September 22, 2023QiOSK
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that “Israeli officials are quietly working with the Biden administration on a polarizing proposal to set up a U.S.-run uranium-enrichment operation in Saudi Arabia as part of a complex three-way deal to establish official diplomatic relations between the two Middle Eastern countries,” according to U.S. and Israeli officials.
The article, authored by Dion Nissenbaum and Dov Lieber, largely showcases Israeli opposition to the deal. Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a group whose mission includes providing “education to enhance Israel’s image in North America…” was quoted opposing a uranium enrichment program on Saudi soil. He warned that “we’re one bullet away from a disaster in Saudi Arabia,” adding, “What happens if, God forbid, a radical Islamist leader takes control?”
Israeli sources speaking to the WSJ acknowledged concerns about nonproliferation safeguards and the potential for a regional nuclear-arms race. But the one expert who was reported as thinking “the idea is worth exploring,” is an executive at an organization that depends heavily on Saudi funding, a potential financial conflict of interest that wasn’t disclosed by the WSJ to its readers.
The WSJ quoted Brian Katulis, described as “vice president of policy at the Middle East Institute think tank in Washington,” supporting the controversial idea.
Nissenbaum and Lieber reported:
“The concerns of a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East are very serious and real, indeed,” [Katulis] said. “The question is whether the U.S. sitting on the sidelines, crossing its arms and scolding countries in the region for pursuing civilian nuclear energy is a more effective strategy than starting a discussion that aims to build trust and confidence among key actors in the region like Israel and Saudi Arabia.”
Katulis said, “The risk of some hostile leader getting these capacities is one we’ve seen and managed in a number of places around the world, including Pakistan.”
“It’s not an ideal situation in those instances,” he said, “but the risks can be managed.”
The WSJ didn’t provide readers with the context about MEI that is provided on MEI’s very own website: the organization’s biggest funders are linked to the Saudi government, a government which, in this case, is pushing for the very nuclear deal that the WSJ was reporting on.
MEI’s website discloses that in the first seven months of 2023, its single largest contribution was $833,456 from Saudi Research and Media Group, a publishing group with close ties to the Saudi ministry of information. MEI also collected $200,000 from Aramco, the Saudi largely-state-owned oil company and $25,000 from the Saudi embassy in Washington.
To its credit, MEI has been transparent about its funding and makes the information readily available on its website.
The WSJ, on the other hand, did not inform readers that its only pro-Saudi-nuclear-deal source’s work is partially funded by Saudi sources, a potential conflict of interest that may be of interest to readers seeking to better understand the benefits and pitfalls of the Saudi-Israeli normalization framework.
The WSJ did not respond to a request for comment.
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Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). Jan. 2019 (Photo: lev radin via shutterstock.com)
September 22, 2023QiOSK
UPDATE: Sen. Bob Menendez temporarily stepped down from his powerful role as chairman of the Senate Relations Committee late Friday afternoon, according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Federal prosecutors indicted Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the chair of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on corruption charges for allegedly taking bribes to help business partners in New Jersey as well as the Egyptian government.
The indictment alleges that Menendez accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cash as well as gold bars and a luxury vehicle from three New Jersey businessmen. His wife, Nadine Menendez, was also charged.
Wael Hana, a New Jersey businessman, allegedly promised to put the senator’s wife on his payroll for a no-show job in exchange for Menendez’s promise to facilitate weapons sales to Egypt. The indictment also claims that Hana arranged a meeting between the lawmaker and multiple Egyptian officials in a Senate office in which no staff were present.
Menendez also allegedly passed on information about the staffing of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo via his then-girlfriend to Hana, who subsequently gave it to an Egyptian official.
Among the most significant allegations is the claim that Menendez personally ghost wrote a 2018 letter for Egyptian officials to use in lobbying efforts “to convince other U.S. Senators to release a hold on $300 million in aid to Egypt.”
In a statement, Menendez denied the allegations as “baseless” and claimed they are the work of “forces behind the scenes” who have “repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave,” an apparent reference to previous corruption charges against the senator that resulted in a mistrial in 2017. (The Senate Ethics Committee, for its part, found that Menendez had broken the law and “severely admonished” him in a rare public censure.)
“Those behind the campaign simply cannot accept that a first-generation Latino American from humble beginnings could rise to be a U.S. Senator and serve with honor and distinction,” Menendez argued. “Even worse, they see me as an obstacle in the way of their broader political goals.”
Despite the fiery statement, Menendez will reportedly step down from his role as chairman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to WNBC, NBC’s New York affiliate.
The allegations come amid growing concerns about the extent of foreign influence peddling in the United States. As Nick Cleveland-Stout reported in RS last year, numerous former officials have gone on to lobby for Egypt, including Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) former chief of staff. A 2020 report by Ben Freeman of the Quincy Institute found foreign countries had given at least $175 million to U.S. think tanks.
Freeman, who recently testified before Congress about Saudi influence campaigns in the United States, described the accusations as “deeply troubling.”
“If the indictment is accurate, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was selling U.S. foreign policy for cash and gold,” he told RS. “This was all allegedly happening at the same time as serious concerns were being raised — including by Menendez’s colleagues in the Senate — about continuing to provide U.S. military assistance to Egypt given the regime’s abysmal human rights record and its anti-democratic turn.”
Freeman noted that the allegations go further than most cases of foreign influence, which often center around whether an American citizen failed to register as an agent under the Foreign Agent Registration Act.
But the accusations Menendez faces go further, leading government watchdogs like Citizens for Ethics in Washington (CREW) to call for his immediate resignation.
“With these latest revelations, it’s time for Senator Menendez to resign,” CREW President Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “The stain of corruption continuously taints Menendez.”
The alleged work on behalf of Egypt is noteworthy given the lawmaker’s long-standing public stances in favor of promoting democracy abroad and holding autocratic regimes accountable for their excesses. His response to the accusations mentions that he has “stood steadfast against dictators around the world,” noting his work on Iran, Cuba, and Turkey but pointedly leaving out Egypt from the list.
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September 22, 2023QiOSK
On Tuesday, Polish President Andrzej Duda delivered an emphatic speech in support of Ukraine on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly.
“This brutal war must end, and not be converted into a frozen war,” Duda declared from the rostrum. “This can only be done by restoring the full territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders!”
“If someone attacks your household, you have the right to defend it, and the neighbors should not stay indifferent,” he continued. “Ukraine would not be able to resist the aggression and effectively stand for its independence if it were not for the assistance of other countries.”
That tone, characteristic of Poland’s approach to the war to date, changed quickly after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia of helping Russia by banning imports of Ukrainian grain in response to complaints by local farmers over unfair competition.
The comments led Poland to summon Ukraine’s ambassador to Warsaw for a diplomatic dressing down, followed by a public version from the Polish president himself.
“Ukraine is behaving like a drowning person clinging to anything available,” Duda told reporters later on Tuesday.”A drowning person is extremely dangerous, capable of pulling you down to the depths.”
Poland appeared to up the ante further on Wednesday when Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, in response to a question about whether the grain dispute would affect Poland’s support for Ukraine, that Warsaw is “no longer transferring weapons to Ukraine, because we are now arming Poland with more modern weapons.”
It remains unclear whether the apparent policy shift is related to the dispute, but the timing of the comments has drawn significant concern from the West.
To some degree, the contours of this spat should come as no surprise. While European countries have shown a remarkable willingness to accept economic pain to support Ukraine, observers have long worried that this steadfastness would fade as the war drags on.
“[A]lways look at history, geography and interests as both sides see them,” wrote Gerard Araud, a former French UN ambassador, on X. “International relations are anything but romantic. Poland and Ukraine are only united by the existence of a common enemy.”
In this case, Polish leadership is more concerned with impressing voters ahead of elections next month when Duda’s Law and Justice party hopes to stave off a challenge from the Civic Coalition, an increasingly popular center-right bloc. The Law and Justice party reportedly hopes to bolster support among farmers by responding decisively to their concerns about Ukrainian grain.
Though the agriculture ministers from Poland and Ukraine have said they will “work out an option to cooperate on export issues in the near future,” it appears likely that grain issues will continue to create friction between the two countries.
Meanwhile, a larger challenge to Western unity is brewing in Slovakia, where leftist former Prime Minister Robert Fico looks poised to return to power in elections later this month. Fico has said that, if he wins, he would block arms shipments to Ukraine and prevent Kyiv from joining NATO.
“It’s naive to think that Russia would leave Crimea,” Fico recently told the Associated Press. “It’s naive to think that Russia would ever abandon the territory it controls.”
His position is, to a large extent, a reflection of Slovakia’s ambivalence toward the causes of the conflict. While most Western countries firmly blame Russia for the war, fully 51 percent of Slovaks say Ukraine or the West are responsible.
With Slovakian elections set for September 30, the West will soon face far greater challenges in maintaining unity on Ukraine than at any time since the war began.
In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:
— U.S. President Joe Biden called on world leaders to maintain pressure on Russia to end its war in Ukraine during a speech at the UN, according to the New York Times. “Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence,” Biden said. “We have to stand up to this naked aggression today to deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow.” In contrast, a number of Global South leaders, including Brazilian President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva and Colombian President Gustavo Petro, used their General Assembly speeches to call for talks to end the war in Ukraine.
— Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Biden and a range of other top American officials during a trip to the United States for the UN General Assembly, according to AP News. But, as Blaise Malley recently wrote in RS, the visit was a far cry from the warm welcome Zelensky received in his previous U.S. trip. “Zelensky returns to a vastly changed landscape in Washington Thursday, as a growing number of GOP lawmakers have expressed their reluctance — or outright opposition — to continued funding for Ukraine,” Malley reported.
— Mark Milley, Washington’s top military official, toldCNN that, while he remains hopeful about Ukraine’s counteroffensive, the larger goal of expelling all Russian troops from the country is “a very high bar.” “It's going to take a long time to do it,” Milley argued. The comments come as the mood around the chances of Ukrainian military success continues to sour, with even mainstream outlets like the New York Times giving dour takes on the future of the war. “The currency of the counteroffensive is ammunition, vehicles and human lives,” Times reporters Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Lauren Leatherby wrote on Wednesday. “This is what is certain: More people will die, more buildings will burn and the surrounding farmlands will be seeded with land mines [sic] and unexploded shells that probably will take decades to clear.”
U.S. State Department news:
The State Department did not hold a press briefing this week.
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