News, December 13th

ASEAN Week 2020 promotes ASEAN-Russia cooperation

NDO/VNA – The ASEAN Week 2020, which was hosted by the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, with a series of cultural, scientific and educational events, concluded on December 11, helping to strengthen ASEAN-Russia exchanges and cooperation.

The highlight of the virtual event was an international seminar on Russia-ASEAN relations in the context of a dynamic region, which was attended by more than 20 rapporteurs from Russia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Myanmar and Israel.

Addressing the event, Vietnamese Ambassador to Russia Ngo Duc Manh affirmed Vietnam has successfully completed its role as the Chair of ASEAN 2020, as it proactively proposed and implemented many practical initiatives, contributing to solving fundamental, core and long-term issues of the region.

The diplomat emphasized that as the Chair of ASEAN 2020, Vietnam has contributed significantly to deepening the Russia-ASEAN strategic partnership, affirming that Russia and ASEAN have shared fundamental common interests and is facing new challenges in the region and around the world.

He spoke highly of Russia’s role and active participation in mechanisms where ASEAN plays a central role, such as the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) with dialogue partner countries (ADMM+), the East Asia Summit (EAS), and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).

As the Chair of the ASEAN Moscow Committee, Manh called for stronger cooperation between Russia and ASEAN in the fields of energy, industry, high technology, financial services, agriculture and people-to-people exchange.

According to Dr. Ekaterina Koldunova, an expert from MGIMO, the ASEAN Week aimed to strengthen relationships between young people, experts and scholars from Russia and ASEAN countries.

This year’s event took place on the occasion of the 10th founding anniversary of the ASEAN Center under MGIMO.

Breaking norms, Jared Kushner scores late-term wins for Israel

WASHINGTON: The United Arab Emirates is getting top-of-the-line fighter jets. Morocco is winning recognition for decades-old territorial claims. And Sudan is coming off the US terrorism blacklist.

The Arab nations are suddenly achieving long-sought goals after agreeing to normalize ties with Israel, in a last-minute triumph for the unorthodox diplomacy of outgoing President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Widely mocked for more than three years as a boyish lightweight, who was best known for his famous wife, troubled property deals and his father’s stint in prison, Kushner is scoring historic breakthroughs lauded by Trump’s base with four Arab nations since September joining the so-called Abraham Accords with Israel.

“President Trump took a contrarian approach,” Kushner told reporters Thursday as he announced the latest deal, with Morocco, saying that the Arab-Israeli conflict “has been held back for so long by old thinking and by stalled process.”

Veterans of Middle East diplomacy agree that Kushner moved nimbly after the United Arab Emirates first signaled its willingness to recognize Israel.

“He had the authority; he was smart enough to develop personalized relations. I think he clearly deserves some credit for taking advantage of what the landscape showed was possible,” said Dennis Ross, who served as Bill Clinton’s Middle East envoy.

Kushner, a family friend of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, broke decades of US norms on Middle East peacemaking by barely making a pretense of being evenhanded with the Palestinians.

Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and, in a long-delayed Middle East plan unveiled in January 2020, gave the US blessing if Netanyahu wanted to annex much of the West Bank.

Speaking to CNN at the time, Kushner warned the Palestinians, who were offered a limited state, not to “screw up another opportunity like they’ve screwed up every other opportunity that they’ve ever had in their existence.”

Soft-spoken, thin and always sporting neatly coiffed hair and crisp suits, Kushner contrasts in style, if not goals, from his father-in-law.

Trump gave comedians fodder for jokes by putting Kushner in charge of everything from the Middle East to painkiller addiction, but in the Arab world, such familial arrangements showed he spoke for the president.

“In the Middle East, what negotiators or mediators need is unmistakable authority,” Ross said.

Kushner, who turns 40 days before Trump leaves office, worked quietly and largely bypassed the State Department, whose top Middle East diplomat, asked at a late 2019 congressional hearing about his contribution to the Trump plan, replied, “Um, none.”

Kushner traveled to Morocco for a Ramadan fast-breaking dinner with the king and swapped messages on WhatsApp with Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince despite widespread concerns about his human rights record.

In Bahrain, another of the four Arab nations to move to recognize Israel, Kushner last year gathered Gulf executives for dinners and cocktails at a luxury hotel as they waxed about economic opportunities for the Palestinians, whose leadership boycotted the event.

Kushner had initially seen Gulf Arab promises of money as a way to pressure the Palestinians — unsuccessfully — to accept peace on Israel’s terms.

But in mid-2020, UAE strongman Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan — described by former president Barack Obama in his new memoir as the Gulf’s savviest leader — reached out to turn the dynamic on its head.

Netanyahu would drop his plan for annexation. The UAE, in turn, would become the first Arab nation in more than 25 years to recognize Israel — and win the right to buy stealth-capable US F-35s.

“It was an initiative that was really driven by the Emirates but the administration, to its credit, was quick to pick up on it and has used that template these last several months,” said David Makovsky, who studies Arab-Israeli relations at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

The new concept was “to put bilateral things that have traditionally had some importance to the United States and make those part of the deal.”

Makovsky said there were key factors besides Trump and Kushner. Gulf Arabs feared US retrenchment as well as the growing influence of Iran and were aware of Israel’s technological superiority.

Trump’s unstated quid pro quo have raised alarm in some quarters, with Democrats opposing the F-35 sale and even some prominent Republicans upset over recognition of Morocco’s claim to Western Sahara.

But Israel, which alone in the region had F-35s, did not object to the sale as it saw the dawn of a new era.

Makovsky believed that at least the Gulf Arabs’ recognition of Israel stood on firm ground.

“If I could build on it,” he said of Kushner’s diplomacy, “I would hope that a new administration would do it with a twist and see if there is also something on the Palestinian issue.” — AFP

Going ‘the extra mile’: UK, EU keep up Brexit trade talks

BRUSSELS (AP) — Teetering on the brink of a no-deal Brexit departure, Britain and the European Union stepped back from the void Sunday and agreed to continue trade talks, although both downplayed the chances of success.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen ditched a self-imposed deadline and promised to “go the extra mile” to clinch a post-Brexit trade agreement that would avert New Year’s chaos and costs for cross-border commerce.

“Where there’s life, there’s hope,” said Johnson, offering little else as rationale to keep on with talks that have struggled to make headway for most of the year and need to be finished before Jan. 1, when the transition period for Britain, which left the EU last January, ends.

With hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of billions in trade at stake, von der Leyen said after her phone call with Johnson that “we both think it is responsible at this point in time to go the extra mile.”

All this, she added, “despite the exhaustion after almost a year of negotiations and despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over.”

UK. and EU negotiators were still talking at EU headquarters on Sunday, with less than three weeks to go until the UK. leaves the economic embrace of the 27-nation bloc.

But their leaders failed to present visible progress on any of the outstanding issues of fair-competition rules, mechanisms for resolving future disputes and fishing rights.

Johnson said the “most likely” outcome was that the two sides wouldn’t reach a deal and would trade on World Trade Organization terms, with the tariffs and barriers that would bring.

European Council President Charles Michel warned there could not be a deal “at any price, no. What we want is a good deal, a deal that respects these principles of economic fair play.”

It remains unclear how much of the gap between the two sides is negotiating tactics and how much reflects fundamental differences that make a deal unlikely.

“Negotiations need to have a purpose,” said Fabian Zuleeg of the EPC think tank. “We just spent another 4-5 days not moving forward, so adding more days doesn’t really help.”

He said the extension of talks just seems an indication “that neither side wants to be blamed for no deal.”

It has been four and a half years since Britons voted narrowly to leave the EU and — in the words of the Brexiteers’ slogan — “take back control” of the UK.’s borders and laws.

It took more than three years of wrangling before Britain left the bloc’s political structures on Jan. 31. Disentangling economies that have become closely entwined as part of the EU’s single market for goods and services took even longer.

The UK has remained part of the single market and customs union during an 11-month post-Brexit transition period. That means so far, many people will have noticed little impact from Brexit.

On Jan. 1, it will feel real. New Year’s Day will bring huge changes, even with a deal. No longer will goods and people be able to move between the UK and its continental neighbors.

Exporters and importers face customs declarations, goods checks and other obstacles. EU citizens will no longer be able to live and work in Britain without a visa — though that doesn’t apply to the more than 3 million already there — and Britons can no longer automatically work or retire in the EU.

There are still unanswered questions about significant areas, including security cooperation between the two sides and access to the EU market for Britain’s huge financial services sector.

Without a deal, the disruption would be far greater. The UK government has acknowledged a chaotic exit is likely to bring gridlock at Britain’s ports, temporary shortages of some goods and price increases for staple foods. Tariffs will be applied to many UK goods, including 10% on cars and more than 40% on lamb, hurting the UK economy as it struggles to rebound from the impact of the corona virus pandemic.

Johnson insists the UK will still “prosper mightily” on those terms but British businesses have been sounding the alarm with increasing urgency.

“The 11th hour has passed and every passing moment of uncertainty makes it harder for businesses to prepare effectively for Jan. 1,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium.

While both sides want a deal, they have fundamentally different views of what it entails. The EU fears Britain will slash social and environmental standards and pump state money into UK industries, becoming a low-regulation economic rival on the bloc’s doorstep, so is demanding strict “level playing field” guarantees in exchange for access to its market.

The UK government claims the EU is trying to bind Britain to the bloc’s rules and regulations indefinitely, rather than treating it as an independent nation.

Johnson on Sunday repeated his willingness to go to Brussels or other European capitals if it would help seal a deal. His attempts to speak directly to key national leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have been rebuffed by the EU, which says the Commission speaks for all EU nations in the Brexit negotiations.

Britain’s belligerent tabloid press urged Johnson to stand firm, and floated the prospect of Royal Navy vessels patrolling UK waters against intruding European fishing vessels.

But others, in Britain and across the EU, urged the two sides to keep talking.

“Every opportunity to still reach an agreement is highly welcome,” said Merkel.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said a no-deal Brexit would be a “double whammy” for economies already battered by the pandemic.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin, whose economy is more entwined with Britain’s than any other EU nation, said “even at the 11th hour, the capacity in my view exists for the United Kingdom and the European Union to conclude a deal that is in all our interests.”

The Handmaid’s Tale: making a drama out of a crisis

The Handmaid’s Tale, a critically acclaimed television series which has won 38 Emmy awards, may be about a fictional “alternative reality”, but the show’s creators have gone to great lengths to ensure that references to themes such as climate change, human rights abuses, and refugees, are as real and accurate as possible, by collaborating closely with UN experts.

The TV version of The Handmaid’s Tale is based on the classic 1985 book of the same name by acclaimed author Margaret Atwood, about a dystopian USA, renamed Gilead, ruled by a brutal theocracy in which people, particularly women, have been stripped of their rights.

In the story, an environmental disaster has led to most women becoming infertile, and the small number who are still able to become pregnant are forced to become handmaids, women who are owned by the ruling elite and systematically raped in order to provide them with children.

Atwood frequently said in interviews that everything described in the book is happening, or has happened, somewhere in the world at some point in history. The producers of the TV version, now filming its fourth season, are mindful of the status of the book’s legacy, and have been careful to take the same approach.

Playwright Dorothy Fortenberry is a co-executive producer and one of the writers of the show. She told UN News that, whilst the book reflects 1980s concerns about the environmental impact of nuclear incidents, and acid rain pollution, the writing team felt that it was important to make climate change the backdrop to the societal collapse that brings about Gilead.

“We researched how things like higher temperatures and plastic pollution could affect fertility (we’re currently seeing a decline in fertility worldwide), and the emergence of climate-related diseases. We wanted the series to feel as grounded in reality as possible.”

One of the ironies of the show is that the authoritarian rulers of Gilead have successfully dealt with many aspects of climate change, banning fossil fuels, driving in electric vehicles, and ending plastic pollution.

“Climate change is an event, it doesn’t have a politics, and it’s not necessarily the case that accepting and dealing with climate change would lead to progressive policies: a pro-environment movement could also be fascist, anti-immigrant and repressive”.

Ms. Fortenberry and her colleagues also wanted to ensure that the many human rights issues raised in the show are realistic. One source of guidance was Andi Gitow, who worked in an advisory capacity on the show while on a break from the United Nations, pointing out that the team took great pains to get the details right.

“We started with open-ended conversations, where I would try to answer questions on a range of UN-related topics, such as what it’s really like to live in a conflict zone; what does it mean to lose everything including your home, your rights, your freedom; and how does international law work in practice. I would share my knowledge from the field, and I would also consult with and bring in experts, including from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), and former tribunals”.

“The team wanted to know, for example, what refugees experience emotionally and practically, and how refugee centers operate. For example, when Emily, one of the main characters, is able to escape Gilead and cross the border into Canada, she’s injured and traumatized. Once brought to a hospital, she’s met by an all-female team who tell her that she’s safe. The scene then plays out, documenting the process in detail. It’s similar for Moira, another refugee character, and we worked with the writers and production designers to help them create as real a setting as possible: what would be on the walls? What would the characters see and hear? Every detail should feel realistic. And when June, the lead character, is finally reunited with her young daughter, Hannah, who was taken from her and given to a Gilead family unable to have children of their own, it’s not the usual Hollywood reunion: on the daughter’s part, there’s a mix of fear, anger and misunderstanding, which is what can often happen in the real world”.

Ms. Gitow also spoke with actors on the show, trying to help them understand how a character may feel in a particular situation, and how they may react.

The international success of The Handmaid’s Tale has meant that millions of people are now aware of the issues contained within the drama, often for the first time.

“Drama is one of the most powerful mediums”, says Ms. Gitow. “Of course, reports, documents and meetings are very important. But drama gives you the ability to reach a mass audience who might not otherwise be exposed to these issues, and might not otherwise seek out information about them.”

While striving to ensure authenticity, the writers avoid pushing a particular agenda, and focus on telling strong stories, with complex, three-dimensional characters coping with extraordinary circumstances.

“If you want to get across a certain point of view, it’s better to write an op-ed”, says Ms. Fortenberry. “That said, we consciously show normal, middle-class women in the US going through some of the experiences that are happening right now to women elsewhere in the world. By doing so, we’re bringing specificity and humanity to some of the horrors taking place, from climate change to gender violence. When you see the effects on one person, you can relate to them”.

“With a drama, you see issues lived and played out by a character you connect with”, adds Ms. Gitow. “You think of yourself, your mother, your child, or best friend in that situation, and it becomes very real. You imagine how you would react in that situation. The power and reach of that is extraordinary”.

US. states to start getting COVID-19 vaccine Monday: media

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12 (Xinhua) — The first shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will begin arriving in US. states Monday, US. media quoted an official as saying on Saturday.

Shipping companies UPS and FedEx will deliver the vaccine to nearly 150 state locations, US. media quoted Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed, as saying.

Perna said the vaccine was timed to arrive Monday morning so that health workers would be available to receive the shots and then begin giving them.

The US. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday issued authorization for emergency use of the COVID-19 vaccine of American drug maker Pfizer in partnership with German company BioNTech, the first COVID-19 vaccine in the United States.

The emergency use authorization allows the vaccine to be distributed in the country.

The FDA said the totality of the available data provides clear evidence that Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine may be effective in preventing COVID-19.

The data also show that the known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks, supporting the vaccine’s use in millions of people 16 years of age and older, said the FDA.

UK and EU ask negotiators in Brussels to continue talking

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have agreed to go the “extra mile” in their pursuit of a post-Brexit trade agreement after they spoke on Sunday, which was seen a hard deadline for the prolonged UK-EU negotiations.

Both sides are hoping for a last-minute “eleventh-hour” compromise in order to have arrangements in place before the Brexit transition period ends on December 31.

However, significant divergences over key sticking points on fishing rights and competition rules have so far proved insurmountable.

“We had a useful phone call this morning. We discussed the major unresolved topics. Our negotiating teams have been working day and night over recent days,” Johnson and Von Der Leyen said in a joint statement after their crucial phone call on Sunday afternoon.

“And despite the exhaustion after almost a year of negotiations, despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over we think it is responsible at this point to go the extra mile. We have accordingly mandated our negotiators to continue the talks and to see whether an agreement can even at this late stage be reached,” they said.

Johnson has called a meeting of his Cabinet ministers to discuss the latest state of play, which experts hope indicates that some movement is being made possible.

“Even at the eleventh hour, the capacity exists for a deal,” urged Michael Martin, the Prime Minister or Taoiseach of Ireland, the country arguably most affected as an EU member-country sharing a border with the UK territory of Northern Ireland.

If the UK and EU are unable to strike a deal, the two sides would be trading on World Trade Organization (WTO) norms, with considerable barriers to movement of goods as well as people.

With the UK no longer signed up to the EU rules, it would also mean travel restrictions for Britons traveling to and from the EU at the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, given the corona virus pandemic lock down rules.

The negotiating teams on both sides have been working through the weekend to try and find a way out of the deadlock but UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Sunday morning that the “political will” to clinch a deal remains elusive.

“The bar is quite high for us to be able to keep talking. We would need at a political level a commitment to move on those two key issues,” he told the BBC just hours before the all-important phone call between Johnson and Von Der Leyen, which had been scheduled as a point of finality in the talks.

“Never say never because EU negotiations can often drag and drift. But actually we do need finality and therefore we need at the political level of Ursula von der Leyen that there is clarity the EU will move on those two key issues. If we get that then there are still talks to be processed,” he said.

The central issue in the talks is how close the UK should stick to EU economic rules in the future.

The EU wants to prevent the UK from gaining what it sees as an unfair advantage of having tariff-free access to its markets not paying taxes on goods being bought and sold while setting its own standards on products, employment rights and business subsidies.

Fishing rights is another major area of disagreement, with the EU warning that without access to UK waters for EU fleets, UK fishermen will no longer get special access to EU markets to sell their goods

The UK has been adamant that its stance is that of any sovereign nation and argues that what goes on in its own waters, and its wider business rules, should be under its control once it is no longer a member of the 27-member economic bloc.

The Opposition Labor’s Ed Miliband accused the government of being “ideological” over its position in the talks, and warned leaving without a trade deal would be “disastrous for the country”.

“[Johnson] has been cavalier with our national interests and is playing Russian roulette with jobs and livelihoods of people up and down the land,” he said.

The UK had voted to leave the EU in a referendum in 2016 and under the Withdrawal Agreement, or the so-called divorce pact, they have until December 31 to define their future trading arrangements or part with no deal which would end the current tariff-free and quota-free partnership they share in most sectors of the economy.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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