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Is US-UK special relationship in strain under Trump presidency?

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UN veto members America and Great Britain have maintained special relationship for decades, notwithstanding changing governments in both western nations. Arrival of ultra nationalist Donald trump on US political arena directly as US presidency candidate with his ideas of greatness for USA alone has sent cold waves even in UK which is known to toe the US line of thinking on all aspects.

However, the British doubts over Trump approach towards its closest ally looks untenable as President decided to receive at White House British premier as his first foreign guest.

Thus the British PM Theresa May has won the race to be the first foreign leader to meet President Donald Trump in Washington. But her trip to the US capital is anything but a victory lap.

Theresa May gets a warm welcome at the Republican retreat and in the White House. Trump has already pronounced Britain “very special!” in one of his tweets. He has also has restored to the Oval Office a bust of Britain’s World War II Prime Minister Winston Churchill that was removed while Barack Obama was president, to the chagrin of some patriotically minded Britons. May’s office says she intends to admire the bust when she visits the White House. She’ll also give Trump, whose mother was born in Scotland, a Quaich, a traditional Scottish cup of friendship.

Of course, history has proved that political positions are not always a guide to personal relationships, however. Former PM Tony Blair and Republican President George W. Bush formed a friendship that surprised many — and led Britain into the divisive, costly Iraq War. May and Trump could hardly be more different. He is a brash, spotlight-loving businessman whose closest British ally to date has been the bantering former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage. She is a small-town vicar’s daughter who has risen to the top of politics through prudence and by avoiding personal ostentation or controversy. Her most flamboyant feature is a fondness for leopard-print shoes.

Apparently, Theresa May’s staff worked feverishly to secure the two-day trip, which includes a meeting with the president on Friday at the White House. British officials hope it will help cement the UK’s place as a pre-eminent American ally and provide proof of what Britons — more often than Americans — call the trans-Atlantic “special relationship.”

However, May faces the challenge of persuading a president who has vowed to put “America first” of the benefits of free trade with Britain and the vital role of the 28-nation NATO military alliance. And she must build a working relationship with a populist president whose protectionist outlook and loose way with facts have alarmed many European politicians, including some of May’s own allies.

UK PM Theresa May insists she’s up to the task of being America’s steadfast but plain-speaking friend, telling British lawmakers that “I am not afraid to speak frankly to a president of the United States.” Her message in the USA will include elements of gentle history lesson, as she urges the two nations to “lead together.” In a speech to Republican legislators in Philadelphia, May plans to say that the trans-Atlantic relationship “made the modern world” and built the institutions that have underpinned the global order since the end of World War II.

Excerpts from the speech were released in advance by PM May’s office. May’s seeming embrace of Trump — in the wake of his commitment to building a Mexico border wall and other recent edicts — drew criticism from her domestic opponents.

Donald Trump welcomed the UK decision to leave the EU and even asked other European nations also to follow suit. Linking Britain’s vote to leave the 28-nation European Union with the win of political outsider Trump, she’ll say that “as you renew your nation just as we renew ours, we have the opportunity — indeed the responsibility — to renew the special relationship for this new age.”

Former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband tweeted: “Today he starts on wall, praises waterboarding, bullies climate scientists. She says they can lead together. Surely decent Tories feel queasy?”

A politics lecturer at the University of Leeds, said the effusive tone coming from Trump’s White House marked a change from the Obama years. “Obama has been a more Asia-Pacific-focused president (with his Asia pivot theme) so this is a return — at least in rhetoric — to the good old days of the USA-UK special relationship,” she said. “But it’s very difficult to know exactly what Theresa May is going to get out of this other than warm words.”

Britain needs more than words from the USA as it prepares to start divorce talks with the European Union. May has said the UK will be leaving both the bloc and its single market in goods and services, which now stretches over 28 countries including Britain and involves half a billion people. By leaving, the UK is gaining the opportunity to strike new trade deals around the globe, and the USA, as the top destination for British exports, is one of the biggest prizes around.

While former President Obama warned that Britain outside the EU would go to the “back of the queue” for a US trade deal, Trump told the Times of London newspaper that a trade deal could be done quickly and he backs it.

Experts argue that any talks in Washington this week would be preliminary, since Britain is barred by EU rules from substantial negotiations on new trade agreements until it actually leaves the bloc — which is likely to be in 2019 at the earliest.

And May will face strong domestic opposition to any deal that forces Britain to bring its standards into line with the USA on things like genetically modified food — currently banned under EU rules — or the private sector’s role in health care.

Trump has also been generally cool on trade agreements. He is pulling the USA out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a deal Obama worked hard on — and has promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. In other challenges for May, Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and called the EU “basically a vehicle for Germany” that Britain was “smart” to leave.

May told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week that although the UK is leaving the EU, “it remains overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest” that the bloc still succeed. And while Trump said in his inauguration speech that “from this day forward, it’s going to be only America first,” May vowed in Davos to stand up for free markets, free trade and globalization.

The US-UK leaders try to create the chemistry that they need to create. When leaders of governments really want to make it work, they can make it work, anyway.

Obviously, there is big queue of foreign signatories, especially presidents and premiers, seeking through their diplomatic channels, an appointment with president Trump and he would go in his own way in picking his guests. In fact many leaders are in waiting list to receive a presidential call form Washington. Many leaders around the world — who will make their own visits to Washington in the coming months — will be watching closely to see if they do.

Meanwhile, as President Donald Trump is gaining diplomatic niceties in office, the US-British relations have no reason to stumble even during the Trump era.

A businessman is always a business man and business cannot thrive without essential diplomatic skills-

And President Trump knows that.

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Europe

Did the Far-right Really Win the Sweden’s Elections?

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General elections were held in Sweden on Sunday 9 September 2018, to elect the 349 members of the Sweden Parliament (Riksdag). They in turn will elect the Prime Minister of Sweden. Regional and municipal elections were also held on the same day.

Sweden has been facing a political impasse after its mainstream center-left and center-right blocs virtually tied in an election on Sunday, while the far right — which neither wants to deal with — made gains on a hardline anti-immigration platform.

With nearly all votes counted on Monday, the ruling center-left Social Democrats and Greens and their Left Party parliamentary ally had 40.6 per cent of the vote, while the opposition center-right Alliance had 40.3 per cent. The Sweden Democrats, with roots in a neo-Nazi movement, won about 18 per cent, up from the 13 per cent gained four years earlier.

Under such circumstances, forming a coalition government is rather difficult in Sweden, with the country’s two traditional parties attempting to hold negotiations just to curb the Far-right extremists. Nevertheless there’s a very important point regarding the recent elections that should be taken into consideration:

Sweden Democrats, a right-wing political party in Sweden, which was founded in 1988, is described as right-wing populist, and anti-immigration. Jimmie Åkesson has been party leader since 2005. This party received increased support in the 2014 Swedish general election, when it polled 12.9% and secured 49 seats in parliament, becoming the third largest party in Sweden. But the the Sweden Democrats have remained isolated in the Riksdag because the other parties staunchly maintain a policy of refusing cooperation with them.

That is the reason why the Democratic Party, and Jimmie Åkesson’s strong presence at top of the political and executive equations in Stockholm are ruled out. The improvement in the vote of the democrats in the Swedish general election has been interpreted differently by various sources. Some analysts believe that Swedish extremists had a great success in the recent elections. However, some argue that the real story of Sweden’s election is not, as the prevailing narrative has it, the irresistible onward March of Europe’s far right.

The fact is that the far-right activists failed in Sweden’s general election: They failed to achieve their goal of gaining 25 to 30 percent of the general vote. True, the Swedish Democratic Party is still there as the third most powerful Swedish party in the recent election, but this is not exactly what while Jimmie Åkesson was after; to become the most powerful party in the country with winning the majority of the whole vote.

Though people like Jean-Marie Le Pen, the right-wing extremists’ leader in France, speak of the Swedish Democrats’ victory, the truth is something else!

Interestingly, surveys conducted before the Swedish general election indicate that Jimmie Åkesson and his entourage would be able to win at least 25% of the vote. But recent results suggest that some of the people who were supposed to vote for the Democratic Party in Sweden, had eventually decided to vote for the traditional parties.

In this way, at least until 2022, Sweden is rescued from a serious crisis called “right-extremism dominance over Stockholm”. If Axon and his associates come to power in Sweden, we will see the destruction of the multicultural society of Sweden on the one hand and the creation of some fundamental changes in the structure of the “welfare state” in this country on the other hand. And it should be noted that the development of populist policies in the welfare state will definitely lead to the elimination of the achievements that the Swedes have been struggling to deploy at the welfare and economic levels of society for decades.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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Europe’s hollow threats

Mohammad Ghaderi

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Although there has recently been lots of controversies on issues such as developing an “independent payment system” Europe and a “pseudo-swift structure” to maintain the nuclear deal with Iran, many analysts and experts in economic affairs believe that there’s no real intention to actualize this idea among the EU authorities.

In the meantime, there are deterrent factors that have hampered European independence from the United States, and it seems that these factors are now highlighted under the presidency of Donald Trump.

The fact is that European politicians, and especially the current generation of European rulers act as the main barrier in this way. While some left-wing and Social-Democrats are about to put the idea into practice, some politicians such as the  German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and the British Prime Minister Theresa May are opposed to this idea.

They were committed to maintaining Europe’s economic and security dependence on Washington. However, the key question is whether the European countries will succeed on this path or not? Is there really a will to develop an independent payment system from the United States in Europe? The answer to this question is negative!

One of the most important prerequisites for the formation of an “independent payment system in Europe” is the consensus of the right-wing and left-wing parties on this issue. However, the European officials don’t seem to have such intention. On the contrary, they have become major obstacles to realizing this goal themselves.

It’s interesting that such a fact has been taken into consideration by many Western sources. For example, Foreign Policy writes in this regard:

“What’s different today is that the US is imposing sanctions contrary to the foreign policies not just of Russia and China, which have long chafed against the sanctions tool, but against the fundamental foreign policy of our closest allies in Europe and elsewhere,” Smith said. “That is what has brought us to this situation.”

It continues; “with their access to the US financial system hanging in the balance, European banks know that, in the end, the EU must satisfy Trump’s demands to fix the deal or be prepared to fully comply when US sanctions return.”

Recently, the Chancellor of Germany has announced her opposition to the creation of an independent payment system in Europe (to save the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). Angela Merkel believes that the US-EU security relationship is a priority and this should be considered in all the EU calculations! In other words, the German Chancellor has actually preferred “to play on the US ground”, and this she considers above all other options including “Europe’s financial independence from the United States.”

Theresa May, the British prime minister, has exactly the same opinion. She believes that, instead of confronting Trump’s financial and economic policies, and even its illegal measures such as the White House’s withdrawal from then nuclear deal, Europe should think about holding negotiations and interactions with Washington!

As for the French President Emmanuel Macron, his policies suggest that he has a strong desire to interact with United States under any conditions! In 2017 and during the joint-American-European Project on changing the JCPOA, he played an extremely important and highlighted role, though Trump had eventually pulled out of the nuclear deal.

Finally, it should be noted that the main obstacle to “Europe’s independence from the United States” are the European authorities. As long as the current generation of European politicians are in office, such independence (in terms of security and finance) won’t be actualized. When it comes to Iran sanctions, the EU seeks to satisfy Trump’s demands, and this a rule which is not going to change.

First published in our partner MNA

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Europe

Balkan Borders and Russia’s Interests

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The idea of concluding an agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on the territorial delimitation between Serbs and Albanians, voiced by the president of self-proclaimed independent Kosovo, Hashim Thaci and supported by Serbian President Aleksandr Vučić, may be on the negotiating table in Brussels in early September 2018. Both presidents are to meet in the Belgian capital to resume the dialogue on the normalization of bilateral relations under the auspices of the European Union.

In the interpretation of Hashim Tachi, this involves “correcting the Kosovo-Serb border” with the annexation of three adjacent Southern Serbian regions in Presevo Valley with predominantly Albanian population to Kosovo. If such an agreement is reached at the level of the leaders of Belgrade and Pristina “nobody will be able to interfere with its implementation – neither the EU, nor NATO, nor the United States”, the Kosovo president emphasized. Hashim Thaci even suggested holding a referendum in the relevant areas to resolve territorial issues, the decisions of which will have binding international legal force.

For his part, the head of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, refusing to speak on the status of the Presevo Valley, supported the idea of dividing Kosovo into Serbian and Albanian parts, stressing that otherwise in the next few decades, the Serbs will have to restrain Albanians already in cities outside Kosovo: “Do not want a differentiation with the Albanians? No problem, just tell people that we should be  ready to protect Vranje in 40 years if you do not see that our people are being evicted from there today.” “I stand for it and I do not hide it. I act and represent it as my policy, whether it will get the support of the people or not, but I stand for differentiation with the Albanians“? he said.

Addressing his opponents inside Serbia who see in the Kosovo division the act of national betrayal and the waiver of the “cradle of Serbian statehood,” Aleksandar Vučić accused them of unwillingness to really solve the Kosovo problem and even trying to use the Kosovo problem  for “overthrowing power in Serbia”: “They want to feel safe today, but what will happen tomorrow? It does not bother them.” I will not “wash my hands” like Pontius Pilate, but I will go out to the people with my draft resolution of settling the Kosovo problem” – promised Aleksandar Vučić, stressing that  until now he had no opportunity to negotiate directly with the Albanians themselves.

The possible achievement of a “package  agreement” between Belgrade and Pristina on the normalization of bilateral relations and the resolution of territorial issues is of growing interest in the Republika Srpska, which is part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to its President Milorad Dodik, if Kosovo is accepted to the UN and other international institutions with the consent of Serbia and its other opponents, the Republika Srpska will also seek accession to these structures.

The leader of the Bosnian Serbs stressed that the Kosovo problem cannot be solved separately from the Republika Srpska issue and recalled the resolution adopted by the parliament at Banja Luka in 2008. It said that in view of “establishing a new principle and international practice of recognizing the right to self-determination”, this state-forming entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina will seek for itself the status of the state.

Unlike the Balkan leaders, the European Union was seriously worried about the possible achievement of territorial compromises between Belgrade and Pristina and their possible extrapolation to other “disputed” areas of the Balkans. “Europeans are alarmed by the discussions about the borders between Serbia and Kosovo” as the territories exchange is “a risky bet in the Balkans”, – the Paris Le Monde  newspaper points out. It quotes the opinion of one of the leading EU diplomats who dealt with the settlement of interethnic conflicts, including in the Balkans and the former Soviet Union, Pierre Morel. “This is a great danger for the whole region” – the diplomat said, referring to the potential “escalation of movements for the renewal of borders on ethnic principles”. Such escalation can “infect” countries such as Macedonia, Montenegro or Bosnia and Herzegovina, where “many national minorities are struggling to coexist” – Le Monde points out.

Particular attention in this regard should be paid to Macedonia, taking into account the additional “risk factors” relative to this former Yugoslav republic. Among them is the threat of new internal political turmoil in the conditions of the refusal of a significant part of society (led by the president) to support an intergovernmental agreement with Greece on changing the name of the state.

As for the Albanian factor, the starting point for the “institutionalization” of Albanians’ demands was the 2001 Ohrid Peace Agreement. The rights of the Albanian minority proclaimed in this agreement actually turned Macedonia into a confederation. In particular, we are talking about such provisions as “unlimited use of the Albanian language as a service language in Macedonia” and “the introduction of consensus democracy in areas of activity that relate to ethnic rights.”

It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the very existence of Macedonia as a single state under the circumstances is primarily dependent on the “goodwill” of  the Albanian minority, which, according to various estimates, is between a quarter and one-third of the total population of the country.

Neither should we disregard the factor of NATO. In this relation, it should be recalled that the conclusion of the Ohrid Peace Agreement between the Government of Macedonia and the leaders of local Albanians was preceded by the signing of the so-called “Framework Agreement” between Macedonia and the North Atlantic Alliance. The amendments to the country’s constitution and other changes to the national legislation documented in this document were declared “an agreed framework for the future democracy in Macedonia”.

Such a consolidation of  dramatic changes in the legislation (concerning the very foundations of the national-state system) through an agreement with NATO was unprecedented even by Balkan measures but did not lead to a significant stabilization of the situation in Macedonia. It is no accident that experts from the International Crisis Group stated in 2006 that “the practical and political challenges facing the country still do not allow us to call it a stable post-conflict democracy.”

There can be no doubt that the leaders of the Macedonian Albanians will try to make maximum use of the Belgrade-Pristina agreements on territorial issues for their own purposes – despite the current opposition from the European Union.

The fact is that, according to available data, the idea of territorial “exchanges” between Belgrade and Pristina has recently received secret impulses from the United States. In reaching the relevant agreement Donald Trump’s administration saw a simple and convenient means of normalizing the situation in the Balkans and at the same time increasing its own rating in the eyes of both Serbs and Albanians, and “detachment” of Serbia from Russia. The Kosovo problem was actively discussed during the recent visit to Washington of the Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic. There she held meetings, including with US congressmen. “Washington, which has long opposed to any change in borders and has supported Kosovo since the 1999 war, seems to have also softened its position after Donald Trump came to power. Softened it to the extent that many European diplomats are now alarmed, what if the United States has managed to agree on a similar decision with Russia, which historically supports Serbia,” – worries Le Monde.

Under the current conditions, it can be predicted that all those interested in the new redrawing of the Balkan borders will try to take advantage of the contradictions between Brussels and Washington in their own interests in order to ensure for themselves the maximum advantages of both territorial and financial  nature. This, in turn, requires Russia to be more attentive to the Balkan processes that can become a catalyst for the corresponding “shifts” including in the post-Soviet space in the spirit of the well-known concept of Realpolitik.

At the same time, one should take into account the fact that many negotiators themselves are not at all inclined to expand their format and, in particular, to involve Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Thus, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic rejects the possibility of Russia joining the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, stressing that the format of such negotiations will remain “as it is” and its expansion will not happen: “There are no such plans“.

However,  this does not prevent the leaders of Serbia from specifically discussing the above issues with the United States. Thus, in order not to “lose” the Balkans, Russian diplomacy should be more “proactive” and put forward their own initiatives that meet both its own interests and the interests of current and potential  partners in the Balkan region and beyond.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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