LCCC ENGLISH DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
Question: "Is the Christian life supposed
to be boring?"
GotQuestions.org/Answer: There are many misconceptions about the Christian life, and one is that it is boring. The truth is the Christian life is where we find true joy and lasting peace, hope and contentment. These things, like all good and perfect things, come from God (James 1:17). The difficulty is that, if you’re not a believer in Christ, you truly don’t know what you’re missing. This is not to say that the Christian life is easy. One writer describes growing in the Christian faith as being “on a never-ending downward escalator. In order to grow we have to turn around and sprint up the escalator putting up with perturbed looks from everyone else who is gradually moving downward.” Christ never deluded anyone into thinking it would be easy to follow Him (see Matthew 10:34-39). It’s not easy, but the hardships help prevent boredom. Those who believe the Christian life is boring have never taken God’s invitation to “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8). Instead, they selfishly pursue whatever they think will make them “not bored” or happy or content. The problem is, the things of this world are temporary and can never truly satisfy. The Bible tells us that sowing to please our sinful nature will surely lead to destruction (Galatians 6:8). King Solomon, the wisest and richest person who ever lived, had everything a person could possibly want. He said, “I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure” (Ecclesiastes 2:10). Solomon had it all, but he concluded that it was “meaningless” and likened it to “chasing after the wind” (v. 11). In other words, he had everything this world had to offer, and he was bored. Sometimes, a new Christian is surprised that his new life is not “more exciting,” as if the Christian life is supposed to be a thrill-a-minute extravaganza. No life is that. Boredom is something we must all overcome. Everyone stands in line at the grocery store, gets caught in traffic, or is given jobs he’d rather not do. Part of the problem may be how “boredom” is defined. Is it a lack of excitement? Nothing can stimulate perpetual exhilaration. Is it inactivity? If so, then the key is to find something to do. Is it uninterest? If so, the key is to be more curious. Is it a lack of “fun”? In that case, “fun” needs to be defined, since “fun” is itself a highly subjective concept. Some people assume that being a Christian is boring because they’ve heard that Christians have to give up all the “fun” things in life. It’s true that Christians give up some things, but it’s not the fun. Christians give up their sin, their self-destructive behavior, their addictions, their negative attitudes and their ignorance of God. In return, they receive “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). They “live as children of light” in a dark world (Ephesians 5:8). The mistakes of their past no longer have a stronghold in their lives. They no longer live for themselves but for the One who died for them. They serve others and make a difference (Romans 14:7; Philippians 2:4). They are becoming everything that God created them to be. It is virtually impossible to be bored in such a life.
The only thing in this world that has eternal value is a relationship with Jesus Christ. A growing, committed Christian will find that life is never boring. There’s always another step of faith to take, another relationship to build, another person to serve. Is the Christian life supposed to be “boring”? Absolutely not. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Recommended Resources: Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life by Michael Kelley and Logos Bible Software.
Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters &
Releases from miscellaneous sources For January 11/14
Winning the Peace by Failing in Geneva/By Jeremy Shapiro and Samuel Charap/Foreign Affairs/January 11/14
As Obama dithers, Egypt ramps up its nuclear options/By: Raymond Stock/Fox News/January 11/14
Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For January 11/14
Lebanese Related News
Miscellaneous Reports And News
No answers yet to questions on Cabinet: Future MP
January 10, 2014/The Daily Star
BEIRUT: The Future Movement has yet to receive satisfactory answers from the March 8 coalition on a series of questions that could pave the way for agreement on the next government, MP Nuhad Mashnouq said Friday.
“We put the five questions forward as a foundation [for accepting or rejecting a Cabinet formation] and we still haven’t received a yes or no or clear answers,” he told LBC.
On Wednesday, the Future Movement demanded answers to five questions before accepting a new Cabinet proposal based on an 8-8-8 lineup.
Mashnouq said his party has yet to receive clear answers “on the blocking third, the Baabda Declaration in the policy statement, the formation of the Cabinet, the rotation of ministerial seats and the legitimate right to veto the name of a candidate that both the president and prime minister-designate reject.”
He said he had been tasked by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to discuss with former Prime Minister Saad Hariri “the issue of the five questions that we put forward that would allow us to decide whether to accept or reject a Cabinet formation.”“There is an ongoing discussion but there is no agreement up until now and the foundations of the ongoing talks for all of us are the five questions that were outlined in the past 24 hours,” he said.
He also said President Michel Sleiman, Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam and MP Walid Jumblatt were contacting various sides to bring viewpoints closer.
Suleiman: Positive Signs from Hariri on 8-8-8 Cabinet, New Govt. in 10 Days if No Consensus
Naharnet Newsdesk 10 January 2014/President Michel Suleiman announced on Friday that he received positives signs from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri on the formation of an all-inclusive cabinet based on the 8-8-8 lineup. Suleiman stated, however, that if no consensus was reached over an all-embracing cabinet within the coming 10 days, a new council of ministers will be formed. “Regarding March 14 camp's queries on the cabinet's formation, PM-designate Tammam Salam is the one to answer them,” he told LBCI television. Efforts to end the nine-month government deadlock have intensified in the past few days through a series of meetings held by different officials to avert the formation of a non partisan cabinet. Al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc leader Fouad Saniora could soon hold separate talks with Suleiman and Speaker Nabih Berri over the matter, An Nahar daily reported on Friday. LBCI revealed that Saniora will inform Berri about March 14's stance on the 8-8-8 government lineup. Reports said that Suleiman and Berri could also meet before Monday and mentioned possible talks between Salam and Hariri in Europe. The flurry of political activity comes amid optimism that the rival parties could agree on the formation of a cabinet in which the March 8 and 14 alliances and centrists would get 8 ministers each. The rivals are hoping to clinch a deal on the all-embracing cabinet by the end of the month to avoid the formation of a neutral government. Suleiman and Salam have been clinging into the option of a non partisan cabinet to avoid a bigger vacuum ahead of the presidential elections. The president's advisor, former Minister Khalil Hrawi, visited Saniora, Salam and Berri's advisor Caretaker Minister Ali Hassan Khalil on Thursday. Caretaker Minister Wael Abou Faour, who is Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat's envoy, also held talks with Suleiman and Salam. Abou Faour also contacted al-Mustaqbal movement through Nader Hariri. Jumblat, a centrist, is playing a major mediating role to reach an agreement on a new cabinet nine months after Salam's appointment. He told As Safir daily that he was exerting all efforts to bring the viewpoints of political parties closer.
Hizbullah Delegation Constitutional Junctures Must Happen in
Naharnet Newsdesk 10 January 2014/Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi on Friday said that “constitutional junctures” must happen in a “consensual and responsible manner,” according to state-run National News Agency.
Al-Rahi voiced his remarks during a meeting in Bkirki with a Hizbullah delegation comprising politburo member Ghaleb Abu Zainab and Hajj Mustafa al-Hajj Ali. Bishop Samir Mazloum and national dialogue committee member Hareth Shehab also attended the talks according to NNA. During the meeting, al-Rahi stressed “the need to hold the constitutional junctures in a consensual and responsible manner which would restore the normal and democratic cycle of political life and constitutional institutions in Lebanon.” For his part, Abu Zainab stated after the meeting that “consultations with His Eminence are an essential and necessary thing during this period,” noting that “positive atmospheres engulfed the meeting.” The Hizbullah official hoped “these atmospheres will reflect on all the talks that are ongoing in the country to pull it out of its domestic crises.” He also hoped the cabinet formation process and the presidential election will take place according to the “national and constitutional spirit.”Meanwhile, MTV said al-Rahi reportedly told the Hizbullah delegation that "a consensual, all-embracing cabinet is better than a disputed de facto cabinet."Amid a flurry of talks among political forces on the formation of a new government, former Premier Saad Hariri reportedly accepted the so-called 8-8-8 cabinet formula on Friday, as President Michel Suleiman stated he will form a government within 10 days if no consensus was reached between political foes.
Pressure to Elect President on Time, France Rejects
Naharnet Newsdesk 10 January 2014/Western countries in addition to Russia and China are expected to exert more pressure on Lebanese parties to elect a new president on time and avoid a vacuum, Western diplomatic sources said. The sources told pan-Arab daily al-Hayat published on Friday that the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China are among the countries pushing for parliament's election of the president starting March 25.
President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends in May but the Constitution says the 128-member parliament should start holding sessions on March 25 to elect a head of state. Al-Hayat also quoted a French official as saying that Paris has never backed the extension of Suleiman's mandate. Last month, As Safir newspaper quoted well-informed diplomatic sources as saying that Suleiman prefers to renew his mandate rather than extend it.
The sources quoted Suleiman as telling his French counterpart Francois Hollande in September that he rejects the extension of his term, even for a day. Hollande hinted to his Lebanese counterpart that he should seek an extension, they said. The French official stressed to al-Hayat that France would neither interfere in the election of the president nor in the cabinet formation process. The Western diplomatic sources also said that the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council won't have a say in the name of any presidential candidate.“This is a Lebanese concern,” they said.
U.S. Defense Official Visits Lebanon, Voices Commitment to Prevent Spillover of Syrian Crisis
Naharnet Newsdesk 10 January 2014/..U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy Dr. Matthew Spence paid a visit to Lebanon this week during which he highlighted his country's commitment to Lebanon, said the U.S. Embassy in a statement in Friday. He expressed the United States' commitment to the “Lebanese army and preventing spillover from the Syrian conflict into Lebanon.”He underscored the strength of the U.S.-Lebanese defense relationship and the United States’ support for Lebanon in the context of regional developments. He also discussed with officials U.S. support for the Lebanese army through ongoing security cooperation programs. Spence held talks during his trip with various political and military leaders, including President Michel Suleiman, Army Commander General Jean Qahwaji, and Army Chief of Staff Major General Walid Salman. U.S. assistance to the Lebanese army and Internal Security Forces, totaling more than $1 billion since 2005, strengthens the capacity of Lebanon’s security forces and supports their missions of securing Lebanon’s borders and defending the sovereignty and independence of the state.
Army Hands Over al-Majed's Body to Saudi Embassy
Naharnet Newsdesk 10 January 2014/The corpse of Abdullah Azzam Brigades chief Majed al-Majed was handed over on Friday afternoon to the Saudi Embassy in Beirut, ahead of its repatriation to the kingdom. “At 3:20 p.m., and following the authorization of the relevant judicial authority, the army's Medical Services handed over Majed al-Majed's body to a delegation from the Saudi embassy in Lebanon at the entrance of the Central Military Hospital,” a Lebanese army statement said. The army noted that the step happened “after the completion of the necessary medical and legal measures.”
Later on Friday, state-run National News Agency said al-Majed's body arrived at the Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport amid “very strict security measures.”The corpse was expected to be flown to Riyadh at 7:00 p.m. aboard a Saudi Airlines plane, NNA said. “As part of the security measures, photojournalists and reporters were not allowed to be present near the body and the coffin was immediately transported to the plane,” the agency added. Earlier on Friday, acting General Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud had agreed to hand over al-Majed's corpse to the Saudi Embassy in Beirut, according to NNA. The corpse will be buried in Saudi Arabia at the request of al-Majed's family. Hammoud announced on Thursday that the report of the forensic panel confirmed that Majed had died of illness. "The panel's report confirmed the first conclusion reached by the forensic doctor,” he said. The acting general prosecutor had received on Tuesday a request from the Saudi embassy, saying the brother of the al-Qaida-linked group leader wanted to repatriate his body. Al-Majed, a Saudi national, died in Lebanon on Saturday while undergoing treatment at the Central Military Hospital after his health deteriorated, the army said in a communique. He is accused of being behind the suicide bombing that targeted the Iranian embassy in Beirut on November 19, 2013, and he was detained in December of the same year and had been held at a secret location. He was also wanted by Saudi Arabia on terrorism charges.
Three Soldiers Wounded in Clash between Army, Gunmen in Tripoli
Naharnet Newsdesk 10 January 2014/A clash broke out on Friday between the army and gunmen in the neighborhood of Bab al-Tabbaneh in the northern city of Tripoli. "At 12:00 p.m., gunmen fired an Energa-type rocket and gunshots at an army military vehicle in the Tripoli area of al-Mallouleh, which left three soldiers lightly injured," an army statement said. "Army forces returned fire and are still pursuing the armed men to arrest them and refer them to the relevant judicial authorities," it added. Media reports said earlier the fighting broke out when the gunmen fired the Energa at the vehicle near al-Rahman Mosque in Bab al-Tabbaneh. The army had approached the gunmen to prohibit them from carrying weapons near the mosque, reported the National News Agency. The gunmen retaliated by attacking the army. MTV later identified the wounded as Rashed Karam, Nasser al-Izz, and Ramez Allo. The army had intensified in recent months its presence around places of worship throughout Lebanon, especially in light of twin bombings that targeted the al-Salam and Taqwa mosques in Tripoli in August.
Berri Sticks to
Rotation of Portfolios but Says Policy Statement Should be
Left Out of Consultations
Naharnet Newsdesk 10 January 2014/Speaker Nabih Berri has backed the rotation of all portfolios in the new government but said discussions on the policy statement should be left until after the formation of the government. In remarks to several local dailies published on Friday, Berri reiterated his support for the 8-8-8 formula and the rotation of portfolios in all ministries “without any exception.” But the speaker said the policy statement, which is a major point of contention between the March 8 and 14 alliances, should be left out of the current negotiations to form the cabinet. “I agree with President Michel Suleiman on the postponement of a deal on the policy statement although this does not mean it would not cause a problem,” he said. Al-Mustaqbal MP Nuhad al-Mashnouq has said that the March 14 camp has set several conditions to its approval of the 8-8-8 formula, among them is the adoption of the Baabda Declaration in the policy statement and giving up the army-people-resistance equation. Such a condition is likely not to be approved by March 8. Al-Mashnouq said that March 14 had several others questions that lied on the shape of the government, rotation of all ministerial portfolios, and the right of Suleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam for veto to reject any name proposed. But Berri said in his remarks published on Friday that “there are no answers and questions.” “There is dialogue between the different parties.”He reiterated his rejection to isolate any side. Suleiman does not accept the isolation of Hizbullah or any other political party, the speaker said. Berri expressed fears over the security situation, which he said should speed up the government formation process. “We should put an end to the political immorality, which is blowing up the security situation,” he said.
Amin Gemayel Denies Direct Contacts with March 8, Says Coordination Ongoing with March 14
Naharnet Newsdesk 10 January 2014/Phalange Party leader Amin Gemayel stressed on Friday that contacts are ongoing with the March 14 allies and President Michel Suleiman regarding the cabinet formation process. “Our stance from any government lineup will be encompassing and in coordination with the March 14 alliance to reach the required goals,” Gemayel said in comments published in An Nahar newspaper. He denied media reports saying that the March 8 coalition discussed with the Phalange party the 8-8-8 cabinet lineup, saying: “The March 8 alliance didn't contact us nor discuss the matter with us.” However, Gemayel pointed out that “indirect contacts are ongoing with the political foes.” Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam was appointed in April but has so far been unable to put together a government over the conditions and counter conditions set by the rivals parties as fears mount that the differences between the March 8 and 14 camps would lead to a vacuum the presidential post. The 8-8-8 government lineup awaits that March 14 approval, while al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc has set a series of questions regarding the cabinet's ministerial statement, the rotation of portfolios and the veto power. The 8-8-8 formula divides ministers equally between the centrists, March 14 and 8 alliances, in which each get eight ministers with “decisive ministers” for the March 14 and 8 coalitions. Asked about the articles that the Phalange party rejects to include in any ministerial statement, Gemayel said that his “party doesn't care about the shape of the government but is interested in its ministerial statement and its ability to implement it.” “We're concerned with achieving the nation's higher interest,” he added.
Hope that Cabinet Would See Light Soon
Naharnet Newsdesk 10 January 2014/Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat expressed hope on Friday that the political foes would reach an agreement over the cabinet formation process. “I am seeking to bridge the gap between the political foes,” Jumblat said in comments published in As Safir newspaper. He stressed the importance of “forming a new cabinet as soon as possible,” rejecting to tackle the cabinet ministerial statement. Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam was appointed in April but has so far been unable to put together a government over the conditions and counter conditions set by the rivals parties as fears mount that the differences between the March 8 and 14 camps would lead to a vacuum the presidential post. The 8-8-8 government lineup awaits that March 14 approval, while al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc has set a series of questions regarding the cabinet's ministerial statement, the rotation of portfolios and the veto power. The 8-8-8 formula divides ministers equally between the centrists, March 14 and 8 alliances, in which each get eight ministers with “decisive ministers” for the March 14 and 8 coalitions.
Optimism Regarding Cabinet Formation, Says Party
Naharnet Newsdesk 10 January 2014/The Free Patriotic Movement expressed on Friday optimism concerning the cabinet formation process, stressing that the party aims at facilitating the matter in an attempt to safeguard the country. “We are completely positive regarding the cabinet lineup and our hand is reaching out to everyone in order to include everyone in the new government and confront the dangers facing Lebanon,” Caretaker Energy Minister Jebran Bassil said in comments published in As Safir newspaper. Asked about demands by the March 14 to include the rotation of all portfolios in the new government, Bassil said that the “priority is to form a new cabinet.”The 8-8-8 government lineup awaits that March 14 approval, while al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc has set a series of questions regarding the cabinet's ministerial statement, the rotation of portfolios and the veto power.The 8-8-8 formula divides ministers equally between the centrists, March 14 and 8 alliances, in which each get eight ministers with “decisive ministers” for the March 14 and 8 coalitions. “We need to answer the following question before anything else, do we want to cooperate to save the country or adopt the policy of excluding others,” Bassil wondered. For his part, FPM leader MP Michel Aoun's Change and Reform bloc's secretary MP Ibrahim Kanaan told al-Joumhouria newspaper that there is a breakthrough concerning the cabinet formation process. “Negotiations are ongoing,” Kanaan told the newspaper. He urged al-Mustaqbal parliamentary bloc to “give its approval regarding the all-embracing government before discussing the details.” The lawmaker rejected reports saying that the FPM is excluded from cabinet formation discussions, saying: “Our stance is clear, we are trying to facilitate the matter.”Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam was appointed in April but has so far been unable to put together a government over the conditions and counter conditions set by the rivals parties as fears mount that the differences between the March 8 and 14 camps would lead to a vacuum the presidential post.
Social Affairs Ministry: Child Sex Abuse Victim Undergoing Checkups, Evaluation
Naharnet Newsdesk 10 January 2014/A Syrian child, who has been sexually assaulted by allegedly a man suffering from AIDS in the South, is undergoing medical checkups and psychiatric evaluation, the Social Affairs Ministry said on Friday. “The Syrian child who has been the victim of a monstrous sexual assault in the area of Marjeyoun has been placed under the care of the UNHCR since Tuesday and is undergoing medical checkups and psychiatric follow-up,” the ministry said. Caretaker Health Minister Ali Hassan Khalil ordered the Marjeyoun state hospital to serve the victim and his family after a telephone call he received from caretaker Social Affairs Minister Wael Abou Faour, it said. The Social Affairs Ministry stated that it has sent a psychiatric and social support team to assess the condition of the child and his family. Abou Faour has also contacted the involved security and judicial agencies, which have not yet confirmed that the suspect was HIV positive, the statement said. The ministry did not state the age of the child or the circumstances of the assault. But An Nahar said a day earlier that the four-year-old refugee was assaulted by a Syrian worker who lives near the victim's family and is employed by the boy's father.
Sexually Assaulted by HIV-Positive Man in Marjeyoun
Naharnet Newsdesk 09 January 2014/A Syrian child was sexually assaulted in the southern town of Marjeyoun, and medical examination revealed that his attacker is HIV-positive. "A four-year-old refugee was sexually assaulted by a Syrian worker that lives nearby the victim's family and who is an employee working for the boy's father,” An Nahar daily reported on Thursday. An Nahar said the assaulter was arrested and was medically examined. The medical report revealed, however, that the man is HIV-positive. The newspaper detailed on the incident: “A Lebanese employer noticed a laborer crying at work and after asking about the reasons, he was told that another Syrian employee had sexually assaulted his son.”Security bodies were informed about the incident and arrested the attacker. A forensic doctor was called for examining the child and the report confirmed that a sexual assault did take place. The examination also revealed that the assaulter is HIV-positive. The newspaper noted that the forensic doctor was paid for examining the child and the attacker, while the Ministry of Social Affairs and Non-Governmental Organizations that are dedicated to children's well-being, and others that care for refugees' situation did not act on the matter.
'Brutally Attacked' by Relatives
Naharnet Newsdesk 10 January 2014/A pregnant woman was beaten by her husband, her brother-in-law and mother-in-law overnight on Thursday for allegedly losing the water bill. Media reports said on Friday that Fatima al-Nashar might lose her baby after her husband Sultan Kas-ha, his brother Othman and their mother Naeima brutally hit her. Fatima was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit at the Islamic hospital in Tripoli. The Lebanese state doesn't include any article concerning domestic violence despite the fact that it covers other forms of physical abuse. In November, KAFA (enough) Violence and Exploitation recently launched in partnership with the Internal Security Forces a campaign under the title, “We have a mission, If you're threatened, do not hesitate to call 112”, in an attempt to protect women subjected to domestic violence. According to a statement by the NGO the campaign aims at “rebuilding trust between women victims of violence and the ISF, and informing the public of the ISF’s ongoing preparations to provide women with the protection they need.”
Exclusive - Iran,
Russia negotiating big oil-for-goods deal
By Jonathan Saul and Parisa Hafezi
LONDON/ANKARA (Reuters) - Iran and Russia are negotiating an oil-for-goods swap worth $1.5 billion a month that would let Iran lift oil exports substantially, in defiance of Western sanctions that helped force Tehran to agree a preliminary deal to end its nuclear programme. Russian and Iranian sources close to the barter negotiations said final details were in discussion for a deal that would see Moscow buy up to 500,000 barrels a day of Iranian oil in exchange for Russian equipment and goods. "Good progress is being made at the moment with strong chances of success," said a Russian source. "We are discussing the details and the date of signing a deal depends on those details." The Kremlin declined comment. "Our desire is to sign the deal as soon as possible," said a senior Iranian official, who declined to be named. "Our officials are discussing the matter with the Russians and hopefully it will be inked soon, regardless of whether we can reach a (nuclear) agreement in Geneva." It is not clear whether the deal would be implemented before the nuclear agreement, outlined in Geneva in November between Iran and six world powers, is finalised. Nor is it clear how Moscow will justify to other powers a barter deal that could jeopardise the nuclear negotiations by easing the economic pressure on Tehran. Russia is one of the countries involved in the nuclear talks but, unlike the United States and the European Union, has not imposed sanctions on Iran. Technical nuclear talks between Iran and the European Union started on Thursday. The November deal was designed to halt Iran's nuclear advances for six months to buy time for a final settlement by May. U.S. and European sanctions have cut Iran's oil exports by more than half over the past 18 months to about one million barrels a day. Russia has no sanctions on Iran. Russian purchases of 500,000 bpd of Iranian crude would lift Iran's oil exports by 50 percent and provide a major boost to its struggling economy. At current oil prices near $100 a barrel Iran would earn about an additional $1.5 billion a month. "Iran has to find a way to accommodate more exports: this is the reason behind this," an Iranian official said. "Both sides should rush for it. Russia will be able to guarantee a large amount of trade with its neighbour and Iran will be able to overcome its export difficulties." No details were available about the equipment and goods on offer from Russia. Given Russia is a major oil exporter, the Iranian oil would likely be exported from Iran on Russia's account, with Russian goods and equipment bartered in exchange. Most Iranian oil goes to Asia. Iran's biggest oil buyer is China, importing about 420,000 bpd in 2013. Unlike Iran's other oil buyers, China has not cut purchases much, despite efforts from the United States. Other major Asian buyers of Iranian oil including Japan, South Korea and India have cut imports sharply under pressure from Washington. Turkey and South Africa also have reduced or eliminated imports.
(Editing Richard Mably and Giles Elgood)
Assad's forces kill dozens of rebels in
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad killed dozens of rebel fighters who tried to break an army siege of the central city of Homs, state media and a monitoring group said. SANA news agency quoted a military source as saying army units "confronted armed terrorist groups" trying to get into the Khaldiya neighborhood north of the besieged rebel area in the Old City in the heart of Homs this week. Thirty-seven rebels were killed by the army, SANA said, without giving a figure for losses among Assad's forces. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 45 rebels were surrounded and killed as they left the old city on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. The Britain-based Observatory, which monitors the violence in Syria through a network of military and medical sources, said it had no information on government losses. Assad's forces have surrounded rebels for more than a year in Homs, a center of the uprising against Assad in 2011 which turned into an armed uprising and civil war after the Syrian leader's forces cracked down on protesters.
They have also pushed back rebel forces from nearby rural areas which had formed part of their supply lines from neighboring Lebanon and allowed the rebels to challenge control of the main highway linking Damascus to Homs, the Mediterranean coast and the north of the country. Assad has lost control of large areas of northern and eastern Syria, but deadly infighting among rebel forces has stalled their military campaign to overthrow him.
Hundreds of rebels have been killed in a week of fighting by an array of Islamist and more moderate fighters against an al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).The fighting comes less than a fortnight before planned peace talks in Switzerland aimed at finding a political solution to almost three years of conflict, which the Observatory says has killed 130,000 people, and agreeing a transitional body to govern Syria. (Reporting by Dominic Evans, editing by Elizabeth Piper)
As Obama dithers, Egypt ramps up its nuclear options
By: Raymond Stock/Fox News
After the fatally-flawed interim deal signed by the P5+1 in Geneva November 24 over Iran's nuclear program, America's slighted ally Egypt is now possibly pursuing its own nuclear option, amid fears of an atomic arms race between Tehran and its regional Sunni rivals in Cairo, Riyadh and beyond.
And no one seems to be paying attention.
Egypt's traditionally close relations with the U.S. have been severely strained since Minister of Defense General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi ousted the narrowly-elected President Mohamed Morsi after more than thirty million marched against him and the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), to which he belongs.
To the outrage of most Egyptians, the U.S. cut roughly a third in cash and equipment of its annual $1.6 billion of mainly military aid to Cairo in early October in punishment for the new regime's crackdown on the MB, which demands the return of Morsi -- and which Egypt now correctly classifies as a terrorist organization.
Yet the White House had boosted aid to Egypt even as Morsi grew more and more repressive, imposing his Islamist agenda on the country.
On October 6, Egypt's interim president, Adly Mansour, announced at the annual commemoration of Egypt's successful 1973 surprise attack on the Israelis across the Suez Canal that construction of a 1,000 MW light-water reactor to generate electricity at El-Debaa, 120 kilometers west of Alexandria -- the first of four planned in the country -- would go ahead.
Egypt's 60-year-old nuclear program is already the third largest in the region, after those of Israel and Iran.
On November 26, the respected Middle East news site Al-Monitor reported that Egypt expects to generate $4 billion in grants from interested international companies to finance the project.
Morsi, whom al-Sisi appointed Mansour to replace pending new elections next year, had earlier approved a similar plan, even obtaining a pledge of Russian "research assistance" for Egypt's nuclear expansion, as well as help in exploiting the nation's previously unknown major deposits of uranium.
In mid-November, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoygu visited Egypt, where they negotiated a deal through which Egypt will buy $2 billion worth of Russian military equipment.
"We want to give a new impetus to our relations and return them to the same high level that used to exist with the Soviet Union"—i.e., during the Cold War--Egypt's Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmi is quoted as saying.
On November 11, the destroyer Varyag docked with an official welcome at Alexandria, the first Russian warship to visit one of Egypt's ports in decades.
It is not known if the Russians and their hosts also discussed Egypt's nuclear program in those talks.
Morsi -- whom the Iranians too had offered to help develop his nuclear program, and with whom he worked to have closer ties after three decades of frozen relations--was most likely interested in acquiring nuclear weapons, for which the MB has called since 2006.
That idea is still wildly popular in Egypt, even if the MB no longer is.
Yet unlike Iran, a major oil exporter, Egypt really does have an urgent, legitimate need to develop new sources of energy.
Rolling brownouts and blackouts have been increasingly common, especially in post-Mubarak Egypt.
But as al-Sisi and Obama drift further apart, there are good reasons to be aware, if not wary, of Egypt's push for nuclear power.
Egypt's nuclear program, which began in 1954, features two research reactors and a hot-cell laboratory, all located at Inshas in the Delta.
From the reactors' spent fuel rods, the hot-cell laboratory reportedly extracts at least six kilograms of plutonium -- enough for one nuclear bomb -- per year.
During the rule of Hosni Mubarak -- overthrown in February 2011 in a U.S.-backed coup propelled by public protests--the International Agency for Atomic Energy (IAEA) in 2004 opened an investigation into irradiation experiments and the unreported import of nuclear materials, and in 2007 and 2008 found traces of Highly-Enriched Uranium (HEU), all at Inshas.
After each, the IAEA issued brief, bland reports, but the last case is apparently still open, while similar traces of HEU found in facilities in Iran provided the first clue that Pakistan had been aiding Tehran's own drive for the bomb. Mubarak also called for a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (WMDFZ) in the Middle East--now a movement, co-led by Iran, obviously aimed at freeing Israel of its most effective last-ditch defenses.
Yet, although Egypt signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968, it has refused to sign the NPT's Additional Protocol, which permits spot inspections, as well as treaties banning the possession of chemical and biological weapons.
Al-Sisi shares Mubarak's antipathy for the ayatollahs, and rightly fears their growing rapprochement with a gullible U.S. eager to create a new alignment in the Middle East, at the expense of traditional Sunni allies.
That means not only Egypt but Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), who ultimately felt threatened by the MB in Egypt (the UAE is now prosecuting about thirty MB members accused of plotting subversion), which the Obama administration continues to stand by instead, despite the group's anti-Western ideology and actions.
There is now enormous support on the street for Egypt to shift its alliance away from the U.S., particularly toward Russia, especially after President Vladimir Putin's masterful diplomatic deflection of America's pusillanimous threat of a military strike against Moscow's Syrian client last fall.
The rift is not yet complete- -- though there still is no clear sign that the Obama administration will either fully accept the loss of Morsi, or actually stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them.
Whatever Iran chooses to do when it finally gets the bomb, its very proximity to having these ultimate weapons could impel its neighbors to seek their own deterrent.
Sadly, no deterrent nor strategy of containment can control the dynamics of this most unstable region should Iran achieve its ultimate nuclear ambitions.
And a nuclear arms race between the Sunni states and Iran -- also, in the end, aimed at Israel -- would be even worse.
**Raymond Stock, a Shillman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a former Assistant Professor of Arabic and Middle East Studies at Drew University, spent twenty years in Egypt, and was deported by the Mubarak regime in 2010.
500 Killed in Syria Rebel-Jihadist Fighting
Naharnet Newsdesk 10 January 2014/Nearly 500 people, among them at least 85 civilians, have been killed in a week of fighting pitting Syrian rebels against jihadists in the north of the strife-torn country. The fighting raged as Western governments that back the revolt against President Bashar Assad prepared to intensify pressure on the opposition to participate in peace talks with the regime planned for later this month.
A new front opened last Friday in Syria's nearly three-year-old war, when powerful massive rebel groups combined to attack bases and checkpoints of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
While the jihadists were initially welcomed by other rebels, allegations of brutal abuses against civilians as well as rival opposition fighters sparked a backlash, and even accusations that they were serving the interests of the regime. "We have documented the killing of 482 people in the fighting -- 85 civilians, 240 members of the rebel brigades and 157 members of ISIL," said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights director Rami Abdel Rahman.
Among the civilians and rebels killed were 42 hostages who were executed in Aleppo by ISIL. Rebels also executed 47 ISIL members, mainly in Idlib province in northwestern Syria, Abdel Rahman said.
"The rest of the deaths came during the fighting. It is likely dozens more people have lost their lives, but it is impossible to accurately document all the killings," he added. He called for "crimes being committed in Syria to be brought before an international court." Jihadist-rebel fighting has raged mainly in Aleppo, Idlib and Raqa provinces. On Friday, rebels continued to advance in much of Aleppo and Idlib, where ISIL's presence was relatively weak, while the jihadists had the upper hand in Raqa, which has been under their control for several months. ISIL has its roots in Al-Qaida in Iraq, and first appeared in the Syrian conflict in spring last year. Civilians have suffered massively as a result of the latest fighting, activists say. "In Aleppo city, people are trapped in their houses, unable to fetch medicine or food for fear they will get shot by snipers if they go outside," said anti-regime activist Alaaeddine. "In Raqa, the situation is even worse," he added. Despite the "numerical advantage" enjoyed by Syria's rebels, "ISIL will not be forced out of Syria altogether," according to analyst Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center. "It will maintain operations, but likely in a far more independent manner, and sometimes in opposition to other rebel groups."
ISIL has already carried out several deadly car bombings against rival rebel groups in recent days, particularly in Aleppo and Idlib. Protesters meanwhile took to the streets Friday, as they have every week since the start of the revolt in March 2011, this time chanting slogans against both Assad and ISIL. In the northern town of Binnish, protesters chanted: "Syria is free, free! ISIL, get out!" They also held up posters that read: "Bashar Assad is our main enemy." Fierce cross-country fighting pitting rebels against both ISIL jihadists and Assad loyalists came as backers of Syria's opposition upped the pressure on dissidents to attend peace talks slated for January 22.
Speaking to AFP Thursday, veteran opponent and National Coalition member Samir Nashar said: "There are clear signs indicating the Coalition must go to Geneva." The Coalition will meet on January 17 to decide whether to participate in the so-called Geneva 2 process. But Syria's main rebel groups have warned opponents against attending the talks and against any negotiation with Assad's regime. And the main bloc within the Coalition -- the Syrian National Council -- has said it will withdraw from the group if its general assembly decides to attend the peace meeting. The pressure from Western governments to join the talks increased as the so-called Friends of Syria prepared for a Sunday meeting in Paris to discuss Syria's transition. The opposition Coalition meanwhile tried to present itself as the international community's "partner" against terrorism. "The Coalition calls upon the Friends of Syria group to recognize the important role played by the... (rebel) Free Syrian Army in countering the global threat posed by Al-Qaida, and the Assad regime's role in supporting extremism," it said.
Syria's civil war has killed more than 130,000 people, and forced millions more to flee their homes.
Source/Agence France Presse.
ISIS fights back against Syria rebel assault
January 10, 2014/Daily Star/ANKARA: Iran's talks with the European Union have ended with an agreement over outstanding issues about the practical details of implementing a nuclear agreement, Iranian state television reported on Friday. But the implementation of the deal reached in Geneva in November will take place only after consultations between the negotiating delegations and their governments. The six major powers involved in the talks with Iran were on Friday represented by the European Union, it said. "All the outstanding political and technical issues were resolved but the final decision will be taken by the respective capitals," said Iran's deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, after two days of talks with the EU's Helga Schmid in Geneva. A European Union spokesman said his latest information was that the talks were still going on. The Geneva deal was designed to halt Iran's nuclear advances for six months to buy time for negotiations on a final settlement. Under the deal, Iran will curb its atomic activities in return for some easing of the international sanctions that have battered the oil producer's economy. Iran says its nuclear work is entirely peaceful but the West suspects it is aimed at acquiring a nuclear bomb capability
U.S. nearing irrelevance
January 10, 2014/The Daily Star
The leaked revelations from Robert Gates’ upcoming memoir come at a particularly awkward time for President Barack Obama, with his administration’s foreign policy decisions, or indecisions, being criticized from every side.
While Afghanistan and Iraq were both messes which Obama’s predecessors got the country into, former Pentagon chief Gates, who served under six presidents, chastised the Democrat leader for dithering on troop surges and overall strategy. Obama suffered throughout 2013 for clumsy and ill-thought-out policy wavering, especially in regard to the Middle East and Islamic world. And the ramifications of over a decade of bad U.S. decisions are still being acutely felt. Fighting between U.S.-brokered Iraqi security forces, now largely propped up by Iran, and Al-Qaeda factions continues in the west of Iraq, where the violence cannot be divorced from what is happening in the north of Syria. And certainly, the effects of this Iraqi struggle will be felt much further afield than just its national borders: It will likely have effects across the region. And this current battle merely comes on top of daily bombings which claimed over 8,000 lives in 2013 alone, the deadliest year since 2008.
And in Afghanistan, 72 suspected Taliban fighters Thursday were released from jail. In a nation where such militants routinely attack NATO troops and civilians alike, U.S. objections did little to dissuade Karzai’s government from the move. If 2014 is going to look up for Obama in any way, he would do well to attempt to repair his ever weakening relationships with his once major allies in the region: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and the Palestinians. Without such reparations, the U.S. position in the Middle East might become irrelevant.
Winning the Peace by Failing in Geneva
By Jeremy Shapiro and Samuel Charap/Foreign Affairs
Later this month, the United States, Russia, key regional states, and other members of the international community will attend the Geneva II peace conference. In Washington, the debate rages on between the skeptics, who dismiss the conference as a hopeless endeavor, and the optimists, who see it as a genuine peace process that could resolve the Syrian crisis. Both sides are missing the point.
It is hard to dispute the skeptics’ argument that the time is not right for a comprehensive agreement between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the rebels fighting his regime. Neither party is ready to give up on victory, and both sides’ regional sponsors continue to support, fund, and arm them. But peace is not the right benchmark by which to judge Geneva II. Historically, ending civil wars has involved long and difficult negotiations that, at best, very gradually create the conditions for lasting peace.
Yes, Geneva II will likely fail to produce a settlement to the Syrian conflict. But the United States should take steps to ensure it fails in a way that furthers peace. At the same time, the United States and Russia can improve the prospects for peace by establishing a round of negotiations among the regional sponsors of the warring Syrian parties.
Moscow has signaled in several ways that its policy is not driven by concern about Assad’s place in Syria’s future.
Rather than an opportunity to achieve peace, Geneva II is an occasion to drive a wedge between Moscow and Assad and thus promote greater cooperation between the United States and Russia on the Syrian conflict. Such cooperation is key to both the alleviation of the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and to a negotiated end to the war. At the talks then, the U.S. goal should be to create the conditions whereby Assad openly rejects a deal that all other parties, including Russia, endorse.
Achieving such an outcome will be exceptionally difficult. But it need not be impossible, as long as the United States understands Russian objectives. The Russian approach to Geneva is widely viewed in Washington as an attempt to maintain the status quo, rather than to spark a real transition. But that interpretation is off the mark.
In fact, Russia is serious about Geneva II, even if it has a very different perspective on what it might achieve there. For Russia, the meeting is a vehicle to facilitate a political settlement among Syrians, not an opportunity for outside actors to negotiate the end of the Assad regime. Moscow insisted that this be a guiding principle in the Geneva communiqué, the July 2012 document that governs Geneva II, and its policy and actions haven’t changed since. Above all else, Moscow wants to avoid legitimizing a U.S.-led forced removal of a sitting government or an attempt to pick winners in an internal conflict. Either development, Russia believes, would set an extremely dangerous precedent -- both for the region and, potentially, for itself.
The September U.S.-Russia deal on Syria’s chemical weapons proves the point. Moscow agreed to an arrangement that deprives Assad of his chemical weapons, which was a major concession considering that it had, just weeks before, rejected far less ambitious proposals. The reason for the turnaround? Russia believed that the United States was on the verge of military strikes, and recognized that the chemical weapons agreement could prevent that. As a nice bonus, it also got to advance one of the few global public goods that Russia cares about: nonproliferation of WMD, particularly to extremist groups.
Additionally, Moscow has signaled in several ways that its policy is not driven by concern about Assad’s place in Syria’s future. Senior officials have said as much, and Russia voted in favor of UN Security Council Resolutions 2042 and 2118, both of which called for a “political transition” in Syria. By supporting the Geneva communiqué, which requires that the opposition sign off on the composition of a future Syrian leadership, Moscow has already implicitly endorsed a transition that does not include Assad himself.
If Russia’s actions were driven by a desire to keep Assad in power at all costs, it would be giving the regime boatloads of mortars, artillery, and tanks, and sending uniformed military advisers (all of which Iran is in fact doing). Instead, its arms sales are largely confined to sophisticated air-defense systems, which are useless against the rebels. The terms of these deals are commercial -- cash on delivery -- rather than military assistance.
If the United States recognizes that Russia’s objectives are about the process, not the outcomes of a settlement, and acts that way, the negotiations could produce closer U.S.-Russia cooperation on Syria. Washington needs to let the talks unfold in a way that demonstrates to Moscow that Assad and his cronies -- rather than the opposition, U.S. policy, or other states in the region -- are the main obstacle to peace and stability.
That might not be too difficult to manage. Assad seems to have no intention of negotiating a deal or countenancing any kind of power-sharing. But the Kremlin has been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Until Assad demonstrates his bad faith by publicly rejecting a settlement that Russia accepts, Moscow will continue to regard him as a part of the solution, not the source of the problem.
There is some precedent for such a change in Russian policy. In 2009, Tehran publicly rejected a Russian offer to store Iran’s enriched uranium -- a deal that Iran had accepted days earlier. Angered by Iran’s betrayal, Russia supported tough new UN sanctions against Iran in June 2010.
If talks fail because Assad rejects a reasonable deal that all the other parties endorse, Moscow will begin to see that its desire for both stability in the region and avoiding coercive regime change requires working more closely with the United States.
Similarly, if Geneva II fails because Assad rejects a reasonable deal that all the other parties endorse, Moscow will begin to see that its desire for both stability in the region and avoiding coercive regime change requires working more closely with the United States. It might then pressure Assad to accept a transition. It could also work with the United States and the rest of the UN Security Council to address the humanitarian situation in Syria, particularly by seeking approval for UN agencies to enter Syria through border crossings not controlled by Damascus, which could bring desperately needed help to hundreds of thousands of people in opposition-held areas.
Regardless of what happens at Geneva II, Washington should be developing a parallel, regional track for peace in Syria. Together, the United States and Russia should push for negotiations that convene the regional supporters of the opposition and the regime, without the Syrian parties present. This would be a half-step back from the face-to-face talks between the opposition and the regime envisioned at Geneva II. We call it Geneva 1.5.
A regional track is needed because the Syrian civil war has become a proxy war -- principally between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but with important roles played by Qatar, Turkey, and Iraq. (The United States and Russia are also involved in this proxy war, albeit to a lesser extent than the regional actors.) The record on resolving such proxy wars is clear. Until the main external supporters reach some sort of accommodation, they will continue to fund, arm, and otherwise give their proxies hope of victory. This unhappy dynamic played out frequently during the Cold War, lasting decades in Angola, Guatemala, and Vietnam.
Thus far, no international mediation efforts on Syria have explicitly sought to address the role of regional actors and the conflicts among them. The first Geneva meeting excluded Iran and Saudi Arabia, two key players, and the meeting’s resulting communiqué focused on the principles of civil war resolution rather than on the particulars of this conflict. The purpose of a Geneva 1.5 conference would be to facilitate eventual political resolution within Syria by cutting off the activity of regional actors that fuels the conflict.
Such negotiations will not be easy. The Syrian civil war is only one battlefield in a much broader struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Bringing these two archrivals to an accommodation on Syria will tax even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s legendary perseverance. Both would have to be convinced that they have little hope of realizing their maximalist goals. Then the United States and Russian mediators would seek a formula that can accommodate their core interests in Syria’s future and guarantee mutual restraint. That formula would not determine who rules Syria, but it would enable the Syrian parties themselves to negotiate without fear that outside actors would sabotage any agreement.
The regional players should be ready to come to grips with the fact that outright victory is impossible. For Iran, the Syrian conflict is a black hole for its already stretched capabilities. Its involvement in the conflict has damaged its reputation in the Arab world, fueled sectarian violence elsewhere, and led to an upswing in Sunni extremism in Syria. Tehran may therefore accept a settlement that protects its most important interests in Syria: namely, ensuring its connection with Hezbollah and Lebanon and preventing Damascus from being controlled by a puppet regime of its regional rivals.
As for the Saudis, the extremism emanating from Syria could pose a threat to the House of Saud itself. Further, their proxies in Syria are at best holding the line as the Syrian regime continues to demonstrate its resilience. The Saudis simply do not have the capacity to win a long proxy war against Iran in Syria. They might, therefore, settle for a power-sharing arrangement that would give them some influence with a Syrian transitional regime. Even that scenario would represent a substantial improvement in Saudi Arabia’s standing in Syria prior to the conflict.
A group of nations that included Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States did come together recently to discuss ways to provide humanitarian relief to the many thousands of innocents facing starvation in Syria. And even that was a major breakthrough. The United States and Russia could build on this momentum to push for Geneva 1.5.
The United States and Russia are well positioned to lead Geneva 1.5 together -- regardless of how Geneva II goes. Both have a common interest in preventing Islamist extremists from gaining more ground in Syria. And each has its own strengths and regional connections. The United States can nudge Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey into a more constructive role in the negotiations, and Russia might be able to do the same with Iran.
Kerry recently hinted that the United States may consider allowing Iranian involvement in Geneva II in some partial capacity, but full Iranian participation in the talks remains conditioned on Tehran’s acceptance of the principles of the Geneva communiqué. Washington would be better served by first getting Iran to the Geneva 1.5 table, because an accommodation with its regional adversaries, rather than engagement in an intra-Syrian political process, offers the best chance of changing Iranian behavior in Syria.
It will not be easy. But accepting the current debate in Washington about Geneva will essentially guarantee that U.S. efforts will accomplish little. One meeting in late January is unlikely to bring peace to Syria. But with a dual-track approach that positions Assad to block a settlement at Geneva II and involves regional actors in a parallel Geneva 1.5 negotiation, the United States might just be able to create momentum for peace in Syria.