x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

EU shies away from sanctions on Russia

At the Georgia crisis summit in Brussels, European leaders are sharply critical of Moscow's military offensive but fall short of applying sanctions. Meanwhile, Russia asserts its right to a sphere of influence in regions where it has "privileged" interests. Pakistan government declares ceasefire for Ramadan but Taliban leaders have not instructed their fighters to halt attacks. New revelations add drama to US presidential election campaign.

"The leaders of the European Union, having repeatedly warned Moscow in vain to abide by the six-point cease-fire agreement reached by France to end the fighting with Georgia, gathered here Monday in an emergency summit meeting and after several hours of talks, decided to warn Moscow again," the International Herald Tribune reported. "In a week, the leaders announced, the European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso; the EU foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana; and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who currently holds the EU presidency, will travel to Moscow to insist, they said, that Russia withdraw all its troops to positions held before the Aug 7 fighting broke out between Georgia and Russia. "If Russia did not comply, the European leaders announced, a second round of talks with Moscow on a strategic partnership agreement with the European Union, scheduled for mid-September, would be postponed. Time magazine said: "Like so many gatherings of European Union leaders, the Georgia crisis summit held in Brussels Monday was flush with grandiose rhetoric but in the end short on substance. "The leaders found the words to describe Russia's 'disproportionate reaction' to the violence in its Caucasian neighbor, and to 'firmly condemn' Moscow's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But apart from suspending talks on a trade pact, they shied away from sanctions, conceding that the EU and Russia's interdependence meant 'there is no desirable alternative to a strong relationship.' " The Wall Street Journal reported on Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's difficult relations with the US. "From Mr Saakashvili's ascent to power in the 2003 'rose revolution' to his assault this month on Tskhinvali, capital of separatist South Ossetia, his risky moves have often caught Washington unprepared and left it exposed diplomatically, US officials say. "American frustrations have been matched by those in Tbilisi. At a crucial moment earlier this year, a lame-duck administration in Washington was unable to deliver European support to kick-start Georgia's membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Georgian president says he gave repeated warnings to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others that Russia would attack unless the West signaled strong support, including through Nato. These warnings, he says, went unheeded. "Regardless of who was at fault, the end result was what the US and Georgia both feared. Georgia's territory is being carved up, US influence in the region has been dented, Nato expansion is harder to achieve, and Europe's dependence on Russian energy has been highlighted. Russia, which smashed the Georgian military and still occupies chunks of its territory, has re-emerged as the region's dominant power." The New York Times said: "President Dmitri A Medvedev of Russia on Sunday laid out what he said would become his government's guiding principles of foreign policy after its landmark conflict with Georgia - notably including a claim to a 'privileged' sphere of influence in the world. "Speaking to Russian television in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, a day before a summit meeting in Brussels where European leaders were to reassess their relations with Russia, Mr Medvedev said his government would adhere to five principles. "Russia, he said, would observe international law. It would reject what he called United States dominance of world affairs in a 'unipolar' world. It would seek friendly relations with other nations. It would defend Russian citizens and business interests abroad. And it would claim a sphere of influence in the world."

Pakistan government declares ceasefire for Ramadan

"The Pakistani military, which has been criticised by the Bush administration as not pushing hard enough against Taliban militants in the country's tribal areas, has used jet fighters and helicopter gunships in the past three weeks to strike at insurgents pouring over the border to attack American forces in Afghanistan," The New York Times reported. "The air assaults have resulted in more than 400 Taliban casualties in Bajaur, an area of the tribal region where al Qa'eda and the Taliban have forged close ties, and have forced the militants to retreat from villages that they controlled, a military official involved in the operations said. "But on Saturday night, the Pakistani government declared a cease-fire in the area for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins here on Wednesday. The deal was arranged after the electorally important Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, a religious party, and legislators from the tribal areas said they would support Asif Ali Zardari for president in return for an end to the airstrikes." Voice of America said: "A Taliban spokesman in Pakistan says Taliban leaders have not instructed fighters to halt attacks during Ramadan, despite the government's announcement that it is suspending military operations in the northwest to allow civilians to observe the holy month. "A Taliban spokesman in restive Swat Valley, Muslim Khan, Sunday said, as of now, militants have no plans to change their tactics."

US presidential election drama

Financial Times commentator Gideon Rachman wrote: "In a column earlier this year, I asked - 'Why is the American election such compelling viewing?' My answer was that it is structured like a soap-opera and - 'the script-writers know how to keep you watching with some new twist to the plot.' Well, hat's off to whoever is writing the latest episodes of 'American President'. We now have two 'you couldn't make it up' developments - Hurricane Gustav smashing into New Orleans and the announcement that Sarah Palin's 17-year-old (Bristol) is pregnant." New York Times columnist William Kristol wrote: "Thursday night, after Barack Obama's well-orchestrated, well-conceived and well-delivered acceptance speech in Denver, Republicans were demoralised. Twenty-four hours later, they were energised - even exuberant. It's amazing what a bold vice-presidential pick who gives a sterling performance when she's introduced will do for a party's spirits. "There are Republicans who are unhappy about John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin. Many are insiders who highly value - who overly value - 'experience.' There are also sensible strategists who nervously note just how big a gamble McCain has taken. "But what was McCain's alternative? To go quietly down to defeat, accepting a role as a bit player in The Barack Obama Story? McCain had to shake up the race, and once he was persuaded not to pick Joe Lieberman, which would have been one kind of gamble, he went all in with Sarah Palin." The Washington Post reported: "Outside his evangelical church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Sunday, David Chung was mobbed by friends and church members suddenly excited about the Republican ticket. 'I had half a dozen people come up to me,' said Chung, a delegate to the Republican National Convention. 'It's a night-and-day change.' "Ralph Reed, former director of the Christian Coalition, reported the same reaction at his church in Atlanta to John McCain's selection of Alaska Gov Sarah Palin as his running mate. 'It's really extraordinary,' Reed said. "For Christian conservatives, who watched with dismay as their issues were ignored or trivialised during the long Republican primary, the surprise addition to the GOP ticket of a woman raised in a Pentecostal church, who once described herself as 'pro-life as any candidate can be,' has transformed an election many had come to regard with indifference. Now Republicans such as Reed - who describes the Palin selection as a 'shot directly into the heart of the evangelical movement' - hope the party will benefit in November from a crucial part of its base that is as energised as the young supporters of Democrat Barack Obama." The New York Times reported: "The 17-year-old daughter of Gov Sarah Palin, John McCain's running mate, is five months pregnant, the Alaskan governor announced Monday, adding a new element of tumult to a Republican convention that had already been disrupted by Hurricane Gustav." Meanwhile, Haaretz reported: "US vice presidential candidate Senator Joe Biden's press secretary vehemently denied on Monday a report that the Democratic candidate had said that Israel would have to reconcile itself to a nuclear Iran. "According to an unsourced report by Army Radio, the senator made the remarks to senior Israeli officials behind closed doors, adding that he opposed 'opening an additional military and diplomatic front.' "Biden, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has long been considered strongly pro-Israel. His nomination as US presidential candidate Barack Obama's running mate had been expected to shore up the Democrats' strength with US Jewish voters." During Barack Obama's acceptance speech at the Democratic convention last week the presidential candidate made a commitment to "finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East." Writing from Cairo, Time magazine's Scott McLeod said: "Energy supply is going to be a major issue in the Obama-McCain presidential contest. But in singling out 'oil from the Middle East' in discussing America's energy dependence, Obama came uncomfortably too close to exploiting American misunderstandings and fears of Arabs and Muslims for some cheap political post-9/11 gain. "Part of the problem with what Obama said is that it's based on one of the false premises behind the notorious 'sinister Arab' stereotype. In fact, the Middle East is not the main supplier of oil to the US. "Far from it. According to the US government's official statistics for 2007, the US imports 13.4 million barrels per day. That's 58 per cent of its total consumption. Of that, only 2.1 million barrels per day, or 15 per cent of imports, comes from the Middle East."