News 0 comments on Putin offers Biden public talks after U.S. president says he thinks he is a killer

Putin offers Biden public talks after U.S. president says he thinks he is a killer

MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that he and U.S. President Joe Biden should hold live online talks in coming days after Biden said he thought the Russian leader was a killer and diplomatic ties sank to a new post-Cold War low.

Putin, speaking on television, cited a Russian children’s playground chant to scathingly respond to Biden’s accusation with the comment that “he who said it, did it.”

In an ABC News interview broadcast on Wednesday that prompted Russia to recall its Washington ambassador for consultations, Biden said “I do” when asked if he believed Putin was a killer.

Biden was quick to extend a nuclear arms pact with Russia after he took office. But his administration has said it will take a tougher line with Moscow than Washington did during Donald Trump’s term in office, and engage only when there is a tangible benefit for the United States.

Putin said he had last spoken to Biden by phone at the U.S. president’s request and that he now proposed they had another conversation, on Friday or Monday, to be held by video-link and broadcast live.

“I want to offer President Biden that we continue our discussion, but on the condition that we do it live, online, without any delays,” Putin said, when asked in a television interview about Biden’s comments. The two leaders last spoke by telephone on Jan. 26 days after Biden took office.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Thursday said Biden had no regrets about calling Putin a killer and swatted away a question about Putin’s request for an immediate call in public.

“I would say the president already had a conversation with President Putin, even as there are more world leaders that he has not yet engaged with,” Psaki said. “The president will of course be in Georgia tomorrow and quite busy.”

Putin said he was ready to discuss Russia’s relations with the United States and other issues such as regional conflicts “tomorrow or, say, on Monday,” adding that he would be having a weekend break in a remote part of Russia.

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a ceremony launching the Talas Gold Mining Plant at Kyrgyzstan’s Jerooy gold deposit via a video link in Moscow, Russia March 17, 2021. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS

In his ABC comments, Biden also described Putin as having no soul, and said he would pay a price for alleged Russian meddling in the November 2020 U.S. presidential election, something the Kremlin denies.

Russia is preparing to be hit by a new round of U.S. sanctions in the coming days over the U.S. allegations of election interference and hacking.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that Washington was tracking efforts to complete Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline and evaluating information on entities that appear to be involved.

In a highly unusual move following Biden’s interview, Moscow recalled its ambassador to the United States for consultations.

Suggesting Biden was hypocritical in his remarks, Putin said that every state had to contend with “bloody events” and added Biden was accusing the Russian leader of something he was guilty of himself.

“I remember in my childhood, when we argued in the courtyard with each other we used to say: he who said it, did it. And that’s not a coincidence, not just a children’s saying or joke. The psychological meaning here is very deep,” Putin said.

“We always see our own traits in other people and think they are like how we really are. And as a result we assess (a person’s) activities and give assessments,” he said.

Putin then spoke about U.S. history, talking about what he called the genocide of Native Americans, slavery and the ill treatment of Black people, and the U.S. dropping atomic bombs on Japan at the end of World War Two.

“They think that we are like them, but we are different, we have a different genetic and cultural-moral code,” said Putin.

“We will work with them in the areas in which we are interested on terms that we consider advantageous to ourselves. They will have to deal with that regardless of all their attempts to stop us developing, regardless of the sanctions, and regardless of the insults”.

Reporting by Andrew Osborn, Tom Balmforth, Anton Kolodyazhnyy, Dmitry Antonov, Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Frances Kerry and Grant McCool

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

News 0 comments on Doomed to Failure: Ankara, Riyadh Show Signs for Alliance in Yemen

Doomed to Failure: Ankara, Riyadh Show Signs for Alliance in Yemen

The neo-Ottomanism in Turkish foreign policy which is based on the “strategic depth” doctrine of Erdogan’s old ally and current rival Ahmet Davutoglu has pitted Turkey against other regional and international powers over the past decade in a wide range of crises and cases, particularly in the Arab world.

Meanwhile, one of the most important regional cases in which Turkey has been preparing the ground for a more active role for itself over the past year is the Yemeni crisis. One of Turkey’s most important steps in this regard has been the acceptance of hosting the leaders of the Yemeni Muslim Brotherhood, such as Abdul Majid al-Zandani and Mohammad al-Yadumi. To be more precise, Istanbul in the recent years has become a favorite destination for most of Yemen’s Islah Party leaders.

In mid-June last year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring organization in London, released a document stating that the Turkish intelligence service in the Syrian town of Afrin had set up an operations room to transfer Syrian mercenaries to take part in the Yemeni war. Turkey has previously been accused of transporting Syrian terrorists to the wars in Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

In other evidence of Turkey’s desire to play a greater role in the developments in Yemen, Yasin Aktay, an adviser to Erdogan and one of his closest associates, wrote an article for the ruling party Justice and Development Party’s newspaper Yeni Sefak in November last year wondering if Turkey will take action to “save Yemen from the decisive storm” in a reference to the codename of the Saudi-led operation against Yemen. The article was published by all websites supporting the Turkish government.

Although the above-mentioned evidence indicates that Turkey is trying to play a role in the developments in Yemen in competition with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in a completely opposite trend in recent days, the media reported that Riyadh asked Ankara to participate in the Yemeni developments against Sana’a which is held by the revolutionary forces represented by Ansarullah Movement.

Now the question is what is the Saudi motivation to incorporate Turkey in Yemen developments? How will Ankara respond to the Saudi demand? Can the two, as bitter rivals in the regional developments, have a sustainable alliance in Yemen?

Erdogan’s economic and geopolitical goals

Despite supporting the anti-Yemeni Arab coalition in 2015, Turkey refrained from direct involvement in the military operations. As the Ankara-Riyadh differences grew over the past year, the Turkish leaders stepped up their criticism against the Arab coalition for causing a huge humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

However, things have been changing lately and now Turkey has economic and geopolitical reasons to change its mind.

First, such factors as the regional competition which led to Western sanctions and also boycott of the Turkish products in some Arab countries, along with the coronavirus outbreak, dealt hard blows to the Turkish economy. In municipality elections in 2019, the AKP lost Istanbul after long years, in a signal of the popular discontent with the economic conditions and policies of the ruling party. Erdogan and his party know that they are standing on a shaky foundation in the next elections. So, one reason for helping the Saudis in Yemen is to pave the way for end of the Turkish goods boycott in the Persian Gulf Arab states.

Second, by boosting the Yemeni branch of Muslim Brotherhood, Turkey intends to open a new front against the Saudi-Emirati coalition. Such a front would efficiently serve the aim to damage them due to its geographic closeness to the two Arab monarchies. At the same time, it will increase Ankara’s bargaining power in other regional cases in which it stands against the two Arab actors.

Maintaining the Brotherhood’s weight in the developments is important for Turkey. Of the two important Brotherhood bases in Yemen, Socotra and Ma’rib, Socotra is now in the hands of forces close to the UAE, and Ma’rib is on the verge of being liberated by Ansarullah. The Muslim Brotherhood is also seeking Turkey’s support for fear of losing control of southern Yemen regions like Shabwa province that is rich with oil and gas reserves.

Although the Islah party, like other groups allied to the resigned President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, sees Saudi Arabia the main backer in Yemen war, it seems that Islah Party sees it unavoidable to pick a new supporter as it sees the Saudi defeats and Ansarullah advances. Therefore, military intervention by Turkey is regarded as the key option to restore Islah’s place in the equations.

Turkish secret logistical support against anti-Sana’a

Turkey’s direct involvement in the Yemeni crisis has so far been in the form of logistical support to the Brotherhood and providing information on the military movements of rivals under the auspices of humanitarian and relief work like the activities led by the Turkish Red Crescent. Earlier, Saudi-affiliated media reported that Ankara, with the help of Qatar, was sending drones and military advisers to help Islah’s militias in the war against the southerners in Shabwa.

On the other hand, Turkey plans growth in its drone sales to Saudi Arabia. Reports say that after the US said it stopped its support to the Saudi aggression in Yemen, Turkey began providing the kingdom with Karayel surveillance and Bayraktar assault drones.

Also, it is also not unexpected that in the behind-the-scenes agreements between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Ankara’s experience in the mass transfer of terrorists involved in the Syrian war to other parts, this time in the Yemeni war, will be ordered by President Recept Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

Undoubtedly, given the strong international stance against the Saudis and the previous US government as the cause of the great humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Turkey’s political support for the Saudis will not be due to its many consequences. If Turkey decides to step in the Yemeni war against Sana’a, it will mainly focus on covert military cooperation with Saudi Arabia and the fugitive Mansour Hadi.

Shaky and unsustainable alliance

The Saudi-Turkish partnership in Yemen is a fruit of short-term motivations like the Turkish need to de-escalate with the Saudis and the Riyadh’s need to save Ma’rib province, rather than being driven by a strategic logic.

The cooperation with Turkey will have an increasingly negative impact on Saudi Arabia’s relations with the UAE in the Yemeni war. The UAE and Saudi Arabia, no doubt, see Turkey’s presence in Yemen as a threat to their geopolitical interests in the Peninsula after Syria and Libya conflicts experiences. Turkey’s strategic goal behind entry to Yemen war is not just to save Islah Party from defeat in the north but also stand as a backrest for the party instead of Riyadh and Abu Dhabi.

The Yemen war is different from all the proxy battles Turkey has ever engaged in over the past years in Syria, Libya, and freshly Karabakh. The Yemenis have successfully passed toughest six years under unceasing bombardment by the armed-to-the-teeth Saudi military which also enjoys arms and logistics backing of the Western powers and battleground assistance from African mercenaries.

Therefore, both in terms of bilateral strategic goals and also the possible partnership, an Ankara-Riyadh coalition is doomed to collapse. Meanwhile, the party incurring the biggest detriments would be Ankara, and that is because Erdogan— after losing his credit in the Muslim world for normalization of ties with Israelis just contrary to his claims of support to the Palestinian cause— would sacrifice the relatively good relations with the Iran-led Axis of Resistance to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s passing efforts to escape the defeat in Yemen.

News 0 comments on Libye: La milice de Haftar refuse d’ouvrir la route de Syrte au passage des parlementaires

Libye: La milice de Haftar refuse d’ouvrir la route de Syrte au passage des parlementaires

-En préparation de la tenue d’une séance parlementaire, lundi, pour discuter de l’octroi de la confiance au gouvernement de Dbaiba.


L’armée libyenne a accusé, dimanche, la milice du général putschiste Khalifa Haftar d’avoir refusé d’ouvrir la route côtière Misrata-Syrte (ouest), pour le passage des députés, en vue de la tenue d’une séance parlementaire consacrée au vote de confiance au gouvernement.

Une session de la Chambre des représentants se tiendra à Syrte, lundi, pour discuter de l’octroi de la confiance à la formation gouvernementale de 27 portefeuilles ministériels, dévoilé vendredi soir par le Premier ministre désigné, Abdelhamid Dbaiba.

Dans une déclaration à l’Agence Anadolu, le porte-parole de la salle des opérations de libération de Syrte et al-Jofra, affiliée à l’armée libyenne, le général de brigade Abdul Hadi Dara a affirmé que la milice de Haftar a refusé d’appliquer les termes de l’accord du Comité militaire conjoint (5 + 5) pour un cessez-le-feu et l’ouverture des routes.

“Aujourd’hui, nous avons préparé les conditions favorables au passage des députés, en essayant d’ouvrir le portail de séparation avec la milice de Haftar. Cependant, cette dernière a refusé catégoriquement de l’ouvrir prétendant qu’elle n’avait pas reçu l’ordre de le faire”, a déclaré le porte-parole militaire.

Plus tôt dans la journée dimanche, 40 députés de la Chambre des représentants de la capitale, Tripoli (ouest), sont arrivés à Syrte par avion, en préparation de la session, a affirmé le député Mohamed Al-Raeed à l’Agence Anadolu.

Il a indiqué que Aguila Saleh, président du Parlement de Tobrouk (est), accompagné d’autres députés, est arrivé à Syrte pour la tenue d’une séance parlementaire consacrée au vote de confiance au gouvernement.

Al-Raeed s’attend à ce que 120 députés sur un total d’environ 175, qui sont toujours en vie et n’ont pas présenté leur démission, soient présents à cette session.

«Demain (lundi), 20 députés de la Chambre des représentants de Tripoli se joindront à nous à Syrte», a-t-il ajouté.

Il convient de noter que la totalité du nombre des députés, selon le texte de la Déclaration constitutionnelle, s’élève à 200, mais 12 sièges représentatifs de la ville de Derna n’ont pas été élus, en 2014, époque où la ville était contrôlée par les groupes extrémistes. En outre, 10 députés ont péri, soit dans des accidents de circulation ou à cause de kidnappings ou d’assassinats, ou encore des suites de la Covid-19. De même, au moins un député a présenté sa démission.

Le 5 février, le Forum pour le dialogue politique a élu une autorité exécutive unifiée dont la tâche principale est de préparer la tenue d’élections parlementaires et présidentielle, le 24 décembre.

Les Libyens espèrent que cette étape mettra fin à des années de conflit armé, alors que la milice de Haftar qui dispute l’autorité et la légitimité au gouvernement libyen internationalement reconnu, dans ce pays riche en pétrole.

News, Perspectives 0 comments on Iran Denies Morocco’s Claim of Links with Polisario Front Separatists

Iran Denies Morocco’s Claim of Links with Polisario Front Separatists

Iran has vehemently rejected Morocco’s claims of alleged links between Tehran’s Embassy in Algeria and the Polisario Front, a Western Sahara separatist movement.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said on Wednesday that there is no cooperation between the Iranian diplomatic mission in Algiers and the Polisario Front.

On Tuesday, Morocco cut its diplomatic relations with Iran, with its Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita accusing Tehran and Lebanon’s resistance movement Hezbollah of training and arming Polisario members via the Iranian Embassy in Algeria.

He also claimed that severing ties with Iran came “in response to Iran’s involvement, through Hezbollah, in allying itself with the Polisario over the past two years in order to target the security and higher interests of Morocco.”

Qassemi described Bourita’s accusations as “completely baseless, far from reality and wrong.”

“We need to clearly emphasize once again that one of the most fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s foreign policy in its relations with other governments and countries in the world has been and will continue to be deep respect for their sovereignty and security as well as non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states.”

Hezbollah also quickly rejected Rabat’s accusations, blaming the decision on foreign “pressure” while the Saudi regime said it “stood by” Rabat’s decision to sever ties with Tehran.

Morocco maintains that Western Sahara, also known as Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), a former Spanish colony under its control, is an integral part of the kingdom, while the Polisario Front demands a referendum on self-determination.

 As many as 15 of the African Union, AU, 54 member nations, including continental bigwigs Algeria and South Africa, longtime supporters of SADR’s claim of independence.

The SADR has been a member of the AU since 1984 and Morocco withdrew from Pan-African body in protest, until rejoining in 2017.

Perspectives 0 comments on After decades of dictatorship and corruption, Tunisia cannot thrive as a democracy on its own

After decades of dictatorship and corruption, Tunisia cannot thrive as a democracy on its own

Ten years ago, Tunisia made history when Tunisian youth decided to take their fate into their hands and ignited the revolution of freedom and dignity. Tunisia began a pioneering but challenging transition from authoritarian regime to democracy. Since then, Tunisia has become a beacon of hope for those who believe in Arab democracy, holding successive peaceful elections, establishing democratic institutions and enacting progressive social change.

Yet, despite this progress, we are witnessing the rise of regressive movements that invoke nostalgia for the old regime and seek to return to an authoritarian past of one-man rule rather than the pluralism and compromise of a democratic system. The reasons for this are manifold. First, much of our world, including the United States, is grappling with the rise of populism. Populists have a tendency to thrive in moments of economic crisis and social turmoil, both of which are plentiful in the current climate. Their dangerous narratives are built around an opposition between a virtuous homogenous group of people against a vilified “other” – whether it be elites, minorities or any alternative viewpoint. In Tunisia it takes the form of attacking democratic institutions, elected officials and political parties, disrupting their work, and feeding the notion that complex and deep-rooted social and economic challenges can be addressed by returning to a more “efficient” strong man rule, or installing a “benevolent dictator”. Secondly, any revolution is followed by counter-revolutionary movements and discourses that seek to block and undo any progress achieved and preserve their own privileges and interests.

A democracy still in the making

Tunisian democracy is still in the making. The riots in some Tunisian cities in recent weeks have highlighted just how much there is that is still to be done. The Tunisian people are frustrated at the slow progress of economic reform since 2011 and have yet to see the jobs and better living standards they rightly expect. Our progress has not kept up with people’s expectations. The revolution inspired huge expectations among us all, with little awareness of how complex change would be. Looking back to other modern transitions not so long ago, like those in Eastern Europe, we can see that it takes several decades to see benefits from difficult reforms. This explains how nostalgia for the past order is a common feature of all transitions.  

Nevertheless, we can be proud of Tunisia’s remarkable achievements in the last 10 years. We have established new democratic institutions, resolved conflicts peacefully, set a culture of political inclusion, introduced protections for human rights, gender equality, rule of law and set new standards for state accountability and transparency. Tunisia has made unprecedented progress, placing it among the fastest democratic transitions in history. This is even more remarkable given that past transitions, such as Eastern Europe’s, took place in a more favourable regional and global climate for democracy and economic growth than Tunisia has faced.

Protesters on Jan. 26, 2021, in Tunis, Tunisia.

However, the feelings of disenchantment are understandable and Tunisians’ continued demands for dignity and prosperity promised are entirely legitimate. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, unemployment has increased from 15% to 18% in 2020. Over a third of small businesses are threatened with closure. The tourism sector, which represents 10% of Tunisian GDP and employs almost half a million people, is among the sectors most affected. The government has provided support to those affected by the repercussions of the pandemic and continues to strive to achieve a fine balance between protecting the lives of Tunisians and preserving their livelihoods.

After decades of dictatorship, inequality and corruption, Tunisia’s economy is in need of deep-rooted reforms. We believe a stable government that has the support of the largest possible number of political parties and social partners has the best chance to to enact delayed but necessary reforms. What is urgently needed is to embrace once again the values that won Tunisia a Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 — compromise and dialogue between political parties, trade unions, business leaders and civil society around a shared economic vision for the country. The coronavirus crisis creates even greater urgency for undertaking these reforms. In addition, agreement must be reached on reforming the electoral system to enable the emergence of majorities that can provide stable and accountable government for the people.

Tunisia needs help from its international partners

Tunisia cannot do this on its own. It needs support from its international partners who believe in democracy. The difficulties of our democratic transition must not engender a loss of faith in Tunisia’s democracy. We have crossed uncharted territory in our region, in the face of regional challenges and an unfavourable and volatile global environment. Tunisia needs to be supported as its success will send a message to all nations that democracy can prevail and is, as we believe, the best system of government for delivering freedom and dignity for all. The alternative to democracy in our region is not stability under dictatorship but rather chaos and intensified repression.

Continued support for and belief in Tunisia’s transition to a strong and stable democracy is not just in the interest of Tunisians but for all our neighbors and partners. Despite all challenges, our democratic system has stood firm and, with the necessary commitment and support, will deliver the fruits of democracy that Tunisians have been awaiting.

Rached Ghannouchi is the speaker of Tunisia’s parliament, the Assembly of People’s Representatives. 

Perspectives 0 comments on Biden’s uphill battle to save the Iran nuclear deal .. By Ishaan Tharoor

Biden’s uphill battle to save the Iran nuclear deal .. By Ishaan Tharoor

You’re reading an excerpt from the Today’s WorldView newsletter. Sign up to get the rest, including news from around the globe, interesting ideas and opinions to know, sent to your inbox every weekday.

There’s probably no country in the world outside the United States that was more affected by the November election than Iran. President Biden’s victory and entry into the White House was expected to mark a major shift in U.S. strategy toward the regime in Tehran. After weathering the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign and rounds of asphyxiating sanctions, Iranian officials hoped for a change in the geopolitical winds and some economic relief.

Biden and his allies say they want to undo the diplomatic harm caused by former president Donald Trump’s unilateral reimposition of sanctions on Iran, which happened over the objections of European partners. Along with rejoining the Paris climate accord, salvaging the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Trump abrogated would demonstrate the Biden administration’s commitment to multilateral diplomacy with long-standing allies. The Biden camp also says Trump’s hard-line tactics failed to achieve their stated goal of curbing Iran’s malign activities abroad and drove it to amass a larger stockpile of enriched uranium than before Trump took office.

But a return to the status quo that existed before Trump’s term looks tricky. Although Biden is committed to re-engagement with Iran, his aides have yet to indicate clearly when and how, suggesting that the ball is in Iran’s court. At his confirmation hearing last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States would wait until it was convinced that Tehran was scaling back its revived enrichment operations and returning once more to compliance with the pact.

“We are a long way from there,” Blinken said. “We would then have to evaluate whether they were actually making good if they say they are coming back into compliance with their obligations, and then we would take it from there.”

The Iranians want to see the Americans take the first major step. “The administration should begin by unconditionally removing, with full effect, all sanctions imposed, reimposed, or relabeled since Trump took office,” wrote Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a Foreign Affairs op-ed last week. “In turn, Iran would reverse all the remedial measures it has taken in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal.”

Zarif added that a “return to the table will be jeopardized” if Washington and its European partners insist on linking a portfolio of other concerns — including Iran’s ballistic missile program and ongoing support for proxy militias elsewhere in the Middle East — to the resumption of talks around the nuclear deal.

As the Trump administration fired off a final salvo of punitive actions against Tehran, the regime responded by stepping up the purity of some of its enriched uranium to five times the level permitted under the nuclear deal. In November, the Iranian parliament passed a law that would restrict U.N. inspectors’ access to key nuclear facilities in the absence of sanctions relief. It may be implemented as early next month.

“It is clear that we don’t have many months ahead of us,” Rafael Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear watchdog of the United Nations, told Reuters earlier this month, warning that time was running out for diplomacy to get back on course. “We have weeks.”

This standoff between Biden and Zarif’s boss, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, is made more fraught by domestic pressures within both countries. Republicans and supporters of the Trump administration’s approach appear to be waiting to make political hay of any perceived concession to Iran and have already started accusing Biden appointees of being soft on the regime. They are joined by officials from Iran’s regional adversaries — Israel and the Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — who say that Biden should build off the perceived leverage achieved by Trump.

Some analysts of Iranian politics argue that this leverage is not what it’s cracked up to be and that the regime has proved remarkably resilient despite the squeeze of sanctions. With Iranian presidential elections slated for this summer, a camp of hard-liners opposed to rapprochement with the United States already looks ascendant.

“The Iranian president has very difficult months ahead of him before he leaves office,” wrote Saeid Jafari for the Atlantic Council’s Iran Source blog. “Rouhani’s influential political rivals will do their best to deprive him of reviving the [nuclear deal] before the end of his government.”

But Iran watchers in Washington caution against worrying too much about internal political fissures within the Islamic Republic. “I would not hold the Iranian presidential election as a serious reason for urgency on our side,” said Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution during a webinar last week where she argued that Tehran’s strategy at present was aimed at goading Biden quickly back into the deal. “The Biden administration should resist the temptation to be drawn into crisis diplomacy with the Iranians.”

What Maloney and other experts in Washington advocate is a more measured approach that cools tensions without immediately lifting all of Trump’s sanctions. But a risky game of brinkmanship may now unfold, which will test cooperation between the new U.S. administration and its European partners.

“Tehran would be wrong to assume that [the Biden] administration would hesitate to maintain or even intensify pressure on the Islamic Republic — this time in coordination with European allies — if it were to issue excessive demands,” noted a report from the International Crisis Group.

Even if the regime is intact, Iranian society is paying a price. “The cost of US sanctions have so far been felt most by ordinary Iranians, who have been hit with high inflation,” wrote Iran scholars Ellie Geranmayeh and Esfandyar Batmanghelidj in an opinion piece for CNN. “The worsening economic situation did not lead to regime collapse or capitulation as the Trump administration had bet on, but instead contributed … to protests that were met with brutal force by the security apparatus.”

My colleague Jason Rezaian argued that Biden ought to make the “concerns and aspirations of ordinary Iranians central to his policy.” But after the difficulties of the Trump years, many Iranians are pessimistic about the way ahead.

“I do not think Biden’s presidency is going to make any important change in our lives,” said Shabnam, 41, a teacher in Tehran who spoke to my colleagues on the condition that only her first name be used for security reasons. “To be honest with you, the degree and depth of hopelessness and despair in Iran is so high that I am not optimistic about any action by any Iranian or American politician.”

Perspectives 0 comments on Foreign Forces Ignore Libya Exit Deadline Under Fragile Truce

Foreign Forces Ignore Libya Exit Deadline Under Fragile Truce

Foreign forces ignored a deadline to pull out of Libya as scheduled Saturday under a UN-backed ceasefire deal, highlighting the fragility of peace efforts after a decade of conflict.

Satellite images broadcast by CNN show a trench running tens of kilometres (miles) dug by “Russian mercenaries” near the frontline coastal city of Sirte, as Ankara and Moscow appear intent on defending their interests under any final settlement.

An unidentified US intelligence official, quoted by the American news network, said there was “no intent or movement by either Turkish or Russian forces to abide by the UN-brokered agreement”.

“This has the potential to derail an already fragile peace process and ceasefire. It will be a really difficult year ahead,” he said, AFP reported.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday urged all “regional and international actors to respect the provisions” of the October 23 ceasefire accord that set out a withdrawal within three months of all foreign troops and mercenaries.

That deadline passed on Saturday, with no movement announced or observed on the ground.

The UN estimates there are still some 20,000 foreign troops and mercenaries in Libya helping the warring factions, the UN-recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli and Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar in the east.

Guterres called on all parties to implement the terms of the ceasefire “without delay,” something he noted “includes ensuring the departure of all foreign fighters and mercenaries from Libya, and the full and unconditional respect of the Security Council arms embargo,” which has been in place since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that ousted and killed longtime ruler Moamer Kadhafi.

Any withdrawal or end to foreign interference “does not depend on the Libyans but on the outside powers”, said Khaled al-Montasser, professor of international relations at Tripoli University.

Turkey on Friday welcomed a deal reached at UN-backed talks for Libya’s warring factions to set up an interim executive to rule the North African country until polls in December.

Turkey has backed the GNA with military advisers, materiel and mercenaries, repelling an advance on Tripoli by Haftar’s forces, and it also has a military base in Al-Watiya on the border with Tunisia under a 2019 military accord.

Last December, parliament in Ankara extended by 18 months its authorization for Turkey’s troop deployment in Libya, in apparent disregard of the ceasefire deal.

“The mercenaries are unlikely to leave Libya so long as the countries which have engaged them have not guaranteed their interests in the new transitional phase,” said Montasser, referring to the multiple tracks of UN-sponsored talks currently underway.

“Their presence keeps alive the threat of military confrontation at any moment, while the current calm staying in place seems uncertain,” he said.

Most of the foreign forces are concentrated around Sirte, at Al-Jufra air base held by Haftar’s forces 500 kilometres (300 miles) south of Tripoli and further west in Al-Watiya.

“The context of the presence of mercenaries and foreign fighters is not the same in the east and the west,” said Jalal al-Fitouri, another university professor in the capital.

“The extension of the Turkish presence shows that Ankara doesn’t intend to leave,” he said, whereas the “terms of the contract” between Haftar and Russian mercenaries remain unknown.

Moscow denies any link to the mercenaries, but UN experts last May confirmed the presence of fighters of the Wagner group, allegedly close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Perspectives 0 comments on What the world is saying about the U.S. after the Capitol attack and Trump’s impeachment

What the world is saying about the U.S. after the Capitol attack and Trump’s impeachment

Last week’s breach of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of President Trump’s ardent supporters, following a speech by Trump, drew stunned dismay from around the world, along with some satisfaction on the part of U.S. adversaries.

The political turmoil that followed — including Trump’s banishment from social media and his second impeachment on Wednesday, an unprecedented indictment that is likely to lead to a Senate trial after his departure — has continued to command global attention as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to assume office on Jan. 20.

World leaders have condemned the scenes at the Capitol and weighed in on the effects of Trump’s removal from social media, but few have addressed the impeachment directly.

Here’s what some world leaders and top officials have said about the chaos and its aftermath.

Boris Johnson

British prime minister

As impeachment proceedings against Trump gathered steam on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was pressed by journalists on whether he regretted pursuing a closer relationship with the U.S. leader.

Johnson gave a noncommittal answer, suggesting only that it was important for a British leader to have the “best possible relationship” with their U.S. counterpart and that he had had an “excellent conversation very recently with President-elect Joe Biden.”

The remarks were a contrast to the sterner reaction by Johnson and others in his government after the storming of the Capitol. Johnson said Trump had been “completely wrong” to encourage the chaos that unfolded and described the scenes as “disgraceful.”

British Home Secretary Priti Patel, a key ally of Johnson, told the BBC that Trump’s comments had “directly led” to the storming of the Capitol.

Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, also condemned the riot as “utterly horrifying” and called for “solidarity with those … on the side of democracy and the peaceful and constitutional transfer of power.”

‘Stop trampling democracy’

Angela Merkel

German chancellor

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Thursday said in parliament that those who instigated the violence should be held accountable.

“This closing of ranks begins with holding those accountable who are responsible for such escalations. That includes the violent rioters and it also includes their instigators,” he said. “Those who agitate bear responsibility.”

Maas said the House’s impeachment of Trump was “an expression of the American need not to leave the damage to their democratic institutions without consequences.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also condemned the violence, and expressed the view that companies’ permanent suspension of Trump’s social media accounts was “problematic.”

“The right to freedom of opinion is of fundamental importance,” spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters, adding Merkel thinks decisions to curb it should be made through the legislature, not by the management of social media companies.

Earlier, Merkel denounced the mob violence at the Capitol. “Unfortunately, President Trump has not accepted his defeat since November, and also did not accept it yesterday. And of course this has created an atmosphere, which led to such incidents, violent incidents,” she said on the day of the siege.

Alexei Navalny

Russian opposition leader

Alexei Navalny, a Russian opposition leader now living in Berlin after he was the target of an assassination attempt in Siberia last year, wrote on Twitter on Saturday that he did not think Trump should be banned from Twitter, comparing it to censorship that activists like him see around the world.

“I think that the ban of Donald Trump on Twitter is an unacceptable act of censorship,” Navalny tweeted. “Don’t tell me he was banned for violating Twitter rules. I get death threats here every day for many years, and Twitter doesn’t ban anyone (not that I ask for it).”

“If you replace ‘Trump’ with ‘Navalny’ in today’s discussion, you will get an 80% accurate Kremlin’s answer as to why my name can’t be mentioned on Russian TV and I shouldn’t be allowed to participate in any elections,” he said.

Josep Borrell

European Union foreign policy chief

In a blog post published Monday, the European Union’s top foreign policy official said the events on Capitol Hill reminded him of an attempted coup in a newly democratic Spain.

“It had a particular echo for me because I had to remember how, forty years ago, the young Spanish democracy had been threatened by an assault of the Congress of Deputies by a group of military police,” Josep Borrell wrote. “Fortunately, Spain was able to overcome this ordeal, starting since the best years of our modern history.”

Borrell, who serves as the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs, said some of the blame for what happened should fall on Trump. “If some people believe that an election was fraudulent, because their leader has been once and again telling them, they will behave accordingly,” he said.

Other European leaders have made similar remarks. “I believe in the strength of U.S. institutions and democracy. Peaceful transition of power is at the core,” E.U. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Jan. 6, adding that Biden won the election.

Michael McCormack

Acting Australian prime minister

The acting leader of Australia, one of a handful of leaders to avoid direct criticism of Trump after the Capitol siege, equated the pro-Trump protests in Washington to the anti-police-brutality Black Lives Matter protests of the year before.

Michael McCormack told Australia’s ABC television on Monday that the events of last week were “unfortunate” and “similar to those race riots that we saw around the country last year.” He later doubled down on the comments after they caused criticism from human rights groups.

“It involves violence, it involves destruction of property, it involves deaths of people. And any violence of that form is condemned,” said McCormack, who has been temporarily serving as acting prime minister while Scott Morrison is on vacation.

Pope Francis

“I was astonished because [Americans] are people so disciplined in democracy,” Pope Francis told Italy’s Canale 5 news channel on Saturday, his first public comments on the events. “Thank God that this has burst into the open and is clear to see well, because like this you can put it right.

“Yes, this must be condemned, this movement, no matter who is involved in it,” he said.

Emmanuel Macron

French president

“What happened today in Washington, D.C., is not America, definitely,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in an English-language video statement on Jan. 6. “We believe in the strength of our democracies. We believe in the strength of American democracy.”

Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right group National Rally, said she was “extremely shocked” by scenes from the Capitol and said Trump “must condemn [the events] in the clearest terms.”

Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli prime minister

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a key foreign ally for the Trump administration, said in a statement on Jan. 7 that the acts at the Capitol were “disgraceful.”

Israel analysts noted Netanyahu had waited longer than many other world leaders to criticize the storming of the Capitol.Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, an electoral rival and former army general, tweeted a message the day before.

“This is proof that, before political rivalry, we must agree on the rules of the game: the maintenance of the rule of law, respect for democratic procedures and respectful discourse,” Gantz said in a video message.

‘An assault on democracy’

Stefan Lofven

Swedish prime minister

“This is an assault on democracy. President Trump and several members of Congress bear substantial responsibility for developments,” Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven tweeted on the day of the siege.

Justin Trudeau

Canadian prime minister

At a news conference on Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized Trump for inciting the rioters at the Capitol.

“What we witnessed was an assault on democracy by violent rioters, incited by the current president and other politicians,” he said. “As shocking, deeply disturbing and frankly saddening as that event remains — we have also seen this week that democracy is resilient in America, our closest ally and neighbor.”

As the events unfolded on Jan. 6, Trudeau said that he had been “following the situation minute by minute.”

Vladimir Putin

Russian president

The Russian leader has offered no public comment in response to the storming of the Capitol, but other members of his government have weighed in.

“The events in Washington show that the U.S. electoral process is archaic, does not meet modern standards and is prone to violations,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the day after the riot, according to the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

U.S. democracy is “obviously limping on both feet,” said Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, and a member of the Putin-backing party United Russia. “America no longer charts the course and therefore has lost all right to set it. And even more to impose on others.”

Ali Khamenei

Iranian supreme leader

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, mocked the U.S. political system after the attack, suggesting in speeches and on Twitter that the chaos in Washington was retribution for U.S. policy in the Middle East.

“Have you seen the situation in the U. S.? This is their democracy and this is their election fiasco. Today, the U.S. & ‘American values’ are ridiculed even by their friends,” he said in a tweet on Friday.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani echoed the sentiment. “What happened in the United States showed how weak Western democracy is,” he said the day after the attacks in Washington.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said in a tweet the same day that Trump’s actions made him concerned about his control of U.S. nuclear weapons. “What’s disturbing is that the same man has the UNCHECKED authority to start a nuclear war; a security concern for the entire int’l community,” he wrote.

‘On the verge of a civil war’

Nicolás Maduro

Venezuelan president

Nicolás Maduro, a frequent target of U.S. ire under Trump, suggested Sunday the United States could be “on the verge of a civil war.”

“The United States is in a crisis,” the Venezuelan leader said in a speech. “Joe Biden’s term as president will start under the worst scenario, which includes hostile polarization, a split, animosity and confrontation.”

Emmerson Mnangagwa

Zimbabwean president

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa viewed the acts of insurrection as an opportunity to decry U.S. sanctions on his country.

“Last year, President Trump extended painful economic sanctions placed on Zimbabwe, citing concerns about Zimbabwe’s democracy,” the African leader wrote on Twitter on Jan. 7. “Yesterday’s events showed that the U.S. has no moral right to punish another nation under the guise of upholding democracy. These sanctions must end.”

Xi Jinping

Chinese president

Although Chinese President Xi Jinping has not commented directly on the Capitol assault, high-ranking Beijing officials have used the fray to argue a double standard between U.S. lawmakers’ response to the Capitol rioters and their characterization of protesters in Hong Kong.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Jan. 7 likened the Capitol mob to an incident in 2019, when pro-democracy demonstrators stormed Hong Kong’s parliament, smashing windows, spray-painting the walls and defacing portraits of lawmakers. “The US mainstream media had unanimously criticised violent Trump fans in [Washington], saying it’s a violent event and those protesters are mobs, extremists. … But what description did they use on the Hong Kong protest? ‘Beautiful sight.’ ”

Narendra Modi

Indian prime minister

On Jan. 6, as events were unfolding in the Capitol, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a close ally of Trump’s, expressed his dismay and rejected Trump’s efforts to contest the election.

“Distressed to see news about rioting and violence in Washington DC. Orderly and peaceful transfer of power must continue. The democratic process cannot be allowed to be subverted through unlawful protests,” he wrote in a tweet.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist government and lawmakers in his party have come under criticism over accusations that they incited vigilante mob violence against the country’s Muslim community.Default Mono Sans Mono Serif Sans Serif Comic Fancy Small CapsDefault X-Small Small Medium Large X-Large XX-LargeDefault Outline Dark Outline Light Outline Dark Bold Outline Light Bold Shadow Dark Shadow Light Shadow Dark Bold Shadow Light BoldDefault Black Silver Gray White Maroon Red Purple Fuchsia Green Lime Olive Yellow Navy Blue Teal Aqua OrangeDefault 100% 75% 50% 25% 0%Default Black Silver Gray White Maroon Red Purple Fuchsia Green Lime Olive Yellow Navy Blue Teal Aqua OrangeDefault 100% 75% 50% 25% 0%How the Capitol went from a joint session of Congress to chaos

This report has been updated.

Photo editing by Chloe Coleman. Video editing by Alexa Juliana Ard. Story editing by Benjamin Soloway. Copy editing by Mike Cirelli. Design by J.C. Reed.

Perspectives 0 comments on How Trump-allied foreign activists and dissidents responded to the U.S. Capitol siege.. By Adam Taylor

How Trump-allied foreign activists and dissidents responded to the U.S. Capitol siege.. By Adam Taylor

In his four years in office, President Trump gained a global reputation for allying himself with dictators and strongmen. Even so, some of his most passionate support has come from people who are perhaps the very opposite: political dissidents and human rights activists.

From Cuban exiles to North Korean refugees, Chinese Christians to Iranian feminists, young protest leaders in Hong Kong to senior elected officials in Venezuela, pro-democracy forces from all around the world have found themselves partnered with Trump.

But as the president’s term comes to an end amid unfounded claims of a stolen election, the violent storming of the U.S. Capitol and a second vote to impeachment him in the House, these liberal forces find themselves in an illiberal partnership with far-right militias, QAnon conspiracy theorists and America’s very own strongman leader.AD

Some have embraced Trump’s message. Over the last few months, China-watchers have noted that a number of U.S.-based human rights activists, such as the “barefoot” lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who was welcomed as a refugee during the Obama administration, have promoted unfounded pro-Trump theories of electoral fraud.

Bob Fu, the leader of the human rights group ChinaAid and a friend of Chen’s, told Today’s WorldView he attended the rally outside the White House on Jan. 6 and marched to the Capitol. Fu, who said he was in town for a White House tour and did not witness violence firsthand, noted that it reminded him of his time protesting in Beijing in 1989.

“Thirty years ago, I was at Tiananmen Square fighting for freedom, democracy in China. Now, 30 years later, I’m at the National Mall calling for a fair election,” Fu said. “When the violence erupted, it was kind of like a little second Tiananmen Square, but smaller-scale and less dramatic.”AD

Fu said he believed Chen, whom he helped escape from China, was in downtown Washington the same day, but they did not meet. Chen’s assistant did not respond to a request for an interview. The activist has tweeted pro-Trump messages since Jan. 6.

Many activists and dissidents have recognized the uncomfortable position the Capitol protests put them in. SomeCuban exiles downplayed it, suggesting that the violence was comparable to Black Lives Matter protests and promoting unfounded theories that antifa had infiltrated the protests.

“I believe that the last few months under the terror of Black Lives Matter and antifa has been the saddest period of time in the U.S.” Alexander Otaola, a Miami-based activist and prominent Trump supporter, said in a Spanish-language YouTube program after the riots, according to the Miami Herald.AD

Ahmad Batebi, a former Iranian student who became a symbol of the country’s 1999 protest movement after being photographed holding a bloodstained shirt, has used Twitter to call Ashli Babbitt, a Trump supporter shot dead during the riot at the Capitol, a “patriot” and share praise for lawmakers who disputed the electoral college count.

In an interview, Batebi said he would probably have attended the White House rally if he were in Washington and that he believed President-elect Joe Biden’s win in the U.S. election was fraudulent. “I personally love Trump and I strongly believe he is a patriot,” he said.

Batebi also emphasized that he had been saddened by the violent scenes in Washington, and he directed blame toward Trump himself. “Bringing people out to the street without any organization? That was really bad,” said Batebi, who has lived in the United States since 2008.AD

A number of Trump-backed democracy movements have openly distanced themselves from the protests. Juan Guaidó, the Venezuelan opposition figure who had Trump’s backing in his claims to the country’s presidency, tweeted that the attack on the Capitol was an attack on democracy itself. Another activist, Jorge Barragán, said the scenes in Washington had “made everything more difficult for us.”

Nathan Law, a pro-democracy activist from Hong Kong who was invited to the State of the Union last year as a guest of Trump ally Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla), also pushed back on the idea that the Washington riot had any similarity with his own movement, saying Hong Kong protesters were “civilized and well-mannered” and fighting for “social justice.”

But Trump was a problematic ally for many activists long before the siege. While some joined with him because of traditional religious values, or the influence of diaspora media, for most the alliance was far simpler: He supported their cause.AD

“For me, honestly, it’s not a big deal who is in power in America,” said Masih Alinejad, an Iranian women’s rights activist who now lives in New York and held a controversial meeting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2019. “The big deal is who should not be in power in Iran,” she said.

Alinejad said there were many Trump administration policies against Iran that she did not agree with, but on balance, she said she supported the increased use of sanctions and vocal condemnation of Iran.

Wang Dan, a student leader during the Tiananmen Square protests who lives in Bethesda, Md., and has been criticized for making pro-Trump statements, expressed a similar sentiment, explaining that he has supported “confrontation-oriented policies” by the Trump administration against China in recent years and the increased support for Taiwan.AD

In an email, Wang said he did “not support Trump as a person,” but wished that he had been reelected.

At the same time, Trump’s blustering diplomacy made him an unpredictable ally for many activists. Joseph Kim, an expert in residence at the George W. Bush Institute and a refugee to the United States, said North Korean human rights defenders were delighted when Trump focused on their cause during a visit to Seoul and invited defectors to his 2018 State of the Union address.

But when Trump later met with Kim Jong Un, he did not mention human rights at all. Recent events have tarnished the U.S. reputation, Kim suggested.

“Human rights and justice for others are what this nation has stood for [for] a long time and that’s what this country is respected for the most,” said Kim, who voted in his first U.S. election last year. “We have lost that at the moment, at least.”

Perspectives 0 comments on World stunned by subversion of U.S. democracy after pro-Trump throng breaches Capitol .. By Adam Taylor

World stunned by subversion of U.S. democracy after pro-Trump throng breaches Capitol .. By Adam Taylor

The world watched with dismay as a surreal scene at the U.S. Capitol, like little else seen in its history, unfolded on Wednesday.

Rioters loyal to President Trump burst through police barricades and mobbed the building, disrupting at the 11th hour a vote to formalize Joe Biden’s presidential election victory. Shortly before the breach, Vice President Pence had announced that he would not reject the election results, as Trump had urged.

Many foreign observers, already glued to news of the final chapters of the election saga, reacted with alarm and even grief, especially in allied countries that have looked to U.S. democracy for inspiration.


“The United States Congress has been the symbol of freedom and democracy around the world for centuries,” tweeted Armin Laschet, the leader of Germany’s most populous federal state. “The attacks on the Capitol by fanatical Trump supporters hurt every friend of the United States.”

Across much of Europe, top officials echoed these sentiments.

“This is an assault on democracy. President Trump and several members of Congress bear substantial responsibility for developments,” tweeted Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, calling for the election result to be respected.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “furious” and “sad” over the scenes at the Capitol. “I very much regret that President Trump has not acknowledged his defeat since November,” she said, adding that the doubts sown over the election’s outcome had stoked the atmosphere that led to Wednesday’s events. The country’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, meanwhile condemned the “armed mob incited by an incumbent president.”

 — Siobhán O’Grady, Paul Schemm and Erin Cunningham

Amid untold suffering, the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed at least 1.8 million people over the past year, has been an era of remarkable scientific breakthroughs, including record-breaking vaccine development programs.

But the answer to one of the fundamental questions about the virus remains shrouded in mystery: How did a pathogen found in bats make the jump to humans, presumably in or near the Chinese city of Wuhan, where it was first detected in late 2019?

An upcoming World Health Organization mission to China intends to investigate the matter.

That is, if it ever actually sets foot in China. WHO officials have been negotiating with Beijing to allow a team of international experts to investigate the virus’s origin for almost a year, but Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week that China was still holding up the process.

In the void of information about the virus’s origin, speculation has grown. Chinese officials have suggested that the virus might not have originated in their country, while U.S. officials have said repeatedly that the virus could have leaked from a lab in Wuhan.

In such a politicized and conspiratorial atmosphere, some virologists and public health experts now have doubts that a clear picture of the virus’s origins can ever be discovered. But there are still reasons to hope that the WHO mission can proceed and succeed.

Search for the missing link

In interviews, the WHO team has emphasized that it does not intend to go into the mission with preconceived notions.

Everything is on the table,” Peter Ben Embarek, a Danish food safety expert and head of the mission, told my colleague Emily Rauhala during an interview last week. The team would begin with a “basic study that will give us clues, and those clues will then help us test different hypotheses.”

Ben Embarek did say that one scenario would be the “least surprising” — that the virus now known as SARS-CoV-2, or the novel coronavirus, had spread from bats to an unidentified second animal before infecting humans through zoonotic spillover.

Among scientists, this is the apparent consensus. “The virus is just like a virus we would expect to see in wild bat populations, similar viruses have jumped from non-human animals to animals in the past, so I see no reason to speculate about this any further,” Andrew Rambaut, a microbiologist at the University of Edinburgh, told Today’s WorldView last year.

If it could be proved, this jump from a bat to another animal before humans could explain how the virus made it from the Chinese province of Yunnan, where scientists found its closest relative some time ago (a virus known as SARS-CoV RaTG13), to Wuhan, in Hubei province, more than 1,000 miles away.

But a key question remains: What, and where, was the intermediary animal? Without knowing the answer, scientists have fewer tools to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Around the world, experts have already seen that the virus can spread to and from animals including minks, prompting costly mass cullings.

The WHO team is expected to focus much of its investigation on the Huanan Seafood Market in central Wuhan, to which many early coronavirus cases were linked.

The delay in finding the animal in question is not without precedent. Ben Embarek noted that it took roughly a year to link Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, to dromedary camels.

Sorting theory from fact

While most virologists favor the theory of zoonotic spillover, other, more controversial theories abound.

In recent weeks, for example, Chinese officials have pushed the idea that the virus came from outside the country.

High-level experts such as Wu Guizhen, biosafety expert at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, have said that focusing on wildlife may be the wrong approach. “When we were investigating the origins of the virus, we kept looking for the intermediary host,” Wu said in June. “Now, we may need to reexamine whether the virus really did come from wild animals.”

Meanwhile, a rival theory suggests that the virus could have escaped from the Wuhan branch of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which did conduct research on bat coronaviruses.

That idea became popular among hawkish Republican lawmakers such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) last year, but it never really went away: As recently as last week, deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger was reported to have told British lawmakers that there was “a growing body of evidence” that this was a “a credible possibility.”

The idea also gained mainstream prevalence with a recent New York Magazine story, which detailed the hypothesis that the virus had unintentionally leaked from the laboratory during controversial “gain of function” experiments, wherein viruses are manipulated to see how they can become more virulent and transmissible.

Virologists tend to be skeptical of both of these theories, noting that they come with political notions attached and that direct evidence for either is lacking.

The WHO team has pledged to consider them, but Ben Embarek said he had his doubts about both. The idea that the virus could have been imported to China a year ago was “not impossible but difficult,” he said, while the leak theory was undermined by the fact that the virus was not among those in the lab’s records.

A chance for cooperation

In an ideal world, global powers would come together to uncover the origins of the virus.

The other theories need to be considered, cautiously, too. Even if the virus was not spread as a result of a “gain of function” experiment, its rapid spread raises questions about the risks involved in such experiments.

That’s an issue that wouldn’t just affect China: The United States previously blocked funding to similar experiments amid safety concerns, but resumed it in 2017.

But global efforts to understand the virus have not managed to transcend geopolitics. China has obfuscated international understanding of the virus’s origins. The Associated Press reported last week that although hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants had been given out to those studying the origin of the virus, the publication of any of the findings was being tightly controlled by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

But the Trump administration has not made a cooperative effort on the issue either. Rather than support the effort for an international response to the pandemic, it pulled out of the WHO and escalated tensions with China.

By placing political rivalry above scientific discovery, both China and the United States have undermined research. Some experts think it is now unlikely that the WHO team will have the support to complete a credible investigation.

That would be a massive missed opportunity. As the WHO’s own emergencies chief Mike Ryan said last week, the coronavirus is not the only pandemic humanity will face. “This is not necessarily the big one,” he said.