World this week


Thursday, January 11th, 2018


 

Wild, wild weather

It was a week of wild weather, from Australia to North America. The eastern US is experiencing record-breaking low temperatures while in Australia, the city of Sydney has had its hottest weather in nearly 80 years. The US National Weather Service (NWS) said the temperature in New York City had reached an all-time low for 6 January of -13C (8F). More than 1ft (30cm) of snow blanketed parts of US states including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine and New Hampshire, according to the NWS.

Meanwhile in Sydney, extreme heat cut power to thousands of people, and charities were handing out water to the homeless. Play at an international tennis tournament in Sydney had to be postponed when temperatures rose above 40C, while cricketers from England and Australia playing at Sydney Cricket Ground endured the hottest day recorded during a Test match in Australia.

 

Friends you don’t need

The Trump administration announced it is suspending its entire security assistance to Pakistan until it proves its commitment to fight all terrorist groups operating in the region. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told a news briefing in Washington that the cut-off is not permanent and only affects military assistance. Dawn, the paper Jinnah started, reported that the proposed plan does not call for “a total cut-off”, and that instead, it suggests a “condition and issue-based approach”. Trump officials had already suspended $255 million of security assistance to Pakistan from the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) fund, which is used to provide military equipment and training to a friendly country. The US Congress has also taken away half of the $700m set aside for reimbursing Pakistan for supporting US war efforts along the Pak-Afghan border.

As if to confirm the break was decisive, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson placed Pakistan on a special watch list for “severe violations of religious freedom”. A brief announcement by the State Department said that for the first time it has created a ‘Special Watch List’ for countries that “engage in or tolerate severe violations of religious freedom” but may not rise to the level of CPC (Countries of Particular Concern). The department placed only Pakistan on this list.

 

Without Trump in the room

A dramatic thaw in relations between the two Koreas was quickly completed this week with the announcement that North Korea is to send a delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games taking place in South Korea in February, although only officials from the south were made available. The breakthrough announcement came as the countries met for their first high-level talks in more than two years. The delegation will include athletes, officials and supporters.

A military hotline between the nations, suspended for nearly two years, will be reinstated from Wednesday, the South’s officials said. In his New Year address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had said he was considering sending a team to the Olympics. South Korea’s Olympics chief had said last year that the North’s athletes would be welcome. Following Mr Kim’s overture, the South then proposed high-level talks to discuss the North’s participation, but the North only agreed to the talks after the US and South Korea agreed to delay their joint military exercises until after the Olympics. The North sees the annual drills as a rehearsal for war.

 

Iran’s reckoning

The protests that had spread around town and cities outside Tehran seemed to lose momentum as the regime closed ranks around the present order, to counter the so-called ultra-conservatives blamed for igniting the protests in the first place. Thousands were bussed around towns and villages up and down the country to stage rallies and shouting matches where pro-regime and anti-regime elements got pulled in.

Even if they can be said to have died, it would be foolish of the regime in Tehran not to take the protests’ occurrence, and more importantly the lessons from it, seriously. Dismissing the thousands who came out on the streets as having done so under the influence of the US, or as part of a CIA plot, does exactly that. It is disrespectful of the very real grievances borne by ordinary  citizens of one of the world’s most fabulous countries. The onus will fall on President Rouhani and his economic team to get the economy up and running again like a functioning one. Their competence is being brought into question. On December 28, anti-government protesters had taken to the streets of Iran over economic issues. The protests quickly spiraled out of control and turned against the regime as a whole, leaving 21 dead.

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