News, Perspectives 0 comments on Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Osman Ayfarah of Al Jazeera

Secretary Antony J. Blinken with Osman Ayfarah of Al Jazeera

QUESTION: Secretary Blinken, thank you for joining us.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Good to be with you.

QUESTION: At the moment, all eyes are on Tunisia. We know you had a conversation with the Tunisian President Kais Saied. So what did you say to him, if I may ask?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Tunisia’s been a remarkable demonstration of democracy, and it’s really, I think, been a strong example not just for the region but for the world. And we have concerns about deviating from that democratic map, taking actions that run counter to the constitution, including freezing the parliament. We very much recognize that Tunisians are suffering terribly with COVID-19 and a very, very challenging economy. They need a government, of course, that’s responsive to their needs, but that has to happen in a way that is consistent with, respectful of the constitution.

And so I had a long conversation with the president and urged him to make sure that Tunisia returns to the democratic path as quickly as possible. We also have concerns with any efforts to repress the voices of the Tunisian people, including the media, which we’ve seen some reports of in recent days. So our strong hope and expectation is that Tunisia will return to that democratic path, act consistent with the constitution, unfreeze the parliament, have a government in place to do the work of the people, to be responsive to their needs.

QUESTION: What was the president’s response to you?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I don’t want to speak for him. That – I’ll let him speak for himself. But he gave a lengthy explanation of both the actions he was – he had taken and his intentions going forward. And the intentions he expressed to me were to return Tunisia to that democratic path and to act in a way that was consistent with the constitution. But of course we have to look at the actions that the president takes, that Tunisia takes.

QUESTION: Closing down Al Jazeera’s bureau immediately after the president’s decisions was very worrying, and we had solidarity with all the journalists, including the National Union of Tunisian Journalists. As a former journalist yourself and Secretary of State of United States, what are your comments?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: My comment is that we stand resolutely for freedom of the press and for the ability of journalists to do their jobs, including in Tunisia. And we look to the Government of Tunisia to uphold and respect the rights of journalists, and that’s one of the things that we expect of them.

QUESTION: How vital is the security of the Gulf countries and the partnership with the Gulf countries to the interests of the United States?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, we have a strong partnership with countries in the Gulf. I’m here in Kuwait to reaffirm that partnership. It happens to be the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Kuwait, and the 30th anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait after the invasion by Saddam Hussein. But as we’re looking at these partnerships we’re not only working to sustain them; we’re working to build on them and to build on them in new ways, not only dealing with many of the diplomatic challenges and security challenges that exist in the region, including in Yemen, including in different ways in Lebanon, in Syria, but also to work together on a whole variety of issues that will have an impact on the lives of citizens throughout the region and in the United States. Health security, food security, collaboration on science and technology, dealing with some of the emerging technologies that are shaping people’s lives – that’s also now part of the agenda with our partners in the Gulf.

But we remain very much engaged, very much present, working in partnership both with individual countries as well as with the, for example, the Gulf Cooperation Council. And I think this visit to Kuwait was a reaffirmation of that.

QUESTION: President Biden did say he was interested and would work to end the war in Yemen. Why hasn’t that happened? What are the obstacles?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I wish it was like flipping a light switch, but it’s not. But from very early in the administration the President made clear that commitment. We appointed, very early on as well, a senior special envoy to lead our diplomacy, Tim Lenderking, who has been very actively engaged in trying to bring the war to an end with support and engagement from me, from the President himself.

We very much appreciate the plan that Saudi Arabia has put forward to move in that direction. Unfortunately, the reality is that the Houthis have not engaged in a meaningful way, and they need to demonstrate that they’re prepared to end the war, to enter into negotiations, to stop their offensive operations within Yemen, as well as their attacks on Saudi Arabia itself. And we’re resolutely in support of Saudi Arabia, in terms of defending its territory from these attacks.

This is about ending a war and it’s about ending the incredible suffering of the Yemeni people. Yemen, as you know, is perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis in the world. And I hope that the Houthis will demonstrate that they actually care about the people of Yemen, not simply in trying to gobble up more territory. So we’re looking to them to come to the negotiating table, to engage in a meaningful way, and to bring this war to an end.

QUESTION: You decided to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, and this coincides with the Taliban gaining ground substantially. Is the United States prepared to accept a Taliban government in Afghanistan or a Taliban-dominated government in Afghanistan?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, with regard to Afghanistan, first, it’s important to remember why we went to Afghanistan in the first place. We were attacked on 9/11. We were determined to bring to justice those who attacked us and to make sure, to the best of the ability, that that couldn’t happen again. And we’ve largely succeeded in accomplishing those objectives. Osama bin Laden was brought to justice 10 years ago, and al-Qaida, in terms of its abilities to attack us or anyone else from Afghanistan, has been vastly diminished. And we will keep a very close eye on it to make sure that it doesn’t reemerge, and if it does we will do what’s necessary to prevent it from attacking us or from attacking anyone else.

We were there for 20 years, a trillion dollars. More than 4,500 Americans lost their lives. And it is time for Afghanistan to shape its own future. Having said that, even as we’re withdrawing our military forces, we remain very much engaged in Afghanistan with a strong embassy, with support for Afghanistan’s economy, humanitarian support, development support, support for security forces, as well as very active diplomatic engagement to try to bring an end to the conflict at the negotiating table with the Taliban and with the Afghan Government. There is no military solution to the conflict.

Now, if an Afghanistan emerges that does not respect the basic rights of its people, that abuses the rights of women and girls, that does not respect the basic gains of the last 20 years, that Afghanistan will be a pariah in the international community.

QUESTION: Final question is about Iran. What are you offering Iran? When you say the ball is in Iran’s court, what do you mean by that? I know you’re – we’re running out of time, so you’re going to have to be brief.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: So very quickly, we’ve engaged in multiple rounds of negotiations, indirect with Iran in Vienna, along with the Europeans, Russia, and China, to see if we can both come back into compliance with the nuclear agreement. And we have made very good faith efforts to do that. We’ve made clear everything that we’re prepared to do. Unfortunately, Iran has not yet made the basic decision about whether it is willing to do what’s necessary to come back into compliance with that agreement. So that’s what I mean when I say the ball is in Iran’s court. They’ve not yet made that decision.

We hope that they do make the decision. We are prepared to go back to Vienna at any time to focus on diplomacy and to return to compliance with the agreement. But there – this is not – this can’t be an indefinite process. At some point, if Iran continues to make the advances it’s made on its nuclear program, as it’s lifted the constraints imposed by the nuclear agreement, it will get to a point where we can’t deal with that simply by coming back into compliance with the nuclear agreement.

Meanwhile, I might add, we’re seeing significant protests in Iran that began in areas distant from Tehran, but now we’re seeing in Tehran, because people in the first instance are demanding that the government provide for its basic needs, including water, and we’ve seen tremendous mismanagement that has not addressed the needs of the Iranian people. And we’re also seeing them look to their broader aspirations for freedom, and we stand very much with the people who are trying to make their voices heard and call on the Iranian Government to respect the right to peaceful protest and not to repress it.

QUESTION: Secretary Antony Blinken, thank you very much for talking to Al Jazeera.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.

QUESTION: (In Arabic.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Good to be with you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

News, Perspectives 0 comments on Tunisia’s crisis tests Biden’s democracy agenda .. By Ishaan Tharoor

Tunisia’s crisis tests Biden’s democracy agenda .. 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.

Since he took office, President Biden has repeatedly signaled that his administration would stand up for democracy and human rights. He cast the United States as a warrior in the global trenches, battling against the advance of authoritarian powers such as China and Russia. He insisted his administration would prioritize human rights after four years of transactional opportunism from his predecessor.

Almost immediately, though, there were reasons to be skeptical about Biden’s stated “values” agenda, especially when it comes to U.S. policy in the Middle East. The new administration could muster only a slap on the wrist for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who Biden had vowed on the campaign trail to make into a “pariah” for his alleged role in the assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Human rights advocates were also irked by the administration’s role in preserving support for Egypt’s dictatorship and Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories, as well as its inability to swiftly draw down the war in Yemen.

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Now, there’s the crisis in Tunisia, where President Kais Saied invoked emergency protocols to sack the prime minister and suspend parliament. He also imposed a month-long curfew. Saied’s supporters welcomed his intervention amid mounting public frustrations over the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Many critics, though, see the move as the biggest test yet for Tunisia’s democratic institutions and fear Saied could be presiding over a coup akin to Abdel Fatah al-Sissi’s military takeover in Egypt in 2013.

It’s a well-worn cliche that Tunisia is the only democratic success story of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. Its fledgling democracy persevered even as a ruthless counterrevolution took hold in Egypt, civil war hollowed out Syria, and Libya and Yemen both collapsed into a morass of warlordism. But the cliche obscures the constant struggle to build and maintain that democratic rule. In the past decade, Tunisia has endured waves of political turmoil, yet its factions overcame them through dialogue, compromise and fresh elections.

Saied’s gambit may bring that process to a shuddering halt. A retired law professor, Saied says he is acting constitutionally, though analysts pointed to an apparent overinterpretation of the article that justifies the emergency measures and the country has yet to form a constitutional court to adjudicate over such decisions. In Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — home to governments that constitute a kind of anti-Arab Spring axis — commentators and social media users celebrated what they called the downfall of Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party that held sway in the now-suspended parliament and that opponents accuse of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

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In Tunisia, Saied’s supporters cheered a shaking up of the status quo, no matter its political risks. “Those celebrating in the streets are less worried about a concentration of power than they are about a government that has seemingly abandoned its people,” wrote Fadil Aliriza, a nonresident scholar at the Middle East Institute. “This is evident in the current health crisis, the continuing economic crisis, and the long-festering crises” in various sectors, from education to transportation.

Ennahda officials have decried Saied’s move as a coup and urged supporters to take to the streets. The specter of police crackdowns loom; authorities also raided the news office of Al Jazeera. “It’s ominous for human rights when a president claims constitutional backing for seizing enormous powers and the next thing you know police start going after journalists,” Eric Goldstein, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Whatever the government’s record in responding to the Covid-19 crisis, concentrating powers that could be used against basic rights should always set off alarm bells.”

The question now is what the rest of the world will do. The Biden administration released only anodyne statements of concern and said it had not yet determined whether the events in Tunisia constituted a coup. Experts fear a repeat of the Obama administration’s failure to arrest Sissi’s dismantling of Egyptian democracy, which was backed by Persian Gulf monarchies eager to snuff out political Islam. “If the world’s democracies do not come out strongly against the coup attempt, it leaves an opportunity for counterrevolutionary powers like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to influence the crisis in support of Saied, much like they did for … Sissi,” wrote Sharan Grewal of the Brookings Institution. “With Tunisia’s economy in the doldrums, foreign support — and aid — may well shape the outcome of this crisis, for good or for ill.”

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American lawmakers argue that the United States it has the capacity to exert pressure on Saied and ensure the interruption of the country’s democratic order does not last beyond a month. The United States has committed over $1 billion in aid to Tunisia since pro-democracy protests toppled the country’s long-ruling dictatorship in 2011. On Tuesday, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) introduced legislation that would tether U.S. security assistance to whether a government is upholding human rights, humanitarian law and democracy.

“I think Tunisia is a perfect example of the importance of this bill,” she told Today’s WorldView, adding that her proposed act — which has limited hopes for passage — “would make clear that if Tunisian leadership did not comply with international law, then that funding would be suspended.”

Lawmakers across the political spectrum, including Sen. Lindsay O. Graham (R-S.C.), have urged the Biden administration to do more to buttress Tunisia’s faltering democracy. But Omar and other influential voices on the left want the aspirational rhetoric of the Biden administration around human rights to come with a fuller and sharper set of teeth, according universal rather than ad hoc standards.

For example, Omar’s Stop Arming Human Rights Abusers Act would establish an independent, bipartisan commission that would make recommendations about whether to list or delist a country based on its human rights record. “We can’t force the State Department or the White House to say that a coup is a coup, or a genocide is a genocide, or a war crime is a war crime,” Omar said. “There will always be politics involved. But we can add a lever of pressure that comes from an independent body of experts looking at the facts and saying, ‘This should trigger a suspension of aid, according to the law.’”

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Skeptics of such an approach may argue that it would compromise U.S. strategic interests in places such as the Middle East in favor of an agenda that may just push away certain governments toward U.S. rivals. Omar rebuffed such thinking. Tying U.S. security aid to human rights “doesn’t mean we don’t continue to cooperate with our partners in the region,” she said, “but by putting in place clear red lines for human rights abuses, the [United States] would leave no doubt as to what activities will trigger U.S. accountability.”

Saied has given himself a month to steer his country back toward democratic order. Civil society groups are calling for the president to announce a clear timeline to relinquish his extraordinary powers. It’s unclear, for now, to what extent Biden is willing to hold him to account.

News, Perspectives 0 comments on Biden Acquits Moscow From Late Cyber Attacks

Biden Acquits Moscow From Late Cyber Attacks

US President Joe Biden said, “we’re not certain” who is behind the attack. “The initial thinking was it was not the Russian government, but we’re not sure yet.”

US President Joe Biden said on Saturday that “we’re not certain” who is behind the attack. “The initial thinking was it was not the Russian government but we’re not sure yet,” he said.

The US President also confirmed that he directed US intelligence agencies to search for the party responsible for a complex cyber-attack with ransomware programs that infected hundreds of American companies, and prompted the suspicion of the involvement of Russian cyber groups.

Biden pointed out that the identity of the party responsible for the attack was not identified, adding that he had instructed US intelligence agencies to investigate the matter.

He revealed that he had directed U.S. intelligence agencies to investigate, and the United States will respond if they determine Russia is to blame.

This came in response to a question about the attack, during his visit to Michigan to promote the vaccination program.

Director of the electronic virus research department at Kaspersky Lab, Vyacheslav Zakorzhevsky, said that companies in Ukraine, Turkey, and Germany, were attacked by the encrypted Ransomware virus, but Russia had the highest numbers.

The Kyiv Metro Network and the Odesa International Airport administration in Ukraine had announced being exposed to cyber-attacks.

On the other hand, the Russian Interfax agency and the Fontanka electronic bulletin in St.Petersburg also said they were cyber-attacked.

SolarWinds, the Colonial Pipeline, which transports fuel in the southeastern United States, and even the JBS meat production company are American companies that were recently targeted by the Ransomware virus, which has slowed or even stopped their production.

It is noteworthy that the Geneva summit, between US Presidents Joe Biden and Russian Vladimir Putin on June 16, came to overcome the “major challenges” between the two parties, especially after the tension in the atmosphere recently.

News, Perspectives 0 comments on Russian Response to US “Sea Breeze” Maneuvers

Russian Response to US “Sea Breeze” Maneuvers

Following the US exercise “Sea Breeze” with more than 30 countries in the world, the Russian Black Sea Fleet and aviation of the Southern Military District (YUFO) are conducting exercises in the Black Sea in response to the US joint maneuvers.

The aviation of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, along with the aviation of the Southern Military District (YUFO), conducted combat training flights over the Black Sea.

The flights come in light of the annual Sea Breeze exercise that the United States conducts with more than 30 countries around the world.

The Information Support Department of the Black Sea Fleet stated that “Sea Breeze” maneuvers began last Monday in the northwestern part of the Black Sea, and will continue until July 10.

The Russian Defense Ministry indicated that “the Black Sea Fleet forces are implementing a set of measures to control the movements of ships participating in the exercises.”

The statement added that “more than ten aircraft of the Black Sea Fleet and the Southern Military District (UFO), conducted training flights over the Black Sea, with training missions that include missile and bomb strikes against the ships of the imaginary enemy.”

The statement indicated that “Su-30SM multipurpose fighters and Su-24M front-line bombers were used by the naval aviation of the Black Sea Fleet, and Su-34 and Su-27 bombers from the squadron were used in the YUFO area. Prior to that, the amphibious aircraft (B-2) crew from naval aviation conducted a reconnaissance of conditional targets in the Black Sea.”

5,000 soldiers, 40 aircraft, and 32 ships from 32 countries, including Ukraine, the United States, and NATO members, are expected to participate in the “Sea Breeze” exercises.

Ukraine and NATO have launched Sea Breeze exercises in the Black Sea, which will involve dozens of warships, following an incident with a British destroyer off the Crimean peninsula.

The “Sea Breeze” official account published the maneuvers on Twitter, quoting the tweet of one of the journalists accompanying the US destroyer “USS Rose”.

News, Perspectives 0 comments on They Relied on Chinese Vaccines. Now They’re Battling Outbreaks .. By Sui-Lee Wee

They Relied on Chinese Vaccines. Now They’re Battling Outbreaks .. By Sui-Lee Wee

More than 90 countries are using Covid shots from China. Experts say recent infections in those places should serve as a cautionary tale in the global effort to fight the disease.

Mongolia promised its people a “Covid-free summer.” Bahrain said there would be a “return to normal life.” The tiny island nation of the Seychelles aimed to jump-start its economy.

All three put their faith, at least in part, in easily accessible Chinese-made vaccines, which would allow them to roll out ambitious inoculation programs when much of the world was going without.

But instead of freedom from the coronavirus, all three countries are now battling a surge in infections.

China kicked off its vaccine diplomacy campaign last year by pledging to provide a shot that would be safe and effective at preventing severe cases of Covid-19. Less certain at the time was how successful it and other vaccines would be at curbing transmission.

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Now, examples from several countries suggest that the Chinese vaccines may not be very effective at preventing the spread of the virus, particularly the new variants. The experiences of those countries lay bare a harsh reality facing a postpandemic world: The degree of recovery may depend on which vaccines governments give to their people.

In the Seychelles, Chile, Bahrain and Mongolia, 50 to 68 percent of the populations have been fully inoculated, outpacing the United States, according to Our World in Data, a data tracking project. All four ranked among the top 10 countries with the worst Covid outbreaks as recently as last week, according to data from The New York Times. And all four are mostly using shots made by two Chinese vaccine makers, Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech.

“If the vaccines are sufficiently good, we should not see this pattern,” said Jin Dongyan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong. “The Chinese have a responsibility to remedy this.”

Image A vaccination on Chiloé Island, Chile. In Chile, the Seychelles, Bahrain and Mongolia, 50 to 68 percent of the populations have been fully vaccinated.
Credit…Alvaro Vidal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Scientists don’t know for certain why some countries with relatively high inoculation rates are suffering new outbreaks. Variants, social controls that are eased too quickly and careless behavior after only the first of a two-shot regimen are possibilities. But the breakthrough infections could have lasting consequences.

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In the United States, about 45 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, mostly with doses made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Cases have dropped 94 percent over six months.

YOUR CORONAVIRUS TRACKER: We’ll send you the latest data for places you care about each day.

Israel provided shots from Pfizer and has the second-highest vaccination rate in the world, after the Seychelles. The number of new daily confirmed Covid-19 cases per million in Israel is now around 4.95.

In the Seychelles, which relied mostly on Sinopharm, that number is more than 716 cases per million.

Disparities such as these could create a world in which three types of countries emerge from the pandemic — the wealthy nations that used their resources to secure Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots, the poorer countries that are far away from immunizing a majority of citizens, and then those that are fully inoculated but only partly protected.

China, as well as the more than 90 nations that have received the Chinese shots, may end up in the third group, contending with rolling lockdowns, testing and limits on day-to-day life for months or years to come. Economies could remain held back. And as more citizens question the efficacy of Chinese doses, persuading unvaccinated people to line up for shots may also become more difficult.

One month after receiving his second dose of Sinopharm, Otgonjargal Baatar fell ill and tested positive for Covid-19. Mr. Otgonjargal, a 31-year-old miner, spent nine days in a hospital in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. He said he was now questioning the usefulness of the shot.

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“People were convinced that if we were vaccinated, the summer will be free of Covid,” he said. “Now it turns out that it’s not true.”

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Xi Jinping, China’s leader, pledged to deliver a Chinese vaccine that could be easily stored and transported to millions of people around the world. He called it a “global public good.”
Credit…Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images

Beijing saw its vaccine diplomacy as an opportunity to emerge from the pandemic as a more influential global power. China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, pledged to deliver a Chinese shot that could be easily stored and transported to millions of people around the world. He called it a “global public good.”

Mongolia was a beneficiary, jumping at the chance to score millions of Sinopharm shots. The small country quickly rolled out an inoculation program and eased restrictions. It has now vaccinated 52 percent of its population. But on Sunday, it recorded 2,400 new infections, a quadrupling from a month before.

In a statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said it did not see a link between the recent outbreaks and its vaccines. It cited the World Health Organization as saying that vaccination rates in certain countries had not reached sufficient levels to prevent outbreaks, and that countries needed to continue to maintain controls.

“Relevant reports and data also show that many countries that use Chinese-made vaccines have expressed that they are safe and reliable, and have played a good role in their epidemic prevention efforts,” the ministry said. China has also emphasized that its vaccines target severe disease rather than transmission.

No vaccine fully prevents transmission, and people can still fall ill after being inoculated, but the relatively low efficacy rates of Chinese shots have been identified as a possible cause of the recent outbreaks.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have efficacy rates of more than 90 percent. A variety of other vaccines — including AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — have efficacy rates of around 70 percent. The Sinopharm vaccine developed with the Beijing Institute of Biological Products has an efficacy rate of 78.1 percent; the Sinovac vaccine has an efficacy rate of 51 percent.

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The Chinese companies have not released much clinical data to show how their vaccines work at preventing transmission. On Monday, Shao Yiming, an epidemiologist with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said China needed to fully vaccinate 80 to 85 percent of its population to achieve herd immunity, revising a previous official estimate of 70 percent.

Data on breakthrough infections has not been made available, either, though a Sinovac study out of Chile showed that the vaccine was less effective than those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna at preventing infection among vaccinated individuals.

A representative from Sinopharm hung up the phone when reached for comment. Sinovac did not respond to a request for comment.

William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University, said the efficacy rates of Chinese shots could be low enough “to sustain some transmission, as well as create illness of a substantial amount in the highly vaccinated population, even though it keeps people largely out of the hospital.”

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Mongolia now ranks among the top countries that have fully vaccinated its population, inoculating about 52 percent of its people. But on Sunday, it recorded 2,400 new infections, quadrupling from a month before.
Credit…Khasar Sandag for The New York Times

Despite the spike in cases, officials in both the Seychelles and Mongolia have defended Sinopharm, saying it is effective in preventing severe cases of the disease.

Batbayar Ochirbat, head researcher of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies at Mongolia’s Ministry of Health, said Mongolia had made the right decision to go with the Chinese-made shot, in part because it had helped keep the mortality rate low in the country. Data from Mongolia showed that the Sinopharm vaccine was actually more protective than the doses developed by AstraZeneca and Sputnik, a Russian vaccine, according to the Health Ministry.

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The reason for the surge in Mongolia, Mr. Batbayar said, is that the country reopened too quickly, and many people believed they were protected after only one dose.

“I think you could say Mongolians celebrated too early,” he said. “My advice is the celebrations should start after the full vaccinations, so this is the lesson learned. There was too much confidence.”

Some health officials and scientists are less confident.

Nikolai Petrovsky, a professor at the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University in Australia, said that with all of the evidence, it would be reasonable to assume the Sinopharm vaccine had minimal effect on curbing transmission. A major risk with the Chinese inoculation is that vaccinated people may have few or no symptoms and still spread the virus to others, he said.

“I think that this complexity has been lost on most decision makers around the world.”

In Indonesia, where a new variant is spreading, more than 350 doctors and health care workers recently came down with Covid-19 despite being fully vaccinated with Sinovac, according to the risk mitigation team of the Indonesian Medical Association. Across the country, 61 doctors died between February and June 7. Ten of them had taken the Chinese-made vaccine, the association said.

The numbers were enough to make Kenneth Mak, Singapore’s director of medical services, question the use of Sinovac. “It’s not a problem associated with Pfizer,” Mr. Mak said at a news conference on Friday. “This is actually a problem associated with the Sinovac vaccine.”

Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates were the first two countries to approve the Sinopharm shot, even before late-stage clinical trial data was released. Since then, there have been extensive reports of vaccinated people falling ill in both countries. In a statement, the Bahraini government’s media office said the kingdom’s vaccine rollout had been “efficient and successful to date.”

Still, last month officials from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates announced that they would offer a third booster shot. The choices: Pfizer or more Sinopharm.

Reporting was contributed by Khaliun Bayartsogt, Andrea Kannapell, Ben Hubbard, Asmaa al-Omar and Muktita Suhartono. Elsie Chen and Claire Fu contributed research.

Interviews, News, Perspectives 0 comments on No Breakthrough in Biden-Erdogan meeting

No Breakthrough in Biden-Erdogan meeting

Neither US President nor Turkish counterpart provide any details on how exactly they will mend the relationship or lay out steps that will help ease tensions between the NATO allies.

US President Joe Biden and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan sounded upbeat after their first face-to-face talks on Monday, although they did not announce major breakthroughs in the relationship between the two allies, at odds over Russian weapons, Syria, Libya and other issues.

“We had a positive and productive meeting, much of it one-on-one,” Biden told a news conference after their meeting in Brussels.

“Our teams are going to continue our discussions and I’m confident we’ll make real progress with Turkey and the United States,” he added.

Erdogan characterised his talks with Biden on the sidelines of a NATO summit as “productive and sincere.”

“We think that there are no issues between US and Turkey relationship that are unsolvable and that areas of cooperation for us are richer and larger than problems,” he said.

Despite their publicly optimistic tone, neither provided any details on how exactly they would mend the relationship or lay out steps that would help ease tensions between the NATO allies.

Turkey, with NATO’s second-largest military, has angered its allies in the Western military alliance by buying Russian surface-to-air missiles and intervening in wars in Syria and Libya. It is also in a standoff with Greece and Cyprus over territory in the Eastern Mediterranean.

As president, Biden has adopted a cooler tone than predecessor Donald Trump towards Erdogan. Biden quickly recognised the 1915 massacre of Armenians as genocide – a position that angers Turkey – and stepped up criticism of Turkey’s human rights record.

Washington has already removed Ankara from the F-35 fighter jet program and imposed sanctions over Turkey’s purchase of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air missiles.

One area where Erdogan hoped to showcase a central Turkish role in NATO is Afghanistan, where Ankara has offered to guard and operate Kabul airport after US and NATO forces withdraw in coming weeks. NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said Turkey would play a key role but that no decision was made at the Monday summit.

At the start of the main leaders’ session at NATO, Biden spoke to Erdogan at length in a small group before they took their seats.

Later in the day, the two leaders and their top aides sat mostly silently on opposite sides of a conference table, ignoring questions shouted to them by journalists briefly invited into the room.

Erdogan also met French President Emmanuel Macron. Ankara and Paris have been at odds over Syria, Libya and Turkish criticism of the fight against what Macron calls Islamist separatism, among other issues.

“President Erdogan confirmed during our meeting his wish that the foreign mercenaries, the foreign militias, operating on Libyan soil leave as soon as possible,” Macron told a news conference afterwards.

News, Perspectives 0 comments on Biden confuses Libya and Syria three times during remarks at G-7 summit

Biden confuses Libya and Syria three times during remarks at G-7 summit

President Joe Biden confused Libya and Syria three times during a press conference from the G-7 summit.

“There is a lot going on where we can work together with Russia,” Biden said Sunday in response to a question from NBC’s Peter Alexander on how the president plans to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“For example, in Libya, we should be opening up the passes to be able to go through and provide food assistance, an economic, I mean, vital assistance to a population that is in real trouble. I think I’m gonna try very hard — by the way, there’s places where — I should not be starting off by negotiating in public here, but let me say it this way: Russia has engaged in activities which we believe are contrary to international norms,” Biden continued, apparently attempting to allude to Russia’s military presence in Syria.

Biden then appeared to confuse the countries two more times as he continued to make his point.

BIDEN APPEARS TO VIOLATE BRITISH ROYAL PROTOCOL

“They have also bitten off some real problems, and they’re gonna have trouble chewing on them. For example, the rebuilding of Syria, of Libya. They’re there, and as long as they’re there without the ability to bring about some order in the region, and you can’t do that very well without providing for the basic economic needs of people, so I am hopeful that we can find an accommodation where we can save the lives of people in, for example, in Libya consistent with the interests of — maybe for different reasons, but for the same reasons,” Biden said.

Speaking of Putin specifically, Biden cautioned that it would be difficult for him to “change a person’s behavior.”

“There is no guarantee you can change a person’s behavior or the behavior of their country. Autocrats have enormous power, and they do not have to answer to a public,” Biden said. “The fact is that it may very well be if I respond in kind, which I will, that it does not dissuade him. He wants to keep going. But I think we’re gonna be moving in a direction where Russia has its own dilemmas, let us say, in dealing with its economy, dealing with COVID, and dealing with, not only the United States, but Europe writ large and the Middle East.”

Biden’s aides dismissed the apparent gaffe, saying he meant to say Syria instead of Libya.

The gaffe comes as Biden prepares to hold his first meeting with Putin during a summit this week in Geneva, Switzerland. Those close to the president say he has been studying intensely ahead of his meeting with the Russian leader, spending his mornings during the G-7 summit consulting with aides about the talks.

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“He’s overprepared!” boasted first lady Jill Biden of her husband.

Biden’s talks with Putin are set to begin Wednesday.

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News, Perspectives 0 comments on Egypt recalibrated its strategy in Libya because of Turkey .. By Alessia Melcangi

Egypt recalibrated its strategy in Libya because of Turkey .. By Alessia Melcangi

Libya’s Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh greets his Egyptian counterpart Mustafa Madbouly in Tripoli, Libya, April 20, 2021. REUTERS/Hazem Ahmed

Although the restarting of the political peace process in Libya refocused attention on domestic actors, it is still necessary to look at the external players’ moves to assess the possibility of real appeasement among rival Libyan factions. Cairo is one of the main capitals to pay attention to.

As is well-known, after the 2014 Egyptian presidential elections, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi gave his full military, logistical, and intelligence support to the eastern-based Libyan National Army’s (LNA) chief General Khalifa Haftar, considering him the ideal candidate to restore stability in Libya, protect Egypt’s strategic interests, and avoid direct and costly intervention in the country. However, the failure of Haftar’s military campaign in 2019-2020 disrupted the Egyptian strategy and forced Cairo to reconsider its plans, reducing its support for the general while being open to a hypothetical political solution.

Cairo’s recent restoration of diplomatic ties with Tripoli’s Government of National Unity precisely represents Sisi’s attempt to recalibrate his strategy in order to avoid a military escalation that the country cannot afford, given that the Egyptian government is already engaged on several fronts (from the terrorist threat in the Sinai Peninsula to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam dispute). Unlike the United Arab Emirates, which has continued to support Haftar unabated until at least one month ago, according to European sources, Egypt has bet on relaunching the diplomatic path, appearing as the most compromise-seeking actor among the Libyan general’s backers.

Egypt is well aware that its national security and internal stability are inevitably intertwined with Libya’s. This is one reason Egypt announced a redline about western militia advancement toward its border in June 2020 and immediately accepted the ceasefire proposed by the Government of National Accord in August 2020, backing the efforts of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya to resume a national dialogue between the rival parties. Egypt supported the ceasefire signed in Geneva on October 23, 2020.

Currently, the Egyptian government seems willing to support the new Libyan executive authority led by Prime Minister Abdel Hamid Dbeibah, as demonstrated by the proposal to reopen the Egyptian embassy in Tripoli, as well as by the signing of several memorandums of understandings in fundamental sectors—including energy, communications, infrastructure, investments, and transport—during the Egyptian prime minister’s visit to the Libyan capital in April. A visit to Cairo by the US Special Envoy to Libya in May laid the groundwork for new areas of cooperation between Egypt and the US in Libya.

Thus, it is evident that the strategic pivots of Egyptian leadership in Libya are adapting and evolving in concordance with developments on the ground and keeping in mind wider regional implications—particularly its relations with Turkey, which deteriorated as a consequence of Ankara’s support to the Muslim Brotherhood after the 2011 revolt. In this phase, it becomes crucial for Egypt to cautiously distance itself from the Saudi and Emirati strategy to envisage a more autonomous and peace-facilitating role on the Libyan dossier. At the same time, it is in Cairo’s interest to show greater moderation on the international level to avoid possible conflicts with the new US administration.

Additionally, moderation is necessary on the regional level with Turkey to assess the possibility of a convenient rapprochement with Ankara. Within this new scenario, a pillar of Cairo’s strategy is security sector reform in Libya. Indeed, any attempt to stabilize Libya cannot be divorced from a unified Libyan national armed forces, purged of the presence of militias and foreign fighters, and not bent on the personal aspirations of any politician. At the same time, it appears that Cairo is struggling to find a role in the future armed forces—to be created through security sector reform—for General Haftar and the men of his circle, since his marginalization could lead to a dangerous strengthening of armed groups aligned with Turkey in Libya and a rise in the influence of Tripoli’s militias, especially since the current political process is not yet defined.

Therefore, there are reasons for the resumption of an official diplomatic dialogue between Cairo and Ankara. During high-level bilateral talks held in Cairo on May 5-6, the two sides defined the main areas of cooperation for the near future: Libya and the common need to achieve greater stability in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

However, Egypt has so far responded cautiously to Turkish overtures because, despite the elements in favor of a possible “Grand Bargain” between the two countries, there are still too many conflicting interests, especially regarding Libya. At a military level, Turkey could accept the withdrawal of the thousands of Turkish-sponsored Syrian mercenaries from Libya (the number is difficult to assess with precision), maintaining, however, a lasting military presence according to the 2019 Turkish-Libyan defense agreement. This position is completely unacceptable to the Egyptian government, which will not retreat from its condition that both Turkish forces and affiliated mercenaries should leave the country.

Egypt fears that Ankara’s military patronage of Tripoli combined with the long-lasting Turkish support for the Muslim Brotherhood could create an Islamic-oriented government in Tripoli. This is a risk that Egyptian President Sisi does not want to run, not even for a general agreement with Ankara, because he considers the organization a national security threat. In 2013, President Sisi ousted manu militari the former Islamist president Muhammad Morsi. As a result, Egypt continues to see the Libyan situation through the lens of securitization. Despite a diplomatic push, the Egyptian decision-making process is still dominated by a security obsession—to the point that foreign policy on Libya is shaped by the intelligence and security apparatuses closest to Sisi, and not by the foreign ministry.

For Egypt, an agreement with Turkey could preserve Egypt’s military, political, and economic role in Cyrenaica—the eastern coastal region of Libya where the LNA is based—and present the opportunity for strengthened economic ties with Libya. Moreover, if acting in tandem, Cairo and Ankara would have a combined ability to catalyze a political solution in an extremely fragile Libya, while protecting their interests on the ground, as no other regional or European actors have proven able to do. This opportunity should not be wasted due to the lack of mutual confidence. In fact, Libya could prove to be a confidence building scenario between the two key regional players, which could eventually lead to improved regional strategies for issues like energy and the future of Syria.

Alessia Melcangi is TT Assistant Professor of Contemporary History of North Africa and the Middle East at Sapienza University of Rome, Non-resident Senior Fellow with the Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East Programs at the Atlantic Council and Associate Research Fellow at ISPI.

News 0 comments on Biden administration ‘refuses’ to clamp down on ‘left-wing political violence’ in Portland, GOP lawmakers claim

Biden administration ‘refuses’ to clamp down on ‘left-wing political violence’ in Portland, GOP lawmakers claim

A group of Republican lawmakers has called on the DOJ to ensure that Andy Ngo and other journalists are able to report safely from Portland, claiming that the government has turned a blind eye to ‘left-wing’ violence in the city.

In a letter addressed to Attorney General Merrick Garland, five GOP members of the Judiciary Committee demanded that the Department of Justice address the ongoing unrest in the Oregon city, including physical assaults against members of the press.

The document details a recent incident in which Ngo, whose reporting on Antifa’s activities has made him a target of left-wing activists, was assaulted while covering a demonstration in Portland. Ngo managed to escape his assailants and took refuge in a nearby hotel. He was later escorted out of the building by emergency workers and transported to the hospital. The letter notes that Ngo had previously testified before their committee about violent “extremism” carried out by Antifa and other left-wing elements in Portland.

“We have repeatedly urged the Biden Administration to address the left-wing violence in Portland. Your refusal to do so has only emboldened these radical agitators to the degree that they feel comfortable targeting and viciously attacking a member of the press,” the lawmakers wrote.

The letter claimed that Representative Jim Jordan, a ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, sent two written requests asking the DOJ about how it plans to protect federal property being targeted by activists in Portland, and that both messages were ignored. The Republican lawmakers accused the government of “tacit acceptance of left-wing political violence” in the city which will “only incentivize further violence and attacks” on journalists.

The congressmen argued that the Department of Justice has an obligation to protect Ngo and other reporters from “violence and intimidation,” and inquired about current efforts to identify and prosecute individuals involved in assaults against Ngo and his fellow journalists. The lawmakers also asked the DOJ to provide information about what actions it was taking to prevent further assaults against the press from occurring.

Ngo was reportedly chased down and beaten on May 28 after activists spotted him at a rally marking the anniversary of Portland’s first protest against the killing of George Floyd.

“I was chased, attacked and beaten by a masked mob, baying for my blood,” Ngo wrote in a statement detailing the ordeal. “Had I not been able to shelter wounded and bleeding inside a hotel while they beat the doors and windows like animals, there is no doubt in my mind I would not be here today.”

The journalist called on local and federal authorities to “act” before “Antifa operatives hiding behind their masks succeed in murdering an American journalist on their watch.” He also urged members of the media to speak out against violence and intimidation tactics being used against reporters in Portland.

Ngo has been physically assaulted by Antifa before. In 2019, the conservative journalists suffered a brain hemorrhage and a ripped earlobe after being attacked by left-wing activists at an event in Portland.

 

News, Perspectives 0 comments on The Recent Gaza War: A New Balance in US Public Opinion?

The Recent Gaza War: A New Balance in US Public Opinion?

Michigan | www.arabradio.us | June 3, 2021- Join Dr. Atef Gawad and his distinguished guests, professor Brad R. Roth, Dr. Abdalmajid Katranji, and professor Kamal Ben Younes, as they discuss this timely and important topic in the program this Friday, June 4th, 2021 from 8 to 9 a.m. (EST) LIVE on Facebook and on “U.S. Arab Radio”. 

Was it the video footage of dozens of children killed by the Israeli strikes in the 11 -day conflict in Gaza? Or was it the fact that Israel also targeted a building housing offices of news organizations? Was it the voice of members of Congress expressing concern at taxpayers’ aid to Israel? Was it President Biden’s focus on Human Rights? Or his call for equal measures of freedom and security for Israel and the Palestinians alike? Was it a demographic and cultural shift within American society that helped achieve a new balance in public opinion, including a shift in the culture of young Jewish Americans who no longer share their grandparents ideas as they relate to Israel? Or is it all of the above?

We will discuss those factors that have led to more balance, not only in the media coverage of the recent Gaza conflict but also in how Americans view the Arab and Muslim community in the country with a group of distinguished guests and experts to help us draw some conclusions and lessons:

From  Michigan Dr. Brad R. Roth who is Professor of Political Science and Law at Wayne State University in Detroit, Dr. Abdalmajid Katranji who Is a political analyst and an expert on the Middle East, and professor Kamal Ben Younes who is Tunisian academic and journalist.

Tune in to a great and lively discussion! On Friday, June 4th, 2021, from 8 to 9 a.m. (EST) on U.S. Arab Radio to discuss ” The Recent Gaza War: A New Balance in US Public Opinion?

The program will rerun Friday, June 4th, 2021 from 5 pm – 6 pm Est.

Brad R. Roth: Is a Professor of Political Science and Law at Wayne State University in Detroit. He holds a J.D. from Harvard University (1987), an LL.M. in international and foreign law from Columbia University (1992), and a Ph.D. in jurisprudence and social policy from the University of California at Berkeley (1996). He is the author of Governmental Illegitimacy in International Law (Oxford University Press, 1999), Sovereign Equality and Moral Disagreement (Oxford University Press, 2011), and a wide range of book chapters, journal articles, and commentaries dealing with questions of sovereignty, constitutionalism, human rights, and democracy.

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Abdalmajid Katranji: Is a political analyst and an expert on the Middle East, Islam, and Muslim American Politics. He is a board member of Emgage Action USA, one of the leading Muslim American Political Advocacy groups in the United States. He also serves on the national board of the Syrian American Council.  He has spoken at the United Nations, European Council, United States Institute for Peace, and the White House.

Professor Kamal Ben Younes: is Tunisian academic and journalist, Regional media reporter, and analyst, Professor kamal Ben Younes is Director of International Communication Media and Arab African Strategic Studies Center.

The Program will be live on WNZK 690 AM, from Michigan to its audience in Michigan, Toledo, Ohio, and Windsor – Canada

For audience in Washington, Virginia, and Maryland, program is broadcasting on WDMV 700 AM.

To listen to Our programs from all over the USA, you can dial 1605.472.9011.

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Dr. Atef Abdel Gawad Promo On Radio Baladi