The World Today for November 09, 2018

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Mission Impossible

Geir Pedersen helped orchestrate the famous handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at the White House in 2000.

Now the Norwegian diplomat is the new United Nations envoy to Syria.

In working to achieve a sustainable peace to end Syria’s near-done seven-year-long civil war, he will juggle the often-divergent interests of the Syrian government and its citizens, the country’s neighbors, as well as Russia, Iran, the United States, Europe and regional heavyweights like Saudi Arabia. Add to the mix jihadists like the Islamic State.

“He has been given another mission impossible,” Aaron David Miller, a former US negotiator who is now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, told the National.

Having helped Syrian President Bashar al-Assad put down the rebellion against him, Russia is looking to convince Europe and Saudi Arabia to pour money into Syria to rebuild infrastructure and spark economic growth that will lure citizens who fled back to the country, Al Jazeera wrote.

Hezbollah – the Iranian-backed, Lebanon-based terrorist group-cum-political party – is paying rebels formerly allied with the US to switch sides and join a troubling buildup of forces on the Israeli border, reported the Wall Street Journal.

That buildup has worried Israel and led Russia to warn Israeli leaders against taking action that might “provoke” more violence in the region, according to the Jerusalem Post. Syria accidentally shot down a Russian reconnaissance aircraft during an Israeli airstrike in September.

That’s a fairly black and white example of the way sides are realigning in the conflict.

Here’s a more complicated case from Newsweek: Iranian-backed militias in Iraq are also helping Kurdish forces fight the Islamic State in Syria. The Kurds are American allies. But they are also targets of artillery shelling from Turkish troops. Turkey’s leaders don’t want to empower Kurds who might someday help Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.

The result of the clashes with Turkey has been a setback in the fight against the Islamic State, CNN reported. The extremists, of course, are the one player most unwilling to negotiate with Pedersen for anything less than an ultra-orthodox caliphate on Earth. The Kurdish forces in Syria, meanwhile, say they have the right to respond to Turkish attacks, Voice of America noted.

Russian, Turkish, French and German leaders met in Istanbul in late October to discuss how to prevent the powder keg from exploding. They didn’t get far.

“At Syria summit, leaders produce few answers to the endgame question,” the Washington Post said in a headline.

Maybe one Norwegian will have more success.



One in 12

Some 3 million Venezuelans, or one in 12 citizens, have fled the country to escape skyrocketing inflation, political turmoil, shortages of food and medicine, as well as violence.

Of that number, 2.3 million have left Venezuela since 2015, according to United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesman William Spindler, and the exodus has accelerated over the past six months, Al Jazeera reported.

Most of them have headed to Colombia (1 million) and Peru (500,000). But Ecuador, Argentina, Chile and Brazil have all faced huge influxes.

Colombia currently sees around 3,000 refugees arrive daily. Bogota estimates caring for them will cost as much as $9 billion by 2021. That puts the much-talked-about migrant caravan of Hondurans making their way through Mexico toward the US border in perspective, said Father Francesco Bortignon, who has given shelter to Venezuelans in Colombia.

The entire caravan is “how many we get every four days,” he said. According to the World Bank, the crisis has already cost Colombia almost half a percent of its GDP in 2018, or $1.2 billion.


Sanctions, Counter-sanctions

A week after Moscow imposed sanctions on Ukraine and called US sanctions against Iran illegal, US President Donald Trump levied additional sanctions on Russia for its alleged human rights abuses and illegal economic activity in Crimea.

Coming just ahead of a possible meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris on the sidelines of a ceremony to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, Thursday’s sanctions hit the Ministry of State Security of the Luhansk People’s Republic, an unrecognized breakaway state from Ukraine, along with several other entities and individuals, Politico reported.

“Treasury remains committed to targeting Russian-backed entities that seek to profit from Russia’s illegal annexation and occupation of Crimea,” Sigal Mandelker, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a news release.

Amid noises from the Democrats warning of a deeper investigation into Trump’s alleged ties to Russian business interests, the move illustrates that the US president has been tougher on Moscow than his buddy-buddy rhetoric would suggest, Politico noted.

Even so, some oligarchs are using diplomacy and influence to mitigate the effects, the New York Times reported.


Waiting To Exhale

Asia Bibi, the Christian Pakistani woman who was acquitted of blasphemy charges last month, is seeking asylum in the Netherlands amid pressure from the extremist Tehreek-e-Labbaik to review the decision and prevent her from leaving Pakistan.

For the time being, Bibi is legally free to leave the country, Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman said Thursday, CNN reported. She has been moved from her jail cell to an undisclosed location where she is waiting to leave the country with her family, according to a spokesperson for Italy’s Aid to the Church in Need.

An asylum application was submitted for Bibi, her husband and two daughters in the Netherlands, said attorney Saiful Malook, who arrived there from Pakistan earlier this week. But Dutch authorities said that Bibi can only file an application for asylum from within the Netherlands.

Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 after she was accused of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed during an argument with Muslim colleagues. Violent protests orchestrated by the TLP broke out following the Supreme Court decision to reverse the verdict.


Expensive Premiums

The American Kennel Club ranked Labrador retrievers as the most popular dog breed in the United States for 2017.

The lovable breed comes in three colors: yellow, black and chocolate.

Recently, Australian scientists discovered that the dogs’ color is linked to their chances of contracting serious illnesses and life expectancy, reported.

University of Sydney researchers analyzed 33,000 veterinary records from the United Kingdom and noted that chocolate Labradors were more prone to ear and skin problems and had shorter lifespans than their black and yellow cousins. The average age for non-chocolate Labs was 12.1 years, compared to 10.7 years for chocolate Labs.

“The relationships between coat color and disease may reflect an inadvertent consequence of breeding certain pigmentations,” study lead author Paul McGreevy told

McGreevy argued that the chocolate color is a recessive trait, and dogs bred to exhibit it might have a reduced gene pool, translating to higher chances of sickness.

The team now wants to further study possible pigmentation-health links in other breeds to better inform dog breeders and owners in the future.

“The results can alert prospective owners to potential health issues and inform breed-specific wellness checks,” said McGreevy.


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