Majority Arabs want less of Obama approach from Biden, more youth empowerment - poll

President Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States at the 59th Presidential Inauguration in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 21 January 2021

Majority Arabs want less of Obama approach from Biden, more youth empowerment - poll

  • YouGov pan-Arab poll commissioned by Arab News late last year had shown Joe Biden as the favored presidential candidate
  • Biden’s advisers would be well advised to heed the views of the region in shaping the administration’s Middle East policy

LONDON: Joe Biden has become the 46th president of the US, having defeated Donald Trump in an election last November whose outcome evidently failed to heal the political rifts plaguing the country. Trump did not attend Wednesday’s inauguration ceremony.

Complicating matters, a worsening coronavirus crisis and heightened security risks cast a shadow over the inauguration, which saw Biden and Kamala Harris take the oath of office respectively as president and vice president.


Read the full report "The Biden Era: What do Arabs expect?" of the Arab News Research & Studies Unit


While Biden will probably have his hands full tackling the pandemic, a sputtering economy and a growing partisan divide, foreign-policy issues are also expected to get high priority, especially considering his long stint as chairman or ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

As far as the Middle East is concerned, Biden will have his fair share of challenges. Nearly half (49 percent) of the respondents in a pan-Arab survey conducted in late September last year by Arab News in partnership with YouGov, the online polling company, said they believed neither Biden nor Trump was necessarily good for the region.

But that does not mean he cannot break free from the legacy of the Obama administration, in which he served as vice president for two terms. Biden’s advisers would be well advised to listen to the views from the Arab region in shaping the new administration’s Middle East policy.

A majority (58 percent) of the Arab News-YouGov poll’s respondents said Biden should discard the approach to the Middle East of his former boss, Barack Obama. The survey, which questioned people in 18 countries in the Middle East and North Africa, showed that Obama’s policies remain unpopular among Arabs, who were disappointed by his failure to deliver the “new beginning” he promised during a speech at Cairo University in 2009.

The study — “The 2020 US Elections - What do Arabs want?,” published on Oct. 25, 2020 — also showed that 44 percent of Arabs view youth empowerment as a key driver of global development and believe it should be a priority for the Biden administration.

 




Nearly half of the respondents in the pan-Arab survey said they believed neither Biden nor Trump was necessarily good for the region. (AP)

Arabs’ disappointment with the Trump administration is understandable. In Jan. 2017, he signed an executive order that banned foreign nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries from visiting the US for 90 days. The ban suspended entry of all Syrian refugees indefinitely, and prohibited any other refugees from coming into the US for 120 days.


Read the full report "The Biden Era: What do Arabs expect?" of the Arab News Research & Studies Unit


The executive order created an environment of fear among students from Arab countries, driving many to seek higher-education options in Europe. During the first coronavirus lockdown in July, the Trump administration also pushed for the cancellation of all visas issued to international students studying in the US, because they were no longer attending classes in person.

This plan was abandoned following pressure from universities that make millions of dollars in tuition fees from foreign students, and from US companies that often hire highly skilled foreign workers who begin their careers in America after graduating from the nation’s top universities. Biden will not be encumbered by these unpopular Trump decisions and Arabs are unlikely to bear him any ill will in this regard.

That said, there are Trump-era policies that will give Biden a strong leg up in dealing with strategic competitors and malign actors. Take Washington’s approach to Iran. A large proportion of the pan-Arab survey’s respondents — 49 percent in Saudi Arabia, 53 percent in Iraq and 54 percent in Yemen — favored maintaining Trump’s strict sanctions and war posture.

It is notable that respondents in Iraq and Yemen — two countries that have intimate dealings with Iran in the sense that they are overrun with non-state actors controlled by Tehran — were strongly in favor of maintaining a hard line.

The survey did show mixed Arab views on the elimination by the US in January 2020 of Iran’s powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, the head of Quds Force, the division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responsible for extraterritorial military and clandestine operations.

Nevertheless, overall the findings suggested a widespread rejection of President Obama’s strategy of addressing Iran’s ambitions through the 2015 nuclear accord, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), while turning a blind eye to its regional plans and expansionist agenda. The nuclear deal was viewed by Israel and Washington’s Arab allies as giving a free hand to the IRGC to create havoc in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon,  and Palestine.

Trump withdrew the US from the JCPOA in 2017 and applied a policy of “maximum pressure” that is widely regarded as having put Tehran on the defensive, both strategically and financially.


Read the full report "The Biden Era: What do Arabs expect?" of the Arab News Research & Studies Unit


The US secretary of state-designate, Anthony Blinken, told his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week that the new administration has “an urgent responsibility” to do what it could to stop Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. He added that a new accord could address Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in the region as well as its missiles.

As Nadim Shehadi, associate fellow of Chatham House in London, wrote recently, “Iran has a clear strategy of perpetual war against the US and, through its IRGC proxies, collapsing states, building alternative institutions and gaining control.”

The good news is that Biden does not have to choose withdrawal or capitulation. He has been dealt a strong hand against Iran by Trump which he simply has to play to win, for the sake of the US and its allies and partners, and, in the long term, for the Middle East's security, stability and prosperity.

Twitter: @Tarek_AliAhmad


Pope meets father of drowned Syrian refugee boy in Irbil

Updated 8 min 57 sec ago

Pope meets father of drowned Syrian refugee boy in Irbil

  • Following a Mass on Sunday in the Iraqi city of Erbil, Francis met with Abdullah Kurdi and spent a long time with him
  • Through an interpreter, the pope listened to Kurdi’s story and expressed sympathy for the loss of his family

IRBIL: Pope Francis has met with the father of Alan Kurdi, a 3-year old Syrian boy who drowned crossing the Mediterranean Sea and whose image drew global attention to the plight of refugees fleeing to Europe.
Following a Mass on Sunday in the Iraqi city of Erbil, Francis met with Abdullah Kurdi and spent a long time with him, the Vatican said.


Through an interpreter, the pope listened to Kurdi’s story and expressed sympathy for the loss of his family. Abdullah thanked the pope for his words.
The Kurdi family, who fail from Kobane in Syria, took the route of many Syrian and other migrants in 2015 by sea in a small boat from Turkey heading for Greece. When their boat capsized, Alan Kurdi, one of his brothers and his mother perished. The image of Alan's body, washed up on Turkish shores, came to symbolize the perilous journey to Europe and drew international condemnation. The father now runs a charity in Erbil.

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B-52s again fly over Middle East in US military warning to Iran

Updated 07 March 2021

B-52s again fly over Middle East in US military warning to Iran

DUBAI: A pair of B-52 bombers flew over the Middle East on Sunday, the latest such mission in the region aimed at warning Iran amid tensions between Washington and Tehran.
The US military’s Central Command said the two B-52s flew over the region accompanied by military aircraft from nations including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. It marked the fourth-such bomber deployment into the Middke East this year and the second under President Joe Biden.
Flight-tracking data showed the two B-52s flew out of Minot Air Base in North Dakota, something Central Command did not mention in its statement on the flights though authorities later published images of the flight crew preparing its departure there.
The military did not directly mention Iran in its statement, saying the flight was to “deter aggression and reassure partners and allies of the US military’s commitment to security in the region.”
However, such flights had become common in the last months of former President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers sparked a series of escalating incidents in the region.
Biden has expressed a desire to return to the deal if Iran honors the deal’s limits on its nuclear program. However, tensions remain high after militias in Iraq — likely backed by Iran — continue to target American interests.
Biden last month launched an airstrike just over the border into Syria in retaliation, joining every American president from Ronald Reagan onward who has ordered a bombardment of countries in the Middle East.


US says will do what is necessary to defend itself after attack in Iraq

Updated 13 min 17 sec ago

US says will do what is necessary to defend itself after attack in Iraq

  • He said the US will strike in retaliation for the rocket attack at time of its own choosing
  • US urging Iraq to quickly investigate the incident

WASHINGTON: The United States will do what it sees as necessary to defend its interests after a rocket attack last week against Iraq’s Ain Al-Sada air base, which hosts American, coalition and Iraqi forces, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Sunday.
Speaking on ABC’s “This Week” program, Austin said the United States is urging Iraq to quickly investigate the incident at the base located in western Anbar province and determine who was responsible. US officials have said the incident fit the profile of a strike by Iran-backed militia.
“We’ll strike, if that’s what we think we need to do, at a time and place of our own choosing. We demand the right to protect our troops,” Austin said.
Asked if Iran had been given a message that US retaliation would not constitute an escalation, Austin said that Iran is fully capable of assessing the strike and USactivities.
“What they should draw from this, again, is that we’re going to defend our troops and our response will be thoughtful. It will be appropriate,” Austin said. “We would hope that they would choose to do the right things.”
There were no reports of injuries among US service personnel after the attack but an American civilian contractor died after suffering a “cardiac episode” while sheltering from the rockets, the Pentagon said.
Iraqi officials said 10 rockets landed at the base but the Pentagon was more guarded, saying there were 10 “impacts.” It said the rockets appeared to have been fired from multiple sites east of the base, which also was targeted last year by a ballistic missile attack directly from Iran.
US forces carried out air strikes against facilities at a border control point in Syria used by Iranian-backed militias including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid Al-Shuhada in February. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Will Dunham)

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Iran releases British-Iranian aid worker Zaghari-Ratcliffe from house arrest but court summons looms

Updated 07 March 2021

Iran releases British-Iranian aid worker Zaghari-Ratcliffe from house arrest but court summons looms

  • Zaghari-Ratcliffe spent the last year of her term under house arrest with electronic shackles tied to her feet
  • Kermani said a hearing for Zaghari-Ratcliffe's second case has been scheduled on March 14

DUBAI: Iran has released British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from house arrest at the end of her five-year prison sentence, but she has been summoned to court again on another charge, her lawyer said on Sunday.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was arrested at a Tehran airport in April 2016 and later convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who served out most of her sentence in Tehran's Evin prison, was released last March during the coronavirus pandemic and kept under house arrest, but her movements were restricted and she was barred from leaving the country.
On Sunday the authorities removed her ankle tag.
"She was pardoned by Iran's supreme leader last year, but spent the last year of her term under house arrest with electronic shackles tied to her feet. Now they're cast off," her lawyer Hojjat Kermani told an Iranian website. "She has been freed."
Iran's judiciary was not immediately available to comment about the release. Her family and the foundation, a charity that operates independently of media firm Thomson Reuters and its news subsidiary Reuters, deny the charge.
Kermani said a hearing for Zaghari-Ratcliffe's second case has been scheduled on March 14.
"In this case, she is accused of propaganda against the Islamic Republic's system for participating in a rally in front of the Iranian Embassy in London in 2009 and giving interview to the BBC Persian TV channel at the same time," Kermani said.
He said he hoped that "this case will be closed at this stage, considering the previous investigation".
Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband told Sky News on Sunday she was "pleased" her ankle tag had been removed but said the news was "mixed" from Iran due to the court summons.
"Richard Ratcliffe says Nazanin is ‘pleased’ the ankle tag is off #nazanin," Sky News reporter Lisa Holland said on Twitter. "Richard Ratcliffe has told me the news today is ‘mixed’. The ankle tag is off but Nazanin has to appear in court again next Sunday in a second case."
Ratcliffe did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
British foreign minister Dominic Raab welcomed the removal of Zaghari-Ratcliffe's ankle tag but said Iran continued to put her and her family through a "cruel and an intolerable ordeal".
"She must be released permanently so she can return to her family in the UK. We have relayed to the Iranian authorities in the strongest possible terms that her continued confinement is unacceptable," Raab said in a statement.
Her lawyer told Iranian state TV he had no news on the status of her travel ban.
British lawmaker Tulip Siddiq said she had spoken to Zaghari-Ratcliffe's family and that her first trip would be to see her grandmother.
The detentions of dozens of dual nationals and foreigners have complicated ties between Tehran and several European countries including Germany, France and Britain, all parties to Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with six powers.
The release come as Iran and the United States are trying to revive the deal, which former US president abandoned in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran. Tehran responded by scaling down its compliance.


Rouhani: Iran ready to take steps when US lifts sanctions

Updated 07 March 2021

Rouhani: Iran ready to take steps when US lifts sanctions

  • ‘Iran is ready to immediately take compensatory measures based on the nuclear deal and fulfill its commitments’
  • Hassan Rouhani: Iran is the only country that kept its side of the bargain

TEHRAN: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday his country was prepared to take steps to live up to measures in the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as soon as the United States lifts economic sanctions on Iran.
In a meeting with Irish Minister of Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Rouhani said: “Iran is ready to immediately take compensatory measures based on the nuclear deal and fulfill its commitments just after the US illegal sanctions are lifted and it abandons its policy of threats and pressure.”
Rouhani criticized the European signatories of the historic nuclear deal for what he said was their inaction on their commitments to the agreement. He said Iran is the only country that kept its side of the bargain.
Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdrew the US from the Iranian nuclear accord, in which Tehran had agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. When the US then reimposed some sanctions and added others, Iran gradually and publicly abandoned the deal’s limits on its nuclear development.
The Republic of Ireland has the role of facilitator in the implementation of the nuclear deal.
Coveney said the withdrawal of former President Donald Trump was a mistake and noted that the new US administration is determined to return to the deal.
In December, Iran’s parliament approved a bill that calls for the suspension of part of UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal do not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions.

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