- During the G7 summit, President Donald Trump said trade negotiations between the U.S. and China could begin soon after recent tariff escalations.
- French President Emmanuel Macron also encouraged Trump to meet with Iranian leaders, which Trump suggested he could potentially agree to.
- Leaders also agreed on a $20 million aid package to help fight the Amazon rainforest fires, which comes amid a feud between Macron and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro about international involvement on the issue.
Trump Talks Trade Negotiations with China
United States trade negotiations with China, potential meetings with President Donald Trump and Iranian leaders, and the Amazon rainforest fires were major points of discussion during this years G7 summit, which wraps up Monday.
France hosted the summit on its coast in the town of Biarritz, where the other G7 countries — Canada, Italy, Germany, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S.— were all in attendance.
Following Friday’s escalations in the trade war between the U.S. and China, when the U.S. raised tariffs on the country, President Trump said that negotiations could begin soon. Trump said he took two phone calls with Chinese officials to discuss the matter.
“We’re going to start very shortly to negotiate, we’ll see what happens,” Trump said during a G7 meeting Sunday. “But I think we’re going to make a deal.”
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He also spoke about scaling the trade war back over the weekend.
“We are willing to resolve the issue through consultations and cooperation in a calm attitude and resolutely oppose the escalation of the trade war,” he said in a statement.
Macron Invites Iranian Foreign Minister
Iran also moved to the top of minds when French President Emmanuel Macron invited Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the summit on Sunday. Zarif’s visit was a last-minute surprise, and leaders like Trump were only given notice the night before.
Macron and Zarif met together, but Trump and Zarif never did. Macron has been urging Trump to take an easier approach when it comes to Iran, partially in light of Trump’s choice to leave the Iran Nuclear Deal last year.
During a press conference, Macron said he wanted to work out a meeting between the U.S. and Iran in a few weeks. Trump made no commitment but did not shut the idea down.
“If the circumstances were correct or right, I would certainly agree to that,” Trump said. “But in the meantime, they have to be good players.”
Aid for Amazon Rainforest
Leaders at the G7 also discussed one of the most topical global issues today: the fires in the Amazon rainforest. Leaders worked on a plan together during a climate session, which Trump did not attend. He was the only leader to miss this session, though a senior administration member went in his place.
Macron and Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced that all countries reached an agreement to send $20 million in aid. The funds will go primarily to planes fighting the fires. An agreement was also made to further protect the forest and begin reforestation efforts.
The fires in the Amazon landed a spot at the top of the G7 agenda after reports showed that fires in Brazil’s Amazon have increased by 84% this year. The forest provides 20% of the world’s oxygen, and many believe deforestation could be the cause of these devastating fires. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has faced criticism for his support of deforestation and lack of action with the fires.
On Friday, however, Brazil did announce their own efforts. The country made 44,000 troops available to stop the fires and said it will use warplanes to dump water on affected areas.
Before the summit started, Macron called the fires an “international crisis” and urged fellow leaders to make the fires a priority. This sparked a feud between him and Bolsonaro.
“The French President’s suggestion that Amazonian issues be discussed at the G7 without the participation of the countries of the region evokes a misplaced colonialist mindset in the 21st century,” Bolsonaro responded.
As the G7 leaders announced their aid plans, Bolsonaro took another shot at Macron.
“We can’t accept that a president – Macron – fires off improper and gratuitous attacks on Amazonia,” he tweeted. “Nor that he hides his intentions behind the idea of an ‘alliance’ of G7 countries to ‘save’ Amazonia, as if we were a colony or no man’s land.”
However, President Piñera, a closer ally to Bolsonaro said he understood why the issue deserves national attention.
“The Amazon is in South America, and the countries there have sovereignty over that territory they want to protect,” he said. “At the same time the Amazon is part of the health of the whole planet. And therefore it is reasonable that everybody is concerned about that. We have to find a compromise between those two.”
“And that was the problem between Macron and Bolsonaro at the beginning,” he added. “But it has already been solved because now both the G7 and the Amazon countries, with the collaboration of Chile are pushing in the same direction.”
Despite those comments, it seems the two leaders are still not seeing exactly eye to eye. Someone posted a meme on Bolsonar’s Facebook page comparing the Brazillian leader’s wife to Macron’s wife. Bolsonaro’s account responded saying “don’t humiliate the guy.” Many have interpreted this as a dig at Macron and his wife.
It is unclear if Bolsonaro posted the comment himself, or if someone else did it from his account. Macron called the remark “disrespectful” during the G7.
“What can I tell you? It’s sad. It’s sad for him and for Brazilians,” he added. “I think that Brazilian women are probably ashamed to read that their president has done that.”
“As I have a lot of friendship and respect for the Brazilian people, I hope that they will quickly have a president who is up to the job,” Macron later added.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (New York Times) (Al Jazeera)
Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims
- Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
- The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
- Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
- Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.
COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims
Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.
The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.
For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.
In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.
Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.
Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy
Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.
Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,
While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.
The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.
While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.
See what other are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Hill) (Middle East Eye)
E.U. and U.S. Sanction Russian Officials Over Navalny Detention
- The E.U. and U.S. coordinated new sanctions against seven Russian officials tied to the current fate of activist and Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
- More efforts are expected to follow, with officials claiming that 14 Russian entities tied to the manufacturing of Novichok – the rare nerve agents that supposedly poisoned Navalny – are the next to be sanctioned.
- Despite the sanctions, Biden’s administration hopes to be able to work with Russia on other world issues, such as nuclear arms in Iran and North Korea.
- Navalny himself isn’t likely to benefit from the sanctions as he’s serving a 2.5-year prison sentence in one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies.
Coordinated Efforts by E.U. and U.S.
The U.S. and E.U. both announced coordinated sanctions against Russia Tuesday morning over the poisoning, arrest, and detention of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
In particular, seven senior officials are targeted by the sanctions.
- Federal Security Service Director Aleksandr Bortnikov
- Chief of the Presidential Policy Directorate Andrei Yarin
- First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko
- Deputy Minister of Defense Aleksey Krivoruchko
- Deputy Minister of Defense Pavel Popov
- Federal Penitentiary Service director Alexander Kalashnikov
- Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov.
Both the E.U. and U.S. also plan to add fourteen entities that are involved in making the extremely deadly Russian nerve agent Novichok.
First Step For Biden
These sanctions are the first such action by the Biden administration against Russia and seem to be a tone shift from the previous administration. The Trump administration was considered relatively soft on Russia and only enacted a few sanctions over election interference, which were only softly enforced.
One U.S. official, according to NBC News reportedly said, that “today is the first such response, and there will be more to come.”
“The United States is neither seeking to reset our relations with Russia nor are we seeking to escalate,” the official went on to add.
The man at the center of all this, Alexei Navalny, has been an outspoken critic of Putin who was arrested when he returned to Russia from Germany after being treated for Novichok poisoning.
He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison over alleged fraud crimes and is reported to have been sent to one of Russia’s worst penal colonies outside of the city of Pokrov to serve out his term.
Biden Faces Criticism Over U.S. Airstrike in Syria
- On Friday, the U.S. conducted an airstrike against an Iranian-back militia in Syria after it shot rockets into northern Iraq and injured U.S. service personnel.
- The airstrike marks the first in Biden’s presidency, and while normally a routine response, it caused particular backlash against the president, who campaigned on getting out of “forever wars” in the region.
- Many felt like Biden was more concerned with bombing people in the Middle-East than he was with passing his $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which was being debated by Congress at the time.
- The targeting of an Iranian-backed militia likely didn’t help efforts to start informal talks with Iran on Sunday in an effort to reignite the Iran Nuclear Deal.
Striking Back Against Militias
The U.S. military conducted an airstrike on an Iranian-backed militia in Syria on Friday, marking it as the first such airstrike under President Joe Biden’s term.
The airstrike was conducted as retaliation after the militia launched rockets into northern Iraq; killing civilians, contractors, and injuring a U.S. service member as well as other coalition troops.
Despite airstrikes being a routine response for such situations over the last 20 years, the decision caused Biden to face intense backlash in the U.S.
For many, it set the tone and seemed to contradict some of his earlier stances when running for office. In 2019, for instance, Biden made it clear that he wanted to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, as well as speed up the removal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. However, such airstrikes are often blamed for further entrenching the U.S. in the region.
Biden received criticism across the political spectrum, with only a few conservatives praising the airstrike as a necessary move to protect U.S. troops.
In Congress, many Democrats called the move unconstitutional, a stance the party has had since at least 2018 when Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said a similar airstrike conducted by President Trump required the approval of Congress. The Biden administration pushed back against this, sending a letter to Congress on Sunday saying the president had the power to use limited force without the body’s approval via the War Power Act.
Public Perception in a Downward Spiral
Many Americans have mocked Biden for seemingly feeling comfortable enough to use his executive power to bomb militias while also expressing apprehension toward using that same power to forgive student loans.
Others pushed back against the idea that the airstrike was a form of defensive retaliation
“This latest Biden airstrike is being spun as “defensive” and “retaliatory” despite its targeting a nation the US invaded (Syria) in response to alleged attacks on US forces in another nation the US invaded (Iraq),” wrote one user on Twitter, “You can’t invade a nation and then claim self-defense there. Ever.”
Some of the biggest criticism the president received came from those who said it seemed like his priorities were off-base. Because while the airstrike was conducted, Congress was debating his $1.9 trillion stimulus package.
Civil Rights activist Ja’Mal Green, for instance, tweeted, “We didn’t flip Georgia Blue for Biden to air strike Syria. We flipped Georgia Blue for our $2,000 Stimulus Checks.”
However, it’s worth noting that there’s not much Biden can do right now to push his stimulus package through Congress, other than attempt to convince some on-the-fence senators like Joe Manchin (D-WV). Still, the perception of confused priorities was enough to anger many.
All of this likely didn’t help when the E.U. foreign policy chief, on behalf of all the countries who signed the Iran Nuclear deal, attempted to convince Iran to engage in informal talks to try and restart the deal on Sunday. A proposal was shot down by Iran.
“Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh