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


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.”

Haftar Holds Secret Meetings in Rome on Migration

Libyan General Khalifa Haftar addresses a press conference in Benghazi.

Cairo- Following an invitation from the Italian government, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, head of the Libyan National Army, arrived in Rome Tuesday to meet with Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti, Interior Minister Marco Minniti, the head of the Italian intelligence service and army commanders.

Italian newspaper “Il Messaggero” said that Haftar’s visit will include holding secret meetings on migration and discussing the possibility of providing protection for work sites of Italian Energy working group “Eni” in Libya.

Meanwhile, Head of the Russian contact group on Libya Lev Dengov denied Moscow’s bias towards Haftar in the current crisis among the Libyan parties.

Dengov tried to prove the rapprochement among all Libyan parties. He said that during Haftar’s visit to the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, early this year, “the Russian contact group was meeting with Misurata soldiers, who defeated ISIS in Sirte.”

“This reflects our stance. Our main goal is to combat terrorism, and we are ready to cooperate with any party that can assist us in this mission, and we also support the consolidation of state institutions in Libya.”

“Moscow does not intend to lift the arms embargo on Libya anytime soon,” he noted.

In the field, the clashes continue to escalate and then calm again between the two security forces of the government of the National Accord in the city, leaving 17 dead, about 50 wounded, and the majority of the city’s population displaced, according to the Libyan Red Crescent.

Chairman of the Presidential Council of the Libyan Government of National Accord Fayez al-Sarraj was keen to visit the Martyrs’ Square in the center of Tripoli upon his arrival from New York, after the end of a demonstration called by former nominee to Premier post in Libya Abdul Basit Igtet.

On the other hand, US President Donald Trump has accused Libya of failing to cooperate in “restoring its nationals under final deportation orders.”

“Libya faces great challenges in sharing several types of information, including information on public safety and terrorism, which are needed to protect national security,” Trump said.

In a statement issued by the US embassy in Libya on Monday, Trump said that the large terrorist presence within Libyan territories increases the risk posed by the entry of Libyans into the United States.

Goldman Sachs: 50% of Harvey-Affected Refineries Could Return Thursday

Goldman Sachs: 50% of Harvey-Affected Refineries Could Return Thursday

Kuwait- Reconstruction in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey’s deadly gash through Texas could prove positive for the oil market in a few months, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

“More than half of the US oil refining capacity that was shut because of Harvey’s winds and rain will be back online by Thursday,” Goldman analysts said in a Sept. 5 report.

Dry post-storm weather should help minimize the loss of demand for gasoline and diesel, according to the bank.

As refineries along the Gulf Coast restart, about 2 million barrels a day of capacity will remain offline by Thursday, down from a peak of 4.6 million, Goldman estimated; about 1.4 million could remain offline through mid-September.

While fast recovering, the refining outages heavily outweigh production losses, which are about 320,000 barrels a day between the Gulf of Mexico and south Texas’s Eagle Ford shale formation, Goldman said. In total, the storm will have added about 40 million barrels to US crude stockpiles in the month following Harvey’s landfall, according to the bank. The storm will reduce gasoline supplies by 16 million and diesel by 13 million.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and producers seek to reduce world oil stocks, especially in the industrialized countries, to five-year average; Hurricane Harvey may, however, hinder this and increase the time needed to balance the market.

Harvey hurricane damage has been on the US refining sector after Saudi Aramco’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Motiva Enterprise, announced last week it would completely suspend work at the US-based Port Arthur refinery because of the hurricane.

The 603,000 barrel per day (bpd) Port Arthur Refinery was shut on Wednesday due to flooding from Tropical Storm Harvey.

In a statement last week, Motiva said it “cannot provide a timeline for restart at this time.” The oil company said it will begin assessing the refinery “as soon as the local area flooding has receded,” although Motive is uncertain about how long it will take for floodwaters to diminish.

Seoul Boosts Defenses as Washington Agrees to Face Pyongyang

US Defense Secretary James Mattis and South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-Moo stand during a honor cordon at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.

Washington- US President Donald Trump’s administration agreed “in principle” to scrap a warhead weight limit on South Korea’s missiles in the wake of North Korea’s sixth nuclear test, the White House said.

“Pyongyang’s recent string of missile and nuclear tests has brought the US closer to its allies in Tokyo and Seoul, rather than dividing them as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had hoped,” Commander of the US Pacific Fleet Adm. Scott Swift said Tuesday.

Seoul was banned from possessing ballistic missiles with a maximum range of 800 kilometers (500 miles) and a payload of 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds).

During a call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump also gave “conceptual approval” for South Korea to buy billions of dollars of weapons from the United States, the White House said in a statement.

Separately, South Korea’s presidential office said the two leaders had agreed to scrap the weight limit and to apply the strongest sanctions and pressure on North Korea through the United Nations.

South Korea said earlier in the day it was talking to the United States about deploying aircraft carriers and strategic bombers to the Korean peninsula after signs North Korea might launch more missiles.

Reports indicate that Pyongyang plans to carry out its third test in the past four weeks on the occasion of the anniversary of the founding of Kim Il Sung (the grandfather of the current leader of North Korea on Sept. 9.

For his part, South Korean Defense Minister Song Young-moo said that he asked his US counterpart Jim Mattis, during talks at the Pentagon last week, for strategic assets like US aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines and B-52 bombers to be sent to South Korea more regularly.

On the other hand, Pyongyang’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva Han Tae Song said his country was prepared to send “more gift packages” to the United States, while addressing the Conference on Disarmament, saying the recent nuclear and missile tests were presented for none other than Washington.

Han added that the North will carry out more tests as long as the United States refuses to rescind its sanctions against the regime, reiterating that the missile and nuclear development programs will “never, under any circumstance” be negotiable.

Saudi Air Force Arrive to The US for Al-Alamein Joint Drill

The Saudi Royal Air Force (RSAF) aircraft have arrived to the United States of America to participate in the Red and Green Flag exercise 2017 comprising selective air and technical crews and a number of air control teams, reported the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

The Saudi Royal Air Force flew thousands of kilometers in various weather conditions with the highest levels of safety and professionalism to reach the States.

Training leader, Lieutenant Colonel Khalid Al-Yousef, said that the Red and Green Flag exercise is one of the oldest combat exercises in the world. The exercise will involve the most advanced countries in the field of air and military operations.

Abbas: ‘We will Cooperate with Trump for Success of Peace Talks’

Ramallah- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said that he will cooperate with US President Donald Trump to revive peace talks and will work hard for the success of these efforts.

Abbas expressed his appreciation for Trump’s efforts, but he linked any peace agreement to the implementation of the two-state solution, establishment of an independent Palestinian state with its capital East Jerusalem on the borders of 1967 and ending the occupation in accordance with the resolutions by the international legitimacy.

During his meeting with President of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Paolo Alli, Abbas said that Palestinians need security and peace more than any other party because their country is occupied and they have no military power.

Abbas pointed out that solving the Palestinian issue in accordance with the resolutions of international legitimacy will help achieve security and stability in the region and the world, stressing the importance of the role played by the European Union in support of efforts to achieve peace.

Abbas made the remarks with the launch of the US-Palestinian talks, which aim to reach an agreement on the ground to start peace negotiations.

The US seeks reaching separate agreements with Palestinians and Israelis that allow them to launch a new peace process.

Trump’s administration may announce a document of principles that will form the basis for the forthcoming negotiations.

A Palestinian-US meeting in Jerusalem discussed these details on Tuesday.

Trump’s Special Envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process Jason Greenblatt met with Palestinian negotiators, and in an unusual development, US Ambassador David Friedman attended too.

US Consul General in Jerusalem Donald Blome, who is in charge of ties with the Palestinians, joined the two US officials.

Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said that the meeting discussed the possibility of reviving peace process and aimed at reaching a treaty.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) wanted to make sure the US administration knows that its Ambassador to Israel was not welcomed in Ramallah because of his very biased positions in favor of Israel and against the Palestinians and his great determination to move the US embassy to Jerusalem as he has been working on it all the time, according to Palestinian sources.

The Russia Probe Through Moscow’s Lens


At a cafe a few blocks from the old KGB headquarters at Lubyanka Square, investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov tries to explain the murky world of Russian intelligence that’s now the focus of a US criminal investigation into the hacking of the 2016 campaign.

Big events in today’s Russia often aren’t the product of broad strategy, argues Soldatov, but rather are “tactical moves” that reflect the personal interests of President Vladimir Putin and his all-powerful “presidential administration.”

Soldatov thinks the Putin factor is crucial in understanding issues in the hacking investigation. Putin has a personal dislike for Hillary Clinton, and Russian intelligence had been gathering information about her since late summer 2015. But what may have pushed the Russian operation into a higher gear was the April 2016 publication of the famous “Panama Papers,” which revealed secret bank accounts of some of Putin’s close friends and associates.

“It was a personal attack,” says Soldatov. “You cannot write about Putin’s family or personal friends.” He speculates that the Russian leader “wanted to do something about it, to teach a lesson.”

Putin denounced the Panama Papers as a deliberate effort by America to embarrass him. “Officials and state agencies in the United States are behind all this,” he charged in April 2016. “They are used to holding a monopoly on the international stage, and do not want to have to make way for anyone else. … Attempts are made to weaken us from within, make us more acquiescent and make us toe their line.”

State Department spokesman Mark Toner denied at the time that the U.S. was “in any way involved in the actual leak of these documents.” But he confirmed that the U.S. Agency for International Development had supported the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, one of the media organizations involved in researching the Panama files. To the Russians, that was proof enough.

For Putin, the ex-KGB officer, nothing in the information arena is accidental. In a combative session last week at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, he rebuffed NBC’s Megyn Kelly: “As for independent sources, there is nothing independent in this world.” When she pressed about Russian “digital fingerprints” in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, he exploded: “What fingerprints? Hoof prints? Horn prints?”

The day before, Putin had said that “patriotically minded” Russian private hackers might have been involved in the operation. But by June 2, he was in full denial mode, suggesting that the CIA could have manufactured the whole thing: “IP addresses can be simply made up. … There are such IT specialists in the world today, and they can arrange anything and then blame it on whoever.”

Soldatov argues that Russian intelligence taps the network of private hackers, much as the CIA and National Security Agency use private contractors to develop offensive cyberweapons and “zero-day exploits” for malware. “Although the [Russian] security and intelligence services have cyberwar capabilities, most of the actual strikes come through other channels,” he wrote in a post last year on his website, Agentura.ru. He cited the example of a Russian technology company that allegedly was asked to help organize “sensitive” denial-of-service attacks.

The truth of what happened in the 2016 campaign will take many months to unravel, and there’s a cloud of misinformation, fueled by Putin, Donald Trump and insatiable media coverage. Soldatov notes, for instance, that the famous dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele included “unverifiable” details and some “confusion” about facts.

But Soldatov wrote in January for The Guardian that it’s also “a good reflection of how things are run in the Kremlin — the mess at the level of decision-making and increasingly the outsourcing of operations.”

To Russian eyes, all information is potential disinformation, and secrets are hidden from the public. As Putin scolded Kelly last week: “A non-classified version means no version.” The Russians regard American media claims of independence as bogus, and they see their own propaganda outlets competing on equal terms with global media companies.

“Sputnik,” for example, had its own booth at the St. Petersburg forum. The Director of National Intelligence described Sputnik in a Jan. 6 report as part of “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine,” but its brochures describe a media group publishing 2,000 news items a day in Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish and English.

As the investigation of Russian hacking rolls forward, we shouldn’t lose perspective: Russia isn’t a demonic, all-powerful presence. It’s a sophisticated, increasingly modern country. But it’s also the rare nation run by a former intelligence officer who sees the world through a very particular lens.

Washington Post

Kerry, Netanyahu, Abbas Reach ‘Framework Agreement’


Tel Aviv – US and Israeli political sources in Tel Aviv revealed on Thursday two documents showing that US Secretary of State John Kerry was very close to reaching a “declaration of principles” formula with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in early 2014.

Sources confirmed that the two documents were handed to US President Donald Trump, who is preparing to reach a settlement on their basis.

The two documents were drafts of a “framework agreement” prepared in 2014 for then-Secretary of State John Kerry as outlines of what would eventually become the final peace agreement.

Both drafts included language on disputes between the Israelis and the Palestinians, including what the borders of a Palestinian state would be, the status of Jerusalem, mutual diplomatic recognition, and refugees.

The first draft was written mid-February 2014, and the second one was written in mid-March the same year.

They both reflect Barack Obama’s positions and were based on secret negotiations between Netanyahu adviser Yitzhak Molcho and Hussein Agha, a confidant of Abbas, in London in 2013.

US senior officials in the former administration said that Netanyahu wanted the US administration to take the results of this dialogue channel and rephrase it in a US document to be presented to both sides.

The first draft was written two days before Kerry and Abbas’s meeting in Paris. At the time, the US team worked closely with Netanyahu office to draft the document. They were hoping to succeed with the Israelis in drafting a text that would be accepted by Netanyahu, and then presenting it to Abbas, thus, transferring the negotiations to the stage of talking about a permanent agreement.

The draft maintained that Jerusalem should remain an undivided city, but that both Israelis and Palestinians want their capitals in the city, but did not ensure that those goals would be realized.

The conditions it set for mutual recognition included both states accepting that the other was a legitimate nation state – one for Jews, and another for Palestinians.

Once those states had been established, according to the draft, the “right of return” would be waived, meaning Palestinians living in the West Bank or neighboring countries would not claim the right to return to ancestral homes inside Israel’s borders, most of which were vacated during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.

When the first draft was presented to Abbas, he rejected it. Therefore, the State Department developed a new draft in March 2014, which they hoped would be more pleasing to Abbas. At the top, the document included a new goal: “to end the occupation that began in 1967.”

The new document also took a stronger stance on Jerusalem, insisting that both countries would have their capitals there. The status of the Old City, Jewish neighborhoods, and other religious sites was left open to further negotiations.

Washington Worried about Qatar’s Behaviors, Wants to Redirect it to Right Track


London, Washington – The White House said on Monday that US President Donald Trump is committed to working to deescalate tensions in Gulf after some countries broke ties with Qatar.

The United States does not want to see a “permanent rift” among Gulf countries, a senior US administration official said, Reuters reported.

The official, however, added: “There’s an acknowledgment that a lot of Qatari behavior is quite worrisome not just to our Gulf neighbors but to the US.”

“We want to bring them in the right direction.”

For his part, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Gulf states to stay united and work out their differences.

“We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences,” he said while in Sydney.

“If there’s any role that we can play in terms of helping them address those, we think it is important that the GCC Remain united.”

Tillerson said despite the impasse, he did not expect it to have “any significant impact, if any impact at all, on the unified fight against terrorism in the region or globally,” which was supported by US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis.

Mattis, speaking alongside Tillerson in Australia, also said he doesn’t believe the rift will affect the ISIS fight.

“I am positive there will be no implications coming out of this dramatic situation at all, and I say that based on the commitment that each of these nations that you just referred to have made to this fight,” Mattis said.

Mattis also criticized Iran because of its efforts to destabilize the region, noting the Iranian support for the Head of Syrian regime and its role in the war in Yemen.

For his part, Spokesman at US Air Forces Central Command Lieutenant Colonel Damien Pickart told Reuters: “We’ve seen no impact to our operations and all flights continue as planned.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in a phone conservation with his Qatari counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani on Monday, called for a resolution to differences between Qatar and other Arab countries through talks, the ministry said.

It also said “a serous concern has been expressed by the appearance of a new hotbed of tension within the Arab world”.

Goldman Sachs Applies for Saudi Equities Trading License


Riyadh-Goldman Sachs is trying to expand its business in Saudi Arabia by applying for a license to trade shares.

The investment bank has applied for an equities trading license from the Kingdom’s Capital Market Authority (CMA), in a step that reflects the attractiveness of the Saudi financial market.

Goldman Sachs’ move comes as a new step following granting Citigroup an investment banking license, which allowed it to return to the kingdom in April after being absent for more than 13 years.

The Saudi CMA refused to give further details regarding US Goldman Sachs’ request, yet Asharq Al-Awsat was informed that the CMA has received several requests from world banks to work in the country’s stock market.

The remarkable demand by international banks for a license to operate in the Saudi stock market is due to the huge programs that the Kingdom is working on to achieve the “Vision 2030” for the post-oil phase in the country.

The financial sector development program, announced by Saudi Arabia as part of the “Vision 2030,” is an important step towards developing the local capital market and placing it among the top 10 financial markets in the world.

This comes at a time when the Kingdom is working on many economic reforms that contributed to spare the economy of the country from the negative effects it could face due to the sharp declines in oil prices.

For its part, Reuters reported that Goldman Sachs has applied to Saudi Arabia’s capital markets regulator for a license to trade equities in the kingdom, two sources familiar with the move said, in the latest step by Western banks to expand operations in the country.

Goldman has made the application to the CMA and a successful outcome could lead to a further expansion of its business in the kingdom, one of the sources said.