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The Way Out of the Impasse Between Iran & U.S.

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On June 18th, Iran will hold its Presidential election. The current Government is led by Iran’s moderates, who are the people that aren’t closed-minded to the possibility of America’s being less than 100% determined to take back Iran as America had grabbed that country in the 1953 U.S. coup there, which ended Iran’s democracy and installed the brutal and much-hated fascist Shah Reza Pahlevi. The non-moderates in Iran will not negotiate with the United States, and never did. Restoration of the Iran deal will be impossible if the non-moderates again win power there. But we have only until before that June 18th election to restore it, if it is to be done at all.

There is a superb explanation of this situation, by Alexander Mercouris, in a 38-minute talk by him at The Duran on 2 May 2021, and it is a preface to everything that I shall here be adding to it, which will be only my policy-conclusions which follow, I believe, quite logically, from the facts that he so clearly and accurately presents there. That video (which I recommend everyone to listen to) can be seen here:

He concludes by saying (and I add my comments [in non-italics and in-between brackets]), starting at 31:50-

We will see, over the next few weeks, whether the U.S. and Iran are able to overcome their common mistrust [which has resulted from Trump’s having cancelled the Iran deal, which had taken years to negotiate] and find a way forward, or whether opponents of the JCPOA [the Iran deal] in the United States, in Saudi Arabia and Israel, and in Iran itself, will instead prevail. I should say that I think that this is going to be a key moment in the Middle East. If the United States is able to re-enter the JCPOA, after having made various steps to walk away from it [Biden’s having promised that he wouldn’t return to it unless Iran would first agree, in advance, to making concessions, beyond those it had made in the JCPOA, which — if Iran, which had adhered to the deal, which the U.S. did not, were to do that — would outrage the Iranian public and thus guarantee the current Iranian Government’s fall and replacement by the non-moderates; so, that demand by Biden was stupid in the extreme], but if it re-enters it on Iranian terms [that is, unconditionally, which is the only way for the deal’s violator to be able to return to the deal], then it would be very difficult for people in the Middle East to see it [because Biden had promised not to do that] as anything other than a major concession and a signal that the United States is, indeed retreating from the Middle East. Iran will, at that point, be in the ascendant, and it will probably increase its influence in places like Iraq, and possibly Syria and Lebanon also. The Saudis and Israelis, by contrast, will be dismayed, and no doubt they will consider what steps they should take, possibly distancing themselves, to some extent, not perhaps from the United States, but from this Administration [meaning that many mega-donors to the Democratic Party while Biden or Harris are leading the Party will quit or greatly reduce their donations to it, and that Republicans will probably then easily retake the U.S. White House in 2024]. The alternative, however, it seems to me, is worse [for the United States and everyone]. If the United States and Iran cannot agree a way forward, and the JCPOA [restoration] fails, then the situation is set up for a showdown, at some point, between the United States and Iran, with Iran, almost certainly in that case, pushing forward [under rule by its non-moderates] with its nuclear enrichment program, and forging, at the same time, ever-closer ties with the new Eurasian powers, Russia and China, which are increasingly working together. At that point, some kind of military hostilities, in the Middle East, become more likely. 

The United States, once more, finds itself in a difficult position. It does so because of the way in which it has inserted itself, to such a degree, in the affairs of the Middle East, which, in some ways, it does not fully understand, and which it is certainly unable to control. 

Trying to build long-term policy in the Middle East by an outside power, like the United States has done, is like trying to build a castle on a foundation of sand. The edifice might look imposing for a while, but eventually it crumbles.

It seems to me that, whatever happens, over the next few weeks, we are going to see, with these negotiations, the beginning of that long retreat, or, rather, a further step in that long retreat, of the United States, from the Middle East, and [from] that era, which began in the 1970s, when the United States managed to establish itself as the prevailing overwhelmingly dominant power across the Middle East and the country that essentially decided the course of decisions and events there.

So, this will be a step towards the end of an era. If so, however — if the United States manages to withdraw in an orderly way by agreeing to the JCPOA, despite the embarrassment and, to some extent, the humiliation [because Biden has promised not to do this] that it will suffer — that will at least provide a route for a dignified farewell.

If, on the other hand, the negotiations fail, and the JCPOA dies, then the eventual outcome of an American retreat from the Middle East will probably happen still, but the sequence of events will be disorderly, chaotic, and, perhaps, violent.          

Biden chose, when he entered office in January, to commit his Administration to Trump’s foreign policies. He accepted the relocation of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which was a slap in the face to the Palestinians. He accepted Trump’s acceptance of Obama’s policy that Crimea and Donbas — which had separated themselves from Ukraine after Obama’s coup which had seized Ukraine’s government in February 2014, as a result of a plan by Obama which had started forming in Obama’s Administration in 2011 — must be seized back by Ukraine, and Biden promised that the United States would help Ukraine to do that. And he accepted Trump’s continuation of Obama’s plan to oust Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria and replace him with leaders who would be selected by the Saud family. He also accepted Obama’s and Trump’s change in American policy on Taiwan, toward switching away from the decades-long “one-China” policy of refusing to grant separate-nation status to Taiwan, toward now sending officials to Taiwan in violation of that policy and toward sending warships to the Taiwan Strait (internationally recognized by every nation except America to be Chinese territory) as a threat and preparation for publicly demanding that Taiwan be recognized by the United Nations as being a separate nation and no longer a province of China. All of these policies were build-ups toward some hoped-for surrender by Russia, and by China, and by Iran, to Biden, which would supposedly happen in some way without direct military conflict between the United States and Russia, and/or China, and/or Iran.

Furthermore: Biden continues Trump’s — who continued Obama’s — policy to get the UK Government to transfer Julian Assange from a British super-max prison in solitary confinement to a U.S. Supermax prison in solitary confinement so that the U.S. can permanently remove Assange from access to the public and perhaps execute him on totally bogus charges. Assange has never been convicted of anything and has been imprisoned by the UK Government for over a decade, awaiting a court ruling that he can be extradited to the U.S. for elimination. Here was the first day of his only trial, which ended in no conviction and in what was expected to be his release from that super-max prison, and both on that first day and on the last day of his trial (as can be seen there), British ‘justice’ was clearly outrageous and suitable only for a dictatorship. Furthermore, instead of that regime releasing him, the U.S. regime under Trump and now continuing under Biden appealed UK’s ruling that had declined to extradite him, and both the UK and the U.S. Governments are keeping him in that UK supermax solitary confinement until UK either announces that he is dead or else extradites him to a U.S. prison to await his death in some American prison — regardless of whether or not he ever becomes convicted of anything.

Biden chose this astoundingly stupid and arrogant policy of the U.S.&UK imperium, instead of criticized and renounced his immediate predecessors’ policies on these matters.

It is vastly more difficult for him to reverse those stupid and dangerous policies now, after he had announced them, and to back America down from them peaceably, than it would have been if he had not entered the White House in the way that he did, as a continuation of George W. Bush and of Barack Obama and of Donald Trump’s policies on these matters. He has been continuing down their road to World War III.

His immediate predecessors were building toward World War III, and he chose to build more toward that War, but Mercouris seems to me to be expecting that Biden will discontinue that road now, after Biden’s having committed himself toward building that way even more than his immediate predecessors did.

The road to WW III is long, and Biden, by now, should recognize that we are nearing the end of that road, which would be the inevitable annihilationist destination of the road that the U.S. has been taking.

At this point, either Iran will, yet again, have to yield-up its sovereignty (basically return to being an American colony, as it was between 1953 and 1979), or Russia will have to yield-up its sovereignty (which it never did yield), or China will have to yield-up its sovereignty (which it formerly had done when Britain grabbed it), or else the United States will have to stop demanding them to yield up their sovereignty.

Why has Biden chosen this dead-end? The reason (besides his stupidity) is obvious: The only alternative for him has been and is for the U.S. Government to face courageously and honestly in front of the entire world, that its existing policies on each one of these matters is imperialistic and alien to what had been the plan and the intent of U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his plan to end all imperialisms and replace them by the first global democratic federation of nations, by means of the sole possessor of strategic weaponry being the United Nations, the organization which FDR himself invented, created and named, but which his immediate successor, Harry S. Truman, catastrophically weakened in order to prepare for the U.S. Government itself to take over control of the entire world and dictate to it as the world’s first all-encompassing global empire. In 1991 when the Soviet Union and its communism and its Warsaw Pact military alliance all ended, it seemed as if Truman’s goal of a global U.S. dictatorship would finally be fulfilled, and that was supposed to be “the end of history.” But it was, instead, only America’s intensified war for global dictatorship, and the end of that war will come now, but definitely not on America’s terms.

Either Biden will, now, proudly take up and continue, the vision of FDR — to end all empires, meaning especially its own, and to transform the U.N. into what FDR had planned it to become, the democratic federation of all nations — or else, there will be global nuclear annihilation.

Clearly, Biden, throughout his life, has been stupid and arrogant, but the question facing him now is whether to continue this, right up to its ugly end, or else to announce, proudly, that he is a decent person and will return America, and the world, to what had been FDR’s vision for it.

If he chooses the latter path, then — and this is the only way to do it — America will again take up the banner of freedom and democracy, to the entire world: including nations that it (for whatever reasons, valid or not) disapproves of. And, then, he will win the Nobel Peace Prize, which Obama had won but did only one thing ever to have deserved, which was the JCPOA (which he hadn’t yet even envisioned when he was accepting that entirely unearned Prize).

Whereas Mercouris seemed to me to be optimistic that Biden would do the sane thing, I am not, because Biden has given no indication that he is willing to renounce his, and his immediate predecessors’, extremely ugly record, of reaching to grab the entire world.

Author’s note: first posted at Strategic Culture

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

Americas

The liberal international order has not crumbled yet

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Since 2017 when Donald Trump took office, the “liberal international order” erected in 1991 has been under serious challenges raised by the United States’ relative decline, the Trump administration’s isolationist policy, and on top of that, the outbreak of COVID-19. Indeed, this order is greatly plagued, which is evidenced by its dysfunction. Against this backdrop, its endurance in the upcoming time is questionable. Nevertheless, the liberal international order has not collapsed yet. It will even revive, and endure in the post-pandemic era.

The victory of Biden 

Notwithstanding facing great threats, the liberal international order is far from crumbling. On the contrary, it is gradually reviving. In the Western world, countries are making effort to reform their order that is on the verge of collapse. This is true in the US – the world democracy’s leader. Joe Biden’s victory against Donald Trump may be a positive signal for the US and the global democracy. As a strong advocate for values including democracy, multilateralism and international trade, at no doubt, President Biden will be opposite to Trump in his policy, both domestic and foreign ones. Indeed, during his first 100 days, Mr.Biden has implemented some meaningful things. Regarding the pandemic, he has a stricter approach than his predecessor’s: Mandatory mask wearing, a $1.9-trillions bill, historical vaccination campaign, to name a few. All of Biden’s actions have been so far effective, when the new cases and deaths are steadily declining, and the number of vaccinated people is substantially high. This lays a foundation for Biden to reinvigorate his country’s ruined democracy and governance system, as his efficiency in countering COVID-19 may help him regain American people’s trust on the future of American democracy.

In terms of foreign policy, President Biden has some radical changes compared to that of Trump, which might be favorable to the Western world. At first glance, Biden embraces multilateralism much more than his predecessor, with the hope of saving the American global leadership. He supports Washington’s participation in international institutions, which is illustrated by the rejoining of WHO, Paris Agreement and several multilateral commitments. In tandem with this, Biden values the US’ alliances and strategic partnership as vital instruments for the US’ hegemony. Unlike Trump’s transactional approach, Biden prioritizes early and effective engagement with allies to tackle regional and global issues, especially major ones like NATO, G7. In Asia, he also seeks for further cooperation with traditional allies such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and deepening partnership with Vietnam, Singapore, India and ASEAN countries.

More importantly, President Biden’s policies towards the US’ competitors and “rogue states” are far different from Trump’s. Granted, despite seeing China as the biggest threat to the American global leadership, Biden adopts a more flexible and multilateral policy. His administration looks to cooperate and compete with China, which implies a different trajectory of the US-China relationship in the upcoming time. Additionally, as noted above, instead of unilaterally escalating tensions with China as Trump did, Biden has been forging relations with traditional and potential Asian allies to contain China together, given China’s increasing assertiveness. With regard to Iran, Washington is now working on the Iran Nuclear Deal with other six parties, promising a potentially positive future on the relations of Iran with the US and the West. The bottom line is, a radical change in Biden’s foreign policy will be a clear message to the world that the US will still try to save the liberal international order and make this world safer for democracy.

The European Union is recovering 

Things are happening in the same pattern in Europe. European leaders are also closely cooperating, both inside and outside the bloc, to defeat COVID-19. That said, they are ardently supporting multilateralism. So far, the EU has spent billions of dollars in vaccine development as well as humanitarian support, demonstrating its solidarity in the battle against COVID-19. As such, if EU leaders can successfully lead their bloc out of the current crisis, they can reform this currently plagued institution in the post-pandemic era. Not only seeking further intra-bloc cooperation, but also European leaders are working with other major actors around the world to substantiate the global battlefront against COVID-19. Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged her country and China to jointly develop COVID’s vaccine in an open, transparent way, and to a further extent, maintain good and stable bilateral partnership, regardless of two sides’ differences.

Similarly, the EU has been putting the Transatlantic relationship among the priorities of its foreign policy agenda. After Biden’s election, the European Commission has proposed refreshing the US-EU alliance and establishing a Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council, being seen as an informal tech alliance with the US to prevent China from dominating this critical sector. The Transatlantic relationship is perhaps one of the pillars for the liberal international order, given its long history and its contribution to maintain the global stability. In the last decades, this axis has been damaged by numerous issues, from economic to security, which is one of the main causes for the decline of liberal international order. Thus, a fresh Transatlantic relationship is conducive to the re-emergence of this order. In this respect, the EU’s effort to strengthen the Transatlantic alliance, despite being questionable in terms of feasibility and outcome, is still paving the way for reinvigorating of liberal international order. More notably, the most recent G7 Summit has illustrated the Western’s solidarity, when there is a convergence in most issues related to global governance and maintaining the Western-based order. This may be a harbinger of the liberal international order’s revival, at least in a foreseeable future.

Non-Western world is struggling 

The dynamics outside the Western world is also changing in a more favorable direction. Many non-Western countries, once were effective in combating against the pandemic, are now struggling with a greater threat. Taiwan, in spite of being praised as one of the most successful states in the battle against COVID-19, is currently facing another wave of pandemic when the new cases in this island are surging recently. Other successful stories, let us say Thailand, Japan or South Korea, are questionable of maintaining their momentum in preventing the virus, showcased by their relatively inefficiency during this new wave, in implementing strong measures and getting their people vaccinated. This raises question about these countries’ model of governance, which was used to be praised as a better alternative for a plagued, dysfunctional Western one, thanks to its merits in helping those above-mentioned states contain COVID-19.

Major non-Western blocs are in the midst of COVID-19 crisis as well. The clearest example is the BRICS. Except China, all other countries in this bloc have been tremendously suffering from the pandemic. Due to this, they are far from being recovered quickly. This failure in dealing with the virus undermines the bloc’s previous effort in establishing its position as a major, effective one, not to mention building a new, non-Western international order. This is also the case with ASEAN, as the organization was sharply divided by COVID-19. There are countries doing well with controlling the pandemic such as Vietnam, Singapore, but the Philippines and Indonesia are unable to do so, making this bloc suffering from institutional sclerosis without having any coherent COVID-19 policy. Therefore, non-Western blocs and countries are far from being more efficient than Western ones, implying they are unable to come up with any better international orders than the current liberal international one.

More importantly, Western values underpinning the liberal international order are universal. This is noteworthy when arguing for the long-lasting of Western order, as its existence and endurance mainly hinge on the universality of Western values. These values have been embraced by many countries for a very long time. Hence, despite being deteriorated in recent years, they cannot be easily changed. On the other hand, non-Western values are also not as highly embraced as Western ones. China, desiring to topple the US, is initiating numerous projects and agreements to spread its values around the world, making the world less Western and more Chinese/Asian. Nonetheless, Beijing has yet achieved any remarkable achievements in making their values more widespread and embraced by the rest of the world. Even worse, its image has been tarnished due to its rising assertiveness. Its projects in developing countries, especially BRI-related projects, have been notorious for a large number of problems related to environment or local corruption, and it is raising strategic uncertainty in the region by its increasing militarization, particularly on the South China Sea. These movements have turned China into a “malevolent” major power, hindering its process of disseminating and socializing its values to the world.

It is also worth noting that although Western values have declined, they have been proven to be benevolent for this world. Most recently, it is Western countries that have successfully developed good COVID-19 vaccines to save themselves and save the world from this unprecedented health crisis. Non-Western countries, for instance China and Russia, have their own vaccines, but they are not as welcome as other developed countries in the West in the vaccine race, because their vaccines are relatively less effective than Western-produced ones. Democracy, liberty, lassaiz faire are values that help Western countries or ones embrace such things able to produce massive amount of effective vaccines, and more broadly to develop a strong science and technology foundation. Producing and distributing vaccine for the rest of the world would make the West become a savior, which is good for saving the liberal international order.

Without doubt, the liberal international order has been in its worst time since 1991 when it reached its heyday. However, thanks to its merits, the liberal international order will not die. Instead, most countries will jointly save it, because they have been benefitting from this order for a long time, and will be so in the future. The order’s founding members are recovering, and cooperating closely to reform it, as well as there are no better international orders that can replace the existing one. Given these circumstances, the liberal international order would re-emerge as a dominant form of ordering this world after the pandemic, and would be perpetuated.

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Who benefits more from the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva?

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With the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva around the corner, the question is who actually benefits more from the meeting in the small Swiss town.

Mainstream media and right-wing foreign policy thinkers alike have argued that a joint press conference would “elevate” President Putin to the level of the American President.

Ivana Strander, the Jeane Kirkpatrick fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, argued that the upcoming Geneva summit is actually “a gift” to Putin.

In a CNN story, Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak mention that “officials who have been involved in arranging past US meetings with Putin say the Russian side often pushes for a joint press conference, hoping to elevate Putin’s stature by having him appear alongside the American leader”.

Whether as a subconscious bias or an actual reflection of attitudes, prevalent is the idea that coming close to the US President is a privilege that other leaders can only dream about. But who gains more from the upcoming summit?

In fact, it is the American President who is vying for other leaders’ approval and acceptance once again after a humiliating period – not the other way around. American is emerging from Trumpism, which revealed the other, ugly face of America. Trumpism is not gone and the other face of America is still there.

This week, US President Joe Biden is eager to show the world that America is “back”. In meetings with the G7, NATO countries’ top leaders, the NATO Secretary General, the Queen of England, and President Putin in the same week, Biden is asking the world to forget the last four years. And he is not doing this from the position of power or superiority. That’s why assuming that other heads of state, be it Putin or anyone else really, can only gain by coming close to the superiority of the American President is a misplaced and misguided. The US President is asking the international community to take America back – not the other way around.

President Putin doesn’t need the US President’s acceptance – Putin already got that. That happened back in 2018, in Helsinki, when President Trump sided with Putin over the US government’s own intelligence agencies, by rejecting the idea of Russia’s meddling in the US presidential elections. Trump slapped across the face and humiliated the US intelligence community in front of the whole world. Ever since, the US intelligence community has tried to figure out ways to prove Trump wrong and show him otherwise. And they have gone to incredible lengths, only so that they can get their pay pack of a sort, and prove Trump wrong. So, Putin already got what he wanted. He doesn’t need more “elevation”.

What’s also striking is that in Geneva, the UN is absolutely missing from the action. Geneva is the home of numerous UN agencies and international organizations, and not one is actually involved, which speaks volumes to questions of relevance. It is the Swiss government from Bern which is organizing the Summit. The UN is nowhere to be seen which is also indicative of the current Biden priorities.

If Trump was about “America First”, then Biden is about “America is still number one, right?”. But as the United Kingdom learned the hard way recently, it is sometimes best for a declining power to perhaps elegantly realize that the rest of the world no longer wants to dance to its tune, or at least not to its tune only. Discussions about how much Putin gains from coming close to the presence of the US President are misguided. In trying to climb back on the international stage on crotches and covered up in bruises, America is not in a position to look down on other big powers. And as regards who benefits more from the Summit, it seems like one side is there with a clear request asking for something. My understanding is that it is Biden who wants Putin to hand cyber criminals over to him. Putin still hasn’t said what he wants from Biden, in return.

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Trump’s legacy hangs over human rights talk at upcoming Biden-Putin Geneva summit

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biden-syria
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Two days after the NATO Summit in Brussels on Monday, US President Joe Biden will be in Geneva to hold a much anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders are meeting at the shores of Lake Geneva at a villa in Parc la Grange – a place I know very well and actually called home for a long time. The park itself will be closed to the public for 10 days until Friday.

A big chunk of the lakeside part of the city will be closed off, too. Barb wire and beefed up security measures have already been put in place to secure the historic summit. The otherwise small city will be buzzing with media, delegations and curious onlookers.

I will be there too, keeping the readers of Modern Diplomacy updated with what’s taking place on the ground with photos, videos and regular dispatches from the Biden-Putin meeting.

The two Presidents will first and foremost touch on nuclear security. As an interlude to their meeting, the NATO Summit on Monday will tackle, among other things “Russian aggression”, in the words of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Last week, Stoltenberg said that he “told President Biden that Allies welcome the US decision, together with Russia, to extend the New START Treaty, limiting strategic weapons, and long-range nuclear weapons”. To extend the treaty is an important first step for Stoltenberg. This will be the obvious link between the two summits.

But Biden also has to bring up human rights issues, such as the poisoning and imprisonment of Alexei Navalny and Putin’s support for the jailing of Belarusian activists by Lukashenko. Human rights have to be high on the agenda at the Geneva Summit. And indeed, Biden has confirmed officially that pressing Putin on human rights will be a priority for the American side.

Biden and Putin are not fans of each other, to say the least. Both have made that clear in unusually tough rhetoric in the past. Over the years, Biden has said on numerous occasions that he has told Putin to his face that he doesn’t “have a soul”. Putin’s retort was that the men “understand each other”.

Right at the beginning of his Presidency, earlier this year, Biden also dropped the bomb calling President Putin a “killer” for ordering the assassination of political opponents. The Russian president responded to the “killer” comment on Russian television by saying that “it takes one to know one”. Putin also wished Biden good health, alluding to the US President’s age and mental condition which becomes a subject of criticism from time to time.

Understandably, Putin and Biden are not expected to hold a joint press conference next week. But we weren’t expecting that, anyways.

For me, this Summit has a special meaning. In the context of repression against political opponents and critical media voices, President Biden needs to demonstrate that the US President and the US government are actually different from Putin – if they are any different from Putin.

This week, we were reminded of Trump’s legacy and the damage he left behind. One of Trump’s lasting imprints was revealed: Trump had the Department of Justice put under surveillance Trump’s political opponents. Among them House Democrats, including Congressman Adam Shiff, who was one of the key figures that led Trump’s first impeachment that showed that Trump exerted pressure on Ukrainian authorities to go after Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.

In the context of Trump’s impact, President Biden needs to show that there has to be zero tolerance towards the cover up by the US government of politically motivated attacks against voices critical of the US government. If President Biden wants to demonstrate that the US government is any different from Putin’s Russia, Secretary of State Blinken and FBI director Chris Wray have to go. Biden has to show that he won’t tolerate the cover up of attacks on political critics and the media, and won’t spare those that stand in the way of criminal justice in such instances.

Biden is stuck in the 2000s when it comes to Eastern Europe, as I argued last week but he needs to wake up. President Biden and the US government still haven’t dealt effectively with Trump’s harmful impact on things that the US really likes to toot its horn about, such as human rights and freedom. Whether the upcoming Geneva Summit will shed light on that remains to be seen.

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