LONDON/WASHINGTON – The United States said on Monday it would expel 60 Russian diplomats, joining governments across Europe in punishing the Kremlin for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain that they have blamed on Moscow. It was the strongest action that U.S. President Donald Trump had taken against Russia since coming to office. British Prime Minister Theresa May, welcoming the show of solidarity, said 18 countries had announced plans to expel Russian officials. Those included 14 European Union countries. In total, Monday’s announcements affected more than 100 Russian diplomats – the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War.
Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom agreed in a joint declaration to work together to support the Lebanese government and to work together to counter the role of Hezbollah in the region. The statement was issued during the visit of the Saudi hereditary prince Mohammed bin Salman to the United Kingdom at the invitation of the government of Queen Elizabeth II. The statement stressed that to reach any political agreement, it is crucial to end security threats in Saudi Arabia and other regional states, as well as see the end of Iranian support for militias and the withdrawal of Yemen’s Iranian elements and Hezbollah. The partnership between the two countries will be long-term and will touch various sectors, going to support the Saudi Vision 2030.
A UK-based rights group reports that a Saudi activist, who questioned the normalisation of ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel, has been detained in her home country, and could face up to five years in prison. The woman, Noha al-Balawi has reportedly been under detention in the northwestern region of Tabuk for more than two weeks, ALQST, a group advocating for human rights in Saudi Arabia, said on Thursday. According to ALQST, al-Balawi was asked to report to a police station in Tabuk on January 23, only to be arrested, and has been detained ever since. Authorities reportedly questioned al-Balawi about her social media activities, including posts questioning the normalisation of ties between her country and Israel, the rights group said. In one video clip widely circulated on social media, Balawi declared, “Normalisation means accepting the occupation”, in reference to Israel’s continued control of Palestinian land. And again “Let me make it clear; we will never recognise Israel no matter what it will cost us. There is not a single benefit for Arabs when we normalise relations with Israel. It only serves the best interests of the Zionist state,”. However, in recent months, relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel have warmed up, with a flurry of diplomatic activities between Riyadh and Tel Aviv. According to the report, the investigating officer had referred al-Balawi’s case for trial under the country’s cybercrime law. Article 6 of the law states that a person “who creates or transmits anything prejudicial to public order” could face up to five years in jail, and/or a fine of up to $800,000. The Human right group said Saudi authorities are trying to mislead the public by denying al-Balawi’s detention in what seems clearly an “obvious attempt” to silence public opinion. The group call for an immediate and unconditional release and for let her “restoring” her social media presence allowing her to express her opinions. It remains still unclear when and in which court al-Balawi will be judged.
As the UK moves to exit the EU, the Western Balkans are pushing for the opening of the Union’s door. In spring, Brussels can give a green light for opening accession negotiations with Macedonia and Albania, the Austrian daily newspaper Kurier reads. The EU Commissioner for the European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn also told EU-Western Balkans Media Days that took place on Nov. 9 to 10 in Tirana that Macedonia and Albania are on the right track, MIA reports.EC President Jean-Claude Juncker pointed to 2025 as a possible term for admitting new EU members, but according to Hahn, no state has a guarantee that it will join by then. If a specific deadline is set, it can be a danger for the Western Balkans that will not be able to meet the deadline, to remain waiting and to lag behind. A positive moment, which was pointed out at Hahn’s meetings in Tirana, is the improved climate in the relations between Greece and Macedonia. This opens opportunities in the coming months for a possible end of the Greek blockade due to the long-standing name dispute with Macedonia. In regard to Albania, the problem with the thousands of Albanians still seeking asylum in the EU should be solved. It affects the image of the country and therefore has to change, but this cannot be done in a year or two.
Despite Brexit, the United Kingdom will continue to support Macedonia, it was conveyed to Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov in his meetings in London with the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, and the Speaker of the House of Lords, Lord Fowler.President Ivanov said the meetings mainly focused on Brexit, a burning issue in the UK, his cabinet said in a press release Wednesday. Overall bilateral relations between the countries dominated the meetings. Next year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Republic of Macedonia and the United Kingdom.Meeting with the speakers of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the Macedonian President shared views about current developments in the region, including the migrant crisis and Macedonia’s role in addressing it.Later in the day, Ivanov will deliver an address on topic “Macedonia, Migration and Security: Lessons Learned” in the Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs.
October 19 marks the second anniversary of President Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the UK. Bilaterally, President Xi’s State Visit heralded a new era for China-UK relations. The State Visit was the first by China’s head of state in ten years. It took place in the first year of the second decade of China-UK comprehensive strategic partnership. That was an important moment where China and the UK could build on the achievements of the past and herald a coming new era. During the State Visit, China and the UK committed to building a global comprehensive strategic partnership for the 21st Century. The State Visit opened the “Golden Era” in UK-China relations featuring enduring, inclusive and win-win cooperation and raised the banner of consensus and cooperation. President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Theresa May maintained close personal contact, exchanging letters on many issues and having two meetings and one telephone talk. Both leaders reaffirmed the shared commitment to building the China-UK “Golden Era”, which was a strong reassurance for the continued, healthy growth of our bilateral relationship and our ever deepening cooperation across the board. Both China and Britain are permanent members of the UN Security Council and important members of G20. We have maintained sound cooperation on international issues and have more shared commitment to economic globalization, trade liberalization and investment facilitation.
The Foreign Affairs Committee of House of Representatives and the Interim Government led by Abdullah Al-Thanni have strongly deplored British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s rude remarks about Sirte, regarding it “blatant interference in Libya’s internal affairs”. In a statement on Thursday, the Tobruk-based parliament committee said the “unacceptable remarks” of Britain’s top diplomat are “a violation of Libya’s sovereignty”, demanding a clarification and an apology to the Libyan people from the British government. The government accused Britain of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood group, Dignity Operation’s political foes, and working with other western countries to enable them to control the country for the interest of Britain. In Tripoli, the Presidential Council, which Britain recognizes, summoned British Ambassador to Libya Peter Millett and demanded a clarification for the remarks. Chairman of the Council Fayaz Sirraj told Ambassador Millett that Johnson’s remarks are unacceptable, but Millett explained that Johnson was referring to the bodies of ISIS militants. The High Council of State has not yet responded to Johnson’s remarks.
In the wake of new US strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia the environment has changed and new opportunities have come into existence for Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani told a high-level British official on Monday. British Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth, Mark Field, and President Ghani exchanged views on various topics, including the US strategy of Afghanistan and South Asia, peace and stability in the region and Afghanistan, upcoming elections, transit and trade, and other regional affairs. A statement from the Presidential Palace received by Pajhwok Afghan News said President Ghani expressed gratitude to the government and people of United Kingdom for its assistances to Afghanistan in the past few years. Ghani said as a result of the US strategy, the environment changed and fresh opportunities took shape for Afghanistan that would be achieved in collaboration with international partners in order for ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan and beyond.
British companies selling weapons have earned hundreds of millions of dollars by selling arms to Saudi Arabia during the ongoing war in Yemen. New estimates released by the children’s charity War Child reveal that since the Saudi-led coalition began its intervention in Yemen, UK weapons companies including BAE systems and Raytheon have earned revenues exceeding $8bn from dealings with Saudi Arabia, generating profits estimated at almost $775m. A Saudi-led military coalition was formed in March 2015 to support Yemen’s internationally recognised government in fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The conflict has killed more than 10,000 people and has injured more than 40,000 to date, according to the United Nations. In the past three years, the UK has approved arms export licences to Saudi Arabia worth $4.7bn, including the Tornado aircraft, which is partially manufactured by BAE systems, vehicles and tanks, including BAE’s Tactica armoured vehicles valued at $580,000 and $1.48bn worth of grenades missiles and bombs.
From London on Thursday, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillirson and his UK counterpart, Boris Johnson both reiterated full support for the UNSMIL and the UN envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, in their efforts to regain stability in Libya. The UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said no harm in holding elections in Libya once the legal ground is set for the democratic event. Meanwhile, Tellirson said the US fully supports Salame’s efforts in Libya, adding that all solutions to the Libyan issue must be under the auspices of the UN. He also stressed that the US is keen on avoiding having Libya become an epicenter for terrorists or the reemergence of IS militants.