United Nations, Nov 20 (AP/UNB) — The United Nations is still aiming to send invitations to 150 Syrians by mid-December to participate in a committee that would draft a new constitution for Syria, which is key to holding elections and ending the country's civil war, a U.N. envoy said Monday.
Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy for Syria, told the Security Council that the U.N. also aims to hold the committee's first meeting before Dec. 31.
But de Mistura said the Syrian government is objecting to 50 members of the committee representing civil society, experts, independents, tribal leaders and women that he was authorized to put together at a Russian-hosted Syrian peace conference in Sochi on Jan. 30.
Under the Sochi agreement, the committee is to comprise 150 members. There is already agreement on the 50-member delegation from the government and the 50-member delegation from the opposition.
But De Mistura warned that if there is no agreement on the remaining members, the U.N. may have to conclude that it's not possible to form a "credible and inclusive" constitutional committee at this stage.
He said the U.N. welcomes "constructive and moderate suggestions" to change the list of the disputed 50 members. But de Mistura said they must "maintain the same spirit of credibility, balance and international legitimacy," and he stressed that the list can't be filled with political leaders who are already represented.
The U.N. envoy said that at his last briefing to the Security Council in December "it will be my duty to explain where we are on the constitutional committee, and leave a clean and clear ground to my successor regarding it."
De Mistura was supposed to step down at the end of December but U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday he will be staying on "for a bit longer" to make sure there is no gap "at an extremely critical time in the Syria talks." He will be succeeded by veteran Norwegian ambassador Geir Pederson.
"The weeks to come will be of crucial importance" in attempts to form a constitution-drafting committee, de Mistura said.
U.S. deputy ambassador Jonathan Cohen urged the constitutional committee to be convened in December — "if not sooner."
He said de Mistura has been "more than patient and flexible" in accepting input on the list of committee members.
"Any further deliberation must be seen for what it is: an artificial delay, a transparent attempt to distract and delay progress toward a political solution in Syria," Cohen said.
He said the Syrian government and its allies Russia and Iran can't be allowed to veto de Mistura's decision on the committee's membership.
"The burden is on Russia to show that it wants its own diplomatic initiative to succeed," Cohen said. "Russia must bring the Syrian regime to the table. If it truly wants a political solution, Russia must end the obstruction of this process."
Dhaka, Nov 20 (UNB) - Two men lead a herd of camels through a brutal sandstorm and a haze of rain in a dramatic video that’s gone viral for both its drama, and its beauty.
The video looks like a scene from an apocalyptic movie. It shows two men leading a camel through a haze of rain and sandstorm and over flooded, sandy terrain. After a moment, the camera turns and reveals a row of about twenty camels following behind.
Saudi Arabia’s eastern region experienced “code red” weather over the weekend, with heavy rains, thunderstorms and strong winds turning the Saudi sands into a wet marshland by Monday.
The video was taken on a road near Tumair, north of Riyadh and filmed by photographer Fahad Al-Osaimi. The camels belong to Ayedh Al Massoud and the video was first shared by his son, Abd El-El Massoud.
المقطع أكثر تداولاً لإبل والدي : عايض بن سعد آل مسعود القحطاني ، في شرق تمير وشكراً لصاحب الموقف والمصور فهد بن سبلان العصيمي .. pic.twitter.com/63EWYN7VcM— عبدالاله آل مسعود (@boode_m) November 14, 2018
“I saw camels stranded and trapped by heavy rains and floods in the central region of Tamir,” Al-Osaimi told al Arabiya. The men led the camels more than 3 kilometers, trying to calm the scared animals as they went.
The video was widely shared on social media and was featured on local news channels, as many admired the dramatic footage. Unfortunately, Saudis are facing more miserable weather this week.
Washington, Nov 17 (AP/UNB) — U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. official said. The Saudi government has denied the claim.
The conclusion will bolster efforts in Congress to further punish the close U.S. ally for the killing. The Trump administration this past week penalized 17 Saudi officials for their alleged role in the killing, but American lawmakers have called on the administration to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia or take other harsher punitive measures.
The U.S. official familiar with the intelligence agencies' conclusion was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke only condition of anonymity Friday. The conclusion was first reported by The Washington Post.
Saudi Arabia's top diplomat has said the crown prince had "absolutely" nothing to do with the killing.
Vice President Mike Pence told reporters traveling with him at a summit of Pacific Rim nations in Papua New Guinea that he could not comment on "classified information." He said Saturday "the murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocity. It was also an affront to a free and independent press, and the United States is determined to hold all of those accountable who are responsible for that murder."
The United States will "follow the facts," Pence said, while trying to find a way of preserving a "strong and historic partnership" with Saudi Arabia.
Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States, was a columnist for the Post and often criticized the royal family. He was killed Oct. 2 at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Turkish and Saudi authorities say he was killed inside the consulate by a team from the kingdom after he went there to get marriage documents.
This past week, U.S. intelligence officials briefed members of the Senate and House intelligence committees and the Treasury Department announced economic sanctions on 17 Saudi officials suspected of being responsible for or complicit in the killing.
Among those targeted for sanctions were Mohammed al-Otaibi, the diplomat in charge of the consulate, and Maher Mutreb, who was part of the crown prince's entourage on trips abroad.
The sanctions freeze any assets the 17 may have in the U.S. and prohibit any Americans from doing business with them.
Also this past week, the top prosecutor in Saudi Arabia announced he will seek the death penalty against five men suspected in the killing. The prosecutor's announcement sought to quiet the global outcry over Khashoggi's death and distance the killers and their operation from the kingdom's leadership, primarily the crown prince.
President Donald Trump has called the killing a botched operation that was carried out very poorly and has said "the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups."
But he has resisted calls to cut off arms sales to the kingdom and has been reluctant to antagonize the Saudi rulers. Trump considers the Saudis vital allies in his Mideast agenda.
The Post, citing unnamed sources, also reported that U.S. intelligence agencies reviewed a phone call that the prince's brother, Khalid bin Salman, had with Khashoggi. The newspaper said the prince's brother, who is the current Saudi ambassador to the United States, told Khashoggi he would be safe in going to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents he needed to get married.
The newspaper said it was not known whether the ambassador knew Khashoggi would be killed. But it said he made the call at the direction the crown prince, and the call was intercepted by U.S. intelligence.
Fatimah Baeshen, a spokesperson for the Saudi Embassy in Washington, said that claim was false.
She said in a statement issued to The Associated Press that the ambassador met Khashoggi in person once in late September 2017. After that, they communicated via text messages, she said. The last text message the ambassador sent to Khashoggi was on Oct. 26, 2017, she said.
Baeshen said the ambassador did not discuss with Khashoggi "anything related to going to Turkey."
"Ambassador Prince Khalid bin Salman has never had any phone conversations with him," she said.
"You are welcome to check the phone records and cell phone content to corroborate this — in which case, you would have to request it from Turkish authorities," Baeshen said, adding that Saudi prosecutors have checked the phone records numerous times to no avail.
The ambassador himself tweeted: "The last contact I had with Mr. Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017. I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the U.S. government to release any information regarding this claim."
Tehran, Nov 17 (AP/UNB) — Iraq's President Barham Salih began a visit to Iran on Saturday, where he pledged to improve relations less than two weeks after the United States restored oil sanctions that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran, which has had major influence over Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, is hoping to maintain exports to its neighbor despite the renewed sanctions. Iraq is Iran's second-largest market after China, buying everything from food and machinery to electricity and natural gas.
At a joint briefing after their meeting, Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said they discussed increasing trade in electricity and oil products and the establishment of free trade zones along the border. He said they also discussed joint oil projects and improving transport links between the two countries.
Trade between the two countries was some $7 billion in 2017, and they have vowed to boost it to $8.5 billion this year. Rouhani said it could eventually reach $20 billion a year.
Salih also pledged to improve ties, and suggested the formation of a "new regional system" including Iraq and Iran, one based on "political integrity, national interests and cooperation between nations and governments." He did not elaborate.
President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in May. United Nations monitors say Iran still abides by the deal, in which it agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in return for the lifting of international sanctions.
Since then, Trump announced what he billed as the "toughest ever" sanctions against Iran, and the country has seen its oil exports plunge and its currency lose more than half its value. The full brunt of the measures came into effect Nov. 5 when the U.S. re-imposed oil and banking sanctions.
The U.S., which provided crucial military support to Iraq in its battle against the Islamic State group, has granted Iraq a 45-day waiver to allow it to continue to purchase gas and electricity from Iran.
Salih said Iraq should not be "a field for struggle between conflicting demands and wills."
United Nations, Nov 16 (AP/UNB) — A U.N. committee on human rights approved a resolution Thursday urging Iran to stop its widespread use of arbitrary detention and expressing serious concern at its "alarmingly high" use of the death penalty.
The General Assembly's Human Rights Committee adopted the resolution by a vote of 85-30, with 68 abstentions. It is virtually certain to be approved by the 193-member world body next month.
The resolution "strongly urges" Iran to eliminate discrimination against women in law and practice and expresses "serious concern about ongoing severe limitations and restrictions on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief."
It singles out violations including harassment, intimidation and persecution against religious minorities including Christians, Gonabadi Dervishes, Jews, Sufi Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Yarsanis, Zoroastrians and members of the Baha'i faith — and urges the release of religious practitioners including Baha'i leaders.
The resolution, sponsored by Canada, also calls on Iran to end "widespread and serious restrictions" including on freedom of assembly of political opponents, human rights defenders, labor leaders, environmentalists, academics, filmmakers, journalists, bloggers, social media users and others.
While the resolution welcomes the elimination of the death penalty for some drug-related offenses, it expresses serious concern at the "alarmingly high frequency" of Iran's use of the death penalty, including against minors.
Iran's deputy U.N. ambassador, Eshagh Al Habib, dismissed the resolution as a "political charade," saying promoting the human rights of Iranians "is not simply a legal and moral responsibility, but a paramount requirement of national security."
"Similar to any other country, deficiencies may exist, and we are determined to address them," he said. "However, it is not for those who traditionally, historically and practically supported colonialism, slavery, racism and apartheid to lecture Iranians on human rights."
Alluding to the resolution's sponsor and more than 30 co-sponsors, including the United States, Al Habib said that threatening cuts in financial and development funds to get votes "further exposes the dishonesty of these self-assured champions of human rights."
Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi of Saudi Arabia, a regional rival of Iran, said, "The Iranian people continue to suffer under a regime that does not respect human rights, that denies freedoms, that persecutes religious and racial minorities." He called on Iran not "give shelter to terrorists."