Top US diplomat Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Wednesday to counter Iranian “aggression” as the two met in Jerusalem, weeks ahead of Israel’s elections.
Netanyahu said US President Donald Trump’s pressure on Iran was already having an effect, referring to his withdrawal from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and the re-imposition of sanctions.
“We need to increase it, we need to expand it, and together the United States and Israel are working in close coordination to roll back Iranian aggression in the region and around the world,” the premier told journalists after Pompeo arrived.
Pompeo spoke of a Middle East conference in Warsaw last month that included Arab nations as well as Israel, saying the discussions involved efforts “to stop Iran’s regional rampage” among other issues.
The US secretary of state also noted Iranian calls for Israel’s destruction.
“With such threats a daily reality of Israeli life, we maintain our unparalleled commitment to Israel’s security and firmly support your right to defend yourself,” he said.
Netanyahu reiterated his pledge to keep Iran from entrenching itself militarily in neighbouring Syria, where the Islamic republic backs President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets.
“There is no limitation to our freedom of action, and we appreciate very much the fact that the United States backs up our actions as we do them,” Netanyahu said.
The premier, facing a stiff challenge from a centrist alliance in April 9 polls, will also visit Washington next week and meet with Trump twice while there.
They see the Eastern part of the disputed city as the capital of their future state and have said Washington’s pro-Israel bias meant the US could no longer be the main mediator in a stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.
The council also discussed, at the request of Kuwait and Indonesia, Israel’s decision to withhold tax transfers from the Palestinian Authority over its payments to prisoners jailed for attacks on Israelis.
“This is Palestinian money. They shouldn’t withhold it,” said the Kuwaiti ambassador.
Diplomats said the United States was a lone voice in defence of Israel at the closed-door council meeting, with the Europeans and others arguing that the payments should resume.
Greenblatt did not answer questions from reporters after the meeting.
Pope Francis on Saturday voiced concern that Christians will disappear from the Middle East amid “murderous indifference” as war rages on.
“The Middle East has become a land of people who leave their own lands behind,” Francis said.
He was addressing the leaders of almost all the Middle Eastern churches gathered in the Italian port city of Bari to pray for peace in the region.
“There is also the danger that the presence of our brothers and sisters in the faith will disappear, disfiguring the very face of the region,” the Pope warned.
“For a Middle East without Christians would not be the Middle East.
“Indifference kills, and we desire to lift up our voices in opposition to this murderous indifference.”
Among those attending the ecumenical meeting in southern Italy are the Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the spiritual leader of the eastern orthodox church, and Metropolitan Hilarion of the Russian Orthodox church which is powerful in Syria.
Patriarch Tawadros II is representing Egypt’s orthodox Copts alongside six patriarchs of Eastern Catholic churches.
“We want to give a voice to those who have none, to those who can only wipe away their tears,” the pope said ahead of talks with the church leaders.
“For the Middle East, today is weeping, suffering and silent as others trample upon those lands in search of power or riches.”
Francis described the region as “the crossroads of civilisations and the cradle of the great monotheistic religions”.
“Yet this region … has been covered by dark clouds of war, violence and destruction, instances of occupation and varieties of fundamentalism, forced migration and neglect.
“All this has taken place amid the complicit silence of many.”
More than 350,000 people have been killed since Syria’s brutal civil war began in 2011, with millions more displaced.
The percentage of Christians living in the Middle East has fallen from 20 percent before World War One to four percent today, according to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Pope Francis said Wednesday he was “very worried” by escalating violence in the Middle East after 60 Gazans were shot dead by Israeli troops while protesting the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem.
“I am very worried about the escalation of tensions in the Holy Land and the Middle East, and about the spiral of violence which moves us ever further away from the path of peace, dialogue and negotiation,” he said during his weekly audience at the Vatican.
“I express my great sorrow for the dead and wounded and I am close through prayer and affection to all those who suffer,” he added.
Calling for “dialogue, justice and peace,” Francis said violence “has never led to peace. War incites war, violence incites violence.”
Israel has come under mounting international pressure after its forces opened fire on the Gaza border on Monday, killing 60 protesters who had massed alongside the fence to protest as the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
At least 2,400 other Palestinians were wounded in what was the bloodiest day of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the 2014 Gaza war.
Francis has on several occasions expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, indirectly criticising US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital.
Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the thorniest issue of the decades-long conflict, with Israeli claiming the entire Holy City as its capital while the Palestinians want the eastern sector as capital of their future state.
Israel occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War, later annexing the eastern sector of the city in a move never recognised by the international community.
The White House on Friday slammed Iran for its “reckless actions” that it warned pose a “severe threat” to stability in the Middle East.
The statement came after Iranian forces in Syria were accused by Israel of launching some 20 missiles into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, prompting Israeli strikes against positions held by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) inside Syria.
The White House said that Iran “pours resources into exporting destabilizing influence throughout the Middle East, even as the Iranian people are victims of a struggling economy.”
“Already this week, the IRGC has fired rockets at Israeli citizens, and Iran’s proxies in Yemen have launched a ballistic missile at Riyadh.
“These actions are further proof that the Iranian regime’s reckless actions pose a severe threat to regional peace and security.
“It is time for responsible nations to bring pressure on Iran to change this dangerous behavior.”
Iran is backing the Shiite Huthi rebels in Yemen’s civil war. The Huthis are battling a Saudi-led coalition that supports Yemen’s government.
Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on Tuesday called for an international conference to be held by mid-2018 to launch a new, wider Middle East peace process and pave the way to Palestinian statehood.
In a rare address to the UN Security Council, Abbas presented what he called a “peace plan” to revive the comatose Israeli-Palestinian talks with a new international mediation — in which the United States would play less of a predominant role.
President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital infuriated the Palestinians, who declared that Washington could no longer play a role as lead mediator in the Middle East peace process.
“To solve the Palestine question, it is essential to establish a multilateral international mechanism emanating from an international conference,” Abbas said.
Abbas put the blame for the failure of peace efforts squarely on Israel, saying it was “acting as a state above the law” and had “shut the door on the two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He said the conference would be attended by Israel and the Palestinians, regional players, the five permanent Security Council members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — and the diplomatic Quartet comprised of the European Union, United Nations, Russia and the United States.
The gathering should lead to full UN membership for the state of Palestine, mutual recognition of Israel and Palestine, and the creation of a new international mechanism to reach a final settlement, he said.
The Palestinian leader immediately left the council chamber following his address, leaving Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon to complain that he was once again “running away” from dialogue.
“You have made it clear, with your words and with your actions, that you are no longer part of the solution. You are the problem,” Danon said.
Path to ‘nowhere’
Taking the floor, US Ambassador Nikki Haley warned that turning to the United Nations and rejecting the US role in peace talks “will get the Palestinian people exactly nowhere toward the achievement of their aspirations.”
Haley was accompanied to the council meeting by Jason Greenblatt, the US envoy for Middle East peace and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in law and adviser on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
“Our negotiators are sitting right behind us, ready to talk,” she said, before adding: “But we will not chase after you. The choice, Mister President, is yours.”
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been deadlocked since a major push by the administration of Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama ended in failure in April 2014.
The Trump administration is preparing a new peace plan even though chances for agreement appear dim.
The Palestinians hope that greater international involvement in the peace process will serve to counter what they see as a US stance biased in favor of Israel.
Israel, which often accuses the European Union and the United Nations of bias against it, is reluctant to accept any other mediator than the United States.
France, which hosted a Middle East peace conference in Paris last year, said it was ready to examine Abbas’ proposal for a revamped approach.
Such an approach “would not cast doubt over the role of the United States, whose engagement in support of the peace process is indispensable,” said French Ambassador Francois Delattre.
The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and UN resolutions call on countries to refrain from moving their embassies to the city until its status is resolved in an Israeli-Palestinian deal.
In December, the General Assembly voted 128-9, with 35 abstentions, to reject the US decision to recognize Jerusalem.
That vote in the 193-nation assembly came after 14 of the 15 council members voted in favour of a similar measure. The United States vetoed that draft resolution.
Tensions have also flared over the US decision to cut funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
The United Nations granted Palestine the status of a non-member observer state in 1992, but an upgrade to full membership would require unanimous backing from the Security Council — an unlikely outcome, given the near-certainty of a US veto.
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Wednesday, beginning a new United States effort to revive long-fractured Middle East peace efforts.
Kushner, a 36-year-old real estate developer with little experience of international diplomacy or political negotiation, arrived in Israel on Wednesday morning and will spend barely 20 hours on the ground — he leaves shortly after midnight.
Israeli and U.S. officials provided no information on what was to be discussed and there are no plans for Kushner to speak to the media or take any questions, maintaining the circumspect profile he has established since Trump took office.
Later on Wednesday, he will travel to Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after Iftar, the evening meal that breaks the Ramadan fast.
Despite the floods in Europe, a French-led conference aimed at reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is to begin in Paris later.
It will bring together officials from the Middle East quartet, the UN, Arab League and other countries – but Israel and the Palestinians will not participate.
Israel has rejected the meeting and called for direct negotiations.
The last round of talks between Israel and the Palestinians came to an end amid acrimony in April 2014.
The Palestinians accused Israel of reneging on a deal to free prisoners, while Israel said it would not continue negotiations after the Palestinians decided to bring the Islamist Hamas movement into a unity government.
Meanwhile, meteorologists in France are predicting that France will experience its most severe floods in decade on Friday, with the River Seine due to reach 19 feet above its normal level.
Flooding across France and Germany has left at least 11 people dead and forced thousands from their homes.
More downpours are also forecast through the weekend across a band of central Europe from France to Ukraine
President Muhammadu Buhari has reiterated Nigeria’s support for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its efforts to stop the spread of terror in the Middle East.
President Buhari said this on Tuesday at a meeting with King Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz in Riyadh, where the two leaders engaged in extensive discussions on regional and global issues.
President Buhari, who was making his first pronouncement on the invitation to join the coalition of Islamic States against terror, congratulated the kingdom of Saudi Arabia on its formation.
“Even if we are not a part of it, we support you. I must thank the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the recent creation of a coalition to address the menace of international terrorism.
“Nigeria will support your efforts in keeping peace and stopping the spread of terror in your region. This is in consonance with our own commitment and ongoing efforts in seeking to stamp out Boko Haram terrorists from the West African sub-region and Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC),” the President said.
Problem Of Terrorism Speaking on global terror generally, President Buhari stressed the need for various nations to come together to tackle the menace.
“International terrorism made a statement by attacking one of the advanced countries by carrying out an attack on Paris in which 130 were killed. Now we have to come together to find a common solution to the problem of terrorism,” he said.
The President also thanked the Saudi government for its continuing support to Nigeria in the fight against terrorism.
President Buhari regretted that the late Libyan leader, Muammar Ghaddafi, recruited, trained and armed citizens of many states in the Sahel region, lamenting that with Ghaddafi’s fall, these mercenaries have returned to their countries, “doing nothing but to shoot and kill”.
He cited Burkina Faso and Mali as the main victims but expressed happiness that the countries neighbouring the Lake Chad have tightened their ranks to finish off the Boko Haram threat.
“Luckily, we have cultivated our neighbours. We are now working together against Boko Haram, otherwise the problem would have become worse,” he said.
In his remarks, King Salman commended the progress made by Nigeria in combating terrorism and promised to give further support and assistance.
He welcomed the support of the Nigerian government for the new anti-terrorism coalition and implored President Buhari to consider its full membership.
King Salman also pledged his full support and cooperation to Nigeria under its present leadership and directed all agencies of his government to follow up on the discussions.
“I now instruct my team to go and sit down with your relevant agencies to push forward cooperation between our states,” he said.
President Buhari and King Salman expressed hope that the Libyan factions would soon see reason to reunite and restore fully their own country so as to save the world from further terrorism spin-offs from that country.
Both leaders expressed commitment to a stable oil market and a rebound of oil prices.
They also focused on trade between their states and agreed to give fresh impetus to the joint commission previously established in order to boost commercial and other activities to unify their citizens.
Both Leaders ‘Committed’ To Oil Price Stability
The two leaders “committed themselves to doing all that is possible to stabilize the market and rebound the oil price”, Garba Shehu said in a statement.
The two leaders accepted the fact that their two economies are tied to oil, adding that all cannot be well with both countries when the world oil market is unstable, he added.
A Nigerian Energy Economist has given some clues as to what might be affecting the country’s dwindling economy.
Approaching the problem of the dwindling economy from the energy sector, Mr Onuoha Nnachi said that there are two key factors affecting the oil price which in turn, affects the Nigerian economy.
Speaking on Channels Television’s Sunrise Daily on Friday, Mr Nnachi said: “The evolution of shale gas oil production and the crisis across the Middle East, have deeply affected the Nigerian economy.
“Before the shale production started, the shale existence has been known to everybody in the industry, but the technology that would allow you do the drilling, was very high in terms of cost – the cost has been driven by the United State technologist, who had invested so much in his research,” he explained.
Giving his opinion about the increase in price of crude oil, the Energy Economist stated that the government should create higher demand of the crude oil.
“One of the key options in creating higher demand is to increase the energy consumption of the globe, the developed country should be pushed to development.
“Africa stands a chance of benefiting from the development in terms of increasing energy demand,” he said.
Answering a question on what the country has done so far to solve the problem of dwindling economy, Mr Nnachi said that “the situation today, is redefining the global alliance and that is a new evolution of the world, we have to accept it.
“Today, global alliance is shifting – oil no longer moves from the Middle East to North America, South and back to Europe.
“Coming down to our own nation, people have said in time past that Nigeria is not an oil nation, but a gas station, what have we done about our gas?,” he asked.
“Experts said we have done 187 trillion cubic feet reserved – this number has been taunted for many years which implies that we are not increasing it.
” The reserve has been a result of accidental gas – gas that was discovered while drilling oil,” he said.
Mr Nnachi further shed some light on challenges faced by people who build refineries.
“Some state governors are being threatened by persons that want to build refineries in their states.
“The refinery module development has three points that is very critical – you have to edge the supply, you must have an off taker’s agreement before funding the project.
“But today, most people who plan to build refineries may not have the edge supply, off taker’s agreement,” he added.