Syria continues to descend into the inferno while the international community stands transfixed. A political solution seems elusive as ever, the civil war grinds on having killed over 250,000 people, and over 12 million people have fled their homeland. Alarmed by these developments, the U.N. Security Council has affirmed its support for finding a durable political settlement to a crisis which after four years of fighting not only threatens Syria, but dangerously has morphed into a regional threat.
As the high-speed TGV train from Paris slowed down coming into St. Nazaire passing the sprawling shipyard alongside, a little boy in the seat in front of us became animated and exclaimed, "Look, Mama, there are the big warships!" The child was pointing to the two massive gray-hulled Mistral helicopter carriers which had been built in France for the Russian Navy, but because of the ongoing Ukraine crisis, were still marooned in political limbo and at dockside.
In a callous but not unexpected move to block an international inquiry on the fate of Malaysian Flight MH17 which was shot down over Ukraine just a year ago, Russia has vetoed a resolution which would have set up a tribunal to investigate the disaster which killed 298 civilians. The Malaysian civilian airliner, a Boeing 777, was shot down by a Russian supplied BUK missile allegedly fired by Russian-backed separatists fighting the Ukraine government. Moscow blames the Ukrainians for the disaster.
"Since last summer's onslaught by terrorists of the so-called ISIS, Iraq has been living through one of the most difficult phases of its modern history," came the sobering assessment of Jan Kubis, the U.N.'s special representative reviewing the current situation in Iraq, referring to IS using an alternative abbreviation. Yet in a Security Council briefing on the embattled Middle Eastern country, Dr. Kubis added, "While problems may seem daunting and persistent, there is hope, opportunities, and notably vision for the way out of this crisis."
A rhetorical tsunami followed the signing of the landmark nuclear limitation deal between Iran and six world powers in Vienna. On the one hand U.S. President Barack Obama and his tireless Secretary of State John Kerry presented a technically well-crafted plan which would supposedly keep the Iranian nuclear genie in the bottle but not dismantle the actual atomic program.
Paris-China's Premier Li Keqiang descended upon Paris for a shopping spree; signing contracts and making deals which will energize the still anemic French economy. The French put on the Ritz as even Francois Hollande's Socialist government can do so well; the impressive ceremony at the Elysee Presidential Palace and the glittering Parisian protocol. But the business bottom line was clearly the key element stressed during the three-day visit where Beijing's Premier signed US$20 billion in contracts and investments with France.
"Terrorism: the Shockwave of Bloody Friday," headlined the French daily Le Monde, after a series of deadly, coordinated, and barbaric attacks by radical Islamists on three continents. The massacre of 28 European (mostly British) tourists in Tunisia at a beach resort, the grisly beheading of a plant manager near Lyon, France, the senseless sectarian slaughter of 26 Muslim worshipers at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait, and the killings of 150 civilians in Kobane, Syria by Islamic State, are the latest sanguinary statistics in a war which many people choose to politely forget.
PARIS-International development assistance still remains a vital element in reducing global poverty. What's known as Official Development Assistance (ODA) has now reached record levels of more than US$135 billion annually and is channeled to a group of 148 countries ranging from the poorest of the poor such as Bangladesh and Haiti to better-off but needy lands such as Egypt and Kenya.
The number of refugees fleeing their native lands as well as people being internally displaced in their home countries has surged beyond even the most dire predictions. Just six months ago, a U.N. report launched an urgent appeal for US$16.4 billion to assist 58 million people; a record number of refugees, internally displaced persons and victims of famine.
Facing the onslaught of wanton destruction, cultural pillage and a growing back market for stolen antiquities, both Iraq and Syria are feeling the brunt not only of the ideological violence of the Islamic State (IS), but the barbaric "cultural cleansing" of antiques dating back millennia. As the Middle East confronts the expansion of the IS terrorist state we also face the unintended consequences of both historic destruction and equally the attacks on religious minorities such as the Christians and Yazidis.