Investment needed for pearl farming in Bandar Lengeh
By Sadeq Dehqan
China pledges to help Afghanistan, Pakistan bridge divisions
China pledged to help Afghanistan and Pakistan overcome longstanding suspicions, as officials from the three nations met on Saturday in the latest round of diplomacy aimed at opening talks with the Taliban to end the Afghan war.
Zarif: US in no position to talk about Resolution 2231
“We’ve never provided weapons to Houthis”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reiterated the country’s policy on its missile program and said the United States is in no position to talk about the UN Security Council Resolution 2231.
Zarif made the remarks Saturday in an interview with Aljezeera, which was held on the sidelines of Doha Forum 2018.
In response to a question concerning the US claims on Iran missile tests, Zarif said, “First, Iran’s missiles are defensive, we need them for deterrence, we use far less for military and anybody else in the region and that is why we have said from the beginning that our missiles are not negotiable.”
“The second point is that the United States is in clear violation of the Security Council Resolution 2231 by withdrawing from the JCPOA [Iran nuclear deal] so it puts them in no position to talk about that resolution because they have tried to destroy the resolution. The resolution stands in spite of them not because of them,” he added.
The third point is that the resolution is very clear. It does not prohibit Iran from testing missiles but the resolution refers to missiles that are designed to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads and the nuclear deal and Resolution 2231 have verified that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons, the Iranian foreign minister added.
Iranian officials have repeatedly underscored that the country will not hesitate to strengthen its military capabilities, including its missile power, which are entirely meant for defense, and that Iran’s defense capabilities will be never subject to negotiations.
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Thousands of French ‘yellow vests’ protest for fifth Saturday
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of French cities on Saturday in the fifth weekend of nationwide demonstrations against Emmanuel Macron’s government, despite calls to hold off.
In Paris, police were out in force to contain possible outbursts of violence. But several major stores were open to welcome Christmas shoppers. Numbers were down compared to Saturday last week, Reuters reported.
Teargas was fired at small groups of protesters in brief clashes with riot police near the Champs-Elysees.
The ‘yellow vest’ movement started in mid-November with protests at junctions and roundabouts against fuel tax increases, but quickly became a wider mobilization against Macron’s economic policies.
Successive weekends of protests in Paris have led to vandalism and violent clashes with security forces.
Loic Bollay, 44, marching on the Champs-Elysees in a yellow vest, said the protests were more subdued than in previous weeks but the movement would go on until the demonstrators’ grievances were addressed.
The Interior Minister said around 69,000 police were active on Saturday with a reinforced presence in the cities of Toulouse, Bordeaux and Saint-Etienne.
According to official figures, 33,500 protesters had been counted in France compared to 77,000 on Dec. 8.
In Paris, some 2,200 protesters had been seen marching in splintered groups in several neighborhoods, and 95 had been arrested by around midday, according to a Paris police official.
On Friday, President Macron called for a return to calm in France after nearly a month of protests by the so-called ‘yellow vest’ movement against his government’s policies.
The demonstrations have hit growth and caused widespread disruption.
Qatar: Persian Gulf Arab bloc has ‘no teeth’
Qatar said on Saturday it remained committed to the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council but the bloc needed to enforce its own rules better, signaling a reformed alliance could help end a row between Doha and some of its neighbors.
Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said Qatar was still counting on Kuwait and other regional powers to help solve the row that has seen Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt impose a political and economic boycott on Doha since June 2017.
“We believe that we are more relevant as a bloc” for the West than as separate and fragmented countries, he told the annual Doha Forum, but said the alliance had “no teeth” and needed a dispute resolution mechanism, Reuters reported.
“They have mechanisms in place and never trigger them (to hold people accountable) because some countries believe they are non-binding, so we need to make sure all the rules we are submitting to are binding to everyone in this region.”
The four states accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism and cozying up to Iran. Doha denies the charges and says the boycott aims to curtail its sovereignty.
The dispute has eluded mediation efforts by Kuwait, which along with Oman is a part of the Arab bloc.
In a sign the dispute still festered, Qatar’s emir did not attend an annual Persian Gulf summit on Sunday. Doha earlier announced it was quitting OPEC to focus on gas in a move seen as a shot at the oil exporter club’s main producer.
Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani told the forum that his country’s position in the Persian Gulf crisis remained unchanged – “lifting the blockade and settling the differences via dialogue”.
The boycotting states say the dispute is not a priority and insist Qatar meet a list of demands submitted to it at the start of the crisis that include closing Al Jazeera TV, reducing ties with Iran and closing a Turkish military base in Qatar.
Foreign ministers from Iran and Turkey, which both supported Qatar in the row, are attending the two-day forum.
Romania’s Foreign Minister Teodor-Viorel Meleşcanu, told the gathering that the European Union is working on organizing a conference that could help solve the Persian Gulf rift.
“We are thinking about a joint event for the EU and Arab countries and we would like to have a direct discussion with them. We hope to hold it in April and in principle it would take place in Bucharest,” he later said.
Romania takes the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU from January for the next six months.
Bahrain’s foreign minister said on Saturday there was no need for mediation as the solution lay in Doha’s hands.
“It is not our crisis, it is Qatar’s crisis. So there is no need for a mediator to solve it, what it needs is for a wise person from its (Qatar’s) people,” Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa tweeted.
British minister warns Brexit is stuck as no-deal or referendum looms
Britain’s exit from the European Union was heading for an impasse, one senior minister said on Saturday, after a week in which Prime Minister Theresa May failed to win EU assurances on her deal and pulled a vote because UK lawmakers would defeat it.
With just over 100 days until Britain leaves the bloc on March 29, Brexit remains up in the air with growing calls for a no-deal exit, a potentially disorderly divorce that business fears would be highly damaging, or for a second referendum, Reuters wrote.
May pulled a vote on her deal on Monday after acknowledging it would be heavily defeated over concerns about the “backstop”, an insurance policy designed to avoid any hard land border for Ireland but which critics say could bind Britain to EU rules indefinitely.
Two days later, she survived a plot to oust her from her those in her own party who support a hardline Brexit, showing the level of opposition she faced.
May herself has acknowledged that Britain’s parliament appears deadlocked with no clear support for any option, with the small Northern Irish party that props up her government leading the criticism of her deal.
“Brexit is in danger of getting stuck – and that is something that should worry us all,” Pensions Minister Amber Rudd wrote in Saturday’s Daily Mail newspaper.
“If MPs (lawmakers) dig in against the prime minister’s deal and then hunker down in their different corners, none with a majority, the country will face serious trouble.”
At a summit in Brussels, May’s attempts to get legal assurances from the EU that the Irish backstop would only be a temporary measure was rebuffed with the bloc’s other 27 leaders saying they would not renegotiate the treaty.
However, May insisted at the summit’s conclusion on Friday that further clarification was still possible with German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying: “We want to be helpful”.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said parliament could still rally behind May’s agreement with additional assurances and said such clarifications were likely because EU countries knew no deal would be a disaster for them.
“When the dust has settled, the only way we’re going to get this through the House of Commons ... is to have a version of the deal that the government has negotiated,” Hunt told BBC radio.
Legal plastic content in animal feed could harm human health, experts warn
Plastic traces in animal feed could pose a risk to human health and urgently need to be the subject of more research, experts have told the Guardian.
US Senate subcommittee seeks FBI probe of former USOC chief
A US Senate subcommittee is seeking FBI investigation of former US Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun for making “materially false statements” to lawmakers probing sexual abuse in gymnastics.
Republican Senator Jerry Moran, the chairman of the Senate subcommittee on commerce, and Senator Richard Blumenthal, the highest ranking Democrat on the panel, issued a joint statement on Friday saying they had referred the matter to the FBI, AFP reported.
The move comes after a damning report released on Monday that said the USOC failed to react swiftly when first warned of allegations surrounding former gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar in 2015.
Instead, according to the report commissioned by the USOC and carried out by Boston law firm Ropes and Gray, they concealed the doctor’s crimes until the scandal erupted into public view in late 2016.
Nassar was jailed for life earlier this year after abusing more than 250 athletes, inducing several stars of the United States’ gold medal-winning teams at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
The senators cited Blackmun’s written testimony to the subcommittee that when he heard of the allegations against Nassar in a July 2015 telephone call from then USA Gymnastics chief Steve Penny that he spoke to the USOC’s “SafeSport staff” – which oversees abuse claims in Olympic sports.
But they noted that independent investigators found no evidence supporting Blackmun’s claim that he held a meeting with USOC staff to make sure the matter was properly pursued.
“The Subcommittee takes its oversight role seriously and it appears that Mr. Blackmun has made false claims and misled our Subcommittee – harming the investigation and the ability to develop policy,” the senators said. “Just as importantly, survivors of abuse have had to wait longer for the truth and longer for systemic changes to help prevent others from similar injury.”
Blackmun stepped down in February amid stinging criticism of his handling of the case, not long after disclosing he was battling prostate cancer.
The Ropes and Gray report indicates that USOC chairman Larry Probst and then board member Susanne Lyons – who will take over as chair next year – were not aware of the allegations against Nassar until the scandal broke in the media.
Probst said Friday after his final board meeting before departing at the end of the year that he couldn’t comment on Blackmun’s testimony to the Senate subcommittee or the senators’ action on it.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to speculate on what Scott was thinking or not thinking,” Probst said. “Obviously the system broke down in many aspects.”
Iranian directors to present four films at Palm Springs Film Festival
Art & Culture Desk
Four films including two by the two-time Oscar winning director Asghar Farhadi will be screened in the 30th Palm Springs Film Festival, which is one of the largest film festivals.
The Spanish psychological thriller ‘Everybody Knows’ by Farhadi is scheduled to go on screen in the festival’s Modern Masters section.
Starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, ‘Everybody Knows’ is about a family wedding interrupted by a shocking crime and some long-buried secrets.
Farhadi’s ‘A Separation’ will also be screened in the Palm Springs Canon section of the event.
The flick is about a married couple who are faced with a difficult decision — to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after an aging parent inflicted by Alzheimer’s.
‘Cold Sweat’ by Soheil Beiraqi and ‘Orange Days’ by Arash Lahooti will compete in two sections: US premieres and World Cinema Now.
‘Cold Sweat’ tells the story of Iran’s national women’s futsal team that makes it to the Asian Games final in Malaysia. But at the airport on departure day, the team captain finds her husband hasn’t signed the document to permit her to exit from the country.
‘Orange Days’ narrates the story of Aban, the only female contractor in the cutthroat and male-dominated orange harvesting industry, who enters a competition to win a large contract.
Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare tale ‘All Is True’ was selected to open the festival, which unveiled its complete lineup of films for the 30th edition that runs from January 3 to 14. The fest also said that Bruce Bereford’s ‘Ladies in Black’ will be the closing-night film, with the director and cast members expected to be in attendance.
In all, the fest will screen 223 films from 78 countries, and as usual will screen a slew of Oscar Foreign Language Film entries, this year numbering 43 of the 87 official submissions. Also on the docket: A 30-film retrospective of past fest selections, dubbed the Palm Springs Canon; special focuses on cinema from France, India and Mexico, and Jewish and queer cinema; and the new Ricky Jay Magic of Cinema Award, named for actor and magician Ricky Jay who died last month.
Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Roma’, Mexico’s official submission, is to be screened along with Japan’s ‘Shoplifters’, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes; South Korea’s ‘Burning’, directed by Lee Chang-Dong; Lebanon’s ‘Capernaum’, directed by Nadine; Poland’s ‘Cold War’, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski; Belgium’s ‘Girl’, directed by Lukas Dhont; Denmark’s ‘The Guilty’, directed by Gustav Möller; Paraguay’s ‘The Heiresses’, directed by Marcelo Martinessi; and Germany’s ‘Never Look Away’, directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck.
In celebration of the festival’s 30th anniversary, a 30-film retrospective of films from past festivals will include titles such as ‘Chocolate’ and ‘Memento’. Films from France, India and Mexico will also be highlighted in special sections.
Variety, deadline.com, Business Standard and Hollywood Reporter contributed to this story.
Palestinians slam Australia’s move on Al-Quds
The Palestinian leadership on Saturday described as “irresponsible” Australia’s recognition of West Al-Quds as Israel’s capital, saying it violated international law.
The country became one of just a few to follow US President Donald Trump’s lead and recognize the city as Israel’s capital, AFP wrote.
Australia said it would open a defense and trade office in the west of the holy city and Prime Minister Scott Morrison also committed to recognizing a future state of Palestine with East Al-Quds as its capital.
Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Al-Quds as their capital.
Most foreign nations avoided moving embassies there to prevent inflaming peace talks on the city’s final status – until Trump unilaterally moved the US Embassy there earlier this year.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said in a statement that the Australian decision to open a trade office in the city violated a United Nations resolution.
“From the beginning, we’ve perceived the Australian government’s decision to recognize Al-Quds as Israel’s capital as one wherein petty domestic politics steer irresponsible policies that contradict world peace and security,” he said in a statement.
“All of Al-Quds remains a final status issue for negotiations, while East Al-Quds, under international law, is an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory,” he added.
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