Jerry Brown, President of the Independent Republic of California

Politico reports: On his way to the United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany, this week, Jerry Brown stopped over at the Vatican, where a doleful group of climate scientists, politicians and public health officials had convened to discuss calamities that might befall a warming world. The prospects were so dire—floods and fires, but also forced migration, famine and war—that some of the participants acknowledged difficulty staving off despair.

California’s doomsayer governor did not express much optimism either. Seated between an economist and an Argentine bishop at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Brown leaned into his microphone and said, “It is despairing. Ending the world, ending all mammalian life. This is bad stuff.”

“There’s nothing that I see out there that gives me any ground for optimism,” he went on. Still, he promised action: “I’m extremely excited about doing something about it.”

Even though President Donald Trump has abandoned the Paris climate agreement and called climate change a “hoax,” and even though he is proceeding to scrap the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and promoting the production of coal, Brown insisted to his audience at the Vatican that these policies do not reflect the true sensibilities of the United States.

“This is not just a top-down structure that we have in the United States,” the governor said. The small crowd burst into applause when he added, “Over time, given the commitments that we’re seeing in this room today, and what we’re seeing around the world, the Trump factor is very small, very small indeed.”

In the raw balance of power between a governor and a president, Brown has almost no standing abroad. What he does have is a platform, and a proposition: Crusading across Europe in his Fitbit and his dark, boxy suit, Brown advances California and its policies almost as an alternative to the United States—and his waning governorship, after a lifetime in politics, as a quixotic rejection of the provincial limits of the American governor. In the growing chasm between Trump’s Washington and California—principally on climate change, but also taxes, health care, gun control and immigration—Brown is functioning as the head of something closer to a country than a state. [Continue reading…]

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Syria, Russia slammed at chemical weapons watchdog meeting

The Associated Press reports: Syria and its close ally Russia faced harsh criticism on Thursday at a meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons following an investigation that blamed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime for a sarin attack that killed about 100 people in April.

At a closed-doors meeting of the chemical weapons watchdog’s executive council, U.S. representative Kenneth D. Ward said that Russia “continues to deny the truth and, instead, collaborates with the Assad regime in a deplorable attempt to discredit” the joint U.N.-OPCW investigation.

The text of Ward’s statement was posted on the OPCW website.

Russia has denounced the results of the investigation into the attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. It also vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution to renew the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, known as the JIM, which expires this month. [Continue reading…]

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UN official warns of world’s biggest famine in Yemen

BBC News reports: Yemen faces the world’s largest famine in decades “with millions of victims” if aid deliveries are not resumed, a senior UN official has warned.

Mark Lowcock, the UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs, urged the Saudi-led coalition to lift its blockade of the conflict-torn country.

On Monday, the coalition shut air, land and sea routes into Yemen after Houthi rebels fired a missile at Riyadh.

The ballistic warhead was intercepted near the Saudi capital.

Saudi Arabia said the blockade was needed to stop Iran sending weapons to the rebels.

Iran denies arming the rebels, who have fought the Saudi-led coalition since 2015. [Continue reading…]

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Rogue state: U.S. now the only country in the world that rejects the Paris climate accord

The Atlantic reports: It’s official. When it comes to climate change, there’s now literally everyone else—and then there’s the United States.

Syria, the last remaining holdout from the Paris Agreement on climate change, announced at a United Nations meeting in Germany on Tuesday that it will sign the agreement. The Syrian Arab News Agency, a state-sponsored news outlet, also reported that the country’s legislature voted to ascend to the agreement last month.

Its declaration means that the United States is the only country in the world that has rejected the treaty and promised to withdraw from it.

If the news isn’t exactly pleasant for the Trump administration, which announced the intent to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement in June, it’s also something of a poor advertisement for the treaty itself. That Syria—war-torn, war-crime-committing Syria—has acceded to the Paris accord does not make an obvious case for the United States doing the same.

At the same time, Syria is committing to Paris now because every other country has already signed on. In Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and South Korea, the Paris Agreement is considered a relatively uncontroversial international achievement.

“With Syria on board, now the entire world is resolutely committed to advancing climate action—all save one country,” said Paula Caballero, a climate-policy specialist at the World Resources Institute. “This should make the Trump administration pause and reflect on their ill-advised announcement about withdrawing from the Paris Agreement.”

“Syria’s participation puts an exclamation point on the fact that the U.S. actions are contrary to the political actions, and the sincerely held beliefs, of every other country on the face of the Earth,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences at Princeton University and a longtime observer of UN climate negotiations. [Continue reading…]

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A new Saudi blockade could worsen Yemen’s cholera crisis

The Washington Post reports: The International Committee of the Red Cross said Tuesday it was unable to get clearance to ship chlorine tablets used to prevent cholera from Saudi Arabia into Yemen, where a massive outbreak of the disease has affected more than 900,000 people.

Saudi Arabia announced Monday it was temporarily closing all of Yemen’s ground, sea and airports in retaliation for a missile strike on the Saudi capital carried out last week by a rebel group in Yemen. The Saudi government had vowed it would “take into consideration” the delivery of humanitarian aid supplies.

The United Nations on Tuesday urged the Saudi authorities to reopen the air and sea ports, fearing the blockade would sharply exacerbate an already dire humanitarian crisis in a country that has suffered through more than two years of a civil war, according to Reuters news agency.

In addition to the cholera epidemic, roughly 7 million Yemenis are on the brink of famine, aid workers said.

The blockade was part of the continuing fallout from an escalating confrontation between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran that has reverberated across the Middle East in recent days, but landed especially hard on Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi-led forces close air, sea and land access to Yemen

Reuters reports: The Saudi-led military coalition fighting against the Houthi movement in Yemen said on Monday it would close all air, land and sea ports to the Arabian Peninsula country to stem the flow of arms to the Houthis from Iran.

The move, which follows the interception of a missile fired toward the Saudi capital Riyadh on Saturday, is likely to worsen a humanitarian crisis in Yemen that according to the United Nations has pushed some seven million people to the brink of famine and left nearly 900,000 infected with cholera.

“The Coalition Forces Command decided to temporarily close all Yemeni air, sea and land ports,” the coalition said in a statement on the Saudi state news agency SPA. It said aid workers and humanitarian supplies would continue to be able to access and exit Yemen.

The United Nations, however, said it was not given approval for two scheduled humanitarian flights on Monday and was seeking clarification on the coalition’s announcement.

The state news agency Saba, run by the Houthis, quoted a source in the navy warning against the closure of ports and said it would have, “catastrophic consequences”. [Continue reading...]

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Suspected cholera cases in crisis-torn Yemen near 900,000

UN News Centre reports: Already struggling to cope with a dire humanitarian crisis, war-torn Yemen is now facing the fastest-growing cholera epidemic ever recorded, with some 895,000 suspected cases as of 1 November, the United Nations relief wing reported Thursday.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that nearly have the suspected cases are children. Overall, there have been nearly 2,200 associated deaths since 27 April.

The outbreak is affecting over 90 per cent of districts across 21 of the country’s 22 governorates. Despite the enormous challenges, humanitarian partners have established 234 Diarrhoea Treatment Centres and 1,084 Oral Rehydration Corners in 225 affected districts in 20 governorates, according to OCHA.

Some 3.6 million people have been connected to disinfected water supply networks in 12 governorates. Over 17 million people in all governorates were reached with cholera prevention messages.

OCHA warned today that Yemen is also facing the world’s largest food emergency and widespread population displacement. After more than two years of war, nearly 21 million people need urgent humanitarian assistance, seven million of whom are severely food insecure, staving off the threat of famine. [Continue reading…]

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Syria’s Khan Sheikhoun chemical massacre: Proof beyond doubt who is to blame

Paul McLoughlin reports: United Nations investigators confirmed this week what most of the world already knew – the Syrian regime almost certainly carried out a chemical attack on an opposition village earlier this year.

The report was presented to the United Nations Security Council earlier this week by the OPCW-UN’s Joint Investigative Mechanism after months of research by experts.

The 39-page document was leaked on Friday and detailed the compelling facts behind the panel’s conclusion that Damascus carried out April’s chemical attack, which left scores of civilians dead.

It also discredits the various myths peddled by the Syrian regime and Russia who have tried to effectively put the blame on the victims or cast doubts about who was responsible for the killings.

“Based on the foregoing, the Leadership Panel is confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017,” the report confidently concluded.

What Syrians now want to know is what – if anything – will the UN do next with the evidence? [Continue reading…]

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Will anyone protect the Rohingya?

By Vincent A. Auger, Western Illinois University

Since August, the Rohingya, an ethnic minority in Myanmar, has faced what a United Nations official called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Recent reports describe a campaign by Myanmar security forces to drive the Rohingya from the country permanently. Hundreds of thousands have fled to camps in neighboring Bangladesh, creating a new refugee crisis.

This is exactly the type of atrocity that the United Nations vowed to combat in 2005, when it asserted a “responsibility to protect” civilian populations from genocidal violence. Yet, little has been done.

Why has “the responsibility to protect” failed, and can the Rohingya be helped?

[Read more…]

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North Korea says ‘a nuclear war may break out any moment’

The Associated Press reports: North Korea’s deputy U.N. ambassador warned Monday that the situation on the Korean peninsula “has reached the touch-and-go point and a nuclear war may break out any moment.”

Kim In Ryong told the U.N. General Assembly’s disarmament committee that North Korea is the only country in the world that has been subjected to “such an extreme and direct nuclear threat” from the United States since the 1970s — and said the country has the right to possess nuclear weapons in self-defense.

He pointed to large-scale military exercises every year using “nuclear assets” and said what is more dangerous is what he called a U.S. plan to stage a “secret operation aimed at the removal of our supreme leadership.” [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump’s rogue state: U.S. has no right to terminate Iran accord says EU

Politico reports: The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said Friday that the United States had no right to unilaterally terminate the Iran nuclear accord. She called the agreement “effective” and said there had been “no violations of any of the commitments” in the deal.

At a news conference at the European Commission’s Brussels headquarters, Mogherini gave a strongly-worded rebuke of the U.S., which has been a chief ally of the EU on security matters, including the response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.

Her comments were aimed directly at U.S. President Donald Trump, moments after he gave a speech in Washington saying he would not certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement, and was asking Congress to adopt legislation that would potentially trigger the reimposition of sanctions on Tehran.

“More than two years ago, exactly in July 2015, the entire international community welcomed the results of 12 years of intense negotiations on the Iran nuclear program,” Mogherini said, adding: “It is not a bilateral agreement. It does not belong to any single country. And it is not up to any single country to terminate it. It is a multilateral agreement, which was unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.”

Joining Mogherini in what amounted to extraordinary isolation of the U.S. president, French President Emmanuel Macron, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement reaffirming their support for the accord, which they described as “in our shared national security interest.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. withdraws from UNESCO, saying it’s biased against Israel

Bloomberg reports: The Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from the United Nations cultural organization, saying it’s biased against Israel and citing its decision to admit the Palestinian territories as a member state.

The decision to quit the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which the U.S. co-founded in 1945, “was not taken lightly,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Thursday. She cited the need for “fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias at UNESCO.”

The U.S. hasn’t been paying dues to UNESCO since 2011, when President Barack Obama’s administration stopped providing about $72 million a year after the Paris-based organization accepted Palestine as a full member. The arrears total almost $543 million, according to UNESCO. U.S. laws bar funding for any UN agency that gives Palestinians the status of a nation, and the U.S. lost its voting privilege in the organization in 2013.

That decision threw the organization into financial crisis because the U.S. had accounted for more than 20 percent of UNESCO’s annual budget. The U.S. also withdrew from the organization in 1984 but rejoined in 2003. [Continue reading…]

 

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False assumptions about the Iran nuclear deal

Gholamali Khoshroo, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, writes: There are a number of reasons the president and hard-liners in Washington think that the White House should pursue this path [undermining the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. But their views are built on a set of false assumptions about the nuclear deal that should be laid to rest.

First, some of the agreement’s opponents claim that the J.C.P.O.A. is “the worst agreement the United States has ever entered into with another country.” This ignores an important truth: The nuclear deal is not a bilateral agreement between Tehran and Washington. In fact, it isn’t even a multilateral deal that requires ratification in either Congress or the Iranian Parliament. It is, instead, a United Nations Security Council resolution. (Indeed, this explains why the deal continues to have wide support from the other Security Council members, as well as from Secretary General António Guterres.)

A second false assumption is that the deal is meant to dictate Iran’s policies in matters unrelated to our nuclear program. This has never been the case. It was always clear that the path to reaching a nuclear deal meant setting aside other geopolitical concerns. Anyone involved in the years of talks that led to the J.C.P.O.A. can attest to this. For example, even as Russia and the United States disagreed on many other issues in the Middle East, they were able to work together at the negotiating table.

Reports now indicate the Trump administration wants to tie the nuclear agreement to Iran’s missile program, a move that would go far beyond the J.C.P.O.A.’s intended purpose. Security Council Resolution 2231, which incorporates the nuclear deal, “calls upon” Iran to not work on “ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” But my country is not seeking to develop or acquire nuclear weapons and this carefully negotiated language does not restrain us from developing conventional military deterrence technology that so many other countries possess. The fact that Iranian missiles are designed for maximum precision proves that they are not designed for nuclear capability, as such delivery vehicles need not be precise in targeting.

A third false assumption is that there is a “sunset clause” in the deal, suggesting that in a decade Iran will be free of inspections or limits on its nuclear program. While it’s true that some provisions regarding restrictions will expire, crucial aspects of inspections will not. Moreover, the deal establishes that some six years from now — assuming all participants have fulfilled their obligations — Iran should ratify the Additional Protocol on Nuclear Safeguards, part of the Nonproliferation Treaty. This would subject my country to an extensive I.A.E.A. inspection process. Iran will continue its nuclear program for energy and medical purposes as a normal member of the international community and signatory to the Nonproliferation Treaty after the period of years written into the J.C.P.O.A. [Continue reading…]

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As U.S. retreats from world organizations, China steps in to fill the void

Foreign Policy reports: China’s latest bid to flex its diplomatic muscles on the world stage rests in the hands of Qian Tang, a little-known 66-year-old Chinese United Nations bureaucrat campaigning to head up the organization’s top cultural, scientific, and education agency.

Tang, the assistant director-general for education at the Paris-based UNESCO, is one of a growing stable of Chinese nationals Beijing is promoting to serve in top international posts. The push reflects Beijing’s desire to project a more visible “soft power” profile around the world and fill a political void left by an American administration that has grown skeptical of multilateralism.

“China wants to fulfill its global responsibility and contribute to peace and development at a global level,” Tang told Foreign Policy in an interview. “They think UNESCO is a good platform.” [Continue reading…]

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After a decade of reduction, global hunger is rising again due to conflict and climate change

Quartz reports: After a decade of progress made to cut the number of undernourished people on Earth, global hunger appears to be rising again.

The primary driver of growing hunger is the increase of conflicts around the world, many of which have been compounded by climate change, according to the 2017 State of Food Security and Nutrition report published by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) on Sep. 15.

Among the 815 million undernourished people—representing more than one in 10 people alive today—more than 489 million live in parts of the world afflicted by armed conflicts. Many of these are regions that have suffered years of violence, including the Horn of Africa, the Great Lakes of Africa, and the parts of the Middle East affected by the Syrian War. Countries outside these regions that have faced similar ongoing conflict include South Sudan, Yemen, Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. [Continue reading…]

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China watches in frustration as North Korea crisis enters dangerous spiral

The Washington Post reports: The view from China could hardly be much worse: the leaders of North Korea and the United States threatening to rain down total destruction on each other, while U.S. bombers and fighters stage a show of military might close to China’s shores.

In public, China’s foreign ministry has calmly advocated restraint and warned Pyongyang and Washington not add to fuel to the fire. But behind closed doors, experts said Sunday, it is as frustrated with North Korea, and with the situation, as it has ever been.

As North Korea’s dominant trading partner, China is widely seen as the key to solving the crisis, yet experts say its influence over Pyongyang has never been lower.

Unwilling to completely pull the plug, it has nevertheless agreed to a stiff package of sanctions at the United Nations and implemented them with unprecedented determination, experts say. [Continue reading…]

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Few ideas, less hope leave Syria crisis on back burner at UN

Reuters reports: At the entrance to the United Nations building in New York a sign advertises an upcoming party to celebrate the end of the annual gathering of world leaders. Next to it a weathered box with crumpled papers urges people to donate for Syrian refugees.

The contrast is striking a year after nations jousted verbally for a week in the same halls attempting to strike a ceasefire deal as Russia and Iran backed Syrian government troops in a brutal advance on the then rebel bastion of Aleppo.

But tensions in the Korean Peninsula and a growing crisis over the fate of a nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers has relegated talk of resolving the six-year-old Syrian civil war to back rooms and bilateral chitchat as international diplomacy struggles to find a strategy to end the crisis.

On the ground, violence between government forces and rebels has been drastically reduced after the creation of ‘de-escalation zones’ in the west of the country negotiated between Russia, Turkey and Iran in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. A separate effort between Russia, Jordan and the United States has also helped in the south.

Its backers say the zones have restored some security to Syrians and open the way for local reconciliation. Its detractors warn that they will fragment the country and lead to a more radicalised opposition.

“You don’t have the U.S. and the Europeans around the table and that is a huge defeat for all of us. This Astana process is just a military de-escalation process and it must be supplemented with a political process,” French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country supports rebels and urges the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, told reporters this week. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea’s top diplomat says strike against U.S. mainland is ‘inevitable’

The Washington Post reports: North Korea’s foreign minister warned Saturday that a strike against the U.S. mainland is “inevitable” because President Trump mocked leader Kim Jong Un with the belittling nickname “little rocketman.”

U.S. bombers escorted by fighter jets flew off the North Korean coast in a show of force shortly before Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho strode to the podium to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York, capping an extraordinary week of militaristic threats from both nations before an organization founded to maintain international peace and security.

Ri said that Trump’s bombast had made “our rockets’ visit to the entire U.S. mainland inevitable,” and linked it to the Trump’s insulting shorthand references to Kim.

Harsh sanctions placed on North Korea’s trade with the outside world will have no impact on its ability to complete building a nuclear bomb capable of reaching the United States, Ri said, suggesting that stage is imminent. [Continue reading…]

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