English LCCC Newsbulletin For Lebanese, Lebanese Related, Global News & Editorials
For March 29/2023
Compiled & Prepared by: Elias Bejjani

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15 آذار/2023

Bible Quotations For today
Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.
Luke 11/37-41: “While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table.The Pharisee was amazed to see that he did not first wash before dinner. Then the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? So give for alms those things that are within; and see, everything will be clean for you.”

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on March 28-29/2023
Political dispute dissolves joint parliamentary committees’ session
Sanctities disrespected' in joint committees session
Committees session marred by Zoaiter-Khalaf and Khalil-Gemayel clashes
Report: US, Europe, Arabs to sanction presidential vote obstructers
Bou Saab says Bassil, others incited sectarianism over clock change
Bouchikian, Al-Sabbah sign MOU to support Lebanon's drama production
Lebanese citizens face dollar dilemma at gas stations
Exchange rate roulette: Public sector employees anxiously await payment rates
Change MPs say Geagea part of system, 'another face of Hezbollah'
Lebanon expects 350,000 people to arrive in April for the holidays
Lebanese electricity bills to be issued monthly starting March
Berri broaches general situation with Minister of Economy
Lebanon joins Expo 2023 Doha, Qatar as a participating country
UN Secretary General renews mandate of Philippe Lazzarini as UNRWA Commissioner-General to March 2026

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 28-29/2023
Pope sends thousands of medicines to Turkey for earthquake victims
US, UK Sanction 6 Syria-Linked Amphetamine Traffickers
USA imposes sanctions on two of Assad's relatives and on other, Lebanese and Syrian, drug traffickers, including Muhammad Dago and Noah Zuaiter
Iran’s Raisi Vows to Overcome Challenges, Blames Predecessor for Economic ‘Imbalance’
Tehran: No Limit on Promotion of Ties with Neighbors
Canada Imposes New Sanctions against Iran
Door on nuclear talks still open, but not forever: Iran FM
Egypt to allow Iranians visas on arrival in Sinai as regional tensions ease
Türkiye Says Iraq Was Ordered to Pay Compensation to Ankara in Arbitration Case
Even Putin’s allies are turning against him
Poland Wants Tougher EU Sanctions on Belarus After Nuclear Move
Russian soldiers say they were sent into battle with 'blocking' units behind them to stop them from retreating
China's Xi speaks with Saudi crown prince, supports Saudi-Iran talks
Russia's newest army corps lost many of its tanks in an offensive because it simply copied tactics that failed in the past, UK intel says
Justin Trudeau has let Beijing deep into Canadian politics
‘Extremist’ minister to get ‘personal militia’, Israeli ex-police chief warns
French authorities raid banks in massive tax fraud case
France sees new pension protests, police brace for violence

Titles For The Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on March 28-29/2023
The Twilight of an Old US in a New World/Nadim Koteich/Asharq Al Awsat/March, 28/2023
The Potential Trump Indictment is Unwise/David French/The New York Times/Tuesday, 28 March, 2023
National Security Threat: Another Latin American Country Chooses China/Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute./March 28, 2023
Iraq, 20 years later: no accountability and no lessons learned/James J. Zogby/The Arab Weekly/March 28/2023
Dialogue offers hope for de-escalation of Israeli-Palestinian crisis/Nickolay Mladenov/The Arab Weekly/March 28/2023

Latest English LCCC Lebanese & Lebanese Related News & Editorials published on March 28-29/2023
Political dispute dissolves joint parliamentary committees’ session

NNA/March 28/2023
Parliamentary committees on Tuesday held a joint session at the House of Parliament headed by Deputy House Speaker, Elias Bou Saab, in presence of Caretaker ministers of interior and finance, Bassam Mawlawi and Youssef Al-Khalil, and a number of MPs and representatives of concerned institutions.
Eight items were on today’s agenda, including a law proposal for an additional general budget appropriation of approximately LBP 1500 billion to cover the expenses of municipal elections for the year 2023. In the wake of the session Bou Saab said, "It seems that no one has a problem with municipal and mayoral elections being held; on April 3, 2023, the Minister of Interior will call for municipal elections, but there are many things that must be taken into account before doing so.”Bou Saab added that “a political dispute led to the adjournment of the session, which witnessed a tensed atmosphere. This shall never lead us to rational solutions. God willing, we will eventually reach an understanding because the country is at the threshold of a total collapse.“

'Sanctities disrespected' in joint committees session
Naharnet/March 28/2023
Kataeb party leader Sami Gemayel asked Parliament Speaker to act after "sanctities were disrespected" in a joint committees session on Tuesday. "What happened could have pushed the country to a dangerous place," Gemayel said, as he vaguely accused Amal MP Ali Hassan Khalil, without naming him, of losing his temper during the session. Reporters who heard shouting, slurs and banging on tables asked Gemayel to give details but the latter refused, saying that the session was recorded and calling for the release of the recordings. Gemayel said he puts the matters in Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's hands, asking him to take a stance to correct what happened. "If Berri accepts it, that would be a big problem but if it's a personal incident, we are ready to put it behind us," Gemayel said. Khalil for his part said that some MPs have crossed their limits and that it was necessary to respond, blaming Gemayel for the verbal clash. "We will not accept to be dragged into divisive rhetoric," Khalil said, adding that he does not regret what he said. Al-Jadeed TV later reported that Berri held phone talks with Gemayel after the latter’s remarks and that Deputy Speaker Elias Bou Saab held separate meetings with Gemayel and Khalil.

Committees session marred by Zoaiter-Khalaf and Khalil-Gemayel clashes

Naharnet/March 28/2023
A Joint Parliamentary Committees session witnessed verbal clashes between lawmakers on Tuesday. Al-Jadeed television said shouting, slurs and banging on tables were heard after a clash erupted between MP Ghazi Zoaiter of the Amal Movement and MP Melhem Khalaf of the Change bloc. “The clash broke out after Zoaiter objected to Khalaf’s call for electing a president,” a parliamentary source told the TV network. The session also witnessed a verbal clash between MPs Sami Gemayel and Ali Hassan Khalil. And as MP Hadi Abou al-Hosn described the atmosphere as “tense,” MP Paula Yacoubian said: “It seems that they want to make a mini civil war in order to postpone the municipal elections.”

Report: US, Europe, Arabs to sanction presidential vote obstructers
Naharnet/March 28/2023
The United States and Europe will impose sanctions on those obstructing the election of a new president, al-Akhbar newspaper said. The daily reported Tuesday that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf has informed the Lebanese leaders she met in Lebanon about the sanctions. Leaf had met Friday with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat and pressed them on the urgent need to elect a president, form a government, and implement critical economic reforms to set Lebanon on the path to stability and prosperity, the U.S. department of state said. "The only direct message that Leaf delivered to the Lebanese leaders is that there will be European, American and Arab sanctions on the presidential vote obstructers," the daily said, adding that Leaf had stressed that her country will accept any elected president and has no specific candidates.

Bou Saab says Bassil, others incited sectarianism over clock change
Naharnet/March 28/2023
Deputy Speaker Elias Bou Saab criticized his bloc's chief Jebran Bassil for his reaction to the caretaker Prime Minister's decision to delay shifting to summer time. "Bassil made a mistake when he used certain words," Bou Saab told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper in remarks published Tuesday. "One cannot respond to a wrong administrative decision with a rhetoric that incites sectarian instincts," he said, adding that he knows that it was not "intentional". Bassil had said Sunday in a tensed speech that "they want a president who would separate Lebanon from the world, the same as they have separated it from global timing with an arbitrary decision, turning the problem into a sectarian one.”“You want to run the country the same as you deal with the clock issue, but we will not let you!” the Free Patriotic Movement chief added. Bou Saab blamed Mikati alone for the "unconsidered" decision, but also criticized the sectarian reactions, condemning "the sectarian incitement that came with the decision, from different sides." Lebanon had been scheduled to roll clocks forward by one hour last weekend, but authorities then announced in a surprise move late last week that the switch would be delayed by about a month. On Monday, the caretaker government reversed the unpopular decision that left the crisis-hit country with two time zones and growing concerns over sectarian divisions, after many Christian politicians and institutions, including the Maronite Church, rejected the move. After the government's decision to shift to summer time, Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi told Mikati in a call that "Lebanon needs, at this delicate stage, more wise decisions that unite the Lebanese and remove all forms of division between them." For his part, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea tweeted that the government's decision on Monday is "a virtue", a word from the well-known Arabic proverb that says that "admitting a mistake is a virtue."

Bouchikian, Al-Sabbah sign MOU to support Lebanon's drama production
LBCI/March 28/2023
Caretaker Minister of Industry George Bouchikian and the head of the General Union of Arab Producers, Sadiq Al-Sabbah, and in the presence of Caretaker Information Minister, Ziad Makary, signed a cooperation protocol between the Ministry of Industry and the General Union of Arab Producers.
The protocol stipulates that the Ministry of Industry and industrialists specialized in this sector should take action by encouraging them and providing the necessary contributions and facilities, as well as possible support for local, Arab, and international production companies, to revive this industry, provided that the Ministry presents suggestions, opinions, and consultations to develop this sector. The Union is committed to assisting the Ministry in this regard to develop the local cinematic, drama, and television production sector and work to encourage and attract local and Arab production companies to work within Lebanon.
The two parties agreed to cooperate between them in serving the development of Lebanese production in particular and the drama, cinema, and television industry in general, and to benefit from the experiences of the General Union of Arab Producers - Beirut headquarters, what it can present in this field, and its full and positive willingness to ensure the implementation of this memorandum of understanding, for the good of industry in Lebanon. The industry minister described Lebanon as a beautiful and charming "painting" on the Mediterranean coast, with great Lebanese, Arab, and foreign philosophers, writers, and thinkers. He continued that the Lebanese industry has never retreated but is continuously progressing in production, quality, marketing, and export. "In the film industry, I find that it is the most combined between creativity and talent on the one hand, and equipment, effects, acoustics, lighting, and cameras on the other hand," he added. In turn, the President of the General Union of Arab Producers said that the signing of this protocol is an important step to show the importance of the cinematic, drama, and television production industry, to show the significant impact on the Lebanese economy, and how it secures a complete economic cycle and employs thousands of different sectors.

Lebanese citizens face dollar dilemma at gas stations

LBCI/March 28/2023
Lebanese citizens now face a new dilemma when refueling their vehicles at gas stations. On Tuesday, each gas station installed two pumps for gasoline, one priced in Lebanese Lira and the other in dollars. So, the citizen must choose to either pay in Lebanese Lira at the rate issued by the Ministry of Energy daily or pay in dollars. If they choose to pay in dollars, they must pay directly in cash rather than in Lebanese Lira at a specific exchange rate, unlike at the supermarket.
The price in dollars will be calculated as follows:
The fuel price, according to the official rate, is LBP 1,949,000 in the last pricing/ divided by the exchange rate adopted by the Ministry in the latest pricing, which is LBP 107,500. The fuel price becomes $18,13. Many gas stations started applying this mechanism on Tuesday after the gathering of oil importing companies, fuel distributors unions, and gas station owners who informed the Interior Energy and Economy ministries of their decision through an official letter. On the first day of the new pricing system, citizens were divided between those who supported the decision and paid in dollars, those who opposed it, and those who did not understand the new system and were confused. Some citizens believed this new pricing system was illegal, and gas stations could not force them to pay in dollars, even if the pricing was on a separate pump. Gas station owners confirm that paying in dollars is not mandatory, and citizens can choose between the Lira or dollar pump. However, if the exchange rate changes quickly again, they will turn off the Lira pump and only accept dollars. In this case, some citizens questioned what they would do if they could not pay in dollars. To answer this question, every gas station will have exchangers or employees from which people can exchange money.

Exchange rate roulette: Public sector employees anxiously await payment rates
LBCI/March 28/2023
Public sector employees in Lebanon, both civilian and military, are anxiously waiting to see at what Sayrafa exchange rate they will be paid: An exchange rate of LBP 45,000 or LBP 90,000. The last payment was made at a rate of 45,000 Lebanese liras to the US dollar, but there has been no official announcement from the government or Banque du Liban (BDL) about the new rate. However, BDL is scheduled to hold a meeting on Wednesday to discuss the issue in light of serious talk about the possibility of receiving salaries at the daily Sayrafa exchange rate, which is currently equivalent to LBP 90,000. But, if payments were made at the current rate of Sayrafa, public sector employees would lose almost half of their salary. For instance, an employee receiving a salary of 9 million Lebanese pounds would receive $200 based on the LBP 45,000 rate but $100 if paid at the LBP 90,000 rate.
Moreover, some sources explained that paying salaries at the LBP 45,000 rate would cost $80 million in dollars, which is not currently available in the Central Bank and would need to be sourced from the black market, causing the exchange rate to skyrocket. But if salaries are paid at the LBP 90,000 rate, the cost would be reduced to $40 million, making it more feasible. Furthermore, there have been discussions about paying part of the employee’s salary at Sayrafa exchange rate in dollars and the rest in Lebanese pounds with an increase. Public sector employees have yet to be informed of any change in payment rates, and some have started to prepare for potential backlash if a formula that protects the value of public sector salaries is not adopted. The uncertainty of the economic situation and the lack of clear communication from the government and BDL have left many public sector employees anxious about their future salaries.

Change MPs say Geagea part of system, 'another face of Hezbollah'
Naharnet/March 28/2023
Change MPs Halima Kaakour and Ibrahim Mneimneh accused Tuesday Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea of being part of the sectarian and traditional system, after he attacked them in a press interview. Geagea had said that Kaakour and Mneimneh are "on another planet" as he accused them of living in the past by refusing to coordinate with the opposition. "They want to abolish political sectarianism, and they want Arab unity and they want to liberate Palestine at the same time, and they are hypersensitive to everything that happened in the past, including the Lebanese Forces," Geagea said.
Kaakour responded that Geagea does not have the right to decide how the opposition should be and that he is part of the sectarian system that the Change MPs have rebelled against."We have not and will not bow to any pressure from any side to become part of the (rival political) camps. I will only side with the concept of the modern state and the rights of all people," Kaakour said. "These MPs are ideological," Geagea had said earlier. "But they are ideological in the other direction, not against Hezbollah but against something that doesn't exist anymore" he stressed, which led Mneimneh to respond that "confronting Hezbollah does not exclusively have to pass through Maarab.""You and all the other establishment's parties are a cover for Hezbollah and another face for it," Mneimneh said. "We did not enter the political work to revive previous polarization and divisions, or participate in shady deals and quotas," the Change MP went on to say. The Lebanese Forces snapped back that the MPs comments are not logical or factual, challenging them to mention a single corruption instance related to the LF.

Lebanon expects 350,000 people to arrive in April for the holidays
LBCI/March 28/2023
Lebanon expects 350,000 people to arrive in April for the holidays
More than 350,000 people are expected to arrive in Lebanon during April, a month full of holidays. Between Maronite Easter, Greek Orthodox Easter, and Eid al Fitr among the Muslim sects, about six out of 20 working days will be a holiday in the country, which means between winter and summer vacations, there is a visit to Lebanon. In the numbers, planes coming from Europe to Lebanon are fully booked. Additionally, tourists from Arab countries have a share. According to travel agencies, they expect 350,000 people to come, as every day, the numbers of travelers reach 12,000 people during this month, and between them, 35 to 40 percent are tourists. These figures are being translated into guest houses and hotels, which are entirely prepared to receive the festive season, as hotels are now starting to witness 40 percent of reservations and expecting to reach 100 percent. Between the snow of December and the sea in August, come and enjoy the spring of Lebanon in April.

Lebanese electricity bills to be issued monthly starting March
LBCI/March 28/2023
The decision to adopt the "Plus" exchange rate, which adds 20 percent to the Sayrafa exchange rate, for the collection of state electricity bills was made when the Sayrafa exchange rate was LBP 44,000, which became around LBP 52,000, given that the black market rate was LBP 70,000 at the time. However, with the Sayrafa exchange rate reaching currently LBP 90,000, the "Plus" exchange rate becomes LBP 108,000, which is the same as the black market rate. Will this be the price that Electricité du Liban (EDL) adopts? EDL’s sources say that no decision has been made yet, although a format was proposed at a meeting held two weeks ago in the Serail by the Banque du Liban (BDL). This format calls for converting all amounts collected by EDL from people at a rate of "Plus" exchange rate plus 20 percent to BDL, which would have reserved the dollars in advance. If there is a profit, it would be credited to the Finance Ministry, and if there is a loss, the state would be responsible for it, and EDL would not bear any risks from exchange rate fluctuations. The board of directors of EDL adopted this proposal and sent it to the relevant authorities for approval, namely the Finance and Energy Ministries, and the Prime Minister for implementation. Until now, EDL is still collecting bills for November and December of last year. In anticipation of the decision from the relevant authorities, bills for January and February will be issued together and starting from March, bills will become monthly. It is worth mentioning that preparing bills at a national level takes between one to two months, and they are issued at one rate for all Lebanese citizens. So far, there is no decision regarding the approved price for the collection of state electricity bills. Moreover, according to experts, even if it becomes equivalent to the exchange rate for the dollar, it will still be cheaper for the Lebanese due to the adopted rate.

Berri broaches general situation with Minister of Economy
NNA/March 28/2023
House Speaker, Nabih Berri, on Tuesday welcomed at his Ain al-Tineh residence Caretaker Minister of Economy and Trade, Dr. Amin Salam, with whom he discussed the country’s general conditions, especially the economic ones.
Berri then received head of the Public Procurement Authority, Dr. Jean Al-Alia.

Lebanon joins Expo 2023 Doha, Qatar as a participating country
NNA/March 28/2023
Following the recent visit of Lebanon's Minister of Agriculture, H.E. Abbas Hajj Hassan, to Qatar, Lebanon confirmed its participation in Expo 2023 Doha.
Lebanon's participation promises to bring both knowledge and entertainment. As the country with the highest proportion of arable land in the Arab world, Lebanon has already developed a number of innovative agricultural practices, including robotic and digital applications, an aqua-cultural farming system and advanced post-harvest infrastructure. Agricultural practices, "mouneh" - the traditional Lebanese custom of food collection and preservation, and a wide array of creative performances will all be features in the Lebanese pavilion at the Expo. "Lebanon – like other countries in the region – is suffering because of the drought crisis, which has been exacerbated by scarcity of groundwater and climate change effects", said his Excellency the Lebanese Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Abbas Hajj Hassan. "We are confident that Expo 2023 Doha will increase awareness of practical, long-lasting solutions to these global issues." His Excellency also emphasised the long-standing brotherly ties between Qatar and Lebanon. "Naturally, the Expo will help things mature, and we hope it will mark the start and culmination of a brotherly cooperation", he said.
"Lebanon and Qatar are important partners, and we are happy to host the Lebanese pavilion at the Expo 2023 Doha", added H.E. Ambassador Mr. Bader Al Dafa, Expo 2023 Doha Commissioner General. "We believe that Lebanon's participation will spark further regional collaboration in agriculture and horticulture as Arab countries are facing similar challenges and are actively looking for efficient and innovative solutions to tackle them together".
Spanning a six-month period, from October 2nd, 2023, through to March 28th, 2024, Expo 2023 Doha will take place in the heart of Doha in Al Bidda Park, welcoming citizens and residents of Qatar, international visitors and high-level participants. Over 55 countries and organisations have already confirmed their participation in Expo 2023 Doha.
Expo 2023 Doha will be the first A1 International Horticultural Exhibition to be held in Qatar, the Middle East, and North Africa. Organized and Led by the Ministry of Municipality, Expo 2023 Doha is conceived in line with the guiding principles of Qatar National Vision 2030 that puts environmental management and sustainable development at the heart of its mission.
Running for 179 days from October 2, 2023 till March 28, 2024 and aiming to reach more than 3 million visitors, Expo Doha 2023 will offer guests with an opportunity to visit ornamental gardens, attend public debates, conferences, live shows and enjoy art and culinary performances in the dedicated area in Al Bidda Park spanning across 1.7M square metres and facing the azure waters of the Arabian gulf. This year's Expo 2023 Doha works along the theme "Green Desert, Better Environment" with the aim to highlight and encourage sustainable innovation and reduce desertification. The topics of modern agriculture, technology & innovation, environmental awareness and sustainability will all feature.
Under the auspices of the BIE (Bureau Internationale Des Expositions) and AIPH (International Association for Horticultural Producers), the exhibition will draw international visitors and organizers from 80 countries, as well as the national and international related Industries, Government entities and officials ‎‎(local, regional and international), Non-governmental organisations, Commercial affiliates; Sponsors, ‎Partners, Suppliers, Media (local, regional and international) and national, regional, international general ‎public visitors.‎.
The theme of Expo 2023 Doha is "Green Desert, Better Environment" as it aims to encourage sustainable innovation and reduce desertification. It will inspire visitors to take part in the change through 4 sub-themes:
• Modern Agriculture
• Technology & Innovation
• Environmental Awareness
• Sustainability
The BIE (The Bureau Internationale Des Exposition) is the Intergovernmental Organization in charge of overseeing and regulating all international exhibitions that last more than three weeks and are of non-commercial nature ("Expos"). Today, 4 main types of Expos are organized under its auspices: World Expos, Specialized Expos, Horticultural Expos and the Triennale di Milano. BIE's mission is to guarantee the quality and the success of these world events, protect the rights of their organizers and participants, and preserve their core values of Education, Innovation and Cooperation. From the 31 countries that created the BIE in 1928, the Organization has grown to 170 Member States, as a result of the success and the appeal of Expos. The BIE Member States take part in all the decisions of the BIE, and they strive to continually improve the quality of Expos. The headquarters of the BIE are located in Paris.
BIE is a key international stakeholder in EXPO 2023 DOHA. www.bie-paris.org
AIPH is The International Association of Horticultural Producers is an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) dedicated to promoting horticultural producers. AIPH aims to put flower, plant and landscaping services on a global agenda, with a vision to:
Stimulate increased demand for ornamental trees, plants and flowers worldwide.
• Protect and promote the interests of the industry.
• Be an international hub for industry information and knowledge exchange. Lead best practice in ornamentals production.
• With a mandate agreed by an international convention, AIPH has been approving and regulating International Horticultural Expos, with BIE (www.bie-paris.org), since 1960. Enthusiasm for such Expos has continued to grow, with millions of people visiting Expos hosted all over the world.
• AIPH is a key international stakeholder in EXPO 2023 DOHA. www.aiph.org

UN Secretary General renews mandate of Philippe Lazzarini as UNRWA Commissioner-General to March 2026

UNRWA/March 28/2023
The Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, welcomed the renewal of his mandate by the UN Secretary-General, saying he was "honoured" by the decision. This is Lazzarini's second three-year term at UNRWA, one of the largest UN agencies in the world. With 28,000 staff members, UNRWA delivers critical services including health, education, social protection, camp infrastructure and sanitation, among others, to millions of Palestine refugees. The Agency operates in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. "I am honoured by the decision of Secretary-General Guterres and his confidence in me at a time of immense challenges in the region," Lazzarini said. "I also am grateful for the support expressed by the UN Member States, the host countries in the region, and our donors and partners." As he starts his second term, Lazzarini pledged to keep working tirelessly to provide continued access of Palestine refugees to UNRWA services per the Agency's mandate and reinforce the trust of the international community in UNRWA. He is committed to improving and modernizing the quality of the services, including through digitalization. "I look forward to continuing to work with my dedicated colleagues, most of whom are Palestine refugees, so we can face and overcome challenges together," said the Commissioner-General. "At the centre of all our efforts are the rights of Palestine refugees, until there is a just and lasting solution to their plight. --UNRWA

The Latest English LCCC Miscellaneous Reports And News published on March 28-29/2023
Pope sends thousands of medicines to Turkey for earthquake victims
Vatican News/March 28/2023
The Dicastery for the Service of Charity is sending more medicines to Istanbul according to the Pope’s wish to offer more assistance to victims of the 6 February devastating earthquake that hit Syria and Turkey causing 50,000 deaths.
An initial dispatch departed yesterday, and more shipments are continuing today. The Turkish Embassy to the Holy See provided guidance and instructions on the most urgently needed 10,000 medicines that have been purchased.
Neighbouring Syria, devastated by the earthquake and war with 15 million people in distress, has already received financial aid from the Pope in the past thanks to the Apostolic Nunciature, which helps coordinate the process to help the population. "We send the aid via Turkish airliners," explains Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner. "We monitor the height of the pallets and their weight. This effort is possible thanks to the help of volunteers.”Right after the earthquake in February that displaced nearly two million people in Turkey, the Dicastery for the Service of Charity sent medicines but also tinned food such as rice and tuna, thermal shirts, nappies and many other materials that can withstand the weather and even the cold. At this same time, the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Eastern Churches, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, began his mission in Syria and Turkey.

US, UK Sanction 6 Syria-Linked Amphetamine Traffickers
USA imposes sanctions on two of Assad's relatives and on other, Lebanese and Syrian, drug traffickers, including Muhammad Dago and Noah Zuaiter
Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 28 March, 2023
The US and UK on Tuesday slapped sanctions on four Syrians and two Lebanese involved in manufacturing and trafficking the amphetamine drug Captagon, the two governments said. The six include cousins of Syrian President Bashar Assad and notorious Lebanese drug lynchpins. Experts say Captagon is primarily produced in Syria and Lebanon, where packages containing millions of pills are smuggled abroad. The trade allegedly has strong ties to Assad and his associates, as well as key ally, the Iran-backed Hezbollah group in neighboring Lebanon. The UK's Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office statement announcing the sanctions said the Captagon industry is worth $57 billion to Assad, and has been a key source of revenue as Syria' uprising turned-conflict continues for a 13th year. Assad's brutal crackdown on protests in 2011 led to his global isolation, and his forces were accused of rampant torture, bombing civilian infrastructure, and using chemical weapons with support of key allies Russia and Iran. “Syria has become a global leader in the production of highly addictive Captagon, much of which is trafficked through Lebanon,” said the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control director Andrea M. Gacki in the statement. Gacki added that the trade's revenues enable the government's “continued repression on the Syrian people.”Among the four Syrians sanctioned are two cousins of Assad, Samer and Wassim. According to the US Treasury's statement, Samer oversees Captagon production in the northern coastal city of Latakia in coordination with Hezbollah and the Syrian army's elite Fourth Division. Meanwhile, Wassim has been described as a “key figure in the regional drug trafficking network,” while also leading a paramilitary group backing the Syrian army in the conflict. Meanwhile, Syrian businessman Khalid Qaddour was also sanctioned for his alleged involvement in managing smuggling revenues and allegedly has close ties to President Assad's brother Maher, who leads the Fourth Division and has allegedly profited off smuggling illicit drugs, mobile phones and cigarettes. Syrian militiaman Imad Abu Zureik was also sanctioned for running a militia group with ties to Syrian military intelligence in the south of the country that the US Treasury said controls the Nassib border crossing with Jordan. Abu Zureik was a former commander with Free Syria Army opposition forces.
In Lebanon, Washington and London sanctioned notorious weapons and drug smuggler Noah Zeiter, who for years has been on the run from Lebanese authorities. Zeiter prior to the conflict in Syria was known for producing and smuggling large amounts of cannabis and made occasional bombastic media appearances. Zeiter is close with Hezbollah and Syria's Fourth Division. Hassan Daqqou, a Lebanese-Syrian, who the media frequently dubs “The King of Captagon,” was also sanctioned due to his links with Hezbollah and drug trafficking operations by the Syrian army's Fourth Division. Daqqou was arrested in Lebanon in 2021 and in 2022 was sentenced to seven years of hard labor for producing and smuggling Captagon. Washington and London also sanctioned two trading companies based in eastern Lebanon that Daqqou owns.

Iran’s Raisi Vows to Overcome Challenges, Blames Predecessor for Economic ‘Imbalance’
London, Tehran - Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 28 March, 2023
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi pledged to fulfill promises made to his citizens and defended his “balanced” foreign policy, blaming the previous government, which was headed by Hassan Rouhani, for economic instability and “challenges” facing the country. The Iranian government’s website quoted Raisi as saying that the government’s internal policy depended on the country’s energies and a balanced foreign approach. “We have overcome many challenges despite the enemies’ efforts to fuel discontent in society and conspiracies to separate the regime from the government,” Raisi told a conference of senior officials, as reported by the website. He indirectly blamed his predecessor for the challenges, which he said were facing Iran, noting his government had inherited them from the previous administration. Regarding internal politics, the president pledged that his government would not be drawn into “false alignments”, stressing that his team would work with “all revolutionary agencies” to overcome the problems in Iran. Gatherers at Monday’s conference brought together senior government directors to discuss “curbing inflation and raising production”, which was addressed by Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, in a televised speech on the occasion of Nowruz last week. Raisi stressed that talks about the lack of budget and capabilities were “causing frustration and pessimism in society,” describing them an “unforgivable sin.” He added that an improvement in the living situation was “certain.” He urged officials to address the “imbalance” in the economy. He added that the ministries of industry, trade, energy, agriculture and economy were tasked with strengthening production growth and curbing inflation in all departments. He also announced the formation of a special committee that would work on reducing inflation. A report by the Central Bank of Iran on Sunday stated that the inflation between March 20, 2022 and March 20 this year reached 46.5 percent.

Tehran: No Limit on Promotion of Ties with Neighbors
Riyadh - London - Tehran - Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 28 March, 2023
The Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani said the country sees no limits to the enhancement of cooperation with the neighboring states. Shamkhani made the remarks in a meeting with Qatar’s Assistant Foreign Minister for Regional Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulaziz al-Khulaifi on Monday. “Within the framework of neighborhood diplomacy pursued by the administration of (Iranian President Ebrahim) Raisi, development of all-out cooperation with neighboring countries is Iran's top priority in foreign relations and we set no limits in this regard,” Shamkhani stated. According to the semi-official news agency Mehr, Shamkhani hailed the effective efforts made by Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and his government to help with regional and international issues in cooperation with Iran. “Fraternal and constructive relations between Tehran and Doha can serve as a general model for (promotion of) ties with other regional countries,” said the top Iranian security official. In his meeting with al-Khulaifi, Shamkhani underlined the necessity of removing obstacles to improve cooperation between Tehran and Doha in the fields of trade and commerce, proportional to the two countries’ political relations. The top Iranian security official noted that some extra-regional countries seek to create misunderstandings in the relations between Iran and Qatar by abusing suspicious events, and it is necessary for the two countries to deal with this process with full vigilance. The Qatari minister, for his part, expressed satisfaction with the agreement reached between Iran and Saudi Arabia to normalize relations. He stressed that the move was vital for boosting regional security and stability. Earlier on Monday and before his meeting with Shamkhani, the Qatari official held a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. During the meeting, the two sides discussed important regional and international issues.

Canada Imposes New Sanctions against Iran
Ottawa - Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 28 March, 2023
The Canadian government said on Monday it was targeting two entities and eight individuals as part of new sanctions against Iran over human rights violations and production of drones and ballistic missiles. Canada's latest round of sanctions against Iran, the 10th since October, targets individuals including senior officials from the Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) for "gross and systematic human rights violations" in Tehran and northwestern Iran, the Canadian foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Sanctions also target senior Iranian officials involved in unmanned aerial vehicle and ballistic missile production, the ministry said. Tension between Iran and the West have mounted over Tehran's nuclear activity and its supply of drones for Russia's war in Ukraine, as well as Tehran’s clampdown on months of anti-government-protests. "We call on the Iranian regime to stop the brutal oppression of Iran’s people and to address their demands in good faith," Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said in the statement. The sanctioned entities support "the Iranian regime by helping them disrupt and manipulate the online communications of those protesting the regime or by supplying the LEF with tactical equipment used in the brutal suppression of demonstrations," according to the statement.

Door on nuclear talks still open, but not forever: Iran FM
IRNA/March 28/2023
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran Hossein Amirabdollahian has warned parties to a 2015 international deal on Iran nuclear program, known as the JCPOA, that door is still open on talks to revive the deal while stressing that that the process could not go on forever.
In an interview with the Al Jazeera news channel aired late on Monday, Amirabdollahian said that lawmakers in the Iranian parliament are planning a motion to impose a cap on how long the government can continue to negotiate on JCPOA revival. He said, however, that Iran is committed to cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on issues related to its nuclear program. As to Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s invitation of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to visit Saudi Arabia, Iran’s top diplomat confirmed that such invitation has been extended and said that Iran will also send an invitation to Saudi Arabia for King Salman to visit Tehran. On March 19, head of the Iranian presidency’s office for political affairs Mohammad Jamshidi said that the Iranian president had welcomed an invitation by King Salman to pay an official visit to Riyadh.

Egypt to allow Iranians visas on arrival in Sinai as regional tensions ease
Reuters/March 28/2023
Egypt will soon allow Iranians travelling with tour groups to obtain visas on arrival in the south of its Sinai peninsula with a view to extending access to other parts of the country, Egyptian tourism ministry officials said. The decision is part of a series of measures announced on Monday aimed at improving access to visas to boost tourism revenues at a time when Egypt has been struggling economically with an acute foreign currency shortage. It also comes as some Middle Eastern countries including Egypt are taking steps to ease regional tensions. Egypt's Sunni Muslim Arab ally Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Muslim Iran announced this monththat they would restore diplomatic relations. Cairo has mended a rift with Qatar and is re-establishing ties with Turkey, another country to benefit from new visa rules with Turkish nationals given expanded access to visas on arrival, according to a Egyptian Tourism Ministry statement. Among the other new visa rules announced were a $700, five-year multiple-entry visa, which Tourism Minister Ahmed Issa told Reuters was aimed at investors and property owners who are based outside Egypt. On visas for Iranians arriving in South Sinai, home to the highly secured resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Issa said: "We will evaluate the experience of their arrival in South Sinai as a first step, and building on that, we'll determine if they will be admitted in other places."Relations between Egypt and Iran have generally been fraught in recent decades although the two countries have maintained diplomatic contacts. Tourists from China, which Egypt regards as a market with big potential, and Indians resident in Gulf countries will also be granted visas on arrival. All new visa rules have been approved in principle and will be put into effect soon, a tourism ministry official said.

Türkiye Says Iraq Was Ordered to Pay Compensation to Ankara in Arbitration Case
Asharq Al-Awsat/Tuesday, 28 March, 2023
nistry said on Tuesday that Iraq had been ordered by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) to pay compensation to Ankara in a longstanding arbitration case related to oil exports from northern Iraq via Türkiye. The Turkish energy ministry statement was released after Iraq's oil ministry said on Saturday the ICC had ruled in its favor in the case.The Turkish statement said the ICC had recognized a majority of Türkiye’s demands, without saying how much compensation Iraq had been ordered to pay. The case relates to Iraq's claim that Türkiye violated a joint agreement by allowing the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to export oil through a pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan in 2014. Baghdad deems KRG exports via Ceyhan port as illegal. Iraq on Saturday halted crude exports of 450,000 barrels per day (bpd) from the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region and northern Kirkuk. The ICC ruled in favor of Iraq on Thursday in the arbitration case and ordered Türkiye to pay Baghdad around $1.5 billion before interest, Reuters reported on Saturday. In its first official statement on the issue, Turkish energy ministry said that the ICC overruled four out of five demands from Iraq. "(The ICC) ordered Iraq to pay a compensation to Türkiye," the ministry said, without revealing the amount of compensation. Around 450,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude exports, or half a percent of global oil supply, to Türkiye from the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region and northern Kirkuk fields were halted following the verdict. "This case is in fact a reflection of disagreement between Iraq's central government and Iraq's Kurdish Regional Administration," the Turkish ministry said. "Türkiye is ready to fulfill the requirements of international law, and to contribute to finding a permanent solution between parties of disagreement," it added. Oil firms in the region have been left in limbo as the pipeline stoppage is set to continue until Ankara, Baghdad and the KRG find a settlement to resume exports.

Even Putin’s allies are turning against him

William Nattrass/The Telegraph/March 28, 2023
Vladimir Putin has announced that Russian tactical nuclear weapons will be stationed in Belarus. This new sabre-rattling was clearly intended to intimidate the West, and the free states of eastern Europe in particular; once deployed, these weapons systems would threaten a swathe of the continent from the Baltic States in the north, to Romania and Moldova in the south east. But there is also another motivation behind the decision. As even his old allies lose faith in the Kremlin’s power, Putin is becoming deeply paranoid. It’s no coincidence that the announcement coincided with Belarus Freedom Day, an event which the Belarusian opposition, which is hounded and suppressed by President Alexander Lukashenko, marks each year. It was, after all, a thinly veiled threat. The Kremlin was sending a clear and unambiguous message: with its nuclear weapons stationed in Belarus, it would feel entitled to crush any serious pro-western rebellion against Lukashenko. As the secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council Oleksiy Danilov put it, Belarus has become Putin’s “nuclear hostage.”This muscle-flexing reflects a changed geopolitical landscape, with the Kremlin breaking one of the core tenets of its long-term political posturing against the US. Putin has always maintained that Russia’s withdrawal of nuclear weapons from the territory of ex-Soviet states in the 1990s demonstrated a good faith approach in contrast with America’s continued stationing of weapons in Europe.
But there’s no longer much point maintaining the pretence that it is Russia, not the US, that respects the sovereignty of eastern European nations. The nature of the Kremlin’s respect is all too plain to see in the horror unleashed daily in Ukraine. It’s no wonder that those states still aligned with Russia are beginning to rethink their position. Mass unrest in Georgia will have seriously spooked the Kremlin. The Georgian government pursues a cynical balancing act between Russia and the West, aiming for EU membership while simultaneously ramping up economic cooperation with Moscow. Russian links among the nation’s powerful oligarchs contrast sharply with the public’s pro-western leanings.Earlier this month, the Georgian government dropped a proposed law affecting foreign-funded entities that was seen as an attempt to bring Georgia closer to Russia. Febrile protests met with a harsh police response, and western diplomats I spoke to wondered whether the unrest may give rise to a revolutionary pro-western movement similar to Ukraine’s Maidan uprising. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Black Sea, Russia has lost the influence it had within the EU before the invasion began. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the EU leader keenest to keep up relations with Putin, said in recent weeks that shifting geopolitical realities may necessitate a change in attitude. And other countries wanting to join the EU despite long-term friendly relations with Moscow increasingly see ties with Russia as a hindrance.
Serbia, the Kremlin’s strongest ideological ally in Europe, may be another country at a tipping point in casting off Russian influence. Popular support for Russia remains strong, but the nation’s political establishment is coming to realise that in light of the invasion of Ukraine, a hoped-for EU future holds no place for close ties with Putin. A western-brokered agreement between Serbia and Kosovo – the breakaway nation which Serbia and Russia do not recognise – appears all but agreed, potentially removing a major stumbling block in Belgrade’s slow pivot away from Moscow. Serbia’s government may also be subtly bracing the public for the potential imposition of sanctions on Russia in line with western demands; Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić on Sunday admitted that Serbia may end up sanctioning Russia if the consequences of not doing so become sufficiently serious.
Russia’s power in eastern Europe has been ebbing away for years, but the invasion of Ukraine has rapidly accelerated the process – even with regimes that Putin previously saw as close allies. The longer the war goes on without victory for the Kremlin, the stronger the political and public impetus will become for countries like Serbia and Georgia to cast off what’s left of suffocating Russian influence. The enormity of Putin’s strategic mistake in invading Ukraine encompasses more than just NATO expansion and the destruction of his vital energy stranglehold on Europe. It is also, slowly but surely, costing him his few remaining European friends. Putting nuclear weapons in Belarus is a desperate attempt to safeguard his closest alliance.

Poland Wants Tougher EU Sanctions on Belarus After Nuclear Move

Bloomberg/March 28, 2023
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called on European Union members to impose new restrictions on Belarus after Vladimir Putin announced Russia will station nuclear weapons in the country. The premier said he was in daily talks with EU leaders about a “tougher” sanctions package on Poland’s eastern neighbor, but didn’t elaborate. The government in Warsaw is also considering “whether within our bilateral relations we should impose sanctions on transport” from Belarus, he told reporters Tuesday during a briefing with his Romanian counterpart Nicolae Ciuca in Bucharest.
To punish the government in Minsk for its involvement in Russia’s war in Ukraine, the EU blocked exports of goods and technology that could be used by the Belarusian military. It also targeted Belarusian individuals helping in the Russian war effort.

Russian soldiers say they were sent into battle with 'blocking' units behind them to stop them from retreating

Joshua Zitser/Insider/March 28, 2023
A soldier said they're sent into combat with other units tasked with stopping them from fleeing. Another soldier said officers demanded bribes and would send people who didn't pay to the front. Russian soldiers made a dramatic video plea, complaining they were sent into combat with other units specifically tasked with preventing them from running away. The footage, addressed directly to Vladimir Putin and circulating on Russian Telegram channels, was posted by members of Russia's so-called Storm unit, who said they had suffered huge casualties. Describing their recent efforts around the village of Vodanye, they said that so-called "blocking" units were sent in behind them to give them no escape from combat. Alexander Gorin, a soldier, said in the video that the unit suffered huge losses in eastern Ukraine, citing 34 injuries and 22 deaths, including the company commander. Another soldier said there had once been 161 of them.
Gorin said that his soldiers decided to withdraw after their losses, but were denied evacuation. Their commanders responded with the blocking units, he said. "They placed blocking units behind us and weren't letting us out of our positions," Gorin said, according to a translation by the independent project War Translated. "They are threatening to destroy us one by one and as a unit," Gorin added, per the video. A soldier in the video alleged that members of the unit were threatened with being shot if they didn't move forward. Blocking units, also called barrier troops or anti-retreat forces, are units placed behind main forces to prevent soldiers from fleeing or retreating. They were used by the Red Army in World War I and World War II, in which Russian forces suffered enormous losses. Last March, a Ukrainian parliamentarian alleged that Russia was using Chechen troops as blocking units in the invasion of Ukraine, tasking them with shooting deserters. In November the British Ministry of Defence made a similar assessment. The Guardian identified eight men in the video, confirming that three served in the unit. The newspaper said it verified the accounts they gave in the clip. These men asked to remain anonymous, saying they have since been evacuated, per the newspaper. The Guardian reported that most of the men in the video are Russian veterans who fought in Ukraine in 2014. One soldier in the video also alleged that members of the unit were "systematically" being forced to bribe their commanders, with those who refused to pay the "tax" being sent to the front. He also alleged that injured soldiers were being removed from hospitals without medical assistance, with some being returned to the front line with shrapnel still in their bodies. The video address to Putin is one of several videos that have emerged during the war in Ukraine of troops pleading to Russia's leader for help.

China's Xi speaks with Saudi crown prince, supports Saudi-Iran talks
BEIJING (Reuters)/March 28, 2023
China's President Xi Jinping spoke by phone with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, discussing a wide range of subjects including supporting follow-up talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran, state media CCTV reported on Tuesday. Xi recently helped broker a surprise deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia, Middle East rivals, earlier this month to restore diplomatic ties, in a display of China's growing influence in the region which is being warily watched by the United States. Prince Mohammed, who is also the kingdom's prime minister, voiced appreciation for China's initiative to support "efforts to develop good neighbourliness" between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran, Saudi state news agency SPA said. The two leaders stressed the importance of strategic ties between Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, and economic powerhouse China, a main trade partner of Gulf states, it added. Xi said the two countries will firmly support each other on issues involving their respective core interests, and make more contributions to promote peace, stability and development in the Middle East, state media reported. Earlier this week, oil giant Saudi Aramco raised its multi-billion dollar investment in China with two deals that are the biggest to be announced since Xi visited the kingdom in December, where he attended a summit with Gulf Arab leaders. Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have voiced concern about perceived disengagement by main security guarantor the United States from the region and have moved to diversify partners with an eye on national economic and security interests. The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran are expected to meet during the ongoing Muslim holy month of Ramadan after Riyadh and Tehran agreed, following talks in Beijing, to revive relations after years of hostility that had threatened stability in the Gulf and helped fuel conflicts in the Middle East.

Russia's newest army corps lost many of its tanks in an offensive because it simply copied tactics that failed in the past, UK intel says

Sinéad Baker/Business Insider/March 28, 2023
Russia's new army corps is losing tanks at a fast rate as it tries to encirle Avdiivka, the UK said. Its losses are due to it using "tactically flawed" methods that have failed before, said the MOD. The result is Russia has made "marginal progress at the cost of heavy losses in armoured vehicles."
Russia's newest army corps, which is less than a year old, is fast losing tanks as it tries to take new ground in eastern Ukraine. And that's because it's repeating tactics that have failed Russia's military in the past, according to UK intelligence. The UK Ministry of Defence said in an intelligence update on Tuesday that Russia's 10th Tank Regiment, part of the new 3rd Army Corps, has "likely lost a large proportion of its tanks while attempting to surround Avdiivka from the south." Avdiivka is a town in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, which the UK MOD said Russia has recently made a priority.
But the MOD said that Russia was seeing little progress there. "Russian forces have made only marginal progress at the cost of heavy losses in armoured vehicles," it said. The regiment's losses, the MOD said, are likely down to it copying flawed strategies that haven't previously worked for Russia. "10th Tank Regiment's losses have likely largely been due to tactically flawed frontal assaults similar to those in other recent failed Russian armoured attacks, such as around the town of Vuhledar," it said. Russia launched its new offensive to try and take new territory from Ukraine over a month ago, but has made little notable gains. And the MOD's assessment suggests that it has failed to absorb lessons from the past. Russia deepened its monthslong efforts to capture the eastern Ukrainian town of Vuhledar in January, but heavy losses of Russian troops and tanks have been reported there. Videos show Russian tanks and armored vehicles being blown up by mines and anti-tank missiles in and around Vuhledar. According to the UK MOD, the 3rd Army Corps is the first major new formation that Russia has stood up to support its invasion of Ukraine. The corps was reportedly formed last summer, after Ukraine pushed the fighting back to the east of the country. Russia has failed to take any major territory since it was formed. The UK MOD said that the 3rd Army Corps has been "particularly dogged by problems with ill-discipline and poor morale," referencing open-source accounts. And it "still appears to display limited combat effectiveness" even though it likely received some training in Belarus. Russia has lost a large number of tanks since it launched its invasion of Ukraine, which began in February 2022. Washington DC-based think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies said last month that Ukraine had likely lost more than 2,000 tanks in total.
Ukraine claimed that Russia lost 21 tanks in a single day earlier this month. Russia has also been forced to rely on older tank models, after newer tanks were destroyed. This includes an elite Russian unit fighting with 60-year-old T-62 tanks.
Ukraine, meanwhile, has started to receive advanced modern tanks from its allies, as it prepares to launch its own counteroffensive later this year.

Justin Trudeau has let Beijing deep into Canadian politics
Yuan Yi Zhu/The Telegraph/March 28, 2023
As hard as it is to conceive of him as such, as the longest-serving head of government in the G7 Justin Trudeau is now one of the world’s elder statesmen. He has achieved this exalted status despite innumerable scandals rocking his government, on issues ranging from corruption to “blackface” to bullying to sexual misconduct, many of which would have felled a lesser politician. But his lucky streak may finally be ending. For the past month, Ottawa has been riveted by a series of explosive allegations about Chinese interference in Canadian politics, from illegal campaign donations to disinformation campaigns, allegations leaked to the media by members of Canada’s usually docile intelligence service reportedly angry with the government ignoring their reports. Since then, the allegations have expanded to include accusations of improper relationships between Liberal politicians and the Chinese government. Only last week, Han Dong, a Liberal MP, resigned his party’s whip to sit as an independent to contest allegations that he advised a Chinese diplomat to delay the release of the “Two Michaels”, the Canadians arrested by China in retaliation for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou of Huawei, for political reasons. Mr Dong denies the allegations, and has stated that he is planning to "begin legal action to its fullest extent" against their publisher. But what is most damaging for Mr Trudeau and his Liberal government is not so much the acts of foreign interference themselves, bad enough though they are, as the accusation that he wilfully turned a blind eye to what was happening. And little wonder: a Chinese consul was allegedly caught on tape as saying that “The Liberal Party of Canada is becoming the only party that the PRC can support”, as opposed to the opposition Conservatives, who have taken a much more hawkish line on China. Mr Trudeau’s reaction so far has been to refuse to hold an inquiry into Chinese interference and to accuse his opponents of trying to discredit Canada’s democracy, not to mention anti-Chinese racism. Liberal MPs have filibustered parliamentary committees to stop further investigation and in an attempt to prevent Katie Telford, Mr Trudeau’s powerful chief of staff, from being summoned to testify to Parliament about what her boss knew about the allegations of Chinese interference, and when. His appointment of David Johnston, a well-respected former governor general, as “special rapporteur” on foreign interference in Canada did little to calm the waters. A card-carrying member of Canada’s cosy establishment, Mr Johnston is a family friend of the Trudeaus, not to mention a former neighbour and a member of the Trudeau Foundation. Mr Trudeau’s public praise of China’s “basic dictatorship” and his familial antecedents aside (his prime ministerial father was an early Western enthusiast for Mao’s China), his government’s record on China since he became prime minister does not inspire confidence. He had to fire John McCallum, his own appointee as ambassador to China and former Cabinet colleague, after the latter publicly contradicted his own government’s position and sided with China on the Meng extradition case. But now, there are signs that all of this is too much, even for Mr Trudeau’s allies. Last Thursday, the House of Commons passed a motion calling for a full public inquiry into Chinese political interference in Canada, with every party except the Liberals voting in favour. Though the motion is not binding, what is notable is that the New Democratic Party, who are in a confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberals, voted for it, enabling it to pass. The NDP has said it will not bring down the government over this issue; but the Liberals may well think that a snap election is their only way out of the mess of their own making. Few seriously think that Mr Trudeau is a Chinese agent, an accusation in the more feverish corners of the Internet. But the best that can be said of his conduct over China is that he has been one of the West’s useful idiots.

‘Extremist’ minister to get ‘personal militia’, Israeli ex-police chief warns
James Rothwell/The Telegraph/March 28, 2023
Israel’s extreme-Right police minister will be given a “personal, political militia” as a reward for backing the prime minister’s decision to pause his controversial legal overhaul, a former police chief has warned. Moshe Karadi raised the alarm about the deal after Mr Netanyahu announced he was freezing his plans for the overhaul after unprecedented mass protests, strikes and civil unrest across Israel on Sunday night and Monday. “He’s dismantling Israeli democracy… [it’s] dangerous and a distinct characteristic of turning Israel into a dictatorship,” Mr Karadi said of the deal with police minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. He accused Mr Ben-Gvir, who has a conviction for anti-Arab racism, of trying to set up a “a private militia for his political needs” and warned that violent settlers would be recruited into its ranks. The agreement with Mr Ben-Gvir reflects how Mr Netanyahu is deeply beholden to the demands of extremists propping up his coalition government amid one of the biggest crises in the country’s history. Critics of Mr Netanyahu’s legal overhaul say it will “destroy” democracy in Israel by giving the government sweeping powers over the supreme court and wider judicial system. As police minister, Mr Ben-Gvir, who saw a surge in support in last November’s elections, has tried to burnish his image as a “tough-guy” politician committed to clamping down on lawbreakers and Palestinian terrorism. But his background as a supporter of a Jewish terrorist organisation, for which he has a criminal conviction, has made him a hugely controversial figure in the government and alarmed Israel’s allies. Shortly after the deal was announced on Monday evening, a mob of Jewish extremists, attending a demonstration co-organised by Mr Ben-Gvir, rampaged through Jerusalem chanting “death to Arabs” and at one point attacked a Palestinian taxi driver. Police said the victim, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, was “savagely attacked by the rioters who chased him and caused heavy damage to his car”. One Left-wing Israeli lawmaker said the attack, which took place near a petrol station, was an attempted lynching. Israeli media expressed some scepticism about whether Mr Ben-Gvir’s national guard would actually be formed, noting that previous leaders had tried similar schemes without much success. A Reuters correspondent also pointed out in a post on Twitter that Mr Ben-Gvir is already struggling to fill a massive 1,600 vacancies in the police force, due to poor wages and a heavy workload. Mr Ben-Gvir emerged as a key coalition partner after November’s polls, when many Right-wing Israelis, notably religious conservatives, cast their vote for his Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party. He is perhaps most notorious for expressing admiration for the Jewish mass-murderer Baruch Goldstein, who gunned down 29 Muslim worshippers in 1994. Mr Ben-Gvir says his views have mellowed since then. The increase in support for his party reflects a significant shift to the extreme-Right in Israeli politics, fuelled in part by increased security concerns due to rising tensions with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

French authorities raid banks in massive tax fraud case
AFP/March 28/2023
French authorities raided five banks on Tuesday as part of an investigation into massive suspected cases of tax fraud and money laundering. Some 150 investigators, along with six German prosecutors, conducted searches in Paris and the financial district La Defense, the financial prosecutor's office said in a statement. The raids follow five preliminary investigations that were opened in December 2021 in connection with money laundering and aggravated tax fraud related to dividend payments, the statement said. The operation "required several months of preparation", the statement said. A spokesman for Societe Generale confirmed to AFP that the French bank was being searched by authorities, but he said he did not know the reason. French rival BNP Paribas ans its unit Exane, financial group Natixis and British banking giant HSBC are the other ones, according to Le Monde newspaper. A group of European news outlets published an investigation into the tax fraud dubbed "CumEx-Files" in 2018. The amounts are suspected to have reached 140 billion euros ($151 billion) over a period of 20 years, the media group said in 2021.-

France sees new pension protests, police brace for violence
Associated Press/March 28/2023
Protests and strikes against unpopular pension reforms kicked off again Tuesday across France, with police security ramped up amid government warnings that radical demonstrators intended "to destroy, to injure and to kill."
Concerns that violence could mar the demonstrations prompted what Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin described as an unprecedented deployment of 13,000 officers, nearly half of them concentrated in the French capital. After months of upheaval, an exit from the firestorm of protest triggered by President Emmanuel Macron 's changes to France's retirement system looked as far away as ever. Despite fresh union pleas hat the government pause its hotly contested push to raise France's legal retirement age from 62 to 64, Macron seemingly remained wedded to it. The French leader previously used a special constitutional power to ram the reform past legislators without allowing them a vote. His move this month further galvanized the protest movement. Violence has since flared and thousands of tons of stinking garbage have piled up on Paris' streets as sanitation workers strike.
"Everybody is getting madder," said Clément Saild, a train passenger at Paris' Gare de Lyon railway station, where tracks were temporarily invaded and blocked Tuesday by protesting workers. He said said he supports the strikes despite their impact on transportation and other services. "I am 26, and I wonder if I will ever retire," he said. Another passenger, Helene Cogan, 70, said: "French people are stubborn and things are getting out of hand." The wave of protests Tuesday marked the 10th time since January that unions have called on workers to walk out and for demonstrators to flood the nation's streets against Macron's retirement changes, which are a key priority of his second term as president. His government argues that France's pension system will dive into deficit without reform, because of the lower birth rates and longer life expectancy in many richer nations. Macron's opponents say additional funding for pensions could come from other sources, without having to make workers retire later. Demonstrations got underway peacefully Tuesday morning, with large crowds in multiple cities. But police braced for violence later in the day. The interior minister said more than 1,000 "radical" troublemakers, some from overseas, could latch on to marches in Paris and elsewhere. "They come to destroy, to injure and to kill police officers and gendarmes. Their goals have nothing to do with the pension reform. Their goals are to destabilize our republican institutions and bring blood and fire down on France," the minister said Monday in detailing the policing. Some protesters, human rights campaigners and Macron's political opponents allege that police officers have used excessive force against demonstrators. A police oversight body is investigating multiple claims of wrongdoing by officers. The striking railway workers outside Gare de Lyon marched behind a banner that alleged: "The police mutilates. We don't forgive!" Macron's opponents are urging him to cool tempers by backing down. Union leader Laurent Berger appealed Tuesday for a pause in implementing the retirement reform and for mediation. "If we want to avoid tensions — and I want to avoid them —- what the trade unions are proposing is a gesture to calm things down," he said. "It must be seized." But government spokesman Olivier Veran said mediation wasn't needed for unions and the government to talk to each other. The latest round of protests prompted Macron to indefinitely postpone a planned state visit this week by King Charles III. Veran insisted, however, that France remains a welcoming place for all non-royal visitors. "Life goes on," he said.

The Latest LCCC English analysis & editorials from miscellaneous sources published on March 28-29/2023
The Twilight of an Old US in a New World

Nadim Koteich/Asharq Al Awsat/March, 28/2023
At the heart of both the Middle East and Europe, there have recently been several prominent several cases in point and turning points that underline the cold and hot war between Washington and China. The United States found itself on the margins as regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran concluded an agreement to normalize relations in Beijing, personally brokered by Chinese President Xi Jinping, highlighting the decline of US influence in the Middle East. This development not only affirms the growing importance of China’s role in the region, but also suggests the dawn of a new era in international relations. China now plays a central role in shaping and directing global developments. Nothing attests to this fact more categorically than the Chinese president’s recent trip to Moscow, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Unfettered by the political implication of the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant against Putin, Xi stressed the fact that the world is undergoing a period of change like no other we have seen in the past century. In parallel with this political spectacle, China, Iran, and Russia - all at odds with the United States - conducted joint naval exercises in the Gulf of Oman as part of the “Maritime Security Belt-2023.” These exercises attest to the three countries’ growing political and military relations, and they send a message: a multipolar world that threatens unipolar US hegemony is taking shape.
Moreover, Putin hosting Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and the efforts to reinforce the rapprochement between Syria and Türkiye, a NATO member, also reflect the ongoing challenges posed by Washington’s opponents. Adeptly seizing the opportunity presented by the fact that the United States is busy dealing with the war between Russia and Ukraine, US rivals have used multilateral mediation to resolve and settle regional conflicts. By their strengthening diplomatic, political, and military coordination, these countries have shown themselves to be serious about confronting the US and redefining global geopolitics and the international balance of power in such a way that undermines the United States’ longstanding dominance on the global stage. On the other hand, as China plays mediator in the Middle East and consistently challenges US influence on several political, technological, and economic matters, and while Russia strives to take substantial steps forward in the region to reinforce the idea that its war in Ukraine has not undermined its international status or its ability to multitask, Washington has focused on enhancing military and security partnerships with countries around China and engaged profoundly with the war in Ukraine.
Indeed, in an attempt to make up for China’s growing presence in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia revealed new details about the AUKUS agreement aimed at delivering nuclear-powered submarines to Canberra, which has raised apprehension and resentment in China.
Furthermore, as a result of Washington’s ongoing efforts, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol have agreed to go beyond the disputes between their countries, committing to work closely together on addressing urgent security concerns in the region, such as North Korean missile tests and China’s growing influence. When the two men met in Tokyo, it was the first time a South Korean leader visited Japan in over a decade. They agreed to resume “shuttle diplomacy” and settle a long-standing trade dispute tied to high-tech products required to manufacture semiconductors.
This political breakthrough is a significant development that doubtlessly worries Beijing. The latter would prefer to exploit animosity and tension among its neighbors, not watch on as Washington makes use of an opposite state of affairs.
It seems that the conflict between the United States and its opponents goes beyond mere symbolism, exchanges of political blows, and diplomatic theater. Russian Su-27 fighters’ recent downing a US MQ-9 Reaper drone over the Black Sea, as well as the US Army downing of a Chinese spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina in February, demonstrate the potential for unexpected clashes. Worse still, given the fragile balance between the competing countries, both incidents could give rise to military escalation.
Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) chief Doug Wade has recently sounded the alarm about the relationship between the United States and China. He warned that it is descending into a phase of markedly high friction, as Beijing sees the US as an obstacle on its path toward obtaining the global status it deserves. Wade also argues that though it would prefer to avoid it, China is ready for confrontation.
Amid the escalating political and military conflict between the United States and China, we have seen more and more indications that the economic links between the two countries are being severed. Historically, the two country’s shared economic interests have cooled their disputes and tensions. However, the decoupling of these two great powers’ economies is undermining a fundamental and complex stabilizing element of their multifaceted relationship.
According to the DHL Global Connectedness Index 2022, which provides a comprehensive overview of globalization and its trajectory, the United States and China are moving apart at an accelerating pace. This is evident in the significant decline in trade.
As this trend continues, China has reduced its holdings of US Treasury bonds to the lowest levels seen since the global financial crisis of May 2009. In fact, China’s holdings of US Treasury bonds have declined every month for the past six months. China held $859.4 billion in Treasury bonds in January, down from $867.1 billion the month before. The developments of the past few weeks highlight the increasingly fast pace of global change. The United States is struggling to deal with the fact that new major players have emerged. It is finding it particularly difficult to face China, as well as the bold moves of both its friends and enemies. Meanwhile, a new era of international affairs is emerging - one that is marked by the remarkable pace at which the previous balance of power is disintegrating and sharp political twists and turns.
The challenge for the United States is how to chart a course that allows it to navigate through this complex and volatile environment, thereby reestablishing its status on the global stage or redefining the boundaries and features of this status in line with the newly emergent state of affairs.

The Potential Trump Indictment is Unwise
David French/The New York Times/Tuesday, 28 March, 2023
For the first time in American history, a hotly anticipated indictment of a former American president may actually be handed up. Manhattan’s district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, seems set to bring charges related to Donald Trump’s allegedly paying off a porn star named Stormy Daniels to cover up their affair. There are, however, significant problems with the case. Proving that Trump paid hush money to Daniels and unlawfully falsified records of the payments shouldn’t be difficult. In 2018, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and fixer, pleaded guilty to criminal campaign finance violations and admitted to paying a woman identifiable as Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her silence about her relationship with Trump. According to the Department of Justice, Cohen wasn’t merely reimbursed for this payment. He also received substantial additional sums to cover any tax liabilities connected with the reimbursement. These payments were allegedly falsely claimed as legal expenses by the company paying Cohen.
This basic narrative is the strongest part of the prosecution’s case. But not only is the underlying crime of falsifying business records a mere misdemeanor; the two-year statute of limitations expired long ago.
So how can Trump be prosecuted? If Bragg can prove that, contrary to New York State law, Trump falsified records when the “intent to defraud includes an intent to commit another crime or to aid or conceal the commission thereof,” he can prove that Trump committed a felony, and a felony not only carries stiffer penalties; it has a five-year statute of limitations.
Still following? Good, because there’s more: New York law states that the limitation period, whether two or five years, does not include “any period following the commission of the offense” when “the defendant was continuously outside this state.” A 1999 New York Court of Appeals case held that the law meant that “all periods of a day or more that a nonresident defendant is out of state should be totaled and toll the statute of limitations.” Under that reading, that statute of limitations clock stopped ticking when Trump was away.
But what is the other crime that can convert a charge of records falsification to a felony? Most likely prosecutors will rely on an allegation of violating federal campaign finance law, specifically the claim that the hush money payments to Daniels were illegal campaign contributions. But this is also not a simple case to make: The prosecution may claim that state campaign finance laws apply to Trump, and his payments thus violated New York law, but remember we’re talking about a presidential election. A federal statute expressly states that the relevant campaign finance laws “supersede and pre-empt any provision of state law with respect to election to federal office.” This law represents a formidable barrier to prosecuting Trump under state campaign finance laws, and there is no obvious path around it.
Setting that aside, the claim that Trump violated federal law isn’t frivolous. The core question is whether the payments constituted campaign expenditures or mere personal expenditures, defined by Federal Election Commission rules as funds used “to fulfill a commitment, obligation or expense of any person that would exist irrespective of the candidate’s campaign.”
Trump’s likely defense to any federal charge is simple, that the hush-money payments had nothing to do with his campaign and everything to do with trying to spare his family the embarrassment of Daniels’s allegations. He’d make that payment anytime, regardless of whether he was running for president.
That’s a facially compelling argument, but in a 2018 National Review piece I argued that the weight of evidence indicates that it’s wrong. Daniels claims her affair with Trump started in 2006 and continued sporadically thereafter, yet the payments weren’t made until the heat of the final moments of a closely contested presidential campaign.
Even though I believe Cohen committed a campaign finance violation (and even though the Department of Justice mounted an unsuccessful prosecution of the 2004 Democratic vice-presidential nominee John Edwards on a similar legal theory), I’m still skeptical of Bragg’s Manhattan case. Ryan Goodman and Andrew Weissmann recently argued in these pages that “it would be anathema to the rule of law not to prosecute the principal for the crime when a lower-level conspirator”— meaning Cohen — “has been prosecuted.” Yet that’s exactly the choice the Department of Justice made. Neither the Trump nor the Biden Justice Department brought federal charges against Trump. In addition, Cyrus Vance Jr., a previous Manhattan district attorney, investigated the same case and did not bring charges.
Add these factors, and Bragg’s case against Trump starts to look, well, unique. We’re talking about the first-ever indictment of a former president brought by a state district attorney — one that his predecessor didn’t choose to seek and that relies on federal criminal claims that the Department of Justice declined to prosecute. It’s no wonder that even Bragg’s aggressive former prosecutor Mark Pomerantz was concerned that the Daniels case was, as The New York Times reported, “too risky under New York law.” A Reuters article described the legal theories supporting a prosecution for the Daniels payments as “untested.” A January New York Times story also accurately called the theories “largely untested.”None of this justifies Trumpist attacks on the rule of law. Incitements to violence or Senator Rand Paul’s inflammatory declaration that Bragg should be “put in jail” demonstrate the extent to which the Trump movement thinks its leader should be exempt from conventional legal process. Trump — like any American defendant — has an opportunity to oppose criminal charges, in court, before a judge and a jury.
I believe very strongly that the president is not above the law. I also believe, as I wrote in a previous piece, that the rule of lenity should apply to all criminal defendants, including Trump. The rule of lenity, according to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, is a principle of statutory construction that states “when a law is unclear or ambiguous, the court should apply it in the way that is most favorable to the defendant.” The government simply shouldn’t stretch the law to mount a criminal prosecution.
The best place to bring a Trump case related to the Daniels payoffs was in federal court, in the Southern District of New York. That’s where Cohen was prosecuted. That’s where Cohen pleaded guilty. That’s where criminal complaints about the relevant federal campaign violations should have been heard. But should state officials bring a state claim that depends on an accusation of having violated federal law when federal charges were never filed?
My conclusion is no and not because I believe that the Manhattan district attorney should grant a former president any degree of special deference. Nor is it because I necessarily think Trump’s conduct was legal. Trump is a citizen of the United States and should enjoy no more — and no less — legal protection than any of us. But no one should face the potential loss of liberty on a case that requires so much acrobatics to make.

National Security Threat: Another Latin American Country Chooses China
Judith Bergman/Gatestone Institute./March 28, 2023
The Biden administration seems adept at launching grand schemes that make it look as if it is doing something about countering China in Latin America, but American leadership seems to be entirely absent.
This absence of US leadership in Latin America has become seriously critical: senior military commanders in the US warn that China's actions in Latin America pose increasing risks to US national security.
"What concerns me as a Combatant Commander is the myriad of ways in which the PRC is spreading its malign influence, wielding its economic might, and conducting gray zone activities to expand its military and political access and influence..." — General Laura Jane Richardson, Commander, US Southern Command, to the House Armed Services Committee, March 8, 2023.
"The PRC is investing in critical infrastructure, including deep-water ports, cyber, and space facilities which can have a potential dual use for malign commercial and military activities. In any potential global conflict, the PRC could leverage strategic regional ports to restrict U.S. naval and commercial ship access. This is a strategic risk that we can't accept or ignore." — General Laura Jane Richardson, March 8, 2023.
Unfortunately, ignoring those risks seems to be exactly what the Biden administration is doing.
What is the point of such [US] programs, however, if they are unable to stop Latin American countries from being forced to turn to China for leadership, or at least having the US try to counter yet another future Chinese takeover in Latin America?
The decision of Honduras to cut ties with Taiwan and establish diplomatic ties with China reveals the status and influence that the Chinese Communist Party now has in Latin America: it has become the go-to power for investments in construction and development, and the servicing of debts. Pictured: Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and Honduras Foreign Minister Eduardo Enrique Reina celebrate the establishment of diplomatic relations on March 26, 2023 in Beijing, China.
Honduras recently cut ties with Taiwan and established diplomatic ties with China.
Honduras' Foreign Minister Eduardo Reina made it clear that the decision was about "pragmatism, not ideology" and that it was motivated by the country's debt, which totals $20 billion, as well as the need to deal with the country's energy and other needs. Honduras' decision came just weeks after the Honduran government announced that it was negotiating with China to build a hydroelectric dam called Patuca II. China has already invested $298 million in a first dam in eastern Honduras inaugurated in January 2021.
Honduras "had to take that decision," Reina said. "The idea is to look for mechanisms for greater investment [and] commerce."
The Honduran decision further reveals the status and influence that Chinese Communist Party now has in Latin America; it has become the go-to power for Latin American countries in need of investments in construction and development, and the servicing of their debts. That they turn to China, and not to the neighboring United States, is also extremely telling of just how diminished US power and influence on the Latin American continent has become.
Honduras will not be the last country to turn to China. The opposition in Paraguay recently announced that if it wins the elections in April, it will do the same. This follows a trend that has been recognizable for a while: "In the past four years, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Panama have each switched their recognition from Taiwan to China," TIME Magazine wrote in February 2021.
This is all happening despite US President Joe Biden's pledge from March 2020, while campaigning for the presidency, that he would restore American leadership to Latin America and counter China's growing influence there:
"It is the current absence of American leadership in the Western Hemisphere that is the primary threat to U.S. national security. Russia and China can't match our extraordinary ties and common history with the people of Latin America and the Caribbean."
Evidently, they can, in the absence of any noticeable American leadership. The Honduran case shows that the people of Latin America have finally turned to China and not the US, which remains passively standing on the sidelines, politically and economically, watching as China literally turns the continent into its subject.
In June 2021, Biden launched the Build Back Better World project as a means to counter China, but that project – unlike China's Belt and Road Initiative -- largely relies on private investors.
A year later, in June 2022, at the Summit of the Americas, Biden announced the "Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity" a new US economic partnership with Latin America, also launched to counter China's growing power in the region. The initiative promised to reinvigorate regional economic institutions and mobilize investment, among other projects.
What is the point of such programs, however, if they are unable to stop Latin American countries from being forced to turn to China for leadership, or at least having the US try to counter yet another future Chinese takeover in Latin America? There are reportedly more than 1,000 State Department personnel in Peru, for instance, according to sources who have served there, but have asked for confidentiality. What are they doing there? Literally? Is it just another bloated State Department bureaucracy?
The Biden administration seems adept at launching grand schemes that make it look as if it is doing something about countering China in Latin America, but American leadership seems to be entirely absent.
This absence of US leadership in Latin America has become critical. Senior US military commanders warn that China's actions in Latin America pose increasing risks to US national security.
General Laura Jane Richardson, Commander of the US Southern Command, told the House Armed Services Committee this month about her apprehensions over China's activities in Latin America. These include China's recent financing of a $3 billion container port in Peru, and the establishment of a space monitoring station near the Straits of Magellan.
"What concerns me as a Combatant Commander is the myriad of ways in which the PRC is spreading its malign influence, wielding its economic might, and conducting gray zone activities to expand its military and political access and influence... The PRC is investing in critical infrastructure, including deep-water ports, cyber, and space facilities which can have a potential dual use for malign commercial and military activities. In any potential global conflict, the PRC could leverage strategic regional ports to restrict U.S. naval and commercial ship access. This is a strategic risk that we can't accept or ignore."
Unfortunately, ignoring those risks seems to be exactly what the Biden administration is doing.
Richardson concluded:
"Today, the PRC has both the capability and intent to eschew international norms, advance its brand of authoritarianism, and amass power and influence at the expense of the existing and emerging democracies in our hemisphere. This is a decisive decade and our actions or inactions regarding the PRC will have ramifications for decades to come."
*Judith Bergman, a columnist, lawyer and political analyst, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.
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Iraq, 20 years later: no accountability and no lessons learned
James J. Zogby/The Arab Weekly/March 28/2023
And so here we are, two decades after the war with no accountability for the lies that left thousands of young Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead.
It is tragic and deeply distressing that twenty years after the US launched its disastrous invasion of Iraq that the ignorance, lies and cruelty of that war have never been acknowledged. 
The neocons in the Bush administration believed that our enemies had attacked on 9/11 because they perceived us as weak. Postulating that a quick and decisive victory would demonstrate US strength and resolve, the neocons thought the war would ensure US hegemony for decades to come. 
I had served on a think tank-sponsored task force with many leading proponents of this worldview and was astounded by their hubris born of ignorance. They did not know, nor consider it important to know, Iraq. They were guided by a one-size-fits-all Manichean ideology: forces of good and evil in combat across the globe; a clash between them inevitable; and in that confrontation good ultimately prevailing. Those who issued cautions were demeaned as weak and lacking resolve. 
These “experts” took to the airwaves preying on a still shell-shocked public that knew even less about Iraq or the broader Middle East. In testimonies before Congress and on television the war’s proponents embellished their “good versus evil” portrait and deliberately misinformed the Congress and public about the impending war.
The “big lie” about Iraq was not about weapons of mass destruction, but rather a preposterous deceit about the war’s costs and terms of engagement. Leading administration spokesmen testified that: the war would be over in a few weeks; US forces would be greeted as liberators; it would cost no more than $1 or $2 billion; and in the end a new democracy in Iraq would be a “beacon for the new Middle East.”Journalists and commentators echoed these fact-free claims making them the dominant narrative. Most politicians cowered and because the overwhelming majority of the public could not find Iraq on a map (according to a survey conducted days before the invasion was to begin), they went along. 
During the months leading up to the start of the war, my wife and I were in North Carolina where I was teaching at Davidson College. At one point, I flew back to Washington to debate a resolution I had submitted to the Democratic National Committee urging the party to oppose sending our young people into a war without knowing its costs, terms of engagement and consequences, in a country whose history and culture we did not know. The party leaders allowed me to present the resolution but would not permit a vote.
At the time, I was hosting a weekly live television call-in programme on Abu Dhabi TV and Direct TV in the US. ADTV arranged two live satellite shows connecting students at Davidson with students at Baghdad University. It opened my students’ eyes to Iraqi history, culture and sensitivities. After the programme one of the Davidson students told me that it was so hard to be speaking with the Iraqis knowing that we were going to be bombing them. 
Two decades later we have largely forgotten the lies and no one has been held accountable.
President Barack Obama released the Bush era torture memos, commissioned to provide a “legal” justification for and define allowable methods that could be used to torture prisoners captured in Afghanistan and Iraq, raising hopes for accountability for war crimes. The memos were horrifyingly graphic in describing permissible torture practices. But after releasing the memos, Obama announced that “we wouldn’t look backwards.”
And so here we are, two decades after the war with no accountability for the lies that left thousands of young Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis dead. The same neocon hawks, still considered “experts,” are now on the airwaves peddling their Manichean nonsense about other conflicts and enemies. And the American public remains uninformed not only about Iraq, and what we did there, but also about the entire Middle East and its history and culture. 
We continue to operate blindly in a world that is increasingly wary of our role precisely because of the lack of accountability and understanding of history. The truth is that accountability would not make us weaker. It would make us smart, stronger and more respected.
*Dr James J. Zogby is President of the Washington-based Arab American Institute.

Dialogue offers hope for de-escalation of Israeli-Palestinian crisis
Nickolay Mladenov/The Arab Weekly/March 28/2023
As someone who has negotiated ceasefires between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, I can attest that de-escalation will be ineffective unless paired with plans to address the economic, social and political dimensions of the crisis.
On March 19, senior political and security officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA), Egypt, Jordan and the United States met in Sharm El Sheikh to address escalating violence across Israel and the West Bank. Three weeks earlier, a similar session was held in nearby Aqaba, convened at Jordan's request. With nearly 90 Palestinians and 14 Israelis killed since the beginning of the year, the meetings were held amid fear that a convergence of Islamic, Jewish and Christian religious celebrations next month could provoke even greater violence.
As someone who has negotiated ceasefires between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, I can attest that de-escalation will be ineffective unless paired with plans to address the economic, social and political dimensions of the crisis. Legitimate concerns must be addressed within a shared narrative that encourages stepping back from the brink. Only then can meaningful de-escalation occur, creating the necessary space for political resolution.
In Aqaba, the intent was there. Both Israel and the PA agreed to abstain temporarily from unilateral actions that might exacerbate the situation. For Palestinians, this means pausing their diplomatic efforts at United Nations bodies, while Israel has committed to a four-month halt on discussions of new settlement units and a six-month stop on outpost authorisations.
The agreements reached in Sharm El Sheikh expanded upon these initial measures and now include not only calls for de-escalation but also outline a framework for action. If implemented, the following three points from the Sharm El Sheikh communiqué could serve as crucial stepping stones for progress.
First, the agreement to create a mechanism for strengthening the Palestinian economy must be followed by the swift implementation of several long-standing projects which the US has consistently advocated. These initiatives range from extending the operating hours of the Allenby crossing to promote Palestinian trade through Jordan, to improving mobile services (4G), bonded warehouses and electronic VAT receipts.
Over the long-term, both Israeli and Palestinian economies would benefit from updating and modernising the economic agreements signed as part of the Oslo framework, known as the Paris Protocol.
New trade arrangements that include crossings, customs areas and warehouses would also need to be agreed. Removing non-customs restrictions and obstacles to the movement of Palestinian goods and closing the many fiscal leakages that have emerged through the years are just some of the important measures that can be taken. Second, the communiqué’s provision to “significantly enhance the fiscal situation” of the PA carries considerable importance. The PA has faced a relentless fiscal crisis due to a mix of domestic and external factors, which has severely limited the government's capacity to borrow funds, invest in development and ultimately, pay salaries.
While these reforms would address public payroll reduction, fiscal leakages, corruption and inefficiencies, the immediate priority is to prevent the PA’s financial collapse, which would lead to unemployment for tens of thousands and heightened tensions across the West Bank. This can be achieved through two means: Israel facilitating grants or loans to the PA, backed by its future tax revenues; and through a reduction of handling fees at the Allenby crossing.
Additionally, the Palestinian government must reform its controversial prisoner payment system, which faces increasing scrutiny from the US and the EU. This is essential to regain access to some of its tax income, currently withheld under Israeli law and potential US funding withheld by the Taylor Force Act. Although these steps are challenging and will face resistance from large domestic constituencies, they are both necessary and long overdue.
Third, the Sharm El Sheikh communiqué calls for a joint mechanism to counter violence, incitement, inflammatory statements and actions. Regardless of whether a formal mechanism is established or both parties convene informally, it is essential that conversations begin on these subjects.
The immediate focus of any discussion should be twofold. On one hand, talks should emphasise enhancing security coordination and empowering Palestinian security forces to assume their duties and responsibilities effectively in their areas of operation, particularly in Area A of the West Bank, which falls under its security control. This would alleviate the need for Israel to take unilateral action and undermine the PA’s control in these areas.
However, this is a difficult step for the PA security forces, as they are reluctant to act in places such as Jenin and Nablus due to fears of popular backlash.
On the other hand, improved coordination and communication in tense situations could help mitigate inflammatory statements and actions by all parties involved. The US, Egypt and Jordan have the potential to play a significant role in facilitating such dialogue.
Uncertainty remains whether the positive momentum created at the Aqaba and Sharm El Sheikh gatherings can yield tangible results and withstand pressures, either from the coinciding Holy Days of Ramadan, Passover and Easter, which all fall in April, or from radicals who are intent on escalation.
Yet, the true challenge lies in executing the steps agreed upon during the meetings. This necessitates not high-level international events, but rather, diligent efforts in daily communication and a mutual understanding that without such measures, tensions will continue to climb and the situation may rapidly spiral out of control. The implementation of all or some of these measures remains an open question. Yet given the now-defunct Middle East Quartet, which previously united the US with Russia, the EU and the UN to address such situations, it is reassuring that Washington is engaging with Egypt and Jordan in a new format that brings Israelis and Palestinians together.
Obstacles may arise, but the first step on the path toward political resolution is for Israeli and Palestinian security officials to agree that without coordination, the current crisis will only deepen.
*Nickolay Mladenov is the Director General of the Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy (AGDA) and a Segal Distinguished Visiting Fellow with the Washington Institute for Near the Policy . He served as the UN Secretary General’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and UN Special Representative for Iraq. He previously held the positions of Bulgaria’s minister of foreign affairs and minister of defence. Twitter: @nmladenov