Saudis and Antichrist Try to Make Mends

 

A recent warming of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iraq could signal a move away from Iran’s influence over Baghdad, analysts say, but with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi arriving on Wednesday in Tehran, that remains to be seen.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia and Iraq inaugurated a coordination committee and signed a number of agreements. The developments come after years of tension between Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Al-Abadi visited Riyadh for the second time in four months, as part of a regional tour that also included stops in Egypt and Jordan.

In a statement addressing the inauguration of the committee, King Salman of Saudi Arabia said the body presents the two countries with a “historic opportunity to build an effective partnership to achieve common aspirations”.

The coordination committee includes a range of political, security, economic, trade and development deals.

As part of the agreements, Saudi Arabia will open a consulate in Iraq, relaunch airline flights between the two countries, open the border, and jointly develop ports and highways.

The two nations also agreed to allow Saudi investment in Iraq, study a trade exchange area, and review customs cooperation agreements.

For his part, al-Abadi expressed his optimism and “deep satisfaction” with the recent developments between the neighbouring countries.

What has changed?

Since the fall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003 during the US-led invasion, Iran has advanced its influence in Baghdad.

Iran has helped Iraq in the fight against ISIL (also known as ISIS) while supporting powerful Shia militias in the country.

The fallout in Saudi-Iraqi relations began after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Following the demise of Hussein’s regime, incoming Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s administration in Baghdad did not offer much optimism to solve the myriad of post-war problems.

Since 1990, Saudi Arabia has had its embassy in Iraq shut down and borders closed.

However, the first signs of easing tensions between the two countries started in 2015 when Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Iraq.

In February, Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, visited Baghdad marking the first visit by a Saudi foreign minister to the Iraqi capital in almost 27 years.

“Abadi’s tenure has contrasted somewhat starkly with that of Maliki, who was a much more divisive figure, populist, and sectarian in his outlook and rhetoric,” Ranj Alaaldin, a visiting fellow at Brookings Doha Center, told Al Jazeera.

“Since the arrival of Abadi, Iraq has been presented with an opportunity to open a new chapter with the region.”

Iran challenged

With Iraqi elections coming up less than a year from now, Saudi Arabia is attempting to establish new alliances in Iraq to ensure its interests and relations with Baghdad remain secure, according to analysts.

One of the goals is to “sideline and challenge Iran’s alliances in Baghdad”, Alaaldin said.

“The US backs Abadi and sees him as a counterweight against Iran-alliances – including Maliki and Shia militia groups that aligned with Iran,” he said.

Another common interest between Saudi Arabia and al-Abadi’s government is to “reconstruct and rehabilitate Arab Sunni cities in northern Iraq – financially and politically”, Alaaldin said, in order to enhance Arab-Sunni political participation with elections around the corner.

In July, Iraq’s nationalist Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr made a surprise visit to Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah, where he met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

‘Balanced approach’

How effective the Saudis can be in containing Iran’s influence in Iraq remains unclear.

Marwan Kabalan, an associate political analyst at the Doha Institute, said it is unknown if the Saudis can succeed “given their poor foreign policy performance vis-a-vis Iran”.

Al-Abadi will maintain a “balanced” approach in his regional relations, he said, with the Iraqi prime minister arriving in Tehran for talks on Thursday.

“[al-Abadi] would most probably assure the Iranians that his visit to Saudi Arabia is not against them,” Kabalan told Al Jazeera.

“All he is trying to do is to invite much [needed] investment money to rebuild Iraq’s destroyed cities, something the Iranians cannot offer. This is important especially for his Shia base of support, which is very sceptical about Saudi Arabia.”

The Sixth Seal Is Long Overdue (Revelation 6)

ON THE MAP; Exploring the Fault Where the Next Big One May Be Waiting

https://i.pinimg.com/736x/c2/18/3e/c2183ecb5e87b756e08602a717f1e22c.jpg

By MARGO NASH

Published: March 25, 2001

 

Alexander Gates, a geology professor at Rutgers-Newark, is co-author of ”The Encyclopedia of Earthquakes and Volcanoes,” which will be published by Facts on File in July. He has been leading a four-year effort to remap an area known as the Sloatsburg Quadrangle, a 5-by-7-mile tract near Mahwah that crosses into New York State. The Ramapo Fault, which runs through it, was responsible for a big earthquake in 1884, and Dr. Gates warns that a recurrence is overdue. He recently talked about his findings.

Q. What have you found?

A. We’re basically looking at a lot more rock, and we’re looking at the fracturing and jointing in the bedrock and putting it on the maps. Any break in the rock is a fracture. If it has movement, then it’s a fault. There are a lot of faults that are offshoots of the Ramapo. Basically when there are faults, it means you had an earthquake that made it. So there was a lot of earthquake activity to produce these features. We are basically not in a period of earthquake activity along the Ramapo Fault now, but we can see that about six or seven times in history, about 250 million years ago, it had major earthquake activity. And because it’s such a fundamental zone of weakness, anytime anything happens, the Ramapo Fault goes.

Q. Where is the Ramapo Fault?

 A. The fault line is in western New Jersey and goes through a good chunk of the state, all the way down to Flemington. It goes right along where they put in the new 287. It continues northeast across the Hudson River right under the Indian Point power plant up into Westchester County. There are a lot of earthquakes rumbling around it every year, but not a big one for a while.

Q. Did you find anything that surprised you?

A. I found a lot of faults, splays that offshoot from the Ramapo that go 5 to 10 miles away from the fault. I have looked at the Ramapo Fault in other places too. I have seen splays 5 to 10 miles up into the Hudson Highlands. And you can see them right along the roadsides on 287. There’s been a lot of damage to those rocks, and obviously it was produced by fault activities. All of these faults have earthquake potential.

Q. Describe the 1884 earthquake.

A. It was in the northern part of the state near the Sloatsburg area. They didn’t have precise ways of describing the location then. There was lots of damage. Chimneys toppled over. But in 1884, it was a farming community, and there were not many people to be injured. Nobody appears to have written an account of the numbers who were injured.

Q. What lessons we can learn from previous earthquakes?

A. In 1960, the city of Agadir in Morocco had a 6.2 earthquake that killed 12,000 people, a third of the population, and injured a third more. I think it was because the city was unprepared.There had been an earthquake in the area 200 years before. But people discounted the possibility of a recurrence. Here in New Jersey, we should not make the same mistake. We should not forget that we had a 5.4 earthquake 117 years ago. The recurrence interval for an earthquake of that magnitude is every 50 years, and we are overdue. The Agadir was a 6.2, and a 5.4 to a 6.2 isn’t that big a jump.

Q. What are the dangers of a quake that size?

A. When you’re in a flat area in a wooden house it’s obviously not as dangerous, although it could cut off a gas line that could explode. There’s a real problem with infrastructure that is crumbling, like the bridges with crumbling cement. There’s a real danger we could wind up with our water supplies and electricity cut off if a sizable earthquake goes off. The best thing is to have regular upkeep and keep up new building codes. The new buildings will be O.K. But there is a sense of complacency.

MARGO NASH

Democrats Try To Block Trump’s Nuclear Power

Democrats push bill to stop a Trump pre-emptive strike on North Korea

Julian Borger
Last modified on Thursday 26 October 2017 17.27 EDT

The US military test fires an unarmed intercontinental ballistic missile from the Vandenberg air force base in California on 3 May 2017.

Congressional Democrats have introduced legislation aimed at preventing Donald Trump from launching a pre-emptive attack on North Korea, as concerns grew about the administration’s failure to explore talks with Pyongyang.

The “No Unconstitutional Strike against North Korea” bill is the second legislative attempt to curtail’s Trump power to start a war unilaterally. Earlier this year, a bill was introduced to prohibit the president from ordering a nuclear first strike against a foreign adversary without a declaration of war by Congress, amid concerns over Trump’s belligerent language, erratic behaviour and frequent tweeted threats against other countries.

The new legislation prohibiting an attack on North Korea without congressional authority was launched by Democrats John Conyers in the House and Ed Markey in the Senate. It has two Republicans among the 61 backers in the House, but at present no formal Republican backing in the Senate.

“As a veteran of the Korean war, I am ashamed that our commander-in-chief is conducting himself in a reckless manner that endangers our troops stationed in South Korea and our regional allies,” Conyers said.

“President Trump’s provocative and escalatory rhetoric, with threats to unleash ‘fire and fury’ and ‘totally destroy’ North Korea, cannot be allowed to turn into reality,” Senator Markey said. “As long as President Trump has a Twitter account, we must ensure that he cannot start a war or launch a nuclear first strike without the explicit authorization of Congress.”

The bill’s supporters acknowledge that it will not pass without attracting more Republican support, but they argue that it helps focus attention on the unlimited authority of a US president to order the use of nuclear weapons, many of which can be launched within a few minutes. No official has the power to stop or even delay the launch.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, speaking at a conference organised by the Ploughshares Fund, an non-proliferation advocacy group said she once asked a former head of US Strategic Command if he would carry out a launch order even if he knew it was a catastrophically bad decision. “He looked me straight in the eye and said: Yes,” Senator Feinstein recalled.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have reached critical levels since Pyongyang carried out a sixth nuclear test in September and a series of long-range missile tests. Trump has tweeted a series of threats against the regime and declared at the UN in September that he could “totally destroy” North Korea.

Meanwhile, Trump and his administration have given mixed signals on whether they would consider any kind of dialogue with Pyongyang, and no overtures appear to have been made in that direction.

NBC News reported on Thursday that Joseph Yun, the top American diplomat on North Korean issues, has been warning of a breakdown in diplomatic efforts at meetings in Congress and seeking help in persuading the White House to give negotiations a chance.

William Perry, a former US defence secretary and a veteran of the Cuban missile crisis, said there was a rising danger of the US stumbling into a war with North Korea by making Pyongyang think a “decapitation strike” is imminent and panicking it into launching its own nuclear weapons.

“What we’re doing is making the regime think they are about to go, so they might as well go out in a blaze of glory,” Perry said, adding that the best thing Congress could do to stop the drift to nuclear war was to pass the Conyers-Markey legislation.

“It doesn’t seem now it can be passed, but things can change,” he said.

Ted Lieu, the Democratic congressman who co-authored the bill in January to limit the president’s power to launch a first strike said the best recruiter for Republican support was Trump’s behaviour.

“Every time the president does something erratic, which is every day, we get more co-sponsors,” Lieu said.

 

Babylon the Great Prepares for Nuclear War (Revelation 15)

On an unseasonably warm October day recently, Donald Trump’s CIA director and national-security adviser appeared one after another at a conference in the nation’s capital. They soberly assessed the world’s greatest threats below the gentle light of chandeliers in a hotel ballroom. In between their remarks, D.C.’s cognoscenti spilled into an adjoining courtyard to conduct their own threat assessments over wraps and caesar salad. All was normal in Washington—except that two of the president’s top aides were signaling, with deadly seriousness, that conflict could soon erupt between two nuclear-weapons powers.
Talk of nuclear war—of the “general and universal physical fear” of being “blown up” at any moment, as William Faulkner once put it—subsided with the end of the Cold War. Americans instead cited “fear of the greenhouse effect, the ozone layer, and Chernobyl as dangers to the future,” a psychoanalyst told The New York Times in 1992, when George Bush and Boris Yeltsin officially concluded the rivalry between the nuclear superpowers. Just a few years ago, former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was observing that while it was good that “our children don’t know what the threat of nuclear war really feels like,” this generational divide made it more challenging to convey the urgency of ridding the world of its deadliest weapons.
But as North Korea’s nuclear program has rapidly advanced, and as the Trump administration has sounded the alarms about that progress, such talk is creeping back into public discourse in Washington and beyond. The president and his advisers have avoided explicit discussion of nuclear war. Yet they’ve spoken increasingly openly—and with remarkable stoicism—about the potentially catastrophic toll of a U.S.-North Korean conflict, not only because both countries possess nuclear weapons but because North Korea has formidable non-nuclear arms and shares a heavily militarized peninsula with South Korea.
At the October conference, which was organized by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, CIA chief Mike Pompeo noted that North Korea may be just months away from developing the capacity to place a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile that can reach the United States. The North Koreans are so close, in fact, that U.S. policymakers should “behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving that objective,” he said. As for what behavior he had in mind, Pompeo stressed that Trump would rather use peaceful tactics—economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure—to deny North Korea this capability. But the president is determined to keep Kim Jong Un from holding America hostage with nukes, he added, even if that requires taking military action against the North Korean leader.

Next, National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster spoke to the relative probability of peace and war, and the timeline in which one could give way to the other. It is “unacceptable” to “accept and deter” a North Korean government that can threaten the United States with nuclear weapons, he said, even though America has for decades successfully deterred Russian and Chinese governments that can threaten the United States with nuclear weapons. He stated that the Trump administration would only enter into negotiations if North Korea agreed to take initial steps toward dismantling its nuclear-weapons arsenal, even though North Korean officials claim this precondition is a nonstarter.

 

In banking on a long-shot diplomatic outcome and refusing to tolerate any lesser result, McMaster was hinting that military conflict is a distinct possibility—and not a distant one. He did more than drop hints. “We are in a race to resolve this short of military action,” McMaster acknowledged. As one U.S. official told NBC News, in reference to why U.S.-North Korean diplomatic channels are breaking down, the Trump administration’s message to North Korea appears to be “‘surrender without a fight or surrender with a fight.’”
Trump, for his part, has threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea with a show of force that “this world has never seen before” in order to protect America or its allies. U.S. military action against North Korea isn’t “unimaginable,” Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argued earlier this year, even though “anyone who has been alive since World War II has never seen the loss of life that could occur if there’s a conflict on the Korean peninsula.” What’s unimaginable, he continued “is allowing a capability that would allow a nuclear weapon to land in Denver, Colorado.”Nuclear-weapons powers have very rarely engaged in direct military conflict; setting aside the many U.S.-Soviet proxy battles during the Cold War, the only precedent is brief, non-nuclear war clashes between China and Russia in 1969 and India and Pakistan in 1999. A nuclear war—in the sense of an exchange of nuclear weapons between countries—has never been fought. History is thus of limited help in understanding the stakes of the current standoff between the United States and North Korea. As a result, nobody’s quite sure what to make of the Trump administration’s rhetoric, let alone the Kim government’s blustery warnings of imminent nuclear armageddon.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, for instance, says his diplomatic campaign to counter North Korea “will continue until the first bomb drops,” while the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, accuses Tillerson’s boss of leading the United States toward “world war.” On Twitter, speculation churns about U.S. military preparations in East Asia and whispers of war around D.C. Some analysts argue that even if the Trump administration conducts limited strikes against North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure, Kim Jong Un’s government, following a kind of “use it or lose it” logic, might deploy its nuclear weapons early in the conflict to compensate for its relative military weakness. Others assert that if the Trump administration is intent on eliminating North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and minimizing North Korean retaliation, the United States would likely be the first to use nuclear weapons—in a massive surprise attack. News outlets simultaneously reassure us that “We Shouldn’t Worry About Nuclear War With North Korea Right Now” and warn us that “A Nuclear War Between America and North Korea Is Very Possible.” Journalists are now asking their sources in Washington to estimate the odds of nuclear war with North Korea (10 percent, according to one retired Navy admiral, with a 20 to 30 percent chance of a non-nuclear military conflict); to weigh in on whether the president can be trusted with the nuclear codes (Corker has his doubts); to clear up whether Trump’s military advisers can “tackle him” or “lock him in a room” to prevent him from ordering a nuclear strike (the answer, from a legal perspective, is probably no).
Most of all, however, people are struggling to once again confront the specter of war with unimaginably destructive weapons. In a recent iterview with Terry Gross of NPR, the New Yorker reporter Dexter Filkins recounted a conversation he’d had with “a very senior person” about how the U.S. military could use a nuclear weapon to wipe out North Korea’s leaders. “It’s terrifying,” Filkins admitted. “It’s just not even something that you want to think about.” Gross was mystified. “How do you use a nuclear weapon to decapitate the regime?” she asked. “God if I know. I don’t know. I mean, because—I don’t know,” Filkins responded. “I think that the idea, at least in the discussion that I had, was that that would be the only way that you could guarantee that you would basically obliterate the leadership, wherever it was. The problem with that, obviously, is that you’re going to end up obliterating a lot of other things as well.” Gross cut to a commercial break.