual US policy on Yemen remains unfathomably vague.
The Saudis must ask: what does the US want in Yemen? In what ways does it intend to pressure Iran to modify its behaviour in Yemen? Does Washington see Yemen as a strictly Saudi problem, or does Washington see Yemen as a good place to launch a new partnership with Riyadh against Iranian incursions?
The US has also pursued conflicting lines on other pressing issues concerning the region. Today, there is an opportunity with the new team at the state department, especially given the timing of the crown prince’s visit.
HR McMaster has been the most clear of Mr Trump’s circle when it comes to committing to ending the Iranian project in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon. By contrast, the Defence Secretary James Mattis is known in Washington as a liberal, despite being outwardly a conservative and a hawk. But with Mr Tillerson out, with Mr Pompeo’s appointment, and with the coming occupation of the State Department’s still vacant key positions by hawks rather than closeted liberals, Mr McMaster and his ilk could have the upper hand.
No one is guaranteed to remain in their post in the Trump era and reports suggest John Bolton is being groomed to replace Mr McMaster, although this could be part of the psychological warfare accompanying the competition for the administration’s core posts. However, if this turns out to be true, things could get complicated, because while Mr Bolton is tough on Iran he is tame with Israel and its influence on US policies, domestic and foreign, including on Iran itself.
Indeed, informed sources in Washington say that Mr McMaster wants to move quickly and decisively against Iranian projects “but the Israeli strategic thinking is that Israel does not want the Sunni-Shia conflict to end and wants it to last and linger”. For Israel, “as long as Sunni-Shia conflicts are raging and Saudi and Iran are squaring off, Tel Aviv will be let off the hook over having to resolve the Palestinian question, which Israel’s friends in Washington do not want to solve”, sources suggest. In other words, according to these sources, Israel fears that settling the Iranian issue would focus efforts on the Palestinian issue next. And Israel maintains immense influence on US policymakers in Washington.
So what do the Americans really want in the end? An answer to this question must come, at least on the major issues in the Middle East, to prevent ambiguity from causing a major miscalculation, or another April Glaspie moment.

Exclusive: Norah O'Donnell on how CBS landed Saudi Crown Prince interview
O’Donnell. (CBS News/60Minutes)/March 18/18
LONDON: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will arrive in the US this week for high-level meetings with President Donald Trump. But before he visits the White House, the Saudi heir will introduce himself to the American public. On Sunday, the CBS television network will air an interview with the crown prince on its flagship “60 Minutes” current affairs program, and for his first-ever interview with a US broadcaster, no subject was off limits. “There were no time restrictions and no preconditions,” Norah O’Donnell, the CBS anchorwoman who interviewed the crown prince in Riyadh, told Arab News.
“It seemed to me that there was a desire to show the American public what he believes, to show that Saudi Arabia is changing. The crown prince wants the US audience to understand him.”The interview is wide-ranging and remarkably candid, with topics including the war in Yemen and the anti-corruption investigation launched last year at the prince’s behest, which resulted in high-ranking businessmen and officials being detained. “For the first wtime, the crown prince tells in his own words what happened at the Ritz-Carlton. He speaks forcefully about Iran and about the role of women in Saudi society. He also talks about how Islam has been misinterpreted by extremists, whether it has to do with women’s rights or education or larger cultural traditions,” said O’Donnell.
“I think some of that may be newsworthy,” she said.
Bringing the interview to fruition took three years of negotiations. O’Donnell said that in April 2015 she started hearing that King Salman, who had just assumed the Saudi throne, was someone to watch, and she persuaded “60 Minutes” that gaining an interview with the Saudi leadership was an idea worth pursuing. She first met Prince Mohammed bin Salman — then still deputy crown prince — at the Saudi ambassador’s residence in Washington in June 2016. “It was his first visit to Washington. I asked about Vision 2030 and made my pitch for an interview to him in person. He was familiar with ‘60 Minutes’ and we explained that the interview would not just involve meeting in a hotel for 20 minutes. We wanted to come to Riyadh and have unprecedented access to the royal palace. We wanted to know how he spends his weekends and to show him to people.”
The meetings and conversations continued. “We had confidence that we were going to get the interview but no assurance,” said O’Donnell.
The anchorwoman and her production team were finally given the green light a month ago. They also got everything else they wanted: The Saudis neither requested questions in advance nor vetoed any topic of discussion.
“Their attitude was, ‘We have nothing to hide,’” said O’Donnell. “It was extraordinary.”
The formal 90-minute interview was conducted two weeks ago in the royal compound in Diriyah, on the northwestern outskirts of Riyadh, shortly before the crown prince left for his visit to Britain. He chose to speak in Arabic, with simultaneous translation for the American crew.
“Most of the ministers in Saudi Arabia have been educated in the US or England, and there are currently 150,000 Saudis studying in the US, but one of the surprising things about the crown prince is that he is entirely Saudi-educated,” said O’Donnell. “He explained that his father, King Salman, wanted all of them (his children) to attend universities in Saudi Arabia because your time as a student is really formative. I thought that was really interesting.
“In the interview, you see that the crown prince does speak English when we’re meeting in his office, when it’s more casual. But when talking about business and policy, where you want to be very precise, it’s not that surprising that he would want to speak in Arabic.”
And precision was certainly called for in the face of tough questioning on Yemen and Iran. The crown prince was clear that as soon as Iran acquired nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia would follow suit.
“He did not flinch from any questions,” she said.
The encounter was also a first for O’Donnell. The seasoned journalist has covered American politics for 20 years through the administrations of three presidents. Her father served in the First Gulf War and she has long been fascinated by the Middle East. Yet she had never been to Saudi Arabia. What preconceptions did she — and by extension, the American people — have about the country?
“I wouldn’t want to speak for 300 million Americans, but for most, Saudi Arabia is a world away. The general perception of Saudi Arabia is oil and wealth. But Saudi Arabia is also America’s oldest ally in the Middle East, and President Trump chose the country for his first foreign trip as president. Saudi Arabia matters.”
She also met Saudi women at Princess Nora University in Riyadh.
“The women I spoke to told me that the two biggest issues for them were driving and child care. One woman said lifting the driving ban meant that she would be able to get to work on time. She is about to become a surgeon.
“But in lifting the ban, the Saudis are not just saying, ‘OK, you can all go out and get driving licenses now.’ They’re not doing that. Instead, they have set up driving schools in universities and 70,000 women have signed up for those classes. They teach them about safety. And they even have day care.
“It was extraordinary to me because any country can just say, ‘You have these rights,’ but in Saudi Arabia they are actually providing schools to teach women about safety. For a country that has been well behind the curve, they at least appear to be trying to get it right.”
O’Donnell says she also saw how the power of the religious police has been curbed — again by royal decree.
“We did have an encounter with them when they shouted at one of our producers and that was scary. But we also knew that they could not do any more than that.”
Though no dress restrictions were imposed, O’Donnell chose to wear an abaya in public while in Riyadh.
“It felt more comfortable because everyone else was wearing abayas. After all, when the crown prince met Mark Zuckerberg during that trip in 2016, he wore a blazer and jeans.”
And what were her impressions of the young man who is transforming his country?
“He appears quite mature beyond his years, extremely confident, thoughtful and incredibly forthright in his answers. He is ambitious for his country. The fact that he has been elevated within the family at such a young age shows he enjoys the trust of his father, whom he briefs after every meeting.
“He wants to show that Saudi Arabia is changing. There is a desire to show what he believes and what his vision is. We were all fascinated by this young man who is in such a hurry to enact change. The pace of that change is remarkable. He has also been called reckless and bold, and there is no disputing that he has enormous power — unchecked power. But he is a man who believes in openness, who needs to communicate. He doesn’t want to be misunderstood.”

Another Trump Surprise, And It’s Bad News For Iran
Camelia Entekhabifard/Arab News/March 18/18
Another Trump surprise, and it’s bad news for Iran
Since the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump has surprised the world — and the American people — on many occasions. His executive orders restricting travel to the US, changing key aides and officials in his administration, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, none of this was expected by politicians and ordinary people. Only last year, Trump was threatening “fire and fury” against North Korea if its nuclear program endangered the US, terrifying the world with the prospect of a nuclear war. Now he has agreed to direct negotiations with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un. And no sooner had the political establishment recovered from that shock than Trump fired his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson.
The president has nominated Mike Pompeo, the head of the CIA, as Tillerson’s replacement. For both hard-line Republicans in the US Congress and the so-called “moderate” government of Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, the nomination was quickly interpreted as a death sentence for the 2015 deal curbing Iran’s nuclear program. The agreement, reached after almost 10 years of negotiations that began with the Bush administration and concluded in the Obama era, has been irritating President Trump for quite some time, going back to his presidential campaign.
Pompeo frequently expressed his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal when he was a member of the US Congress, and again as head of the CIA; he represents an ultra-republican view that does not support the deal, or even talking to Iran’s clerical dictators.
Pompeo has compared Iran to Daesh, and as head of the CIA he released classified documents associating Iran with the leader of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden. In a speech last October he described Iran as a “thuggish police state,” and has promised to constrain Iran’s investment environment and “roll back” the nuclear deal. With all this history, the arrival of Pompeo at the State Department is bad news for Iran, especially since differences over the nuclear deal were among the reasons Trump fired Tillerson. “When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible,” Trump said. “I guess he thought it was OK. So we were not really thinking the same. With Mike, Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it’s going to go very well.”
The president has nominated Mike Pompeo, the head of the CIA, as Tillerson’s replacement. For both hard-line Republicans in the US Congress and the so-called “moderate” government of Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, the nomination was quickly interpreted as a death sentence for the 2015 deal curbing Iran’s nuclear program.
Does this indicate that Trump intends to withdraw the US from the nuclear deal, or that he wants to make more progress with the changes in the agreement that he has demanded? It’s hard to answer that question, but certainly if the president wanted to exit the deal, he really did not need to get rid of Tillerson — unless he wants to see more speed and progress in the changes he wants. Already the nomination of Pompeo and his clearly stated views on the Iran nuclear accord have had an impact in Iran, and among the EU members who support the deal. In recent days, all sides of the Iranian press, from reformers to hard-liners, have been predicting that the nuclear deal will be over as early as mid-May, and that Pompeo will be the force to execute President Trump’s wishes.
On March 20, Iranians will begin a 13-day public holiday for Nowruz, the Persian new year. By the time they come back to work in early April, Pompeo will have had his confirmation hearings in the US Senate. The first newspapers published in Iran after the new year holidays are unlikely to contain good news for the regime in Tehran. But just as the Iranian leadership has been thrown into a state of panic by Trump’s choice for secretary of state, the leading states in the EU, who also support the nuclear deal, may also be surprised and lost.
They have been engaged recently with more diplomatic efforts to talk to Tehran in an effort to satisfy Trump’s demands for changes to the nuclear deal, and to extract some commitments with which they can buy more time for negotiations to address Iran’s ballistic missile program and regional issues, in order to save the deal in May, even temporarily. It is hard to say how the Europeans would react if the US dismisses the accord, but certainly there will be negotiations before the deadline of May 12 set by Trump for his final decision.
But do not discount the possibility of another “Trump surprise”; just as he did with North Korea, the president may turn all the speculation on its head, and Pompeo may approach Iran directly to turn a new page of diplomacy.
*Camelia Entekhabifard is an Iranian-American journalist, political commentator and author of Camelia: Save Yourself By Telling the Truth (Seven Stories Press, 2008).Twitter: @CameliaFard

Riyadh And Washington Ready To Face Down Iran
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed/Asharq Al Awsat/March 18/18
Before the Saudi crown prince meets the US president on Monday, Europe rushes to reach a conclusion that appears to restrict Iran but, in fact, aims to stop the US attempt to foil the Iran nuclear deal.
The arrival of Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Washington, preceded a week ago by the departure of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, increases Europe’s fear of Washington’s determination to impose sanctions on Iran, which could eventually lead to foiling the deal.
The resolution signed in 2015 by the Iranian regime and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) to endorse the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action has caused the chaos we see today.
Iran agreed to freeze a portion of its nuclear enrichment activities in exchange for reduced economic sanctions. As a result, Iran’s military activity in the region increased. It has also worked on advancing its ballistic missile system, which is capable of carrying and launching a nuclear weapon.
Since that day, everyone has been noticing that the deal has caused more chaos and wars and increased the Iranian regime’s dominance inside and outside Iran; contrary to the West’s perception that Tehran would abandon its hostile policy and focus on development and peace.
The problem does not lie in the deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear program, but in the nature of the Iranian regime itself.
As Donald Trump took office and Prince Mohammed bin Salman came into the picture, and as they announce on Monday that they will unite against Iran, the deal loses its sanctity. Europe can bow to the supreme leader in Tehran and continue to work with him, but the US will have the last word.
The problem does not lie in the deal itself, but in the nature of the Iranian regime. The US is fighting in Iraq and Syria because of Iran’s incursion. Saudi Arabia is fighting in Yemen to defend itself and save Yemen from the Iran-backed coup. Europe, which does not want a confrontation with Iran no matter what the risks, finally discovered that Trump and his allies in the region are determined to foil the deal. Therefore, Europe is trying to please both parties by introducing a new project that restricts Iran’s advancement of its ballistic missiles and puts an end to its activities in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
Europe’s new project, which was leaked to Reuters, vows to impose sanctions on a list of involved individuals, which seems meager, if not theatrical. All those involved in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, army, and intelligence do not live in the West; and thus won’t be affected by the sanctions.
The demands that have been consistently rejected by Europe include imposing further economic sanctions on the Iranian regime and Hezbollah and supporting the forces that fight them on the ground so that the cost of intervention and occupation becomes very high.
Without taking serious steps to contain the Iranian regime, it won’t back off.
Let’s recall the reason why that regime agreed to negotiate and reach an agreement in the first place. Economic sanctions have stifled it until it risked collapsing; so it was forced to request starting negotiations and proposed to stop its nuclear program, even though it used to say that discussing this program and negotiating over it constituted a violation of Iran’s sovereignty.
In the end, the Iranian regime agreed to sit and negotiate its nuclear program and signed the deal, but the Western negotiators have come up with an urgent project that was born deformed.
Trump and Prince Mohammed aim to reform the deal and not foil it if it ends the 40 years of chaos and funding armed groups in the region. This means the deal will not be limited to controlling the rate of nuclear enrichment, but will also stop Iran’s program that spreads violence and chaos, and hence end all wars in the region.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.
Twitter: @aalrashed