Pope calls for dialogue between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over Nile dam

Egypt, which fears the dam project could lead to water shortages upstream, has threatened to withdraw from the latest round of discussions. (File/AFP)
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Updated 15 August 2020

Pope calls for dialogue between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over Nile dam

  • The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has become a major source of discord between the three countries

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis called for dialogue between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on Saturday, urging them not to let a dispute over a dam on the Nile lead to conflict.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is being built some 15 km (9 miles) from Ethiopia’s border with Sudan, has become a major source of discord between the three countries.
“I invite all parties involved to continue on the path of dialogue so that the eternal river will continue to be a source of life, which unites and does not divide, which nurtures friendship, prosperity and fraternity and not enmity, misunderstanding and conflict,” the pontiff said.
He was giving his Angelus message for Assumption Day, the most important Catholic feast dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Egypt, which fears the dam project could lead to water shortages upstream, has threatened to withdraw from the latest round of discussions. Sudan is concerned about the dam’s safety.

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New nuclear deal with Iran ‘is at draft stage’

Updated 20 April 2021

New nuclear deal with Iran ‘is at draft stage’

  • Interim settlement could pave way to a lasting agreement

JEDDAH: Negotiators trying to revive the collapsed nuclear deal with Iran are close to a draft agreement, leading envoys said on Monday.

Talks are continuing in Vienna aimed at rescuing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal with world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.

“We can note with satisfaction that the negotiations entered the drafting stage,” the Russian Ambassador to Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, said on Monday. “Practical solutions are still far away, but we have moved from general words to agreeing on specific steps toward the goal.”

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said his political director Enrique Mora, who is chairing the talks, had gone back to Vienna after returning to Brussels on Friday. “I think there is real goodwill … to reach an agreement, and that’s good news,” Borrell said.

“I think the parties are really interested in reaching an agreement, and they have been moving from general to more focused issues, which are clearly, on one side sanction lifting, and on the other side nuclear implementation issues.”

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The JCPOA has been on life support since 2018, when the US withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions, and Iran began enriching fissile uranium beyond the limits permitted by the deal.

New US President Joe Biden has offered to ease sanctions when Iran returns to compliance with the agreement, but Tehran insists the US must act first.

The second round of talks to resolve the standoff began last Thursday in the basement of a luxury hotel in Vienna. The US is not present as Iran has declined face-to-face negotiations, but EU officials are carrying out shuttle diplomacy with a US delegation in another hotel across the road.

A temporary deal could be a way to gain time for a lasting settlement, Iranian officials said on Monday.

“We are on the right track and some progress has been made, but this does not mean that the talks in Vienna have reached the final stage,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said.

“What is being discussed for the near term is the main outlines of an interim deal to give all sides more time to resolve complicated technical issues.”


Arab League chief calls for strategic partnership with UN to end region’s wars

Updated 20 April 2021

Arab League chief calls for strategic partnership with UN to end region’s wars

  • Security Council met to consider ways in which cooperation with organizations in Middle east might be enhanced to maintain global peace and security
  • Members reminded that groups closest to conflict zones are best positioned to understand disputes and help to prevent or resolve them

League of Arab States Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Monday called on the Security Council and other UN bodies to establish a strategic working partnership with the league and its member states.
The aim, he said, would be to lay the foundations for “security, stability and sustainable development in the Arab region, based on a genuine understanding of the problems facing the region, and on the primary responsibility of the UN in maintaining international peace and security.”
His call came during a high-level Security Council meeting on Monday that highlighted the importance of UN cooperation with regional and subregional organizations as part of efforts to maintain global peace and security, and considered how this might be enhanced.
The meeting was convened by Nguyen Xuan Phuc, the president of Vietnam, which holds the presidency of the Security Council this month, to discuss ways of fostering confidence building and dialogue in conflict prevention and resolution.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the presidency noted that the council’s primary responsibility under its charter is to safeguard international peace and security. It added that “regional and subregional organizations are well positioned to understand the root causes of armed conflicts owing to their knowledge of the region, which can be a benefit for their efforts to influence the prevention or resolution of these conflicts. (They are also) well positioned in promoting confidence, trust and dialogue among concerned parties within their respective regions.” It also pointed out that regional organizations play a vital role in post-conflict reconstruction and sustainable development.
The statement reaffirmed a commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes. It called on council members to utilize the potential of regional and subregional organizations by “encouraging countries in the region to resolve differences peacefully through dialogue, reconciliation, consultation, negotiation, good offices, mediation and judicial settlement of disputes (and) by the promotion of confidence-building measures and political dialogue through full engagement with concerned parties.”
Since taking office in 2016, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has made such cooperation a key priority. Since 1945, he told council members, cooperation has grown significantly to now encompass “preventive diplomacy, mediation, counterterrorism, preventing violent extremism, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, promoting human rights, advancing the Women, Peace and Security agenda, combating climate change and, since last year, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
He highlighted the establishment of a civilian-led transitional government in Sudan, in which women and young people play vital roles, as an example of effective cooperation — between the UN and the African Union (AU) and Ethiopia — to facilitate negotiations between rival parties. This type of collaboration led to signing of the Juba Peace Agreement in October 2020, he added.
Guterres also underscored the importance of the cooperation between the UN, the AU, the League of Arab States and the EU (the Libya Quartet) to support the “Libyan-led, Libyan-owned dialogue process and transition.” Working together in this way continues to support the implementation of the ceasefire and the promotion of national reconciliation, he added.
Meanwhile, Aboul Gheit said that the COVID-19 pandemic represents an additional problem for an Arab region already burdened by “wars, armed conflicts, refugees, internally displaced persons and other structural challenges affecting the security and stability of many of its countries.”
He urged council members to maximize international solidarity in the efforts to deal with the repercussions of the pandemic and all its human, economic and social costs. It is essential, he said, to end the fighting that is tearing apart the societal fabric of countries in conflict.
Highlighting the war in Syria and the “unprecedented external and regional interventions in this important Arab country,” Aboul Gheit warned that “the chances of extricating Syria from this terrifying spiral of conflict will continue to erode with the passage of time, and that the cost of rebuilding what the war has destroyed will increase day by day, and that the risks of unrest spreading to neighboring countries will remain unless a radical and integrated political settlement is reached.”
Aboul Gheit also spoke about Yemen, where the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis continues to unfold “due to the intransigence of the Houthi group and its rejection of all settlement attempts made over the past years, the latest of which is the Saudi initiative supported by the Arab world, and as a result of regional interventions that made Yemen a platform to threaten the security of its neighbors in the Gulf (and) energy and sea routes in the region.”
He also called for “more joint efforts to accompany the Libyan brothers in this march (toward national elections in December), through our coordinated work with the UN mission and also through the Quartet.”

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Israel to buy millions of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses

Updated 19 April 2021

Israel to buy millions of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses

  • New vaccinations will be suitable to protect people against different coronavirus variants, said Netanyahu
  • Israeli PM hopes to sign a similar deal to purchase vaccines from Moderna

JERUSALEM: Israel signed a deal to buy millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccinations from Pfizer through 2022, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.
The new vaccinations will be suitable to protect people against different variants of the coronavirus, Netanyahu said in a statement.
He said he hopes to sign a similar deal to purchase vaccines from Moderna.
“This means that very soon we will have more than enough vaccines, both for adults and children,” he said.
With about 81% of citizens or residents over 16 — the age group eligible for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Israel — having received both doses, infections and hospitalizations are down sharply.


Syrian opposition’s Michel Kilo dies in exile

Updated 19 April 2021

Syrian opposition’s Michel Kilo dies in exile

  • Michel Kilo, who turned 80 last year, was a key player in efforts to form a credible non-violent alternative to President Bashar Assad’s regime
  • Kilo often spoke out against the internal rifts weakening Syria’s opposition and in 2015 he said the conflict’s foreign brokers have made matters worse

BEIRUT: Prominent exiled opposition figure Michel Kilo died of Covid-19 on Monday in Paris after a lifetime of peaceful struggle against Baath party rule in Syria, colleagues said.
Kilo, who turned 80 last year, was a key player in efforts to form a credible non-violent alternative to President Bashar Assad’s regime during the early stages of the conflict that erupted a decade ago.
“A great loss. Michel Kilo departed today after he was infected with Covid-19,” senior opposition figure Nasr Hariri wrote in a statement.
“Michel was an intellectual and patriotic powerhouse and his dream was to see a free and democratic Syria. God willing, the Syrian people will carry on this dream and see it through,” he said.
Kilo, who was also a writer, was born in 1940 to a Christian family in Syria’s Mediterranean town of Latakia, a bastion of the Assad family’s Alawite minority.
He had opposed the ruling Baath party since it came to power in 1963.
He was jailed in Syria from 1980 to 1983 under Hafez Assad, and then again from 2006 to 2009 under Bashar.
In September 2000, he was one of around 100 intellectuals who called for reforms including public freedoms, political pluralism, and the lifting of the state of emergency in what became known as the Damascus Spring.
He also belonged to a group of prominent Syrian opposition figures who in 2005 signed the “Damascus Declaration” calling for democratic reform in the autocratic Arab nation.
When mass anti-regime demonstrations swept Syria in 2011, he advocated peaceful protest but warned that armed resistance would lead to civil war.
“From the very beginning, the regime has followed a plan — push the protesters to extreme options, to take up arms. A peaceful civil movement is not what it wants at all,” Kilo told AFP in Damascus before the onset of a conflict that has since killed more than 388,000 people and displaced millions.
In 2013, he joined the opposition alliance, known as the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) before quitting over internal divisions.
In a tribute on Monday, the SNC said Kilo had “dedicated his life to Syria and fought against tyranny for more than fifty years.”
Kilo often spoke out against the internal rifts weakening Syria’s opposition and in 2015 he said the conflict’s foreign brokers have made matters worse.
“We are hostages to meticulous political and diplomatic games” by states that each hold a “Syria card” they want to play, he said.
Fellow exiled opposition figure Alia Mansour mourned Kilo on Twitter.
“Michel Kilo spent his life opposing the Assad regime, fighting for freedom and democracy for Syria and its people,” she said.
“How misfortunate that you left before witnessing the downfall of the tyrant.”


Russia says Iran nuclear talks enter ‘drafting stage’

Updated 19 April 2021

Russia says Iran nuclear talks enter ‘drafting stage’

  • The 2015 agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief has been left hanging by a thread since the US withdrew from the pact in 2018
  • Diplomats from the parties to the deal — Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and China — have been meeting in Vienna since early this month

VIENNA: A Russian diplomat taking part in talks to save the landmark Iran nuclear deal said Monday that the negotiations had entered “the drafting stage” though solutions to some of the issues were “still far away.”
The 2015 agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief has been left hanging by a thread since the US withdrew from the pact in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, prompting Tehran to in turn step up its nuclear activities.
Diplomats from the parties to the deal — Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and China — have been meeting in Vienna since early this month to find a way to get the pact back on track with US participation under the new Joe Biden administration.
“Summing up the results of two weeks of deliberations on JCPOA restoration we can note with satisfaction that the negotiations entered the drafting stage,” Russian ambassador to Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov wrote on Twitter, referring to the acronym of the deal’s formal name.
“Practical solutions are still far away, but we have moved from general words to agreeing on specific steps toward the goal,” he added.
The EU, Russia and Iran all hailed progress at the talks Saturday following an attack on the Natanz nuclear facility, which Iran blamed on arch-foe Israel.
On Friday, Tehran also announced that it was producing uranium enriched to 60 percent purity, taking the country closer to the 90-percent level required for use in a nuclear weapon and far above the threshold allowed by the deal.
Iran has said it will reverse steps taken so far if the US lifts sanctions imposed under the administration of former president Donald Trump.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told Fox News on Sunday that the US wanted to be sure of Iran’s compliance.
“The United States is not going to lift sanctions, unless we have clarity and confidence that Iran will fully return to compliance with its obligations under the deal that it will put a lid on its nuclear program,” he said.
Iran delegation head Abbas Araghchi said Saturday that “a new agreement is taking shape” but warned that it won’t be easy.
“We think that negotiations have reached a stage that the parties can start working on a joint text. The writing of the text can start, at least in the fields with a consensus,” he said.
“There are still serious disagreements that must be reduced during future negotiationSwitch to plain text editors,” he added.