Saudi sheep revisited

Another old story that has curiously popped up in the middle of an election campaign.

The Saudi sheep deal was embarrassing for the government and deserved scrutiny, but I have suspicions when a story dating back to 2013, that was a big thing in the media in 2015, suddenly pops up right now.

RNZ: Saudi sheep deal: MFAT didn’t provide legal advice on lawsuit risk

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not provide legal advice to the government on the risk of being sued by a disgruntled Saudi Arabian businessman, documents reveal.

The admission that no legal advice on the lawsuit threat ever existed directly contradicts comments in 2015 by then-Foreign Minister Murray McCully that the ministry had taken advice on the issue.

The National government did an $11.5 million deal with Saudi businessman Hamood Al Ali Al Khalaf after Cabinet was advised in February 2013 that the Al Khalaf Group was threatening to sue New Zealand for $20-$30m. Mr Al Khalaf had invested heavily in New Zealand and believed New Zealand’s 2003 ban on live exports had left him misled and out of pocket.

In a 2015 interview on TV3’s The Nation, Mr McCully was asked repeatedly what the advice said and whether he would release it.

He replied “it’s the ministry’s advice” and “I’m not going to release the ministry’s advice”. When asked if there was any legal basis for a lawsuit, he said “the advice was that those circumstances did provide such a basis”.

Yet an Official Information Act response from MFAT “following discussion with the Chief Ombudsman” has revealed “it did not seek or provide advice on the extent of the risk of a claim in the New Zealand courts for compensation from the Al Khalaf Group against the government”.

“Effectively, the minister had misled the public,” said Labour’s David Parker.

“This confirms that the $4m cash payment was never legitimate and thanks to disgraceful covering up by MFAT and McCully it has taken more than two years to get an answer.”

So why is this story timed now? McCully is out of Parliament in a week.

Has the timing of the information being released been designed to hide the story in the mass of election coverage?

Or is it timed to try and influence the election by embarrassing the government?

A $4m cash deal should be questioned, but amongst the current lolly scramble it may be seen as just a few more of our dollars thrown around by politicians.

The Nation: interview with Boris Johnson

I’m not sure what the point of his visit was.  He isn’t in a position to commit to anything on NZ trade with the UK, nor with visa conditions.

So Owen doesn’t bother spending long on NZ related issues and goes on the the Middle East, arms supplies to Saudi Arabia and the civil war in Yemen.

That’s a novel approach – that should sort things out pretty quickly.

UAE orchestrated hacking of Qatari government sites

U.S. intelligence officials have alleged that the UAE at least orchestrated hacking of Qatari Government websites to post false quotes that were then used to justify major sanctions against Qatar.

Washington Post: UAE orchestrated hacking of Qatari government sites, sparking regional upheaval, according to U.S. intelligence officials

The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in late May that sparked the ongoing upheaval between Qatar and its neighbors, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Officials became aware last week that newly analyzed information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies confirmed that on May 23, senior members of the UAE government discussed the plan and its implementation. The officials said it remains unclear whether the UAE carried out the hacks itself or contracted to have them done. The false reports said that the emir, among other things, had called Iran an “Islamic power” and praised Hamas.

The hacks and posting took place on May 24, shortly after President Trump completed a lengthy counterterrorism meeting with Persian Gulf leaders in neighboring Saudi Arabia and declared them unified.

Citing the emir’s reported comments, the Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt immediately banned all Qatari media. They then broke relations with Qatar and declared a trade and diplomatic boycott, sending the region into a political and diplomatic tailspin that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned could undermine U.S. counterterrorism efforts against the Islamic State.

In a statement released in Washington by its ambassador, Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE said the Post article was “false.”

“The UAE had no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking described in the article,” the statement said. “What is true is Qatar’s behavior. Funding, supporting, and enabling extremists from the Taliban to Hamas and Qadafi. Inciting violence, encouraging radicalization, and undermining the stability of its neighbors.”

The US were in a difficult position. They have their main Middle East military base in Qatar.

The conflict has also exposed sharp differences between Trump — who has clearly taken the Saudi and UAE side in a series of tweets and statements — and Tillerson, who has urged compromise and spent most of last week in shuttle diplomacy among the regional capitals that has been unsuccessful so far.

“We don’t expect any near-term resolution,” Tillerson aide R.C. Hammond said Saturday.

The claim of UAE orchestrated hacking probably won’t help achieve a resolution.

13 point ultimatum for Qatar

Qatar has been issued with a 13 point ultimatum and has been given 10 days to comply as Saudi Arabia and their allies pile the pressure on top of the blockade.

Guardian:  Qatar given 10 days to meet 13 sweeping demands by Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and its allies have issued a threatening 13-point ultimatum to Qatar as the price for lifting a two-week trade and diplomatic embargo of the country, in a marked escalation of the Gulf’s worst diplomatic dispute in decades.

The onerous list of demands includes stipulations that Doha close the broadcaster al-Jazeera, drastically scale back cooperation with Iran, remove Turkish troops from Qatar’s soil, end contact with groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and submit to monthly external compliance checks. Qatar has been given 10 days to comply with the demands or face unspecified consequences.

Saudi Arabia and the other nations leading the blockade – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt – launched an economic and diplomatic blockade on the energy-rich country a fortnight ago, initially claiming the Qatari royal family had licensed the funding of terrorism across the Middle East for decades. Since then, the allies appear to be pushing for the isolation of Iran and the suppression of dissenting media in the region.

Ordering a shut down of Al Jazeera on it’s own should be of concern to Gezza, and anyone who values free press.

Qatar has become reliant on Turkey and Iran for food imports since the embargo was imposed on 5 June and insists with its huge wealth it can survive the embargo for an indefinite period.

Qatar is the richest country in the world per head of population.

In a sign that the UK does not regard the demands as reasonable, foreign secretary Boris Johnson said on Friday: “Gulf unity can only be restored when all countries involved are willing to discuss terms that are measured and realistic.

“The UK calls upon the Gulf states to find a way of de-escalating the situation and lifting the current embargo and restrictions which are having an impact on the everyday lives of people in the region.”

Sounds sensible but ineffective.

US policy towards Qatar so far has been marked by confusion. President Donald Trump has appeared to take credit for the Saudi embargo and described Qatar as a haven for terrorism.

By contrast, the State Department under Rex Tillerson has twice upbraided Saudi Arabia’s approach to Qatar and questioned its true motives in sparking the diplomatic crisis.

In recent days the State Department has been pressing Saudi to specify the actions Qatar must take to see the embargo lifted, but warned that those demands need to be “reasonable and actionable”.

The US has a large military base in Qatar. It also has an unpredictable president.

The demands:

  1. Curb diplomatic ties with Iran and close its diplomatic missions there. Expel members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and cut off any joint military cooperation with Iran. Only trade and commerce with Iran that complies with US and international sanctions will be permitted.
  2. Sever all ties to “terrorist organisations”, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al-Qaida and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Formally declare those entities as terrorist groups.
  3. Shut down al-Jazeera and its affiliate stations.
  4. Shut down news outlets that Qatar funds, directly and indirectly, including Arabi21, Rassd, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed and Middle East Eye.
  5. Immediately terminate the Turkish military presence in Qatar and end any joint military cooperation with Turkey inside Qatar.
  6. Stop all means of funding for individuals, groups or organisations that have been designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, the US and other countries.
  7. Hand over “terrorist figures” and wanted individuals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain to their countries of origin. Freeze their assets, and provide any desired information about their residency, movements and finances.
  8. End interference in sovereign countries’ internal affairs. Stop granting citizenship to wanted nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Revoke Qatari citizenship for existing nationals where such citizenship violates those countries’ laws.
  9. Stop all contacts with the political opposition in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. Hand over all files detailing Qatar’s prior contacts with and support for those opposition groups.
  10.  Pay reparations and compensation for loss of life and other, financial losses caused by Qatar’s policies in recent years. The sum will be determined in coordination with Qatar.
  11.  Consent to monthly audits for the first year after agreeing to the demands, then once per quarter during the second year. For the following 10 years, Qatar would be monitored annually for compliance.
  12.  Align itself with the other Gulf and Arab countries militarily, politically, socially and economically, as well as on economic matters, in line with an agreement reached with Saudi Arabia in 2014.
  13.  Agree to all the demands within 10 days of it being submitted to Qatar, or the list becomes invalid.

I really don’t know much about how things work in the Middle East but that list seems highly hypocritical, and must be designed to be impossible to comply with because some of those demands are not just ridiculous, they would amount to Qatar being controlled by foreign dictat.

Qatar tensions still

The Qatar dispute continues to simmer, with a risk of war being suggested.

Reuters:  Gulf leaders trade barbs as Qatar dispute shows no let-up

Gulf states traded public barbs on Saturday, showing little sign of resolving the region’s deepest rift in years, five days after Arab nations severed diplomatic, trade and transport ties with the tiny Gulf kingdom of Qatar, .

Foreign leaders expressed growing concern over the dispute, which pits Qatar against Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt. With backing from U.S. President Donald Trump, they accuse Qatar of supporting their regional arch-rival Iran as well as Islamist militants.

After German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the situation “very unsettling” on Friday, her foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, cautioned on Saturday that it could lead to war.

Kuwait…

…has led a regional effort to mediate, but the four states intensified the pressure on Friday by placing dozens of people with alleged links to Qatar on terrorism blacklists.

A senior UAE official…

…followed on Saturday by calling Qatar “duplicitous”, alleging in a series of tweets that its funding of militants had sown chaos and violence throughout the region.

Qatar’s foreign minister,,,

…fired back that there was “no clarity” in such accusations, speaking in an interview with RT Arabic in Moscow after emerging from talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“Qatar is accused of having a hidden relationship with Iran, but its relations with Iran are clear, transparent and time-tested,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, noting that the UAE does more trade with Iran than Qatar does.

He denied that Qatar supported Egypt’s outlawed Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip. He dismissed as “fantasy” a Saudi media report that he had met in Baghdad with the head of Iran’s Quds Force, controlled by Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov…

…told Sheikh al-Thani of Moscow’s concern and called for talks.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan…

…- who has pledged food and troops to Qatar in the face of a blockade from its neighbours – hosted Bahrain’s foreign minister and urged that the dispute be resolved by the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Niger…

announced it had recalled its ambassador to Qatar in solidarity with Arab countries.

The US and Trump

The US position is still as confused as Trump

However, mixed messages from U.S. officials appeared to complicate the diplomacy, as Gulf media cited selectively from divergent statements to bolster their positions.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain…

…issued statements welcoming U.S. President Donald Trump’s demand the previous day for Qatar to stop supporting terrorism, while ignoring a U.S. State Department call for them to ease pressure.

Saudi Arabia…

…said it was committed to “decisive and swift action to cut off all funding sources for terrorism” in a statement carried by the state news agency SPA, while Bahrain hailed U.S. efforts to ensure “international solidarity” on the issue.

The United Arab Emirates…

…praised Trump’s “leadership in challenging Qatar’s troubling support for extremism” in a separate statement released on Friday.

Trump had accused Qatar of being a “high level” funder of terrorism on Friday, even as the Pentagon and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cautioned against the military, commercial and humanitarian effects of a blockade imposed by Arab states and others.

A separate SPA report on Saturday acknowledged Tillerson’s call for Qatar to curtail support for terrorism, without mentioning that he had also said the crisis was hurting ordinary Qataris, impairing business and harming the U.S. fight against the Islamic State militant group.

Saudi Arabia said its action followed the conclusions of last month’s Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh, where Trump delivered a speech about Islamist extremism.

Trump said he had helped to plan the move against Qatar, although a senior administration official told Reuters this week that Washington had had no indication from the Saudis or Emiratis during the visit that they would sever ties with Qatar.

Has Trump claimed credit for something he had no involvement in?

Is the Trump administration denying US involvement?

The US has their most important Middle easy military base in Qatar and have a deal to supply over $20 billion worth of military aircraft to Qatar.

On Trump’s trip he announced a deal for the US to supply nearly $110 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia.

Trump trumpeted this deal with “jobs, jobs, jobs”.

If US arms in Qatar are used against US arms in neighbouring Saudi Arabia and vice versa there may well be plenty of jobs in the US making bullets and bombs. There may also be a few vacancies in the US military if their soldiers, sailors and airpeople are caught in the middle of it all in Qatar.

But Trump may just send KUshner in to sort it all out and peace may rain on the parched Middle East deserts.

 

Bizarre Qatar situation

Turkey has sided with Qatar in the Middle East split:

Bloomberg:  Turkey Lines Up Behind Qatar as Gulf Crisis Fault Lines Deepen

Turkey criticized Saudi-led efforts to isolate ally Qatar, deepening the fault lines in a crisis that has engulfed one of the world’s most strategically important regions.

In defending Qatar, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan joined a growing list of Middle East nations resisting Saudi Arabia’s push for a united regional front against the gas-rich emirate, whose maverick policies have vexed the kingdom for years. On Wednesday, the head of NATO’s second-largest army offered to try to mend the rift, which has created havoc at airports and seaports, and added new tinder to the already combustible Middle East by challenging the authority of Qatar’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

“I’d like to say that we don’t find sanctions against Qatar right,” Erdogan said at a gathering in the Turkish capital, Ankara, late Tuesday. “The most appropriate way for the Gulf Cooperation Council countries to solve their internal issues is through dialogue.”

“We are ready to do everything to resolve other countries’ problems with Qatar,” he added.

Turkey and Qatar have close ties, and Erdogan has sided with the emirate against Saudi Arabia in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. Qatar is a major investor in Turkey’s $857 billion economy, with interests in media, financial and defense companies, and Turkey is building a base in the emirate.

Surprise surprise, money is involved.

Interesting that Turkey is building a base in Qatar. The US already has a large base there.

Saudi Arabia and three other U.S. allies in the region — the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain — escalated tensions that followed President Donald Trump’s Iran-bashing visit to the kingdom last month by severing ties with Qatar on Monday.

Trump gave the Saudis crucial backing on Tuesday, calling the squeeze on Qatar just punishment for the country’s financial support for Islamic extremists.

“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” Trump said on Twitter. “Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!” In two additional tweets he said the action proved that his meeting with Persian Gulf Arab leaders last month was “already paying off.”

But the US is supposed to be selling $21.1 billion (US) worth of F-15s to Qatar.

Fox News:  Qatar’s $21B deal to buy F-15s moving forward amid diplomatic battle

A plan to sell $21.1 billion worth of Boeing (BA)-made F-15 fighter jets to Qatar appears to be moving forward, despite several countries cutting diplomatic ties with the Middle Eastern nation this week.

A State Department official said the diplomatic battle and President Donald Trump’s criticism of Qatar, which is under fire for allegedly supporting terrorist groups, has not affected the pending deal to deliver 72 F-15QA multirole fighters, according to Fox News.

In a statement, Boeing said it’s “closely following recent developments.”

“We have been working closely with the U.S. and Qatari governments on this proposed sale. We continue to expect that an agreement will be signed,” Boeing added.

What a convoluted mess it is.

I think it’s likely that Trump has no idea how complex things are there. It seems as long as there’s business in it he will back it, but the military complications are bizarre.

Complicating Middle East split

Five Middle East countries have severed ties with Qatar, complicating an already very complex situation there, and and making things awkward for the US which has a major military base there.

NY Times: 5 Arab States Break Ties With Qatar, Complicating U.S. Coalition-Building

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries severed all ties with Qatar

early Monday, in a renewal of a four-year effort to isolate it and in a sign of a new boldness after a visit to the region by President Trump.

In an abrupt and surprising move, the five Arab states not only suspended diplomatic relations, as they have in the past, but also cut off land, air and sea travel to and from Qatar. All but Egypt, which has many thousands of people working there, ordered their citizens to leave the country.

Qatar, like other monarchies in the Persian Gulf, is a close ally of Washington, and it hosts a major American military base that commands the United States-led air campaign against the Islamic State.

As such, the feud among regional allies threatens to stress the operations of the American-led coalition and complicate efforts in the region to confront Iran — but could also be a heavy blow to Tehran’s regional ambitions, if Qatar is forced to sever ties.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson offered to broker the impasse on Monday in the hope of preserving the Trump administration’s efforts to create broad coalitions against Iran and terrorist groups in the Middle East.

“We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Tillerson’s visit to New Zealand may be little more than some time out from difficult and complex issues elsewhere in the world.

The severing of all connections by Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen created an immediate crisis for Qatar. Qatari diplomats were given 48 hours to leave their posts in Bahrain, while Qatari citizens were allotted two weeks to depart Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Saudi Arabia said it was taking the action to “protect its national security from the dangers of terrorism and extremism.” The Foreign Ministry of Qatar released a statement saying the action had “no basis in fact” and was “unjustified.”

The Iranian government criticized the Saudi-led action against Qatar in a diplomatically worded rebuke. “Neighbors are permanent; geography can’t be changed,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on his Twitter account. “Coercion is never the solution,” Mr. Zarif said. “Dialogue is imperative, especially during blessed Ramadan.”

Why make this move, and why now?

It was not immediately clear why the five countries decided to take this action now. Last month, Qatar’s state news media published comments attributed to the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, referring to tension with Washington over Iran policy and saying Mr. Trump might not be in power for long. Qatar denied the comments, saying it had been the victim of a “cybercrime.”

But most analysts pointed to President Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia.

But the move also creates potential complications for the United States — raising questions about whether the Trump administration knew it was happening; if they understood the pitfalls; if they attempted to counter it and could not.

Everything is a complication in the Middle East.

In another indication of how the Trump visit may have emboldened Gulf monarchies, Bahrain has cracked down on opposition from its Shiite majority over the last two weeks.

In international affairs even the best intentions rarely achieve their aims without at least some adverse reactions and effects.

Its actions are a study in contradictions. Qatar has good relations with Iran, but hosts the American air base, is helping to fight the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen and supports insurgents against the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, which is backed by Tehran. And yet, the Qatari emir once gave Mr. Assad an Airbus plane.

Home to some Israeli officials, Qatar has also given refuge to Khaled Mashal, a leader of Hamas, the hard-line Islamist group in Gaza that advocates the destruction of Israel.

Tensions had been building for years, beginning with Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and through the broadcasts of the Pan-Arab news network Al Jazeera, which Qatar funds.

Qatar’s rivals have also faulted it for condoning fund-raising for militant Islamist groups fighting in Syria, although several of the other Sunni-led monarchies in the region have played similar roles.

So the US has a military base that it uses to fight ISIS in a country that allegedly supports fund raising for ISIS.

Qatar’s opponents have recently added a third allegation to those grievances: that it is conspiring with their regional rival, Iran.

In his visit to the Middle East Trump named Iran as the main enemy of peace in the Middle East.

However the crisis is resolved, if at all, Mr. Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who appeared in their first joint news conference, in Sydney, Australia, after talks with their Australian counterparts, insisted that it would not undermine the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Tillerson will visit New Zealand today. I doubt whether political protests against Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord – see Futile protest against US climate stance – will be very high on Tillerson’s list of concerns.

Trump and Saudi complications

USA President Donald Trump has just signed a $100 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia – he says it will be good for jobs in the US – and has painted Iran as the enemy of peace in the Middle East.

New York Times details some of the complications and contradictions: In Saudi Arabia, Trump Reaches Out to Sunni Nations, at Iran’s Expense

As voters in Iran danced in the streets, celebrating the landslide re-election of a moderate as president, President Trump stood in front of a gathering of leaders from across the Muslim world and called on them to isolate a nation he said had “fueled the fires of sectarian conflict and terror.”

That nation was Iran.

In using the headline address of his first foreign trip as president to declare his commitment to Sunni Arab nations, Mr. Trump signaled a return to an American policy built on alliances with Arab autocrats, regardless of their human rights records or policies that sometimes undermine American interests.

At the same time, he rejected the path taken by his predecessor, Barack Obama. Mr. Obama engaged with Iran to reach a breakthrough nuclear accord, which Mr. Trump’s administration has acknowledged Iran is following.

Will Trump put that accord at risk?

In his remarks, Mr. Trump signalled his intention to end engagement with Iran, suggesting that it does not encourage change from inside the country.

And he is engaging more with Saudi Arabia which shows no sign of changing.

But in Iran, many were pushing for change. Emboldened by the election results, crowds of Iranians in the capital, Tehran, demanded what they hope President Hassan Rouhani’s second term will bring: the release of opposition figures, more freedom of thought and fewer restrictions on daily life.

For those who voted for Mr. Rouhani, there was a feeling of tremendous relief that his challenger, the hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who criticized the nuclear deal with the United States and other Western powers, had lost.

But Trump says that Iran is bad – which happens to align with Saudi (and Israeli) thinking.

In his speech on Sunday, Mr. Trump, a guest of the Saudi monarch, spoke of a stronger alliance with mostly Sunni Muslim nations to fight terrorism and extremist ideology and to push back against Iran.

Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of spreading an intolerant creed that fuels terrorism and threatens minorities. Saudi Arabia says Iran works through nonstate actors to weaken Arab nations.

This is one of the power struggles in the Middle East. Trump is clearly taking one side.

“Iran — fresh from real elections — attacked by @POTUS in that bastion of democracy & moderation,” Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, wrote on Twitter, speaking of Saudi Arabia.

Hamidreza Taraghi, a hard-line analyst, said of Mr. Trump, “This man just wants to sell American weapons and use Iran as an excuse.”

In deepening the United States’ alliance with gulf countries, Mr. Trump is bringing it closer to nations that share few cultural values with the United States and have sometimes acted against its interests.

Saudi Arabia, for one, is a monarchy where citizens have few rights and the public practice of any religion other than Islam is banned. It has used its military and its oil wealth to protect the Sunni monarchy that rules over a Shiite majority in neighboring Bahrain and to prop up President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt.

Pile more arms in to the Middle East, drive a divide between competing factions, and peace shall reign.

Trump challenges Arab leaders on Muslim terrorism

On his visit to the Middle East Donald Trump has called for Arab leaders – he was speaking to the leaders of 55 Muslim majority countries in his visit to Saudi Arabia –  to deal with their “Islamist extremism” terrorism problem.

But Saudi (Sunni) King Salman introduced Trump’s speech by condemning Shi’ite Iran.

Reuters: Trump tells Middle East to ‘drive out’ Islamist extremists

U.S. President Donald Trump called on Arab leaders to do their fair share to “drive out” terrorism from their countries on Sunday in a speech that put the burden on the region to combat militant groups.

“America is prepared to stand with you in pursuit of shared interests and common security. But nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them”.

“The nations of the Middle East will have to decide what kind of future they want for themselves, for their countries and frankly for their families and for their children.”

“It’s a choice between two futures and its a choice America cannot make for you. A better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists.

“Drive them out! Drive them out of your places of worship. Drive them out of your communities. Drive them out of your holy land and drive them out of this earth”.

“Terrorism has spread across the world. But the path to peace begins right here, on this ancient soil, in this sacred land”.

Trump should get a lot of support in the Western world, and deserves praise for openly confronting extremist terrorism. But he may have dismayed some of the more radical anti-Muslim activists who campaign against the whole Islamic religion and all it’s followers.

Trump’s signature phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” was not included in the speech, according to excerpts released in advance by the White House.

Instead, he used the term “Islamist extremism”, which refers to Islamism as political movement rather than Islam as a religion, a distinction that he had frequently criticized the administration of his predecessor Barack Obama for making.

Trump was speaking to a very different audience to when he was campaigning in the United States. Whether his Muslim audience takes on board and accepts his change of rhetoric is yet to be seen.

Introducing Trump, Saudi King Salman described their mutual foe Iran as the source of terrorism they must confront together.

“Our responsibility before God and our people and the whole world is to stand united to fight the forces of evil and extremism wherever they are … The Iranian regime represents the tip of the spear of global terrorism.”

Iran is a Shi’ite Muslim country. The groups that the United States has been fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere since the September 11, 2001 attacks on Washington and New York are mostly Sunni Muslims, and enemies of Iran.

That may not be such a good sign. Iran is not the only source or supporter or financier of terrorism. It’s highly ironic that the 911 terrorists were mostly from Saudi Arabia.

In general terms I think Trump has spoken some good words, but in the context of promoting peace and anti-extremism and anti-terrorism in Saudi Arabia associated with an attack on Iran and Shi’ite Muslims may divide and ignite rather than draw Muslim leaders together in a push for peace.


Gezza: “Donald Trump’s 30 minute speech to the Sunni Muslim World at the Gulf Cooperation Council. Imo, he has actually pulled off his first big act as a statesman.”
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=-9DgFRuiFuI

Perhaps, but “to the Sunni Muslim World” may point to a potential problem.

Lining up for World War 3?

Suggesting the escalation in Syria is a move closer to World War 3 might be over-dramatic but if the civil war explodes into a wider conflict it will be too late to quibble.

There are already a number of countries who have been directly involved in the Syrian conflict,  including Russia, USA, Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, UK, France, Germany and Australia.

The Herald asks Are these the battle lines for World War Three?

The US airstrikes on a Syrian regime airbase have hardened the dividing lines across the world in regards to the Assad regime.

They link to MailOnline Are these the battle lines for World War Three? Graphic shows which countries are siding with Russia or the US in their support – or condemnation – of Assad

  • President Donald Trump, 70, launched airstrikes on a Bashar al-Assad controlled airbase in Syria on Thursday
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today praised the American airstrike following the chemical attack
  • He said that the strikes sent a ‘strong and clear’ message that chemical weapons will not be tolerated in 2017 
  • Both Britain and Australia praised the US action as an ‘appropriate response’ to what happened in the week
  • Syria and Russia have denounced it as an ‘act of aggression’ with Putin saying it damages relationship with US

The US airstrikes on a Syrian regime airbase have hardened the dividing lines across the world in regards to the Assad regime.

MailOnline has set out world leaders’ positions on the conflict, which clearly shows the split between pro and anti-Assad countries.

It suggests which side of the battle line countries would position themselves on should the escalating crisis turn into an all out global conflict.

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The MailOnline has extensive coverage of the position of countries around the world on Syria.

The also have a time line of the conflict that began six years ago.


The U.S. attack on a Syrian air base came after years of heated debate and deliberation in Washington over intervention in the bloody civil war.

Chemical weapons have killed hundreds of people since the start of the conflict, with the U.N. blaming three attacks on the Syrian government and a fourth on the Islamic State group. One of the worst yet came Tuesday in rebel-held northern Idlib and killed dozens, including women and children.

That attack prompted President Donald Trump, on day 77 of his presidency, to dramatically shift U.S. policy, with the first direct U.S. attack on the Syrian government.

Trump blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad for the attack and called on the international community to join him in trying to end the bloodshed.

A timeline of events in Syria leading up to Tuesday’s attack:

March 2011: Protests erupt in the city of Daraa over security forces’ detention of a group of boys accused of painting anti-government graffiti on the walls of their school. On March 15, a protest is held in Damascus’ Old City. On March 18, security forces open fire on a protest in Daraa, killing four people in what activists regard as the first deaths of the uprising. Demonstrations spread, as does the crackdown by President Bashar Assad’s forces.

April 2011: Security forces raid a sit-in in Syria’s third-largest city, Homs, where thousands of people tried to create the mood of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the epicenter of protests against Egypt’s autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Aug. 18, 2011: President Barack Obama calls on Assad to resign and orders Syrian government assets frozen.

Summer 2012: Fighting spreads to Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and its former commercial capital.

August 20, 2012: Obama says the use of chemical weapons would be a ‘red line’ that would change his calculus on intervening in the civil war and have ‘enormous consequences.’

March 19, 2013: The Syrian government and opposition trade accusations over a gas attack that killed some 26 people, including more than a dozen government soldiers, in the town of Khan al-Assal in northern Syria. A U.N. investigation later finds that sarin nerve gas was used, but does not identify a culprit.

August 21, 2013: Hundreds of people suffocate in rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital, with many suffering from convulsions, pinpoint pupils, and foaming at the mouth. U.N. investigators visit the sites and determine that ground-to-ground missiles loaded with sarin were fired on civilian areas while residents slept. The U.S. and others blame the Syrian government, the only party to the conflict known to have sarin gas.

Aug. 31, 2013: Obama says he will go to Congress for authorization to carry out punitive strikes against the Syrian government, but appears to lack the necessary support in the legislature.

Sept. 27, 2013: The U.N. Security Council orders Syria to account for and destroy its chemical weapons stockpile, following a surprise agreement between Washington and Moscow, averting U.S. strikes. The Security Council threatens to authorize the use of force in the event of non-compliance.

Oct. 14, 2013: Syria becomes a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, prohibiting it from producing, stockpiling or using chemical weapons.

June 23, 2014: The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says it has removed the last of the Syrian government’s chemical weapons. Syrian opposition officials maintain that the government’s stocks were not fully accounted for, and that it retained supplies.

Sept. 23, 2014: The U.S. launches airstrikes on Islamic State group targets in Syria.

Aug. 7, 2015: The U.N. Security Council authorizes the OPCW and U.N. investigators to probe reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, as reports circulate of repeated chlorine gas attacks by government forces against civilians in opposition-held areas. Chlorine gas, though not as toxic as nerve agents, can be classified as a chemical weapon depending on its use.

Aug. 24, 2016: The joint OPCW-U.N. panel determines the Syrian government twice used helicopters to deploy chlorine gas against its opponents, in civilian areas in the northern Idlib province. A later report holds the government responsible for a third attack. The attacks occurred in 2014 and 2015. The panel also finds that the Islamic State group used mustard gas.

Feb. 28, 2017: Russia, a stalwart ally of the Syrian government, and China veto a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing sanctions against the Syrian government for chemical weapons use.

April 4, 2017: At least 58 people are killed in what doctors say could be a nerve gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in the rebel-held Idlib province. Victims show signs of suffocation, convulsions, foaming at the mouth and pupil constriction. Witnesses say the attack was carried out by either Russian or Syrian Sukhoi jets. Moscow and Damascus deny responsibility.

April 4, 2017: President Donald Trump issues a statement saying that the ‘heinous’ actions of Assad’s government are the direct result of Obama administration’s ‘weakness and irresolution.’

April 5, 2017: Trump says Assad’s government has ‘crossed a lot of lines’ with the suspected chemical attack in Syria.

April 6, 2017: The U.S. fired a barrage of cruise missiles into Syria Thursday night in retaliation for this week’s gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians, U.S. officials said. It was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump’s most dramatic military order since becoming president. Trump said strike on Syria in the ‘vital national security interest’ of the United States.


Wikipedia: Foreign involvement in the Syrian Civil War