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U.S. tamps down expectations for talks with Russia amid Ukraine crisis

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday he does not expect breakthroughs in U.S.-Russia security talks this week but hopes to find some common ground amid a crisis in Ukraine.

“I don’t think we’re going to see any breakthroughs in the coming week,” Blinken said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“We’re going to be able to put things on the table. Russians will do the same … and we’ll see if there are grounds for moving forward,” he said.

He said any progress would depend on actions from both sides in negotiations that Washington hopes will avert prospects for a new Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Any movement to resolve the issues, he said, will have to happen on a reciprocal basis.

Blinken’s comments lowering expectations for the upcoming talks echoed Russia’s hard line on Sunday that it would not make any concessions under U.S. pressure at talks this week on the Ukraine crisis.

He stressed that progress would be difficult, if not impossible, amid Moscow’s large military buildup at its border with Ukraine.

“To make actual progress, it’s very hard to see that happening when there’s an ongoing escalation, when Russia has a gun to the head of Ukraine with 100,000 troops near its borders,” Blinken said on ABC’s “This Week.”

 

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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Factbox: Lebanon's Hariri's turbulent career in politics – Reuters

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Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri speaks after meeting with Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon March 22, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

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BEIRUT, Jan 24 (Reuters) – Lebanon’s leading Sunni Muslim politician Saad al-Hariri said on Monday he would not run in a forthcoming parliamentary election and was suspending his role in political life, urging his political party to do the same.

Hariri has served three times as prime minister, but his political fortunes have waned in recent years, with his position weakened by the loss of Saudi support.

* Hariri, 51, inherited the political mantle of his father, Rafik, after his assassination in 2005, becoming the leading Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s sectarian politics. In 2020, a U.N.-backed tribunal convicted a member of the heavily armed, Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah of conspiring to kill Rafik al-Hariri. Hezbollah denies any involvement.

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* His early years in politics were defined by his close alliance with Saudi Arabia and confrontation with Lebanese allies of Syria and Iran, chief among them Hezbollah. He led a Western-backed Lebanese alliance called “March 14”. Tensions spilled into a brief armed conflict in 2008, during which Hezbollah took over Beirut.

* He formed and led his first coalition government in 2009 after March 14 won a parliamentary majority.

* That cabinet was toppled in 2011 when Hezbollah and its allies quit over tensions linked to the U.N.-backed tribunal. For several years, he mostly stayed outside Lebanon on security grounds. He was strongly critical of Hezbollah’s role fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

* Having led opposition to Hezbollah’s arsenal for years, Hariri was widely seen to set the issue aside as he began to make political understandings with Hezbollah and some of its allies. This resulted in a deal in 2016 that made the Hezbollah-allied Christian politician Michel Aoun president, with Hariri becoming prime minister for a second time.

* While continuing to oppose Hezbollah’s possession of arms, Hariri described the arsenal as a regional matter bigger than Lebanon, where he said the focus should be on tackling economic problems. Anti-Hezbollah hawks accused him of compromises and abandoning the principles of March 14.

* His political network in Lebanon, including media outlets, began suffering a financial crisis around 2015. This was a sign of the collapsing fortunes of Hariri’s Saudi-based construction firm Saudi Oger, the source of the wealth that helped make Rafik al-Hariri Lebanon’s leading Sunni after the 1975-90 civil war.

* The strains in Hariri’s ties with Saudi Arabia, which analysts believe was angered by his compromises in Lebanon, surfaced in 2017 when he was held while on a visit to the kingdom and forced to declare his resignation. Though Riyadh and Hariri deny this, the incident was widely reported. French President Emmanuel Macron, who mediated an end to the crisis, has said Hariri was held. Hariri returned to Beirut and retracted his resignation.

* Financially weakened, Hariri’s Future Movement lost more than a third of its seats in a 2018 parliamentary election. But he remained the biggest Sunni player, and led another coalition cabinet.

* His last spell as prime minister ended in 2019 when Hariri resigned in response to mass protests against the ruling elite, which erupted as Lebanon sank into financial crisis. Hariri’s ties with Aoun soured badly, and Hariri wanted Aoun’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, and other leading politicians removed in a government reshuffle, to be replaced with technocrats. Hariri and Bassil blamed each other for obstructing reforms that could have averted the financial crisis.

(This story has been refiled to edit the headline)

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Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by William Maclean

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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On energy and climate, politics is the problem – Maclean's

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Nik Nanos and Brendan Frank: Climate disasters are piling up, and the public discourse around climate is getting more ambitious

Nik Nanos is the Chief Data Scientist and Founder of Nanos Research and Chair of the University of Ottawa’s Positive Energy Advisory Council. Brendan Frank is a Senior Research Associate with Positive Energy and the Institute for Science, Society and Policy.

Canada has had several heated debates over energy and climate policies in recent years. The optimism and action that followed the 2015 Paris Conference quickly faced strong resistance at home and abroad. And despite our policy progress, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions curve remains stubbornly flat. At the same time, there has been a pronounced shift in the public debate as awareness grows and climate disasters pile up.

Over the last year-and-a-half, the University of Ottawa’s Positive Energy program and Nanos Research have asked Canadians whether it is a good or a bad time to be ambitious in addressing climate change. Canadians increasingly think it is a good time to be ambitious. Last summer, twice as many Canadians (36%) said it is the best possible time to be ambitious compared to Summer 2020 (17%). 

But do Canadians have a good sense of where their neighbours stand on climate action? Our latest round of survey results suggest maybe not.

For our most recent survey, we decided to measure perceptions of whether there is consensus on several climate and energy policies. We asked respondents to rate on a scale of 0 (no agreement at all) to 10 (complete agreement), how much agreement they believe there is on both climate action and oil and gas production in Canada. 

READ: Canadian politicians won’t be able to ignore climate change in 2022

On climate action, the results are mixed. Only 22 percent of Canadians think there are high levels of agreement on climate action (scores of 7-10), 44 percent think there are mediocre levels of agreement (4-6), 28 percent think there are low levels of agreement (0-3), while six percent are unsure. Mean scores suggesting agreement were comparatively higher among Canadians over 55, Atlantic Canadians, Quebecois, and left-leaning Canadians (all 5.1 out of 10). Mean scores were lower among Canadians under 35, Canadians living in the Prairies, and right-leaning Canadians (all 4.2 out of 10). Interestingly, Canadians inclined to vote for the Liberal Party think there are higher levels of agreement (5.3 out of 10) relative to Conservative (4.0 out of 10) or NDP voters (4.6 out of 10). In fact, Liberal voters were the most optimistic subgroup that we surveyed.

On oil and gas production there are stronger perceptions of division. Only 18 percent of Canadians think there are high levels of agreement, 36 percent say there are mediocre levels of agreement, 37 percent say there are low levels of agreement, and 10 percent are unsure. Here, we see lower perceived agreement among Canadians under 35 (3.7 out of 10), NDP voters and left-leaning Canadians (3.6 out of 10) when compared to Canadians aged 35 to 54 (4.6 out of 10) and right-leaning Canadians (4.7 out of 10). There isn’t much optimism to go around; no subgroup had a mean score above 5.0. Again, we see a gap between perceptions of opinion and actual opinion. In a previous Positive Energy/Nanos survey, Canadians were in fairly strong agreement about the importance of oil and gas to Canada’s economy, though somewhat less bullish on its future importance (mean scores of 7.6 and 6.0 out of 10, respectively, using the same 0 to 10 scale).

Next, we asked Canadians why they held these opinions. For climate action, the most common answers among Canadians who think there are mediocre or low levels of agreement were climate denial (18% and 16%, respectively), political polarization (17% and 19%, respectively), and the existence of other policy priorities (17% and 14%, respectively). Among Canadians who said there are high levels of agreement, the most common response was that action is being taken (28%). 

MORE: The Indigenous grandmothers who stopped a pipeline

On the question of oil and gas production, Canadians who believe there are high levels of agreement pointed out that we are highly dependent on oil and gas for many things (19%) and that these resources are important to the economy (16%). Among Canadians who said there are mediocre or low levels of agreement, polarization between the provinces was the most common answer by far (29% and 35%, respectively). The future of oil and gas remains a sticky subject in both politics and the court of public opinion. 

Is there more or less perceived polarization compared to five years ago?

Over two in five Canadians (41%) think there is much more agreement compared to five years ago on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to meet Canada’s international targets (7-10 out of 10) compared to just one in five (19%) who think there is much less agreement (0-3 out of 10). On issues like carbon taxes, building pipelines, and the future of oil and gas production in Canada, respondents were more likely to say there is much less agreement compared to five years ago than they were to say there is much more agreement; none had a mean score above 5.0 out of 10.

What does this mean in terms of the future?

In the 2021 federal election, every major party platform adopted the language of net zero by 2050. Even if you take a cynical view of politics, this is a significant rhetorical shift. Yet as these results show, Canadians are far more likely to see politics as a problem rather than a solution, and some actually think there is less consensus on meeting Canada’s international GHG targets compared to five years ago. Forthcoming research from Positive Energy also suggests that it’s not just the public—many decision-makers also believe that partisan politics is limiting consensus-building by making us seem further apart on climate action and many energy issues than we actually are. 

Overall, perception may be worse than reality when it comes to the public debate over certain energy and climate policies. Of all the policy areas we surveyed, climate action appears to be the most promising opportunity to expand the tent. However, much of it will come down to the way our leaders behave and the examples they set. The current cross-partisan consensus on net zero by 2050 is still vulnerable. As recent history shows, things can heat up quickly when the policy rubber hits the road.

Source: Positive Energy/Nanos Research, RDD dual frame hybrid telephone and online random survey, October 31 to November 3, 2021, n=1026, accurate 3.1 percentage points plus or minus, 19 times out of 20. Full research report details here.

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Erin O'Toole is peddling garbage politics – National Observer

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Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole recently released a 42-second video decrying the Liberal plan to phase out fossil fuels within the next year and a half, knowing it wasn’t true.

O’Toole starts off by telling us the temperature and informing us we live in a cold country before alleging the Liberal government wants to phase out fossil fuel usage in 18 months.

“But Steven Guilbeault, he wants to end fossil fuel usage in 18 months. He just said that in an interview. Someone so disconnected from reality that he’s making policy that will hurt our country.”

Aside from not wearing a toque when it is apparently below -20 C outside, the problem with O’Toole’s video is that his phase-out assertion is completely false.

What O’Toole was referring to were comments made by Guilbeault to The Narwhal wherein the minister rattles off some of the things the federal government is aiming to accomplish in the near term: “We don’t have five years to consult every time we want to introduce a new measure. I told you earlier that my timeline is two years, so in the next two years, more stringent methane regulations, zero-emission vehicle standards, net-zero grid by 2035, cap on oil and gas, and obviously phasing out fossil fuel, all of these things must be in place in the coming 18 months.”

It should be evident to anyone who follows federal politics or has more than one functioning neural synapse that Guilbeault was referring to phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.

We shouldn’t expect politicians from opposite sides of the aisle to help their opponents take their feet out of their mouths. If politics is a blood sport, then surely jumping on your opponent’s inability to communicate is fair game. But that’s not what this is. This is a willful misrepresentation of what Guilbeault said. As Toronto Star journalist Althia Raj noted, O’Toole expressly acknowledged earlier in the day that the minister likely erred, stating, “I’m sure he made a mistake saying that.”

Shortly after O’Toole posted the video, Guilbeault took to his own Twitter account to make the explicit clarification. Yet both the video and the subsequent written statement put out by the Office of the Leader of the Official Opposition echoing the remarks made in the video are still up on O’Toole’s account.

It’s certainly true that politicians of all stripes massage facts in a way that advances their own political goals or partisan agenda. But we should all be concerned when run-of-the-mill partisan spin delves into the wilful promotion of objectively false information.

This peddling of misinformation isn’t a one-off for this iteration of the Conservative Party. Rather worryingly, mainlining misinformation to rile up its base has been the Conservative shtick for a while now, and besides appealing to common collective decency, there’s no real incentive for the Conservatives to stop, as their fundraising numbers attest.

Opinion: Canadians deserve a Conservative Party that will hold the government to account while refusing to peddle misinformation and blatant conspiracy theories, writes columnist @supriyadwivedi. #Politics #CPC

Misinformation doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Saying false things to simply make people angry has consequences that go beyond trying to reach Conservative Party fundraising goals. It’s how extreme rhetoric against your political opponent becomes normalized.

The Conservative Party’s embrace of misinformation is made worse by the fact that Canadian Tories have been fomenting a climate of hate and vitriol for a while now, all as part of their strategy.

It was an active choice by the party to make the barbaric cultural practices tip line and the wearing of a niqab during a citizenship ceremony an election issue in 2015. In 2017, during the federal Conservative leadership race, a majority of contenders shored up support among Islamophobes by attacking a non-binding parliamentary motion condemning Islamophobia (known as M103) mere weeks after six men were gunned down in a Quebec City mosque.

About a year later, during the debate on whether Canada should sign onto the UN Global Compact on Migration, Conservatives regularly misrepresented the compact’s scope and intent. Ridiculous claims such as Canada relinquishing control of its borders to the UN or that Canada would no longer have jurisdiction over its immigration process.

Canadians deserve a Conservative Party that will hold the government to account while refusing to peddle misinformation and blatant conspiracy theories. Yet given the way the Tories have decided to conduct themselves since the 2015 election, it’s clear they seem to think blatant dishonesty is a winning strategy for them.

That’s bad enough. What’s worse is it might just eventually work.

Then we’re really screwed. We have ample examples from around the world, including in the U.S., of what happens when mainstream political parties embrace misinformation all for partisan political gain.

Truth is the last bastion of any civilized society. Let’s not give up being civilized so easily.

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