The World Today for June 06, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

QATAR

Pretexts for Isolation


The most fascinating aspect of the diplomatic crisis surrounding Qatar is that nobody appears to know exactly why Bahrain, Egypt, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen severed ties with the Persian Gulf monarchy on Monday.

The New York Times intimated that President Donald Trump gave the six countries the green light to kick out Qatari expatriates and order their citizens home when he visited Saudi Arabia last month. The move reflected a new “bullishness” in the region that reflected Trump’s style, an analyst told the newspaper.

Slate similarly argued that Trump unintentionally drove a wedge between Qatar and the six when he sought to isolate Iran on his visit to Riyadh.

Implicit in those arguments is that the six countries never liked Qatar anyway.

Indeed, the Atlantic called Qatar the “problem child” of the region because it often doesn’t behave in lockstep with the Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Qatar is a Sunni majority country but has closer relations with Iran than other GCC members which are locked in a cold war with Tehran.

“Neighbors are permanent; geography can’t be changed. Coercion is never the solution. Dialog is imperative, especially during blessed Ramadan,” tweeted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday.

That’s not all.

Qatar stoked the Arab Spring that caused chaos in Egypt and elsewhere, letting its state-owned Al Jazeera news service give voice to the activists. The country has long had tense relations with Bahrain over territorial disputes. Qatar also supports the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization branded as a terrorist group in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen has also expelled Qatar from their alliance, claiming Doha supports al Qaeda and the Islamic State, CNN reported.

Qatar denies that it’s sowing discord in the region, a claim that seems valid given that the country hosts a massive United States air base and has supported efforts to stamp out the rebellion in Yemen.

Still, two weeks ago, Qatar’s official news agency quoted Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Al Hamad Al Thani as hailing Iran as an “Islamic power” and criticizing Trump’s anti-Iranian policies. Al Thani later claimed the news agency website was hacked.

If Trump gave the six a wink and a nod to gang up on Qatar, the move is backfiring. In addition to unwelcome instability in a jittery region, now Saudi officials can’t go to Qatar to discuss the war against the Islamic State at the US base, for example.

If Saudi royals and others decided to use Trump’s visit as a cynical pretext to punish Qatar, a possibility NPR raised, then this episode suggests jockeying for power on a scale that is yet another example of why the region is so unstable in the first place.

[siteshare] Pretexts for Isolation[/siteshare]

WANT TO KNOW

NORTH KOREA

A Helping Hand


President Putin is bucking US efforts to isolate North Korea economically by increasing trade with the Hermit Kingdom, USA Today reported Monday.

Trade between Russia and North Korea increased by 73 percent during the first two months of 2017 compared to the same period the year before, boosted mostly by increased coal deliveries from Russia, the newspaper said, citing the Russian state-owned news site Sputnik.

The Russian move contrasts with China, which has cooperated with President Donald Trump by cutting coal deliveries to North Korea, among other steps, to persuade its neighbor to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile development programs.

Still, since China is responsible for 90 percent of North Korea’s trade, Russia’s growing role can only go so far to cushion the blow if China really cracked down, analysts said.

Although Russia signed onto recent sanctions by the United Nations Security Council, which call for reducing trade with North Korea in retaliation for its weapons programs, it wants to increase its geopolitical influence, analysts told the paper.

[siteshare]A Helping Hand[/siteshare]

CYPRUS

A Closing Divide


Negotiations on the reunification of Cyprus, one of the world’s longest-running diplomatic stalemates, are set to resume later this month after a breakthrough on the island’s security arrangements, the Guardian reported.

The question of security has foiled previous attempts to kick-start negotiations.

Essentially, Greek Cypriots want the removal of an estimated 40,000 mainland Turkish troops from the north of the island and an international police force to oversee post-reunification security. The Turkish Cypriots disagree. Now the two have agreed – at least – to create documents to guide the discussions over what comes next, a special UN advisor on the process told the newspaper.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Ankara, responding to an attempted coup to unite the island with Greece, ordered an invasion, with Turkish troops seizing its northern third. No other country but Turkey recognizes the self-proclaimed breakaway republic in the north.

[siteshare]A Closing Divide[/siteshare]

WEST AFRICA

Force Majeure


The EU on Monday said it will allocate $56 million to set up a multinational force to combat Islamist militant groups in West Africa’s Sahel region, Reuters reported.

The so-called G5 Sahel countries of Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania will establish a task force to fight the jihadist groups – some linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State – that European nations, particularly France, fear could threaten Europe if left unchecked.

The Sahel nations proposed the special units last year, each composed of around 100 well-trained soldiers. They would join the regular armed forces, the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali and France’s Operation Barkhane, which has around 4,000 troops deployed across the five Sahel countries.

France intervened in 2013 to drive back militants who had seized northern Mali a year earlier, but militants continue to attack security forces and civilians in Mali and its neighbors.

After visiting Mali last month in his first trip outside Europe after his election, French President Emmanuel Macron called on Germany and other European nations to ramp up military and development aid to the region.

[siteshare]Force Majeure[/siteshare]

DISCOVERIES

Robocop Goes East


With its out-of-this world hotels and skyscrapers, the desert metropolis of Dubai prides itself on being a city of superlatives.

Now Dubai has one more marvel to bolster its cutting-edge reputation: It’s home to the first robotic policeman in the Middle East.

Dubai police are rolling out this “Robocop” experiment as part of a government program to improve security and services with technology as the city prepares to host the Expo 2020 trade fair, wrote Reuters.

Equipped with cameras and facial recognition software, this robotic cop on wheels can identify wanted criminals, collect evidence and even shake hands with citizens.

So far, members of the public – who can talk to the Robocop via an embedded touchscreen computer – are responding favorably to the newest, unarmed crime fighter, said Brigadier Khalid Nasser Al Razooqi of the Dubai Police.

“We now see the new generations who are using smart devices – they love to use these kind of tools,” Razooqi told Reuters. “A lot of them have seen the Robocop movie and they said, ‘you guys, you have done it.’”

Check out a video of Dubai’s Robocop in action here.

[siteshare]Robocop Goes East[/siteshare]

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