[May 16] 10th Asian Leadership Conference, Iraq's largest Sunni coalition splits into two, U.S.-Iran updates
PHOTO: Chosun.com. During the opening ceremony of the 10th Asian Leadership Conference (ALC), participants are listening to opening remarks. Of the table in the center starting from the left, clockwise: former Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan, Speaker of the Korean National Assembly Hee-sang Moon, Prince Andrew of the United Kingdom, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Nikki Haley, former Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.
The 10th Asian Leadership Conference (ALC) was held at Hotel Shilla in Seoul, Korea from May 14-15 under the theme “The World at a Crossroads: Searching for Concrete Solutions.”
Around 170 leaders from around the world took part in the conference hosted by Chosun Ilbo. Over 2000 people participated in the conference, including Korean National Assembly Speaker Hee-sang Moon and Vice Speakers Ju-young Lee and Seung-yong Joo, party leaders and secretaries-general of both ruling and opposition parties. Speaker Moon, in his congratulatory message, emphasized that Korea is at the crossroads of the peace process of the Korean Peninsula and that there has been an atmosphere of peace since the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. He called for in-depth discussions of the various issues outlined in the program in this context.
Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, and the former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley delivered keynote speeches on North Korea. Former Speaker Paul Ryan said that “maximum pressure is the best way to arrive at denuclearization, so the international community must be unified in its voice”, and Ms. Haley also echoed the idea by saying that “right now is not the time to provide aid to North Korea”. On China, she said that “China incurs emergency situations from the outside to draw out nationalism and fear, making the world a more dangerous place”, and that “China is a serious security threat to other countries in the region”. Former Speaker Ryan also warned that “if China pursues hostile competition in its rise, it will slow down its path to both prosperity and commerce”, adding that China still has not met standards such as intellectual property rights protection. On the recent trade “squabble” with China, Ryan said that President Trump is the right man to straighten out the U.S.-China imbalance, and that U.S. is politically ready and supportive of President Trump’s actions.
Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroder offered his experiences of drastic cuts to the welfare state and German reunification. Nobel laureate and economist Paul Romer offered his insights on innovation and economic growth.
On the second day of the conference, former Italian Prime Minister Mateo Renzi delivered a lecture on the dangers of populism. Experts from Brookings Institution, Heritage Foundation, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Atlantic Council held a debate on security and defense policies, while consultants from McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Company offered their insights on corporate survival.
PHOTO: Haydar Karaalp/Anadolu Agency/Middle East Monitor. A Parliamentary session at the Parliament Building in Baghdad, Iraq on 3 September 2018.
The National Axis alliance, the largest Sunni bloc in the Iraqi parliament, has split into two: the Alliance of Iraqi Forces and the National Axis Alliance following internal differences between its members.
The rift began earlier on Sunday when Speaker Al-Halbusi referred the names of 15 lawmakers of the National Axis Alliance to the Supreme Anti-Corruption Council for “suspicions related to the election of the new governor of Nineveh.” The National Axis Alliance members allegedly bribed some within the provincial council to vote for their candidate. The anti-corruption council launched an investigation into the Nineveh election which got Mansour Marid elected governor.
In response, National Axis Alliance members revoked the Speaker’s membership in the Alliance on Monday “due to his efforts to break the alliance apart” and “not committing to the framework and goals [of the alliance], with 33 Sunni lawmakers (nearly two-thirds of the Sunni National Axis Alliance) withdrawing and forming the Alliance of Iraqi Forces led by Al-Halbulsi while the remaining Sunni representatives gathered behind the National Axis Alliance led by Khamis Al-Khanjar.
The dispute means Sunnis in Baghdad are now split into three camps – one working with al-Bina coalition (cleric Musqtada al-Sadr’s group), the remnants of the National Axis Alliance in the pro-Iran bloc, and the new group backing the speaker. The fractures could weaken Sunni representation in the federal government, leaving Sunni areas of the country, already ravaged by war with the Islamic State, in even worse shape. It could also further hamper efforts to fill the post of Minister of Defence, a position reserved for the Sunnis that has been vacant since the government of Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi was sworn in last October.
PHOTO: STR/AFP/Getty Images. Iranian demonstrators raise placards as they chant anti-US slogans during a rally in Tehran on May 10.
Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that Iran will force the United States to retreat by "resistance," which he described as the only option against unrelenting US pressure. During a meeting with the country's top political elites, including President Hassan Rouhani and parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, Khamenei？ dismissed the possibility that the United States and Iran would go to war, stating that the Americans understand that any such conflict will not serve their interests.
Khamenei reasserted his earlier stance that dialogue with the current US government is not an option: "As long as the United States is what it is now…negotiating is but poison, and with this current administration that poison is twice [as lethal]." Khamenei praised Iran's missile program, stressing that it remains nonnegotiable. He underlined Iran's "self-sufficiency drive," which he said is being pursued by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
On the economic front, however, Khamenei admitted that Iranians, particularly the poor and the middle class, were under strain. At the same time, he rejected the idea that the economy is in a state of deadlock. The Americans "are right, these sanctions are unprecedented," he said. "But the point is that the Islamic Republic is made up of a powerful metal."
U.S. President Trump expressed optimism about his efforts to force Iran back to the negotiating table, writing “I’m sure that Iran will want to talk soon” on Twitter. Amid the heightened tension in the region, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration was considering sending 120,000 troops to the Middle East if Iran struck U.S. forces or resumed its nuclear program. When questioned, Trump dismissed the report as “fake news” and then suggested that “we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that”.
Khamenei's speech was his first public reaction to a recent military buildup by the United States in the Persian Gulf, which has triggered speculations that the two sides are inching closer to a full-blown war. On Wednesday, U.S. State Department has ordered several hundred U.S. diplomatic personnel to leave Iraq, citing heightened threats from neighboring Iran amid a buildup of U.S. military forces. Last week, U.S. deployed the Abraham Lincoln carrier task force and Air Force B-52 bombers to the region, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid a surprise visit to Iraq.
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia said armed drones struck two of its oil pumping stations on the east-west Petroline pipeline in an apparent long-range attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The state-run oil company, Aramco, temporarily shut down the pipeline, sending crude prices up by 1.4%. The aforementioned rebels have been fighting a Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen since 2015 and are believed to have received drones, ballistic missiles, and other arms from Iran.
On Sunday, two Saudi oil tankers, an Emirati vessel, and a Norwegian-registered oil product tanker that were bunkering close to Fujairah in the UAE have been sabotaged. U.S. national security agencies have blamed Iran, Houthis, or other Iranian proxies, but have not offered any conclusive proof. Iran has denied involvement.