Germany hosts conference to push for progress in Libya

General view of participants attending the Peace summit on Libya at the Chancellery in Berlin on Jan. 19, 2020. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 June 2021

Germany hosts conference to push for progress in Libya

  • The meeting is held at the foreign ministry in Berlin
  • German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that much has been achieved in the past two years

BERLIN: Germany and the United Nations are bringing together representatives of Libya with powers that have interests in the country at a conference Wednesday which aims for progress toward securing elections in the North African nation and the removal of foreign fighters.
The meeting at the foreign ministry in Berlin, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken among those expected to attend, follows up on a January 2020 conference where leaders agreed to respect an arms embargo and to push the country’s warring parties to reach a full cease-fire. Germany has tried to act as an intermediary.
Countries that have been involved in the process include the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with Italy, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Ahead of the conference, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that much has been achieved in the past two years. An October cease-fire agreement that included a demand that all foreign fighters and mercenaries leave Libya within 90 days led to a deal on elections that are due to be held on Dec. 24 and a transitional government that took office in February.
But “many challenges still lie ahead of us,” said Maas, who met Libya’s transitional prime minister and foreign minister on Tuesday evening. “For the further stabilization of the country, it is crucial that elections take place as planned and that foreign fighters and mercenaries really do leave Libya.”
He added that Wednesday’s conference launches a new phase “in which we no longer only talk about Libya, but in which we are now speaking with Libyan men and women about the future of their country.”
Libya descended into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and later killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The oil-rich country was long divided between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country’s east, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
In April 2019, eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar and his forces launched an offensive to try to capture Tripoli. Haftar’s 14-month campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support of the UN-backed government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.


Pakistan discussing expansion of CPEC to Taliban-led Afghanistan — envoy to Kabul

Updated 8 min 21 sec ago

Pakistan discussing expansion of CPEC to Taliban-led Afghanistan — envoy to Kabul

  • Says discussions held with the Taliban administration on CPEC and other ways to develop Afghan economy
  • In recent days representatives from Pakistan, China and Russia have held meetings with Taliban officials

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has discussed Taliban-led Afghanistan joining the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) infrastructure project, the Pakistani ambassador to the country said on Monday.
CPEC is a central part of the Belt and Road Initiative, under which Beijing has pledged over $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan, much of it in the form of loans.
“Regional connectivity is an important element of our discussion with Afghan leadership and our way forward for our economic interaction with Afghanistan,” said Mansoor Ahmad Khan, Pakistan’s envoy to Kabul, in an interview with Reuters.
“This important project — China Pakistan Economic Corridor ... provides good opportunities, good potential for providing infrastructure and energy connectivity between Afghanistan and Pakistan ... (and) also connecting South Asia to the Central Asian region.”
Khan said that discussions had been held with the Taliban-led administration on this and other ways to develop the country’s economy.
“I think there has been deep interest in terms of developing economic connectivity of Afghanistan with Pakistan through CPEC and with other neighboring countries including Iran, China, Central Asian countries.”
In recent days representatives from Pakistan, China and Russia have held meetings with Taliban officials. Khan said security and economic development were the two main topics under discussion and that these countries expected to continue to consult as a group and meet with the Taliban going forward.

Since the Taliban took over Afghanistan on August 15, the country has been plunged into economic crisis as the nation’s international assistance has been largely cut off. Billions of dollars in central bank assets held abroad have also been frozen, which has put pressure on the banking system and prevented most transactions involving US dollars, which Khan said was also hampering trade.
Khan said that Pakistan was also trying to work with the international community to ease international restrictions on the banking system and several executives from Pakistani financial institutions with a presence in Afghanistan had visited Kabul in recent days to see if the situation could be improved should international limits end.
The United States and other Western nations are reluctant to provide the Taliban with funds until the militant movement provides assurances that it will uphold human rights, and in particular the rights of women.
Pakistan, which shares a border with Afghanistan and hosts millions of Afghan refugees from decades of conflict, is concerned about the economic crisis hitting its neighbor. Its prime minister, Imran Khan, and other officials have urged the international community not to isolate the Taliban administration, saying aid should be provided to prevent economic collapse and a wave of refugees.
Pakistan has had deep ties with the Taliban and has been accused of supporting the group as it battled the US-backed government in Kabul for 20 years — charges denied by Islamabad.
However, Pakistan has not yet formally recognized the Taliban-led administration and Khan, the Pakistani ambassador, told Reuters that “the issues of formal recognition will come later as Pakistan is part of the international community.”


At UN, Syria accuses adversaries of using pandemic to ‘settle scores’

Updated 44 min 23 sec ago

At UN, Syria accuses adversaries of using pandemic to ‘settle scores’

  • FM Faisal Mekdad pledges to continue to fight to rid country of ‘terrorists’
  • Denounces use of chemical weapons despite their use by Assad regime to quell revolution

NEW YORK: Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has accused the country’s adversaries of using the coronavirus disease pandemic as an opportunity to attack Syria, and issued a warning to the US, Turkey, and the Syrian Democratic Forces that the Assad regime will use “all possible means” to expel them from the country.

Speaking on Monday, the final day of the UN General Assembly, Mekdad said that “the world has experienced unprecedented circumstances, where hospitals reached full capacity, millions of lives were lost, economies contracted” as a result of COVID-19.

But, he continued, “some used the pandemic to settle political scores. Others selfishly ignored the needs of others, choosing to believe they are alone on this Earth.”

The minister, who assumed office less than a year ago, denounced countries who allegedly “took advantage of the pandemic to scale up their unilateral coercive economic measures against those countries and people who differ from them.”

The Syrian representative did not name any state explicitly, but the US has implemented a sanctions regime against Syria and its leadership due to crimes committed over the course of the country’s brutal civil war — including the repeated use of chemical weaponry and other human rights abuses.

Mekdad also pledged that the Assad regime would continue the country’s fight against “terrorists” in Syria, and said those that “continue to support and invest in terrorists will be doomed to fail.”

Throughout his speech, he railed against the US, Turkey, and Israel, taking the opportunity to denounce Israel’s occupation of Syria’s Golan Heights, which was recognized as Israeli territory by the administration of the former US president, Donald Trump, but is considered Syrian by the UN.

He also accused both Turkey and the US of looting Syrian resources and occupying territory within the country. 

“Just as we managed to wipe out terrorists from the majority of Syrian territories, we will work to end the occupation with the same resolve and determination, using all possible means under international law,” said Mekdad.

In a thinly veiled threat against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led militia convened by the US to fight Daesh, Mekdad said: “As for the few seeking secession in northeast Syria, we warn them against harboring such illusions. By pursuing such ends, they align themselves with those plotting against Syria’s unity — and they will be dealt with accordingly.”

Mekdad also used his speech to rally against the use of chemical weapons, calling them “reprehensible and completely unacceptable under any circumstances by anyone, anywhere at any time.”

He explained that, for this reason, Syria signed up to multilateral conventions against the use of the weapons, and “fulfilled its obligations in record time.”

In 2013, a chemical weapon attack in rebel-held Ghouta, Damascus, attributed to the Syrian government, killed hundreds of people, with some estimates putting the death toll at over 1,500. 

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also noted as recently as August this year that Syria still has not fulfilled all of its obligations under the chemical weapons treaties — including the requirement to declare what chemical weapons the regime still has stockpiled and where they are being held.

Syria has also ignored requests by the UN body to issue a visa for a team leader in its command post in the country, OPCW said, “which left the command post with only support staff from UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services) for the second time this year.”


Omani FM calls for more global attention on Yemen

Updated 44 min ago

Omani FM calls for more global attention on Yemen

  • Al-Busaidi says that a cease-fire must be called on all sides to “fully resume” all humanitarian efforts “to provide for the needs of our brothers in Yemen
  • The foreign minister praised “the success of the reconciliation efforts led by the brotherly state of Kuwait”

LONDON: Oman’s Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr bin Hamad bin Hamood Al-Busaidi has told the UN General Assembly that the sultanate is focussed on ending the war in Yemen in cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Al-Busaidi said that Oman is continuing “its tireless endeavors and working with the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UN, the US envoys for Yemen, and all the concerned Yemeni parties in order to end the war through a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire.”

The foreign minister added that a cease-fire must be called on all sides to “fully resume” all humanitarian efforts “to provide for the needs of our brothers in Yemen, in particular the areas of medicine, health care, food, fuel and housing.” 

Al-Busaidi said that Oman “joined our voice with everyone who believes in a comprehensive political settlement to the existing crisis in a way that restores stability and security while retaining the security of the countries of the region.”

He addressed regional security, referring to the AlUla summit last year, stressing that the sultanate “has welcomed and supported the positive developments that resulted from the AlUla summit that was held in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

The foreign minister praised “the success of the reconciliation efforts led by the brotherly state of Kuwait.”

Al-Busaidi continued on the theme of regional security by expressing Oman’s hope that “the Vienna talks on the Iranian nuclear program will lead to the desired consensus among all parties because we firmly believe that this will be in the interest of the region and the world.” 

Following his comments on Iran and its nuclear program, the foreign minister referred to the need to “ensure freedom of maritime navigation” to “enhance economic growth opportunities.”

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State Dept No. 2 to visit Pakistan, India after Taliban takeover

Updated 27 September 2021

State Dept No. 2 to visit Pakistan, India after Taliban takeover

  • Wendy Sherman, after CIA chief Bill Burns, will be one of the first high-level officials under President Biden to visit Pakistan
  • Sherman will meet senior officials in Islamabad on October 7-8 after visit to New Delhi and Mumbai on October 6-7

WASHINGTON: US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will travel next month to Pakistan and India, bitter rivals that have clashed on the way forward in Afghanistan, the State Department announced Monday.
Sherman, after CIA chief Bill Burns, will be one of the first high-level officials under President Joe Biden to visit Pakistan, which has long irritated the United States over its relationship with the Taliban.
Sherman will meet senior officials in Islamabad on October 7-8 after an earlier visit to New Delhi and Mumbai on October 6-7, when she will meet officials and civil society leaders and address the US-India Business council’s annual “ideas summit,” the State Department said.
The trip comes as India, one of the top allies of the Western-backed Afghan government that collapsed last month, urges the world to pay closer attention to Pakistan’s role in the turmoil .
Pakistan was the primary backer of the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, and has been accused by US officials of keeping the insurgents alive through covert support. Islamabad vehemently denies the charge.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, in an opinion piece published Monday in The Washington Post, called his country a “convenient scapegoat.”
“In Afghanistan, the lack of legitimacy for an outsider’s protracted war was compounded by a corrupt and inept Afghan government, seen as a puppet regime without credibility, especially by rural Afghans,” he wrote, elaborating on themes in his address Friday to the UN General Assembly.
He urged the world to engage the Taliban government “to ensure peace and stability.”
Biden, who like his predecessors has called for strong relations with India, has yet to speak to Khan, although Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of UN meetings last week and thanked Islamabad for help in evacuating Americans from Afghanistan.


Ambitious plans unveiled for luxury new Saudi mountain resort

Updated 27 September 2021

Ambitious plans unveiled for luxury new Saudi mountain resort

  • Oppenheim Architecture has created 48 villas and 12 hotel rooms for the site designed to protect and preserve the environment and highlight the region’s cultural heritage

JEDDAH: Ambitious plans have been unveiled for a new resort in the Saudi mountains designed to blend modern architecture into the natural landscape.

The Red Sea Development Co. project, one of the Kingdom’s most ambitious regenerative tourism schemes to date, will see luxury accommodation built into rocky outcrops commanding stunning valley views.

Developers behind the Desert Rock resort adopted a design philosophy of building with the land, not on the land.

John Pagano, chief executive officer at TRSDC, said: “We wanted to create a destination that allows guests to experience Saudi Arabia’s untouched beauty. Desert Rock will provide guests with uninterrupted spectacular views while preserving the natural landscape for future generations to enjoy.”

Oppenheim Architecture has created 48 villas and 12 hotel rooms for the site designed to protect and preserve the environment and highlight the region’s cultural heritage.

“We have drawn inspiration from the surrounding environment, while providing unparalleled luxury, allowing guests to connect with nature and create memorable experiences,” added Pagano.

Materials excavated from the site will be used to create the infrastructure, with stone going into interior and exterior walls and floors, and sand and gravel being used for concrete aggregate.

Construction began in July, and the resort has been designed to reduce energy consumption and regenerate native flora. Water retention and distribution systems will be used throughout the site, with harvested rainwater creating a more green, flourishing wadi. The first hotel guests are due to check in at the end of next year.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the Red Sea Project in July 2017. Elements of the first phase of the flagship scheme are set to open in 2022. Upon full completion in 2030, the project will comprise 50 hotels offering up to 8,000 rooms and 1,300 residential properties across 22 islands and six inland sites.

The destination will also include luxury marinas, golf courses, entertainment and leisure facilities, and an international airport.