KHASHOGGI UPDATE: SAUDIS ADMIT IT, SORT OF

KHASHOGGI UPDATE: SAUDIS ADMIT IT, SORT OF

As of this writing, Saudi Arabia was reportedly preparing to release a report that acknowledges the death of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate earlier this month. The twist? It was an accident, they say, which occurred during an “unauthorized” attempt to kidnap and repatriate Mr. Khashoggi, who was living in exile as a critic of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. This explanation would fit with what President Trump said he heard from King Salman, the crown prince’s father, yesterday morning — that maybe it was “rogue elements” within the Saudi elite who were responsible for Khashoggi’s death.


Irrespective of its veracity, which is impossible to know, this explanation does have the effect of cooling for now rising tensions between the three main powers involved in the drama—the US, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. For the US and Saudi, Riyadh’s decision to shift the blame onto a few rogues gives President Trump cover to avoid taking actions that significantly downgrade an important — if controversial — relationship with Saudi Arabia. Washington won’t cancel any arms deals, and Riyadh won’t have to follow through on threats to retaliate, say, by cutting oil production or dumping US assets.

Turkish President Erdogan will also see this alibi as a way to ease tensions with Riyadh. His security services first leaked the gruesome allegations that Khashoggi was killed by the Saudis — who have been at odds with Ankara both over Turkish support for Sunni Islamist movements and Turkey’s warm ties with Iran. Erdogan himself—not wanting to escalate tensions—was somewhat diplomatic, proposing a joint investigation with the Saudis.

But the explanation also raises a few questions about what’s going on politically inside of Saudi Arabia, where Prince Mohammed has moved to enact reforms while also ruthlessly suppressing dissent and consolidating power. It’s certainly not uncommon for officials in highly authoritarian systems to misread signals about what their bosses want, or to overstep the bounds of unspoken understandings about what’s permissible — this often happens, for example, in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. On the other hand, 15 officials traveling abroad to kidnap a prominent journalist with powerful friends in the West is a heck of a conspiracy to keep under wraps.

Here’s the dilemma Prince Mohammed now faces if this is the final word from Riyadh: he will have to name and punish some of his own top officials in order to satisfy outside critics. If they are really rogues, then his grip on power may be more uncertain than it seemed. If they are not, he will have to punish people who will consider themselves to have just been following orders.

Even if the official explanation of this deplorable killing eases international tensions, the domestic implications within Saudi Arabia could only just be starting.

Building on more than 15 years of sustainability leadership, Walmart is doubling down on addressing the growing climate crisis by targeting zero emissions across the company's global operations by 2040. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are also committing to help protect, manage or restore at least 50 million acres of land and one million square miles of ocean by 2030 to help combat the cascading loss of nature threatening the planet.

One of the world's most famous political dissidents may die in a Russian prison this week.

Alexei Navalny has been on a hunger strike since March 31 over the authorities' refusal to let his own medical team examine him after he developed signs of tuberculosis. Now, one of his aides says Navalny is "close to death."

The fate of Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic — who was poisoned last summer, allegedly by state officials, treated in Germany, and then jailed upon his return to Russia — is being closely watched both inside and outside the country.

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How bad is the climate crisis? Every year, the UN's Emissions Gap Report shows a large gap between the trajectory we're on and the trajectory we ought to be on, explains climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert. "Every decade now is warmer than the decade before. And we're seeing the damage pile up," says Kolbert, whose latest book is Under A White Sky: The Nature of the Future. "We saw the tremendous wildfire season in California last fall. The hurricane season in the Gulf. These are all connected to climate change, and we're just going to keep seeing more of that." She spoke with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, airing on US public television stations starting April 16. Check local listings.

Watch the episode: Can we fix the planet the same way we broke it?

Ian Bremmer and Bill Maher discussed the global leadership of the United States compared to that of China on a recent episode of Real Time. "The level of corruption in China, the level of corruption in China, even the buildings and the rails you talk about - the average building the Chinese build lasts for 20, 25 years. In the United States, it lasts for 40 to 50. There's a reason why we are still the world's most powerful country," Ian argued. "I'm just saying China's not eating our lunch - that's all."

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As the price of Bitcoin has skyrocketed in recent months, so has the amount of energy that procuring it hogs. Research shows that Bitcoin "mining" now uses 80 percent more energy than at the start of 2020. Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates recently sounded the alarm on crypto, saying that he would not invest in Bitcoin because mining for the digital currency requires huge amounts of energy, much of which is powered by fossil fuels that harm the environment. So where does Bitcoin rank in electricity consumption compared to nations?

Even if the US, Europe, China, and India reduce carbon emissions at the rate they've promised, much climate damage has already been done. That shouldn't stop these and other countries from doing all they can to meet their net-zero emissions targets, but they also better start preparing for a world of people on the move.

Climate change will displace an unprecedented number of people in coming years, creating not just a series of humanitarian crises in many parts of the world, but lasting political, economic, and social upheaval as those of us who live on higher ground try to find a sustainable place for these climate refugees to live.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody, Ian Bremmer here, kicking off your beautiful spring week from New York City. A little Quick Take. I thought I'd talk today about Russia, going to be in the news this week. Putin doesn't like it when they're out of the news for too long, certainly plenty going on between the US and Russia right now.

I'd say, first of all, to start off, the relationship is in the toilet. We know this. It is the worst it's been since the early '80s. That was true even under Trump. Trump and Putin personally had a pretty good relationship, but Trump wasn't able to get anything really done for the Russians, because both the Republicans in Congress, key members of cabinet under Trump, massive amount of constraints on what Trump could actually do, whether it's trying to bring Russia back into the G7 or recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, or remove or reduce sanctions. None of that actually got done. In fact, the relationship deteriorated over the four years.

But now we've got Biden and the focus is of course, more on human rights. The focus is more on climate change, which means that Russia as a massive energy exporter and particularly in terms of their influence on Eastern Europe and Western Europe on the downstream for gas delivery, for example, something that Biden is much more focused on. So a lot more pressure on the Russians, and the Russians don't care. Their willingness to hit back and show that the Americans are not willing to take any significant risks to constrain the Russians is also fairly significant. And this is playing out in a number of ways.

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Pakistani radicals vs French cartoons: It's been a tumultuous week in Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city. After widespread protests broke out across the Muslim world late last year after Paris defended French publications' rights to publish satirical images of the Prophet Mohammad, the radical Pakistani Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), gave Pakistan's government until April 20 to expel the French ambassador, when it had planned nationwide demonstrations. When Prime Minister Imran Khan refused to meet their demands, more violence erupted across the country and authorities arrested the TLP leader — prompting TLP supporters to hit back by kidnapping six state security personnel in Lahore this past weekend. Authorities have now banned the TLP outright and are bracing for more violence in the coming days. France, meanwhile, has urged all of its citizens to leave Pakistan.

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