US, China to Increase Cooperation on North Korea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS PAPER ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

World

US, China to Increase Cooperation on North Korea

Korea

Beijing – The United States and China vowed to work together against threats of the North Korea’s nuclear program, while US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the situation has reached a “dangerous” level.

Tillerson and his Chinese counterpart’s language seemed more reconciliatory in light US President Donald Trump’s accusations that China was not exerting enough efforts to control its troublesome neighbor. Beijing had meanwhile accused the White House of causing tensions.

“I think we share a common view and a sense that tensions on the peninsula are quite high right now and things have reached a rather dangerous level. And we have committed ourselves to doing everything we can to prevent any kind of conflict from breaking out,” Tillerson added during a press conference in Beijing with Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Tillerson’s visit to China is the last leg of his Asian trip, where he made stops in Japan and South Korea.

He avoided using strong language during the joint press conference with Wang, who seemed to have reproached his counterpart for statements he had made earlier this week.

Wang urged the US to remain “cool-headed” and defended his government’s position, saying all international parties should seek diplomatic solutions while implementing UN sanctions against the regime in North Korea.

“We hope that all parties, including our friends from the United States, could size up the situation in a cool-headed and comprehensive fashion and arrive at a wise decision,” he added.

Neither parties announced any tangible future steps to solve the issue and Tillerson did not publically respond to Beijing’s calls for negotiations with North Korea.

Trump had increased the pressure on China, accusing it of not exploiting all means possible to control North Korea, whom he said considered Beijing to be its closest ally and economic benefactor.

“North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!” he tweeted.

The developments come after North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year and launched missiles last month. The US considered the test-launch an attack on its bases in Japan.

The developments alarmed South Korea, spurring it to deploy the US’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System (THAAD). The Chinese leadership had accused the US of aggravating the situation through military trainings with its ally Seoul and the deployment of THAAD.

China is hesitant to increase its pressure on North Korea, whose reactions can be unpredictable.

Washington and Seoul insist that the THAAD system is for defense purposes only, but Beijing fears it could undermine its capabilities to denuclearize North Korea.

Beijing had always called for diplomatic talks to denuclearize North Korea, which is barred by the UN from proceeding with its program.

Wang also said that the Korean peninsula nuclear issue is of interest to everyone, reiterating his country’s commitment to the goal of denuclearization

“We are for the settlement of this issue through dialogue and negotiations and the maintenance of peace and stability on the peninsula and the overall region,” he added on Saturday.

Wang reiterated that China, as a close neighbor of the peninsula and a major power, has devoted a lot of energy and efforts to seek a settlement to the issue. The tremendous important efforts China has made are visible to all, he said.

Tillerson, who was CEO of ExxonMobil before being appointed secretary of state, said that a military option is possible if Pyongyang intensified its work.

“We do believe that if North Korea stands down on this nuclear program, that is their quickest means to begin to develop their economy and to become a vibrant economy for the North Korean people,” the US officials said.

He added: “All options are on the table, but we cannot predict the future.”

Maybe one of the reasons for the calm American-Chinese rhetoric is the expected talks between US President Trump and Chinese President Xi during the latter’s upcoming visit to US next month, the first such summit between the two leaders.

Trump is expected to host Xi at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach on April 6 and 7 for an informal “no necktie” encounter. Experts hope this meeting will reduce tensions between the two officials.

China shares US fears of Pyongyang’s nuclear ambition, but it makes sure not to provoke its neighbor.

In February, Beijing issued a strong position when it announced it will stop coal imports from North Korea until the end of this year.

North Korea expert at Beijing University Wong Dong said: “It is a mistake to think that China can control Pyongyang and it is not reasonable for Washington to accuse Beijing of doing nothing. The situation is complicated and sensitive and there is no magical solution.”

The Obama administration ruled out any diplomatic involvement with Pyongyang until the latter shows commitment to denuclearization.

The communist state insists on owning nuclear weapons to defend itself and executed its first test in 2006 despite international objection. It had done four other tests, two last year.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Trump: Germany Owes US, NATO Vast Sums of Money

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

World

Trump: Germany Owes US, NATO Vast Sums of Money

Trump

Washington –President Donald Trump said on Saturday that Germany owed “vast sums of money” to NATO and the US, and that Berlin “should pay.”

Trump’s statements come following his meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Washington.

Trump took it to twitter where he said: “Nevertheless, Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”

The two leaders did not show any signs of agreement on several pending issues, including NATO and defense expenditures.

During a joint press conference with Merkel, Trump complained that other NATO members have not paid their dues for years. He insisted they pay for “their fair share of the defense they receive.”

NATO countries are asked to contribute 2 percent of their GDP to the alliance’s defense spending.

Merkel said that Germany agreed on the need for “increasing expenditure” to meet the 2 percent goal.

Trump then criticized the way the media had dealt with the meeting saying on Twitter also: “Despite what you have heard from the FAKE NEWS, I had a GREAT meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.”

Expenditure was not the only point of disagreement between the two. A German journalist brought up the case of wiretapping and Trump’s accusations that British Intelligence was working with Obama to spy on him.

Despite constant negations and absence of evidence, the US President continued with his allegations and even joked that Merkel had also been a victim of wiretapping.

Since his arrival at the White House, the Republican billionaire had written several controversial tweets, none of which had damaged his credibility as much as the one he wrote on March 4.

He tweeted: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism.”

Media reports reveal each day new findings on Trump’s or his close personnel’s contacts with Russia.

Trump had repeatedly denied any affiliations to the Kremlin, but he could not control the flow of information and therefore decided to attack his predecessor.

Since then, Obama, former intelligence director James Clapper and many democratic and republican officials have denied those allegations.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to apologize to the UK for press secretary Sean Spicer’s allegation that the GCHQ had spied on Trump Tower for Obama. Spicer almost caused a diplomatic crisis by defending the president.

On Thursday, Spicer quoted a series of articles that discussed surveillance. He referenced comments made earlier this week on Fox News TV by Andrew Napolitano in relation to Trump’s controversial claim that wiretaps had been installed at his New York residence.

“Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ,” Spicer said in the press conference.

British officials were quick to comment on Napolitano’s claims, saying they were “rubbish”.

A government source reportedly said the claim was “totally untrue and quite frankly absurd”.

It told Reuters that under British law, GCHQ “can only gather intelligence for national security purposes” and noted that a US election “clearly doesn’t meet that criteria”.

“As for as wiretapping, I guess by this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump said during his press conference with Chancellor Merkel, referring to reports that the National Security Agency had tapped Merkel in 2010.

Such incidents do not reassure US Congressmen, including those in Trump’s camp. Trump promised to reveal next week new evidences that prove his allegations.

Chairman of the House intelligence committee, Devin Nunes confirmed Friday that the Justice Department had “fully complied” with the committee’s request.

He did not provide any further details.

FBI Director James Comey is set to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday.

The public hearing is the first of several that the intelligence committees are expected to hold on alleged Russia’s interference in the presidential election.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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31 Killed When Airstrike Hits Refugee Boat Near Yemen’s Coast

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

31 Killed When Airstrike Hits Refugee Boat Near Yemen’s Coast

SANAA, Yemen — A boat packed with Somali migrants came under attack overnight off Yemen’s coast close to a strategic Red Sea strait, in an incident that killed 31 people, a U.N. agency and a Yemeni medical official said Friday.

According to the International Organization for Migration, the victims carried UNHCR papers. Laurent De Boeck, the IOM chief in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, said the agency believes all the people on board the stricken vessel were refugees but it was not immediately clear where they came from in Somalia.

The SABA news agency in Yemen, run by the country’s Shiite rebels, said the attack was an airstrike that took place off the coast of Hodeida province, close to the Bab al-Mandab strait. It did not say who was behind the airstrike.

De Boeck added that 77 survivors who were pulled out of the water were taken to a detention center in Hodieda. He said the IOM is in contact with the hospital, clinics, and the detention center to provide the necessary medical care the victims.

In Geneva, IOM spokesman Joel Millman told reporters that he was unable to confirm news reports indicating that an Apache helicopter gunship was responsible for the attack. “Our confirmation is that there are dozens of deaths and many dozens of survivors brought to hospitals,” he told The Associated Press.

The Saudi-led coalition, which is fighting alongside Yemen’s internationally recognized government, has accused the Shiite Houthi rebels of using Hodeida as a smuggling route for weapons. There was no immediate comment from the coalition.

The coastal province has been under heavy airstrikes over the past two years since the coalition joined the conflict in support of the government. African migrants continue to head to Yemen, a transit point to Saudi Arabia where they seek jobs and a better life.

A Yemeni medical official in Hodeida said bodies of the dead were being retrieved from the sea and taken to the morgue of a hospital in al-Thawra. Only 14 bodies had arrived at the morgue so far, the Yemeni official said, adding that women were among the dead.

There were also 25 wounded, including those who lost arms and legs, who were brought to the hospital, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

On its Twitter account, the UNHCR said it was “appalled by this tragic incident, the latest in which civilians continue to disproportionately bear the brunt of conflict in Yemen.”

Egypt, Jordan Agree On Importance Of Resuming Negotiations For A Palestinian State

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT AND REUTERS NEWS)

Middle East

Egypt, Jordan Agree on Importance of Resuming Negotiations for a Palestinian State

Ayman al-Safadi, Reuters

Cairo- Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shokry and his Jordanian counterpart Ayman al-Safadi met for three hours in Cairo on Thursday to discuss crises and recent challenges facing the Arab region.

“It’s time to clear up the Arab atmosphere and provide a minimum of consensus on resolutions issued by the Amman summit, to deal with all crises, conflict, war and terrorism tearing the region apart,” said Safadi.

He also pointed to the possibility of reaching Arab unanimity, despite existing differences in a desire “to spare the region further devastation threatening security and stability of Arab states.”

The two FMs held a press conference following talks in Cairo to discuss the latest developments in the region, including the Palestinian peace process and Egyptian-Jordanian relations.

Safadi, who arrived in Cairo early Thursday, hoped the upcoming Arab League summit to be held in March in Amman would enhance joint Arab action in a way that improves capability of addressing crises affecting the Arab world.

Safadi replied to a Syria question with “Jordan is taking part in Astana’s Syria peace talks as an observer and supports any effort that aims at reaching a ceasefire across Syria, especially in the southern region closer to Jordan’s northern border.”

The Astana talks are not an alternative to the Geneva efforts that form the main framework of reaching a political solution to the Syrian conflict, the minister highlighted.

He also said that discussions with Shokry addressed the major challenges facing the Arab world and ways to address them, underlining Cairo’s important role in enhancing the regional stability and security.

Jordanian-Egyptian consultation and coordination not only aim at serving bilateral relations, but also seek to serve the interests of the Arab nation and its peoples to enhance joint Arab action and maintain pan-Arab security, Safadi stressed.

The minister also highlighted the significance of increasing the level of coordination among Arab countries to find solutions to regional crises, especially the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, the Syrian war and the developments in the Libyan arena.

For his part, Shokry expressed hope that the Arab summit will boost joint Arab action and serve Arab national security, voicing Cairo’s readiness to help Amman in organizing the summit.

Significant Breakthroughs For Riyadh Diplomacy In China And In The U.S.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Significant Breakthroughs for Riyadh

This has been a significant week for Saudi diplomacy: reinforcing relations with China, the biggest oil importer in the world and opening a new page with US President Donald Trump to mend what has been ruined by former President Barack Obama who strengthened ties with Iran against Gulf and Saudi interests.

Saudi Arabia that has found itself cornered due to wars, oil and geopolitical changes is carrying out a defense campaign in return — Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is convening with China leadership that asked to mediate with Iran that is now seeking reconciliation. Meanwhile, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz met with the US president.

A Saudi spokesperson described to Bloomberg the meeting in the White House as “a turning point”, saying: “Today’s meeting has put things on the right track and marked a significant shift in relations, across all political, military, security and economic fields.” There is a clear hinting on fixing what has been ruined by Obama and restoring special relations between the two countries – these relations were established based on the outcome of the meeting held between King Abdulaziz and US President Theodore Roosevelt on board of the Navy cruiser Quincy after the end of World War II.

Officially, little has been said on the meeting of Deputy Crown Prince and Trump, who has become a president two months ago, but the White House showed huge interest. Trump held the meeting two days ahead and included the vice-president in it.

What has been stated by unofficial sources reveals that Washington has changed its policy towards Iran and that it would not sit idle when it comes to Iran’s terrorist activities. Weeks ago, the US administration announced a different stance in which it permitted loading ammunition and providing intelligence information to support Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

Saudi-US relations were tense during the presidency of Obama. In fact, the whole region underwent an unprecedented turmoil because Obama’s openness towards Iran urged its military expansion in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Chaos is one of his tenure consequences, also.

Among the topics raised by Prince Mohammed during his visit was to persuade Trump with a new relation that seeks mending the situation, confronting Iran’s manipulation and fighting terrorism – the common enemy of everyone – via fighting it socially and economically. A spokesperson in the delegation pointed out that the US party is interested in reinforcing participation in the economic vision projects.

In China, Iran was not the only topic on the table especially that relations are good in: oil, economy, military cooperation and critical files, basically the military cooperation. There is also the promising project of China, the Silk Road – a giant economic project of complex political problematic issues because it passes in conflict regions. This road might benefit from Saudi Arabia as a passage or a parallel route.

Information released by Beijing reveals that it will quietly continue to consolidate its presence in west Asia and east Africa. China is the second strongest economic power after the US and, as major countries, needs raw materials, energy sources, trade passages and a protection for its investments and interests.

Unlike other major countries, China does not rely on military presence to impose its influence but rather uses its economic presence to impose its stances and secure its interests.

There are two models in the Middle East: one that seeks reinforcing relations via economic and development cooperation and another that uses wars and terrorism as a method to impose its relations.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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It Is Time For Moderate Islamic Believers To Prove To The World They Exist Against The Extremist

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

It is Time to Take Back Our Countries

It is not enough to love our country. We have to learn how to love it. Immature or impulsive love could harm both sides.

It’s no secret that Arab nations are standing at a crossroads and they have to make immediate decisions and crystallize their vision in the global village, which is witnessing fast technological evolution.

They have to choose either to hop on the train of the future or continue their journey into the caves of the past.

Arabs have a major and thorny mission ahead. The mission to take back their countries, which have been lost or are on the verge of being lost… They have to push their nations into the train of progress.

We cannot afford to wait any longer. We have to save our nations from local and foreign aggressors. It’s about time our countries rise from such lengthy and protracted sleep.

A nation is stricken twice: when it is aggressed by mercenaries or foreign armies and when its citizens are persecuted and its minorities marginalized.

The dignity of a homeland is inseparable from the dignity of its people. People’s dignity is not only about respecting their right to freedom, education and work; it is also about opening the doors of hope for their children and grandsons.

A nation’s dignity can only be safeguarded by a strong institutional state… under the rule of law… the presence of institutions that listen and make the appropriate decisions… organizations that monitor and practice true accountability. Otherwise, we will be walking a tightrope with a great risk of falling.

Threats don’t always come from the outside, from roving fighters and voracious states seeking to distort neighboring countries’ features. Threats can come from within… from the minds of young people with dark thoughts; from desperation, failure, hopelessness, deficiency and disorientation.

There is no solution but the state. A state that deserves to be named as such… A state of law and institutions… A natural and normal state… A state that deals with numbers, not with illusions… A state entrusted with the present generation and planning for the future… A state that makes mistakes and corrects them… A state that amends and adapts…

A normal state is the one, which reassures its citizens, maintains security through the force of law, works on the national budget, trade balance, growth and unemployment rates and coordination between universities and the job market.

The director of Saddam Hussein’s office once told me that the president described Western rulers as helpless since they didn’t come to power with 99 percent of public votes and as they are toppled over newspaper headlines. Take a look at Iraq! Gadhafi’s shadow assistant also told me that the ruler used to despise Western leaders, who were falling like autumn leaves while he firmly controlled the fate of his people. Take a look at Libya! Oh Lord! The two men were not aware that the secret lies in building a state of institutions, through perseverance, stability and progress.

Let us look at the current situation in Iraq. Iraqis are shedding blood to take back Mosul from “ISIS”.

However, the only means to prevent the reoccurrence of Mosul tragedies and the emergence of a new “Baghdadi” lies in the liberation of the whole country.

Iraq should be entirely regained, and its fate should be placed in the hands of its own people, under a state of law that comprises all of the nation’s components.

Outside forces do not have the right to impose a government’s constitution on the Iraqi people. However, Arabs do have the right to dream of an Iraq rising from its ashes, and becoming again a natural and stable Arab state, where different ethnicities and confessions coexist under the rule of law and the dream of prosperity… A country that doesn’t represent a threat to itself and to its neighbors…

Taking back Palmyra from “ISIS” is not enough. Syria must be taken back from the herds of fighters who covered it with blood. The Syrian people should be entrusted with the fate of their country. They should live under a state of law and institutions… They should seek to rebuild their country and aspire for prosperity. I believe that all Arabs dream of a flourished a prosperous Syria. The same is applied to Libya, Yemen and Somalia.

A strong state is the passport to the future. Militias push us towards the past, to the road of bloody chaos that leads us to the abyss.

The Lebanese, too, must reclaim their country. Lebanon should not be regarded as a station for travellers, who quarrel over every political election, disregarding developmental issues. Lebanon deserves to be in a better situation. The Lebanese deserve to live under the rule of law under a serious and modern state, away from foreign and internal tutelage.

We must reclaim our countries. We must remember that the Soviet Union did not collapse while facing the NATO. It collapsed due to stagnation, sealed windows and falsification of the outcome of the five-year plans, and above all, the desire to expand its influence beyond its borders.

Stagnation is a deadly enemy. Failure is a huge explosive device. Waiting for a permanent strategy can have perilous consequences. We must drive our countries towards progress. We must build a natural state, a normal school and a government that deals with numbers and not with illusions. We must awaken to the desire of evolution. We must engage the youth in the battle of development. Singapore is not rich in natural resources. Japan’s growth was not based on oil wealth.

Knowledge is the new wealth. Risks of swimming in the river are much lower than the risks of residing permanently on the waterside.

It is high time we regain our countries and guide them towards hope and progress. The doors of the future cannot be opened with tears and despair.

Ghassan Charbel

Ghassan Charbel

Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

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Trying To Restore Religious Harmony In The Islamic World

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Restoring the Religious Discourse

Muftis, religious authorities, scholars, professors and politicians from China to the Americas all met in al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt, to discuss the international crisis facing Muslims and Islam as a religion. They all agreed that extremism and fundamentalism are dangerous threats that must be tackled.

At the conference of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Saudi deputy Minister for Islamic Affairs, Endowment, Dawa and Guidance Tawfiq al-Sudairi made the best and most direct speech. He called for restoring the religious discourse from the extremists and so-called educated people, who as he described had “harmed the religion’s tolerant teachings and who have been manipulated by opportunists.”

Sudairi called for “unifying efforts on the political, intellectual, security and religious fronts to confront deviant ideologies.”

It is unanimous that everyone is agreed against terrorism. This may also no longer need reiteration and reminders, because by far the most important matter which requires consensus and a plan of action is fighting the widespread extremism and fundamentalism.

No one can claim that terrorism can exist without extremism embracing and encouraging it.

It is impossible for a terrorist to grow up in and emerge from a moderate environment.

Even terrorists who have come out of liberal or tolerant societies are always victims of extremist ideologies in their societies in the virtual world, like chat rooms and social networks.

Tens of thousands have joined terrorist groups and all of them without exception are products of extremist rhetoric.

The truth is that terrorists, despite the threat they pose to the world, are less harmful than extremists.

The damage caused by extremists is far more harmful on Muslim societies and other communities. What extremists and fanatics do is worse than the deeds of organizations like ISIS and al-Nusra Front whose members are few among a sea of extremists.

Terrorism is the final step in the ladder of extremism. We cannot neutralize terrorism without fighting extremism. This is a truth that should always be in the mind of those involved in the matter.

Extremism must not be confused with extremist tendencies of some individual Muslims.

Muslim conservatives have the right to their beliefs and to practice their rituals as they deem appropriate. This is their right, as it is the case in all religions. However, this turns into extremism when they try to impose their views on everyone.

The most dangerous form of extremism is the mobile kind. It is usually based on exploiting religious activities that initially had no political purpose in the past, such as education, media, charity and collecting funds, and expanding operations to include students, women and foreigners.

These organized operations travelled to poor and regions and developed countries all over the world where they exploit wars, famine and injustice against some Muslims to plant seeds of extremism. Those seeds remain for a long time and eventually become a local culture.

If you can imagine this, then you can understand how extremism began and how terrorism emerged. You will also realize that combatting extremism is more important than fighting terrorism.

Sudairi’s statement at the conference in Cairo and his calls for the reestablishment of the religious discourse are at the core of this crisis. His suggestions should be the conference’s plan of action and agenda that require collective efforts to be achieved.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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Toyota May Build Its First Factory In Saudi Arabia: Allowing Women To Drive Would Double Market

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Riyadh – Attesting to the undeniable investment attraction that is Saudi Arabia, Japan’s market giant motor corporation, Toyota, announced plans to launch its first ever production factory in the Kingdom.

Such an announcement confirms that grand-scale companies trust in Saudi economy and view it with optimistic potential.

Speaking at a Japan-held forum, Chairman of the Japanese Business Federation Sadayuki Sakakibara, explored economic and investment cooperation between the Kingdom and Japan.

Sakakibara stressed the importance of the Kingdom’s economic role for Japan and the keenness of the Japanese business sector toward the achievement of the strategic economic and developmental objectives of the Saudi-Japanese Vision 2030 that aims to bolster bilateral cooperation

Earlier, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the National Industrial Cluster Development Program (NICDP) and the Toyota Motor Corporation for the feasibility study of an industrial project to produce vehicles and parts in the Kingdom.

“The study would take into account the evaluation of development of a local supply base using materials produced by major Saudi companies like Sabic, Maaden, Petro Rabigh, and other major industrial companies in the Kingdom,” the official Saudi state news agency reported.

It further aims to enhance the development and attraction of a Saudi workforce and put in place the adequate training programs.

Abdul Latif Jameel, as a local distributor for Toyota, will be also taking part in the joint feasibility study.

Toyota remains the leader in Saudi and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) car markets with more than 500,000 units sold in the GCC in 2016, according to SPA.

Moreover, on the third day of the fourth leg of a seven-nation Asian tour, the king attended the Saudi-Japanese Vision 2030 business forum aimed at strengthening bilateral ties.

King Salman was received at the forum by Minister of Economy and Planning Adel Fakeih and Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko.

The world’s two Islams: Not Speaking Of Sunni And Shiite But Of Hate Filled And The Peaceful

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

The World’s Two Islams

It is not possible to abolish Muslims or overlook the importance of Islam as a widespread and influential faith. There are over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world and 57 Muslim-majority countries.

Similar to other major religions, like Judaism and Christianity, Islam has many sects and schools of thought, and differs with other religions.

But despite all the differences, Muslims have in modern history never witnessed crises like the ones they are facing today. The worst thing that is happening is that their reputation is being tarnished.

Many believe that Muslims have become a problem at the security, political, and cultural levels. Based on the new conviction, anti-Muslim sentiment is no longer whispered but rather bluntly put into action by those who consider Muslims unwanted.

This sentiment exists among politicians and racists. If things develop as they wish for, we will witness a bigger crisis than the one we are dealing with now.

It is wrong to ignore suspicions on Muslims and Islam and the public and official backlash against them. In reality, the situation should be understood and dealt with.

Before that, we should stop denying that the problem is within the Muslim communities, and stop considering reactions against Islam and Muslims as pure racism. This doesn’t deny the role of racists and opportunists in fueling this bad image and instigating hate against Muslims.

The problem of Muslims in the world technically began with the Iranian revolution that claimed its intended to defend Islam and Muslims all over the world, using violence, mobilization, and movements.

Prior to that, Muslims were busy with their affairs and integrated peacefully with other communities. Everyone followed their creed and practiced their religion as they pleased.

But, the Tehran regime wanted to exploit Islam and Muslims. Its followers’ mantras became “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greater), with their head bands having religious and political slogans like: “Labbayka Khomeini” (At your service, Khomeini).

This is an ugly front that represents the new Islam which has nothing to do with the Muslims the world has known.

The scary faces of those holding diplomats as hostages against all ethics and morals, and of course against all religions, created a new slogan for a different Islam and different Muslims.

They resorted to creating cases that would only serve their political conflicts, like turning an unknown novel published in the UK into a motive to feed Muslim hate towards Britain, even though Iran itself had printed many novels and books considered blasphemous against Muslim beliefs and other religions.

Instigating hate and placing financial rewards for killing author Salman Rushdie is Iran’s political work act. Several incidents occurred – from attacking intellectuals to persecuting caricaturists and leaders of other religions.

For years Tehran had led Muslims like a herd, pretending to defend their religion, causes, communities and cultures. Then, al-Qaeda organization was created, following the same path and tarnishing the image of Islam.

That is how the bad Islam that the world hates was created.

We have been dragged into a large crater created by extremists in Iran and elsewhere. But this is not our Islam and we should not be defending theirs.

The world has two Islams: the Islam of Iran and other extremists, and the Islam of moderates. Not all Muslims are alike. We should support anyone who wants to stand against the tarnished Islam and extremists, because we are the ones affected by this “Islam”, those “Islamic regimes” and the groups that are loyal to it.

It is time to disavow the “Islam of Iran” “al-Qaeda” “ISIS” and all organizations that politicize religion. It is also time to denounce them is for the sake of Islam, individual faith and all Muslims in different countries.

Most conflicts between countries of the world are political and have nothing to do with religion. It shouldn’t be left to governments that want to recruit Muslims intellectually to win battles against their enemies. They don’t care how damaging that can be to relations among nations, or what happens to the majority and minority of peaceful Muslims in their countries.

They just want to emerge victorious through confrontation and chaos because they know they will lose once peace and moderation prevail.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad. He has a US post-graduate degree in mass communications, and has been a guest on many TV current affairs programs. He is currently based in Dubai.

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Iran After Khamenei: The Debate Starts

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Opinion

Iran after Khamenei: the Debate Starts

Is Tehran preparing the ground for the succession of “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei? Rife for many years, speculation attained a new degree of intensity earlier this month with a number of declarations by various officials, among them the revelation at a press conference by Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami that the Assembly of Experts, the organ supposed to choose the next “Supreme Guide”, had appointed a committee to pick candidates.

Khatami claimed that the committee had been in place for years, and had already “noted” 10 potential candidates whose names could only be supplied to Khamenei.

Both claims are open to question.

Khatami wants us to believe that there is neither immediacy nor urgency and that no single candidate could start building a profile as the successor.

Nevertheless, the fact that the issue is raised in public may be a sign that urgency is involved. The bit about “10 potential candidates” is designed to prevent the focalization of attention on any one of the mullahs regarded by Tehran political circles as possible successors to Khamenei.

The claim that the Assembly of Experts chooses the “Supreme Guide” is equally open to doubt.

The first “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini wasn’t elected but simply declared himself as a new Imam and acted as if he had divine mandate. Khamenei wasn’t elected either, but merely acclaimed by the Assembly after the late Hashemi Rafsanjani, flanked by Khomeini’s son Ahmad, claimed that the late “Imam” had designated “Ali Agha” as successor.

Khatami’s statement as spokesman for the Assembly of Experts, includes a hint that the next “Supreme Guide” may be named by Khamenei who will be given “the chosen names” with the implicit notion that he could strike any of them off, retaining the assembly’s position as nothing but a rubber stamp.

In regimes where one man holds absolute or semi-absolute power the temptation to dictate the future is always present.

In other words, the constitutional mechanism for electing the “Supreme Guide” has never been tested.

Foreign commentators often describe the Islamic Republic as a theocracy ruled by the “top mullah”. The truth is that the Islamic Republic is a secular regime that uses a religious narrative; in it, the mosque has been annexed by the state not the other way round. Nor is the “Supreme Guide” the “top mullah” by any stretch of imagination.

Khomeini was one of some 200 Ayatollahs and never considered by others as “supreme “ in anything. His limited knowledge of theology and history and his inability to master Persian and Arabic at a high level meant he would never attain the summit within the Shi’ite clerical hierarchy. Khomeini was a politician and owed his place in the Iranian panorama to the success of his political movement against various rivals and adversaries.

Khamenei’s knowledge of theology and history is certainly superior to that of Khomeini.
He also has a better command of both Persian and Arabic. Had Khamenei built a career within the Shi’ite clerical hierarchy he would have had a good chance of reaching higher rungs of the ladder than Khomeini.

Nevertheless, Khamenei has never been on that ladder.

From the start he has been a political figure, serving as Deputy Defense Minister and, later, President of the Republic.

The fact that the “Supreme Guide” dresses up as a mullah does not mean that he is head of the clergy, and even less that the clergy govern Iran. When Archbishop Makarios was President that didn’t mean that the Orthodox Christian priesthood ruled Cyprus. Nor did Archbishop Abel Muzorewa’s presidency symbolize rule by the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe.

Even Mullah Hassan, who briefly ruled Somalia, never claimed he was ruling on behalf of Islam; he called himself Shah. In old Yemen where Imam Yahya could claim he exercised on behalf of the Zaidi faith, he emphasized his political rather than any religious function as a member of the ulema.

Thus, the post of the “Supreme Guide” in Iran’s Islamic Republic is a political one and choosing its occupant is a political process.

And in any domain that is political what matters is to mobilize energies needed for winning power.

Propelling Khamenei as Khomeini’s successor was relatively easy.

The traditional clergy was anxious not to get involved in politics and had no desire to advance any of its leaders as candidate for the post. More importantly, Rafsanjani’s scheme was to enlarge the powers of the President of the Republic, a post he soon captured for himself, by reducing that of the “Supreme Guide”.

Rafsanjani’s calculation didn’t work. Khamenei did not turn out to be the quiet and obedient little mullah more interested in committing poetry than exercising power. He acted the opposite of the role that Rafsanjani has scripted for him by enlarging the powers of the “Supreme Guide”.

Moreover, while Rafsanjani applied his energies to enriching his family and entourage, Khamenei surrounded himself with a new generation of the military, men who now occupy all key positions of command in the army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, the Baseej (Mobilization) and the regime’s security services.

If Khamenei, soon to be 78, lives as long as Khomeini he may be around for another decade. But even if he stumbles his successor won’t be chosen by the “Assembly of Experts” but by military-security networks that provide the backbone of the system.

Rafsanjani and his associates have talked of constitutional reform for years. In his last speech, Rafsanjani suggested that the constitution be amended without spelling out what he meant. A similar call has come from Ayatollah Nateq Nuri former Speaker of the Islamic Majlis, Iran’s ersatz parliament.

One idea is to officialize the political nature of the “Supreme Guide” by merging it with the post of the President. Another idea is to de-emphasize its political aspect by creating a five-mullah council charged with nothing more than deciding whether legislation conforms to Islamic tenets. That means promoting the President, which currently has little real power, as head of state, commander of the armed forces and ultimate decision-maker on executive matters.

Radical critics of the regime, argue that Khamenei’s demise should signal the end of the Islamic Republic itself, allowing Iranians to choose a different path for their nation.

Whatever happens next, one thing is clear: the debate has already started on the future of Iran after Khamenei.

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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