International roundup: “There is no other word one can use but racist.”
International community: United in condemnation of Trump’s “shithole” comments
President Donald Trump had some harsh words for Haiti, El Salvador and the entire continent of Africa on Thursday, wondering, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” as he was briefed in the Oval Office by senators on the status of a bipartisan immigration reform deal. Haiti, the only country in the world to be founded through a successful slave revolt, appeared to draw Trump’s ire the most: he demanded that Haitians be left out of any immigration deal, according to people present at the meeting: “Why do we need more Haitians?…Take them out.” The timing of Trump’s comments, on the exact anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti and killed more than 220,000 people, were odious. The global reaction has been nearly unanimous in condemnation:
- Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Paul G. Altidor, said that “It hurt because one, it’s an insult to our dignity, but more importantly, it’s because too much of Haiti is misunderstood.”
- UN human rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, said “There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”
- The head of the African Union, which represents all 55 African countries, called Trump’s remark “unfortunate” and said he was “all the more dismayed as the USA is a unique example of how migration contributes to nation-building based on values of diversity, tolerance and opportunity.”
- Salvador’s president, Salvador Sánchez, said, “El Salvador formally protests and energetically rejects this kind of comment.”
- Botswana’s government called Trump’s comments “reprehensible and racist,” summoning the US ambassador to find out if Botswana is considered a shithole country by the US.
- South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party said, “Ours is not a shithole country, neither is Haiti or any other country in distress… It's not as if the United States doesn't have problems. There is unemployment in the US, there are people who don't have healthcare services.”
It should be noted that while Trump has denied the remarks, two senators who were in the room both confirmed the comments.
- Senator Dick Durban, an Illinois Democrat: “He said things which were hate-filled, vile and racist… I cannot believe that in the history of the White House, in that Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday.”
- Senator Lindsay Graham, a South Carolina Republican, did not directly confirm the derogatory remarks but said he had challenged Trump on them during the meeting. Dick Durban confirmed this as well.
- Senator Tim Scott, South Carolina’s other senator, said that Graham confirmed the Washington Post’s account of the meeting, including the vulgar language.
In and around the Middle East: As Iran deals with nationwide protests, Trump extends sanctions waiver one final time
President Donald Trump has extended the Iranian nuclear deal for what he claims will be the last time unless changes are made to the agreement. The waiver, which needs to be signed by the President every 120 days, suspends US sanctions on Iran for the same time period.
- Trump wants the European Union to agree to permanent restrictions on Iranian uranium enrichment and Iran’s ballistic missile program, but the EU and Iran are against any renegotiation.
- Russia, too – never one to miss an opportunity to undermine or oppose the US – announced on Monday it did not support a renegotiation.
- Per Trump, “This is a last chance…in the absence of such an agreement, the United States will not again waive sanctions in order to stay in the Iran nuclear deal.”
- On a related note, Iran has banned the teaching of English in its primary schools, citing the fear of a foreign cultural invasion from the West.
Meanwhile, in the wake of anti-government protests that began back in late December, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recognized that some of the protester’s demands were legitimate, and that protests broke out not just because of a struggling economy, but also because of government corruption and attempts by the religious clerics to dictate people’s personal live:
- “One cannot force one’s lifestyle on the future generations… The problem is that we want two generations after us to live the way we like them to.”
- Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, along with the fanatical Iranian Revolutionary Guard, have taken a different route and blamed foreign enemies for instigating the protests.
- The protests, which seem to have calmed for now, saw between 1,000 and 3,700 arrested and 25 deaths in demonstrations that spread to more than 80 Iranian cities and towns. While the size of the protests were nowhere near the scale of the 2009 protests, which saw crowds as large as 100,000 in cities nationwide, these current protests are unique because some protesters called for action against the Iranian regime and Supreme Leader Khamenei. Of those arrested during the protests, 440 people were freed by the government, most of whom were from low-income families.
Elsewhere in and around the Middle East:
Israel is set to approve the construction of hundreds of settlements in the West Bank in 2018 and has begun planning another 2,500.
- The West Bank, Palestinian territory under Israeli occupation, is a major component of the future Palestinian state and the building of settlements on the occupied lands creates a major hurdle to any kind of comprehensive peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis.
- The move comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing backlash in his country over two ongoing corruption investigations.
- Netanyahu’s found himself under even more scrutiny following the release of an embarrassing secret recording of his son Yair Netanyahu, during a night out on the town visiting Tel Aviv’s finest strip clubs. In the recording, Yair attempted to get his friend to spot him some money by bragging to him that his dad had gotten his friend’s dad, gas tycoon Kobi Maimon, a “sweet” 20 billion gas deal: “Bro, you have to be nice to me. Bro, my dad got your dad a sweet deal, he fought for it at the Knesset, bro….Bro, my dad just got you a 20-billion-dollar deal and you can’t spot me 400 shekels?”
Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan joined Russia and Syria in "denounc[ing] U.S. plans to form a 30,000-strong Kurdish-led border security force in Syria."
- Erdoğan threatened to "drown this army of terror before it is born."
- The US has declined to comment on Erdoğan's threat, but this may be another signal that the US-Turkey relationship is fast deteriorating: as WikiTribune notes, "this is already the third diplomatic spat between Ankara and Washington of 2018."
- On January 11th, Erdogan threatened to ignore US extradition requests unless it turns over exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen.
- On January 5th, he complained "the world is doomed" after a US court decision finding "an executive from Turkey's state-owned Halkbank guilty of conspiring to evade sanctions against Iran."
- There are around 20 million Kurds in Turkey, according to the Kurdish Institute of Paris, which makes them the largest ethnic minority in the country. They've been persecuted against – and routinely massacred – for nearly a century now, and it's likely that Erdoğan, along with his counterparts in Iraq and Syria, which also have massive Kurdish populations, fears an uprising.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) attempt to liberalize Saudi Arabia and prepare it for a post-oil world continues as women will now be allowed to attend soccer matches in the country.
- Special sections are to be created and reserved for families which include women.
- At the first match to allow female fans, unaccompanied adult women were allowed to enter the stadium.
- Still, the march of liberalization in a country as conservative as Saudi Arabia can only move so quickly: a Saudi Arabian football player is under fire for “dabbing” during a match and could face legal action by the government. Dabbing has been strictly forbidden in Saudi Arabia due to its perceived links to drug use and cannabis culture. In addition, a video circulating on social media appears to show two men getting married to each other in Saudi Arabia. The video drew strong criticism from conservative Saudis and others around the region and is being investigated by Saudi Authorities. Like many countries in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia is vehemently against homosexuality.
Asia: North Korea and South Korea are talking
North and South Korea met yesterday to discuss the possibility of North Korea sending its performance art group to the Winter Olympics next month.
- North Korea agreed to send its 140-member orchestra to perform in Seoul and in Gangneung, near Pyeongchang, where the Winter Olympics are being held. The two sides also agreed to hold more working talks on Wednesday and Saturday.
- The continuing talks are a sign that tensions are easing between the two countries.
- Tension between North Korea and the US, however, remain high: Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, has reaffirmed that the US will not hold talks with Pyongyang until it suspends its nuclear weapons program. And last week, news broke that the Trump administration was mulling over a high-risk “bloody nose” strategy to strike preemptively against North Korea.
- In addition to setting in motion a possible nuclear war, such a strike would likely rule out any help from China, which has committed to helping North Korea should the US start a war.
- China, by the way, has continued to implement United Nations sanctions against North Korea, with trade falling by more than 50% between the two counties in December.
- The US and Canada are cohosting a summit on North Korea’s nuclear program today, with two major players missing: China and North Korea. The US plans to advocate for its “maximum pressure” campaign.
Elsewhere in Asia:
Fallout over the U.S. decision to suspend nearly $2 billion in aid to Pakistan continues with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif declaring the U.S-Pakistan alliance is over. Pakistan’s Defense Minister, Khurram Dastgir Khan, said that Pakistan has suspended military and intelligence cooperation with the U.S.
The murder of seven-year-old Zainab Amin has sparked riots, protests and calls for justice across Pakistan after her body was discovered about a mile from her home on Tuesday, several days after she went missing. Zainab had been raped and strangled.
- The outcry appears to be driven by frustration at the corruption and incompetence of Pakistan’s police forces. CCTV footage, which was recovered by Zainab’s relatives and not the police, shows the young girl being led away by a man. Zainab’s parents say that the police did nothing after they told them of her disappearance.
- Protests have resulted in the deaths of at least two people. Even Pakistan’s military, concerned by the efforts of the police to find the killer, have offered their help. Zainab hailed from Kasur, where a major child sexual abuse scandal was uncovered in 2015. Even more disturbing, Zainab is the 12th girl murdered in the same 2-kilometer area (one girl escaped an attack), indicating the presence of a serial killer that Pakistani police have failed to apprehend.
As Myanmar’s government presses forward with its prosecution of two Reuters journalists for documenting Myanmar’s genocide of Rohingya Muslims, their Defense Ministry admitted that its troops were involved in the killing of ten Rohingya men found in a mass grave last month.
- The military admitted its troops ordered local villagers to dig a pit in a cemetery. They then ordered the Rohingya into it and shot them.
- The US State Department has called for the immediate release of both journalists.
Thailand’s Prime Minster, Prayuth Chan-o-cha, was in no mood to answer journalists’ questions last Monday, leaving a life-sized cardboard cutout of himself by his microphone and telling them, “If you want to ask any questions on politics or conflict, ask this guy,” before waiving and walking away. Will President Trump take notes from this?
South and Central America: Here we go again
Russia was accused of meddling in Mexico’s upcoming 2018 presidential elections by US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster: “We’ve seen that this is really a sophisticated effort to polarize democratic societies and pit communities within those societies against each other… You’ve seen, actually, initial signs of it in the Mexican presidential campaign already.”
Speaking of Mexico: The US State Department issued a new warning for travelers to Mexico.
- The new warnings, issued due to high rates of violent crimes connected to the nation’s ongoing drug war, placed five Mexican states, Sinaloa, Guerrero, Michoacan, Colima and Tamaulipas, under the highest alert level. This alert level, which warns against all travel to these locations, is the same level used for countries like Somalia, Yemen and Syria.
Elsewhere in South and Central America:
Julian Assange, the controversial founder of WikiLeaks, has been granted citizenship by Ecuador.
- Assange has been living in Ecuador’s London Embassy since June 2012, when he was granted political asylum. He has refused to leave for fear he will be extradited to the US.
- British authorities continue to threaten to arrest him if he leaves the embassy.
Europe: Trump calls off his London trip, citing embassy sale
Donald Trump has canceled a trip to London, claiming he was calling it off to protest the sale of the old embassy by former President Obama.
- Trump’s angry about the $1.2 billion price tag of the new embassy, and the sale of the old embassy for “peanuts,” and is mistakenly directing that anger at Obama, since it was, in fact, the Bush administration that made the call to move the embassy back in 2006.
- London Mayor Sadiq Khan believes the real reason Trump won’t come to London is because the visit would be met by mass protests by Londoners who do not support his “divisive agenda.”
Elsewhere in Europe:
Russian hackers have released dozens of emails they claim to be stolen from the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) anti-doping officials in order to discredit the Olympics.
- The move is likely in response to the Olympic ban on Russia for implementing a state-sanctioned program to systematically dope their athletes with performance-enhancing drugs.
- The thing is, Russia’s state-sponsored doping program has already done immense damage to the credibility of the Olympics. More than two dozen Russian athletes were disqualified from the final Sochi standings and some have had their medals rescinded.
Pete Hoekstra, the new US ambassador to the Netherlands, had an embarrassing week, after Dutch reporters pressed him Hoekstra on comments he made in 2015 about Islam and the Netherlands:
- What Hoekstra said: “Chaos in the Netherlands. There are cars being burned. There are politicians that are being burned. ... With the influx of the Islamic community — and yes, there are no-go zones in the Netherlands.”
- The State Department distanced itself from Hoekstra, who eventually apologized, saying “I got it wrong.”
Spain has surpassed the US as the number two tourist destination in the world in 2017. Per Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, 82 million people visited Spain in 2017, compared to 78 million in the U.S. France continues to hold the number one spot as the most visited country on earth.
- The drop in tourism is likely related to the Trump administration’s hardline stance on immigration.
header image: “photo of the day: January 4, 2018,” the white house / flickr