The World Today for January 21, 2020

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Annals of Reconstruction

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently floated the possibility of a meeting between Syrian President Bashar Assad and US President Donald Trump in Damascus.

The suggestion might have been a joke, Fox News reported. But jokes contain grains of truth. Putin was highlighting how, nearly nine years after the Syrian Civil War began, Assad’s near victory has improved his standing internationally.

Similarly, Turkish security officials recently met with Syrian counterparts in Moscow to discuss cooperating against Kurdish forces in northern Syria, wrote the Kurdish news agency Rudaw. It was the first publicized meeting between the two sides since they reduced their diplomatic ties eight years ago.

An article in the Jerusalem Post, credited to the Israeli daily Maariv, also noted that a senior Syrian official had provided intelligence to American forces before the January 3rd killing of Qassem Soleimani on the condition that they not attack the Iranian military leader on Syrian soil, according to sources who spoke to the British newspaper the Independent.

In the three-dimensional games of chess now underway in Syria, who knows if Assad gave that senior official the green light to talk. Writing in Al Jazeera, Arab Center fellow Joe Macaron argued that Soleimani’s absence would undercut Iran’s influence in Syria at a time when Assad must keep his Russian allies close. Certainly some Syrians welcomed the death of Soleimani, who oversaw militias that wrought death and chaos throughout their war-torn country, reported Syria Direct.

The bottom line is that Assad is no longer a leader under siege. His regime is in reconstruction mode.

Take, for example, how Moscow State University is planning on opening a satellite campus in Damascus, reported the Moscow Times, citing the Russian state-owned Tass news agency. With or without the West, the country is moving on.

That’s not to say all Syrians are flourishing, of course.

In a story about how an American official was overheard talking on his phone in Istanbul’s international airport, Newsweek reported that Russia recently pushed the United Nations Security Council into curbing humanitarian aid to one of the last remaining rebel-held areas in northwestern Syria.

The Syrian army recently airdropped leaflets into the area warning of an impending campaign to “cleanse” the territory. “Your safety lies in you leaving the areas of armed groups and heading toward official crossings that the government opened,” the leaflets said, according to the Washington Post.

But Turkey threatened to take action against Syria in the region if Assad broke a cease-fire there, wrote Reuters. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan feared that more fighting would push 400,000 refugees over the border into his country.

Syria is not out of the woods. For better or for worse, though, Assad is enjoying a sigh of relief.



Open for Business

French President Emmanuel Macron told international business leaders on Monday that France is open for business, as he’s attempting to attract more tech talent to the country, Bloomberg reported.

Macron announced several policy changes during the “Choose France” summit in Versailles, an event that has attracted executives from major US tech companies, such as Netflix and Google’s YouTube.

Among major policy changes, he aims to ease the visa process for tech workers employed by French or foreign companies. He also seeks to make stock options of startups in France more attractive, which European tech companies say is needed for them to compete with Silicon Valley.

Macron has attempted to attract foreign investment into France since his years working as economy minister, but some of his policies have gotten him into trouble. His recent pension reform plan, for instance, sparked the country’s longest strike in decades.


Rest in Mystery

Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa announced Monday that the tens of thousands of people still missing from the country’s 26-year civil war will be formally declared dead and issued death certificates, the Associated Press reported.

The president’s office said in a statement that the decision was made last week during a meeting with the United Nations’ resident coordinator in Sri Lanka.

Relatives of the missing people have been demanding for years to know the whereabouts of the mostly ethnic Tamils who disappeared during Sri Lanka’s civil war.

The government said that most of the missing people belonged to the Tamil Tiger rebels. Many fighters went missing in action in the conflict while others were abducted by government forces or paramilitaries. Missing security forces also account for 5,000 of the 23,586 missing people.

International rights groups suspect the number to be at least 40,000, comprising mostly ethnic Tamil civilians, according to Agence France-Presse.

Rajapaksa’s administration did not specify how they reached the conclusion that the missing people are dead or determined that they were associated with the rebel group.


The Right Thing?

Norway’s anti-immigration Progress party resigned from the coalition government Monday after the cabinet decided to repatriate a woman suspected of belonging to the Islamic State so one of her children could receive medical treatment, the Guardian reported.

The party’s departure left Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s administration without a parliamentary majority, but she said that she would continue to lead with a minority government.

Progress party leader Siv Jensen said that it had become too difficult to push through her party’s policies in the four-party coalition. Nevertheless, she said she would maintain close relations with Solberg’s government.

Solberg said her decision to allow the 29-year-old mother and her two children to be repatriated was “correct,” adding that she could not separate the child from his mother.

The unnamed woman left Norway in 2013 and married twice in Syria. She was kept in a Kurdish-controlled detention camp in Syria, but denies she was a member of the Islamic State.

European nations remain divided on the repatriating of women with links to the Islamist group. About 12,300 foreigners were detained in Syria at the end of 2018, including more than 8,700 children from more than 40 countries.


A Warning

Back around AD 800, a Viking named Varinn commemorated the death of his son by carving runic inscriptions into an eight-foot-tall monolith near Lake Vättern, in Sweden.

Known as the Rök stone, the artifact reveals a father’s eulogy to his son, but scholars are divided over the broader meaning of the inscription.

A recent study argued that the text is also a warning about extreme weather and impending doom, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Scholar Per Holmberg and his team wrote that Varinn’s essay mentioned a climate crisis that occurred after the death of a monarch in AD 526.

Archaeological evidence has shown that ash from several volcanic eruptions between AD 536 and 550 plunged Scandinavia into a prolonged cold snap, killing crops and leading to mass starvation.

The sixth-century stories really had an impact on the grieving father, who witnessed three more anomalies around the time of the runestone’s creation: a solar storm, a very cool summer and a near-total solar eclipse.

In Norse mythology, periods of extreme cold and eclipses are potential signs of Ragnarok – which is basically the Norse version of the apocalypse.

Researchers also noted that Varinn’s text made references to a series of “battles,” which they theorize were not actual clashes between armies but the chaos of climate change.

It’s unclear what Varinn’s message was, but if he wrote due to anxiety about the dangers of climate change, humanity has been warned.

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