No escaping the conundrum of Syria's war
Monday-Tuesday, June 3-4 – Russian and European leaders face an agenda packed with economic and political issues at their two-day summit in the Ural Mountains city of Yekaterinburg. But as with most diplomatic gatherings these days, the debate and discussion are expected to be dominated by the protracted tragedy of Syria.
Russia, a longtime ally and key weapons supplier to the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has on one hand been working with U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry to bring the embattled Syrian leadership and rebels to peace talks expected to be held in Geneva. On the other hand, Moscow has made clear it will go through with delivery of sophisticated S-300 antiaircraft missiles ordered by Assad three years ago, inciting Western complaints that advanced weapons would encourage Assad’s forces to fight on rather than negotiate.
Russian President Vladimir Putin will host European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso in the provincial city best known in the West as the scene of the last czar’s killing.
“We will discuss urgent global issues, such as measures to stimulate economic growth and jobs, and international issues, in particular Syria and Iran,” the European Union said in a statement last week outlining the summit agenda.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also will be on hand for the talks with the EU’s 27 member states. But he will be headed for Geneva immediately afterward, for another session with Kerry on when and how to get Assad’s allies and the rebels to sit down together and talk peace.
Internet coming to Cuba, for those who can afford it
Tuesday, June 4 – In a pragmatic acceptance of reality, the Communist government in Cuba will offer citizens full access to the World Wide Web when it opens 118 Internet connection points at offices of the state-owned telecom monopoly ETECSA.
Less than 10% of Cubans have Internet access, and most can go online only through their government office computers or surreptitiously at tourist facilities where they or trusted friends work. About 1 in 5 Cubans has some ability to go online at kiosks that provide access to a limited “intranet” of websites vetted for political and other undesirable content.
In announcing the expanded access, a government decree last week warned users against visiting sites that "endanger or prejudice public security, or the integrity and sovereignty of the nation," making clear that state censors would be on the lookout for those viewing "counter-revolutionary" content.
Cost will now be the biggest obstacle to unfettered surfing. An hour of online access will go for $4.50, or nearly a quarter of the average Cuban’s monthly wage, probably limiting the new service to those who receive remittances from relatives aboard.
The government appeared to be taking a calculated risk that it would succeed in maintaining control over the sources of information and public discourse for most of Cuba’s 11.2 million citizens while tapping the remittance dollars.
For new Pakistani premier, it’s twice burned, once shy
Wednesday, June 5 -- Incoming Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif must be hoping the third time is the charm.
Forced out of office early by corruption allegations the first time he served as prime minister from 1990 to 1993, Sharif’s second stint as government chief was abruptly ended midway through the four-year term by the military coup in 1999 led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League faction posted a convincing victory in May 11 elections, and on Wednesday the assembly, newly sworn in on Saturday, will cast their votes for the next prime minister -- probably Sharif, as his party has a majority of seats. Sharif would then take the oath of office for a third time.
The incoming government chief's control of the legislature this time could allow him to maintain a stable leadership, although he faces daunting economic and security challenges.
Sharif, who in the past often displayed a confrontational posture toward Washington, had signaled since the election his interest in a more cooperative relationship this time. However, last week’s U.S. drone strike that killed the Pakistani Taliban’s second-in-command, Waliur Rehman, provoked expressions of “serious concern and deep disappointment” from Sharif on Friday. The apparent targeted killing also prompted the Pakistani Taliban to withdraw their offer of peace talks, dealing a blow to hopes that Sharif might usher in a respite from years of deadly attacks by the fundamentalist militants.
Hopes of reviving Pakistan’s struggling economy depend on international aid and investment, and Washington needs Islamabad’s cooperation in battling the Taliban in the region and evacuating the massive equipment deployed in Afghanistan as it winds down a 12-year war.
The U.S. image in Pakistan has been badly damaged in recent years by Washington’s use of drone strikes on suspected terrorists that have often inflicted unintended civilian casualties.
Sharif has said he will attempt to improve relations with archrival India during this term and he invited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to his oath-taking ceremony. Singh declined, but has sent congratulations to his Pakistani counterpart and echoed his call to mend relations.
Chinese leader to meet Obama after Latin America travels
Friday-Saturday, June 7-8 – Chinese President Xi Jinping, fresh from an energy and resource shopping trip to Mexico and the Caribbean, will wrap up his U.S. travels at the end of the week with a visit to President Obama at a California desert retreat.
Xi’s meetings in Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Mexico are reportedly aimed at buying up liquified natural gas (LNG), food and other trade goods for his economically booming but resource-hungry homeland. China’s LNG purchases rose 20% last year, and the Middle Kingdom is eying Trinidad’s surplus now that the United States is shifting from Caribbean LNG imports to greater reliance on domestic shale gas extracts.
Once Xi and his Mexican hosts talk tariff reductions and opportunities for expanded trade that will come with the 2014 opening of a widened Panama Canal, the Chinese leader will travel northward to meet Obama at Sunnylands, an estate in the California desert town of Rancho Mirage.
It will be the first meeting between Obama and Xi since the latter was elevated to China’s top position during the fall’s once-a-decade leadership transfer.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters that the Chinese president’s visit with Obama was intended to show that Beijing wants improved relations. State-run media have also cast the desert meeting as a more relaxed, intimate get-together between two leaders often portrayed as waging competing battles for dominant influence in the world.
“It’s not like in the 19th century, when countries divided their sphere of influence in a certain area,” Tao Wenzhao of the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told Global Times, an English publication of the People’s Daily. “China and U.S. involvement in Latin America is not a zero-sum game.”
Mubarak retrial, twice delayed, to resume with more charges
Saturday, June 8 – Ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak is expected to appear in a Cairo court for a third attempt to begin his retrial on charges of complicity in the deaths of nearly 900 protesters during the “Arab Spring” uprising that toppled his 30-year reign.
He will also be confronted this time with charges of alleged corruption – accusations that were rejected during his first trial two years ago.
Mubarak, 85, was convicted in June 2011 for ordering, condoning or ignoring the killings attributed to his security forces and vigilante supporters. He was given a life sentence, but an appeals court in January struck down the conviction and ordered a new trial. The conviction and sentence of his former interior minister, Habib Adli, also were vacated.
Some who suffered under Mubarak’s authoritarian rule welcome a second chance for prosecutors to argue that he deserves the death penalty. Others, though, fear that a judiciary still riddled with Mubarak appointees might issue a softer verdict, perhaps even acquittal.
In April, Judge Mustafa Hassan Abdullah delayed the retrial when he withdrew from the case the day it was to start, saying that he felt “unease” presiding over the matter. Mubarak opponents had sought the removal of Abdullah after he acquitted 25 of the ex-dictator’s loyalists of charges they attacked protesters in a mounted raid atop camels and horses.
A second attempt to begin the new proceedings was put off last month, to give the new presiding judge time to review the corruption charges that prosecutors had added to the complicity case.
Mubarak has attended previous sessions strapped to a gurney used to transport him from his prison cell to the courtroom. His legal team described him as gravely ill at the time of the April false start, although he appeared healthier when he arrived last month in a white jumpsuit and sunglasses.
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