x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

US missile shield not quite scrapped

The US president Barack Obama deserves praise for scrapping his predecessor's plan to establish a radar system and missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic under the pretext of countering Iran, commented Mazen Hammad in the opinion pages of the Qatari daily Al Watan.

The US president Barack Obama deserves praise for scrapping his predecessor's plan to establish a radar system and missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic under the pretext of countering Iran, commented Mazen Hammad in the opinion pages of the Qatari daily Al Watan. "This move marks the current administration's most significant break away from the US foreign policies of the Bush era."

This change in the US defence attitude can also be considered an achievement for the Russians. Moscow has long maintained that the actual goal behind the missile shield plan was to neutralise Russian transcontinental ballistic missiles. The US project predictably triggered speculation over whether its execution would usher in a new arms race era. But all these threats are gone now, giving way to a great sense of relief in Moscow. The Russian president Dmitry Medvedev called Mr Obama's decision "sensible" and "responsible". Still, there is talk about an alternative missile defence plan, similar to the previous one, only moved closer to Iran, namely in the Caucasus region, with the aim of covering the whole Middle East. No reaction came as yet from Tehran, but the plan is sure to anger the Iranians and probably set off a new crisis.

The fact that the celebration of Al Quds on the streets of Tehran morphed into the regime circling groups of dissidents tells a great deal about the government's growing obsession with the opposition forces, wrote Ilyass Harshouf in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.

Al Quds day was decreed an annual celebration in Iran by the late Ayatollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of the Iranian Revolution, to keep the occupied city of Jerusalem alive in the popular memory. "But crowds ran amok in Tehran on Friday during the Al Quds commemoration," the writer said. "The former president, Mohammad Khatami, was assaulted and insulted amid his own supporters. Another former president, Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, was banned from delivering the last Ramadan Friday sermon, a tradition he has kept for the last 30 years."

It seems that the Al Quds flag, which used to get all Iranians to forget about their own woes - defending Palestine being one of the main "precepts" of the Iranian Revolution - is now failing to dissuade the population from calling for better living standards and economic reforms. It may suffice to say that the demonstrators were heard shouting such slogans as: "No Lebanon, no Gaza; we want to live in Iran."

The radical changes that have taken place on the battlefield in Darfur will most certainly have political ramifications, leaving an important question: which armed group has the right to claim that it is the exclusive representative of the western Sudanese province when the time comes for negotiations with the central government in Khartoum? This was the question posed by Ahmed Amorabi in the Dubai-based daily Al Bayan.

Some Arab and African parties, particularly Qatar, are trying to pave the way for talks to be held by the end of October, but now that the handful of Darfur movements have splintered into some 20 or 30 gangs, nobody knows anymore which of the rebel groups will sit at the negotiation table with Sudanese government officials. Until recently, the Justice and Equity Movement has rejected the participation of any other movement in the negotiations process. Khaleel Ibrahim, the leader of the movement, has long insisted that his armed organisation was the sole representative of the Darfur people, but he changed his stance after realising that military strength alone did not earn him the allegiance of the diverse Darfur tribes. The prospective negotiations between armed factions in Darfur and the government will not go anywhere unless preceded by a settlement of the issue of tribal representation.

Turkey has recently succeeded in containing the conflict between Baghdad and Damascus, which was triggered by Iraqi officials' statements accusing Syria of harbouring former Iraqi Ba'ath party leaders who are allegedly responsible for the Bloody Wednesday bombings on August 19, commented Saleh al Manei in the Emirati daily Al Ittihad.

Historically, Turkey has often prioritised ties with Europe and turned its back on the Levant. This apathy reached its zenith when Ankara signed a strategic collaboration treaty with Israel in 1996. Today, although the agreement still stands, Turkey has become more involved in Middle Eastern affairs since the moderate Islamic party, the Justice and Development Party, came to power in 2002. Turkey went on to foster indirect talks between Syria and Israel this year and, only last week, the Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu offered his country's arbitration services during talks expected between Iran and the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany.

All these diplomatic efforts are, however, plagued by Turkey's internal problems with its Kurdish parties, but the Turkish press is already talking about a new government initiative in that regard. * Digest compiled by Achraf A El Bahi aelbahi@thenational.ae