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PM Marković in Atlantic Council: This is small step for the USA and its allies, but great day for Montenegro

BreakingNews @en di

Prime Minister of Montenegro Duško Marković attended the ceremony of the Atlantic Council on Monday evening. He said that entry into NATO is a historic moment for Montenegro and that this goes to reiterate the ties of alliance and friendship that exist between his country and the United States. He stressed that Montenegro is ready to take on all the responsibilities that this international commitment entails and will ensure that this goes not only for the benefit of political or economic alliances, but also for the benefit of the citizens themselves. Vice President of the United States Mike Pence particularly welcomed Prime Minister Marković and his Country: He also reiterated the principle on which the alliance is based, namely that a single country attack is considered as an attack on everyone else as well. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright welcomed Montenegro as well.

 

India and China for a news Leadership on the Climate?

Asia @en di

The world is changing rapidly. Until not long ago, the United States of Barack Obama, in the role of the virtuoses, pressed on India and China, the “big polluters”, to renew their environmental policies and join the ranks of countries engaged in combating climate change. The Paris COP 21 agreement, which was signed in 2015 by all the major players in the game, had, despite the many downward compromises, represented a favorable outcome for environmental issues and a success of the American democratic administration.

Less than two years later, Trump is ready to get out of the agreement, and India and China are willing to lead the fight against pollution, without saving sharp criticism to the new presidency’ choices.

None of the two countries, however, seems to be ready to assume a real leadership in the fight against global warming and fill the void that will inevitably be left by USA discharge.

The two Asian governments are gradually taking on more strong positions, on the public level as well, against fossil fuels, as their respective populations are going to directly suffer, more and more, from the adverse effects of climate change and poisoning of natural resources. Beyond reassuring positions, China and India are, at least for now, unable to offset the strong weakening of the economic incentive system the US offered to developing countries in exchange for a greater control over their levels of pollution.

The change of route in Asia is, however, evident and should not be underestimated. For decades, the governments of India and China had looked with suspicion and annoyance at the appeals of the first world countries for a reduction in polluting emissions. The countries which have based their development on wild industrialization without posing too much doubts about the climatic consequences, asked the poorer countries to limit their growth capabilities to preserve the health of the planet. What pulp came from the sermon?

Today, however, both Indian President Modi and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping seem to have adopted a different vision of the world. Modi called a “morally criminal act” to not stick to the commitments assumed on the climate front. Jinping addressed all signatories to the COP 21, recalling that it represents “a responsibility we must assume for future generations”.

Trump’s choice could have dramatic consequences for that same future. In addition to the reduction in economic incentives and technological equipment supplies (the US alone would have to contribute for about 20% of the total), American withdrawal could entice other countries to do the same. The Paris agreement, moreover, had been considered by many to be a downward result, unable to effectively contain global warming in the coming years. There would be much more substantial emissions cutbacks in order to reverse the route, but the American turnaround may also weaken the current deal, encouraging more hesitant states to loosen the ties of their engagement.

The United States is also the second most polluting country in the world, and with the Paris agreement they pledged to reduce 26 to 28% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. Without their contribution, experts are asking, will it be possible to meet the objective of limiting the rise in temperature, compared to the pre-industrial era, below the two degrees, as established by the Paris Agreement?

It’s hard to say, but things are neverthless moving. If India is committed to meeting its objectives, despite the fact that 240 million people in the sub-continent still have no access to electricity, China seems to have rapidly traveled to its commitments and started a financing project on the renewable energies ($ 360 million by 2020) that makes the Asian giant the new industry leader, globally.

New environmental policies, according to scholars, have already begun to have some tangible consequences in the two countries. China has slowed down its consumption of carbon and India is about to reduce its construction projects for new coal-fired power plants. New Deli then accelerated investments in wind and solar energy, moving to the target set for 2022: to bring its capacity from renewable sources to 175 gigawatts.

The words of Indian Energy Minister Piyush Goya sound clear and strong: “We are not addressing climate change because somebody told us to do it, it is an article of faith for this government .”

The jibe for the most industrialized countries is also a paradigm shift: “Sadly the developed world does not show the same commitment to fulfill their promises, which could help speed up the clean energy revolution .”

Will the Asian powers therefore be able to fill in the American shortages and load this revolution on their shoulders? The commitment is evident but the economic problem remains. American leadership on the environmental front, in the Obama era, was expressed through a $ 3 billion loan in favor of the poorest countries to support them in the development of alternative energies. This fund has been reduced by two-thirds by Trump and neither Beijing nor New Delhi intend to put all this money on the table. Rather, the two giants seem willing to play a coordinating and addressing role, strengthening the sharing of technology-based knowledge among the nations involved.

Using the words of Varad Pande, an ex-consultant at the Indian Ministry of Energy, the one that is being built todaywill be a different flavor of leadership“.

Intense and spicy, hopefully, like curry.

Saudi Arabia: first leg of Trump’s international trip

Policy/Politics di

Yesterday Donald Trump opened his first international trip as US President. The busy agenda includes The Vatican, Israel and Brussels, for a nine-day tour around Europe and the Middle East.  He chose Saudi Arabia for the inaugural meeting, a well-calculated choice that clearly marks the new administration’s approach toward one of the US historic and most strategic allies.

This international trip is a crucial political moment, especially for a newly elected president. Especially for a newly elected president that is already having political scandals back home. Indeed, it represents an excellent opportunity to meet several heads of states and government representatives all over the world, as well as a key moment to strengthen US alliances and to give a new breath to the nation posture in the international political arena.

The choice of Saudi Arabia as the first meeting is, therefore, a first quite unequivocal sign of the path President Trump wants to undertake. Saudi Arabia has always been one of the most important US allies in the region and the two countries share economic, political and strategic interests. Relations have been very close and friendly, showing a strong mutual understanding and the willingness to cooperate in several areas. However, under Obama’s administration, the happy marriage went through a very hard time, often referred by Saudi representatives as the worst in the US-Saudi history. Trump’s decision seems to be a smart move to show Saudi Arabia and the entire world the administration intention to go back to the strong and loyal relationship between the countries, after the challenging times of Mr Obama.

Several reasons stand behind this strategic choice, which can be read within the US-Saudi Arabia partnership’s framework, but also within the broader context of the US strategy in the Middle East.

Regarding US-Saudi relations, economic and security interests are the main issues on the table. Deals on weapons and defence systems are back on track after Obama stopped selling arms to the monarchy, worried about its possible influence –better said military support- in Yemen’s war (Saudi Arabia leads an international coalition supporting the government against the Houthi rebels). Trump seems not be sharing these concerns: the deals include, indeed, a Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) missile defence system, a C2BMC software system for battle command and control and communications as well as a package of satellite capabilities, all provided by Lockheed. Under consideration also combat vehicles made by BAE Systems PLC, including the Bradley Fighting Vehicle and M109 artillery vehicle. Contrary to the previous administration, the US appears to be supporting a more interventionist Saudi role in the region. Along the commercial agreements, Washington and Riyadh are also enhancing best practices in maritime, aviation and border security.

Looking at the broader US strategy in the Middle East, the visit in Saudi Arabia makes even more sense.

Since taking office, fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) has been Trump’s top national security priority. As the president made clear, ISIS -and terrorism in general- is not a regional problem, but one that affects the all international community, harming, therefore, also US interests back home and abroad. Similar consideration for the security conditions in the Middle East, which are essential to protect US economic and strategic interests in the region. These reasons made Trump reconsidering the US role in the Middle East. If Obama tried to step back and put some distance between the US politics and Middle Eastern affairs, giving the impression that the American power was turning the back to its allies in the region, Mr Trump has clearly shown different intentions.

The US is to re-take its posture in the Middle East, perhaps that security guarantor role that used to play in the past, willing to bring safety and stability in the region and, therefore, at the global level. Hence, the strong position taken by Iran’s antagonist behaviour and the attempt to reassure the US allies in the Gulf can be easily related to this new approach.

So, what does that mean in terms of regional security and international political games?

–    With the US support in fighting terrorism, the Gulf monarchies will be able to strengthen their positions against the Islamic State and terrorist groups. ISIS and other terrorist groups, indeed, have been trying to destabilise the Gulf monarchies. On the one hand, they took advantages of religious minorities and social differences in the countries. On the other, they benefited from an inconsistent European strategy in the region and a US administration probably more focused on domestic authoritarian issues and human rights records in its ISIS-fight partners than on the actual final goal. Trump seems to be setting priorities and boundaries: ISIS and terrorism come first; democracy and authoritarian tendency are a domestic issue that the US does not have to deal with now. To fight ISIS we need stable countries: simple as that. As the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said “When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. We must continue to keep our focus on the most urgent matter at hand.”

–    A new challenging US-Iran relation. If Obama’s era will be remembered in all history books for the multilateral nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic, Trump administration will unlikely follow the same path. As initial steps, Trump tightened sanctions against Iran, thus sending the message that time had changed and Iran must better behave. Several press statements denounced Iran’s antagonistic behaviour and defined the country as a plague for the Middle East and US interests there. No surprise, then, if engagement and accommodation of Obama’s office will be replaced by confrontation and hostility, a move very welcomed by the Arab countries.

–    By signing new weapon deals with Saudi Arabia, the US indirectly supports the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, a conflict that involves Iran too. The Islamic Republic, indeed, militarily support the Houthi rebels against the government. As mentioned above, Iran is considered a real threat to Middle East stability.

–    A stronger commitment to the Middle East stability cannot overlook the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Trump is pursuing peace talks between Israel and Palestine to set a lasting agreement. The two-state solution has been a core pillar of US foreign policies for decades -an independent state of Palestine in West Bank and Gaza in return for Israel’s safety and security. However, Trump affirms to be also opened to a one-state solution, where Israel will be the only state and Palestinians will either become citizens of Israel or else live under permanent occupation without voting rights. As the president said, “I’m happy with the one they [Israelis and Palestinians] like the best”. Not easy to understand, though, how Palestinians could like the second one.

–    Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, a Muslim country but also the home of the most significant Islamic religious sites, can be read as a strategic move to achieve the role the US would like to play in the Middle East. With the implementation of the immigration policies in the States and several statements against the Muslims, President Trump has attracted severe criticisms, describing him and his policies as anti-Muslim. Not the best precondition for someone that aims at playing a greater security role in the region. Hence, visiting the Saudi monarchy shows that the US and Arab Muslims can actually form a partnership and cooperate on some issues.

–    At first glance, it is understandable to think that a more interventionist US role in the Middle East could upset Russia. On several capillary topics -such as Syria and Yemen- Russia and the US have quite divergent views and stand on the opposite sides of the fight. A US administration willing to play the police role in the region and -possibly- put feet on the ground is not exactly what the Kremlin would like to see. However, the scandal that has recently hit the White House- regarding Trump sharing highly classified information with the Russians-questions the real relationship between Washington and Moscow.

In conclusion, Trump’s meeting with Saudi Arabia’s leaders goes beyond the routine diplomatic visits, as it also entails powerful political messages to the Arab countries and the entire world. A new page for the US foreign policy that aims to bring the old glory and its leader role in the Middle East. It looks like the new administration is backed by a crispy and definite strategy; however, on some topics it seems like Trump is proceeding blindly, just reacting to whatever it happens. The question is: does he have a strategy in mind? The US is a very powerful nation and -willing or not- its actions have a substantial impact worldwide. Hopefully, there will be some still unrevealed aces in the hole: the last thing that the world would like to see is the US wandering around without knowing what to do. It is time to take sides, it is time to make decisions, and Trump seems to be quite confident in doing so. However, to be effective, those decisions need directions, need a strategy, a smart long term project aiming at a specific goal. Let’s hope the current US administration truly has one.

Paola Fratantoni

King Salman: Iran spearheading global terror

BreakingNews @en di

King Salman, during his speech at the International Summit, held on 21st May, has declared the participation of Trump is useful to indicate his keenness in reinforcing and assuring cooperation in various fields. What is noting and noteworthy is, during this conference, was possible to assist at inter religious cooperations and also to shared value like countering terrorism and extremism and realizing an united front to fight against them, pursuing a common aim. King Salman has kept on condemning the use of Islam religion in order to achieve political aims as some groups do, for example Hezbollah group, ISIS and also Iranian regime. In addition to this, King Salman has also declared the importance of stopping the revolutionary regime in Iran, established since Khomeini revolution. Iran has neglected all forms of neighborhood. The Gulf Coordination Council has also adopted, with the signing of an agreement with USA, the application of firm measures against terror financing, establishing a center in Riyadh.

North Korea fires missile days after Moon pledges dialogue

BreakingNews @en di

North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Sunday in defiance of calls to rein in its weapons program, days after a new leader in its old rival South Korea came to power pledging to engage it in dialogue. The missile flew 700 kilometers and reached an altitude of more than 2,000 kilometers, according to officials in South Korea and Japan, further and higher than an intermediate-range missile North Korea successfully tested in February from the same region of Kusong, northwest of Pyongyang. North Korea is widely believed to be developing an intercontinental missile tipped with a nuclear weapon that is capable of reaching the United States.

Opposition’s boycott means shirking responsibility

BreakingNews @en di

US deputy assistant secretary of state Hoyt Brian Yee said that MP who boycott Parliament shirk his responsibility. At the 2BS Forum in Budva on Friday he said that Montenegro’s membership in NATO is one of the most important changes in the international scenario and – he added – USA will follow this country in every part of the integration process. But, he also said that Montenegro’s accession to NATO reveals the russian efforts to undermine the Balkan path in Europe and the russian support to some kind of movement in Bosnia to isolate Kosovo. He also added that Montenegro’s governement has to fight against corruption.

Trump announces trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Vatican.

BreakingNews @en di

Since taking his office, US officials of President Department have announced the first trip in foreign countries of Trump will be in Saudi Arabia, in order to keep his propaganda about specific topics, such as “counter Iran and Terrorism”. Trip to Saudi Arabia will be in late May and it will convene a summit in Jeddah, of which Trump will take part. The reason why Trump has decided to start this journey from Saudi Arabia is because he wants to show the future engagement of USA in countering terrorism and Iran, even because the Saudi allies have felt abandoned under the predecessor, Barack Obama. This meeting in May will be useful to reinforce partnership between those two states, in several aspects: countering and defeating terrorism, but also an economic partnership.

 

Trump on Mideast peace: 'We will get it done'

BreakingNews @en di

Despite bleak prospects for success, President Donald Trump promised on Wednesday “to do whatever is necessary” to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. At a White House meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, Trump pledged to reinvigorate the stalled Mideast peace process that has bedeviled his predecessors and said he would serve as “a mediator, an arbitrator or a facilitator” between the two sides. “We will get it done”, Trump confidently told Abbas. The source of Trump’s optimism was not immediately apparent. He offered no details about his effort or how it would be any different from attempts over the past two decades during which former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all tried and failed. Palestinian officials said after the meeting that Trump had not raised any specific proposals to restart negotiations.

Critics blast US shipment of fighter jets to Israel

BreakingNews @en di

Israel received three F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States at the weekend – a new generation of “near-invisible” planes that critics fear will free the country’s hand to launch air strikes and spying operations against neighbouring states undetected. In total, Israel has bought 50 F-35s from manufacturer Lockheed Martin, and claims it will have the first squadron combat-ready before the end of the year. It is the first country outside the US to be allowed access to the warplane, said to be the most expensive ever developed. The F-35’s main selling point is its advanced stealth capabilities, reportedly allowing it to evade even the most sophisticated antiaircraft missile systems. Lockheed describes the plane as “virtually invisible”.

IF PYONGYANG PUTS BEIJING NEAR WASHINGTON

Asia @en di

1280px-The_statues_of_Kim_Il_Sung_and_Kim_Jong_Il_on_Mansu_Hill_in_Pyongyang_(april_2012)

The tone escalation in Northeast Asia is alarming the chancelleries of the region and beyond. The fragile equilibrium on which the peace lies in the Korean peninsula is put to the test on both sides. Trump threatened to send a naval “armada”, putting Pyongyang under pressure during the celebrations for the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-Sung, founder of the country. Kim Jong-Un, on the opposite side, renewed its threats to the United States and its South Korean and Japanese allies, claiming to be ready to use all of its offensive potential in the event of a conflict. The North Korean nuclear dossier, therefore, is again on the top of the agenda, raising the alarm level of the international community.

The nuclear project is for Pyongyang absolutely strategic in terms of detriment of external threats and for this purpose it funds the program with $ 700 million annually, to advance on the technological ground and equip medium- and long-range ballistic vectors  on which, one day, install atomic warheads. The six nuclear tests so far conducted and the progressive technical improvements have allowed the regime to strengthen its position in the chain of regional relations and in the confrontation with the great American enemy, with whom, it should be remembered, a peace treaty was never signed after the end of the Korean War in 1951.

It is not possible to verify Pyongyang’s proclamations and no one knows for sure when Kim will be able to rely on the hydrogen bomb or on a ballistic missile capable of reaching the American West Coast. This uncertainty, however, plays in favor of the regime, which shows the muscles without the enemy being able to understand with certainty whether they are made of flesh or fake.

Nuclear rhetoric is an important instrument of control and affirmation also on the domestic front, as it allows Kim to consolidate its authority both in the eyes of the population and the bureaucratic-military establishment that plays a central role in the country. When he succeeded his father in 2011, Kim was almost unknown at home. Therefore, he immediately had to  exacerbate his rhetoric to build the image of an authoritative and determined leader, relying on the powerful propaganda machine and the systematic cleanup of internal opponents. Paradigmatic example was the physical elimination of Jang Song-taek, uncle of the young leader who had climbed the military hierarchies during the reign of Kim Jong-il and who, in the first months after the succession, played the role of de facto regent of the Regime.

Jang had also become the principal referent of Beijing, the main, if not unique, North Korean ally. And, on the Chinese model, Jang wanted to bring Pyongyang on the road to economic reforms and greater openness . Jang’s specific weight in the power system and his plan to transform the country, moving away from the dynastic and personalistic model in favor of a more collegial conception inspired by the Beijing example, have been probably the origin of its end. Progressively marginalized by the new leader after 2011, he was arrested in 2013 and killed along with other members of his circle.

This demonstration of strength, while serving as an example to other possible internal opponents, marked the beginning of a new phase of isolation of  the country from the rest of the international community. Subsequent nuclear tests and the aggressive rhetoric of Kim have provoked a strong exasperation towards the Pyongyang regime, even in the Chinese ally, traditionally available for patience. After Jang’s execution, Beijing lost its reference man and no longer found trusted interlocutors north of the 38th parallel, losing part of his role as protector and regime controller.

If for a long time North Korea has been a pressure instrument on the international community and a buffered state between Beijing and the Asian allies of the United States, it is now likely to be a risk factor for Chinese interests in the region. North Korean intimidations has had the effect of releasing the arming race in neighboring countries, thus altering the traditional balance in the Pacific and putting Beijing in a situation of unprecedented difficulty. Pyongyang’s defense may therefore be counterproductive for China, which could ultimately opt for pragmatic convergence with the United States, South Korea and Japan.

In 2016, for the first time, China joined the sanctions system against the North Korean government, marking a major breakthrough. Beijing is in fact the first trading partner for Pyongyang and hosts a large number of bank accounts, companies and firms that manage the regime’s legal and illegal activities. In 2017 coal imports from North Korea will drop by about 50%, with estimated economic damage of about $ 700 million, equal to the entire budget for the nuclear research program.

This change of route does not, however, result in a Chinese flattening on American positions. Beijing did not appreciate at all the explicit threats put forth by Trump against North Korea and, at the March bilateral summit in Florida, Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated the need to find a diplomatic solution and avoid a dangerous escalation in the region. Beijing could not afford to remain a passive spectator in the face of any US military action that would have a direct impact on its national security.

The economic and commercial leverage could allow China to re-enforce its influence on the North Korean military and bureaucratic elites, who base their prosperity on the ability to do business with the powerful neighbor. However, it will be necessary to locate new contact persons in Pyongyang so that it can return to influence the regime’s policy and best manage, in the event of a fall of current leadership, the transition phase. A recaptured influence would also allow China to get a new exchange currency in the relationship with Trump administration, in a delicate historical stage for the relations between the two global giants.

The need to limit the unpredictability of Kim Jong-Un’s regime could be the common ground on which to redefine the boundaries of the relationship between China and the United States. A more assertive role of Beijing towards the regime could therefore be the result of an agreement between the two sides of the Pacific, with a possible marginalization of the role played by Japan and South Korea in determining a new strategy.

Tokyo and Seoul would be on the front line in a possible armed conflict with Pyongyang. If, however, Japan appears ready to support the Trump administration’s muscular approach, Seoul continues to push for the search of peaceful and diplomatic solutions. In the midst of a political crisis that led to the resignation of former President Park, South Korea is likely to find itself without a strong government when crucial decisions are taken, with direct consequences on its national security.

 

Image: Wikimedia

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