Middle East

There had been hopes that Johnson would be able to negotiate a release for the mother-of-one from London during the two-day diplomatic mission that ended with a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. A statement from the British Foreign Office said the two sides had discussed "concerns about the consular cases of dual nationals."A month ago Johnson caused a furore in the UK after he told a parliamentary committee that Zaghari-Ratcliffe was in Iran to teach journalism. "When you look at what Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing, she was simply teaching people journalism as I understand it," Johnson told the committee, adding that he found the situation "deeply depressing."Both Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her employer have always maintained she was simply visiting family while on vacation.The seriousness of Johnson's error became apparent days later when Zaghari-Ratcliffe was summoned to an unscheduled court hearing at which the foreign secretary's remarks were cited as proof she had engaged in "propaganda against the regime."Her family fears the five-year sentence she was given on espionage charges could be lengthened.Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained at the airport in Tehran in April 2016 on her way back to the UK from visiting family with her daughter Gabriella, then 22 months old. The child has since been looked after by her maternal grandparents.Last September, in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, Rouhani said he had his own "sensitivities" regarding the case, but underlined the separation of the judiciary and executive in the Iranian constitution.During his visit to Iran, which had been scheduled for more than a year, Johnson also met with the Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.It was the first visit by a UK foreign secretary to Iran since 2015.

Nuclear agreement

"During nearly an hour of talks with President Rouhani, both spoke forthrightly about the obstacles in the relationship and agreed on the need to make progress in all areas," the Foreign Office statement said."It has been a worthwhile visit and we leave with a sense that both sides want to keep up the momentum to resolve the difficult issues in the bilateral relationship and preserve the nuclear deal," the Foreign Office said.The UK stands with the rest of the European Union in wanting to preserve a 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran that US President Donald Trump has walked away from.'We are committed to our deals, we are Muslim, we are Iranians, we have a great culture,' President Rouhani told the Iranian Parliament on Sunday, according to the state news agency IRNA.'However, if they want to violate it, Iran will not be worried, as it has envisaged other plans,' Rouhani was reported as saying.Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Iran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for economic sanctions relief.

UK stance on nuclear deal criticized

However, according to IRNA, the Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani, who also met with Johnson, criticized the UK's adherence to the agreement."The post-JCPOA economic cooperation between Iran and the UK is not satisfactory at the moment,' IRNA reported Shamkhani as telling Johnson. "Facilitating banking ties can be a prelude to developing cooperation,' IRNA quoted Boris as saying.In his meeting with Shamkhani on Saturday, Johnson reiterated the UK's opposition to Trump's decision to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem."The UK has made no choice to relocate its embassy to al-Quds," IRNA reported Johnson as saying. Al Quds is the Arabic word for Jerusalem.

CNN's Carol Johnson contributed to this report.

Original Article

CNN

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Middle East

Palestinians celebrate after Hamas said it reached a deal with Palestinian rival Fatah (AFP)

A planned handover of power in Gaza from Hamas to the Palestinian Authority under a landmark reconciliation accord hit "obstacles" on Sunday's deadline to do so, a top official said.

Islamist movement Hamas was originally due to transfer power in the enclave on 1 December under the reconciliation agreement with rival faction Fatah, but that deadline was initially put back by 10 days.

Hamas said at the weekend that it was handing over all government ministries to the Palestinian Authority, but Fatah's top negotiator said that was not yet the case.

"There have been obstacles today," Azzam al-Ahmad said in a statement on Sunday published on official news agency WAFA.

"I hope they will be resolved before this evening so our people will feel that their national factions are honest with what they agreed on and pledged."

Ahmad said that, after the handover takes place, a meeting would be held in Cairo – Egypt mediated the reconciliation deal – to discuss next steps.

The reconciliation deal reached in October is aimed at ending a 10-year feud between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas's Fatah, based in the occupied West Bank.

The handover would end Hamas's long dominance of the blockaded Gaza Strip and has raised hopes that deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the territory could be addressed.

A range of complex issues remains to be resolved, including security control of Gaza and the fate of two separate civil administrations.

Middle East

The 'This is Bahrain' group during a visit to Israel reported on Israeli TV (Hadashot TV)

A Bahraini delegation is visiting Israel in a sign of warming ties between the two countries.

The 24-strong delegation is comprised of members of interfaith group This is Bahrain and aims to "send a message of peace".

Although Bahrain and Israel do not have diplomatic relations, covert cooperation has grown between the two countries in recent years.

This Is Bahrain says on its website it promotes "religious freedom and peaceful co-existence where we all live together in harmony in the spirit of mutual respect and love". The delegation featured representatives of a number of different religious groups.

"The king sent us with a message of peace to the whole world," a Shia cleric on the trip told Hadashot TV news.

"The Shiites in Bahrain and outside don't feel hatred, they don't carry a message of loathing or hate towards any religion or religious stream whatsoever."

The group on the four-day visit met with Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara, who said he planned to visit Bahrain soon.

"There will be more surprises in the coming year," said Kara, the only Arab member of the Israeli cabinet, according to Bloomberg.

"We see great interest among the Gulf states in developing connections with Israel."

Middle East

Count me among those who aren't entirely convinced that US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the Israeli capital represents a serious "upending" of longstanding US policy in the Middle East. If anything, Trump’s Wednesday proclamation represents a fulfillment of a longstanding US promise to Israel.

It's true that, prior to Trump, recent US presidents have (wisely) opted against formally recognising Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and moving the US Embassy there.

But the overly simplistic notion that Trump has fundamentally reordered US policy serves to both obfuscate important political realities and, significantly, let previous American administrations off the hook.

READ MORE►

How to save Jerusalem and bring peace to the Middle East

A natural byproduct

While it's fair to say that Trump's decision represents an irresponsible, unwise escalation, it's also misleading to consider it a complete policy reversal.

For many years, the US Congress and a succession of American presidents have repeatedly promised Israel – and America's pro-Israel lobby, which exerts massive, disproportionate influence in Washington – that the US would recognise Jerusalem as the undivided Israeli capital.

More importantly, US policy has, in effect, treated Jerusalem as an Israeli zone. Seen against this larger context, then, Trump's decision is a natural byproduct of decades of US posturing.

Both chambers of the US Congress voted overwhelmingly in 1995 for the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which promised Jerusalem to Israel. In order to preserve regional stability, however, US presidents have signed biannual waivers to delay the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

[Interestingly, and in an indication that no move of the American Embassy is immanent, Trump also signed the waiver on Wednesday.]

Middle East

After President Donald Trump recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, submitted a request to send American marine (Marines) to secure its Embassy in Algiers, in anticipation of any threat, but Algeria refused.

This came in a statement to an Algerian diplomat, “John andibondon”.

The newspaper quoted on Saturday evening, for the source.

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Middle East

Author: Arab NewsSun, 2017-12-10 04:22ID: 1512858270261685400

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia on Saturday called on the US administration to back down from a recent decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said: “my government calls on the US administration to back down from its decision and support the international will to enable the Palestinian people to regain their legitimate rights, taking into account that this step, although it will not change or prejudice the firm rights of the Palestinian people in Jerusalem and other occupied territories, it represents a significant retreat in efforts to push the peace process forward and a disruption of the US position."
Al-Jubeir, in a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, added: "We call upon the international community to intensify its efforts to push forward the peace process in order to put an end to this historic conflict within the framework of a permanent, just and comprehensive solution based on the resolutions of international legitimacy and the Arab Peace Initiative to enable the Palestinian people to restore their legitimate rights in an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and to establish peace, security and stability in the region and the world at large."
The Arab League meeting, which brings together foreign ministers from member states, is taking place as protests continued for the third consecutive day in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
US President Donald Trump's announcement on Jerusalem, and his intention to move the US Embassy there, triggered denunciations from around the world, with even close allies suggesting he had needlessly stirred more conflict in an already volatile region.

— With input from agencies

Main category: Saudi ArabiaTags: Jerusalem CrisisIsrael-PalestinePalestineIsraelArab Israelisrelated_nodes: Arab ministers demand Trump rescind Jerusalem decisionSaudi human rights society says Jerusalem integral part of PalestineOIC human rights commission condemns US recognition of Jerusalem

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Middle East

Author: Rodolfo C. Estimo Jr.Sun, 2017-12-10 03:00ID: 1512853068951386800

RIYADH: Traffic Department Director General Brig. Gen Mohammed Abdullah Al-Bassami has said that women are more respectful of traffic regulations and more deserving of leadership.
Al-Bassami was speaking at the launch of the “Safe Leadership” project of the Ministry of Education, in cooperation with the Department of Public Affairs, for its teaching staff.
“Evidence suggests women are safer drivers, so we’re looking forward to women showing men a thing or two on the road,” Rebecca Lindland, car industry analyst, told NBC News in connection with an article that referred to the lifting of the Saudi ban for women to drive.
She also expected that new Saudi women drivers will be drawn to “smaller cars that are fit for one to four people.”
The same sentiment was aired by Amanda Stretton, former British race car driver and motoring editor of the Confused.com website.
“Women driving cars will transform traffic safety to educational practice, which will reduce human and economic losses caused by accidents,” Interior Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif was quoted by local media as saying in the ministry’s Twitter feed.
Maj. Gen. Bassam Al-Attiyah of the Interior Ministry earlier told Arab News that there was an accident every minute, a death every 20 minutes and four injuries per hour, and 70 percent of accidents happened outside of cities.
The project is implemented by the Agency for Girls Education and represented by the General Administration of Training and Scholarship, in coordination with the Ministry of Interior.
The first phase of the project includes a training workshop to teach women the rules and important instructions regarding traffic.
The next phase involves a training program in the Saudi capital for trainers from each region and governorate, including workshops on values and good citizenship, problem-solving and risk management skills, as well as self-esteem and empowerment.
The project includes awareness lectures for 20 percent of the educational staff in the regions and governorates, an interactive e-learning platform as well as a training package.
The project’s three stages will include preparation, training and evaluation.

Main category: Saudi ArabiaTags: Saudi ArabiaSaudi traffic departmentSaudi womenSaudi women can driveSaudi women pilotsrelated_nodes: Muslim World League chief: Saudi women driving decision based on logic and reasoningBoom in entrepreneurs expected after ban on Saudi women driving liftedSaudi lobbyist in US optimistic about women driving

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Middle East

Author: GHAZANFAR ALI KHANSun, 2017-12-10 03:00ID: 1512853068991387400

RIYADH: Guidelines for addressing local and regional challenges with a special reference to domestic and foreign policies, will be spelled out by King Salman on Wednesday, and will set the tone for the year-long agenda of the Shoura Council in 2018.
“Elaborate preparations have been made to receive the king on this occasion,” said Mohammed Al-Khunaizi, a member of the Shoura Council on Saturday.
Al-Khunaizi said that King Salman’s speech will have “added political and economic significance, and it will serve as a guideline for the Shoura Council for its discourses next year.”
“The occasion marks the start of the new parliamentary year for the council,” said Al-Khunaizi, while forecasting a number of proposals, decisions, draft legislation, treaties, and foreign policy matters to be discussed and debated in 2018.
Asked broadly about the possible subjects to be covered in the king’s speech, Al-Khunaizi, said: “King Salman is expected to touch on subjects ranging from extremism and terrorism to government’s priorities, the economy, oil, partnerships, and corruption.”
The king, in his address, is also expected to reaffirm the country’s commitment toward peace and stability in the region.
“The king will also give guidelines to the Shoura Council on important issues confronting the nation,” said Al-Khunaizi.
He said that King Salman’s speech may also focus on the country’s priorities in domestic politics and foreign policy as well as the main economic challenges. The king is expected to highlight progress and renew commitment to developing the country’s economy, he added.
Al-Khunaizi said the Shoura Council members are excited about the king’s visit to the council and his speech. “The members will be guided by the king’s speech in all future matters,” said the Shoura member, adding that the Kingdom is marching ahead within the framework of Saudi Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program (NTP) of 2020.
He said the council has vowed to extend its full cooperation in the implementation of these ambitious plans as envisaged by the Kingdom’s leadership.
Al-Khunaizi said that the current Shoura Council, comprising 150 members including 30 women, will meet on Monday and Tuesday before the king’s address on Wednesday.
The members will review preparations for the king’s visit to the Shoura Council, and also discuss a few subjects during the sessions and one of them is the declaration of bankruptcy by companies and individuals, he said.

Main category: Saudi ArabiaTags: Saudi ArabiaSaudi Shoura CouncilSaudi women membersKing SalmanSaudi cabinetrelated_nodes: Saudi Cabinet expresses support for Yemenis’ efforts against HouthisSaudi cabinet voices support for Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition efforts to wipe out terrorismSaudi Cabinet acclaims royal order to form anti-corruption committee

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Middle East

Author: ARAB NEWSSun, 2017-12-10 03:00ID: 1512853068921386500

JEDDAH: The 5 percent value-added tax (plan) will not be imposed on certain medicines and medical equipment, according to Reuters citing a statement carried by Saudi Press Agency (SPA) on Saturday.
All other private health care services will be taxed at the standard rate, the statement said, citing directives issued by the General Authority of Zakat and Tax (GAZT), the Ministry of Health and the General Authority for Food and Drug Affairs.
Last week, the tax authority had confirmed that interest or lending fees charged with an implicit margin for finance will be exempt from value-added tax (VAT).
GAZT officials, at a workshop held in Jeddah for members of the local media, also quashed rumors about ATM withdrawals and clarified that customers would not be charged for withdrawing or transferring money from their accounts using ATMs.
However, the 5-percent tax will be imposed on banks’ administrative charges such as the issuance of checkbooks, statements of accounts and safety deposit boxes and the customer will have to bear this expense.
In a bid to facilitate businesses, the authority also announced that the first year after VAT launch will be a transitional period. Goods and services supplied under certain long-term contracts will be zero-rated during that period provided the existing contracts meet certain requirements. This will enable suppliers and customers, who had entered into long-term contractual commitments, to re-negotiate the contracts’ details, particularly details that will be affected by VAT implementation.
GAZT clarified that this treatment only applied to contracts that did not anticipate VAT. Contracts that contain tax-related provisions or mechanisms to adjust prices of goods and services and include VAT will not be included.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are expected to be the first Arabian Gulf countries to introduce the GCC-wide VAT on Jan. 1, 2018, while other member states have committed to implementing their own VAT taxation by next year.
Gulf states have been looking at other ways to reduce dependency on oil revenues, as well as create new income streams to fund government services including public health services, public owned or funded schools, parks and transport infrastructure.
It is estimated that the VAT’s imposition will raise between $7 billion and $21 billion annually — or between 0.5 percent and 1.5 percent of regional GDP. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said the returns could reach around 2 percent of region’s output.
The GAZT has urged businesses with annual revenues of more than SR1 million ($266,640) to expedite their VAT registration process and ensure their readiness for its implementation.

Main category: Saudi ArabiaTags: Saudi ArabiaSaudi value-added tax (VAT)Saudi VATrelated_nodes: Saudi non-oil private sector growth hits 27-month high: SurveyNo VAT on loans, ATM services, says Saudi tax authorityVAT: Saudi businesses given transition period to renegotiate long-term contracts

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Middle East

Author: Arab NewsSun, 2017-12-10 03:00ID: 1512853069031387700

RIYADH: Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC), the Saudi leading petrochemical company, has signed a memorandum of understating (MoU) to boost its investments in the People’s Republic of China.
SABIC signed the MoU with the Guangzhou Nansha Development Zone Committee of China on Friday. The deal is also meant to enhance joint cooperation between the two parties, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.
The deal was signed by Xie Ming, the deputy director of the Guangzhou Nansha Development Zone Administration Committee, and SABIC was represented by its director of operations for manufacturing and specialized products in Asia, Manoj Sohoni.
According to the MoU, SABIC will conduct feasibility studies for its future investments in the Guangzhou Nansha Development Zone.
Prior to the signing of the memo, Deputy Chairman and CEO of SABIC Yousef Al-Benyan met with Chinese officials in Guanzhou who expressed their appreciation to SABIC for its contribution to the development of their region.
Al-Benyan expressed SABIC’s commitment to working in China, and added that the Chinese market is considered a strategic market for SABIC.
In its capacity as a partner, SABIC will help enhance sustainable development and comprehensive growth in China, Al-Benyan said.
He said he was happy to come to China and discuss investment opportunities. He also expressed hope that SABIC will contribute to raise the volume of trade exchange between the two countries through continued investments in China.
Chinese markets are reportedly contributing nearly 20 percent of SABIC’s total global sales.
According to the Chinese Federation of Petroleum and Chemical Industries, the volume of Chinese chemical industry hit $961.5 billion between January and August 2017, or an increase of 14.2 percent on a year-to-year basis while it remains an engine for growth and global business development for SABIC.
No comments were immediately available on the details of the deal or SABIC’s investment in the Chinese region from either SABIC or the Chinese Embassy in Riyadh.

Main category: Saudi ArabiaTags: Saudi ArabiaSaudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC)saudi petrochemicalrelated_nodes: Reopening of SABIC office in Iraq to benefit both sides: ExpertsWeak corporate governance persists in Gulf but SABIC takes place in sunSABIC chief calls for consolidation in Saudi petchems

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