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US-Iran Tensions Escalate As Iran Starts Trading With Venezuela

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Five Iranian oil tankers are headed towards Venezuela according to media reports. According to tankertrackers.com, a platform which tracks shipments of oil and storage showed the suspected route of the ships which has caused tensions between Iran and the US with both countries reportedly firing warnings at each other. 

The U.S. on Thursday announced that it was considering actions it could take in response to Iran’s shipment of fuel to crisis-stricken Venezuela. However, an Iranian news agency responded to Washington’s threat and said that there would be repercussions if the United States acted “just like pirates”.

“If the United States, just like the pirates, intends to create insecurity in international waterways, it would be taking a dangerous risk and that will certainly not go without repercussion,” the Nour news agency said early on Saturday.

The news agency also reported that it had received information from its sources that the US Navy has sent four warships and a Boeing P-8 Poseidon from the VP-26 squadron to the Caribbean region. The Iranian ships Clavel, Faxon, Forest, Petunia and Fortune were still travelling through the Mediterranean according to the latest reports and currently remain out of range from the U.S. Navy.

Both Venezuela and Iran are at odds with the US as the latter has imposed heavy sanctions on the sale of oil. Tehran and Caracas are oil-dependent economies and with the US sanctions have seen their revenues plummet.

American-Iranian tensions have escalated ever since Donald Trump pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or the Iranian Nuclear Deal. This resulted in skirmishes in the Persian Gulf, attack on Oil tankers and the US almost launching a full-scale attack on Iran.

Venezuela is in the midst of an economic crisis and is desperate to get its hand of supplies such as oil to keep its country running. The Trump administration in a bid to oust socialist President Nicholas Maduro has imposed heavy sanctions which has crippled the Latin American nation.

Even though Caracas has an abundance of oil reserves, it is dependent on Iran for aid. The relationship between the two OPEC members has increased in recent weeks as flights from Tehran brought essential materials to Venezuela in April in order to help it restart the catalytic cracking unit at its 310,000 barrel-per-day Cardon refinery.

The U.S. suspects that Maduro is paying Iran in gold. In April alone, Venezuela sold around nine tons of gold, worth around US$500 million in exchange for Iranian help it received for repairing crumbling refineries.

The Iran-US tensions will reach a flashpoint when the oil tankers get closer to Venezuela. According to experts speaking at EurAsian Times a direct engagement seems unlikely considering the ripple effect it would generate in the Middle East. A diplomatic dialogue should be encouraged but whether Rouhani, Trump and Maduro would talk remains the question.

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South Asia

Instigated by China, Sri Lanka could end port deal with India?

Sri Lanka recently announced that Colombo will review the port agreement signed between India and Sri Lanka at an estimated cost of $700 million.

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Amid India’s growing tensions with China, Pakistan and Nepal, there are signs that ties with Sri Lanka could also turn sour as Beijing could instigate the island country to terminate a port deal with New Delhi. 

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently announced that Colombo will review the port agreement signed between India and Sri Lanka at an estimated cost between $500 to $700 million.

Experts see this move as an effort to distance itself with ‘QUAD’ nations, especially India, which is trying to counter China’s growing geopolitical influence. The “QUAD” nations include the U.S., India, Japan and Australia who currently have turbulent ties with China.

“We heard that there is a lot of pressure from India over this project. But we are not a province of India, we are a sovereign nation and we do not need to dance to their tunes,” said Shyamal Sumanarathna, secretary of the Ports, Commerce Industries and Progressive Workers Union. “Following our strike, the prime minister assured [us] that he will sort this issue out,” he added.

The previous government of Sri Lanka signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with India and Japan to develop the new East Container Terminal (ECT). According to the terms, Sri Lanka holds 51% stake while India and Japan share the remaining stake.

However, the Trade Unions fear that it will cede the ownership of the ECT to India. They are demanding a guarantee that the project will be fully owned by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, a government entity. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has assured them that there is “no final agreement” yet.

“About two-thirds of Sri Lanka’s international cargo traffic is with India. There are opportunities for win-win cooperation among India, Sri Lanka and Japan in developing the ECT to promote prosperity in our maritime region,” stated a representative of the Indian High Commission in Colombo.

Rajapaksa has formed a five-member committee to review and report on the concerns over the project in 45 days and also to recommend steps ensuring the terminal delivers the maximum benefit for Sri Lanka.

However, it is important to note that Sri Lanka has turned to China several times for bailouts when the country went down on lockdown for two months amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

As reported earlier by EurAsian Times, Sri Lanka had relied heavily on China to construct $1.5 billion port in Hambantota in the country’s south. After the port was operating at a loss and couldn’t generate enough revenue to repay the loan to Beijing, the port was leased to China for 99 years in return for $1.1 billion which eased its position.

Beijing further granted $500 million to Colombo to fight the pandemic to help the looming financial crisis.

Sri Lanka has also requested various foreign governments including India for a postponement of repayment of the debt as the island nation is reeling under major economic crisis. “The matter has progressed and technical level discussions are presently underway,” Spokesperson in the Ministry of External Affairs Anurag Srivastava said.

Rohan Masakorala, a maritime shipping expert and CEO of the Shippers Academy Colombo disputed the trade union’s claim calling them “nationalistic” and politically motivated with views, not in line with the global business strategies.

“South Asia Gateway Terminal has been running for over 20 years with a number of international partners, and similarly the Colombo International Container Terminal has been operating for seven years with a Chinese company,” he said.

Sri Lanka’s government has also recently halted the Japan-funded Colombo Light Railway project and a $480 million Millennium Challenge Corporation grant from the U.S. Harin Fernando, a Member of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, accused the current administration of turning Sri Lanka into a “banana republic” under Chinese rule.

“In 2014, before we toppled the government, this is what we highlighted. But now we see [the Chinese] doing this much more strategically,” he said. He is also of the view that China now has a complete monopoly on Sri Lanka’s development projects and that Sri Lanka is “under debt” of China.

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Featured

Hagia Sophia: Turkey turns iconic Istanbul museum of Hagia Sophia into mosque

The court ruled that Hagia Sophia was owned by a foundation established by Sultan Mehmet II, also known as Mehmet the Conqueror, and was presented to the community as a mosque. According to the ruling, Hagia Sophia was defined as a “mosque,” a status that cannot be legally changed.

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The iconic Istanbul museum of Hagia Sophia will be turned into a mosque. Hours after a landmark court ruling Friday (July 10), the Turkish government confirmed that Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia will be reopened for worship after an 85-year hiatus.

India Bets Big On Nikki Haley To Emerge As Vice Presidential Candidate Under Trump

The nearly 1,500-year-old architectural gem will be transferred to the state Religious Affairs Directorate under a presidential decree, according to a Friday announcement in the Official Gazette.

Earlier Friday, ruling on a petition filed by an Istanbul NGO, Turkey’s Council of State overturned a 1934 Cabinet decree that had turned Hagia Sophia into a museum.

The court ruled that Hagia Sophia was owned by a foundation established by Sultan Mehmet II, also known as Mehmet the Conqueror, and was presented to the community as a mosque. According to the ruling, Hagia Sophia was defined as a “mosque,” a status that cannot be legally changed.

After centuries of use as a church under the Byzantine Empire, in 1453 Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque by Mehmet II following his conquest of Istanbul. In 1935, Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum. Posting his decree on social media today, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed best wishes for the change, which he has long advocated.

While details of the change are not yet known, Turkish officials have pointed out that many famed houses of worship, such as Paris’ Notre Dame and Istanbul’s Blue Mosque, are also open to visitors.

“Opening up Hagia Sophia to worship won’t keep local or foreign tourists from visiting the site,” Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s spokesman, told Anadolu Agency in an interview this week. Turkey is home to people of many faiths who can freely exercise their religions, he added.

World Reacts To Decision On Hagia Sophia

The Russian Orthodox Church expressed shock at Turkey’s decision to withdraw the museum status of Hagia Sophia, blaming it of disregarding voices of millions of Christians. “The concern of millions of Christians has not been heard,” Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Legoida stated.

“Today’s court ruling shows that all calls for the need for extreme delicacy in this matter were ignored,” Legoida said.

UNESCO said its World Heritage Committee would review Hagia Sophia’s status, saying it was “regrettable that the Turkish decision was not the subject of dialogue nor notification beforehand”.

“UNESCO calls on the Turkish authorities to open a dialogue without delay in order to avoid a step back from the universal value of this exceptional heritage whose preservation will be reviewed by the World Heritage Committee in its next session,” the UN’ cultural body said in a statement.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides tweeted –  Cyprus “strongly condemns Turkey’s actions on Hagia Sophia in its effort to distract domestic opinion and calls on Turkey to respect its international obligations”.

Christodoulides said Turkey’s “escalating, flagrant violation of its international obligations is manifested in its decision to alter the designation of Hagia Sophia, a World Heritage Site that is a universal symbol of the Orthodox faith”.

Later, Greece called Turkey’s move an “open provocation to the civilised world”. “The nationalism displayed by Erdogan … takes his country back six centuries,” Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a statement.

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Americas

India Bets Big On Nikki Haley To Emerge As Vice Presidential Candidate Under Trump

Nikki Haley has echoed some of the same arguments Donald Trump has made on national topics such as cancel culture, defunding police forces and statue removal, although the tone and frequency between Trump and Haley differ dramatically.  

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India has pinned hopes on Nikki Haley to become the US Vice President (VP) should Donald Trump get re-elected this November. Haley, a first-generation Indian American, is expected to strengthen Indo-American relation and also attract a lot of voters including women and minorities.

According to the reports, there is speculation that Trump might switch out Vice-President Mike Pence for Nikki Haley as his running mate in the hopes of boosting his lagging approval numbers among the broader electorate.

Despite resigning as US Ambassador to the United Nations, Haley has been active in politics. She has been fundraising for Republican congressional candidates as well as in the Senate and gubernatorial arena.

She has set up a non-profit organization to boost her policy priorities and has continued to pen editorials on foreign policy. And Hailey has retained a small, tightly knit orbit of advisers.

The former governor of South Carolina, Haley is one of the people who left the Trump Administration on good terms. She has even promised to campaign for the President for his re-election bid.

Haley has echoed some of the same arguments Donald Trump has made on national topics such as cancel culture, defunding police forces and statue removal, although the tone and frequency between Trump and Haley differ dramatically.

According to experts at EurAsian Times, Haley’s recent moves can be seen as a carefully executed plan to stay involved in key Republican policy circles and the national discourse. Haley has fundraised for almost a dozen Republican Senate candidates, many of them in tough re-election races, and has been a special guest at Republican Governors Association (RGA) events.

While Haley has dismissed reports about her running for VP, her being an influential person of colour could help Trump win constituencies he is currently losing.

India pinning hopes on Nikki Haley

The US Presidential elections are a spectacle observed globally and India would be hoping Trump wins and Haley gets elected as the VP. Haley enjoys nationwide popularity amongst Indian-Americans and her election as VP could lead to stronger ties between Washington and New Delhi.

She has natural links to India with her parents having emigrated to the US in the 1960s from Punjab. Haley has often pointed out that India is an example of a free government and recently even applauded New Delhi’s decision to ban 59 Chinese applications and for standing up to China.

With an Indian-American at the helm of affairs, New Delhi would see it as an opportunity to get closer to Washington. It could lead to India benefitting in the areas of trade, defence and investment and would be a huge blow to neighbours China and Pakistan.

US Presidential elections are scheduled to take place in November and will be contested between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. While Biden’s re-election does not mean that India and the United States will have weak relations, having Trump in the White House and Haley as VP would definitely lead to stronger Indo-American ties.

Armaan Srivastava. Views Personal

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