Posts Tagged ‘Kuwait’

China pledges $20 billion in loans for Arab states

July 10, 2018

China will provide Arab states with $20 billion in loans for economic development, President Xi Jinping told top Arab officials Tuesday, as Beijing seeks to build its influence in the Middle East and Africa.

The money will be earmarked for “projects that will produce good employment opportunities and positive social impact in Arab States that have reconstruction needs,” said Xi, without providing further details.

It is part of a special Chinese programme for “economic reconstruction” and “industrial revitalisation,” Xi told participants at a China-Arab States forum in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

© POOL/AFP | China is seeking to expand its influence in the Middle East

Beijing is also prepared to provide another one billion yuan to countries in the region to “build capacity for stability maintenance,” Xi said, using a term commonly associated with policing and surveillance.

Since taking office, Xi has overseen a concerted effort to expand Chinese influence in the Middle East and Africa, including the construction of the country’s first military base in Arab League state Djibouti.

China has already provided vast sums to Arab countries, with Djibouti alone owing some $1.3 billion, according to estimates from the US-based China Africa Research Initiative.

No automatic alt text available.

The financial largesse has raised concerns both at home and abroad over the vulnerability of poor nations to such massive debt.

Last year Sri Lanka was forced to hand over majority control of its Hambantota port to China after being unable to repay its loans.

At the heart of Xi’s vision is the “Belt and Road” initiative, a $1-trillion infrastructure programme billed as a modern revival of the ancient Silk Road that once carried fabrics, spices and a wealth of other goods between Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

No automatic alt text available.

The Arab states’ position at the centre of the ancient trade route makes them “natural partners” in China’s new undertaking, he said, adding he expected the summit would end with an agreement on cooperation on the initiative.

“Chinese and Arab peoples, though far apart in distance, are as close as family,” he said, describing a romanticised history of trade along the Silk Road.

No automatic alt text available.

The project, which has already financed ports, roads and railways across the globe, has spurred both interest and anxiety in many countries, with some seeing it as an example of Chinese expansionism.

“China welcomes opportunities to participate in the development of ports and the construction of railway networks in Arab states” as part of a “logistics network connecting Central Asia with East Africa and the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean,” said Xi.


Image may contain: 1 person, smiling



China Tells Iran To “Get Along With Neighbors” For A Change

July 7, 2018

Iran should make more effort to ensure stability in the Middle East and get along with its neighbors, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Friday, as Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warned they may block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.

Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait are among China’s most important oil suppliers, while Qatar supplies liquefied natural gas to China, so any blockage of the strait would have serious consequences for its economy.

But Beijing has had to tread carefully with Arab nations like Saudi Arabia as China also has close ties with Iran.

The Strait of Hormuz plays a key role. (Reuters)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and some senior military commanders have threatened to disrupt oil shipments from the Gulf countries if Washington tries to strangle Tehran’s oil exports.

Carrying one-third of the world’s seaborne oil every day, the Strait of Hormuz links Middle East crude producers to key markets in Asia Pacific, Europe, North America and beyond.

Asked about the Iranian threat to the strait, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong said that China and Arab countries had close communications about Middle East peace, including the Iran issue.

“China consistently believes that the relevant country should do more to benefit peace and stability in the region, and jointly protect peace and stability there,” Chen told a news briefing, ahead of a major summit between China and Arab states in Beijing next week.

“Especially as it is a country on the Gulf, it should dedicate itself to being a good neighbor and co-existing peacefully,” he added. “China will continue to play our positive, constructive role.”

Ministers from 21 Arab countries are attending the summit, as well as Kuwait’s elderly ruler, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber al-Sabah. Chinese President Xi Jinping will give the opening address on Tuesday.

Having previously been a bit player in past years, China has stepped up its involvement in the Middle East since Xi came to power six years ago, including sending a frigate to evacuate foreign nationals from Yemen in 2015.

Adding another layer to the careful diplomatic dance China will have to perform, Chen said Qatar will be represented at the summit too, though he did not say by whom.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt imposed a boycott on tiny, gas-rich Qatar in June 2017, severing diplomatic and transport ties and accusing it of supporting terrorism, which it denies.

“We call on all sides to meet each other halfway and give consideration to each other’s concerns, and find a way to alleviate the problem via dialogue,” Chen said.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Christian Schmollinger


US said seeking to raise $500 million for Gaza from Gulf states

June 18, 2018

Funding would reportedly go toward industrial area in Egypt’s Sinai from where electricity, desalinated water would be pumped to Strip

Times of Israel
June 18, 2018
A woman sits with her children in their shack home near the beach in Gaza City on June 4, 2018. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP)

A woman sits with her children in their shack home near the beach in Gaza City on June 4, 2018. (MOHAMMED ABED/AFP)

The United States is reportedly seeking to raise over $500 million from Gulf states to fund energy and economic development projects aimed at improving the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, as a prelude to revealing President Donald Trump’s plan for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The funds would be used to develop an industrial area in the northern Sinai region, which abuts Gaza, including a power station and factories to serve the residents of the Palestinian enclave, the Haaretz daily reported Monday.

White House special adviser Jared Kushner and US peace envoy Jason Greenblatt, who are due in the region for talks this week, are expected to pitch the ideas to leaders in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Israel, the report said.

Washington hopes that improving the situation in Gaza, where electricity and drinking water supplies are meager, will help calm the security situation, which has seen several weeks of violent clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in the Strip.

Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, speaks at the inauguration ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

In addition, the US hopes that plans to boost the quality of life in Gaza will create a positive atmosphere ahead of Trump presenting his peace plan, an event for which no date has yet been set, the report said.

Sources told Haartez that a large part of the proposals for Gaza revolve around basing service infrastructure in northern Sinai, including, in addition to a power plant, a seaport, factories to manufacture building supplies, a water desalination plant and a project to construct a solar energy site near the Sinai city of el-Arish.

The projects would be expected to create jobs for Gazans and also improve the security situation in northern Sinai, making it appealing to the Egyptians, who for years have been battling to suppress an Islamist terror campaign in the peninsula.

The report said there are two approaches being looked at — projects that can be quickly implemented and those that will take years to complete. Currently, the White House is reportedly focusing on funding for the more immediate projects with the aim of improving the situation in Gaza “and to also achieve some progress on the ground before the peace plan presentation.”

Yoav Mordechai, who until recently served as the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, presented similar ideas in March at an international summit on Gaza, hosted at the White House, the report said.

Deteriorating living conditions in the Strip have been cited by security officials as a major factor fueling the violent clashes on Israel’s border, as well as a debilitating sense of desperation.

According to the report, solving Gaza’s energy crisis is the top priority.

Trump’s son-in-law Kushner and Greenblatt are looking to secure financing –amounting to over $500 million — from Gulf states, and ensure cooperation from Israel and Egypt, the two countries that border the Palestinian enclave, which since 2007 has been under the control of the Hamas terror group, the report said.

US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt,arrives at a news conference about a water-sharing agreement between Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, in Jerusalem, July 13, 2017. (AFP/POOL/RONEN ZVULUN)

Israel and Egypt both enforce a blockade of Gaza, which Israel says is necessary to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons into Strip. Currently, goods arrive at Israeli ports, where they are screened and then brought to Gaza on hundreds of trucks a day.

The White House declined to comment on the plans, telling Haaretz only that “we don’t want to discuss specific details before talks are held on the matter.”

Although Kushner and Greenblatt are set to meet with regional leaders to iron out details of the Trump peace plan, they are not scheduled to hold talks with the Palestinians, who have refused to meet with US officials ever since Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December and then moved the US embassy to the city last month.

Gaza’s woes have been exacerbated by an ongoing dispute between Hamas and the rival Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which has cut the salaries it pays to workers in Gaza and imposed various sanctions, including cutting payments for electricity supplies to the enclave.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.


The Jordanian King’s Roller-coaster Ride Into Syria to Stop Iran

June 16, 2018

The demonstrations in Amman have calmed down, but now King Abdullah must prevent ill-meaning Iranian forces from approaching Jordan via Syria

King Abdullah, left, and his son Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah performing an off-season pilgrimage to Mecca, June 10, 2018.
King Abdullah, left, and his son Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah performing an off-season pilgrimage to Mecca, June 10, 2018. Yousef Allan / Jordanian Royal Palace / AFP

A short video published online by the Fayez family of Jordan reveals the fragile web of relationships King Abdullah must balance to keep his throne. It shows young members of the family blocking the main road from the town of Madaba to Amman.

The filming was done at night, and it’s hard to identify the participants, but the family left no room for doubt. “If Fares Fayez isn’t released from jail, we’ll block the highway to the airport, and that won’t be the last step,” the family threatened on social media.

Fares Fayez is a famous opposition activist known for cursing Queen Rania and calling for the king’s ouster. During last week’s demonstrations against a new tax law, he published insulting posts against the king and his family and urged Abdullah to resign, charging that he is “chiefly responsible for all the corruption in the kingdom.”

Fayez was arrested about a week ago. Now the police will be in conflict not just with his family but with members of the large and influential Bani Sakhr tribe. If not contained, this conflict could drag Jordan into many other internecine battles.

The demonstration that resulted in Fayez’s jailing forced Abdullah to raise more money from his neighbors to finance the government’s operations, fund its $40 billion debt and, above all, substitute for the revenue the tax law was supposed to raise. Thanks to the demonstrations, this law is now in the deep freeze. “The previous government didn’t properly examine the law before approving it,” said the new prime minister, Omar Razzaz.

This is an uphill battle because Abdullah has once again discovered that aid from the Gulf states, and especially Saudi Arabia, comes with a diplomatic price tag that Jordan isn’t eager to pay. This price tag contributed significantly to the economic crisis that led to the tax law and the ensuing demonstrations.

When the protests began, the only country that expressed a willingness to help Jordan was Kuwait. It sent a special envoy to Amman to offer $1 billion in aid, half in grants and half in low-interest loans. The next to volunteer was Qatar, which is being boycotted by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt.

But accepting Qatari aid was problematic because it would put Jordan under obligation to Qatar and increase Qatari influence in the kingdom at the expense of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Thus Abdullah was in an impossible situation.

Riyadh didn’t rush to offer financial help, sufficing with supportive statements. Qatar came with a check that Jordan couldn’t accept until it knew what the Gulf states boycotting Qatar would offer. Meanwhile, the streets were seething and the people were threatening not to make do with Prime Minister Hani Mulki’s dismissal and appointment of a new government under Razzaz.

King Abdullah of Jordan flanked by Saudi King Salman, left, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Mecca, June 11, 2018.
King Abdullah of Jordan flanked by Saudi King Salman, left, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Mecca, June 11, 2018. Bandar Al-Jaloud / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP

Mainly due to the “danger” that Qatar would become Jordan’s benefactor, Riyadh eventually woke up. It convened a summit with the UAE and Kuwait.

Meager aid

But the results were disappointing. The Gulf states offered only $2.5 billion, including the $1 billion Kuwait had already pledged. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were offering only $750 million each over five years – some in the form of a deposit Jordan could draw on, some as loans and some as guarantees that would help Jordan obtain loans from international institutions.

Jordan had hoped for $5 billion. But even that wouldn’t have been enough to stabilize the economy without painful reforms.

After receiving this offer, Abdullah told Qatar he would happily accept the $500 million it offered, which was accompanied by a pledge to employ  tens of thousands more Jordanians in Qatar. The Qatari loan will arrive all at once, in cash, which will be extremely useful. In exchange, Jordan agreed to accept a new Qatari ambassador in Amman, after having downgraded relations about 18 months earlier under Saudi and UAE pressure, as part of their boycott of Qatar.

Razzaz, the new prime minister, couldn’t hide his disappointment with the Gulf states. Speaking in Jordan while Abdullah was in Kuwait, he said Jordan was under heavy diplomatic pressure, “but we won’t let anyone extort us.”

The newly appointed Jordanian Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz (C) meets with member of Union leaders in Amman, on June 7, 2018.
The newly appointed Jordanian Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz (C) meets with member of Union leaders in Amman, on June 7, 2018. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP

The extortion in question relates first of all to Jordan’s refusal to accept Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” as long as Jerusalem, as Trump himself has said, is off the table. Amman also rejects Riyadh’s plan to deprive Jordan of its special status at Jerusalem’s holy sites as stipulated in the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty. Finally, Jordan isn’t willing to take part in the Saudi war in Yemen. In the past, it also refused Saudi demands that it either attack Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces or let an Arab coalition attack from Jordan.

It remains to be seen how Saudi Arabia and the UAE will respond to Jordan’s renewed friendship with Qatar. But this isn’t the only front where Jordan faces problems. The agreements Russia is making with Iran, Turkey and Syria about Syria’s future also worry Amman, mainly because of the proximity to the Jordanian border of Iranian and pro-Iranian forces.

Earlier this month, Jordan was supposed to host a conference of senior American, Russian and Jordanian officials to discuss arrangements for supervising the de-escalation zone in southern Syria. Under the earlier agreement that established this zone, Iranian forces are supposed to withdraw to a distance of 25 to 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Jordanian border, with Syrian army troops replacing them.

Israeli-Jordanian interests

But the meeting was canceled, apparently at Jordan’s request. This is mainly because Jordan (like Israel) opposes letting the Syrian army deploy in southern Syria, for fear that pro-Iranian forces will enter the area disguised as Syrian soldiers. Jordan wants guarantees that only Syrian soldiers, and no foreign forces, will control this zone. On this issue Jordan is aligned with Israel.

UN forces overlooking the Israeli-Syrian border, this month
UN forces overlooking the Israeli-Syrian border, this month BAZ RATNER/Reuters

Jerusalem seeks a deeper withdrawal of Iranian forces, to a distance of 50 to 75 kilometers from the Israeli-Syrian border. Both Israel and Jordan are now apparently waiting to see what the other achieves before finalizing its own position.

Russia would like Iranian forces to leave all of Syria – not just because Israel demands it, but to further its own plans. It has even said so publicly. But Iran refuses, as does Hezbollah, whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah, recently declared that Russia can’t force Iran (much less Hezbollah) to withdraw.

>> Syria signals willingness to pull Hezbollah back from border with Israel, report says <<

In a media interview earlier this week, Assad said Iranian and Hezbollah troops would leave Syria only when they decided that the war on terror – that is, against the Syrian rebels – had ended. He said Iran, Hezbollah and Russia were all in Syria legitimately, having arrived at his invitation.

Russia doesn’t accept Assad’s view and is trying to pressure Iran and Hezbollah to at least quit certain areas if they won’t leave entirely. It has sent blunt military signals. For instance, Russian forces entered the Al-Qusayr region and other sites in the Qalamoun Mountains, near the Syrian-Lebanese border, without coordinating with Hezbollah, which controls these areas. Hezbollah harshly denounced the Russian move.

Admittedly, the Russian troops withdrew less than a day later, but the message was clear: If Russia decides that Hezbollah is in its way, it won’t hesitate to take military action against it.

This conflict recalls Russia’s actions during the evacuation of rebel forces from Aleppo: It created facts on the ground without consulting Iran. Only after Iranian and Hezbollah forces refused to let the buses full of evacuees pass did Russia include Iran in the discussions.

Though Jordan and Israel expect Russia to use its leverage against Iran, Moscow has moved delicately so as not to upset Iran. But now Russia may have a new and unexpected source of leverage.

The United States’ withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran, the new sanctions it has already imposed and the additional ones it may impose,  together with Europe’s hesitant response to these sanctions, will increase Iran’s dependence on China and Russia. But whereas China doesn’t demand anything for its extensive economic ties with Iran, Russia has already proved that it knows how to exact a diplomatic price – sometimes a high one – from countries dependent on it.

Granted, Russia denounced Trump for withdrawing from the nuclear deal. But it isn’t blind to the benefits it might reap from this decision.

Still, just as in the story of Jordan’s relations with Qatar and Saudi Arabia in which Jordan’s economic dependence didn’t produce political capitulation, it would be unrealistic, at least for now, to think Vladimir Putin can just pull a string and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will nod like a puppet.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE approve $2.5bn aid package for Jordan at emergency Gulf summit

June 11, 2018

The package will include a deposit in the Jordanian central bank, World Bank guarantees, budgetary support over five years and financing for development projects. — King Salman called the meeting to muster support for ally Jordan, which had been rocked by mass protests against price rises and a proposed tax hike in recent days.

Saudi King Salman (left) meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II (center), UAE Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid (right) and Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah (back toward the camera) at the Safa Palace in Makkah early Monday. (SPA)

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates agreed on Monday to provide an economic aid package worth $2.5 billion for Jordan, which is facing an economic crisis following anti-austerity protests.

The package, announced at a summit of the four nations in the holy city of Makkah, will include a deposit in the Jordanian central bank, World Bank guarantees, budgetary support over five years and financing for development projects, said a summit communique carried by the Saudi Press Agency.

The summit, called by Saudi King Salman, was attended by Jordan’s King Abdullah II along with UAE’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum and Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

King Salman called the meeting to garner support for ally Jordan, which had been rocked by mass protests against price rises and a proposed tax hike in recent days.

The statement noted that funding for Jordan’s economic crisis comes from contributory funds for development projects in the Kingdom.

Following the meeting, King Abdullah II offered his gratitude to King Salman, Kuwait and the UAE for their support. Jordan is struggling to curb its debt after securing a $723 million loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 2016.

Austerity measures tied to the loan have seen prices of basic necessities rise across the Kingdom of Jordan — culminating in a week of angry protests over tax proposals that forced prime minister Hani Mulki to resign.

The authorities on Thursday announced they were withdrawing the unpopular legislation, but still face a mammoth task to balance popular demands with the need to reduce the public debt burden.

Jordan blames its economic woes on instability rocking the region and the burden of hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees from war-torn Syria, complaining it has not received enough international support.

The World Bank says Jordan has “weak growth prospects” this year, while 18.5 percent of the working age population is unemployed.
Saudi Arabia and the United States are two of the major donors providing vital economic assistance to Jordan.

(With AFP and Reuters)

Arab News

Jordan Government Experiences Pressure From The Street

June 6, 2018

The recent crisis in Jordan, sparked by protests over IMF-backed austerity measures, may be economic. But there’s also a diplomatic twist, with Gulf rivalries and US foreign policy maneuvers, adding fuel to the fire.

Protests have erupted in Amman and other Jordanian cities in recent days over rising prices and IMF-backed austerity measures including a new tax bill aimed at reducing the country’s chronic deficits. The crisis has already seen the replacement of the country’s prime minister and a call by Jordan’s King Abdullah for a review of the controversial draft tax law.

© Yousef Allan, Jordanian royal palace, AFP (archives) | Jordan’s King Abdullah succeeded his father Hussein in 1999.

For several decades, the resource-poor economy of the tiny Arab kingdom has relied heavily on international aid and the kindness of its traditional allies. These include the US — which provides primarily military and security assistance — and funds from the Gulf monarchies, mainly oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

The assistance is critical, especially since Jordan is home to more than 650,000 registered Syrian refugees, according to the UN. Local authorities however put the figure at more than a million. Home also to an older influx of Palestinian refugees, Jordan today is struggling to cope, with the official unemployment rate rising above 18 percent while growth has remained stagnant amid regional turmoil.

While the Sunni Gulf monarchies have been a traditional source of economic assistance to Jordan — considered one of the only havens of stability in the region – relations have turned soured in recent years over geopolitical issues. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, Kuwait and Oman — has not yet renewed its assistance programme to Jordan, worth $3.6 billion, which expired in 2017.

“The various successive [Jordanian] governments in recent years and the endemic corruption [both] share responsibility for the current economic crisis. But Jordan, which depends on international aid, was dumped by its allies,” said Hassan Barari, professor of political science at the Amman-based University of Jordan, in an interview with FRANCE 24. “The kingdom is paying the price for its regional diplomatic positions, which are opposed to those in [the Saudi capital] Riyadh. In return, the Saudis are trying to put pressure on Amman by suspending their aid.”

Paying the price for Yemen, Muslim Brotherhood positions

It’s an opinion shared by Antoine Basbous, director of the Paris-based Observatoire des Pays Arabes. “The Gulf countries, which financially supported Jordan, have abandoned it to its fate because they are quite unhappy that Amman did not align with their [foreign policy] positions.”

The war in Yemen, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Palestinian crisis and the status of Jerusalem are some of the many disagreements between Jordan and Saudi Arabia. “By refusing to fully engage the Jordanian army in the Yemeni conflict, the [Jordanian] king has upset Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” said Barari, referring to the powerful Saudi crown prince who is widely known by his initials, MBS. Relations between the two countries have deteriorated since MBS took over all the levers of power in the world’s largest oil-producing nation, according to Barari.

Jordan, however, has supported the GCC on the Qatar crisis and reduced its diplomatic representation in Doha, without cutting ties with Doha. But it has refused to classify the Muslim Brotherhood – reviled and viewed as a threat by the House of Saud — as a terrorist organisation.

While Jordan’s Hashemite royal family has sometimes had thorny relations with the Islamist group — which was founded in Egypt in the 1920s — Jordan remains one of the few cases where an Arab government and Islamist movement have pursued a non-confrontational political strategy over an extended period. Members of the political arm of the Islamist opposition movement currently hold seats in the Jordanian parliament as well as in a few municipalities.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is part of the Jordanian political landscape, Amman cannot go against its interests to please Saudi Arabia or Egypt,” explained Barari.

US-Saudi-Israeli nexus edges out Jordan

Jordan has also strongly criticised the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy there, a move which Amman believes jeopardises the two-state solution for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. On the other hand, Saudi authorities, who have been enjoying a honeymoon of sorts with the Trump administration, merely expressed regret over the US position.

“Donald Trump boasts of being able to impose a miracle solution to resolve the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, with the support of Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state, to which it has drawn closer,” explained Barari.

With its nearly 150-kilometer border with the West Bank and a 300-kilometer frontier with Israel, Jordan views the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as a critical geostrategic issue. Jerusalem is a particularly vital issue for Jordan’s Hashemite royal family, which manages the Muslim holy sites in the city. Jordan also supports the Palestinian right of return, which is recognised by the international community, but ignored by the Israelis. The issue is particularly important in a country where nearly 65 percent of the Jordanian population is of Palestinian origin.

“Some people wonder if the era of the Hashemite monarchy is not coming to an end – which will actually benefit the Palestinians in Jordan, to enable them to install a Palestinian state there,” explained Basbous. “It’s premature now, but on a scale of 10 years, it’s plausible.”

Once an essential, Western-allied negotiation partner in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Jordan is now marginalised, belonging neither to the Iran-Syria-Russia axis, nor to the one emerging between Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US.

“The top priority, from Mohammed bin Salman’s point of view, remains the Iranian threat, while for Jordan, which was nevertheless one of the first countries to warn against the expansionism of the Iranians, the existential threat comes from its Israeli neighbor,” explains Barari. “The Saudi crown prince wants the Arab world to submit to his own geopolitical agenda, even if it threatens Jordan’s stability.”

It remains to be seen whether Jordan will be able to withstand such regional and international pressure for a long time. With the economy caught between rampant corruption and strict IMF demands on the one hand, and on the other, the fallout of the Syrian conflict — including the refugee burden and an increasing bill to secure the country’s border with Syria — Jordan is trapped between a rock and a very hard place indeed.

(This is an adapt of the original piece, which appeared in French)



Qatar says ‘stronger’ despite year-long Gulf dispute

June 5, 2018

On the first anniversary of a bitter Gulf diplomatic rift, Qatar’s foreign minister on Tuesday declared his country stronger than ever and said it was open to dialogue with its regional rivals.

Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani also rebuked Qatar’s foes for “imaginary victories” against the small Gulf state, the target of a Saudi-led boycott.

Image may contain: sky and outdoor

FILE PHOTO: Buildings are seen from across the water in Doha, Qatar June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

“One year on and Qatar and its people are stronger,” Al-Thani, one of the most prominent voices in the region’s worst diplomatic crisis for years, wrote on Twitter.

“(There’s) a lot of talk about imaginary victories and isolating Qatar, but after one year, the reality proved the opposite as Qatar emerged as an international partner that can be trusted.”

On June 5, 2017, an alliance of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt abruptly severed ties with Doha, accusing it of supporting terrorism and Iran.

Qatar soon found its only land border closed by Saudi Arabia, its state-owned airline barred from using neighbours’ airspace, and residents expelled from the quartet’s countries.

Despite hopes that the rancorous rift between the former allies — which include some of the richest countries on earth — would be resolved quickly, the crisis has endured.

Qatar claims the dispute is an attack on its sovereignty and punishment for pursuing an independent foreign policy.

Diplomatic efforts led by Kuwait and the United States have so far stalled.

Al-Thani said the “door is still open for dialogue” between the Gulf rivals.

However, he also told Qatar state-funded broadcaster Al Jazeera on Tuesday that Doha would continue with its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence missile system.

Saudi leaders have asked French President Emmanuel Macron intervene to prevent the deal going ahead, raising fears of military action in the dispute.

– ‘Smear campaign’ –

Despite the impact of the crisis, many in Qatar view the past year’s events as a victory for Doha.

Qatari papers were jubilant on Tuesday, with headlines such as “Triumphant Qatar stays United” and “Qatar shines as smear campaign against it fails”.

Taxi companies offered free rides to customers to mark the anniversary and some in Qatar have even called for June 5 to be made a national holiday.

Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee (NHRC) released a report on the eve of the anniversary claiming more than 4,000 human rights abuses had been committed against Qataris by the Saudi-led alliance over the past year.

Qataris have been exposed to arbitrary arrest and routinely denied freedom of movement, according to the report by the government-appointed body detailing alleged abuses including one case of forced disappearance.

“From the beginning, all the blockading countries have tried to use the people to achieve their political goals,” NHRC chairman Ali bin Smaikh Al-Marri said.

There was no immediate reaction from the Saudi-led bloc.

In August, Saudi Arabia will welcome millions of Muslim faithful for the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest city in Islam.

The Saudi government on Tuesday confirmed Qataris wishing to undertake the umrah pilgrimage to Mecca were welcome, but accused the Qatari authorities of a “negative attitude”.

The umrah is a lesser pilgrimage that takes place outside of hajj.

Since the start of the crisis, Qatar has accused Saudi Arabia of politicising religious pilgrimages to Mecca, including the annual hajj, one of Islam’s five pillars, which every able-bodied Muslim who can afford the journey is obliged to undertake at least once.

by David HARDING

Bahrain Sees ‘No Glimmer of Hope’ for Ending Qatar Crisis Soon

May 27, 2018

Bahrain sees no resolution in sight to a diplomatic row between Qatar and its neighbors, which cut diplomatic and trade ties with the tiny Gulf Arab state nearly a year ago.

“The information in our hands today does not indicate any glimmer of hope for a solution now, as the matter does not happen suddenly,” Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa told Alsharq Alawsat newspaper on Sunday.

Image may contain: sky and outdoor

FILE PHOTO: Buildings are seen from across the water in Doha, Qatar June 5, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt severed travel and trade ties with Qatar last June, alleging it was backing Iran and supporting terrorism. Qatar denies this and says the boycott is an attempt to impinge on its sovereignty and rein in its support for reform.

After initially disrupting Qatar’s imports and triggering the withdrawal of billions of dollars from its banks by depositors from the four states, the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas quickly developed new trade routes and deployed tens of billions of dollars from its sovereign wealth fund to protect its domestic lenders.

The dispute has evaded mediation attempts by Kuwait and Washington, which has strong alliances with both sides and fears the split among Sunni Muslim U.S. allies could benefit Iran in a decades-old tussle for influence in the Middle East.

Bahrain’s foreign minister said Qatar was prolonging the crisis by taking its case to Western allies, instead of dealing with it inside the Gulf Arab bloc.

“We were expecting from the beginning of the crisis with Qatar that the emir of Qatar would go to Saudi (Arabia) but this did not happen,” he told the pan-Arab newspaper.

Saudi and UAE officials have said that Doha has yet to meet 13 demands made by the four states, including closing the state-funded Al Jazeera television station and reducing ties to Iran.

UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said last week on Twitter that Qatar had not dealt wisely with those demands: “Perhaps the passing of a year of the boycott will produce a new thought and a wiser approach from Doha”.

(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Alexander Smith)


Kuwait urges international peacekeeping force on Gaza border

May 18, 2018

Israel expects UN Security Council draft resolution to be vetoed by US, calls proposal ‘cynicism’ and ‘distortion of reality’

By Times of Israel

Image may contain: 7 people

Kuwait’s Ambassador to the United Nations Mansour Al-Otaibi, left, talks to Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations Riyad Mansour  at the start of a UN Security Council meeting, May 15, 2018 in New York. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

Kuwait, the only Arab nation with a current seat on the United Nations Security Council, circulated a draft resolution Thursday night on “providing international protection to the Palestinian people,” following recent violent clashes on the Gaza border in which dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire. Israel described the move as “cynicism” and “shameful.”

Kuwaiti ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi circulated the draft which called for the establishment of an international force stationed on the Gaza border with Israel.

Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour said on Tuesday he would begin negotiations to try to get the resolution adopted.

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon condemned the proposed resolution.

“The cynicism and attempts to distort reality have reached a new low,” he said in a statement. “Israel will continue to defend its sovereignty and the security of its citizens against the terror and murderous violence of Hamas.”

Israel expects the United States to veto the resolution as it did on Monday when it blocked the adoption of a UN statement that would have called for an independent probe into the situation along the Gaza border.

Danon stressed, “This shameful draft resolution is a proposal to support Hamas’s war crimes against Israel and the residents of Gaza who are being sent to die for the sake of preserving Hamas’s rule.”

US Ambassador Nikki Haley on Tuesday condemned Hamas provocation and said ally Israel had acted with restraint.

“No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has,” Haley told the council. “In fact the records of several countries here today suggest they would be much less restrained.”

To suggest that the violence had anything to do with the relocation of the US embassy was a smoke screen, she said.

“The Hamas terrorist organization has been inciting violence for years, long before the United States decided to move our embassy,” she said. “Make no mistake, Hamas is pleased with the results from yesterday,” she added.

“The United States deplores the loss of human life,” she said.

Arab countries are expected to put forward a resolution Friday to the UN Human Rights Council, an inter-governmental body of UN member states, backing an investigation into the border clashes, in which 62 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

Jerusalem has blamed the Hamas terror group that rules the Strip for the violence, saying it co-opted the protests and has used them as cover to attempt border infiltrations and attacks on Israelis. On Wednesday, a Hamas official said 50 of the 62 killed on Monday and Tuesday were members of the group.

US, Gulf states slap new sanctions on Hezbollah leadership

May 17, 2018

The US Treasury Department said four other individuals were also sanctioned, as was the group Daesh in the Greater Sahara, which was designated as a foreign terrorist organization

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah (left) and his deputy, Naim Qassem. (AFP & Reuters photos)

WASHINGTON: The United States and Gulf partners imposed additional sanctions on Lebanon’s Hezbollah leadership on Wednesday, targeting its top two officials, Hassan Nasrallah and his deputy, Naim Qassem.

The US Treasury Department said four other individuals were also sanctioned, as was the group Daesh in the Greater Sahara, which was designated as a foreign terrorist organization.

It was the third round of sanctions announced by Washington since the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal last week.

Wednesday’s sanctions targeted members of the primary decision-making body of Hezbollah, Treasury said in a statement.

“By targeting Hezbollah’s Shoura Council, our nations collectively rejected the false distinction between a so-called ‘Political Wing’ and Hezbollah’s global terrorist plotting,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

The move expands US sanctions against Nasrallah, who was sanctioned by Washington in 1995 for threatening to disrupt the Middle East peace process and again in 2012 over Syria. It is, however, the first time that the US Treasury has acted against Qassem, who is being listed for his ties to Hezbollah.

The measures were imposed jointly by Washington and its partners in the Terrorist Financing and Targeting Center (TFTC), which includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates, it said.

The Gulf states targeted four of the movement’s committees and ordered individuals’ assets and bank accounts frozen.

On Tuesday, the US imposed sanctions on Iran’s central bank governor and an Iraq-based bank for “moving millions of dollars” for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Last week, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions against six individuals and three companies it said were funneling millions of dollars to the Revolutionary Guard’s external arm, Quds Force.

Arab News