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The National Interest Foundation Newsletter, Issue 151

The National Interest Foundation Newsletter

Issue 151, June 30, 2022

Welcome to our NIF Newsletter. This week, we recap our recent conference in Istanbul. Meanwhile, in our news headlines: the World Food Programme (WFP) announces cuts in the aid it sends to Yemen as a result of a lack of funding and other factors, Qatar hosts indirect talks between the United States and Iran in the latest attempt to try and revive the 2015 nuclear deal, and a group of U.S. senators urge for direct American involvement in investigating the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh as a United Nations panel and multiple reputable media outlets all conclude that her death came at the hands of Israeli forces.


NIF Conference in Istanbul

On Saturday, June 18th, the National Interest Foundation – in collaboration with the Strategic Thinking Group and the Center for Middle East Studies – held an international conference under the title “The U.S. and International Shifting Dynamics.” The event took place at the Elite World Europe Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey. The conference began with keynote addresses by the heads of each of the organizing institutions: Mohammed Salem Al-Rashed of the Strategic Thinking Group; Khaled Saffuri of the National Interest Foundation; and Ahmet Uysal of the Center for Middle East Studies. In these opening remarks, the aforementioned individuals emphasized the need for open dialogue between countries to enhance understanding and better coordination to improve security and stability in the region. The event was an all-day affair with 4 panels of around 20 foreign policy analysts.

The first panel was titled “Biden Administration Policy in the Middle East.” This group of experts focused on American strategies toward the Palestinian issue, Iran, Turkey, and crises in the region including Yemen, Syria, and Libya. The panelists discussed general U.S. policies in the Middle East. They delved into some of the factors behind shifting American attitudes towards the Palestinian cause for social justice, and analyzed the role of the pro-Israel lobby in American politics. The issue of nuclear negotiations with Iran was also at the forefront of this panel’s areas of discussion.

The second panel was titled “U.S. Relations with China, Russia, and the Role of Turkey.” This session looked into American strategies concerning the rise of China, the ongoing destructive Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the role that Turkey has and could potentially play regarding these subjects. A large amount of this session included analysis on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the ramifications that this is currently having on the Middle East. The rise of China was also a dominant subject, as there are many questions in the region about how this may impact the United States’ status in global politics. The experts expressed their belief that the United States would remain a strong figure in this capacity despite any gains made by China.

The third panel was titled “Regional and International Dynamics and Economic Interactions.” This informative session discussed the roles that contemporary conflicts, inflation, and gas and oil prices play in the international economy. The panelists explored the effects that the war in Ukraine has had on food prices, especially in the Middle East, and the prospective impact this could have on several economies in the region. They also examined the phenomenon of global inflation and how this might influence the strength of the U.S. dollar. The panelists were assured that the U.S. dollar would maintain its solid position and continue to be the dominant currency.

The fourth and final panel was titled “Global Media and International Conflicts.” This session focused on how international media platforms covered conflicts, events, and dynamics in the Arab World. Some of the main points that this panel made concerned the existing biases in global media when it comes to certain issues, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A notable and powerful example brought up was how resistance to Russian aggression in Ukraine has been widely praised across the board, but yet the same legitimate Palestinian struggle for societal justice in the face of an array of Israeli human rights abuses can often be portrayed in a different light. Lastly, the panel of experts discussed the heinous killing of respected journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and the importance of accountability to deter crimes and violations like this.

We thank our fellow co-organizers of this important foreign policy conference, and offer our deepest gratitude to our esteemed panelists for making it a great success!

News Headlines

Cuts in Food Aid to Yemen

It is feared that The World Food Programme’s cuts in assistance will exacerbate humanitarian suffering in Yemen. (Photo from AFP)

The World Food Programme (WFP) Announces Cuts in the Aid it Sends to Yemen as a Result of a Lack of Funding and Other Factors

The World Food Programme (WFP) recently announced that it will again have to drastically cut assistance for its emergency food delivery operations in Yemen. This is the second cut to the program that the United Nations body has signaled this year. In a tweet unveiling the cuts, the WFP cited gaps in funding, global inflation, and the negative ramifications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. All of these factors culminated in the WFP cutting a majority of food aid for the 13 million Yemenis it currently serves. 5 million people will now only receive 50% of their daily requirements, while the remaining 8 million will receive 25% of their nutritional needs. The group will also be ending several other programs including “livelihood activities, and school feeding and nutrition programs” for an estimated 4 million people. The WFP has stated that they hope these cuts will not be permanent, as they are aware of the dire impact that the cuts will have on vulnerable civilians in Yemen.

The ongoing war in Ukraine has undoubtedly played a significant role in this decision that was undertaken by the WFP. Ukraine supplied a large amount of wheat that was used in Yemeni humanitarian efforts. Now that they are at war, they are unable to produce at the scale that they did in peacetime. Mines in the Black Sea have also prevented them from exporting any wheat. As a result, India, another large producer of wheat, implemented an export ban to secure their supply. This has left a large hole in the global wheat market that has yet to be filled. These developments, along with many private donors redirecting some of their funds to the crisis in Ukraine, leaves the WFP with little choice but to initiate major cuts in the Yemeni aid programs. The planning minister of the Saudi-backed government has warned that Yemen’s wheat stockpile could be entirely depleted by mid-July, and that new markets need to be secured to prevent an even worse situation from unfolding. Experts point out that securing new markets, however, will only be a temporary solution. The only real long-term solution is an end to the conflict in Yemen, resulting in a comprehensive peace deal between the warring parties involved.

Yemen has been engulfed in a state of conflict since 2015 when a Saudi-led coalition launched a brutal and ruthless military operation in support of the Yemeni government to fight back against the Houthi rebels. The Saudi coalition initiated its destructive war efforts when the Houthi rebels took the country’s capital city of Sanaa. As a part of their operation, the Saudis implemented a devastating blockade of the already poor country of Yemen, making it extremely difficult to get any food goods and other essential supplies.

Now, in the face of the WFP cuts, humanitarian conditions in the country are only expected to get worse, as it is anticipated that 7 million people will be subjected to near-famine conditions by the second half of 2022. A fragile truce is currently in place; however, difficulties still remain in getting what aid can be afforded to Yemeni civilians at all. There is a hope and possibility that the truce may become permanent, but people on the ground remain skeptical. The involvement of many parties in the conflict makes negotiations even more complex.

Qatar Hosts Iran Nuclear Deal Talks

The indirect talks being held in Qatar ended without any breakthroughs. (Photo from Reuters)

Qatar Hosts Indirect Talks Between the United States and Iran in the Latest Attempt to Try and Revive the 2015 Nuclear Deal

This week, Qatar hosted indirect talks between the United States and Iran, in the most recent attempt to try and revive the 2015 nuclear deal – formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The negotiating parties entered the discussions with low expectations and a sense of cautious optimism, and the talks ultimately ended without any breakthroughs. The gathering in Doha marked the newest development since negotiations in Vienna, which also featured European diplomats serving as intermediaries, were put on hold earlier this year back in March. One of the major roadblocks that still exists is Iran’s demand that the United States remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO). The preceding Trump administration imposed the designation in 2019, and U.S. President Biden has refused to lift it, with officials expressing that it is an additional demand that goes beyond the scope of the JCPOA. As one expert observer put it, inside the Iranian government “those who want the deal restored are trying to extract more concessions from the United States to be able to sell the deal’s restoration to skeptics within the leadership…the problem is that the Biden administration is already at the end of its rope.”

The two countries blame each other for this prolonged stall in talks. Iran is claiming that “Washington is seeking to revive the (deal) in order to limit Iran without economic achievement of our country.” The United States, on the other hand, is stating that Iran is raising “issues wholly unrelated to the JCPOA and apparently is not ready to make a fundamental decision on whether it wants to revive the deal or bury it.” Observers suspect that this blame game will likely continue until a deal is made, if that even does end up transpiring.

Though these talks have ended without any progress, there is still a chance of a continuation of negotiations, as Iran has hinted that they will be in contact for the “next stage of the talks.” It is feared that future negotiations seem to be unlikely to yield any results either, however, as the United States under the Biden administration does not appear to be willing to budge on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ designation as a terrorist organization, and their removal still remains a demand that Iran is fixated on in nuclear deal revival talks. Some analysts and experts have suggested that America’s refusal to remove the Revolutionary Guard from the list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations is likely due in part to Israeli demands. The Israeli government has been monitoring the negotiations closely and opposes a potential Iranian return to the JCPOA, let alone concessions to Iran.

Leaving the Revolutionary Guard on the list will also make the deal an easier sell to Americans as a difficult midterm election remains looming for President Biden. Making too many concessions could be seen and interpreted by political opponents as an example of “weak” diplomacy and hurt Biden’s party at the polls. Meanwhile, Iran seems fixated on demanding this concession because they need to work to sell this deal to any hardliners in the government. This ultimately puts each country in a difficult spot, as each of them want to sell it as a victory back home. If the two countries cannot agree on this issue and it remains a point of emphasis, it is unlikely that the JCPOA will be revived.

Investigations into Abu Akleh Killing

The recent finding by the United Nations mirrored those of several other independent investigations. (Photo from AFP)

A Group of U.S. Senators Urge for Direct American Involvement in Investigating the Killing of Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh as a United Nations Panel and Multiple Reputable Media Outlets All Conclude That Her Death Came at the Hands of Israeli Forces

Congressional calls urging for direct American involvement in investigating the heinous killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh have continued in the face of a United Nations panel and multiple reputable media outlets all concluding that her death came at the hands of Israeli forces. A group of 24 U.S. senators, including Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and others have submitted a letter to the Biden administration emphasizing the need for American involvement to ensure that all parties have confidence in the probe’s findings. In addition to the recent United Nations panel, prominent news organizations such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and The Associated Press have also found that Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli gunfire. These consistent determinations over the preceding weeks were drawn through the inspection of photo, video, and audio material, witness testimonies, visits to the crime scene, and consultations with independent experts and analysts.

In their letter to President Biden, the group of U.S. senators – led by Van Hollen – expressed the belief that the American government had an obligation to guarantee a comprehensive and fair investigation into the Abu Akleh killing, given its position as a leader in safeguarding press freedom. They also highlighted the fact that Ms. Abu Akleh was an American citizen and that those responsible for her death deserved accountability for the deplorable crime. The letter signatories drew attention to the indisputable video evidence which confirmed that Abu Akleh and her colleagues were clearly wearing helmets and vests identifying themselves as members of the press, which has understandably fueled further outrage at the egregious nature of the killing. Additionally, details have emerged that the group of journalists took all the necessary precautions – even standing in front of the Israeli military convoy before making their way to the entrance of the Jenin refugee camp to ensure that the soldiers knew they were news media representatives. The shameful claim that Abu Akleh may have been killed by errant gunfire from Palestinian militants, blatantly made in an attempt to deflect blame from Israeli forces, has been debunked by the array of examinations so far as well.

On top of the variety of probing entities all concluding that Ms. Abu Akleh’s death came at the hands of Israeli soldiers, both CNN and respected Israeli human rights watchdog B’Tselem stated that the evidence they uncovered suggests that the veteran journalist was killed in a targeted attack by Israeli forces. Furthermore, the recent United Nations panel’s conclusions included the finding that “several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets” were fired at Abu Akleh and three other journalists from the direction of Israeli soldiers. The United Nations report added that Abu Akleh and her colleagues “had proceeded slowly in order to make their presence visible to the Israeli forces deployed down the street” and that the “findings indicate that no warnings were issued and no (other) shooting was taking place at that time and at that location.”

The combination of the U.N. findings, the examinations from reputable news outlets, and the letter sent by the group of U.S. senators have all ramped up pressure on the Biden administration to further address the Abu Akleh killing. The most recent letter was just the latest in a number of Congressional attempts to spur action on the matter. Earlier this month, Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) submitted a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the U.S. to ensure a transparent investigation and last month, 57 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives called for an FBI probe.

NIF USA