Yemen FM Urges World to Focus on Saudi, Emirati War Crimes

A new interview on DW Conflict Zone features Yemeni National Salvation Government (NSG) Foreign Minister Hisham Sharaf, focusing on war crimes in Yemen over the course of the six year war. The NSG is the Sanaa-based government involving the Houthis and other parties opposed to the Saudi invasion. The interview was extremely contentious, with Sharaf objecting to the characterization of himself as a Houthi, noting he is part of the GPC Party and that a lot of figures in the NSG are not Houthis. He also criticized efforts to paint the war crimes of the Houthis as the chief problem in Yemen. Sharaf called for the world to focus on crimes committed by Saudi and Emirati forces, emphasizing hundreds of thousands of Yemenis killed by airstrikes, and insisting that the war crimes were ultimately their fault for starting the war. “We will continue the war if they don’t withdraw from our country,” Sharif noted. The interviewer suggested that there was a lack of accountability on the Houthi side, and cited several UN reports on crimes by their forces. Sharaf addressed some of the allegations, but also claimed not to have gotten UN reports on some of them. He suggested investigation and accountability would be easier if the NSG was allowed to fly out of the capital of Sanaa. Sharaf also sought to emphasize the problem beyond direct participants in the war, attributing international media hostility to the interests of nations like the United States and Britain having provided such a large amount of the bombs dropped on Yemen and being effectively responsible for the killings.

After Canadian Assurances, Celtics’ Enes Kanter Will Play Christmas Day in Toronto

Turkey seeks to arrest star as ‘terrorist’ for Gulenist ties

Boston Celtics Center Enes Kanter confirmed today that he will be in Toronto for the Christmas Day game, the result of assurances from Canadian officials that he would be safe to come to Canada and participate in the game.

This was no guarantee. The 27-year-old Kanter has missed multiple games outside of the US in the past couple of years, the result of fears for his safety because of hostility from Turkey’s Erdogan government. Kanter is a supporter of banned cleric Fethullah Gulen, and his family was targeted in the post-coup purges of Gulenists by Erdogan.

All of this has made Kanter persona non grata in Turkey. His passport was cancelled, and the Erdogan government has an outstanding arrest warrant for him as a “terrorist.” Other noteworthy Turkish basketball players have been deeply critical of him, and Kanter says he considers himself “stateless” at this point because of Turkish threats to revoke his citizenship.

Kanter famously missed a game in London while a member of the New York Knicks over security concerns, and also has missed games in Toronto for the same reason. He says Turkish goons have repeatedly harassed him even in Boston, and has claimed Turkish ministers have come to the US and told allies to limit his activities in the US.

While we don’t know the exact details of what was agreed to, Kanter credited US and Canadian officials, along with the Celtics and the NBA for getting some sort of a deal done where he is confident enough of his ability to safety go to Toronto on Christmas, play a game, and return to Boston afterwards, that he is going to participate.

Nike to Withhold Iranian Soccer Team’s Shoes for World Cup Over US Sanctions

In a last minute move that threatens to severely handicap the Iranian team at the 2018 World Cup, Nike has announced that they are taking away their shoes, saying no Iranian players can be allowed to wear the shoes of a US company because of sanctions.

Iran’s coach is protesting the move to FIFA, noting that players have been practicing with the Nike shoes and will now have to get used to an entirely different type at the last minute. It is unclear where Iran will get these last minute shoes from.

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Ukraine Claims ‘Loyal’ Military Dolphins Starved Themselves Rather Than Be Under Russian Control

Better dead than red? According to Ukrainian officials, that’s a choice that their fiercely loyal military dolphins faced in 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula and took the dolphins into custody.

The Ukrainian story would have you believe that even though the Russians in Crimea had the proper command whistles for the dolphins, they were so despondent to be taken by Russians they all went on a hunger strike, and starved to death en masse.

Russia’s story is quite a bit different, noting that the dolphins had been “demilitarized” long ago and didn’t care who was feeding them. They say the dolphins were sold off to commercial interests almost immediately, and aren’t in Crimea anymore.

Both the US and Soviet Union engaged in the training of military dolphins during the Cold War, and the Crimea dolphins were what was left of the Soviet program. A US facility for dolphins is still operated in San Diego, now the last site of militarized dolphins in the world.

That the dolphins went from Soviets to Ukrainians to Russians to private industry dolphins was almost certainly lost on them. Ukraine’s story seems designed both to portray the dolphins as fiercely loyal to the military oath, and Russia as so uniquely evil that even dolphins could sense it, and rebelled instinctively. There’s no good evidence for either, of course.

Sen. Tim Kaine Issues Statement in Favor of Sanders-Lee-Murphy Yemen War Powers Challenge

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 19, 2018          
Sarah Peck, 202-228-1174; Miryam Lipper, 202-365-2176 

Kaine Statement On U.S. Involvement In Conflict In Yemen & Sanders-Lee-Murphy Resolution

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, released the following statement today announcing his support for the joint resolution to direct the removal of U.S. armed forces from hostilities in Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress:

“The civil war in Yemen has led to a devastating humanitarian crisis – more than 10,000 civilians have been killed and millions of Yemenis are on the brink of famine. In support of the Saudi-led coalition, the U.S. has stumbled into yet another war without a clear strategy or end in sight. I support the Sanders-Lee-Murphy proposal because I am concerned about continued U.S. involvement in Yemen against the Houthis. Our priority must be ending this conflict through a peace process and focusing on al-Qaeda and ISIS.”

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German Airport Refuses to Refuel Visiting Iran FM’s Plane, Citing Fear of US Sanctions

Attending a high-profile security conference in the Bavarian city of Munich forced Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, and the German Defense Ministry, to take extreme measures to facilitate his arrival and departure.

Zarif was warned by the private companies that operate Munich Airport that they would refuse to refuel his official jet to make the return trip after the conference was over, citing fear the US would punish them for doing so. They suggested that he either bring a plane that could carry enough fuel for the round trip, or instead fly to Vienna, Austria and then drive the 400+ kilometers to Munich for the conference, since Vienna’s airport is run by a different company.

Option three, it turns out, was for Zarif to petition the German government about the problem, and the solution ended up being that the German Defense Ministry agreed that the German military would be in charge of refueling Zarif’s plane for the sake of departing Munich, as they apparently do not fear US reprisals.

All’s well that ends well, but this once again underscores that the US is acting in such bad faith with respect to obliged sanctions relief for Iran that airports nowhere near the US are afraid to refuel official Iranian planes who are invited for major international events.

Iran has been going through this problem virtually from the start of the P5+1 nuclear deal, with European banks fearing financing perfectly legal business deals between Iran and EU companies because they think the US will take revenge on them for doing business with the Iranians. Though publicly US officials have at times denied pressuring EU banks about this, at other times Treasury officials have bragged about how limited Iran’s access to international commerce remains, despite the supposed sanction relief. This incident just adds to Iran’s grievances about the way the deal is being handled, grievances which are largely shared by the EU parties to the deal, whose companies are losing out on lucrative business ties because of US acrimony.