January 06/15

Bible Quotation For Today/The Baptism Of Jesus
Mark 01/01-11: "The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”The Baptism and Testing of Jesus At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Latest analysis, editorials from miscellaneous sources published on January 05-06/15
Saudi Arabia will not save Iran’s economy/
Salman Aldossary/Asharq Al Awsat/January 05/15
Rowhani tests diplomatic waters: Is 2015 Iran’s year/Camelia Entekhabi-Fard /Al Arabiya/January 05/15

Lebanese Related News published on January 05-06/15
Christmas the Armenian way
Lebanon ready for wrath of ‘Zina’
Masri 'Suspends' Mediation, Forcing Cancellation of Priest Meeting with IS
Hizbullah, Mustaqbal Agree to Back Security Plan in 'All Regions', Make Progress on 'Defusing Tensions'
zbollah, Future make headway easing tension
Salam and FPM to Raise Cabinet Mechanism in Next Session
Khalil: Radioactive, Toxic Goods Seized at Ports
Report: Hizbullah Tightens Belt over Oil Price Slump, Sanctions on Iran
Flooded with Refugees, Lebanon Begins Imposing Visas on Syrians
Jumblat Urges Reconciling National Interest with 'Syrian Refugees Dignity'
Economy Minister Alain Hakim Rejects 'Circus' on Food Safety, Abou Faour Hails Media
Change and Reform bloc MP Ibrahim Kanaan Says Dialogue with LF Aims at Lebanonizing Presidential Elections
Berri Says Hizbullah-Mustaqbal Dialogue Does Not Sidestep Any Party
Aoun 'Optimistic' LF May Vote for Him, Says Talks to Tackle 'Christian Rights' before Presidency
Nasrallah to Give Speech on Friday
Hakim Rejects 'Circus' on Food Safety, Abou Faour Hails Media
Syrians confused by new measures
Press Federation to elect new head
Parliamentary committee re-examines rent law

Miscellaneous Reports And News published on January 05-06/15
Iraq PM Calls for 'Tribal Revolution' against IS
IS Mortars Target Iraqi Base Hosting U.S. Troops in Anbar
U.S.-Led Warplanes Target Jihadist Oil Pipeline in Syria
Netanyahu Vows no Concessions on Israel's Security
Netanyahu wants to change governance system
Syria complains to U.N.: McCain entered country illegally
U.S. Opposes Israel's Freeze on Palestinian Tax Revenue
Indonesia Orders Air officials' Suspension as Crash Probed
Israel's President Against Palestinian Tax Freeze
U.S. opposes Israel’s freeze on Palestinian tax revenue
Turkey Deal to Train Syria Rebels to be Signed This Month
3 Saudi Guards Killed by 'Terrorists' on Iraq Border
Euro at 9-year low, Greece and ECB in focus
Hamas totally opposed to Abbas new U.N. bid
Tibi: ICC case will stop Israel's land theft
Egyptian Christians held in Libya freed: tribal source
Egypt’s Sisi arrives in Kuwait on first visit since election
Germans protest against anti-Islam rallies

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Author of “Islamophobic” French novel: “Jihadists are bad Muslims”

Hizbullah, Mustaqbal Agree to Back Security Plan in 'All Regions', Make Progress on 'Defusing Tensions'
Naharnet /Hizbullah and al-Mustaqbal movement agreed Monday during their second dialogue session to support efforts to “continue the implementation of the security plan across all Lebanese regions,” revealing that they have made “progress” on the issue of defusing Sunni-Shiite tensions. “Discussions tackled a main topic – defusing sectarian tensions – and serious progress was made in this regard,” said a joint statement issued after the talks in Ain al-Tineh. The two parties also agreed to “support the continued implementation of the security plan across all Lebanese regions,” the statement added. Hizbullah's al-Manar TV had earlier reported that talks were expected to focus on “defusing sectarian tensions” through easing the “political and media rhetoric” and pacifying the sentiments of the two parties' supporters. It quoted officials from both sides as saying that “tensions did decrease in the past days.” The dialogue's sponsor, Speaker Nabih Berri, did not take part in the talks but he was represented by his political aide, Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, who had also attended the first session. “The Mustaqbal-Hizbullah dialogue will not tackle the issue of the presidency, which will be left to the Christian parties,” al-Jadeed television reported prior to the meeting. Dialogue had kicked off on December 23 between the two parties and the first session was aimed at devising a “roadmap” and a “mechanism” for the next sessions. The rival political groups also expressed during that session their willingness to engage in “serious” dialogue over “all issues.”An unprecedented security plan was launched in April in the Bekaa and North regions. The campaign was later expanded to involve the capital Beirut and its suburbs. However, Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq lamented in October that the plan was not fully implemented in the Bekaa, hinting at an obstructing role for Hizbullah.
But on December 3, prior to the first dialogue session, the minister revealed that the plan will be continued and that it would involve measures against the Hizbullah-affiliated Resistance Brigades.

Masri 'Suspends' Mediation, Forcing Cancellation of Priest Meeting with IS
Naharnet /Salafist cleric Sheikh Wissam al-Masri has announced that he will suspend his mediation in the case of the captive Lebanese servicemen until he receives an official paper containing the demands of the Islamic State group, revealing that his decision had prompted the cancellation of a visit by Father Antoine Daou to the kidnappers. “The government wants demands signed by the IS and I don't blame it. For my part, I have asked the IS for an official paper, and until I obtain a signed document of the demands, I will not interfere in the case,” Masri said in an interview with the Central News Agency. The cleric had on Tuesday announced that he visited the captors who belong to the IS in the outskirts of the Bekaa border town of Arsal, declaring that the group demanded a “buffer zone” in the border area, a hospital for the treatment of the wounded and the release of women prisoners from Lebanon's jails. His announcement, however, was swiftly dismissed by Health Minister Wael Abou Faour, who announced the next day that Masri had nothing to do with the ongoing negotiations and that the demands he carried did not bring anything new. “I was fully coordinating with the office of General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and the government has not given an official authorization to anyone. It did not grant it to the Qatari mediator nor to the Muslim Scholars Committee,” Masri noted. As for the mediation of Arsal deputy municipal chief Ahmed Fleiti, the cleric wished success for the man's initiative, adding that what matters is the final outcome. “But as far as I know, there are no contacts or communication between him and the IS and he's maybe in contact with al-Nusra” Front, Masri went on to say. The Lebanese troops and policemen were taken hostage during deadly clashes in and around Arsal in early August. Four captives have been executed to date and the kidnappers have voiced several demands, including the release of Islamist prisoners held in Lebanon. Asked about the “positive” indications mentioned by Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq, Masri noted that the negotiations have warmed up thanks to his latest efforts. “I managed to obtain a pledge from al-Nusra on halting executions and I also visited the IS-held captives and the group promised me to stop the killings and gave me a list of their demands … but from now on, I will only act when I receive official statements from the two groups,” the cleric added. Separately, Masri declared that Father Antoine Daou had planned to visit the IS in Arsal's outskirts to discuss the case of the abducted servicemen. “He coordinated the visit with me and I paved the way for him, and the IS was preparing a special reception for him,” Masri said. “But the meeting was called off because I decided to suspend my mediation and stop my visits to the outskirts,” the cleric clarified, adding that the Lebanese security authorities “also voiced concern over Father Daou's health condition seeing as he is at an advanced age.”The botched meeting would have “highlighted that the case of the servicemen is not only a Sunni case, but rather one that is of concern to all the Lebanese,” Masri said.

Khalil: Radioactive, Toxic Goods Seized at Ports
Naharnet /Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil revealed on Monday that the authorities have seized radioactive and poisonous material at Rafik Hariri International Airport and Beirut Port. “Some of the materials have been imported from India. Traders don't have the right to buy cheap goods that harm citizens,” Khalil said during a press conference. He called for returning the goods and said the companies importing such products, which include food, drugs, production equipment and cutlery, will be held accountable. “Dangerous radioactivity stays for 85 years,” Khalil warned. “It is prohibited to turn Lebanon into a dump for poisonous and radioactive waste.”He also denied that certain people had the backing of politicians at the airport and Beirut Port. “There is no political support to any broker or forwarding agent,” he said. Khalil vowed to follow up the issue with the involved ministers and the judiciary. He said he procrastinated in announcing such a scandal that poses a danger to the people's health pending the results of tests carried out on the goods.

Flooded with Refugees, Lebanon Begins Imposing Visas on Syrians
Naharnet/Overwhelmed by a massive influx of desperate refugees, Lebanon began imposing unprecedented visa restrictions on Syrians on Monday, including those fleeing their country's civil war. "Today we began implementing the new entry measures and Syrians at the borders have begun presenting their documents to enter," a source at Lebanon's General Security agency told Agence France-Presse. The visa restrictions are the first in the history of the two countries and come as Lebanon struggles to deal with more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees. The influx has tested the country's limited resources, as well as the patience of its citizens, particularly as security has deteriorated. For months, Lebanon's government has sounded the alarm, warning the international community that it could no longer deal with the influx. In October, Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas said Lebanon would stop accepting displaced Syrians, with exceptions on humanitarian grounds only. He told AFP that the new visa requirement was intended to limit the flood of new arrivals.
"The goal is to prevent (Syrians) from taking refuge" in Lebanon, and "to more seriously regulate the entry of Syrians." Khalil Jebara, adviser to Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq, said the country would continue to provide humanitarian exceptions, but that restrictions were needed. "We respect our international obligations... we will not expel anyone and there will be humanitarian exceptions," he said. "But it's high time to regulate the issue of Syrians entering Lebanon," he added. "Their presence imposes a great security, economic and social burden on Lebanon, and pressure that the infrastructure can no longer take." Unlike Jordan and Turkey, Lebanon declined to create refugee camps, meaning refugees are dispersed throughout the country. It has also seen its fragile security situation deteriorate, with jihadists from Syria briefly overrunning Arsal -- a border town in eastern Lebanon hosting tens of thousands of refugees -- in August and kidnapping several dozen Lebanese police and soldiers. A General Security spokesman said the measures would help track the huge refugee population, which the government estimates at 1.5 million people. "We have a problem called 1.5 million Syrians and there is no magical solution for it, these measures are the first step," he said.
"It's a way to track Syrians... so we know where to find them."
U.N. refugee agency UNHCR has registered 1.1 million arrivals, but many more are thought to be in the country unregistered, and thousands have entered Lebanon through illegal crossings.
Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center think-tank, said the visa measures were a result of Lebanon's failure to implement a refugee policy early in the Syrian conflict. Lebanon's government is divided between supporters of Syria's regime, including the powerful Hizbullah, and backers of the Syrian uprising, making agreement on refugees difficult. Politicians had been forced to act now, under pressure from constituents angry about the impact of the influx, she said. Khatib said Lebanese concern about the refugee influx was "both real and exaggerated." Wages have gone down and rents have increased, but Lebanese employers have exploited Syrians willing to work for lower wages, she said. Lebanon is also marked by its experience with Palestinian refugees who fled their homes with the creation of Israel in 1948. More than 400,000 Palestinians, mostly descendants of the original refugees, remain in squalid and largely lawless camps in Lebanon, and Palestinian armed groups are blamed by many Lebanese for sparking the country's 1975-1990 civil war. Lebanon's complex sectarian make-up also plays a role -- most Syrian refugees are Sunni Muslims, like the Palestinian refugees before them, raising fears they could change the country's delicate sectarian balance. Syria's ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim Ali, said his country understood the new rules, but urged "coordination" with Damascus, in a statement quoted by Lebanon's National News Agency. The new rules raise the prospect of Syrians being unable to flee the violence that has killed more than 200,000 people since March 2011. UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said new refugee registrations had already dropped after Lebanon imposed restrictions last year. He said the agency understood the government's reasons for the rules but would work with Lebanon to ensure "refugees aren't being pushed back into situations where their lives are in danger."Agence France Presse

Change and Reform bloc MP Ibrahim Kanaan Says Dialogue with LF Aims at Lebanonizing Presidential Elections
Naharnet /Change and Reform bloc MP Ibrahim Kanaan denied that the upcoming dialogue between the Free Patriotic Movement and the Lebanese Forces is a direct result of the talks between Hizbullah and al-Mustaqbal movement, stressing it aims at finding a presidential candidate without the interference of outside powers. “Talks with the LF is not a reaction to the ongoing dialogue between Hizbullah and al-Mustaqbal,” Kanaan told al-Liwaa newspaper in an interview published on Monday. “The dialogue has been going on for months,” he said. The lawmaker made his claim after Speaker Nabih Berri told his visitors that possible talks between FPM leader MP Michel Aoun and LF chief Samir Geagea are a “natural reaction” to the Sunni-Shiite dialogue. The dialogue with the LF aims at “Lebanonizing” the election of the new president, said Kanaan. The head of state should be consensual. Both Christians and Muslims should have a say in choosing a candidate, he told his interviewer. “What we are currently doing with the LF … is preparing for such a result,” Kanaan said. The dialogue also aims at rectifying the representation of Christians in the country's institutions, he said. “The role of Christians should be consolidated. That's why Christian-Christian ties should be regulated,” the MP told al-Liwaa. Asked whether the discussions would focus on ways to amend the Taef Accord, Kanaan said: “We want the Taef to be implemented because we believe that it hasn't been respected for the past 24 years.”“In our dialogue with the LF, we aim to correct the imbalance in the implementation of the Constitution,” he added. Both Aoun and Geagea have announced their candidacies to the presidency. Their rivalry has left the Baabda Palace vacant. Lebanon has been without a head of state since President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ended in May. Aoun on Sunday expressed optimism that the LF would vote for him in the presidential race, noting that the two parties will tackle the issue of the rights of Christians before moving to discuss the presidential void. He refused, however, to give a final date or state the venue of his meeting with Geagea.

Report: Hizbullah Tightens Belt over Oil Price Slump, Sanctions on Iran
Naharnet/Hizbullah is facing financial austerity because of the slump in global oil prices and the sanctions on its main backer Iran, The Christian Science Monitor reported. The party has had to impose salary cuts on personnel and defer payments to suppliers, The Monitor quoted political and diplomatic sources in Beirut as saying. Randa Slim, a Hizbullah expert and a director at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, also said that Iran's assistance to the Syrian regime against rebels seeking to topple it have forced Tehran “to divert more resources away from Hizbullah at a time when the resource base in Iran is shrinking.”But a Lebanese oil industry expert, who has extensive contacts in Iran, said that lower funding by Iran does not threaten Hizbullah's life. Iranian funding to Hizbullah comes from the multi-billion-dollar private resources at the disposal of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said The Monitor. While the institutions will be “indirectly effected” by Iran’s worsening economy, “you are talking about a solid money reserve, you are talking about tens, maybe hundreds, of billions (of dollars) of reserves,” said the expert. “Those organizations (like Hizbullah) are kind of sacred and they (Iran’s clerical leaders) are even ready to cut off any internal budget but not to touch those allocated budgets (to Hizbullah),” the expert added. Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday that foreign investors should no longer be viewed as a threat and signalled his country's decades-long isolation from the world economy could soon end. Iran is engaged in long-running negotiations with world powers aimed at a comprehensive deal over its disputed nuclear programme which, if successful, will likely result in an investment boom. A key point in any agreement would be the lifting of wide-ranging sanctions -- imposed on Iran as punishment for its atomic activities -- blamed for neutering its oil- and gas-rich economy.

Jumblat Urges Reconciling National Interest with 'Syrian Refugees Dignity'
Naharnet /Progressive Socialist Party chief MP Walid Jumblat called Monday for protecting the national interests while preserving the “dignity” of the Syrian refugees in the country, urging differentiation between those who are “running away from death” and those who are “coming to organize demagogic rallies in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad.”In his weekly column in the PSP's al-Anbaa electronic newspaper, Jumblat criticized Lebanese authorities for obligating Syrian refugees to go through “complex procedures” on border crossings “without studying the measures thoroughly.”The General Directorate of General Security announced last week that “new standards will organize the entrance and residency of Syrians in Lebanon.” Syrians will from now on need visas to enter Lebanon, the thing they did not need in the past decades. The resolution was put into force on Monday and Syrians started filling the needed documents upon arrival at border crossings or Beirut's airport. However, Jumblat did not deny that the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is “huge due to the war that the Syrian regime started.”"The number of the Syrian refugees is an economic and social burden on the nation,” he added. “It is important to differentiate between the refugees who are running away from death and destruction in Syria and those who come to Lebanon for different reasons, such as the ones who carried out demagogic rallies during the farce of Bashar Assad's presidential 'extension',” Jumblat went on to say. Accordingly, Jumblat urged Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq and General Security chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim to take into consideration the need to “harmonize between the higher national interest and the dignity of the Syrian refugees.”He also stressed the importance of “protecting those who fled the raging fire in Syria from some racist, right-wing Lebanese speeches.” “Is it important to remind some parties of the manner in which the Syrian people welcomed the Lebanese during the July 2006 aggression? The Syrians are now facing what is more egregious than the Israeli aggression.”Turning to other issues, the PSP chief underlined the importance of “treating the people of (the Bekaa border town of) Arsal properly instead of treating this town as if it was Kandahar.”
He also called for "respecting the mediators who are exerting major efforts to secure the release the Lebanese servicemen and put an end to this humanitarian issue.” The servicemen were taken hostage in early August at the hands of Islamic State and al-Nusra Front militants who overran Arsal and engaged in deadly battles with the Lebanese army. Four captives have been executed to date and the two groups are threatening to kill more hostages if the Lebanese government does not meet their demands.

Economy Minister Alain Hakim Rejects 'Circus' on Food Safety, Abou Faour Hails Media

Naharnet/Economy Minister Alain Hakim described on Monday a recent visit by him and Health Minister Wael Abou Faour to Beirut Port as a “media circus” although the latter dubbed the media as his main ally in his campaign for food safety. “The visit to the wheat silos at Beirut Port turned out to be a media circus,” said Hakim during a press conference. “The media show is unacceptable.”“Wheat is fine because silos are hermetically closed,” he said. “Fighting corruption comes through solving important files, such as waste,” he stated in reference to Abou Faour's campaign, which he said required a “clear mechanism” to guarantee its continuity. Hakim and the health minister have been at loggerheads since last week and have exchanged accusations over the campaign that Abou Faour launched late last year. The health ministry lashed out at the economy ministry on Friday after it rejected any responsibility for expired sugar stored at Tripoli Port. Abou Faour has also warned that the “Lebanese are sharing wheat with rats and pigeons” at Beirut Port. Hakim denied on Monday that he rejected the disposal of expired sugar and mockingly said: “The rat was at the port and not in the silo.”The health minister's clampdown has so far seen the closure of restaurants, slaughterhouses and other institutions for violating the standards. Abou Faour snapped back at Hakim on Monday, saying following a tour to Tripoli Port that “the media is the main ally that stood by the food safety campaign and the citizen.”Abou Faour hailed the port authorities for clearing tons of waste at the port and for carrying out work to stop rats from entering the silos.But the minister said the depot where vast amounts of sugar are stored do not meet food safety standards. “The sugar has expired and the depot's situation is catastrophic,” he said. “Some of the expired sugar entered the Lebanese market” for consumption, Abou Faour added.

Indonesia Orders Air officials' Suspension as Crash Probed
Naharnet /Indonesia Monday ordered the suspension of aviation officials as it investigates the crash of AirAsia Flight 8501, also promising action against any domestic airlines violating their flying permits. The crackdown came as a major search in the Java Sea entered its ninth day, struggling in bad weather to find more bodies or the "black box" flight data recorders which are crucial to determining the cause of the disaster. Only three more bodies were recovered Monday, bringing the total found to 37. A total of 162 passengers and crew were aboard the Airbus A320-200 on December 28 when it crashed en route from Indonesia's second city Surabaya to Singapore.
Indonesia alleges the plane was flying on an unauthorized schedule. The transport ministry has now ordered airport and air navigation managers to "suspend the personnel involved" in the activity of Flight 8501, director general of air transport Djoko Murjatmodjo told reporters.AirAsia Indonesia, a unit of Malaysia-based AirAsia, has already been suspended from flying the Surabaya-Singapore route -- although Singapore officials said they had given permission for the flight at their end.
Murjatmodjo said they would halt any other airline found violating its permitted flight schedule in the country, which has a patchy aviation safety record. "If, after assessment, another airline is also not flying on the approved schedule, that is a violation and we will suspend it too," Murjatmodjo said, adding that they were investigating how AirAsia had been flying on an unapproved schedule without the ministry's knowledge. Search and rescue agency chief Bambang Soelistyo meanwhile said three more bodies from the crash were recovered Monday, but only two advance divers had been able to go down to the wreckage off the island of Borneo. Five large parts of the plane including the suspected tail have so far been located. "The current was strong. So (most of) the divers are still on standby," Soelistyo told reporters. The search, assisted by several countries including the United States and Russia, has been trying to expand eastwards on suspicions that strong currents have caused parts of the plane to drift.
Earlier in the day several aircraft made their way from Pangkalan Bun, a town on Borneo with the nearest airstrip to the wreckage, to scour the sea's surface. Speedboats were sweeping the coastline to look for any bodies that may have drifted ashore. Indonesia's military chief General Moeldoko said he had offered to take relatives out to the crash site to pay their respects. "We will bring them to the navy ships and we will take them to the location to scatter flowers, and I hope coming to the location can reduce their sadness and the feeling of loss," he told reporters.
- Hope to find black boxes -
Indonesia's meteorological agency BMKG has said weather was the "triggering factor" of the crash, with ice likely damaging the plane's engines. The initial report by BMKG into the likely cause of the crash referred to infra-red satellite pictures that showed the plane was passing through clouds with top temperatures of minus 80 to minus 85 degrees Celsius. But it remained unclear why other planes on similar routes were unaffected by the weather, and other analysts said there was not enough information to explain the disaster until the flight recorders were recovered. The transport ministry said at the weekend it would issue a circular insisting pilots were directly briefed by officials on weather conditions before flights, after reports that the AirAsia pilots had instead taken forecasts from the BMKG website. Search and rescue official S.B. Supriyadi said the recovery teams were assessing whether to lift the plane parts off the seabed in an effort to find the flight data recorders. The operation has prioritized finding the bodies of the victims, all but seven of whom were Indonesian. Some of the bodies have been found still strapped into their seats. The daughter of the plane's pilot, Captain Iriyanto, made a televised plea late Sunday urging people not to blame her father. "He is just a victim and has not been found yet. My family is now mourning," said Angela Anggi Ranastianis. "As a daughter, I cannot accept it. No pilot will harm his passengers," she told TV One. In his last communication, experienced former air force pilot Iriyanto said he wanted to change course to avoid the menacing storm system, but he was not immediately allowed to ascend due to heavy air traffic.Then all contact was lost, about 40 minutes after take-off. Many of the victims' relatives have gathered to wait for news and prepare funerals in Surabaya, where a crisis center has been set up for identifying bodies.
Agence France Presse

3 Saudi Guards Killed by 'Terrorists' on Iraq Border
Naharnet/Three Saudi guards including a top commander were killed on Monday in a rare attack and suicide bombing by "terrorists" on the kingdom's border with Iraq, the interior ministry said. Four attackers were also killed in the clash, two in suicide blasts.
No group claimed responsibility for the clash, but Saudi Arabia is among countries that have joined the U.S.-led coalition carrying out air strikes against jihadists from the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. "A border patrol in Suwayf, in the northern Arar region, came under fire by terrorist elements," an interior spokesman said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency. As security forces killed one assailant, another "detonated an explosive belt he was carrying," killing himself and two guards and wounding another, the ministry said. In a later statement, the ministry said a total of three guards were killed, including General Odah al-Balawi. Saudi media had reported that a senior commander of the border guard was among the dead. Two assailants were shot dead and two detonated belts of explosives, the ministry said. Saudi news website Sabq reported that Odeh commanded the border guards in the northern region. The statement said the four were "trying to cross the Saudi border", but it did not clarify in which direction. Saudi Arabia's top religious body, the Council of Senior Ulema, condemned the attack and reiterated its support for the government in its fight against extremist groups including IS and al-Qaida. The head of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, Abdullatif al-Zayani, also condemned "the terrorist attack on the northern border of Saudi Arabia." In July, three shells fired from inside Iraq hit the Arar area, without causing any casualties. In 2013, Iraqi Shiite group Jaish al-Mukhtar claimed it had fired six mortar rounds into a remote area of northeastern Saudi Arabia as a "warning" to the kingdom. Saudi Arabia shares a more than 800-kilometer (500-mile) border with Iraq and has recently stepped up efforts to secure the frontier. In September, the kingdom inaugurated a multi-layered fence, backed by radar and other surveillance equipment, along its northern borders. In November, Riyadh announced it had expanded a buffer zone along the border by 20 kilometers (12 miles).The kingdom's participation in the U.S.-led campaign of air strikes against IS in Syria has drawn threats of retaliation from the jihadists. In a purported audio recording released on social media networks last month, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi warned Saudi leaders they would see "no more security or rest". Last month, Riyadh said it had arrested 135 suspects for "terrorism" offenses. The authorities said they had arrested three IS supporters for shooting and wounding a Dane in November. A week after that attack, a Canadian was wounded in a stabbing while he shopped at a mall in Dhahran on Saudi Arabia's Gulf coast. Police arrested a Saudi suspect. And in November, Saudi Arabia also blamed IS-linked suspects for killing seven Shiites, including children, in the kingdom's oil-rich Eastern Province. Agence France Presse

Rowhani tests diplomatic waters: Is 2015 Iran’s year?
Monday, 5 January 2015
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard /Al Arabiya
With just over a month to go until the anniversary of the Iranian revolution, current President Hassan Rowani is making waves by calling for a referendum in the country.
Speaking at an economic conference in Tehran on Sunday January 4, the president shocked the nation by reminding them of an article in the Constitution which proposes a public referendum for setting up regulations on certain important issues.
Rowhani didn’t specify what issues he believes should be put to a public vote but his declaration fueled public debates over Iran’s nuclear talks, which are set to resume on January 15. At this stage, the public may need to get involved before the government reaches a comprehensive deal with Western powers. To mitigate the influence of hardliners who seem to be seeking to jeopardize the talks, perhaps Rowhani sought to disarm them. What better than public approval of the negotiations team?
Settling the file
The P5+1 ( Five permanent members of the U.N. security council plus Germany) agreed on November 23 in Vienna to extend the talks for another seven months until July 1st 2015, giving Iran more time to settle the file.
Iran claimed that within four months they would address all remaining questions and issues about their nuclear program. Iran’s foreign minister and chief negotiator Dr. Javad Zarif told the press that by the end of March the comprehensive deal could be reached.
The first referendum was held almost 36-years ago when the founder of the revolution Ayatollah Khomeini asked people to say yes or no to having an Islamic Republic instead of the monarchy. The other two semi referendums (one in the early days of the revolution and the other when Khomeini died 24 years ago) were over making changes to the constitution.
Public opinion
At this time if Rowhani is sincere about asking for the public’s opinion, the subject could not have been raised unless it was first consulted over with the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in advance.
Frequently insisting his support and confidence toward the nuclear negotiating team, Ayatollah Khamenei may also need public approval as a tool to wrap up the talks in the coming months.
In the past year-and-a- half, Rowhani has proved to be a pragmatic and moderate president rather than being a reformist as it was expected by his fellow supporters.
For Rowhani, the priority is to reverse Iran’s international isolation and improve the economy rather hammer away at domestic issues. The revolution’s history shows that hardliners and the Revolutionary Guard have the upper hand in domestic affairs.
Sorting out Iran’s nuclear issue can reduce the internal pressure and as far as Rowhani has come, the achievements could turn to ashes if the talks fail.
President Obama promised Iran a normal relationship if the nuclear file solved. The normalization of relations with the U.S. could be a great achievement for Rowhani’s government as a historical event and this event would transform Iran automatically no matter who has upper hand in domestic issues.
Rowhani and his nuclear team insist that all details of the talks have been screened by the supreme leader and if there is some under-the-table agreement that we are not aware of, these efforts can only signal Iran’s acceptance of Obama’s offer. However, the regime will need to bolster the move with public approval to allay the hardliners.
2015 could be a crucial and important year for Iran and the United States as they test the waters of diplomacy.
**Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

Saudi Arabia will not save Iran’s economy
Salman Aldossary/Asharq Al Awsat
Monday, 5 Jan, 2015
Who would have believed it? Iran needs a savior, but seeks help not from its main strategic ally Russia, nor from its friend and partner Iraq, nor from Venezuela, Turkey, or even Oman or Qatar; no, from its old rival, Saudi Arabia. Speaking to Reuters last week, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian asked the Kingdom to intervene to stop oil prices from tumbling further, or else countries in the Middle East will face serious harm.
What could have possibly happened to make Tehran make such a dramatic U-turn? It is true that falling oil prices have had a drastic effect on Iran’s already troubled economy; it is true also that domestic events may have given a new flavor to some recent political decisions; it is true also that some of the Iranian administration’s foreign adventures, especially in Syria, have bled state coffers dry. But one would never have expected that the answer to all these economic problems lay in Riyadh. One could even have believed it if someone predicted the Iranians would seek help from their old foe, the Great Satan, Washington (as, by the way, it has done before and continues to do), or Russia, its main partner in defending the Assad regime in Syria—but Saudi Arabia? Not even Tehran’s closest friends saw that one coming. We duly thank Saudi Arabia’s oil for this surprise.
One sometimes wonders about the fact that some politicians excel at economics and only dabble in politics, while others stick to their day-job and only rarely play the economics game. Tehran insists on holding fast to its view of Riyadh’s role in the oil markets—one akin to a conspiracy theory—which sees the Kingdom seeking to do anything to bring fellow oil-producer Iran to its knees. When asked about this recently by a reporter from the BBC, I could only reply by saying: “With all due respect to those who believe in the conspiracy theories, I must say they either do not see the economic facts, or they pretend not to, so they can lay the blame at Saudi Arabia.” The simple truth here is that Saudi Arabia requested oil producers outside OPEC to lower production, on the basis that OPEC countries would follow suit and everyone would therefore be in the same boat, but Russia refused outright. Iran then turned its sights toward Riyadh. But why would the Kingdom lower its production and risk losing its slice of a market where it only holds a 9-percent share—one, which Riyadh knows from past experience, is difficult to retain once it has been lost? And all to save Iran from the effects of falling oil prices? And why only Saudi Arabia? Why did Iran not ask Russia? What kind of strange logic is this?
The Iranians, and others, need perhaps to be reminded of some facts. Back in 2012 when the United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on the sale of Iranian oil—and the market was characterized by high demand, and not a supply surplus as is the case now—Western countries requested Riyadh raise its production levels in order to make up the shortfall in supply that would result from the ban on Iranian oil sales. However, the Kingdom refused, and decided to let market forces do their work and restore the balance to the market, even though it could have used this opportunity to sneak a quick shot at Tehran and settle a few old scores. But Saudi Arabia has always insisted on keeping policies relating to oil—which is, after all, a highly sensitive economic commodity—away from political considerations.
Iran continually boasts about exporting its revolution abroad. Its disgraceful meddling in Bahrain, its inhumane involvement in Syria, its inflaming of sectarian divisions in Iraq and Yemen—not to mention Lebanon and even Saudi Arabia, where it also pokes its nose—are but a few examples of this. There are even those who marvel at Tehran’s strategic nous and how it supposedly has the Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia in a tight corner. And yet here it is, in a daze, after taking a slap to the face it just did not see coming. The only clear truth in front of us here is that Iran’s economy is seriously tanking, and now it wants Saudi Arabia to save it. As for the Kingdom, it will do nothing except watch.