Total Pageviews

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Michael's Afternoon 7 - 28 May

A senior Russian official today accused the US of grossly exaggerating the missile threat posed by hostile powers such as Iran, predicting there would be no menace from the Middle East "for at least a decade to come". A senior diplomat at Russia's London embassy, made his comments in the course of a blistering attack on America's plans to site missile interceptors in Poland and a large radar in the Czech Republic. "For the first time it will add a strategic component for US forward forces close to Russia's borders," he said. If the US took up Moscow's offer to use a radar base in Azerbaijan instead, there would be a "tectonic shift" in their relations, he added. Plans to base 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a powerful radar in the Czech Republic are particularly controversial because there is no international consensus about when Iran – whose missiles the Polish and Czech bases are aimed at – could be a potential threat.

‘Let me be clear: the United States strongly supports Turkey’s bid to become a member of the European Union.’ President Barack Obama, visiting Ankara in April, could not have been clearer – unlike his European counterparts. Since Obama’s speech, both German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy have spoken out in preference of a privileged partnership with Turkey, rather than full EU membership. French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner, formerly a supporter, now opposes Turkey’s accession after the fuss they made over appointing Danish premier Anders Fogh Rasmussen as Nato chief in the same month. Indignation in Turkey at this shifting of goalposts then prompted hasty reassurances from the European commission of the EU’s commitments to Turkey. The responsibility does not lie entirely with politicians. Most European governments are in favour of Turkey joining the EU – rather, it is their citizens who are not. A 2008 Eurobarometer survey found that only 31% of EU citizens were in favour of Turkey joining. Aside from the value-based argument – Turkey not being ‘European’ enough.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Markos Kyprianou had a meeting yesterday at the Foreign Ministry with a delegation of US Congress officials, who are visiting Cyprus. During the meeting, Mr Kyprianou briefed the delegation on the latest developments in the Cyprus problem. Issues, which fall within the competence of the Foreign Ministry with an emphasis on the bilateral relations between the Republic of Cyprus and the USA, were also discussed.

Belgrade would stand firm against recognition of Kosovo as an independent nation, regardless of any preconditions laid down by the EU on Serbia’s EU integration process. Following a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris on Wednesday, Tadic told Serbian state television that Sarkozy had assured him that France did not expect Serbia to recognise Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence in February 2008. The two countries also discussed a strategic partnership in the areas of culture, science, education and economy. 

The Netherlands will resume the extradition of asylum seekers who entered the European Union via Greece. In the coming months 1,100 people will be returned to Greece, following a Council of State decision that doing so is legal, Deputy Justice Minister Nebahat Albayrak told Dutch reporters in Rome. Earlier this week, Ms Albayrak was on a visit to Athens where she said that the Netherlands will be helping Greece with its refugee problem. The deputy minister says that helping countries on Europe's southern border cope with the influx of refugees is a prerequisite for solving the Netherlands' own migration issues. Refugees from Northern Africa regularly cross the Mediterranean on rickety vessels to land in European coastal countries like Italy and Greece. Because of the EU's open border policies, refugees can travel on from their landing spot to other EU member states.

In Lebanon’s Jun. 7 parliamentary poll, women represent only two percent of the candidates, many of them with family names that have been appearing on ballots for generations. Names like Geagea, Hariri, Zwein and Tueni are as recognisable in Lebanon as Gandhi in India or Kennedy in the United States. One female candidate expected to win the lone Greek Orthodox seat in Beirut’s predominantly Christian district is Nayla Tueni. Tueni’s father Gebran was assassinated six months after being elected in 2005 to the seat she now seeks. Nayla is deputy manager of An-Nahar, Beirut’s leading newspaper founded by her great grandfather and formerly edited and published by her father, and is supported by the Western-backed March 14 Coalition. Even with the competitive edge afforded by her family name, securing a seat in Parliament the first time around is far from guaranteed. 

Christianity's largest ecumenical movement expressed hope Thursday that churches were moving closer to a common Easter for the world's Christians, despite a historical debate nearly as old as the religion. Catholic and Protestant congregations will celebrate their belief in Jesus' resurrection on the same day as Orthodox churches in 2010 and 2011 because of a coincidence in the Julian and Gregorian calendars. The common holiday has happened three times this decade. But the World Council of Churches says consensus is emerging that these should not just be occasional occurrences. At a recent meeting in Lviv, Ukraine, theologians representing nearly the breadth of Christianity agreed in principle on a strategy for all the faithful to continue observing their feast together. The confusion over Easter's historical date arose in the early days of Christianity as the faith spread and different groups interpreted the four Gospels in different ways. According to Matthew, Mark and Luke's Gospels, the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples was the Jewish Passover meal, while John's Gospel says that Jesus died on the feast of Passover itself. Orthodox churches use March 21 in the Julian calendar, but since the 16th century the Western date has been derived in the Gregorian calendar. The resulting difference can be up to five weeks apart. Some Orthodox representatives at the meeting appeared to back the plan. French Orthodox theologian Antoine Arjakovsky acknowledged that the astronomy was closer to the Gregorian calendar, but noted that Catholic and Protestant churches were also compromising by "accepting that the date of Easter should be established on the basis of a cosmic calendar rather than by a fixed date."