Interviews, News, opinion 0 comments on Libya watchers see signs of progress toward reconciliation

Libya watchers see signs of progress toward reconciliation


The North African country was plunged into bloody violence following Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster
UN official hopes for an agreement ‘by mid-June’ to hold elections before the end of this year
TRIPOLI: Oil-rich but war-scarred Libya has for years been ruled by two rival governments, but now some analysts see faint signs of progress toward reconciliation between them.
They point to discord within one of the camps, based in the east and backed by military strongman Khalifa Haftar, where the parliament last week suspended its former premier Fathi Bashagha.
Paradoxically, the observers say, Bashaga’s political demise could signal that the Haftar camp is moving toward rapprochement with the internationally recognized government in the capital Tripoli.
Some observers even suggest this could aid United Nations-led efforts urging new elections this year in the country that has been torn by bloody chaos since the 2011 overthrow of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
The political rupture in the east has reversed the fortunes of Bashagha, who a year ago launched an attack on Tripoli that was repelled after a day of deadly street fighting.
Bashagha was suspended on May 16 by the eastern-based parliament, which also announced an investigation against him for unspecified reasons.
The move against Bashagha “sealed the end of the political life of this former strongman,” said analyst Hasni Abidi of the Geneva-based Institute for Arab and Mediterranean Cultures.
His “humiliating departure … reflects the differences in the eastern camp, in particular between the Haftar clan represented by his children and the parliament,” Abidi said.
Tripoli-based interim Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibah has meanwhile used the “paralysis of the eastern government to consolidate his grip on political and economic life in Libya,” he said.
The North African country was plunged into more than a decade of bloody violence following Gaddafi’s ouster in a NATO-backed popular uprising in which the veteran dictator was killed.
The ensuing chaos drew in warlords, militants and foreign mercenaries and claimed countless lives while leaving the country awash with guns.
Haftar, a Gaddafi-era soldier turned exile, and since backed by Egypt and other foreign powers, launched an assault on Tripoli in 2019 that left thousands more dead but ultimately failed.
The warring parties reached a formal cease-fire in October 2020.
Since then, the United Nations has resumed its efforts for new elections, to bring stability to the troubled country, but these have been repeatedly delayed.
Bashaga, from the port city of Misrata and formerly a political heavyweight in the western camp, had sought Haftar’s support in late 2021, vowing to work for “national reconciliation.”
Bashagha’s suspension comes ahead of a mid-June deadline declared by the United Nations for the rival political forces to agree on a framework to hold elections before the end of the year.
Bashagha “always had an expiry date,” said Emadeddin Badi of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, a Switzerland-based research body.
“His usefulness ended the day he lost the possibility of establishing himself in Tripoli,” the analyst said.
Libyan media have meanwhile reported that talks have been held between representatives of Haftar and Dbeibah.
Dbeibah’s nephew and one of Haftar’s sons “have been in almost continuous talks for months,” researcher Jalel Harchaoui said.
“The desire of these two Libyan personalities to accommodate one another is one of the reasons for Bashagha’s fall,” he said.
Badi said Haftar had offered to suspend Bashagha, a move that had the “blessing” of Egypt.
The head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, Abdoulaye Bathily, has said he hopes for an agreement “by mid-June” to hold elections before the end of this year.
He told the UN Security Council last month that “intensive consultations have taken place among security actors” and said “there has been a new dynamic in Libya.”
Libyan political analyst Abdallah Al-Rayes said the rival camps’ new understandings are the culmination of “discreet negotiations in Cairo” with a view to “forming a new coalition government.”
“This is a step that precedes any agreement on the polls,” he added.
Harchaoui, however, was less optimistic and said “the elites already well in place today … have absolutely no intention of leaving power in order to allow credible and authentic elections.”

Interviews, News, opinion 0 comments on Exclusive: Tons of uranium missing from Libyan site, IAEA tells member states

Exclusive: Tons of uranium missing from Libyan site, IAEA tells member states

VIENNA, March 15 (Reuters) – U.N. nuclear watchdog inspectors have found that roughly 2.5 tons of natural uranium have gone missing from a Libyan site that is not under government control, the watchdog told member states in a statement on Wednesday seen by Reuters.

The finding is the result of an inspection originally planned for last year that “had to be postponed because of the security situation in the region” and was finally carried out on Tuesday, according to the confidential statement by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi.

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IAEA inspectors “found that 10 drums containing approximately 2.5 tons of natural uranium in the form of UOC (uranium ore concentrate) previously declared by (Libya) … as being stored at that location were not present at the location,” the one-page statement said.

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The agency would carry out “further activities” to determine the circumstances of the uranium’s removal from the site, which it did not name, and where it is now, the statement added.

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“The loss of knowledge about the present location of nuclear material may present a radiological risk, as well as nuclear security concerns,” it said, adding that reaching the site required “complex logistics”.

In 2003 Libya under then-leader Muammar Gaddafi renounced its nuclear weapons programme, which had obtained centrifuges that can enrich uranium as well as design information for a nuclear bomb, though it made little progress towards a bomb.

Libya has had little peace since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising ousted Gaddafi. Since 2014, political control has been split between rival eastern and western factions, with the last major bout of conflict ending in 2020.

Libya’s interim government, put in place in early 2021 through a U.N.-backed peace plan, was only supposed to last until an election scheduled for December of that year that has still not been held, and its legitimacy is now also disputed.

Interviews, News, opinion 0 comments on Saudi Arabia and Iran Agree to Restore Ties, in Talks Hosted by China .. By By Vivian Nereim

Saudi Arabia and Iran Agree to Restore Ties, in Talks Hosted by China .. By By Vivian Nereim

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — After years of open hostility and proxy conflicts across the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Iran have agreed to re-establish diplomatic ties, they announced on Friday, in a significant pivot for the two regional rivals that was facilitated by China.

China hosted the talks that led to the breakthrough, highlighting Beijing’s growing role as a global economic and political power, and counterbalance to Washington — particularly in the Middle East, a region that was long shaped by the military and diplomatic involvement of the United States.

Seven years after cutting formal ties, Iran and Saudi Arabia will reopen embassies in each other’s countries within two months, and confirmed their “respect for the sovereignty of states and noninterference in their internal affairs,” they said in a joint statement published by the official Saudi Press Agency. Iran’s state news media also announced the deal.

The two countries agreed to reactivate a lapsed security cooperation pact — a shift that comes after years of Iranian-backed militias in Yemen targeting Saudi Arabia with missile and drone attacks — as well as older trade, investment and cultural accords.

Whether the shift leads to a deep or lasting détente between governments that have long been in conflict remains unclear, but there have been signs that both nations wanted to find a way to step back from confrontation. Saudi and Iranian officials had engaged in several rounds of talks over the past two years, including in Iraq and Oman, but without significant steps forward.

For the United States, the agreement signals that it cannot take for granted the pre-eminent influence it once wielded in Saudi Arabia — an ally that is charting a more independent diplomatic course — and elsewhere, as China, a rising superpower, builds trade and diplomatic relations around the world.

While Washington views Iran as an adversary, Beijing has cultivated close ties to both Iran and Saudi Arabia, and unlike U.S. officials, it does not chastise them about human rights. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, visited Beijing last month, and China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, visited Riyadh, the Saudi capital, in December. Mr. Xi’s state visit was celebrated by Saudi officials, who often complain that their American allies are too critical, and are no longer reliable security partners.

John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, rejected the notion that the United States had left a void in Middle East affairs, now being filled by China. “I would stridently push back on this idea that we are stepping back in the Middle East,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia had kept the United States informed of the talks with Iran.

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“We support any effort there to de-escalate tensions in the region,” Mr. Kirby said.

China’s most senior foreign policy official, Wang Yi, indicated on Friday in a statement on the Chinese foreign ministry website that Beijing had played an instrumental role in the resumption of diplomatic ties.

“This is a victory for the dialogue, a victory for peace, and is major positive news for the world which is currently so turbulent and restive, and it sends a clear signal,” he said.

Mohammed Alyahya, a Saudi fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard, said the agreement was a “reflection of China’s growing strategic clout in the region — the fact that it has a lot of leverage over the Iranians, the fact it has very deep and important economic relations with the Saudis.” He added: “There is a strategic void in the region, and the Chinese seem to have figured out how to capitalize on that.”

After years of tensions, Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran completely in 2016, when protesters stormed the kingdom’s embassy in Tehran after Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric.

The rivalry between the two Islamic nations, which are less than 150 miles away from each other across the Persian Gulf, has long shaped politics and trade in the Middle East. It has a sectarian dimension — Saudi Arabia’s monarchy and a majority of its populace are Sunni, while Iran’s people are overwhelmingly Shiite — but has predominantly played out via proxy conflicts in Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, where Iran has supported militias that Saudi officials say have destabilized the region.

Tensions hit a peak in 2019, when a missile and drone assault on a key Saudi oil installation briefly disrupted half of the kingdom’s crude production; the Iran-backed Houthi movement in Yemen claimed responsibility, but U.S. officials said that Iran had directly overseen the attack.


A satellite image of smoke rising from a critical oil plant in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, in 2019.
Credit…Planet Labs Inc, via Associated Press
A satellite image of smoke rising from a critical oil plant in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, in 2019.

In Yemen, a Saudi-led coalition has been at war with the Houthis since 2015. Saudi officials have also repeatedly expressed fear over Iran’s nuclear program, saying that they would be the foremost target for any attack by the Islamic Republic.

China wants stability in the region, with more than 40 percent of its crude oil imports coming from the Gulf, said Jonathan Fulton, a nonresident senior fellow for Middle East programs at the Atlantic Council.

“Beijing has adopted a smart approach using its strategic partnership diplomacy, building diplomatic capital on both sides of the Gulf,” he said. “Unlike the United States, which balances one side against the other, and is therefore limited in its diplomatic capacity.”

Ali Shamkhani, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told Iran’s NourNews Agency that President Raisi’s visit to China in February had helped create the opportunity for the negotiations to move forward.

Mr. Shamkhani described the talks as “unequivocal, transparent, comprehensive and constructive.” He said he was looking forward to relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia that foster “the security and stability of the region.”


Xi Jinping, president of China, with President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran in Beijing last month, in a photo released by the Chinese state news media.
Credit…Yan Yan/Xinhua, via Associated Press
Xi Jinping, president of China, with President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran in Beijing last month, in a photo released by the Chinese state news media.

For Iran, mending ties with a regional enemy would be a welcome relief after months of internal turmoil marked by antigovernment protests that Iranian officials have blamed in part on Saudi Arabia. The Iranian government spokesman, Ali Bahadori Jahromi, tweeted that “the historic agreement of Saudi-Iran negotiated in China and led entirely by Asian countries will change the dynamics of the region.”

The Israeli foreign ministry declined to immediately comment. But the news complicates the Israeli assumption that shared fears of a nuclear Iran would help Israel forge a formal relationship with Saudi Arabia. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has repeatedly stated in recent months that he hoped to seal diplomatic ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia for the first time.

Saudi Arabia has pressed the United States to lower restrictions on selling it arms, and to help it build a civilian nuclear program, as its price to normalize relations with Israel, according to people familiar with the exchanges.

The agreement comes as China has been trying to play a more active role in global governance by releasing a political settlement plan for the war in Ukraine and updating what it calls the Global Security Initiative, a bid to supplant Washington’s dominant role in addressing the world’s conflicts and crises.

Political analysts took mixed views of the implications for the United States.

Mark Dubowitz, the chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based research institute, described the renewed Iran-Saudi ties resulting from Chinese mediation as “a lose, lose, lose for American interests.”

He added: “It demonstrates that the Saudis don’t trust Washington to have their back, that Iran sees an opportunity to peel away American allies to end its international isolation and that China is becoming the major-domo of Middle Eastern power politics.”


President Biden meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia last year.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Biden meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia last year.

But Trita Parsi, an executive vice president of the Quincy Institute, a Washington research group that advocates U.S. restraint overseas, called the agreement “good news for the Middle East, since Saudi-Iranian tensions have been a driver of instability in the region.”

Saudi officials are not looking to replace the United States with China, said Yasmine Farouk, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington research group.

When it comes to defense and security, “Riyadh still thinks in English,” she said. But after years of feeling that the United States has become a less reliable ally, the Saudis are expanding their alliances wherever they can.

Reporting was contributed by Keith Bradsher, Patrick Kingsley, David Pierson, Christopher Buckley, Michael Crowley, Farnaz Fassihi, Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Leily Nikounazar.

Interviews, News, opinion, Perspectives 0 comments on Final déclaration of the forum “Changes in Tunisia and the European Maghreb Countries in 2023: The economic and security situation new Threats.”

Final déclaration of the forum “Changes in Tunisia and the European Maghreb Countries in 2023: The economic and security situation new Threats.”

The closing statement of the forum “Changes in Tunisia and the European Maghreb Countries in 2023: The economic and security situation threatens to explode and collapse.”

– 35,000 Tunisians immigrated illegaly to Europe in 2022
A new regional order and distancing the region from “proxy wars”

A forum on economic and geostrategic changes in Tunisia and the European Maghreb region was organized in Tunisia, with the participation of elite diplomats, experts in economists, international relations, media and strategic studies, at the initiative of the organizations “Tunisia for Competencies”, “Ibn Rushd Forum for Strategic Studies” and “Association of Democrats in the Arab World” ..
Lecturers from the five Maghreb countries, Jordan and the European Union participated in this forum, in person or via electronic platforms. Their interventions warned of multiple indicators of social and security explosions due to the economic and political collapse and the serious repercussions of conflicts, the war in Ukraine, and the continuation of conventional and “cold” wars in the region, especially in Libya. And between Morocco and Algeria and in Palestine and the Arab East…
After diagnosing the situation, this forum resulted in many recommendations, including:

First, in the socio-economic field:
The forum recommended the adoption of “urgent and structural” and “unconventional” solutions: to contain the accumulated economic, social and political crises, which have increased in severity and seriousness due to the complications of the Ukraine war and its development into very serious conflicts between Russia and its allies and NATO countries, including European countries, the main partner of Tunisia and the Maghreb countries. And the Mediterranean..
The forum recommended good governance and the political and administrative reforms required to improve the economic and social reality and the conditions of youth and the popular classes that are about to explode and revolt against everyone … with an emphasis on the relationship between development and democracy and on the fact that the paths of the “democratic transition” in Tunisia and the Arab countries faltered as a result of the accumulation of politicians’ mistakes since 2011 Domestic, regional and international conspiracies and agendas.

Secondly, in the Maghreb field:

Participants recommended containing internal crises, especially in Libya, in all Maghreb countries through negotiation and political solutions, and excluding all scenarios of fighting, violent clashes, and security explosions of unknown consequences.
They also called for containing the old and new differences between Algeria and Morocco, restoring relations between them, opening closed borders, and purifying the climate between the five countries to activate bilateral and collective agreements for economic partnership and integration in all sectors, which will contribute to improving annual growth rates in Tunisia and every Maghreb country. At least two points.
The interventions also called for the exit of foreign forces from Libya and the region, and for the exclusion of foreign interference that impedes the paths of national reconciliation and comprehensive development throughout the region.

Third, in the Euro-Mediterranean field:
Participants from Arab and European countries recorded that the economic cost of the Corona epidemic and the war in Ukraine made the European Union countries retreat from their programs to support development, democracy and reforms in “neighboring countries”. Budgets were transferred to support Ukraine and finance the reception of millions of refugees fleeing the war. Brussels and the Arab and Mediterranean countries to activate partnership agreements and facilitate the movement of travelers, investors and goods in both directions… “And that the role of the countries of the southern Mediterranean is not reduced to protecting the southern European coasts from the waves of illegal immigrants, Tunisians, Arabs and Africans.”
The parliamentarian and former leader of the Democratic Current Party, Majdi al-Karbaei, recorded in his intervention from Italy and the journalist Moncef al-Sulaimi from Germany that the number of Tunisian immigrants “surreptitiously” towards Italy in 2022 was in the range of 18,000 from the sea, while the candidates for immigration to it via Turkey and Serbia were estimated at 15. Thousands… meaning that their number in one year hovered around 35 thousand… while the number of those who died by drowning or were imprisoned in very harsh conditions was estimated to be 1,000 Tunisians…

Fourth, in the international field:
The forum recommended decision makers in the world to take advantage of the suffocating global crisis triggered by the conflicts between the NATO countries on the one hand and Russia and its

Interviews, News, Perspectives 0 comments on Perspectives: OPEC+ and U.S.-Saudi Relations

Perspectives: OPEC+ and U.S.-Saudi Relations

A Fractious, if Enduring Partnership

Professor David Des Roches, Non-Resident Senior Fellow at Gulf International Forum and an Associate Professor at Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies

Like any close bilateral relationship, the U.S.-Saudi partnership has experienced peaks and troughs, and due to misperceptions on both sides, Washington and Riyadh are currently in a trough. The Biden administration believed that meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in July would wipe the slate clean and return relations to a familiar pattern, wherein the Kingdom responds favorably to American requests regarding the global oil market. The Saudis, on the other hand, seem to feel that Biden’s discussion of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi immediately after the meeting was a breach of protocol, negating any positive effect the meeting may have had. The Biden team returned to Washington, having irritated much of their domestic base while mistakenly feeling they had improved their relationship with the Kingdom when in reality they had not.

On the other hand, the Saudis seem to have once again mistaken their demonstrable influence in American security and foreign policy circles for influence over America at large. Outside of narrow government and foreign policy elites, there is no constituency in America —outside of narrow government and foreign policy elites—that is sympathetic to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis also appear to have missed the widely held American conviction that high energy prices only bolster Vladimir Putin, and maintaining these high prices serves only to perpetuate Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The pressures of upcoming midterm elections have only exacerbated the rift between Washington and Riyadh. The upcoming vote has always looked difficult for the ruling Democratic Party—the opposition party has gained ground in every midterm election since 2006— but now price increases in that most inelastic and price-visible commodity, gasoline, have only fueled their electoral worries. Having prematurely drawn from the strategic petroleum reserve over the summer, the Biden administration appears to have no option other than to weather the storm. This is cold comfort for legislators such as Rep. Tom Malinowski, who is considered by pollsters to be the most vulnerable Democratic member of Congress and who, perhaps not entirely coincidentally, has proposed legislation aimed at curtailing U.S.-Saudi ties. More reckless legislation has been proposed in Congress by other legislators, most of whom lack Malinowski’s long commitment to human rights work, in the full knowledge that these performative acts stand little chance of passage.

When misperceptions collide, the results are rarely pretty. Both sides will feel aggrieved and may speak out against each other in less-than-diplomatic terms. Bills that restrict the United States’ relations with the Kingdom will be opposed by the administration on institutional grounds, as the executive generally resists restrictions on its conduct of foreign policy. The few Saudis who speak on behalf of the Kingdom’s leadership will continue their customary silence. Both sides recognize the strategic importance of the bilateral relationship, and both sides know that the relationship is one based on interests, not sentiment, and that the partnership must endure moments of friction and disagreement such as this.

At the same time, both sides must remain free to signal their displeasure to the other, as well as to their respective publics. The difficulty both sides face lies in announcing dissatisfaction without causing permanent damage to the relationship. It is unlikely that drastic actions that permanently alter relations will take place today; the U.S.-Saudi partnership has been carefully developed and maintained over decades, and survived extreme Congressional and bureaucratic scrutiny in the past. Observers can expect to see the suspension of high-level visits and talks, which many within the U.S. government already regard as burdensome and ineffective. Though cold winds may be blowing now, this weather will change with a new season, and the shared interests which bind the United States and the Kingdom will continue to bring the two countries together. The relationship may need calibration, but it will endure.

Little Time, Even Less Political Capital

Dr. Courtney Freer, Non-Resident Senior Fellow at Gulf International Forum and Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow at Emory University

In light of the recent U.S.-Saudi spat over oil prices, Saudi Arabia has two paths forward. Riyadh may continue its policy of determining oil production and pricing independent of Washington, while deflecting criticism that this policy aims to influence American domestic politics, or it may side more decisively with Russia to achieve its own economic and geostrategic objectives. The problem is, however, that the trust deficit between the two countries has grown so great that either course of action is unlikely to change U.S. perceptions. Indeed, the Saudi delegation at the UN General Assembly last month voted in favor of a U.S.-drafted resolution condemning Russia’s invasion, occupation, and annexation of parts of Ukraine. Earlier this month, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky $400 million in non-lethal humanitarian aid. In spite of these actions, seemingly calibrated toward currying favor in the United States as much as helping Ukraine, American political leaders and media institutions have continued to argue that the recent OPEC+ production cuts have imperiled the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

In an attempt to move beyond the recent impasse, the Saudi leadership could try to change the conversation about the U.S.-Saudi strategic partnership, as the bilateral relationship rests on shared strategic interests, not simply oil prices. Focusing on multilateral security cooperation in the Gulf, or attempting to mediate between Russia and Ukraine, could be useful in this regard. Thus far, however, each side seems insistent on emphasizing its right to pursue independent and self-serving foreign policies, rather than seeking a means to work through their differences.

The Twilight of American Power in the Gulf

Dr. Mohammad Alrumaihi, Former Advisor for Kuwait’s Council of Ministers and Professor at Kuwait University and Professor of Sociology at Kuwait University

The current diplomatic crisis between the United States and Saudi Arabia over the price of oil is not the first bilateral schism and will not be the last. In the 1980s, I published a volume that analyzed the politics of oil and international relations. The work discussed the relationships between oil-producing countries and British and American oil companies, with an emphasis on how interests affected the durability of these relations. Production of oil in the last century was subject to the whims of British and American oil companies. This dynamic had a significant impact on the relations between the West and non-Western oil-producing states. For instance, in the last century when Saudi Arabia requested that the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) reallocate oil dividends more fairly, Aramco agreed. However, when other oil producing countries made similar requests of British oil companies, they were often rejected. This deprived these fledgling states of economic resources vital to their development. In turn, oil-producing states suffered from political unrest and revolutions, and they often took the drastic step of nationalizing their oil sectors. During this era, the U.S. was at the peak of its power in the Middle East and was comfortable making concessions and reaching compromises with the states it favored. By contrast, the UK was a declining power—a fact that led to intransigence from London, which felt that it had to preserve its fleeting status through tough negotiations and stonewalling.

Today, the U.S. is acting like the UK of the 20th century. In its dealings within the Middle East, it has been stubborn, loath to compromise, and suspicious of a wider erosion of American power. The last few administrations have exhibited an increasing tendency toward obstinacy. Many internal and international developments—the rise of China, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and domestic inflation chief among them—have led to the relative decline of American power, prompting Washington’s harsh reaction to the OPEC+ oil production cuts.

It is also noteworthy that Saudi Arabia is only one of 14 countries in OPEC+. In their public statements, Saudi officials have emphasized the collective decision-making of the group and argued that Riyadh has been unfairly singled out for criticism by Washington. At the same time, the United States continues to benefit from increased natural gas exports to Europe while gas prices are at a record high, leading some U.S. partners in Europe to complain about high U.S. gas prices.

In the end, the overreaction to the OPEC+ decision is the clearest indication yet of a political bubble that has enveloped Washington. If the Biden administration views the OPEC+ production cuts as a tool to weaken the White House ahead of the midterm elections, it has sorely misjudged the situation.

What to Expect From the Re-evaluation of U.S.-Saudi Ties

Charles W. DunneNon-Resident Scholar at the Middle East Institute

Is this a crisis point in US-Saudi relations? President Joe Biden promised to review bilateral relations with the Kingdom after it recently sided with Russia within OPEC+ to restrict global oil supplies, ignoring pleas from Washington to delay the move. The Saudis, in their own passive-aggressive way, have made clear their disdain for Biden, and today appear to be drawing closer to both Russia and China. The fabric of bilateral relations between the two long-term partners has been frayed as never before. Where do the United States and Saudi Arabia go from here?

If it is to be taken seriously by Riyadh, the Biden administration must make good on its pledge to impose “consequences” for the OPEC+ decision. There are a number of levers Washington could pull to punish Saudi Arabia. Suspending all arms sales while reviewing whether these support broader U.S. regional goals, instead of simply fulfilling royal wish lists, would be one course of action. Another would be a serious, public consideration of downsizing the U.S. military and training presence in the Kingdom and transferring assets elsewhere in the region—, for example to Qatar, which already hosts the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East and was recently declared a major non-NATO ally. A third would see the United States push back more aggressively against Saudi repression at home and intimidation of dissidents abroad, both of which are affronts to international human rights standards and the Biden administration’s foreign policy goals. Such actions should be accompanied by a comprehensive review of the overall Saudi-American political-military relationship, analyzing whether it continues to serve U.S. interests to the extent it once did.

We should not expect fundamental changes to America’s relationship with the Kingdom, however. The accumulated weight of decades of U.S. acquiescence to Riyadh’s wishes, and the largely unquestioned linkage of U.S. and Saudi interests, may prove highly resistant to strategic restructuring. In spite of surface-level tensions between Washington and Riyadh, most policymakers at the State Department and the National Security Council continue to assume that Riyadh remains an indispensable bulwark of regional stability and will obligingly support the United States on the most important issues. These voices find support from the U.S. defense industry, as well as the dozens of former senior American military officials who have found lucrative employment in the service of the Kingdom. In any case, the Biden administration’s promised “review” of U.S.-Saudi relations appears to have no structure, momentum, or timetable at present, and may very well fail to get off the ground.

One thing is certain: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is undertaking his own re-evaluation of the bilateral relationship, and he appears to be working from a different set of assumptions. Biden and his administration would do well to hasten their own review before MBS makes all the decisions for them.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Gulf International Forum.

Interviews, News, opinion, Perspectives 0 comments on Putin claims progress made in talks over lifting Ukrainian wheat blockade

Putin claims progress made in talks over lifting Ukrainian wheat blockade

Russian president makes comments in Tehran, where he had a meeting with leaders from Turkey and Iran

Russia-Ukraine war: live news
Vladimir Putin leaves his presidential plane after arriving in Tehran on Tuesday.
Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor
Tue 19 Jul 2022 19.58 BST
Vladimir Putin has claimed on a trip to Tehran that progress has been made that may allow Russia to lift the blockade on Ukrainian wheat, an issue that is threatening famine across Africa.

“I want to thank you for your mediation efforts,” the Russian president told Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, his Turkish counterpart, in comments released by the Kremlin.


“With your mediation, we have moved forward,” Putin said. “Not all issues have yet been resolved, but the fact that there is movement is already good.”

It was only Putin’s second visit outside Russia since his invasion of Ukraine and reflected his determination to show he is not as isolated as the west claims, but retains an influence in the region after the visit to the Middle East last week by Joe Biden.

Putin held bilateral talks not only with Erdoğan, but also with the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi.

Khamenei offered Putin support over the Ukraine conflict. “War is a harsh and difficult issue, and Iran is not at all pleased that ordinary people suffer from it, but in the case of Ukraine, if you had not taken the initiative, the other side would have caused the war with its own initiative,” he said.

“If the road is open to Nato, it knows no boundaries and if it was not stopped in Ukraine, they would start the same war some time later under the pretext of Crimea.”


Putin was reported to have replied: “No one is in favour of war, and the loss of ordinary people’s lives is a great tragedy, but the behaviour of the west made us have no choice but to react. Some European countries said that that they had been against Ukraine’s membership of Nato, but then agreed under American pressure, which shows their lack of independence.”

Although there was broad agreement about Ukraine, tensions were on display when Khamenei warned Turkey against an incursion into northern Syria.

Erdoğan, possibly taking advantage of Putin’s distractions in Ukraine, has been threatening a new military offensive in northern Syria to drive away US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters from Turkey’s borders. The operation is part of Turkey’s plan to create a safe zone along its border with Syria that would encourage the voluntary return of Syrian refugees, a move that would be popular inside Turkey as Erdoğan prepares for difficult elections next year.

But in a meeting with Khamenei he was warned against such a move. “Any sort of military attack in northern Syria will definitely harm Turkey, Syria and the entire region, and will benefit terrorists,” Iran’s leader said, stressing the need to “bring the issue to an end through talks”. He said he also opposed any threat to the integrity of Syria.


In recent weeks Syrian Kurds have asked Iran and Russia to defend them against Turkish threats. Russian military officials have flown to the region in a bid to broker a deal between the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds that would make a Turkish incursion more difficult.

Erdoğan was also seeking a signal from Putin that he is willing to lift the Russian naval blockade preventing Ukrainian grain from leaving Black Sea ports. The EU said on Tuesday it is prepared to lift some sanctions on Russian banks in relation to the trade of food.

Turkey, a Nato member, has a special responsibility under the 1936 Montreux convention for naval traffic entering the Black Sea. It is proposing that Russia allows the Ukrainian grain ships to leave Odesa on designated routes so long as checks are made that the vessels are not carrying arms.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – the world’s biggest wheat supplier – has sent prices of grain soaring across the world, compounding pre-existing food crises. Dozens of ships have been stranded and 22m tonnes of grain are stuck in silos at Ukrainian ports.

Hulusi Akar, the Turkish defence minister, has said Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN will sign a deal this week on the grain exports corridor after talks in Istanbul. A coordination centre is to be opened in Istanbul allowing routing of those exports via the Black Sea.

Erdoğan also signed economic and trade cooperation agreements with Iran, and said he opposed western sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme. The US has again threatened to increase sanctions on Iran if it does not agree to revive the nuclear deal.

Putin was looking to use the talks to bolster regional opposition to any US-proposed defence pacts between Gulf states and Israel, an idea that some in Washington see as a necessary bulwark if Iran was to go ahead with its nuclear programme. Russia is a party to the nuclear talks that are stalled in Vienna due to a US refusal to lift sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards. The US says these sanctions were not imposed due to the nuclear deal but due to the Revolutionary Guards’ malign activities across the region.

In a memorandum of understanding sealed before Putin’s arrival, the National Iranian Oil Company signed an agreement potentially worth $40bn (£33bn) with Russia’s Gazprom.

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The talks may also touch on Iran’s long experience of circumventing US sanctions, and whether there is room for cooperation between Moscow and Tehran on defeating US measures. The long-term vision is for the two countries to reduce dependence on the dollar for trading, but in the short term there may be discussions over Russia buying Iranian drones for use in Ukraine.

The Russian ambassador to Tehran, Levan Dzhagaryan, said in an interview with Iran’s Shargh newspaper last Saturday that Iran and Russia were now in a “single fortress”.

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Interviews, News, opinion 0 comments on An open letter from the Presidency of Parliament to the US State Department

An open letter from the Presidency of Parliament to the US State Department

In the name of Allah the Merciful
#Tunisia on May 11, 2022.
#An open letter to Her Excellency Mrs. Yael Lambert
#Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.
#Dear Mrs. Yael Lambert Assistant Secretary of State, and welcome to Tunisia, the country of Jasmine.
#Dear Honorable Assistant Secretary of State for the US Department of State.
#In the name of the presidency and members of the Assembly of People’s Representatives of the Republic of Tunisia we renew our highest expressions of thanks and appreciation to the American people and their friendly government, especially the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of the United States of America in Tunisia, for your unwavering support to our national effort to resist this pandemic crisis with 3 million necessary vaccinations and vital medical aid.
#While we recall with gratitude your joint efforts to strengthen the long-standing and deep foundations of our strategic partnership in our security challenges, especially economic and social challenges, we today look forward more than ever to a solid stance and clear alignment to our common values in support of our fundamental freedoms and the preservation of our young representative democracy. The difficult and complex challenges during this historical juncture exposed our country to real threats to the foundations of its modern state and the modernity values of its ancient republic and its emerging democracy since the coup against the constitution that the President perpetrated on July 25, 2021.
#Since the first days of the coup against the constitution our country has been honored to receive a distinguished group of American legislators and senior officials in the American administration, and the Embassy of the United States of America in Tunisia issued several statements, individually or collectively, accompanied by the embassies of friend countries, in which it expressed its bias to the aspirations of the Tunisian people for the return of the constitutional path, elected institutions and their legitimate right to an elected government in order to lead a broad internal Tunisian national dialogue that includes all political, social and civil components, and leads to the return of legitimate institutions through a collective Tunisian roadmap backed by an international effort to save Tunisia from the specter of bankruptcy Supporting economic recovery efforts …
#We value all these efforts and consider them sincere and commendable.
However, the systematic demolition process led by Mr. Qais Saied of all constitutional and democratic institutions, including the Assembly of the Representatives of the People, the elected government, the Constitutional Law Monitoring Authority, the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Supreme Judicial Council, and last but not least, the Independent High Authority for Elections, in addition to the threat to our political parties and all manifestations of free and independent civil society under the watchful eye of the Tunisian people and international public opinion, and in the absence of any conscious will from the part of Mr. Qais Saeed to save the country and counter the serious financial, economic and social problems facing our country and start any measure of reform to restore the Tunisian economy to the gradual recovery and then the desired growth,
#The Tunisian people invite you and all friends of Tunisia to redouble your efforts to stop this dangerous path that threatens the societal peace and civil stability in Tunisia and destabilizes the state and its institutions in general.
In line with your message in Tunisia today, and the efforts of the American administration to support the aspirations of the Tunisian people in restoring democracy and saving from the real dangers of the complex constitutional, financial, economic and social crisis, we call upon you to:
1- Alert Mr. Qais Saeed of the seriousness of the financial, economic and social risks resulting from the continuation of the state of exception, and the need to end it as soon as possible by signing Law No. 01 of 2022, and stop perusing his personal agenda the failure thereof has become apparent by the little participation in his electronic consultation and the very weak popular support that was clearly demonstrated by the small picket organized by the state on May 08, 2022.
2- Pressure Mr. Qais Saied to review his authoritarian approach and give up his ambiguous form of ruling derived from the bad heritage of Colonel Gaddafi, and to stop all military trials and his personal insistence to bring 121 Tunisian deputies to trial without the slightest constitutional reason Or legal charges that carry the death penalty. And to stop all prosecution procedures against all members of the Assembly of the Representatives of the People, activists and politicians, in order to preserve his reputation as a man of law, and to preserve the values of the Tunisian Republic and the principles of the peaceful Tunisian revolution.
3- We stress the role of Tunisia’s loyal friends in supporting all national efforts and humanitarian aid, for all the constitutional, political, economic, social and civil components of Tunisian society to sit in a broad and comprehensive Tunisian national dialogue, with close follow-up from the Tunisian people through the national media and the components of its active civil society to come up with a constitutional, legislative and political roadmap and urgent rescue measures, then financial, economic and social reforms agreed upon by a broad consensus.
#The Assembly of the Representatives of the People represents a necessary constitutional bridge to ratify it, elect a new government, and then prepare to go to premature presidential and legislative elections under the supervision of the internationally recognized Independent High Authority for Elections.
4- We call on the United States of America, and all the friends of Tunisia, to invite the United Nations, the international community and the financial institutions for an international investment conference to help Tunisia overcome the financial, economic and social dangers it is currently facing and help restore our sustainable development and social justice, and to stop the accelerating decline under the current leadership of Mr. Qais Saeed.
#Maher Medhioub, Assistant to the Speaker of the Assembly of People’s Representatives in the Republic of Tunisia.
Interviews, News, Perspectives 0 comments on After Ukraine, the Arab world faces new realities .. par Khemaies Jhinaoui

After Ukraine, the Arab world faces new realities .. par Khemaies Jhinaoui

The Middle East and North Africa will not be immune from the shockwaves of Russia’s war in Ukraine and the ensuing sanctions imposed on Moscow by the West.

The rapid evolution of the conflict, with its military, economic and humanitarian manifestations, has caught the world by surprise. It was even more so in Arab countries, which were fundamentally ill-prepared to deal with any contingencies challenging their own precarious balance.

In many regards, if no remedial and preventive actions are taken, the Ukraine conflict could very much exacerbate the region’s already volatile and complicated situation.

This is especially the case in the economic field.

Many of the MENA countries had been already struggling to curtail the financial fallout of the pandemic now find themselves dealing with a new and unprecedented economic crisis.

The prospect of sharp hikes in energy and wheat prices as well as the possible disruption of food supplies will, in various degrees, affect countries in the region. For the more vulnerable of the MENA countries, the situation could even lead to a new wave of social unrest reminiscent of the violent uprisings that shook the Arab world during the last decade.

Food security in the region is also at risk. Economically-challenged countries in MENA, such as Syria, Tunisia, Lebanon and Yemen, are exposed to the adverse impact of food and grain price hikes and shortages. But the poorer segments of all the region’s populations stand to lose even more than others.


Most Arab countries are major importers of food staples. Egypt is the world largest wheat importer with 80% of its supplies coming from Russia and Ukraine. Lebanon imports 60% of its wheat from Ukraine. Tunisia was already witnessing food price rises and supply disruption even before the start of war. The country imports 50% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine.

The other obvious economic implication of the war for the MENA region is its impact on the energy market. Oil and gas producing countries, such as Algeria, Libya and the Arab Gulf states, are likely to benefit from the surge of energy prices as they will most probably be called upon to step in the vacuum left by Russia after EU and US sanctions. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, or even Libya, do have the capacity to pump more oil. They are likely, however, to maintain a delicate geostrategic balance when determining their policy on oil and gas prices and output.

A number of other Arab countries including Tunisia, Lebanon and Morocco, are net energy importers. They will need to find ways to assume the burden of financing unexpected heavy fuel bills in the future. Energy price hikes will push up inflation rates and potentially ratchet up social tensions.


Politically, changes are likely to affect the wider picture of relations with Europe and the US. The region, already coping with Washington’s geostrategic disengagement, may need to prepare for a diminishing European interest in Euro-Med partnerships, as European attention turns to consolidating strategic alliances within the continent itself. This new focus is likely to mean greater military and economic expenditures will be allocated to help with reconstruction in Eastern Europe. Fewer resources are therefore likely to be available for regional development projects and North-South integration.

This shift could also mean that the attention Europeans give their neighbours south of the Mediterranean will be self-servingly limited to combating illegal immigration and terrorism. The drive for reform, political or economic, will be put on the back-burner. Countries amid democratic transitions could be left to grapple with their own turbulent processes as their regional partners are busy with other priorities elsewhere.

But the West’s need for more oil and gas output is also likely to give Middle East and North African exporters more leverage and relieve them from European and US pressures for reform.

It is quite difficult to imagine a scenario in which the war in Ukraine will not adversely affect international efforts to resolve conflicts in the region. The war in Ukraine is surely going to increase instability of the MENA region rather than advance the agenda for peace.

A war in the heart of Europe risks relegating MENA conflicts to the back-burner. Multilateral institutions, especially the UN Security Council, already deeply divided on how to solve regional conflicts, particularly in Libya, Syria and Yemen, could find themselves unable to contribute to conflict settlement. Wars in Libya, Syria and Yemen could be left to local and sub-regional protagonists to handle.

Russia’s role in the region is also likely to change. Instability in the Middle East will be bigger problem for Europe than it is for Russia. With the exception of Syria and Iran, where Moscow has vested strategic interests, Russia could play the role of spoiler rather than an active peace builder, especially if it feels its vital interests to be in jeopardy. Moscow’s most recent obstructive move during the Iran deal

talks offers an indication of what to expect from a Russia under Western siege.

The rapidly deteriorating relations between Russia and the West will have their own impact on multilateral efforts to deal with various ongoing conflicts across the region. It will certainly widen the chasm within the UN Security Council, making it difficult if not impossible to reach any consensus among the P5 on possible settlement of crises in the MENA region.

It may be too soon to fully assess the real impact of the war on Arab-West relations and Euro-Med cooperation in particular. But there might be reason for hope. The current situation could offer an opportunity for leaders from the two shores of the Mediterranean, once a truce is in effect, to reflect together on the shortcomings of the past process and to explore new ways of cooperation in renewable energy, green economy and near sourcing.

For Arab countries, it is time to reassess and recalibrate all past calculations so as to adjust to unfolding changes. Pan-Arab regional institutions should be keener on closer cooperation amidst the current crisis. Having failed to coordinate their efforts to meet the challenge of the pandemic, they may not have now the luxury of ignoring the disastrous impact of the Ukraine war on their food security and their own stability at home.


Interviews, News 0 comments on Ukraine’s air defense destroyed – Russia

Ukraine’s air defense destroyed – Russia

Russia has taken out Ukraine’s air defenses and airforce with a series of precision attacks, the country’s Defense Ministry has said in a statement, after airports and runways across the country were rocked by explosions.

Officials also claimed on Thursday morning that Ukrainian border guards are not resisting advancing Russian troops, who have moved in after President Vladimir Putin signed an order to begin a “special operation” in the Donbass. At the same time, officials denied claims made by Kiev’s defense chiefs that Russia had lost at least one military plane over the country during the offensive.

In an earlier statement, Moscow reported that it was carrying out strikes at elements of Ukraine’s military infrastructure.

Russia launched the offensive against Ukraine on Thursday morning on the orders of President Vladimir Putin, who said the goal of the operation was to demilitarize and “de-Nazify” Ukraine.

The Russian leader claimed military action was necessary to stop Ukrainian attacks on the two breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, which Moscow recognized as sovereign states on Monday. He claimed Russia could come under attack by Ukrainian radicals, unless their influence in the country is diminished, and accused Western nations of arming Kiev against Russia.

Interviews, News, Perspectives 0 comments on Thirty years on, the western ‘liberal international order’ looks set to follow the USSR into history

Thirty years on, the western ‘liberal international order’ looks set to follow the USSR into history

The reality the US is stuck with is that its global system of economic, political and military control is ever more precipitously disintegrating.

The Soviet collapse signaled the end of not just Marxism-Leninism as a political force, but western Liberalism itself.

In historical terms, the twentieth century could be said to have been relatively short in that its defining events happened closer to each other in time, certainly in comparison to the ‘long’ 16th and 19th centuries. 1914 is typically taken to be the beginning of this period, given the outbreak of the First World War, setting in motion everything that was to follow, the carnage of the trenches, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the Great Depression and the Second World War, the second act of what began in 1914.

Europe emerged from 1945 in ruins and no longer dictating the world’s destiny for the first time in five centuries. In its place, the globe was divided between two supposedly ‘anti-colonial’ powers, the USA and USSR, championing their own versions of national self-determination and economic ‘modernization’ within the context of a worldwide ideological struggle between their respective national religions.

For the American-led west, this religion was Liberalism, a political response to the democratic movements of the 19th century that declared the “ignorant herd”, in other words the majority of the populace, to be unqualified and unsafe decision makers for society. Direct participation in the national political life was to be limited to a privileged clique of qualified technocrats; the social scientists, the journalistic class, and captains of industry and their lobbyists serving as the titular heads of the approved political parties.

In opposition to this ideology, we are told, was Marxism-Leninism as promulgated by the leadership of the Soviet Union where power was held by a ‘revolutionary vanguard’ of the Communist Party leadership. The great mass of society, it was concluded, had to be led by force, through what were thought to be the inevitable stages of economic development culminating in socialism on the ever-receding horizon. One of the many perversities of the twentieth century was the creation of much the same exploitation of labor and environmental destruction under the pretext of eventually transcending it.

Beneath the rhetorical differences, the two ideologies were more alike than different in the ways they functioned in the real world and especially in the assumptions they had about how much of society was qualified to have a political voice. The late American sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein, in his post-mortem of the USSR in ‘After Liberalism’ went so far as to claim that they were one and the same ideology. Going still further, he asserted that in the Cold War, the USSR acted as a de-facto American proxy in the way that it steered potentially dangerous third world nationalisms into a more politically attractive variant of western Liberalism, maintaining their country’s place in the existing world system.

Where mass-movements escaped the control of either superpower as in Civil-war era Spain, the Maoist seizure of power in China or the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the superpowers invariably found themselves both trying to sustain the forces of the status-quo.

Of course, we well know that this highly constrained system of governing the world did not last. The Cold War, and by extension the historical twentieth century, came to an abrupt end in 1989. In a state of internal disintegration, the USSR withdrew in humiliation from the quagmire of Afghanistan and then from its own designated sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, allowing its satellites in East Germany, Poland, Romania, and others to be overthrown. Such was its state of collapse that it did not survive long enough to be digested by Western capital. The Union, stripped of its empire, disintegrated in the second half of 1991, its last leader Mikhail Gorbachev resigning in disgrace and declaring the Soviet Union dissolved on Christmas Day.

Exactly 30 years have now passed since the death of the only power ever credibly presented as a challenger to the United States and 33 years since the end of the post-World War II global order and the twentieth century as a whole. Still all these years later, these momentous events, unforeseen by the Western security and military establishments, are still paraded as the final triumph of the western capitalist system and the dawn of a new unipolar American century.

With the benefits of hindsight, it is understandable that people would have interpreted events in that way. Since the onset of near permanent economic crisis in 2008, the deeply divisive Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump in the US in 2016, Wallerstein’s prognoses seem ever more eerily prescient. Rather than being the defeat of an alternative to western Liberalism, the fall of Marxism-Leninism as a viable political system signalled the beginning of the end of the West’s ideological hegemony. Into the ideological vacuum of the former Soviet Union has flowed all manner of radical, democratic, neofascist, indigenist, and nationalist political movements. From the Zapatista uprising against NAFTA in 1994, to the birth of the nascent pan-Islamic, pan-Arabist Ansar Allah Movement in Northern Yemen the same year to the return of narrow European nationalisms, the rising anti-systemic movements are far less co-optable by the global North since they generally reject the basic assumptions of Liberalism that have gone unchallenged for some two centuries.

The American-led west has spent the last 30 years scrambling to find a substitute for the ‘communist menace’ with which it justified its global military, economic, and cultural footprint. From 2001 up to around the election of Donald Trump the chosen enemy was “Islamist terrorism”, a conveniently vacuous category that swept up all religiously oriented Arab and Islamic popular movements of which Washington disapproved. Since 2016, the United States seems to have been pivoting to its old red-baiting tactics surrounding non-existent or inconsequential Russian and Chinese ‘interference’ in western elections. The Biden administration may well believe that US hegemony will rest more securely on a Cold War 2.0 and a theatrical power-struggle with China and Russia. The world, however, has not and will not return to the world of pre-1989. Russia is a shadow of its Soviet incarnation and a strategic threat to the west insofar as it continues to be cornered by NATO. Meanwhile, China remains deeply enmeshed within the global capitalist system which the US principally constructed.
Finally, the degree of internal division and unrest in the US itself negates the possibility of returning to the old Liberal consensus, however much Biden may fancy himself another FDR or LBJ. With a previously unthinkable number of Americans questioning the legitimacy of their own elections, the inexorable centrifugal forces that tore the communist world apart and are now clawing at the EU have finally reached the heart of the global capitalist system itself.

If the United States could wish about its ideal century, it would be a renewed Cold War against Moscow and Beijing. The reality it is stuck with is that its global system of economic, political and military control is ever more precipitously disintegrating.

The opinions mentioned in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Al mayadeen, but rather express the opinion of its writer exclusively.