Category Archives: World

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Ties Between Peace Partners Jordan, Israel Seen as Improving

After years of strained relations between Jordan and Israel over the Palestinian issue, analysts say a new dynamic dominates their relationship with the end of Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership and they point to some positive momentum. 

Jordanian political commentator Osama Al Sharif says that just a month after a new Israeli coalition government was formed in June, ending 12 years of Netanyahu rule, the two sides reached several initiatives helping to normalize relations.  

Their foreign ministers have concluded fresh deals on water and trade, he told the Jordan Times newspaper, whereby Jordan will buy an additional 50 million cubic meters of water as the kingdom battles a severe drought. This is besides the “30 million cubic meters Israel provides annually under the 1994 peace treaty,” noted Al Sharif. 

The Israelis “also agreed to increase Jordanian exports to the West Bank from $160 million to $700 million annually,” Al Sharif said. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called Jordan “an important neighbor and partner,” saying Israel “will broaden economic cooperation for the good of the two countries.” 

King Abdullah, in a recent interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, said he met both Israeli and Palestinian leaders following the 11-day war with Gaza, which he called a “wake-up call” for both sides, urging a return to the negotiating table.  

“I think we have seen in the past couple of weeks, not only a better understanding between Israel and Jordan, but the voices coming out of both Israel and Palestine that we need to move forward and reset that relationship. This last war with Gaza, I thought was different. Since 1948, this is the first time I feel that a civil war happened in Israel. I think that was a wake-up call for the people of Israel and the people of Palestine to move along. God forbid, the next war is going to be even more damaging,” Abdullah said.

Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, told VOA that he shares the king’s concerns, if the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate continues and another war with Gaza were to erupt.

“As long as the U.S. remains committed to the two-state solution and talking to the Palestinian Authority, that’s to the minimal needs of the kingdom. It’s a frustrating situation because we know the status quo is not sustainable. Another round of violence like we saw earlier this year is only a matter of time,” Riedel said.  

Commentator Al Sharif also warns that “while ties with Israel can only improve after years of turbulence, trouble could be lurking ahead.” 

“Jordan cannot compromise on the two-state solution, nor can it accept Israeli actions” in East Jerusalem, he said, whether at the Al Aqsa Mosque or in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. 

Al Sharif warned that any future attacks on Jerusalem “will force the Jordanian monarch to react” as the custodian of the city’s Muslim and Christian holy sites. 

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US, 20 Other Countries Condemn Cuban Crackdown on Freedom Protesters

The United States and 20 other countries on Monday condemned Cuba for its crackdown on thousands of freedom protesters and called on Havana to release the demonstrators and restore internet access on the island nation.“Today, democracies around the world are coming together to support the Cuban people, calling on the Cuban government to respect Cubans’ demands for universal human rights,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.He said the Cuban government, which has arrested hundreds of protesters, “has responded, not by recognizing the voices of its own people, but by further stifling those voices through arbitrary detentions and secret summary trials lacking due process guarantees.”The joint statement said that the tens of thousands of Cubans who took to the streets on July 11 “exercised universal freedoms of expression and assembly, rights enshrined” in international human rights charters.“We urge the Cuban government to heed the voices and demands of the Cuban people,” the joint statement said. “The international community will not waver in its support of the Cuban people and all those who stand up for the basic freedoms all people deserve.”Joining the U.S. in the statement were the governments of Austria, Brazil, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Guatemala, Greece, Honduras, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, South Korea and Ukraine.U.S. President Joe Biden last week assailed the Cuban crackdown and sanctioned the Cuban military chief and the country’s internal security division for its arrest and detention of hundreds of protesters. The Cuban government has denounced the protests.

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Pentagon China Expert Sworn In on Way to Singapore

On a military aircraft high above the Pacific Ocean en route to Singapore, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin swore in one of the Biden administration’s leading experts on China as the newest assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security.
For the past six months, Ely Ratner led the department’s China task force, which reviewed where the Pentagon stood in its efforts on Beijing. Austin called it “magnificent piece of work” that fueled future policy plans.  
“I’m excited about having Ely firmly in the seat in this position,” Austin said during the ceremony Sunday held at about 9,100 meters (30,000 feet) in a plane traveling at 988 kph (614 mph).  
Ratner is a longtime aide to President Joe Biden, according to Politico, serving as a staff member when Biden was in the Senate. From 2015 to 2017, he was deputy national security adviser to then-Vice President Biden after working in the office of Chinese and Mongolian affairs at the State Department.  
Ratner was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday, along with five other national security team appointees.
On Austin’s trip, the first to Southeast Asia by a top member of the Biden administration, the secretary will visit Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines. It is Austin’s second trip to the Asia-Pacific region.
He is scheduled to deliver a keynote address on Tuesday at the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. He likely will touch on his stated pursuit of a “new vision of integrated deterrence” of Chinese aggression across the region.

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Only Tokyo Could Pull Off These Games? Not Everyone Agrees

Staging an Olympics during the worst pandemic in a century? There’s a widespread perception that it couldn’t happen in a better place than Japan.

A vibrant, open democracy with deep pockets, the host nation is known for its diligent execution of detail-laden, large-scale projects, its technological advances, its consensus-building and world-class infrastructure. All this, on paper, at least, gives the strong impression that Japan is one of the few places in the world that could even consider pulling off the high-stakes tightrope walk that the Tokyo Games represent.

Some in Japan aren’t buying it.

“No country should hold an Olympics during a pandemic to start with. And if you absolutely must, then a more authoritarian and high-tech China or Singapore would probably be able to control COVID better,” said Koichi Nakano, a politics professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.

The bureaucratic, technological, logistical and political contortions required to execute this unprecedented feat — a massively complicated, deeply scrutinized spectacle during a time of global turmoil, death and suffering — have put an unwelcome spotlight on the country.

Most of all, it has highlighted some embarrassing things: that much of Japan doesn’t want the Games, that the nation’s vaccine rollout was late and is only now expanding, and that many suspect the Games are being forced on the country because the International Olympic Committee needs the billions in media revenue.

The worry here isn’t that Tokyo’s organizers can’t get to the finish line without a major disaster. That seems possible, and would allow organizers to claim victory, of a kind.

The fear is that once the athletes and officials leave town, the nation that unwillingly sacrificed much for the cause of global sporting unity might be left the poorer for it, and not just in the tens of billions of dollars it has spent on the Games.

The Japanese public may see an already bad coronavirus situation become even worse; Olympics visitors here have carried fast-spreading variants of the virus into a nation that is only approaching 25% fully vaccinated.

The Tokyo Olympics are, in one sense, a way for visitors to test for themselves some of the common perceptions about Japan that have contributed to this image of the country as the right place to play host. The results, early on in these Games, are somewhat of a mixed bag.

On the plus side, consider the airport arrivals for the thousands of Olympics participants. They showcased Japan’s ability to harness intensely organized workflow skills and bring them to bear on a specific task — in this case, protection against COVID-19 that might be brought in by a swarm of outsiders.

From the moment visitors stepped from their aircraft at Narita International Airport, they were corralled — gently, cheerfully, but in no uncertain terms firmly — into lines, then guided across the deserted airport like second-graders heading to recess. Barriers, some with friendly signs attached, ensured they got documents checked, forehead temperatures measured, hands sanitized and saliva extracted.

Symmetrical layouts of chairs, each meticulously numbered, greeted travelers awaiting their COVID-19 test results and Olympic credentials were validated while they waited. The next steps — immigration, customs — were equally efficient, managing to be both crisp and restrictive, but also completely amiable. You emerged from the airport a bit dizzy from all the guidance and herding, but with ego largely unbruised.

But there have also been conspicuous failures.

After the opening ceremony ended, for example, hundreds of people in the stadium were crammed into a corrallike pen, forced to wait for hours with only a flimsy barricade separating them from curious Japanese onlookers, while dozens of empty buses idled in a line stretching for blocks, barely moving.

Japan does have some obvious advantages over other democracies when it comes to hosting these Games, such as its economic might. As the world’s third-largest economy, after the United States and China, it was able to spend the billions needed to orchestrate these protean Games, with their mounting costs and changing demands.

Another advantage could be Japan’s well-deserved reputation for impeccable customer service. Few places in the world take as much pride in catering to visitors’ needs. It’s an open question, however, whether that real inclination toward hospitality will be tested by the extreme pressure.

A geopolitical imperative may be another big motivator. Japanese archrival China hosts next year’s Winter Games, and many nationalists here maintain that an Olympic failure is not an option amid the struggle with Beijing for influence in Asia. Yoshihide Suga, the prime minister, may also be hoping that a face-saving Games, which he can then declare successful, will help him retain power in fall elections.

And the potential holes in the argument that Japan is the perfect host nation for a pandemic Games?

Start, maybe, with leadership. It has never been clear who is in charge. Is it the city of Tokyo? The national government? The IOC? The Japanese Olympic Committee?

“This Olympics has been an all-Japan national project, but, as is often pointed out, nobody has a clear idea about who is the main organizer,” said Akio Yamaguchi, a crisis communications consultant at Tokyo-based AccessEast. “Uncertainty is the biggest risk.”

Japan has also faced a problem particular to democracies: a fierce, sometimes messy public debate about whether it was a good idea to hold the Games.

“After the postponement, we have never had a clear answer on how to host the Olympics. The focus was whether we can do it or not, instead of discussing why and how to do it,” said Yuji Ishizaka, a sports sociologist at Nara Women’s University.

“Japan is crucially bad at developing a ‘plan B.’ Japanese organizations are nearly incapable of drafting scenarios where something unexpected happens,” Ishizaka said. “There was very little planning that simulated the circumstances in 2021.”

Another possibly shaky foundation of outside confidence in Japan is its reputation as a technologically adept wonder of efficiency.

Arriving athletes and reporters “will probably realize that Japan is not as high-tech or as efficient as it has been often believed,” Nakano said. “More may then realize that it is the utter lack of accountability of the colluded political, business and media elites that ‘enabled’ Japan to hold the Olympics in spite of very negative public opinion — and quite possibly with considerable human sacrifice.”

The Tokyo Games are a Rorschach test of sorts, laying out for examination the many different ideas about Japan as Olympic host. For now, they raise more questions than they answer.

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Pollution Turns Argentina Lake Bright Pink

A lagoon in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region has turned bright pink in a striking, but frightful phenomenon experts and activists blame on pollution by a chemical used to preserve prawns for export.The color is caused by sodium sulfite, an anti-bacterial product used in fish factories, whose waste is blamed for contaminating the Chubut river that feeds the Corfo lagoon and other water sources in the region, according to activists.Residents have long complained of foul smells and other environmental issues around the river and lagoon.”Those who should be in control are the ones who authorize the poisoning of people,” environmental activist Pablo Lada told AFP, blaming the government for the mess.The lagoon turned pink last week and remained the abnormal color on Sunday, said Lada, who lives in the city of Trelew, not far from the lagoon and some 1,400 kilometers south of Buenos Aires.Environmental engineer and virologist Federico Restrepo told AFP the coloration was due to sodium sulfite in fish waste, which by law, should be treated before being dumped.The lagoon, which is not used for recreation, receives runoff from the Trelew industrial park and has turned the color of fuchsia before.But residents of the area are fed up.In recent weeks, residents of Rawson, neighboring Trelew, blocked roads used by trucks carrying processed fish waste through their streets to treatment plants on the city’s outskirts.”We get dozens of trucks daily, the residents are getting tired of it,” said Lada.With Rawson off limits due to the protest, provincial authorities granted authorization for factories to dump their waste instead in the Corfo lagoon.  “The reddish color does not cause damage and will disappear in a few days,” environmental control chief for Chubut province, Juan Micheloud, told AFP last week.Sebastian de la Vallina, planning secretary for the city of Trelew disagreed: “It is not possible to minimize something so serious.”Plants that process fish for export, mainly prawns and hake, generate thousands of jobs for Chubut province, home to some 600,000 people.Dozens of foreign fishing companies operate in the area in waters under Argentina’s Atlantic jurisdiction.”Fish processing generates work… it’s true. But these are multi-million-dollar profit companies that don’t want to pay freight to take the waste to a treatment plant that already exists in Puerto Madryn, 35 miles away, or build a plant closer,” said Lada.

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US 1960s Civil Rights Activist Robert Moses Dies

Robert Parris Moses, a civil rights activist who endured beatings and jail while leading black voter registration drives in the American South during the 1960s and later helped improve minority education in math, has died. He was 86.  
Moses worked to dismantle segregation as the Mississippi field director of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee during the civil rights movement and was central to the 1964 “Freedom Summer” in which hundreds of students went to the South to register voters.
Moses started his “second chapter in civil rights work” by founding in 1982 the Algebra Project thanks to a MacArthur Fellowship. The project included a curriculum Moses developed to help poor students succeed in math.
Ben Moynihan, the director of operations for the Algebra Project, said he spoke with Moses’ wife, Dr. Janet Moses, who said her husband had died Sunday morning in Hollywood, Florida. Information was not given as to the cause of death.
Moses was born in Harlem, New York, on January 23, 1935, two months after a race riot left three dead and injured 60 in the neighborhood. His grandfather, William Henry Moses, had been a prominent Southern Baptist preacher and a supporter of Marcus Garvey, a Black nationalist leader at the turn of the century.  
But like many black families, the Moses family moved north from the South during the Great Migration. Once in Harlem, his family sold milk from a Black-owned cooperative to help supplement the household income, according to “Robert Parris Moses: A Life in Civil Rights and Leadership at the Grassroots,” by Laura Visser-Maessen.
While attending Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, he became a Rhodes Scholar and was deeply influenced by the work of French philosopher Albert Camus and his ideas of rationality and moral purity for social change. Moses then took part in a Quaker-sponsored trip to Europe and solidified his beliefs that change came from the bottom up before earning a master’s in philosophy at Harvard University.
Moses didn’t spend much time in the Deep South until he went on a recruiting trip in 1960 to “see the movement for myself.” He sought out the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta but found little activity in the office and soon turned his attention to SNCC.
“I was taught about the denial of the right to vote behind the Iron Curtain in Europe,” Moses later said. “I never knew that there was (the) denial of the right to vote behind a Cotton Curtain here in the United States.”  
The young civil rights advocate tried to register Blacks to vote in Mississippi’s rural Amite County where he was beaten and arrested. When he tried to file charges against a white assailant, an all-white jury acquitted the man and a judge provided protection to Moses to the county line so he could leave.
He later helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which sought to challenge the all-white Democratic delegation from Mississippi. But President Lyndon Johnson prevented the group of rebel Democrats from voting in the convention and instead let Jim Crow southerners remain, drawing national attention.
Disillusioned with white liberal reaction to the civil rights movement, Moses soon began taking part in demonstrations against the Vietnam War then cut off all relationships with whites, even former SNCC members.
Moses worked as a teacher in Tanzania, Africa, returned to Harvard to earn a doctorate in philosophy and taught high school math in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  
Later in life, the press-shy Moses started his “second chapter in civil rights work” by founding in 1982 the Algebra Project.  
Historian Taylor Branch, whose “Parting the Waters” won the Pulitzer Prize, said Moses’ leadership embodied a paradox.  

“Aside from having attracted the same sort of adoration among young people in the movement that Martin Luther King did in adults,” Branch said, “Moses represented a separate conception of leadership” as arising from and being carried on by “ordinary people.”


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Madrid’s Retiro Park, Prado Avenue Join World Heritage List

Madrid’s tree-lined Paseo del Prado boulevard and the adjoining Retiro park have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee, holding an online meeting from Fuzhou, China, backed the candidacy on Sunday that highlighted the green area’s introduction of nature into Spain’s capital. The influence the properties have had on the designs of other cities in Latin America was also applauded by committee members.

“Collectively, they illustrate the aspiration for a utopian society during the height of the Spanish Empire,” UNESCO said.

The Retiro park occupies 1.2 square kilometers in the center of Madrid. Next to it runs the Paseo del Prado, which includes a promenade for pedestrians. The boulevard connects the heart of Spain’s art world, bringing together the Prado Museum with the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and the Reina Sofía Art Center.

The boulevard dates to the 16th century while the park was originally for royal use in the 17th century before it was fully opened to the public in 1848.

“Today, in these times of pandemic, in a city that has suffered enormously for the past 15 months, we have a reason to celebrate with the first world heritage site in Spain’s capital,” said Madrid Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida.

The site is No. 49 for Spain on the UNESCO list.

Also on Sunday, the committee added China’s Emporium of the World in Song-Yuan, India’s Kakatiya Rudreshwara Temple, and the Trans-Iranian railway to the World Heritage list.

World Heritage sites can be examples of outstanding natural beauty or manmade buildings. The sites can be important geologically or ecologically, or they can be key for human culture and tradition.


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Venezuela’s Maduro Aims for Dialogue with Opposition in August 

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said that he was aiming to begin a dialogue with the country’s political opposition next month in Mexico facilitated by Norway, a process he hoped the United States would embrace.In May the opposition changed strategy and indicated its willingness to return to negotiations to resolve the political crisis in OPEC member Venezuela.Maduro has overseen an economic collapse in once-prosperous Venezuela since taking office in 2013, and stands accused by his domestic opponents, the United States and the European Union of corruption, human rights violations and rigging his 2018 re-election. Maduro denies the accusations.In June, top diplomats in Washington, Brussels and Ottawa said they would be willing to revise their sanctions on Maduro’s government if the dialogue with the opposition led to significant progress toward free and fair elections.”I can tell you that we are ready to go to Mexico,” Maduro said in an interview on the state-funded Telesur television network late on Saturday. “We have begun to discuss a complicated, difficult agenda.”Venezuela’s opposition, led by Juan Guaido, has accused Maduro of using previous rounds to buy time in the face of diplomatic and sanctions pressure by the United States and others. Guaido is recognized by Washington and several other Western democracies as the country’s rightful leader.Opposition groups have said they are willing to negotiate the conditions for presidential and parliamentary elections with Maduro’s government.Maduro, in turn, has said he wants the negotiations to focus on the lifting of U.S. sanctions targeting the financial and oil sectors.He added that the negotiations would include “all the oppositions,” a reference to opposition politicians who broke with Guaido’s call to boycott the 2020 parliamentary elections, which were won handily by Maduro’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela. 

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Haiti Update

On the eve of the funeral for slain Haitian president, Jovenel Moïse, host Carol Castiel and assistant producer at the Current Affairs Desk, Sydney Sherry, speak with Haiti expert Georges Fauriol, senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and fellow at the Caribbean Policy Consortium, about the chaos following Moïse’s assassination, the breakdown of democratic institutions in Haiti, and the power struggle that ensued over who would become Haiti’s next leader. What does this crisis reveal about the state of affairs in Haiti, and is the international community, Washington in particular, playing a constructive role in Haiti’s political rehabilitation?

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