Current Events

The Iran Deal

Reuters wrote on November 24:

“At around 2:00 a.m. [Sunday morning], U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and counterparts from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia were brought to a conference room to approve a final text of the agreement [with Iran] which would provide limited relief of sanctions on Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear program. At the last minute, with the ministers already gathered in the room, an Iranian official called seeking changes. Negotiators for the global powers refused. Finally the ministers were given the all clear. The deal, a decade in the making, would be done at last.

“Now that the interim deal is signed, talks are far from over… The deal was in part the result of months of secret talks held with Iran in such out-of-the-way places as Oman, with U.S. officials using military planes, side entrances and service elevators…”

Neither Saudi Arabia nor Israel knew at all or in detail about these secret talks.

Saudis Opposed

The Telegraph wrote on November 25:

“A senior advisor to the Saudi royal family has accused its Western allies of deceiving the oil rich kingdom in striking the nuclear accord with Iran and said Riyadh would follow an independent foreign policy… Mr Obaid said that while Saudi Arabia knew that the US was talking directly to Iran through a channel in the Gulf state of Oman, Washington had not directly briefed its ally. ‘We were lied to, things were hidden from us,’ he said…

“In a statement the Saudi government…warned that a comprehensive solution should lead to the ‘removal of all weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear, from the Middle East and the Gulf.’”

Iran Serious?

CNN wrote on November 24:

“When it comes to Iran and the West, the relationship has been convoluted for decades. And this deal is no different. After days of negotiations, six world powers and Tehran reached an agreement that calls on Iran to limit its nuclear activities in return for lighter sanctions. It’s complicated politics coupled with complicated science… A better deal would have included Iranians shipping out their highly enriched uranium to be converted elsewhere… Whether Iran is serious about mothballing its nuclear ambitions remains to be seen… There are certainly aspects where the deal stopped short.”

US and Iran Disagree on Terms of the Deal

The Financial Times wrote on November 24:

“Shortly after the historic nuclear agreement was reached with Iran in the early hours of Sunday morning, John Kerry, US secretary of state, took to Twitter to announce a ‘first step that makes the world safer’…

“Yet within hours, both men had also revealed substantial disagreements over the nuclear negotiations in Geneva which served to expose the very large gaps that still lie between this initial deal and a final agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme over the next six months… the negotiations must… now deal with the much harder issue of whether Iran will substantially roll back its nuclear programme to a point where building a bomb would be near-impossible…

“The interim agreement reached in Geneva places a cap on central parts of the Iranian nuclear programme in return for modest sanctions relief. However, it still leaves Iran with a substantial nuclear infrastructure which western experts believe could produce the material for a bomb within a few months.

“Speaking just hours after the deal was announced, Mr Rouhani declared that ‘world powers have recognised the nuclear rights of Iran’. Tehran has long insisted that it has a ‘right’ to enrich uranium under international treaties. However, this view was immediately rejected by Mr Kerry, who gave a series of television interviews in Geneva at 5am and claimed an Iranian right to enrich was ‘not in this document’…

“However, even after the interim agreement, Iran’s willingness to dismantle substantial parts of its nuclear infrastructure and to allow inspections of sites where hidden nuclear facilities might exist remains uncertain, analysts said.”

Deal Not Even Started Yet?

JTA wrote on November 27:

“State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that the six-month interim agreement with Iran has not yet started. The next step is ‘a continuation of technical discussions at a working level so that we can essentially tee up the implementation of the agreement,’ she said.

“It’s not clear when the agreement will come into force, but in the meantime Psaki said the United States is ‘respecting the spirit of the agreement in pressing for sanctions not to be put in place’ and expects that the same is coming from Iran’s end.

“However, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told Iran’s Parliament on Wednesday that the Islamic Republic would continue to build the Arak heavy water plant in contravention of the announced agreement. The previous day, Iran said that the United States had not distributed an accurate account of the agreement.”

Altered Sanctions while Iran Continues with Enrichment Program

Newsmax added on November 25:

“The United States released $8 billion in frozen assets to Iran on Sunday in a move meant to ensure Tehran’s compliance with a nuclear agreement signed over the weekend, say top Iranian officials, the Washington Free Beacon reported Monday. Iranian government spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht confirmed Monday that the U.S. government freed $8 billion in assets that had been blocked by the Obama administration. In addition, Iran will get about $7 billion in sanctions relief, gold, and oil sales under the nuclear deal that was signed in Geneva with Western nations over the weekend…

“The State Department has denied that sanctions have been altered since an interim deal with Iran was announced… Iran announced on Sunday that its nuclear work would continue despite the deal, which is aimed at curbing Tehran’s nuclear program and enrichment of uranium, the key to producing a nuclear weapon.

“Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, who helped ink the deal, praised it for recognizing Iran’s right to enrich uranium, a key sticking point that had delayed the deal… Over the next six months, Iran will see ‘the full removal of all [United Nations] Security Council, unilateral and multilateral sanctions, while the country’s enrichment program will be maintained,’ Zarif said, adding that the Fordo and Natanz nuclear sites will continue to run. ‘None of the enrichment centers will be closed, and Fordo and Natanz will continue their work, and the Arak heavy water [nuclear reactor] program will continue in its present form, and no material [enriched uranium stockpiles] will be taken out of the country, and all the enriched materials will remain inside the country,’ Zarif said. ‘The current sanctions will move towards decrease, no sanctions will be imposed and Iran’s financial resources will return.’”

Will Iran Ever Give Up Development of Nuclear Weapons?

The New York Times wrote on November 23:

“… some experts, including a former official who has worked on the Iranian issue for the White House, said it was unlikely that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, would ever close the door on the option to develop nuclear weapons. Instead, they said, any initial six-month agreement is more likely to be followed by a series of partial agreements that constrain Iran’s nuclear activities but do not definitively solve the nuclear issues…

“On the contentious issue of the heavy water reactor Iran is building near Arak, which could produce plutonium and therefore another path to a bomb, Iran agreed not to produce fuel for the plant, install additional reactor components there or put the plant into operation. Iran is not required to dismantle the facility, however, or convert the plant into a light water reactor that would be less useful for military purposes…

“To guard against cheating, international monitors would be allowed to visit the Natanz enrichment facility and the underground nuclear enrichment plant at Fordo on a daily basis to check the film from cameras installed there. But Iran did not agree to all of the intrusive inspection regime that the International Atomic Energy Agency had said was needed to ensure that the Iranian program is peaceful.”

Iran Still Determined to Build Nuclear Weapons

Newsmax wrote on November 26:
“Bill Kristol, founder and editor of The Weekly Standard, thinks Iran is determined to build nuclear weapons despite its deal with the United States. ‘If you just came down from Mars and looked at this deal, you would conclude the Iranian regime, having spent 10 years cheating, lying, . . . and willing to risk very tough sanctions . . . [is] willing to sign off on a little bit of a pause in their [nuclear] program in return to getting sanctions released,’ Kristol told ‘The Steve Malzberg Show’ on Newsmax TV.”

Iran Claims Victory

The Daily Caller wrote on November 24:

“Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, claimed victory over the United States Sunday shortly after a historic nuclear agreement was reached in Geneva between the Islamic Republic and the 5+1 world powers… [President Hassan] Rouhani… said Iran will continue its nuclear progress. ‘No matter whether the world wants it or not, this path (to nuclear capability) will, God willing, continue to the peak,’ he said.

“Iran has negotiated its nuclear program with the U.S. and the world powers for over a decade, during which time it has successfully increased the number of centrifuges enriching uranium from 150 to over 19,000 today. It now has over 10 tons of low-enriched uranium — enough for several bombs — and has over a thousand ballistic missiles and, in collaboration with North Korea, is working on intercontinental ballistic missiles.”

Israelis Critical of Deal

Breitbart wrote on November 25:

“Yossi Klein Halevi… American-born Israeli author… had strong words of condemnation for the nuclear deal reached in Geneva with Iran. ‘I think it’s a betrayal. The Obama administration had to be dragged into supporting sanctions. It took the administration three years to sign up for crippling sanctions. And now, just as they’re starting to work, the administration is beginning to dismantle the system… They are laying the groundwork for another North Korea… Before this deal, there were two credible threats to a nuclear Iran. One was the sanctions effort, and the other was an Israeli strike. The deal with Iran undercuts both. If Israel doesn’t strike, Iran will go nuclear. And the price of an Israeli strike has now risen exponentially… Obama has created a condition in which Iran will be gradually reaccepted into the international community, and Israel could well find itself a pariah. That’s Obama’s gift to the Jewish people. I think this deal makes an Israeli strike inevitable.’”

Alan Dershowitz: Deal a Big Mistake

Breitbart wrote on November 24:

“Harvard professor and noted civil rights and international law expert [and liberal Democrat] Alan Dershowitz criticized the nuclear deal with Iran sharply on Sunday, saying that it ‘could become a Chamberlain moment’ for President Barack Obama… ‘It’s no surprise that the Iranians are jumping up in the air celebrating, and American experts are deeply divided as to whether this is a good deal or bad deal.

“‘Of course someone like Zbigniew Brzezinski says it’s a good deal–he’s the perfect litmus test. He’s always wrong. If you look back at his history, from the day he became an adviser to Jimmy Carter, I can’t think of one decision where he turned out right. Korea, Syria, the Arab Spring, and the Palestinians–he’s much worse than a broken clock, which is right twice a day. I challenge anyone to find any major issue of foreign policy on which Brzezinski has been right over the past four years. The idea that the Obama administration listened to this man is remarkable to me. Where does this notion that he’s a wise man come from? His history is one mistake after the other… This decision is much more likely in my view to lead to a military confrontation than increasing the sanctions…
“‘It increases the chance Iran will develop nuclear weapons. It increases the chance of an Israeli attack. It increases the chance Saudi Arabia will have to try to obtain its own nuclear weapon. It increases chances of a general arms race… Many people thought that [British Prime Minister Neville] Chamberlain was correct [in 1938] when he bartered an important part of Czechoslovakia for the hope of peace… he didn’t fully understand the great danger of Nazism and the great threat of a Nazi regime that had the Sudetenland… I think the Obama administration has failed to understand the evil of the mullahs. Iran was weakened by the sanctions. We’ve given them a great victory… Iran’s goal has always been to create a wedge between Israel and the U.S. They are the smartest enemy the U.S. and Israel have faced in recent years…’”

Deal Worse than 1938 Munich Agreement

Newsmax wrote on November 26:
“The U.S.-Iran deal on nuclear weapons is far more disastrous than the 1938 Munich Agreement, which permitted Nazi Germany’s annexation of portions of Czechoslovakia, says David Horowitz, president of the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
“‘It is catastrophic. It’s worse than Munich because after [British Prime Minister Neville] Chamberlain sold the Czechs down the river to [Adolf] Hitler, although they suffered and many of them died, they weren’t obliterated,’ Horowitz told ‘The Steve Malzberg Show’ on Newsmax TV. ‘Whereas the [President Barack] Obama-[Secretary of State John] Kerry deal with Iran jeopardizes the lives of the entire Jewish people in Israel,’ he said Monday. ‘When Israel is the size of New Jersey, a nuclear bomb or two could just wipe out the population.’”

Charles Krauthammer agrees. According to, dated November 25, he said:
“I just heard the Secretary of State say we’re going to get a destruction of the 20 percent uranium. That is simply untrue. What’s going to happen is the 20 percent enriched uranium is going to be turned into an oxide so it’s inoperative. That process is completely chemically reversible, which means Iran holds on to its 20 percent uranium and can turn it into active stuff any time it wants. This is a sham from beginning to end. It’s the worst deal since Munich.”

Israel Not Bound

JTA wrote on November 25:

“Netanyahu… reiterated [on Sunday] that Israel will strike Iran’s nuclear program — with or without U.S. approval — if Israel deems it necessary. ‘This agreement and what it means endangers many countries, including, of course, Israel,’ Netanyahu said. ‘Israel is not bound by this agreement. The Iranian regime is committed to the destruction of Israel, and Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.’”

Israel Might Strike Alone

The Guardian wrote on November 24:

“Netanyahu, who has staked his premiership on the need to defend Israel against the Iranian threat by military action if necessary, faces further isolation from key allies in the west who brokered and endorsed the diplomatic accord with Tehran. The issue has severely strained relations between Israel and the US over recent weeks.

“But the prospect of diplomatic alienation did not stop a string of minsters taking to the airwaves to denounce the deal. ‘If in another five or six years a nuclear suitcase explodes in New York or Madrid, it will be because of the agreement that was signed this morning,’ the economy minister, Naftali Bennett, said. ‘We woke up this morning to a reality in which a bad, a very bad agreement was signed in Geneva.’

“The foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman… added: ‘Obviously when you look at the smiles of the Iranians over there in Geneva, you realise that this is the Iranians’ greatest victory, maybe since the Khomeini revolution, and it doesn’t really change the situation within Iran.’”

The Washington Post wrote on November 24:

“Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the deal ‘brings us to a nuclear arms race. The world has to understand that this is the biggest diplomatic victory Iran has had in recent years,’ Lieberman said. ‘There’s no doubt the agreement recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium.’… Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, last week referred to Israel as ‘the rabid dog of the region’ and promised ‘the Zionist regime is doomed to destruction.’”

Americans Opposed

The Washington Times wrote on November 25:

“Asking Iran to ‘halt and scale back its nuclear program’ is like asking President Barack Obama to take responsibility for his presidency. It will never occur. From one dishonest broker to another, this explains why Obama agreed to the ‘sucker’s deal’ negotiated in Geneva between Iran and five other so called ‘superpowers,’ Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia.

“Obama bowed to Iran’s demand that Tehran be allowed to keep its current supply of enriched uranium with the promise it won’t produce anymore high grade uranium to use in a nuclear bomb. Iran also ‘promised’ it would stop construction on a nuclear reactor in Arak being built to produce plutonium used to make a bomb. In exchange for Iran’s generous assurances, economic sanctions will be lifted for six months and the cash starved, mullah run nation will be able to tap some of its $7 billion in frozen funds. ‘Halting’ isn’t dismantling or ending Iran’s nuclear program. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said ‘Iran gets everything that it wanted at this stage and it pays nothing.’…

“Remember this is the same Iran arming Syrian President Assad to continue his massacre of his own people. The same Iran that professes its goal is to wipe Israel from the face of the earth and the same Iran that funds terrorism globally through groups like Hezbollah and Hamas, enemies to Israel and America…”

Newsmax wrote on November 24:

“Former CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden on Sunday criticized the Obama administration’s deal with Iran saying it will only delay, not derail the country’s nuclear program… ‘Practically the worst of all possible outcomes, because now what you have here is a nuclear capable state,’ Hayden said… ‘And my fear is, this interim agreement, which doesn’t roll back much of anything at all, becomes a permanent agreement,’ Hayden said.”

Newsmax reported on November 25:

“Sen. Lindsey Graham said Monday that despite the Obama administration’s interim deal with Iran the Senate would pass a bipartisan measure forcing sanctions against the rogue nation until its nuclear capability has been completely dismantled…  Graham is the latest in a growing line of Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill who oppose the deal with Iran… The Obama administration has warned Congress not to move ahead with sanctions, but Graham’s statement is the strongest yet that lawmakers are not willing to let the White House deal stand.”

American Pastor Still Jailed in Iran for His Religious Convictions

Newsmax wrote on November 25:

“Naghmeh Abedini, whose American husband Saeed Abedini remains imprisoned in  Iran, spoke out Monday about the failure of the United States to work the Christian pastor’s release into the nuclear deal reached early Sunday… With the holidays approaching, Naghmeh Abedini said her children were praying their 33-year-old father, who has been behind bars for more than a year because of his Christian religious practices, would be returned to the United States…

“According to the White House, the release of Abedini— a U.S. citizen who was born in Iran and who was working in an Iranian government-approved orphanage when he was arrested — did not enter discussions that took place last week in Geneva. President Barack Obama raised the issue of Saeed Abedini’s release in September during earlier rounds of talks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, but an agreement allowing the prisoner to come home was not reached, prompting the American Center for Law and Justice to reach out to Secretary of State John Kerry.

“ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow accused both Obama and Kerry of turning their backs on a U.S. citizen; however, Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said Saeed Abedini’s case, as well as the cases of other American prosoners in Iran, have been part of diplomatic discussions.”

Deal Similar to the One With North Korea Which Failed

Beitbart wrote on November 23:

“A similar deal with the regime in North Korea in 1993 ended with that regime going fully nuclear in 2006… In the main, the deal buys time for Iran to continue its nuclear development – and, as Israel has argued, Iran remains perilously close to development of its first nuclear weapon, which would dramatically shift the balance of power in the region away from the Jewish state. The deal effectively forestalls any Israeli military action thanks to the West’s tacit endorsement of a ‘process’ that will supposedly end in Iran disarming, but will far more likely end with Iran going nuclear…

“The approach of the Obama administration in the Middle East seems to be one of making parchment agreements without any real verification or enforcement mechanisms. Each agreement puts Israel in a worse position. And while the world press announces triumphantly that the Obama administration is achieving peace in our time, the world grows closer and closer to the world’s worst regimes armed with the world’s most dangerous weapons – all presided over by a weak-kneed White House intent on minimizing American influence around the globe.”

German Reactions

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote on November 25: “Iran’s concessions are significant but don’t mean the end of the nuclear program… It’s worth noting that the sanctions imposed on Iran worked by causing the leadership in Tehran to embark on a charm offensive… If an instrument is working, one shouldn’t abandon it prematurely.”

Die Welt wrote: “So far, the Geneva agreement is just a test of Tehran’s seriousness. Everything, truly everything, now depends on Obama not getting carried away by grand historic, global political visions. There must be complete certainty that Iran is opening up all its centrifuges and letting the inspectors do their work without obstruction. There are too many historical examples of deceitful dictatorships and betrayed democracies not to remain very suspicious regarding Tehran… It’s an exceedingly bold assumption that six months will suffice to achieve this certainty.”

Charging Fees for Deposits?

The Financial Times wrote on November 24:

“Leading US banks have warned that they could start charging companies and consumers for deposits if the US Federal Reserve cuts the interest it pays on bank reserves.

“Depositors already have to cope with near-zero interest rates, but paying just to leave money in the bank would be highly unusual and unwelcome for companies and households…Banks say they may have to charge because taking in deposits is not free: they have to pay premiums of a few basis points to a US government insurance programme.”

New Obamacare Dates and Delays

Politico wrote on November 27:

“The Obama administration today announced a one year delay of online enrollment for small businesses looking to purchase health coverage through federal Obamacare exchanges, another high-profile setback for…

“The announcement just before Thanksgiving is the latest in a series of delays and miscalculations for the president’s signature domestic legislation. On July 2 — also just before a holiday —it delayed the employer mandate for a year. Small businesses with fewer than 50 workers are exempt from the requirement to cover them, and the exchanges are supposed to give more options to those that choose to offer coverage…

“Small businesses have been able to apply for exchange coverage by paper application since Oct. 1. HHS on Wednesday announced they will have additional ways of enrolling on SHOP, including going through an agent or broker or directly through an insurer…

“Employers, like individuals, will have until Dec. 23 to purchase coverage that takes effect Jan. 1, HHS said on Wednesday. Employers can enroll at any point in the year, though, while the 2014 open enrollment period for individuals is scheduled to end March. 31.”

Why the Ukraine Forsook the EU

Der Spiegel Online wrote on November 25:

“The inability of European bureaucrats to keep up with the Kremlin’s manipulations — or Kiev’s political calculations — has cost the EU a trade deal with Ukraine, and severely damaged its foreign policy. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decisive move came on Nov. 9. That day, after years of courtship, and several months of promises and threats, he met with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich at a military airport near Moscow. The meeting was so clandestine the Russians initially denied that it had taken place at all.

“Before that point, the plan had been for Yanukovich to sign a 900-page association agreement, a sort of engagement contract, with the European Union in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius on Nov. 29. But in early November near Moscow, Putin seems to have sealed an alliance with Ukraine, preempting his rivals in Brussels. And last Thursday Yanukovich postponed the signing of the EU agreement indefinitely…

“In the end, the Russian president seems to have promised his Ukrainian counterpart several billion euros in the form of subsidies, debt forgiveness and duty-free imports. The EU, for its part, had offered Ukraine loans worth €610 million ($827 million), which it had increased at the last moment, along with the vague prospect of a €1 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Yanukovich chose Putin’s billions instead…

“The EU’s eastern partnership had gotten off to a rocky start even before the Ukrainian incident. Belarus dashed the EU’s hopes it would join when protesters were violently suppressed after the reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko in 2010. Armenia called off an association agreement with the EU this September.

“In the case of Ukraine, it initially seemed as if the Europeans’ rational arguments would prevail over Russia’s threatening gestures. According to an internal EU analysis, joining the ‘Eurasian Union’ — a Russia-backed proposed political and economic union including Russia, Tajikistan, Kayahkstan, Belarus and others — would severely limit Ukraine’s sovereignty. Once such a union had been formed, Kiev would no longer be able to enter into any other free trade agreements without Moscow’s approval. An alliance with Moscow would thus have the exclusive nature of a marriage. The EU’s eastern partnership, in contrast, would still allow Ukraine to enter into other alliances…

“In August, Russian officials began painstakingly inspecting trucks from Ukraine bringing goods across the border into Russia. Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuck was barred from importing steel pipes to Russia, and a former cabinet minister was prevented from selling his chocolate in the country. These measures have led to a 25 percent decline in exports since 2011. Ukraine exports a third of its goods to Russia and other former countries of the former Soviet Union, and only 25 percent to the EU. Russia also threatened that it would require Ukrainians to apply for visas to travel to the country in the future. Three days after the secret meeting in Moscow, Ukrainian oligarchs, apparently in consultation with the Kremlin, asked Yanukovich to postpone signing the EU association treaty by a year… The Kremlin made it clear the harassment could become permanent…”

BBC News added on November 26:

“Russia had urged Kiev to delay signing a key deal with the EU, Ukraine’s prime minister has admitted, as mass protest rallies continue across the country… Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied putting any pressure on Kiev, accusing instead the EU of ‘blackmailing’ Ukraine into signing the agreement…

“On Sunday, more than 100,000 people rallied in the capital, Kiev, in the largest show of public discontent since the Orange Revolution in 2004… Protesters are accusing the president of bowing to growing pressure from Mr Putin, who wants Kiev to join the Moscow-led Customs Union…”

Merkel Criticizes Russia’s Cold War Mentality

The EUObserver wrote on November 27:

“German Chancellor Angela Merkel has criticised Russia’s ‘Cold War’ mentality and said Ukraine can still sign an EU pact, as EU leaders flock east for the Vilnius summit. She is one of 20 or so EU heads of state or government, along with her British and French counterparts, going to the Lithuanian capital on Thursday (28 November) and Friday for the so-called Eastern Partnership event.

“But Germany’s privileged economic relations with Russia, and Merkel’s standing as the most powerful leader in the EU, make her words carry special weight. Most of the six Eastern Partnership states – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine – are also attending at the top level.  But Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, in a shock u-turn last week, said he will not sign an EU association and free trade treaty, citing Russian threats to cut off trade. His signature was to have been the main outcome of the summit… ‘It means the Eastern Partnership is dead,’ one EU diplomat told this website…

“With Armenia also backing out of an EU pact due to Russian threats, Merkel said: ‘The more they [post-Soviet countries] come closer to Europe, the more Russia sees it as distancing themselves from Russia.’… Some EU diplomats fear that following its demolition of the Ukraine treaty, Russia’s next move will be to stop Georgia and Moldova from ever signing or implementing the pacts. But Georgia’s foreign minister, Maja Panjikidze, said in an op-ed for EUobserver on Thursday that ‘as Russian troops and barbed wire continue to encroach on our sovereignty, Georgia’s commitment to European and Euro-Atlantic integration stands stronger than ever.’…”

Anglo-Spanish Tensions over Gibraltar

BBC News wrote on November 26:

“Britain has formally protested to the Spanish authorities after police opened a diplomatic bag at the border with Gibraltar… This is a very unusual incident. The last occasion on which British diplomatic bags were opened involved Zimbabwe 13 years ago. The Foreign Office says it has no record of a previous such incident involving an EU partner or NATO ally.

“The 1961 Vienna convention on diplomatic relations… states simply that a diplomatic bag shall not be opened or detained… But against the background of recent Anglo-Spanish tensions over Gibraltar, it could represent a serious new development.”

Germany’s Grand Coalition—More Power to the Eurozone

The EUObserver wrote on November 26:

“Germany’s upcoming government will not change its eurozone policy, but wants more powers for the bloc’s foreign service… Germany is to remain an ‘anchor of stability’ in the eurozone… The new government will continue to promote Merkel’s plan to have binding contracts for all eurozone countries with the EU commission… the new German government is in favour of a strong European Parliament combined with close cooperation with national parliaments…

“The new coalition government wants to strengthen the post of the High Representative for foreign and security policy, currently held by Catherine Ashton. With her mandate coming to an end next year, Germany wants to improve the way her diplomatic service (EEAS) reacts to and seeks to prevent crises… ‘We are in favour of further linking civilian and military instruments of the EU and improving military capacities for crisis prevention and conflict resolution’…  Drones – a tool used by the German military in Afghanistan – will continue to be used… The new government also backs a controversial law allowing drones to fly in EU airspace and wants it introduced as soon as possible…”

Der Spiegel Online wrote on November 27:

“Weeks of talks ended early Wednesday morning with a contract between Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats to form Germany’s next government. The deal still faces a difficult vote by all SPD members in December… The deal won’t be completed until it is put before a vote of the roughly 470,000 members of the SPD on Dec. 6. The outcome of that vote is uncertain, but the Social Democrats have won important concessions from the conservatives that could make it easier for party boss Sigmar Gabriel to sell it to the party base… Results are expected by Dec. 14. If everything goes according to plan, Merkel could then be elected as the next chancellor on Dec. 17. If the SPD rejects the contract, however, Merkel may be forced to negotiate a government with the Greens.”

The New York Times wrote on November 27:

“The sections in the accord on Europe and on financial policy contained few surprises. The document reiterates the primacy of the ‘unique’ Franco-German partnership in Europe but also stresses how important it is to strengthen German-Polish ties. It also says that German should become a working language of the European Union, alongside French and English. That reflects the electoral program of Ms. Merkel’s conservative bloc and also seemed to show that Germany is comfortable asserting its interests in Europe.

“In that vein, the accord confidently reiterates Germany’s financial policies and particularly its frequently voiced belief that weaker European economies are entitled to ‘solidarity’ but must also take responsibility for their own affairs. Many in struggling southern Europe read this as continued austerity prescribed and administered by Berlin. German officials insist they are no stricter with others than with themselves, and have so far shrugged off demands from Brussels and Washington to spend more of their surplus.”

Berlusconi Expelled

AFP wrote on November 27:

“Italian senators on Wednesday expelled three-time former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi from parliament due to his criminal conviction for tax fraud, in a momentous round of voting. ‘The conclusions of the committee on elections have been approved, abolishing the election of senator Silvio Berlusconi,’ Senate speaker Pietro Grasso said.”

Berlusconi—Dead or Alive?

Deutsche Welle wrote on November 28:

“[W]ill the man called politically ‘dead’ again pull off the impossible? Silvio Berlusconi might return to power…  Beyond Italy’s borders in Europe, hardly anyone – and definitely not a head of state – has shed a tear… During the eurozone rescue he was dead weight. But, the Berlusconi era is not yet over.

“The billionaire who reigns over an intricately woven corporate empire and influential media outlets, could certainly be mulling revenge in a return to the political arena. That’s not out of the question. Should the Letta government’s economically-oriented policy course end up crashing in the coming years, new elections could return Berlusconi to power through a coalition between his Forza Italia and other right-of-center parties. His expulsion due to tax evasion is only temporary. He only has to have patience, and then hope that he won’t be convicted of another crime.

“There are opinion surveys which show that Berlusconi, in spite of all the scandals related to sex, money and bribery, still enjoys 20 percent support among the electorate. Many small business owners admire the self-made billionaire… The drama now enters its final round. In the third and final court appeal, Italian judges will decide whether Silvio Berlusconi, as a result of sex with an under-aged prostitute, should go to jail for seven years…”

Hanukkah – An “Answer” to Christmas?

The Times of Israel wrote on November 27:

“In 1860s Cincinnati, Rabbi Max Lilienthal noticed that many Jews were enjoying German Christmas customs, with decorated trees and a Kris Kringle figure. Having preached in some churches, he also noticed the tendency toward Christmas festivities and gifts that kept children interested in religion and their church. Why not, he said, have Hanukkah festivals and pageants, with gifts for the kids?…

“In Baltimore, future Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold, too, believed that Hanukkah celebrations needed to be reshaped in line with Christmas ones. ‘Christmas truly fulfills its mission of bringing peace and good will to men. All this and more, Chanuka should be to us,’ she wrote in the New York Jewish Messenger in 1879.”

Hanukkah—an originally often neglected occasion in the Jewish calendar—developed into a big celebration which was deemed particularly relevant for American Jews, by creating and adopting a mixture between Jewish tradition and Christmas concepts.

Call for Renewal of Catholic Church

Reuters wrote on November 26:

“Pope Francis called for renewal of the Roman Catholic Church and attacked unfettered capitalism as ‘a new tyranny’, urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff. The 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, amounted to an official platform for his papacy, building on views he has aired in sermons and remarks since he became the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years in March.

“In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticising the global economic system, attacking the ‘idolatry of money’ and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens ‘dignified work, education and healthcare’. He also called on rich people to share their wealth…

“The pope said renewal of the Church could not be put off and said the Vatican and its entrenched hierarchy ‘also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion’…  ‘As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems,’ he wrote…

“Since his election, Francis has set an example for austerity in the Church, living in a Vatican guest house rather than the ornate Apostolic Palace, travelling in a ford Focus, and last month suspending a bishop who spent millions of euros on his luxurious residence. He chose to be called ‘Francis’ after the medieval Italian saint of the same name famed for choosing a life of poverty.

“Stressing cooperation among religions, Francis quoted the late Pope John Paul II’s idea that the papacy might be reshaped to promote closer ties with other Christian churches and noted lessons Rome could learn from the Orthodox such as ‘synodality’ or decentralised leadership. He praised cooperation with Jews and Muslims and urged Islamic countries to guarantee their Christian minorities the same religious freedom as Muslims enjoy in the West.”

BBC News added on November 26:

“Pope Francis has called for power in the Catholic Church to be devolved away from the Vatican… the main thrust of Pope Francis’ pontificate… is that he wants to see a less Vatican-centred Church… In addition, Pope Francis says that ties with Islam have taken on great importance for the Catholic Church because of the growing number of Muslim immigrants now residing in many traditionally Catholic countries. ‘We Christians,’ he says, ‘should embrace Muslims with affection and respect in the same way that we hope and ask to be respected in countries of Islamic tradition.’”

Massive Downgrade of US-Vatican Relationship?

Breitbart wrote on November 25:

“The Obama administration has decided to shut down the free-standing American embassy to the Holy See. The offices for the Ambassador to the Vatican will be moved onto the grounds of the larger American embassy to Italy, in a separate building. The move is being justified as a result of the security reviews that followed the attacks on our embassy in Benghazi last year but five former American envoys are strenuously objecting…
“Justified primarily on the grounds of enhanced security, the move is described by former U.S. Ambassador James Nicholson… as a ‘massive downgrade’ in U.S./Vatican ties… ‘The Holy See is a pivot point for international affairs and a major listening post for the United States,’ he said, ‘and to shoehorn [the U.S. delegation] into an office annex inside another embassy is an insult to American Catholics and to the Vatican.’… Raymond Flynn, the first Clinton ambassador… described the move as part of broader secular hostility to religious groups, the Catholic church in particular…
“Catholic Vote considers the move to be ‘an unmistakable slap in the face.’… It looks to some as though the Obama administration is trying to diminish and discredit the Vatican’s role in the world because it’s  pro-life, pro-family, and pro-religious freedom values  is at odds with the Regime’s pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage stance…”

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