Saudi Replaces Foreign Minister Less Than A Year After Appointment

 

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman appointed a new foreign minister on Wednesday, according to a royal decree issued less than a year after his predecessor took office.

Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, who has been serving as ambassador to Germany, will replace Ibrahim al-Assaf, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) cited the decree as saying.

Assaf will be demoted to minister of state, the SPA reported, having replaced Adel al-Jubeir in December 2018, two months after the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

Assaf had been detained in 2017 in an anti-corruption sweep.

Saudi officials say he was released after being cleared of any wrongdoing, and he subsequently led a government delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year.

Saud will take office as the kingdom continues to deal with the aftermath of Khashoggi’s killing, widely seen as the kingdom’s worst diplomatic crisis since the September 11 attacks, in which most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi nationals.

The 45-year-old new foreign minister served as a key advisor at the Saudi embassy in Washington during the time of Khashoggi’s murder in October.

Farhan has “strong ties with ‘the West'”, tweeted Cinzia Bianco, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“He is dynamic and proactive. The ministry will likely be different than what we saw with Adel al-Jubeir and Ibrahim al-Assaf.”

She told AFP on Wednesday that Farhan “has really strong ties with traditional Saudi allies, US and even a more European outlook than would be traditionally the case”.

Elana DeLozier, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told AFP it was still not immediately clear why the replacements took place.

“Al-Jubeir, the foreign minister previously, is still rather present in the foreign policy scene,” she said.

“In fact, he has remained more prominent in the media than Assaf.”

Regional Tensions

Saudi King Salman also replaced the transport minister, Nabil al-Amoudi, with Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser on Wednesday.

This comes after 35 foreigners were killed when a bus collided with another heavy vehicle near the Islamic holy city of Medina last week.

Transporting worshippers around the holy sites, particularly during the hajj, is a huge challenge for Saudi Arabia.

During the pilgrimage, the roads can be chaotic with thousands of buses creating interminable traffic jams.

The kingdom has also been navigating a spike in tensions with its regional arch-rival Iran, with attacks on Saudi oil facilities last month that temporarily halved the kingdom’s crude output and sent prices soaring.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels claimed responsibility, but US officials blamed Tehran, charging that the rebels did not have the range or sophistication to target the facilities.

Tehran has denied involvement and warned of “total war” in the event of any attack on its territory.

Earlier this month, an Iranian tanker was hit in suspected missile strikes off the coast of Saudi Arabia, sparking new fears of war.

‘Never Threaten An Iranian’, Foreign Minister Condemns Trump’s Comments

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures during a press conference in Tehran. 
ATTA KENARE / AFP

 

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Monday the “genocidal taunts” of US President Donald Trump will not “end Iran”, amid a spike in tensions between the two countries.

“Iranians have stood tall for millennia while aggressors all gone. Economic terrorism and genocidal taunts won’t ‘end Iran’,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.

“Never threaten an Iranian. Try respect — it works!” he added.

The comments by Iran’s top diplomat follow an ominous warning by Trump, who on Sunday suggested the Islamic republic would be destroyed if it attacked US interests.

READ ALSO: If Tehran Attacks, It Will Be ‘Official End Of Iran’ – Trump

“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again,” Trump tweeted.

Relations between Washington and Tehran plummeted a year ago when Trump pulled out of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and imposed tough sanctions.

Tensions have risen further this month with Washington announcing further economic measures against Tehran, before deploying a carrier group and B-52 bombers to the Gulf over unspecified Iranian “threats”.

The claim has been met with widespread scepticism outside the United States.

The Trump administration last week ordered non-essential diplomatic staff out of Iraq, citing threats from Iranian-backed Iraqi armed groups.

On Sunday a rocket was fired into the Green Zone of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, which houses government offices and embassies including the US mission. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.

AFP

Canada Mourns As 18 Citizens Perish In Ethiopian Plane Crash

Canadian Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland.                                                           Credit: AFP

 

Canada’s foreign minister on Sunday deplored the “terrible news” that 18 Canadian nationals were among the 157 people killed in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines jetliner.

“Terrible news from Addis Ababa this morning,” Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Twitter. “My heartfelt condolences to all those who have lost loved ones.”

She said the Ottawa government was in “close contact” with Ethiopian authorities to gather more information.

READ ALSO: Nigerian Ambassador, Abiodun Bashua Aboard Ill-Fated Ethiopian Plane

The Nairobi-bound Boeing 737 crashed minutes after an early-morning takeoff Sunday from Addis Ababa.

People holding passports from more than 30 countries and the UN were on board, but Canadians, with 18 victims, trailed only the 32 Kenyans who died in the crash.

The plane plowed into a field southeast of Addis Ababa, the airline’s CEO Tewolde GebreMariam told journalists in the Ethiopian capital, lamenting the “very sad and tragic day.”

The crash came on the eve of a major assembly in Nairobi of the UN Environment Program, but that agency did not say whether any delegates were on the plane.

State-owned Ethiopian Airline, Africa’s largest carrier, had taken delivery of the Boeing 737-800 MAX plane only on November 15.

The aircraft was of the same type as a plane that crashed in October shortly after takeoff from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board.

AFP

Iran President Rejects Foreign Minister Zarif’s Resignation

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani  ATTA KENARE / AFP

 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s resignation on Wednesday, the government’s official website said.

“I believe your resignation is against the country’s interests and do not approve it,” Rouhani wrote in a letter to Zarif, the website said.

“I consider you, as put by the leader, to be ‘trustworthy, brave and pious’ and in the forefront of resistance against America’s all-out pressure,” he added. referring to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Zarif abruptly tendered his resignation on Instagram on Monday, seemingly over being left out of meetings with visiting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earlier in the day, Iran’s Entekhab news agency reported.

Assad, a major recipient of Iranian aid during his country’s nearly eight-year civil war, met with both Khamenei and Rouhani on his rare foreign visit, but not with Zarif.

READ ALSO: Iran Foreign Minister Zarif Announces Resignation On Instagram

Rouhani praised Zarif’s “relentless efforts and endeavours” in bearing the “heavy responsibility” of the foreign affairs portfolio.

He stressed that Zarif was the point man in the conduct of Iran’s foreign policy.

“As ordered several times, all bodies — including government or state bodies — must be in full coordination with this ministry with regards to foreign relations,” the president said in his letter.

Entekhab said it tried to reach Zarif after Assad’s visit and received the following message: “After the photos of today’s meetings, Javad Zarif no longer has any credibility in the world as the foreign minister!”

AFP

Iran Foreign Minister Zarif Announces Resignation On Instagram

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures during a press conference in Tehran.  ATTA KENARE / AFP

 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was the lead negotiator in a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, has abruptly tendered his resignation, although there was no sign President Hassan Rouhani had accepted it.

Zarif offered an apology for his “shortcomings” in the unexpected message on Instagram on Monday, with prominent members of parliament immediately calling for Rouhani not to accept the resignation.

Zarif, 59, has served as Rouhani’s foreign minister since August 2013 and has been under constant pressure from hardliners who opposed his policy of detente with the West.

“I apologise for my inability to continue serving and for all the shortcomings during my term in office,” Zarif said in the message posted on his verified Instagram account.

He thanked Iranians and “respected officials” for their support “in the last 67 months”.

READ ALSO: Top Vatican Cardinal Pell Found Guilty Of Child Sex Abuse

The resignation was confirmed by an informed source, however, in a tweet, Rouhani’s chief of staff strongly denied reports it had been accepted by the president.

Zarif gave no explanation for his resignation.

But it came hours after a surprise visit to Tehran by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been a major recipient of Iranian aid during his country’s nearly eight-year civil war, and Iran’s Entekhab news agency reported the two appeared to be linked.

According to the semi-official ISNA news agency, Zarif was not present at any of Assad’s meetings with Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Rouhani.

Entekhab said it tried to reach Zarif and received the following message: “After the photos of today’s meetings, Javad Zarif no longer has any credibility in the world as the foreign minister!”

In an interview with the conservative Jomhoori Eslami daily published on Tuesday, Zarif said: “everything will be lost, when there is no trust in the manager of foreign policy.”

 Support petition 

Mostafa Kavakebian, a reformist MP, was among those urging Rouhani not to accept Zarif’s resignation.

“Undoubtedly the Iranian people, government and state will not benefit from this resignation,” he said.

“A great majority of MPs demand that the president never accept this resignation,” he said in a tweet.

ISNA reported that a petition in support of Zarif had been signed by a majority of MPs.

Top US diplomat Mike Pompeo dismissed his counterpart’s announcement, tweeting: “We note @JZarif’s resignation. We’ll see if it sticks.

“Either way, he and @HassanRouhani are just front men for a corrupt religious mafia.

“We know @khamenei_ir makes all final decisions. Our policy is unchanged — the regime must behave like a normal country and respect its people,” he said. referring to Iran’s supreme leader.

The head of parliament’s influential national security and foreign policy committee told ISNA how a planned trip to Geneva with Zarif on Monday afternoon had been cancelled at the last minute without explanation.

“I suddenly got a text message saying the trip has been cancelled,” Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh told ISNA, adding that this was not the first time Zarif had resigned.

“That he has done so publicly this time means that he wants the president to accept it this time,” he added.

 ‘Daggers from behind’ 

Zarif’s standing within Iran’s political establishment took a hit when US President Donald Trump abandoned the nuclear accord last year and reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions.

The faceoff between the minister and his critics only intensified as time passed, with Zarif saying his main concerns throughout the nuclear talks had been about pressure from inside Iran.

“We were more worried by the daggers that were struck from behind than the negotiations,” he told the Jomhoori Eslami newspaper in a February 2 interview.

“The other side never managed to wear me down during the negotiations… but internal pressure wore me down both during and after the talks.”

The latest point of contention between Zarif and hardliners has been the implementation of the Financial Action Task Force’s requirements regarding money laundering in Iran.

The rift on the issue, which has been on of the obstacles to Zarif’s efforts to maintain European trade and investment despite the renewed US sanctions on Iran, has pitched the government against parliament and the Expediency Council, a key arbitration body.

In his interview with Jomhoori Eslami, Zarif said partisan disputes over foreign policy were “a deadly poison.”

On Sunday, ISNA reported that Zarif had warned the Expediency Council, it should “understand the consequences of its decision.”

His comments were swiftly seized on by ultra-conservative MPs who had made an aborted attempt to impeach him last year.

They accused him of threatening the council.

AFP

Rwandan Foreign Minister Elected Francophonie Head

 

The world organization of French-speaking nations on Friday elected Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo as its new head despite her country’s shift to English a decade ago and controversy over its rights record. 

Mushikiwabo was elected in a suspense-free vote on the last day of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF) summit in the Armenian capital Yerevan. She will replace Canadian politician Michaelle Jean.

The 57-year-old visited dozens of countries to campaign for support and received the backing of the African Union as well as the crucial support of France.

Ironically Rwanda, a former Belgian colony where French was the lingua franca, switched to English as the language of education in 2008 and joined the Commonwealth a year after.

Her election is a victory for both Rwandan strongman Paul Kagame and French President Emmanuel Macron, who have sought to improve relations between their two nations, long fraught due to Kigali’s accusations of French complicity in the 1994 genocide that killed at least 800,000, mostly Tutsis.

Her candidacy sparked criticism with Rwanda under fire over human rights violations and Kagame’s controversial constitutional changes that allow him to extend his stay in power.

“Rwanda is far from having a political regime that respects individual and political freedoms, while the charter of the Francophonie assigns primary importance to these principles as a core of its fundamental values,” France’s former minister of Cooperation and the Francophonie, Pierre-Andre Wiltzer, told AFP.

“Seeking the leadership of the Francophonie is clearly part of Rwanda’s goal for a greater continental and global role,” said Elissa Jobson who researches the African Union (AU) for the International Crisis Group think tank.

“It’s a significant move given Rwanda’s frosty relations with France, its adoption of English as the country’s main language and its admission to the Commonwealth.”

Established in 1970, the OIF unites the world’s French-speaking countries.

It has 58 members and 26 observers which together account for a population of over 900 million people, including 274 million French speakers.

French is currently the world’s fifth most spoken language after Mandarin Chinese, English, Spanish and Arabic, according to official French estimates.

AFP

South Africa’s Apartheid-Era Foreign Minister Pik Botha Dies At 86

In this file photo taken on October 14, 1997, Pik Botha, former South African foreign minister, listens to questions from members of the TRC (truth and reconciliation commission) in Johannesburg. Apartheid-era South African foreign minister Roelof “Pik” Botha has died at the age of 86 in Pretoria, local media reported on October 12, 2018.
Odd ANDERSEN / AFP

Former South African foreign minister Roelof “Pik” Botha, whose long career in government straddled both the apartheid era and the presidency of Nelson Mandela, has died aged 86, local media reported on Friday.

Both served as foreign minister for 17 years until the end of apartheid in 1994, and then joined Mandela’s cabinet after the end of white-minority rule and the country’s first non-racial election in 1994.

“As you know, originally we were enemies,” Botha told the BBC in 2013.

“From our point of view, (Mandela) led an organization which we regarded as a terrorist organization and they saw themselves as freedom fighters.

“Of course all that had to change. It is not always that simple and easy to change mental attitudes, mindsets but eventually it did change. He played the role of a savior.”

Botha was described by some as a “good man working for a bad government” despite years defending the apartheid system.

He had several clashes with the hardline government of President P.W. Botha, who was no relation.

In 1985, he drafted a speech that suggested Mandela could be released from prison — which did not happen until 1990.

The following year he said that the country could one day be ruled by a black president, earning a public rebuke from his boss.

Both served as mines and energy minister in Mandela’s government before retiring in 1996.

Piet Botha told News24 that his father died in his sleep during the night.

“His wife Ina was with him until the end,” he said.

“He was very sick during the last three weeks and his body just couldn’t take it anymore”.

AFP

Spain Denies ‘Mass’ Migration, Says Europe Needs ‘New Blood’

Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Josep Borrell addresses a joint press conference next to his Jordan counterpart Ayman Al Safadi (unseen) in Madrid, Spain, 30 July 2018. (EPA Photo)

 

Spain’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell denied Monday that the country was experiencing “mass” immigration and said Europe needed “new blood” to compensate for a low birth rate.

“We’re trivialising the word ‘mass’,” he told reporters after talks in Madrid with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi.

Close to 21,000 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea since the beginning of the year and 304 died in the attempt, the International Organization for Migration says.

The Libya-Italy Mediterranean route, which was the main one until recently, has dwindled by 80 per cent while Spain has now become the main destination for migrants trying to reach Europe.

Migrants are also reaching Spain by land, with 602 managing to scramble over the double barrier between Morocco and the Spanish territory of Ceuta in North Africa last Thursday, throwing caustic quicklime, excrement and stones onto police below.

Borrell recognised that “this shocks public opinion and the disorderly nature of immigration produces fear.”

But he said it was all relative, and “600 people is not massive compared to 1.3 million” Syrian refugees currently in Jordan.

“We’re talking about 20,000 (migrants) so far this year for a country of more than 40 million inhabitants,” the Socialist minister said.

“That’s not a mass migration.”

Borrell also said the arrivals were under control, even if NGOs are warning that many migrant reception centres in Spain are saturated.

He suggested this could even help Europe, where many countries have a low birth rate.

“Europe’s demographic evolution shows that unless we want to gradually turn into an ageing continent, we need new blood, and it doesn’t look like this new blood is coming from our capacity to procreate.”

AFP

Taiwan Foreign Minister Resigns After Burkina Faso Cuts Ties

 Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu tendered his resignation after Burkina Faso announced it was breaking diplomatic ties with the island. SAM YEH / AFP

 

Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu Thursday tendered his resignation after Burkina Faso announced it was breaking diplomatic ties with the island.

“As a government official, I must be responsible for policies, and I have verbally tendered my resignation to the president,” Wu told a press conference.

Wu added that Taipei was cutting relations with Burkina Faso “to safeguard our sovereignty and dignity” and halting bilateral aid and cooperation programmes.

Burkina Faso is the second country to dump Taiwan within weeks after the Dominican Republic switched recognition to Beijing earlier this month, leaving the island with only 18 diplomatic allies around the world.

It was not immediately clear if Burkina Faso and China would establish diplomatic relations but Wu said it would only be “sooner or later” and that “everyone knows China is the only factor”.

“Why China chose now to steal our ally, everyone can see although we couldn’t go into the WHA (World Health Assembly), but we are developing deeper relations with more and more like-minded countries. I believe China can see this,” he said.

Wu’s comments came after the landlocked west African state said earlier Thursday that it was breaking diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

“The Burkina government decided today to break off its diplomatic relationship with Taiwan,” Foreign Minister Alpha Barry said, in an announcement that follows a string of similar moves by African states since 2000.

“Since 1994, Burkina Faso has had cooperation relations with Taiwan,” Barry said in a statement.

“But today, changes in the world, the current socio-economic challenges facing our country and our region call on us to reconsider our position.”

China still considers Taiwan to be a renegade province to be reunified, by force if necessary, even though they split in 1949 after a civil war.

The two have been engaged for years in a diplomatic tug-of-war in developing countries. Economic support and other aid are often used as bargaining chips for diplomatic recognition.

Relations between Taiwan and China have worsened since President Tsai Ing-wen took office in May 2016 as her government refuses to acknowledge that Taiwan is part of “one China.”

AFP

France Condemns United States Over Iran Sanctions

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian looks on during a joint press conference with his German counterpart prior to a meeting to discuss the EU, common defence policy and international issues on May 7, 2018 in Berlin. Tobias Schwarz / AFP

 

France’s foreign minister on Thursday condemned the United States for reimposing sanctions against foreign companies trading with Iran, labelling the move “unacceptable” in comments that expose the deepening rift between Washington and its European allies on the issue.

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump announced he was pulling out of a landmark deal curbing Iran’s nuclear program and reintroducing sanctions on the Islamic republic and those who trade with it.

The decision overturned years of painstaking diplomacy and left European allies scrambling to save the hard-fought deal.

Washington has given European firms doing business in Iran up to six months to wind up investments or risk US sanctions and they are also forbidden from signing any new contracts with Iran.

On Thursday France’s top diplomat Jean-Yves Le Drian slammed those conditions, saying Washington needed to negotiate with its European allies on any sanctions that might affect their companies.

“We feel that the extraterritoriality of their sanction measures are unacceptable,” he told the French daily Le Parisien.

“The Europeans should not have to pay for the withdrawal of an agreement by the United States, to which they had themselves contributed,” he said.

Europeans, he added, would “do everything to protect the interests of their companies” and planned to lead “tight negotiations” with Washington via the European Union.

Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran deal has left his country diplomatically isolated.

Tehran agreed in 2015 to curb its uranium enrichment programme in exchange for sanctions relief after mammoth negotiations with the US, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, China and Russia.

All the other signatories to the deal had called on Trump to stay with the agreement and condemned his decision to leave — although Le Drian’s criticisms are some of the most forceful yet from a key European ally.

AFP

Mexico Wall: Trump Condemned Over Imports Tax Proposal

President Donald Trump Backs Controversial Oil Pipelines Mexico has condemned a U.S suggestion that it may impose a 20% tax on Mexican imports to pay for President Donald Trump’s planned border wall.

According to the BBC, Foreign Minister, Luis Videgaray, says such tax would make Mexican imports more expensive for U.S consumers and they would end up paying for the wall.

The Mexican President, Enrique Pena Nieto, cancelled a visit to the U.S amid the row of who would pay for the barrier.

In a message to the nation, Nieto had “lamented” plans to construct the barrier, adding that “Mexico doesn’t believe in walls”.

The planned wall was one of Mr Trump’s key election campaign pledges.

Earlier this week, the president signed an executive order to create a wall along the 2,000-mile U.S-Mexico border.

Media As ‘Opposition Party’

Meanwhile, in another development, Trump’s Chief strategist has described the U.S mainstream media as “the opposition party”, saying it should “keep its mouth shut”.

Stephen Bannon also told the New York Times that news organisations had been “humiliated” by their failure to anticipate Mr Trump’s election victory.

Media outlets have clashed with the White House, over the number of people that attended Mr trump’s inauguration.

They have also questioned his claim about millions of illegal votes being cast during the election.

Syria Conflict: US, Russia Meet

john kerry and Sergei Lavrov on syria conflictAs the West seeks to find a solution to the crisis in Syria, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry has arrived in Moscow for talks to try to bridge gaps with Russia.

He is due to have meetings with President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov on Monday.

The US and Russia have long disagreed on what role Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad should play in the process.

The US wants Mr Assad to stand down but the Kremlin believes that decision lies with the Syrian people.

As the meeting with Mr Lavrov began, Mr Kerry said: “The world benefits when powerful nations can find common ground and I hope today, we can find some common ground.”

On Islamic State, he said Russia and the US both agreed it was “a threat to every country, these are the worst of terrorists, they leave no choice but for civilised nations to join together and push them back and destroy them”.

Mr Kerry will try to prepare the ground for an international meeting on Syria mooted for later this week. Mr Lavrov said the Islamic State (ISIS) issue was not limited to Syria, as the group was also active in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

He also said that the meeting would cover the matter of Ukraine, with its continued division between the Western-backed government in Kiev and the Russian-backed separatists in its East.

Russia has been carrying out air strikes targeting ISIS positions in Syria, but the US accuses Russia of bombing moderate rebels.