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Germany warns US of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Germany's foreign minister has urged the White House of taking the decision, saying it "does not calm a conflict." Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Donald Trump called to tell him he plans to recognize Jerusalem. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Tuesday warned the US about the dangers of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. "Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel does not calm a conflict, rather it fuels it even more," Gabriel said. "It's in everyone's interest that this does not happen." Read more: Arab world warns US not to recognize Jerusalem as Israeli capital Gabriel's remarks come as the White House has suggested it may take the decision to relocate its embassy and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. On Tuesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said US President Donald Trump called to inform him of plans to move the US embassy, reported the Palestinian Authority's official news agency. Abbas "warned of the dangerous repercussions of such step on the (long-stalled) peace process, security and stability in the region and the world," said Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh. The Jerusalem question The status of Jerusalem has been a key stumbling block during previous peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, in particular regarding the question of how to divide sovereignty and oversee holy sites. Another major issue is illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Read more: 'Palestinians want reconciliation' between Fatah and Hamas The international community has never recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital or its unilateral annexation of territory around the city's eastern sector, which it captured during the 1967 Six-Day War. However, Israeli officials have urged the Trump administration to take the decision. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman called on the White House to take the "historic opportunity" to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, saying he hopes to "see an American embassy here in Jerusalem next week or next month."

Germany’s foreign minister has urged the White House of taking the decision, saying it “does not calm a conflict.” Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Donald Trump called to tell him he plans to recognize Jerusalem. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Tuesday warned the US about the dangers of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. “Recognizing Jerusalem ... Read More »

Ireland border dispute blocks Brexit deal, threatening a political crisis

In the wake of a collapsed deal, Britain's chief negotiator said there will be no special status for Northern Ireland. A "hard border" dividing the island of Ireland would have a profound political and economic impact. David Davis, Britain's chief Brexit negotiator, on Tuesday said Northern Ireland will not receive special treatment within the UK in the wake of the country's formal divorce with the EU. A deal on the border between the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state, and Northern Ireland, which forms part of the UK, collapsed at the last minute on Monday when the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) announced it would not accept the accord. Read more: Northern Ireland's fragile peace 'all about the border' According to a draft text, the UK would have ensured "continued regulatory alignment" between Northern Ireland and its EU neighbor, Ireland. 'Regulatory divergence' But DUP leader Arelene Foster said the party, which keeps May's government in power, "will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically" from the UK. "That is emphatically not something the United Kingdom government is considering," Davis told parliament after May met with DUP colleagues on Tuesday. "We will not be treating one part of the United Kingdom differently from any other part." The DUP's lack of support for the deal caught May's government off guard minutes before it was expected to be announced. However, May remained optimistic, telling reporters on Monday that a deal could be hashed out before a mid-December EU summit, where European leaders will decide whether to advance talks on post-Brexit trade. Why is the Irish border an issue? Thousands of Irish and British citizens in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland cross the border every day for work. Irish government figures show that more than 100,000 British citizens live in the EU member state. Ireland exported €15.6 billion ($18.44 billion) of goods to the UK, while imports of goods from the country amounted to €18 billion, approximately a quarter of all imports to the EU member state. A "hard border" could threaten the Good Friday Agreement that calmed decades of sectarian violence on the island of Ireland. The DUP was the only major political party in Northern Ireland to oppose the agreement, which has ensured peace since it went into effect in 1999. The UK and EU are attempting to hash out an agreement that will prevent a "hard border" from being implemented in the wake of Brexit, which would have a profound political, economic and financial impact on both sides. 'Keep the UK in the single market' Meanwhile, political parties across the UK have called for May's government to offer a different approach to Brexit, one that would ensure equal status across the kingdom. "This could be the moment for opposition and Brexit/remain Tories to force a different, less damaging approach – keep the UK in the single market and customs union," said Nicola Sturgeon, who leads Scotland's devolved government, in a tweet. Read more: Brexit poll: Half of Britons support second referendum "But it needs Labour to get its act together. How about it Jeremy Corbyn?" she added, referring to the leader of Britain's main opposition party. Keir Starmer, the Labour party's Brexit spokesman, told parliament on Tuesday that the collapse of a deal was an "embarrassment" and showed that May's government was in a "coalition of chaos." "Yesterday, the rubber hit the road: Fantasy met brutal reality. Will the prime minister now rethink her reckless red lines and put options such as a customs union and single market back on the table for negotiation?" asked Starmer. May has repeatedly insisted that the Brexit means that the UK will no longer be part of the EU single market and customs union when it leaves the block on March 29, 2019.

In the wake of a collapsed deal, Britain’s chief negotiator said there will be no special status for Northern Ireland. A “hard border” dividing the island of Ireland would have a profound political and economic impact. David Davis, Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator, on Tuesday said Northern Ireland will not receive special treatment within the UK in the wake of the ... Read More »

North Korea: UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman visits Pyongyang

The UN's Undersecretary-General Jeffrey Feltman is leading the organization's highest-level visit to Pyongyang in more than six years. It comes amid massive war games on the peninsula and after a successful missile test. The United Nation's political affairs chief was flying into Pyongyang on Tuesday for a rare, four-day visit to North Korea. Undersecretary-General Jeffrey Feltman's trip will be the highest-level UN visit to the nation in more than six years as tensions with the US ratcheted even higher. Feltman will discuss "issues of mutual concern" and meet with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, Vice Minister Pak Myong Guk, diplomats and UN staff in the country, a spokesman said. The UN said it was unable to say whether he would also meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Read more: Which countries have diplomatic relations with North Korea? It will be Feltman's first visit to North Korea since he took office five years ago, and the first by a UN undersecretary-general in more than seven years. Dozens of people hold the title of undersecretary-general, but seniority varies greatly. The last senior UN officials to visit North Korea were Feltman's predecessor Lynn Pascoe in February 2010 and former UN aid chief Valerie Amos in October 2011, according to the UN. 'Long standing invitation' The UN said Feltman was visiting in response to "a long-standing invitation from the authorities in Pyongyang for a policy dialogue with the UN." His visit comes less than a week after North Korea test-fired a new ballistic missile that it said was capable of reaching the US mainland. His visit also comes just a day after the US and South Korea launched their biggest-ever joint military aviation exercises — a five-day drill involving 230 aircraft and tens of thousands of troops. Pyongyang described the maneuvers as an "all-out provocation" that would bring the region to "the brink of nuclear war." Russia and China wanted the drills canceled. The US State Department said it was "aware" of the trip, when asked if Washington backed the initiative. "The United States will continue to work with other countries, including the members of the UN Security Council, to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on [North Korea] to convince the regime to abandon its illegal nuclear weapons and missile development programs," the official added. "It is imperative that the countries of the world present North Korea with a unified, unambiguous response to its unlawful provocations." Prelude to Gutteres visit? When asked if the trip was in preparation of a possible visit by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, a UN spokesman said: "We hope to have more afterwards." North Korea has been subject to UN sanctions since 2006 over its missile and nuclear programs.

The UN’s Undersecretary-General Jeffrey Feltman is leading the organization’s highest-level visit to Pyongyang in more than six years. It comes amid massive war games on the peninsula and after a successful missile test. The United Nation’s political affairs chief was flying into Pyongyang on Tuesday for a rare, four-day visit to North Korea. Undersecretary-General Jeffrey Feltman’s trip will be the ... Read More »

Sigmar Gabriel: To survive, the EU must become more assertive

جرمن وزیر خارجہ نے کہا ہے کہ یورپ کو اپنے مفادات اور اقدار کے تحفظ کے لیے زیادہ فیصلہ کن کردار ادا کرنا ہوگا اور اگر ضروری ہو تو امریکا کے خلاف بھی کھڑا ہونے سے گریز نہ کیا جائے۔ جرمن وزیر خارجہ زیگمار گابرئیل کا دارالحکومت برلن میں خارجہ پالیسی کی کانفرنس سے خطاب کرتے ہوئے کہنا تھا، ’’امریکا کا عالمی غلبہ اب آہستہ آہستہ تاریخ کا حصہ بنتا جا رہا ہے۔‘‘ ان کا خبردار کرتے ہوئے کہنا تھا کہ عالمی سطح پر پیدا ہونے والے خلا کو پُر نہ کرنا انتہائی خطرناک ثابت ہو سکتا ہے۔ جرمنوں کی نظر میں ٹرمپ شمالی کوریا اور روس سے زیادہ بڑا خطرہ زیگمار نے واضح کیا کہ امریکا اب بھی یورپ کا قریبی اتحادی رہے گا لیکن واشنگٹن کے ساتھ اختلافات پر بات کی جانی چاہیے اور اسے سرخ لائن عبور کرنے کی اجازت نہیں دی جانی چاہیے۔ جرمن وزیر خارجہ نے خاص طور پر روس کے خلاف امریکی پابندیوں کا حوالہ دیا، جس کی وجہ سے یورپ میں توانائی کی کمپنیوں کو مشکلات کا سامنا ہے۔ اسی طرح انہوں نے ایران کے ساتھ ہونے والے جوہری معاہدے کا دفاع کرتے ہوئے کہا کہ امریکی صدر کو یہ معاہدہ ختم کرنے کی اجازت نہیں دی جانی چاہیے۔ جرمن وزیر خارجہ نے امریکا کی مشرق وسطیٰ کے حوالے سے نئی پالیسی پر بھی تنقید کی۔ ان کا کہنا تھا اگر امریکا نے یروشلم کو اسرائیل کا دارالحکومت تسلیم کیا تو مشرق وسطیٰ میں ایک نیا تنازعہ سر اٹھا لے گا۔ ماحولیاتی معاہدہ، امریکا دنیا میں تنہائی کا شکار جرمنی اور امریکا کے مابین شدید اختلافات کا آغاز ڈونلڈ ٹرمپ کے صدر بننے کے بعد ہوا تھا۔ ٹرمپ نے صدر بنتے ہی جرمنی کے امریکا کے ساتھ ٹریڈ سرپلس پر تنقید کی تھی اور برلن حکومت کو نیٹو اتحاد کے لیے اضافی رقم ادا کرنے کا کہا تھا۔ اس کے بعد واشنگٹن اور برلن حکومت کے مابین اس وقت بھی اختلافات دیکھنے میں آئے تھے، جب امریکا نے پیرس عالمی ماحولیاتی معاہدے سے نکل جانے کا اعلان کیا تھا۔ جرمن وزیر خارجہ کے مطابق صدر ڈونلڈ ٹرمپ نے ’امریکا سب سے پہلے‘ کی پالیسی اپنا رکھی ہے اور اس وجہ سے عالمی سیاست میں اس کا کردار پہلے جیسا نہیں رہا۔ زیگمار کا زور دیتے ہوئے کہنا تھا کہ جرمنی کو اب امریکا پر اپنا انحصار کم سے کم کرنا ہوگا اور عالمی سیاست میں بھی اپنے کردار کو بڑھانا ہوگا۔

Sigmar Gabriel declared at a foreign policy forum that relations with the US will “never be the same” after Trump. He warned institutions like the EU and the UN that they were running the risk of becoming irrelevant. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel offered a bleak view of international relations and Germany’s place in the new world order at the ... Read More »

Russia pledges to defend its athletes as IOC mulls blanket ban over doping

A spokesman for the Kremlin has said that Russia will continue to defend its athletes against doping allegations. The statement came as the IOC board was meeting to discuss a possible Olympic ban on Russian athletes. Speaking to reporters in a conference call on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow will defend its athletes against doping allegations contained in a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report that was released last year. At the same time though, he stressed that the Kremlin was determined to maintain good relations with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). "We intend to defend the interests of our athletes, of the Russian Federation, to remain committed to the ideals of Olympism and preserve all ties with the IOC, and through these ties the problems that have arisen will be resolved," Peskov said. Peskov previously said that Russia was not planning to boycott the Olympics if the IOC imposed restrictions on the country's participation at the Winter Games, which are to open in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on February 9. IOC executive board meets Peskov's latest statement came as the IOC executive board gathered in Lausanne to discuss how to respond to evidence of state-sponsored doping at the highest level of Russian sports, which was outlined in the WADA-commissioned report compiled by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren. The executive board was to be presented with a report from one of two commissions set up to deal with the issue and the IOC's German president, Thomas Bach, was expected to announced what, if any, sanctions would be imposed on Russia later in the day. Anti-doping activists are demanding that the IOC impose a blanket ban on Russian athletes competing in Pyeongchang, but there has been speculation that it could opt for a softer option. Among the possible sanctions are a fine or allowing clean Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag. Over the past few weeks the IOC has issued lifetime bans to 25 Russian athletes who competed at the Sochi Games, based on the reanalysis of doping test samples from 2014. Among them is Olga Zaitseva, who won silver in the women's biathlon relay in Sochi.

A spokesman for the Kremlin has said that Russia will continue to defend its athletes against doping allegations. The statement came as the IOC board was meeting to discuss a possible Olympic ban on Russian athletes. Speaking to reporters in a conference call on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow will defend its athletes against doping allegations contained in ... Read More »

Russia ‘increasing oil exports’ to North Korea

At a time when the United States is calling for more restrictions on fuel exports to North Korea, Russia may be attempting to avoid the total collapse of the regime in Pyongyang. Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo. The price of diesel oil and gasoline in North Korea has dropped sharply in the last month, according to reports from within the isolated republic, with Russia apparently stepping up supplies in spite of international efforts to isolate the regime of Kim Jong Un and force Pyongyang to abandon its development of nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles. According to "citizen journalists" who report on events inside North Korea for the Osaka-based Asia Press International (API) news agency, fuel prices began to fall in November after several months of fluctuations. Reports put the price of one kilogram of diesel oil at US$0.82 (0.7 euros) now, down 60 percent from early November, while gasoline is being sold for around $2 (1.68 euros) per one kilogram, down 25 percent. The sharp declines come despite increasingly stiff sanctions imposed on Pyongyang, including measures designed specifically to limit the amount of fuel that North Korea can obtain. Resolution 2375, adopted by the United Nations Security Council shortly after the North's sixth underground nuclear test on September 3, singled out fuel supplies for sanctions, and the US government has since stepped up its calls for China to halt the flow of oil over the border. Oil over the border One of API's correspondents claims, however, that "massive amounts" of fuel are coming into the border province of Yanggang from Russia. "It is difficult to know exactly how much fuel is getting into North Korea, but it does appear that Russia has recently been supplying Pyongyang with fuel," said James Brown, an associate professor of international relations and an expert on Russia-North Korean trade at the Tokyo campus of Temple University. "It appears that Russia, in particular, but also China, are losing patience with the US," he told DW. "They feel that they have done their part in putting new pressure on North Korea but that Washington should be doing more." While Beijing and Moscow supported sanctions in the autumn, North Korea went for more than two months without launching any missiles, Brown points out. Yet Washington made it clear that it was going ahead with joint US-South Korea air exercises, which began in South Korean air space on Monday. When the US confirmed that the largest ever joint air exercises - 230 aircraft practicing attacks on North Korea's nuclear facilities and missiles bases - would proceed as planned, Pyongyang resumed missile launches. The intercontinental ballistic missile launched on November 29 is understood to have a range of around 13,000 km, putting anywhere in the US within range. Read more: North Korea: UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman visits Pyongyang Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump discuss Syria, Ukraine, North Korea in hour-plus call Hurting the North "Russia may very well feel that the US provoked the most recent missile test by the North and it is not at all clear that Beijing and Moscow will help cut off all fuel supplies because that that represents the 'nuclear option' that would really hurt the North," Brown said. "And while that is exactly what the US wants, Russia is extremely wary of the consequences of the North collapsing," he added. Moscow's concerns include conflict breaking out on its Far East border, a sudden influx of vast numbers of refugees or a civil war in the North in which numerous players are vying to win control of the country's nuclear weapons. Daniel Pinkston, a professor of international relations at the Seoul campus of Troy University, agrees that there are indications that Moscow is trying to "stabilize" the situation in North Korea in order to avoid a collapse, while some point out that restricting deliveries of fuel oil during the North's notoriously harsh winters would inevitably have a humanitarian cost on ordinary people. "There is also the argument that if the North Korean leadership feels that the screws are being tightened too much and that their situation is deteriorating and there are no prospects of it improving, then they might take some kind of coercive, kinetic action to change that situation," he said. Read more: US military base in South Korea mired in corruption scandal Escalate a way out "Even if they accept that they are in a relatively weakened position and have no chance of winning an all-out war, it is possible that they might try to escalate their way out of a deteriorating situation with the threat of some kind of action in return for concessions." There are also suggestions that Russian policy in the Far East is being shaped by President Vladimir Putin's hostility towards the West over the conflict in the Ukraine, while relations between Moscow and Washington are uncomfortable due to allegations of Russia meddling in the US elections. In addition, Brown points out that if Russia is able to obtain some kind of economic leverage over North Korea, it might give Moscow leverage that could be used to encourage the US to drop its hostility. "Similarly, that leverage might be used to encourage Pyongyang to dial back the aggression, making Moscow appear as the "responsible stakeholder in the region," he added.

At a time when the United States is calling for more restrictions on fuel exports to North Korea, Russia may be attempting to avoid the total collapse of the regime in Pyongyang. Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo. The price of diesel oil and gasoline in North Korea has dropped sharply in the last month, according to reports from within the ... Read More »

Deutsche Bank subpoenaed to provide Trump accounts’ data

Special counsel Robert Mueller has asked Deutsche Bank to share data on the US president's business dealings, as his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the US election widens. A person familiar with Mueller's investigation told the news agency Reuters on Tuesday that Germany's largest bank received a subpoena from the US special counsel several weeks ago to provide information on certain money and credit transactions, confirming a report by German daily Handelsblatt published on the same day. Read more: Donald Trump owes Deutsche Bank big bucks Deutsche Bank has loaned the Trump organization an estimated $300 million (€253 million) for its real estate dealings prior to Donald Trump becoming president. The lender said Tuesday it would not comment on any of its clients, adding that Deutsche Bank "always cooperates with investigating authorities in all countries." Mueller is investigating alleged Russian attempts to influence the 2016 US presidential election and potential collusion by Trump aides. Russia has denied meddling in the election and Trump has called the special counsel's investigation a "witch hunt." Dealings with Russia suspected In June, Deutsche Bank already rejected demands by US House Democrats to provide details of Trump's finances, saying sharing client data would be illegal unless it received a formal request to do so. Read more: Trump releases financial disclosure for 2016 Representative Maxine Waters of California and other Democrats have asked whether the bank's loans to Trump, made years before he ran for president, were in any way connected to Russia. Deutsche Bank faces questions about a series of so-called Russian mirror trades, in which it allegedly helped Russian clients move money out of the country. Those trades are being investigated in multiple probes in the US and Europe. The Mueller investigation now wants the bank to detail any ties between those trades or other Russian financing as it seeks to identify anyone connected to Donald Trump, his family or advisers. Read more: Russian tax authorities homing in on Deutsche Bank Trump's relationship with Deutsche Bank stretches back some two decades and the roughly $300 million he owes to the bank represents nearly half of his outstanding debt, according to a July 2016 analysis compiled by Bloomberg news agency. That figure includes a $170-million loan Trump took out to finish a hotel in Washington. He also has two mortgages against his Trump National Doral Miami resort and a loan against his tower in Chicago. An internal investigation carried out by Deutsche Bank didn't yield any evidence of connections between the client relationship with Trump and the bank's mirror trades affair, a person briefed on the matter said.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has asked Deutsche Bank to share data on the US president’s business dealings, as his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the US election widens. A person familiar with Mueller’s investigation told the news agency Reuters on Tuesday that Germany’s largest bank received a subpoena from the US special counsel several weeks ago to provide information ... Read More »

Lebanon’s premier Saad Hariri rescinds shock resignation

After Lebanon's cabinet reaffirmed an official policy of remaining neutral in regional conflicts, Saad Hariri has withdrawn his resignation. He is expected to attend talks in Paris with US and French diplomats. Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Haririsaid on Tuesday that he was revoking his resignation after his surprise announcement that he was stepping down prompted a political crisis in the country. Hariri said he changed his mind about quitting after receiving assurances from other members of government that they would not meddle in foreign conflicts. "The Lebanese government, in all its political components, has committed to distance itself from all conflicts, wars, and internal affairs of Arab states," said a cabinet statement read out loud by Hariri. The cabinet reaffirmed its official policy of "disassociation" from regional rivalries. Iran backs the Shiite group Hezbollah, which is part of the Lebanese government. Saudi Arabia has accused the powerful armed group of fermenting conflict in the region. Hariri also announced that he will travel o Paris on Friday to meet with French diplomats and the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for talks on the recent upheaval. Regional rivalry The crisis was kicked off last month when Hariri announced his shock resignation while abroad in Saudi Arabia. Hariri's planned departure was seen as the latest fallout from the proxy war between Sunni-majority Saudia Arabia and Shiite-majority Iran, who back different sides in Syria and Yemen's civil wars. This rivalry has sometimes pitted Hariri against President Michel Aoun. The tension between Hariri and President Aoun also centers around their diverging stances on the militant group Hezbollah, which has supported President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian conflict, as has Iran. Although he is a Christian, Aoun has taken a sympathetic view of the Islamist Hezbollah. Hariri, however, who is friendlier towards Saudi Arabia and has sent his children to school there, has a darker history with the group — his father, former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, was killed in a bombing blamed on Hezbollah in 2005. Some Lebanese officials have said that Riyadh forced Hariri to tender his resignation, although Saudi Arabia has denied this. Last week, Hariri told French magazine Paris Match that he lives in "constant fear of his life" from agents of the Assad regime.

After Lebanon’s cabinet reaffirmed an official policy of remaining neutral in regional conflicts, Saad Hariri has withdrawn his resignation. He is expected to attend talks in Paris with US and French diplomats. Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Haririsaid on Tuesday that he was revoking his resignation after his surprise announcement that he was stepping down prompted a political crisis in the ... Read More »

Israel and Saudi Arabia: New best friends in the Middle East?

In light of a shared perception of threat from Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia have opened a new chapter in diplomatic relations. The move could lead to an entirely new political power balance in the Middle East. In mid-November, Gadi Eizenkot, the chief of general staff of Israel's defense forces, landed a media coup. He described, in broad terms, how he viewed his country's relations with Iran on one side and Saudi Arabia on the other. He did so in an interview with the Saudi Arabian website Elaph. Journalist Othman Al Omeir, who owns Elaph, also has very close ties to the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. That newspaper, in turn, is owned by the Saudi king. Thus, Eizenkot had pushed forth into the heart of the Saudi media scene. Read more: Saudi Arabia vs. Iran - from 'twin pillars' to proxy wars Eizenkot explained that Israel was prepared to share information as well as intelligence material with moderate Arab states in order to counter Iran. He answered the question of whether Israel had already shared intelligence with Saudi Arabia by quoting from a letter of intent: "We are prepared to share information when necessary. We have many common interests." He did, however, make one thing crystal clear: Iran is viewed by Israel as the "greatest threat to the region." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also addressed a possible reorientation of Israeli-Saudi relations, albeit in general terms, and without directly referring to Saudi Arabia. Speaking at a memorial service on the occasion of the 44th anniversary of the death of Israel's founding father, David Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu talked of the "fruitful cooperation between Israel and the Arab world." He declined to go into detail but said he was confident that relations would grow. "This will enable us to continue working toward peace." Rhetorical concessions It appears that both countries are being particularly careful about communicating mutual rapprochement through unofficial channels. The fact that Eizenkot granted Elaph an interview can be seen as evidence of a deliberately defensive PR strategy. Anwar Ashki, a former general in the Saudi army, expressed himself in similar fashion. He emphasized that relations between both countries were only unofficial at this point, when speaking on DW's Arabic language show Massalya. Yet Ashki also led an Arab delegation visiting Jerusalem in July 2016. There, the delegation met with members of Israel's parliament, the Knesset. Officially, the talks conducted by both sides were about lending new impulses to the Saudi-led Arab Peace Initiative, which began in 2002 and is designed to ease tensions between Israel and the Arab world. Speaking on Massalya, Ashki underscored the fact that he had not been in Israel but rather in Jerusalem, "the capital of the Palestinians." Such statements are intended as concessions to broad swaths of the Arab world that must first get used to this new tone after decades of military and propaganda confrontation. Nevertheless, Ashki said that Saudi citizens are ready for rapprochement. The reason for this shift in public opinion is obvious. "It was not Israel that fired rockets at us, it was Iran," he said. "It is they who threaten our national security." Unsettling threat scenarios Ashki was referring to the latest escalation in the US-backed war that Saudi Arabia has been waging against Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen for the last two-and-a-half years. In early November, the rebels fired rockets on the Saudi capital Riyadh from Yemeni territory. The missiles were intercepted by the Saudi air force. The Saudi government suspects that Iran, which supplied the rebels with rockets, of being behind the attack. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has continually ratcheted up diplomatic tension with Iran, positing the country as a threat to the kingdom's national security.

In light of a shared perception of threat from Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia have opened a new chapter in diplomatic relations. The move could lead to an entirely new political power balance in the Middle East. In mid-November, Gadi Eizenkot, the chief of general staff of Israel’s defense forces, landed a media coup. He described, in broad terms, how ... Read More »

Germany’s CDU/CSU want to review starting Syria deportations

German states led by parties in Angela Merkel's conservative Union have backed plans to begin deporting Syrians back to Syria starting in mid-2018. The proposal relates mainly to criminals and rejected asylum seekers. State interior ministers from the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), want to restart Syrian deportations in mid-2018, according to a report by the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND) newspaper group. The draft proposal from the CDU-led eastern state of Saxony is expected to be discussed at next week's conference of interior ministers in Leipzig in December. Ministers of different political parties representing all of Germany's federal states will be present. According to the RND, which has seen the document, the plan has the backing of all federal states run by Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU. A spokesman for German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere, who will also attend the Leipzig meeting, said there was no way people would be sent back to Syria "today, tomorrow, or next week" because the security situation on the ground had not changed. Reassessing security in Syria A moratorium on sending Syrians back home, in place in Germany since 2012, expired in September this year. CDU/CSU lawmakers say they want to extend that deadline to June 30, 2018, after which time deportations could theoretically resume. That time frame has been rejected by interior ministers from the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). Instead, they want the halt on deportations to continue until at least the end of 2018. "The Union-led interior ministries' demand is cynical in view of the futile situation and ongoing death and destruction in Syria," Lower Saxony's Interior Minister Boris Pistorius of the SPD told RND. He described the initiative as a "questionable" attempt to court the right. Read more: Syrian refugees in Germany contemplate return home At the upcoming conference, Germany's state ministers will discuss whether the federal government should undertake a full re-evaluation of the Syria's security situation. A spokesman for De Maiziere said the minister was open to such a review. "How we proceed will depend on the outcome of the assessment," Saxon Interior Minister Markus Ulbig told the German Press Agency, adding that the plan aimed specifically to allow "perpetrators and people who have committed serious crimes to be sent back." A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office was skeptical: "There is still a long way to go before there is peace and a settlement to resolve the conflict in Syria," she said. The German Embassy in Damascus, which had played a central role in evalutating Syria's security situation, has been closed since 2012. As a result, the government has relied upon information from Germany's diplomatic missions in Ankara, Turkey and Beirut, Lebanon, when assessing conditions in Syria. Read more: The dark side of Germany's deportation policy There are currently around 650,000 Syrian refugees living in Germany. Chancellor Merkel has been under pressure to bring those numbers down following the arrival of more than a million migrants — mainly from Syria and Afghanistan — since 2015. The war in Syria has killed around 400,000 people and displaced millions since 2011. Rival military campaigns supported by the United States and Russia have helped drive the militant group, "Islamic State" (IS), from its last strongholds in the country. However, UN-brokered peace talks aimed at ending the conflict have yet to reach a breakthrough. President Bashar Assad is determined to stay in power, while the opposition demands he step down. Read more: Two years since Germany opened its borders to refugees Controversial Afghanistan decision In October 2016, Germany and Afghanistan reached a deal on repatriating failed asylum seekers, with the first deportation flights heading to Kabul last December. A total of 128 people, mostly young men, have been sent back since then. The relocations were briefly suspended after a truck bomb attack in Kabul in May killed 150 people and wounded 300 others. The flights resumed in September. The decision sparked protests, with critics arguing Germany should not deport Afghans while the Taliban continues to step-up its attacks against civilians and security officials. Rights group Amnesty International warned European governments last month that a surge of failed Afghan asylum seekers "forcibly" returned are at risk of torture, kidnapping and death. Any future decision in Germany to resume deporting Syrian citizens is likely to be met with similar objections.

German states led by parties in Angela Merkel’s conservative Union have backed plans to begin deporting Syrians back to Syria starting in mid-2018. The proposal relates mainly to criminals and rejected asylum seekers. State interior ministers from the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), want to restart Syrian deportations in mid-2018, ... Read More »

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