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Russian and Saudi Foreign Ministers disagree on Syria, agree on other issues

Russia and Saudi Arabia maintain their cautious dialogue despite strong disagreements on Syria and Russia’s tilt to Iran.

Alexander Mercouris

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Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has had a meeting in Moscow with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, during which they have publicly clashed on the way forward in the Syrian crisis.

Al-Jubeir predictably demanded that President Assad leave power in Syria, and said that Iran and Hezbollah – Syria’s allies – had no role in that country.

Lavrov responded that Hezbollah and Iran – like Russia – were present in Syria at the invitation of the legitimate Syrian government.

On the subject of President Assad, the Russian position was again set out today by Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’s spokesman, who is reported to have said that President Putin’s attitude to President Assad is unchanged: he is not President Assad’s advocate but he insists that the future of any country – including the question of its President – must be decided by the people of that country, and not by other countries or parties.

There was an appearance of common ground between the Russians and the Saudis during the talks in Moscow in that the Saudis appeared to support the Astana peace process and the Russian-Turkish sponsored ceasefire.  However given what appear to be reliable reports that the Al-Qaeda backed Jihadis in northern Syria have recently received via Turkey more supplies of TOW anti-tank missiles from the Gulf Arab states – first and foremost Saudi Arabia – I doubt that anyone takes that seriously.

The Russians and the Saudis are on opposite sides in the Syrian war, and there would have been no expectation on either side of a change in positions.  Al-Jubeir did not come to Moscow to talk about Syria or to try to get Russia to change its policy in Syria.

For a long time after the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011 the Saudis thought they could persuade the Russians to drop President Assad.  They are under no such illusions now, especially after a disastrous ‘secret’ visit by the head of Saudi intelligence Prince Bandar bin Sultan to Moscow in the summer of 2013,  when Prince Bandar threatened Putin with terrorist attacks against the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi unless Putin dropped his support for President Assad, only to be harshly criticised by Putin for openly threatening Russia with terrorism (Bandar was fired a few months later).

The reality is that despite their different positions on the Syrian war, in most other respects relations between Russia and Saudi Arabia are cordial.

The two countries have recently been cooperating on oil production cuts, and Valentina Matviyenko, the powerful Chairman of Russia’s Federation Council (the upper house of Russia’s parliament), who is an outside possibility for Putin’s successor, recently visited Saudi Arabia, where she raised eyebrows by wearing ‘Islamic friendly’ dress and where she had a meeting with King Salman.

During the meeting Matviyenko renewed a longstanding invitation to King Salman to visit Russia, which the King is said to have accepted, and it is likely that today’s talks between Lavrov and Al-Jubeir are in part intended to prepare the ground for that visit.

Saudi Arabia is not an ally of Russia.  It is an ally of the US, and in the present conflicts in the Middle East it is also in an undeclared and fiercely denied but nonetheless very real alliance with Israel. Saudi Arabia’s primary enemy is Iran, which is increasingly tilting towards Russia, and which is edging towards an alliance with Russia.

Saudi Arabia is also the primary sponsor and financial backer of the various Wahhabi movements violent offshoots of which have in recent years been terrorising not just the Middle East but the world in general.  It is moreover an open secret that Saudi Arabia provides financial and other forms of backing to various terrorist groups, including at times to Al-Qaeda, and to the organisation which is now called ISIS, and – as Putin pointedly reminded Prince Bandar during their fraught meeting in Moscow in 2013 – to the various Jihadi terrorist groups who have fought the Russians in the northern Caucasus.

The Russians and the Saudis nonetheless have a mutual interest in maintaining a dialogue with each other.

Both countries have a strong mutual interest in preserving stability in the oil market, the Saudis – whose entire economy depends on oil – especially so.  The events since the oil crash of 2014 have starkly demonstrated that unless there is some degree of consensus between the Russians and the Saudis on oil production levels, the oil market risks descending into a ferocious free-for-all.  Whilst the Russian economy is sufficiently large and diversified to survive that, it is now clear that the bloated and entirely oil dependent Saudi economy is not.

In addition the Russians want to attract external investment into their economy, and the Saudis along with the other Gulf states have recently become increasingly interested in investing in Russia, whose economy is large, stable, and starting to grow.  Recently the sovereign wealth fund of the wealthy Gulf Arab state of Qatar – with which the Saudis have tense relations – invested in Russia’s state oil giant Rosneft, and the Saudis will not want to be left behind.

There has even at times been talk of Saudi Arabia buying arms from Russia – a traditional way for wealthy Arab states to consolidate business relationships with foreign partners – though despite longstanding rumours (including talk of Russia selling Saudi Arabia Iskander missiles) no such arms sales have ever materialised.

Beyond these tough minded economic calculations, the Saudis and the Russians have a shared geopolitical interest in maintaining a dialogue with each other.

The Saudis do not want Russia to commit wholeheartedly to an alliance with Iran – their mortal enemy and rival – and if only for that reason they will try to maintain a dialogue with Moscow in order to maintain some distance between Russia and Iran, and to preserve some Saudi influence in Moscow.

The Russians for their part recognise Saudi Arabia’s pivotal position in the Middle East and the fact that whether the Russians like the fact or not Saudi Arabia is for the moment the de facto leader of the Arab world.  For that reason the Russians will wish to preserve a dialogue with what is a powerful and influential country in a critically important region of the world, with which Russia has to maintain some level of contact if it is to manage its relations in the region efficiently.

By way of example, Russia will hope for at least some degree of cooperation from Saudi Arabia as it works towards a political settlement of the Syrian crisis, even if that cooperation only takes the form of the Saudis forbearing from acting too obviously as spoilers.

It is upon these tough minded and realistic calculations that the Saudi-Russian relationship depends.  It is not a case of an alliance or – to use the currently fashionable phrase – a ‘partnership’ between two countries which in many respects are adversaries.

Rather it is an attempt to prevent a situation where they might become enemies, which would drastically reduce their economic and geopolitical options and room for manoeuvre, and which would be in the interests of neither.

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Trump Has Gifted “No More Wars” Policy Position To Bernie Sanders (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 148.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou discuss how US President Donald Tump appears to have ceded his popular 2016 ‘no more wars’ campaign message and policy position to Bernie Sanders and any other US 2020 candidate willing to grad onto a non-interventionist approach to the upcoming Democrat primaries.

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“Is Bernie Stealing Trump’s ‘No More Wars’ Issue?” by Patrick J. Buchanan…


The center of gravity of U.S. politics is shifting toward the Trump position of 2016.

“The president has said that he does not want to see this country involved in endless wars… I agree with that,” Bernie Sanders told the Fox News audience at Monday’s town hall meeting in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Then turning and staring straight into the camera, Bernie added:

“Mr. President, tonight you have the opportunity to do something extraordinary: Sign that resolution. Saudi Arabia should not be determining the military or foreign policy of this country.”

Sanders was talking about a War Powers Act resolution that would have ended U.S. involvement in the five-year civil war in Yemen that has created one of the great humanitarian crises of our time, with thousands of dead children amidst an epidemic of cholera and a famine.

Supported by a united Democratic Party on the Hill, and an anti-interventionist faction of the GOP led by Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee of Utah, the War Powers resolution had passed both houses of Congress.

But 24 hours after Sanders urged him to sign it, Trump, heeding the hawks in his Cabinet and National Security Council, vetoed S.J.Res.7, calling it a “dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities.”

With sufficient Republican votes in both houses to sustain Trump’s veto, that should be the end of the matter.

It is not: Trump may have just ceded the peace issue in 2020 to the Democrats. If Sanders emerges as the nominee, we will have an election with a Democrat running on the “no-more-wars” theme Trump touted in 2016. And Trump will be left defending the bombing of Yemeni rebels and civilians by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Does Trump really want to go into 2020 as a war party president?

Does he want to go into 2020 with Democrats denouncing “Trump’s endless wars” in the Middle East? Because that is where he is headed.

In 2008, John McCain, leading hawk in the Senate, was routed by a left-wing first-term senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, who had won his nomination by defeating the more hawkish Hillary Clinton, who had voted to authorize the war in Iraq.

In 2012, the Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who was far more hawkish than Obama on Russia, lost.

Yet, in 2016, Trump ran as a different kind of Republican, an opponent of the Iraq War and an anti-interventionist who wanted to get along with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and get out of these Middle East wars.

Looking closely at the front-running candidates for the Democratic nomination of 2020 — Joe Biden, Sanders, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker — not one appears to be as hawkish as Trump has become.

Trump pulled us out of the nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by Secretary of State John Kerry and reimposed severe sanctions.

He declared Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization, to which Iran has responded by declaring U.S. Central Command a terrorist organization. Ominously, the IRGC and its trained Shiite militias in Iraq are in close proximity to U.S. troops.

Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the U.S. Embassy there, closed the consulate that dealt with Palestinian affairs, cut off aid to the Palestinians, recognized Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights seized from Syria in 1967, and gone silent on Bibi Netanyahu’s threat to annex Jewish settlements on the West Bank.

Sanders, however, though he stands by Israel, is supporting a two-state solution and castigating the “right-wing” Netanyahu regime.

Trump has talked of pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the troops are still there.

Though Trump came into office promising to get along with the Russians, he sent Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine and announced a pullout from Ronald Reagan’s 1987 INF treaty that outlawed all land-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

When Putin provocatively sent 100 Russian troops to Caracas — ostensibly to repair the S-400 anti-aircraft and anti-missile system that was damaged in recent blackouts — Trump, drawing a red line, ordered the Russians to “get out.”

Biden is expected to announce next week. If the stands he takes on Russia, China, Israel and the Middle East are more hawkish than the rest of the field, he will be challenged by the left wing of his party, and by Sanders, who voted “no” on the Iraq War that Biden supported.

The center of gravity of U.S. politics is shifting toward the Trump position of 2016. And the anti-interventionist wing of the GOP is growing.

And when added to the anti-interventionist and anti-war wing of the Democratic Party on the Hill, together, they are able, as on the Yemen War Powers resolution, to produce a new bipartisan majority.

Prediction: By the primaries of 2020, foreign policy will be front and center, and the Democratic Party will have captured the “no-more-wars” political high ground that Candidate Donald Trump occupied in 2016.

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Over 200 killed, hundreds injured in series of blasts at Sri Lankan hotels & churches

A series of bombings hit churches and hotels across Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing more than 200 people.

RT

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Via RT…


A series of eight explosions rocked Catholic churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka as Christians began Easter Sunday celebrations, with over 200 killed and hundreds injured, media reported, citing police.

The blasts started at around 8:45am local time at St. Anthony’s Church in Colombo and St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, a Catholic-majority town outside of the capital. The Zion Church in Batticaloa on the eastern coast was also targeted. At around the same time, the Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand and Kingsbury five-star hotels were also hit, police confirmed.

Two more explosions happened later in the day, targeting two more locations in Colombo. All attacks appear to have been coordinated.

At least 207 people were killed, Reuters reported, citing police. More than 450 were injured in the attacks.

Alleged footage of the aftermath, shared on social media, showed chaos and large-scale destruction inside at least one of the churches.

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Mike Pompeo reveals true motto of CIA: ‘We lied, we cheated, we stole’ (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 147.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a look at a Texas A&M University speech, and subsequent interview, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The former CIA Director admitted, ‘as an aside’ to the question asked, that the Intelligence agency he headed up before being appointed as the top US Diplomat had a motto “we lied, we cheated, we stole”…which, according to Pompeo, contained entire CIA training courses based on ‘lying, cheating and stealing.’

Pompeo finally speaks some truth.

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