Briefing :- 22/05/17

Here is CurrentHow’s Briefing™ for the 22nd of May, 2017 :-

1. NASA plans emergency spacewalk on International Space Station :-

NASA plans emergency spacewalk on International Space Station

A pair of astronauts will venture outside the International Space Station on Tuesday for an emergency spacewalk to replace a failed computer, one of two that control major US systems aboard the orbiting outpost, NASA said on Sunday.

The primary device failed on Saturday, leaving the $100 billion orbiting laboratory to depend on a backup system to route commands to its solar power system, radiators, cooling loops and other equipment.

The station’s current five-member crew from the United States, Russia and France were never in any danger, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said in a statement.

Station commander Peggy Whitson and flight engineer Jack Fischer, both with NASA, will partner for the spacewalk, which is expected to last two hours, the US space agency said.

Earlier on Sunday, Whitson assembled and tested a spare electronics box to replace the failed device, which had been installed during a spacewalk on March 30, said NASA spokesman Dan Huot.

NASA’s last emergency spacewalk took place in December 2015 when two US astronauts left the station to release the brakes on a robot arm’s mobile transporter.

The ISS, which is staffed by rotating crews of astronauts and cosmonauts, serves as a research laboratory for biology, life science, materials science and physics experiments, as well as astronomical observations and Earth remote sensing.

The station, owned and operated by 15 nations, flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth and orbits the planet about every 90 minutes. It has been continuously staffed since 2000.

2. University students walk out on US Vice-President Mike Pence speech :-

University students walk out on US VP Pence speech

Dozens of students walked out of Notre Dame University’s commencement exercise on Sunday to protest a speech by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who warned graduates of the prestigious Catholic school against suppressing free speech.

The protesters, among the thousands of graduates and guests assembled in the university’s football stadium, stood up when the conservative Republican began his speech and streamed out of the ceremony, to the jeers of some of those who remained.

A few of the students had messages of protest attached to their traditional “mortarboard” graduation caps. One of them displayed an inverted U.S. flag, a sign of protest popularised during the Vietnam War era, and the words “Are we great again yet?,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan.

In his speech at the Indiana school, Pence squarely addressed the festering controversy of what constitutes free speech on campus, an issue that has intensified at many universities since Trump’s election victory last year.

“I would submit that the increasing intolerance and suppression of the time-honored tradition of free expression on our campuses jeopardises the liberties of every American. This should not, and must not be met with silence,” Pence said, in an apparent reference to efforts to bar him from speaking.

Protests, some of them violent, have erupted at schools across the country in recent months to stop appearances by conservative commentators such as Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos. In at least some cases, schools have cancelled the events, citing safety concerns.

Organisers of the Notre Dame protest said they wanted to voice their objections to policies advocated by Pence as part of the Trump administration and while he was governor, including a proposal to suspend immigration from some Muslim-majority countries that has so far been blocked in courts.

“The participation and degree-conferring of VP Pence stand as an endorsement of policies and actions which directly contradict Catholic social teachings and values,” undergraduate Xitlaly Estrada was quoted as saying in a statement from We Stand For ND, a group that helped organise the walk-out.

Pence, who served as Indiana’s governor before his election as vice president, also took issue with efforts at some U.S. universities to shelter students from what they consider objectionable points of view or to recommend language to be used in classes or other school functions.

“Far too many campuses across America have been characterised by speech codes, safe zones, tone policing, administration-sanctioned political correctness all of which amounts to nothing less than the suppression of the freedom of speech,” Pence told the audience at the campus in South Bend.

Pence delivered his address as Trump completed the initial day of the first overseas trip of his presidency. In a speech in Saudi Arabia, Trump called on Middle Eastern leaders to do their fair share to defeat Islamist extremists.

3. Philippines’ Duterte heads to Russia in blow to the United States :-

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte flies to Russia on Monday to meet his hero, seek arms and steer his nation’s foreign policy course further away from longtime ally the United States.

The five-day trip will cement a dramatic improvement in ties between the two nations since Duterte came to power last year and began unravelling the Philippines’ decades-long alliances with the United States, which he accuses of hypocrisy and bullying.

Duterte will on Thursday meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he has described as his “favourite hero” and proclaimed a personal bond because of mutual passions such as guns and hunting.

Duterte said on Friday one of the top priorities of his trip was to secure Russian precision-guided bombs to use on Islamic militants in the southern Philippines.

“If they can spare us with the precision guided (bombs),” Duterte said when discussing the purpose of his trip.

“We have so many smart bombs but not as accurate.”

Duterte’s seeking of weapons from Russia comes as he dials down cooperation with the United States, the Philippines’ former colonial ruler that has for decades been its most important military ally and protector.

He has scaled down the number and scope of annual military exercises with the US, barred Filipino forces from joint patrols in the disputed South China Sea, and called for the withdrawal of American troops from the Philippines.

The shift occurred as China has become more assertive in challenging US might in the region by expanding its presence in the South China Sea, which it claims almost in its entirety.

Despite China’s expansionism extending into areas of the sea claimed by the Philippines, Duterte has been determined to pivot his nation’s foreign policy away from the United States in favour of Beijing and Moscow.

This has partly been due to China and Russia supporting or at least not criticising his controversial war on drugs, which has left thousands of people dead and led to warnings by rights groups that Duterte may be orchestrating a crime against humanity.

Duterte has railed against the United States, particularly when Barack Obama was president, for criticising the drug war.

On a state visit to China last year, Duterte announced the Philippines’ “separation” from the United States.

“I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world — China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way,” he said in Beijing.

Duterte, who describes himself as a socialist, and Putin first met on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Peru last November.

“Historically, I have been identified with the Western world. It was good until it lasted. And of late, I see a lot of these Western nations bullying small nations,” Duterte told Putin then.

Since then, two Russian Navy flotillas have visited Manila.

“The Russians are with me, I shall not be afraid,” Duterte said while touring the Russian Navy’s guided missile cruiser Varyag during a port visit to Manila last month.

The Philippines and Russia established diplomatic ties 41 years ago but, until Duterte took office, relations remained relatively low key.

This was partly due to the Philippines’ alliance with the United States.

Philippine-Russian trade last year totalled just $226 million, according to government data. Philippine-US trade was worth more than $18 billion last year.

Relations remain at the “nascent stage”, but this will change, assistant Philippine foreign secretary Maria Cleofe Natividad told reporters in a briefing on Duterte’s trip to Russia.

“We consider this visit as a landmark that will send a strong message of the Philippines’ commitment to seek new partnerships and strengthen relations with non-traditional partners,” she said.

Duterte visiting Moscow will be a “propaganda victory for Putin and a soft-power coup for Russia,” Richard Javad Heydarian, a foreign policy analyst in Manila, told AFP.

“It will be their way of poking the eye of America.”

4. Trump continues Iran nuclear tirade as tensions mount in West Asia :-

US President Donald Trump said Monday during a visit to Jerusalem that Iran must never be allowed to have nuclear weapons while also denouncing Tehran’s support for “terrorists”.

“Most importantly the United States and Israel can declare with one voice that Iran must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon — never ever — and must cease its deadly funding, training and equipping of terrorists and militias,” Trump said in remarks at Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s residence.

“And it must cease immediately.”

Trump’s remarks were his latest salvo against Iran since starting his first foreign trip after taking office.

On the first leg of his trip in Saudi Arabia, Trump lashed out at Iran, accusing it of fuelling “the fires of sectarian conflict and terror” and calling for its international isolation.

Iran’s newly re-elected President Hassan Rouhani dismissed President Trump’s summit with Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia this weekend as “just a show”.

“The gathering in Saudi Arabia was just a show with no practical or political value of any kind. You can’t solve terrorism just by giving people’s money to a superpower,” Rouhani said at a press conference on Tehran, referring to the billion-dollar deals signed between the US and Saudi Arabia.
The yawning gap between Tehran and Washington has grown even wider with US President Donald Trump’s latest efforts to isolate Iran, which accused the United States of “milking” Saudi Arabia for petro-dollars.

Trump’s choice of Saudi Arabia, Iran’s bitter regional rival, for his first official foreign visit reflects the deep antagonism of his administration towards the Islamic republic.

The US president signed a giant list of deals, worth a total of $380 billion, including $110 billion for weapons that will invariably find their way into the numerous conflicts of the region — including Syria, Yemen and Iraq — where Riyadh and Tehran often find themselves on opposing sides.

Trump also vilified Iran as the greatest source of instability in the Middle East, though many observers noted the irony that his claims came on the same day that 41 million Iranians enthusiastically took part in elections, with a sizeable majority backing President Hassan Rouhani and his policy of engagement with the world.

Relations with the US and Iran have been under deep freeze since the Islamic revolution of 1979, which deposed the Washington-backed shah.

Trump’s team is dedicated to reversing his predecessor’s efforts at rapprochement with Iran, which saw a nuclear deal signed in 2015, lifting many sanctions.

“From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds, arms and trains terrorists, militias and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region,” Trump said in Riyadh on Sunday.

He called on all countries to work together to isolate Iran “until the Iranian regime is willing to be a partner for peace”.

Analysts fear tensions are growing out of control.

“Battlelines are being drawn and it’s worrying, especially when it comes just a day after the election victory of Rouhani which showed a real dynamic in favour of democratisation and opening in Iranian society,” said Azadeh Kian of Sciences Po University in Paris.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who spearheaded the nuclear negotiations, reacted sarcastically,  comparing this weekend’s elections in Iran to the lack of democracy in Saudi Arabia.

“Iran — fresh from real elections — attacked by @POTUS in that bastion of democracy and moderation,” Zarif tweeted, referring to the US president.

Is that a serious foreign policy, he asked, or is the US “simply milking” Saudi Arabia for billions of dollars?

Tehran sees itself as the vital force holding back the advance of the Islamic State jihadist group both in Syria and Iraq, and finds it hard to comprehend US bellicosity.

Shiite Iran regularly points to the Saudis’ fundamentalist Wahhabi creed and their efforts to spread it around the Muslim world as the root cause of violent Sunni jihadism.

“Unfortunately, with the hostile and offensive policies of American officials, we see once again the reinforcement of terrorist groups in the region… and the dictators that support them,” said Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi on Monday.

The US and its Arab allies in the Gulf respond that Iran and Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has helped perpetuate the chaos.

And they say Iran’s support for Lebanese militia Hezbollah and Shiite Huthi rebel forces in Yemen are deeply destabilising.

But Iran’s Press TV wrote on Sunday that the aggression coming from Riyadh this weekend ultimately reflected the Saudis’ realisation that they are losing in conflicts across the Middle East.

“The Riyadh regime has… failed to achieve its objectives despite going to great expense,” it wrote in an editorial.

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