UNESCO: Extra Session to Break the Tie between French, Egyptian Candidates

UNESCO

Paris — Unlike all previous expectations, the fourth election round to assign a new director general for UNESCO carried a surprise that has never happened in the history of the UN organization.

The fourth round, which was carried out Thursday evening and was expected to be concluded with choosing the first and the second candidates, resulted in what was not taken into account. On one hand, Qatari candidate Mohammed bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari guaranteed that he will reach the last round by receiving 22 votes out of the 58 cast by members of the executive board, yet on the other hand, the French and Egyptian candidates ended up with 18 votes each.

This tie forced current Director-General Irina Bokova to announce that there will be an eliminating ballot between Egypt’s Moushira Khattab and France’s Audrey Azoulay on Friday to determine who will run against al-Kawari in a final vote on Friday.

These developments have changed the environment into dramatic, especially for the French candidate, who maintained the 18 votes she has received on Wednesday and did not benefit from the pullout of Lebanese candidate Vera El-Khoury, with four votes, and Chinese candidate Tang Qian, with five votes.

However, the Egyptian candidate succeeded in boosting her position and attracted five extra votes.

Azoulay was expected to be the first to benefit from the withdrawal of Vera El-Koury Lacoeuilhe and the Chinese candidate, and this was the theory promoted by French diplomats present in UNESCO’s headquarters on Thursday afternoon.

The French candidate was reassured more by the supporting campaign carried out by President Emmanuel Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Nevertheless, the result of the voting was not the only surprise as the second surprise was the US announcement of its withdrawal from UNESCO.

Disclosing the US government’s decision, the state department said in a statement it would seek to “remain engaged … as a non-member observer state in order to contribute US views, perspectives, and expertise.”

It also added that the withdrawal will take effect on 31 December 2018.

The announcement by the Trump administration was followed a few hours later by news that Israel was also planning to quit the UN organization.

In a statement Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister welcomed the US move saying: “This is a brave and moral decision.”

Trump Takes Concrete Step to Undo Obamacare, Promotes Bare-Bones Insurance

President Donald Trump on Thursday used his presidential powers to undermine Obamacare after fellow Republicans in Congress failed to repeal the 2010 law.

According to Reuters, it was Trump’s most concrete step to undo Obamacare since he took office in January promising to dismantle former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement.

Trump signed an executive order aimed at letting small businesses band together across state lines to buy cheaper, less regulated health plans for their employees with fewer benefits.

The House of Representatives in May passed Republican legislation to gut Obamacare. But attempts by Senate Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare failed in July and September, in part because the proposed legislation would have caused millions of Americans to lose healthcare coverage.

Republicans call Obamacare a government intrusion into Americans’ healthcare, and have been promising for seven years to scrap it.

Trump’s order weakens Obamacare in part by giving people more access to plans that do not cover essential health benefits such as maternity and newborn care, prescription drugs, and mental health and addiction treatment.

Obamacare, known formally as the Affordable Care Act, requires most small business and individual health plans to cover those benefits.

Hungry, Ukraine Foreign Ministers Clash over Kiev Banning Teaching Minority Languages

Foreign ministers of both Hungary and Ukraine had a political spat Kiev’s new law banning teaching in minority languages.

The language issue has driven relations between Ukraine and Hungary to their lowest point since Kiev won independence with the Soviet Union’s 1991 break-up, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said.

Hungary had said on Tuesday it would ask the EU to review its ties with Ukraine over Kiev’s decision to stop secondary school instruction in ethnic minority tongues including Hungarian.

According to Reuters Budapest threatened to retaliate by blocking Ukraine’s aspirations to integration in the European Union.

The move triggered protests in neighbouring Russia and Hungary – a region where nationalism is historically deep-seated and language and ethnic identity have been highly sensitive subjects prone to escalating into conflict.

At a joint news conference with Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Klimkin following talks, Szijjarto said Budapest was also worried about two other bills about citizenship and language now in the Kiev parliament.

“We see the situation in a totally different light. This can lead to a suffocation of minority language public discourse, which should be avoided,” he said.

“We would like for the citizenship law not to curb (local) Hungarians’ rights further. If they ask us to fight, that’s what we will do. We will not back down one inch.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said Kiev did not intend to crack down on the Hungarian community in Ukraine, including their right to the use of their mother tongue.

“We will not close a single school, fire a single teacher,” he said. “Our logic is simple: every citizen must speak Ukrainian beside their mother tongue to ensure their future success. The education law replaced the old, post-Soviet laws.”

He added that Hungary’s approach to minority Hungarians living in Ukraine itself undermined European integration. “Giving out Hungarian passports to Hungarian Ukrainians, that is no way to promote integration,” he said.

US Quits UNESCO Over ‘Anti-Israel Bias’

A general view shows the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris

The United States is withdrawing from the United Nation’s world heritage body UNESCO, effective Dec. 31, the US State Department said in a statement on Thursday citing “continuing anti-Israel bias” and “mounting arrears”.

“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO,” the department said.

The US would seek to “remain engaged … as a non-member observer state in order to contribute US views, perspectives and expertise”, the statement added.

UNESCO’s director general, Irina Bokova, said she had received a formal notification of withdrawal from the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

In 2011 the US canceled its budget contribution to Unesco in protest against the admission of Palestine as a full member.

In a statement Bokova expressed her “profound regret” over the US decision. “This is not just about World Heritage,” she said, describing the withdrawal as “a loss to both the organization and the US”.

According to a report by Foreign Policy magazine, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made the decision several weeks ago at the UN General Assembly, but the State Department urged Washington to remain in the organization until a new director general is voted in the coming weeks.

After two days of a secret ballot that could run until Friday, Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari is leading France’s Audrey Azoulay and Egyptian hopeful Moushira Khattab.

The emergence of Kawari has been seen by Israel and the US as a failure of their efforts to secure the post for a figure they regard as more friendly.

Earlier this week Israel’s UNESCO ambassador described the trajectory of voting in the secret ballots as “bad news for the organization and unfortunately also for Israel”.

The US previously withdrew from UNESCO under Ronald Reagan, only to rejoin under George W Bush.

UNESCO has drawn the ire of Israel and the Trump administration for a series of decisions, including the listing of Hebron, a city in the southern part of the occupied Palestinian territories, as a Palestinian world heritage site.

China’s Communist Party Makes Final Preparations for Major Congress

A man takes photos of a party flag of Communist Party of China made with flowers, which promotes the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, in Shanghai

Beijing- China’s Communist Party opened a meeting on Wednesday to make final preparations for the 19th National Congress that begins on Oct 18, state media said. During the congress, President Xi Jinping is expected to be re-elected as the party’s leader.

The seventh plenary session of the party’s Central Committee will review draft reports on the work of the party, its discipline and anti-corruption commission, and amendments to be made to the party’s constitution, all of which will be delivered at the twice-a-decade party congress on Oct. 18, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The congress will “summarize historical progress and precious experiences” in advancing socialism with Chinese characteristics gained with Xi at the party’s core, Xinhua said.

“The congress will also thoroughly examine the current international and domestic situation and draw out guidelines and policies that respond to the call of the times,” the news agency said, without giving specifics.

Details of the speech that Xi, the party’s general secretary, will give at the opening session of the congress are confidential, although the event is more about ideology than concrete policies.

Shrouded in secrecy, the five-yearly gatherings have marked key events in the party’s tumultuous 68-year reign over China and remain a source of intrigue today.

It is unclear how long the plenum will last, but it could be just a single day. It will end with a long communique, issued by Xinhua, that is usually full of party phraseology but could be short on specifics.

Last October, the party gave Xi the title of “core” leader, a significant strengthening of his position ahead of the congress, at which a new Standing Committee, the pinnacle of power in China, will be constituted.

The party’s constitution will be amended at the end of the congress, likely to include a reference to Xi’s thinking or ideology as a guiding party principle.

Political Mobilization as Concerns over Blacklisting Revolutionary Guard Grow

London- A number of options is lined up at US President Donald Trump’s desk on containing the ever-expanding threat Iran poses against regional and international security. Counter-actively, Tehran spares no time in preparing responsive scenarios to the anticipated change in Washington policy. 

On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani kicked of the national cabinet meeting by issuing an explicit warning on the widespread concerns of the Revolutionary Guard being blacklisted and the nuclear deal scrapped.

The US president is expected to “decertify” Iran’s nuclear deal with global powers this week and add its Revolutionary Guards military force to Washington’s blacklist under a strategy to increase pressure on Tehran.

Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif discussed behind parliament’s closed doors multiple possible scenarios to confront any drastic change in US policies towards the nuclear deal, and White House’s attempt to restrain Revolutionary Guard’s regional interference.

Tehran’s confusion and political state of top alertness comes at a time when several international parties have jumped into consultations, in an attempt to persuade Trump to uphold the Vienna nuclear agreement, 21 months after it going into force.

Rouhani, despite being cited to have controversy with the country’s conservatives, gave a full-throated defense of his one-time rivals in the Revolutionary Guards, as the country’s pragmatist and hardline factions rallied together in the face of threats from Trump.

“If someone backs out of an international deal, he’s the loser, not the one who doesn’t,” Rouhani said during the cabinet meeting.

He said US action against the Guards would be a “mistake beyond mistakes”.

“Sticking to a deal shows the dignity of a state and to what extent its government is trustworthy,” he added.

“They think that the Guards are a military entity. The Revolutionary Guards are not a military entity. They’re in the heart of the people. The Revolutionary Guards, in all the days of danger, have defended our national interests,” he said.

“We’re one society. We’re Iran. There are no differences between differentfactions in confronting the plots of our enemies,” he added.

During an unprecedentedly bitter campaign, he repeatedly spoke out in public against the political influence of the Guards, accusing them of backing his hardline opponent to defend their economic interests.

In recent days, however, the threat of new action from Washington has prompted a public display of unity from the rival factions among Iran’s rulers.

“Today, the president of America has created conditions where Iran is more united than ever. Today, those who oppose the nuclear deal and those who support it are side by side. We all have one voice,” Rouhani said.

Trump is expected to unveil a broad strategy on confronting Iran this week, likely on Friday. There was always the chance he could still have a last-minute change of heart and certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 accord, which he has called an “embarrassment” and the “worst deal ever negotiated.”

Turkey, US Decide to Meet to Solve Diplomatic Row

Turkey- US

Turkish and US authorities decided to meet to settle the strategic emergency between the two NATO partners, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said on Thursday.

The spat erupted last week when Turkey arrested a Turkish employee of the American consulate on suspicion of links to the group blamed for last year’s failed coup.

In response, the United States suspend non-immigrant visa services there. Hours later, Ankara issued a similar suspension on visas for US citizens in a tit-for-tat move.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu spoke by telephone with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday to discuss the reciprocal suspension of visa services — their first talks since the eruption of one of the worst crises between Washington and Ankara in years. Tillerson expressed his “profound concern” about the arrests, the US State Department said in a statement.

“Talks between the foreign minister and (US Secretary of State) Tillerson were very constructive. Representatives from both sides decided to meet and work together,” Bozdag said in an interview with broadcaster Haberturk.

He also said a US consulate employee arrested in Turkey had not demanded lawyer access and the US mission could apply to send a lawyer to see him.

During the conversation, Tillerson said Turkey needed to present evidence for the accusations against the consulate employee, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday that US and Turkish military forces continue to work well together amid the diplomatic row.

“We maintain a very close collaboration, very close communication, the military-to-military interaction and integration has not been affected by this,” Mattis told reporters as he traveled to a military headquarters in Florida.

“We are doing good work with them, military to military,” he stressed.

On Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman said the spat had not affected NATO or US military ties with Turkey.

The United States relies heavily on an air base at Incirlik in southern Turkey to launch air strikes against the ISIS group in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Yet, US-Turkish relations have been strained over US military support for Kurdish fighters in Syria and the United States’ unwillingness to extradite Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally whom Ankara views as the mastermind behind last year’s failed military coup.

UK Reaffirms Commitment to Iran Nuclear Deal

London- British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson met on Thursday with the head of Iran’s nuclear agency, Ali Akhbar Salehi, after UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May and US President Donald Trump discussed during a phone conversation Tehran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.

Johnson held talks with Salehi, who is also Iran’s vice president, in London “to press for Iran’s continued compliance with the JCPoA,” Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement published on its website.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) signed in 2015 by Tehran and the P5+1 has sought to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting most Western economic sanctions.

Johnson had held phone calls with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to reiterate “Britain’s support for the Iran nuclear deal ahead of a US deadline to recertify Iranian compliance,” the Foreign Office said.

“The UK, France and Germany are clear that while Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region are unacceptable, the regime has upheld its nuclear commitments,” the statement said.

“The nuclear deal was a crucial agreement that neutralized Iran’s nuclear threat. The UK supports the deal and stresses the importance of all parties continuing to uphold their commitments,” it quoted Johnson as saying.

“We have made no bones about our deep concern at Iran’s destabilizing regional activity, including its ballistic missile program, but I remain steadfast in my view that the nuclear deal was an historic achievement that has undoubtedly made the world a safer place,” the minister added.

A statement from May’s office following the call with Trump on Tuesday evening said: “The (prime minister) reaffirmed the UK’s strong commitment to the deal alongside our European partners, saying it was vitally important for regional security.”

May “stressed that it was important that the deal was carefully monitored and properly enforced.”

In contrast, a White House statement on the phone call said Trump “underscored the need to work together to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its malign and destabilizing activities, especially its sponsorship of terrorism and its development of threatening missiles.”

May and Trump also discussed the need for Britain, the United States and others to work together to counter destabilizing Iranian activity in the region, May’s office said.

China, Russia and the European states have already expressed their continued support for the nuclear deal, while Iran has said Trump would not be able to undermine the pact.

US Supreme Court Backs Legitimacy of Guantanamo Courts

CIA

Washington- The US Supreme Court has refused an appeal bid by one of Guantanamo’s most famous detainees, backing the legitimacy of the special military courts in place at the US naval base in Cuba.

Agence France Presse said Tuesday that the decision confirms the life sentence handed to Ali Hamza Ahmad al-Bahlul, a lieutenant of Osama bin Laden, and held in Guantanamo since 2002.

The Yemeni, identified as the former propagandist of al-Qaeda, appealed his conviction in 2008 for criminal conspiracy. 

According to his lawyers, this charge should have been brought before a federal civil court and not a military court. 

The Supreme Court move is good news to Donald Trump’s administration. He has spoken in favor of resorting more to using Guantanamo facilities and courts to incarcerate new detainees from Afghanistan and Iraq, whom Washington considers “enemy combatants.”

Taliban Not Sending Delegation to Muscat for New Afghan Peace Talks

Taliban

Kabul, Peshawar – At least eight Taliban militants have been killed in a US air strike in eastern Afghanistan, an Afghan news agency reported.

The air strike came as Reuters said that representatives of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States will meet in the Sultanate of Oman next week to discuss reviving peace talks with the Taliban.

But an Afghan official and a Pakistani foreign ministry source said it was not clear if Afghan Taliban representatives would join the talks. Taliban sources said they had not yet received an invitation and plan to skip Monday’s discussions in Muscat, casting doubt on efforts to revive long-stalled negotiations.

According to Reuters, the four-nation Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QGC), comprising Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the United States, has been trying to ease the path to direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, with little success.

Amin Waqad, a close aide to Agfhan President Ashraf Ghani and a senior member of the High Peace Council (HPC), said, “HPC and government representatives will participate, and it is an important one because the Taliban representatives will be there. We will go with a clear plan.”

A senior Pakistani foreign ministry official confirmed the talks would take place on Oct 16. Last week, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told Voice of America the “quadrilateral arrangement will again be in operation” in Muscat in October.

The US embassy in Islamabad did not comment for the report.

Talks and efforts to kick start negotiations have failed following the 2015 announcement of the death of the Taliban’s founder and long-time leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, in 2013.

Two senior Afghan Taliban leaders, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the group’s leadership council met on Tuesday and decided it would not send a delegation to Muscat even if the group was invited to participate.

Meanwhile, at least eight Taliban members were killed in an air strike carried out by the United States for the first time in Badakhshan Province, years after the US military had suspended its operations in the region, Khaama Press reported.

Locals said the air strike targeted the province on Tuesday night.