8 February 2019   Leave a comment

France has recalled its Ambassador to Italy, an extraordinary event usually reserved to the penultimate step to breaking off diplomatic relations. That it has occurred to two of the most important members of the European Union is difficult to explain. But the rupture reflects the deteriorating relations between the Italian government and the European Union over the Italian budget. It also reflects the populist character of the current Italian government dominated by the eurosceptic 5 Star Movement and the right-wing League Party. The antipathies between Italy and France are deep and complicated, but this immediate action was precipitated by the visit by
Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the 5 Star Movement with members of the “yellow vest” movement in France. The Washington Post lists the other issues facing the two states:

“The war of words between the Italians and Macron has touched on immigration, nationalism, neocolonialism and European values. It has spilled over into culture, threatening a planned loan of works by Leonardo da Vinci for a major exhibition at the Louvre in October.”

As Politico describes the da Vinci dispute: “The Louvre wants to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo Da Vinci’s death in October. In 2017 the Italian government agreed to lend the Paris museum much of the work it owns by Da Vinci. But that might now not happen. “Leonardo is Italian, he just died in France,” said Lucia Borgonzoni, Italy’s undersecretary of state for culture, in November. “He’s not called Leonardò, as they call him, but Leonardo,” she added while announcing her intention to renegotiate the deal.” Such is the stuff of world politics today.

The Trump Administration has indicted that it will not meet the deadline to report to Congress on the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October. The deadline is one imposed by the Magnitsky Act which requires the President to respond to a request by Congress on certain human rights abuses within 120 days of receipt from the Congressional request. According to Bloomberg:

“The former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker of Tennessee, and the senior Democrat on the panel, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, sent a letter to the administration in October invoking the Magnitsky Act of 2016 to demand an investigation of Khashoggi’s death and determine whether new sanctions should be imposed on Saudi Arabia….

The New York Times reported Thursday that the crown prince once told another top aide, Turki Aldakhil, that he would use a “bullet” on Khashoggi if the columnist didn’t return to the kingdom and stop his criticism. The Times, citing unidentified current and former U.S. intelligence officials, said the 2017 conversation was intercepted by U.S. spy agencies.”

President Trump has consistently refused to blame the Saudi Crown Prince Salman for the murder despite the CIA’s assessment that the Crown Prince was definitely responsible. Politico points out: “Last year, CIA intelligence overwhelmingly implicated Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the plot to kill Khashoggi, who had criticized the crown prince and members of the royal family. Khashoggi was living in exile in the United States.”

The Magnitsky Act does not seem to offer the President discretion in not responding to a request from Congress, but I am not a lawyer. But it would be difficult for President Trump to deny Salman’s responsibility–and the consequent sanctions on Salman demanded by the Act–in the face of the CIA’s finding.

Thus, we are left wondering why the Trump Administration is so reluctant to sanction Saudi Arabia. The President has indicated that he does not wish to jeopardize the proposed arms deals with Saudi Arabia, but the actual economic consequences of ending those deals would be insignificant. A new explanation emerged today in the dispute between Jeff Bezos of Amazon and the National Enquirer. Evidence has surfaced that the Enquirer may have had economic dealings with Saudi Arabia and it is clear that Saudi Arabia would like to defang Bezos, the owner of the Washington Post.  Khashoggi was a writer for the Post and the newspaper has been relentless in pursuing the truth about Khashoggi’s murder. And it is no secret that David Pecker, the owner of the Enquirer, is a long-time friend of President Trump.

Posted February 8, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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