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January, 16–31, 2017
President Trump and Kind Salman’s Telephonic Conversation
President Trump spoke with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman over the telephone and discussed at length the situation in the region, ways to resolve the conflict and deepening American – Saudi economic ties. According to the news report, the two sides, discussed strengthening of joint effort to counter radical Islamic terrorism and address the challenges to regional peace and security which included the conflict in Syria and Yemen. Both the leaders agreed to “support safe zones in Syria and as well as other ideas to help the many refugees who are displaced by the ongoing conflicts.” They also discussed Iran, with mutual agreement “on the importance of rigorously enforcing the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran and of addressing Iran’s destabilizing regional activities.”
This conversation took place four days ahead of King Salman launching a humanitarian aid campaign to collect 100 million Saudi riyals ($27 million) to help those suffering in Syria. The King Salman Humanitarian and Relief Centre will be supporting the majority of the work and has said it will coordinate with other NGOs in the kingdom to help with the campaign’s goals and objectives. However, this campaign did not find the mention of Yemen.
Crown Prince Abu Dhabi’s Two Day Visit to India as a Chief Guest on Republic Day
Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, was invited by India as a Chief Guest at this year’s Republic Day. During the two day visit, the two sides exchanged global issues and strategic dialogue; regional security and counter international terrorism; security, defence and state cooperation; trade, investment and economic development; energy and climate change; space, electronic and IT; health and food security; people and skill development; civil aviation, tourism, culture and press; and international and regional cooperation. The two sides also agreed to support each other candidatures and campaigns at the UN. This apart, they also described signing of a MoU on Cooperation in the field of Defence Industry during the visit and marked this as an important step. They also underlined their desire to work in the spirit of South-South cooperation in Sub Saharan Africa by using capacity building, grants and loans, collaboration in trade and investment and joint projects aimed at implementation of Sustainable Development Goals.
This is the second visit by the Crown Prince to India and this clearly indicates the level of importance that India is attaching to deepen its ties with the UAE. This is timely step keeping in mind the large number of Indian migrants losing their jobs while most others await pending salaries in the last one year.
However, the visit irked UAE’s traditional ally in the region – Pakistan. Pakistani analysts went on to saying that the Crown Prince should have kept in mind the skirmishes in Kashmir before agreeing to visit India. The Pakistani side closely observed PM Modi, going beyond his protocol, to receive the Crown Prince at the airport. They believe that India is trying to diplomatically isolate UAE on the issue of cross border terrorism.
UAE Ambassador Ahmed Al Banna was also quoted in the Kashmir Times saying that his country was among the first to condemn the terror strike on Indian airbase in Pathankot, and that the UAE had also supported the surgical strikes carried out by India. He also said that they would work closely with India in Afghanistan where five UAE diplomats were killed earlier this month in a terror attack.
This kind of cooperation in counter terrorism by UAE can also be viewed in the light of the recent assassination of five UAE diplomats in Afghanistan, which was the first such attack on a UAE diplomat on foreign soil.
US banning of Refugees
On 27 January 2017, the US President Donald Trump came out with an executive order banning refugees. The decree that has come out states that the ‘nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interest of the United States and thus suspend any such entry’ till sufficient changes have been incorporated that ensure the entry of Syrian refugees is ‘consistent with national interest’. The decree also states that the entry of more than 50,000 refugees in the fiscal year 2017 would be detrimental and hence stand suspended. This is not only created a hue and cry in the region but also in the US with widespread protests condemning this move.
However, President Trump has shown his interest in cooperatively working with Russia to fight against terrorism, the Middle East and the Arab – Israel conflict, in his third phone call, of the five, made to leaders of the world after he assumed office. However, given that President Trump did not mention US sanctions on Russia, it is yet to see how far Russia would cooperate with US even though Kremlin stated that the two sides wished to “work out possible dates and venue of their personal meeting.”
The Kazakh capital Astana hosted ‘International Meeting on Syrian Settlement’ on 23-24 December 2017. This was a breakthrough meeting as representatives from the Syrian government as well as the opposition took part in it, although the two delegations did not hold any face-to-face negotiations. Apart from Syrian delegations, representatives from Russia, Iran, Turkey and the UN participated in talks. The US ambassador to Kazakhstan took part in the meeting as an observer.
The delegations from Russia, Iran and Turkey signed a joint statement at the end of the talks. The signed an agreement to set up a trilateral monitoring body to enforce the ceasefire, which came in force from 30 December 2016. These talks consolidated the position of the three powers, as they have now become the ceasefire guarantors. The agreement also calls for jointly fighting the Islamic State and Al-Nusra front. However, neither Syrian government nor the opposition fully accepted the agreement. Therefore, outcome of the Astana talks is uncertain. However, these talks created the ground for upcoming negotiations in Geneva, which are scheduled for 8 February.
Kazakhstan offered a ‘neutral venue’ for peace talks, and did not actually participate in the talks. Kazakhstan was selected as the host country by the initiators of the talks, viz. Russia, Turkey and Iran, as it maintains ‘trust-based’ relations with all the three. In last 25 years, Kazakhstan has adopted multi-vector foreign policy, and has kept equidistance from all major powers. It has emerged as an important regional player and a responsible mediator. In recent years, Kazakhstan has played active role in conflict-resolution in Ukraine, Afghanistan and Syria. Now that it has become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, it can additionally contribute in solving the Syrian crisis in particular and in international conflict resolution in general.
African, World Leaders Converge in Ethiopia for 28th AU Summit
The 28th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) was commenced on January 30th under the theme, ‘Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investment in the Youth.’ The summit was held at the AU Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The African Union has finally elected a new Chairperson of its Commission. Moussa Faki, Chadian Foreign Minister took over from the South Africa’s Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, who turned down a second term bid. Moussa Faki is now the continent’s top most diplomat. Also, Morocco has been readmitted as a member of the African Union after months of intense lobbying. Morocco had left the organisation in 1984, after it recognised the independence of Western Sahara, regarded by Morocco as part of its historic territory. It was the only country in Africa that was not a member of the continental body. The readmission of Morocco was approved during the 28th AU Summit after it formally announced its wish to rejoin six months ago.
Gambians Welcome Change after new President Barrow's Return
After weeks of pressure from regional players and the threat of arrest by West African troops, Gambia’s ruler for past 22 years, Yahya Jammeh, eventually conceded his electoral defeat. Adama Barrow, the Gambia's new president, has vowed to reform the country's notorious intelligence agency and promised to ensure media freedom in the country. He mentioned that that every aspect of his tiny West African state would need an overhaul after ex-leader Yahya Jammeh's 22-years rule. Barrow faces an uphill task after taking over from Jammeh, who left behind a dysfunctional economy and allegedly emptied state coffers ahead of his departure. Jammeh has been accused by Barrow of taking $11m from the state coffers before leaving for exile in Equatorial Guinea, and diplomats have said the country is already in a precarious financial state. Barrow also said the country's official name will no longer contain the word "Islamic", which was added by Jammeh in 2015. The new president said that Gambia, whose population is 90 percent Muslim, with the rest Christian and animist, was a republic and "not the Islamic republic".