Diplomats like to remain neutral but Nanaia Mahuta let the veil slip a little when a winner was declared in the U.S. election by tweeting a smiley-face emoji.
Mahuta, the first indigenous Maori woman to be appointed New Zealand’s foreign affairs minister, suppresses a real-life smile when asked about it.
“Look, what I can say is that there were encouraging signs in those speeches,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press. She said the victory speech by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris was “inspirational to many women around the world.”
Mahuta, 50, was a surprise pick for the role, despite being a respected performer in Parliament for almost half her life, since she was first elected in 1996 at age 26. She is part of the most diverse group of lawmakers ever appointed to the top roles in Cabinet after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won a second term in a landslide victory last month.
Mahuta said she felt joyous at being chosen and promised to bring a new perspective to foreign affairs.
She didn’t have to wait long for her first contentious moment. New Zealand has long been cautious of criticizing China, its largest trading partner.
But Mahuta last week took the step of joining Australia, Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. in condemning China for imposing new rules to disqualify legislators in Hong Kong.
China reacted with anger.
“Be careful not to get poked in the eye,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in response, referring to the “Five Eyes” military alliance among the five countries.
Mahuta said she had talked with Ardern before deciding to sign the statement and felt it was a natural progression to “turn the dial up” and join with other countries. She said she thinks the relationship with China is mature enough to withstand such disagreements.
Still, it will pose a challenge for Mahuta to find the right balance to strike with an increasingly assertive China and a combative U.S. For now, Mahuta said she intends to focus on building relationships with New Zealand’s immediate island neighbors in the Pacific, even if the coronavirus prevents her traveling there in person.
“This could be the period of the Zoom diplomacy,” she said.
People around the world have been curious about Mahuta’s moko kauae, or sacred facial tattoo, which she got four years ago to celebrate her heritage, ancestors and connection to Papatuanuku, or Mother Earth.
“The most common question is, did it hurt?” she laughs.
The answer? Not really, because her mind went to a different place.
She said wearing the moko makes her more mindful “in how you want to be as a person, how you treat other people. So that it’s almost like a compass.”
Thirty years ago, before there was a revival of Maori culture in New Zealand, facial tattoos tended to be associated with gang members. Mahuta said she still finds negative reactions to hers in some parts of the country, but these days most people recognize it as an affirmation of culture.
Mahuta is the daughter of the late Sir Robert Mahuta, a key figure in the Tainui tribe who helped settle a groundbreaking financial claim with the government for land that was taken during colonization.
Mahuta said her father was her mentor and a tough taskmaster. But it was the students she met as a university tutor who convinced her to go into politics, not her dad.
“I think if he had his way, I wouldn’t be in politics, I’d be in the tribe,” she said.
Lara Greaves, a lecturer in politics at the University of Auckland, said Mahuta is well prepared for her role because she has spent her whole life steeped in high-level cultural diplomacy in Maori society.
“I think it’s a really positive move,” Greaves said.
She said the surprise at Mahuta’s appointment -- her own included — likely reflected the dominance that men still have internationally in foreign affairs.
Mahuta said she’d like to see more women involved.
“I’m a part of a very small group of women who have now reached out and linked arms to say, well, there’s is a lot that we can do together,” she said.
In her office, Mahuta points out various artifacts that have meaning for her — the baskets of knowledge from the Pacific, the pictures of the prime minister who invited her ancestor into Parliament. And then she gets to the Silvanian Families village in the corner.
“I have a 7-year-old daughter who’s made part of this office hers,” Mahuta said. “One of the things I’ve learned when I’ve been in Parliament is to make it family friendly.”
US President-elect Joe Biden’s decision to appoint a Palestinian-American to a key White House position has sparked a storm of political controversy.
Biden had announced at the start of the week that Reema Dodin will serve as one of two deputy directors of his legislative affairs team, which helps define presidential policies. The other is Shuwanza Goff, who is an African American.
The appointment of Dodin, a veteran Washington insider, adds substance to campaign promises made by Biden in his six-page “Plan for Partnership” with the Arab American community, published in August, in which he promised to repeal the Trump administration’s so-called 'Muslim ban' and recognize Arab-American rights.
“The American people are eager for our administration to get to work, and today’s appointees will help advance our agenda and ensure every American has a fair shot,” Biden said. “In a Biden administration we will have an open door to the Hill and this team will make sure their views are always represented in the White House.”
Ron Klain, Biden’s White House chief of staff, said: “President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris share a bold agenda that will build our nation back better than before. Our team will work with the president-elect and vice president-elect to implement that agenda and deliver results for American families.”
Pro-Israel groups and organizations criticized the appointment of Dodin, accusing her of attempting to justify “suicide bombings.” The allegation, which was supported by a twisting of the facts about past comments she made, is a common criticism leveled against Palestinians appointed to public office in US, based on presumed support for Palestinian rights.
The Jerusalem Post, a conservative, English-language Israeli newspaper, highlighted a comment Dodin allegedly made in 2002 in which she told an audience in Lodi, California, that “suicide bombers were the last resort of a desperate people.”
She also participated in a rally supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) movement, which opposes Israel’s policy of stealing land from Palestinians, setting up illegal settlements and harvesting the land for profit.
More than 26 US states, including Illinois, have passed legislation that makes support of BDS illegal and punishable in a number of ways.
Reacting to the appointment of Dodin, Arab News reported an article published on the website of anti-Arab extremist Sarah Geller said: “As predicted, the radical anti-Israel Left will have a prominent role in the potential Joe Biden administration. Palestinian American Reema Dodin, who has expressed support for suicide bombings against Israelis, will help negotiate legislation for Joe Biden.”
The pro-Israel Jewish Press also slammed Dodin in their coverage, citing claims that she is “acting as an agent of influence for the [Muslim] Brotherhood’s operations inside America.”
Dodin, who worked for many years as deputy chief of staff for Senator Dick Durbin, a moderate and popular Democrat from Illinois, immediately made her Twitter account private, apparently in an attempt to prevent critics from sifting through her past comments and using them to portray her as an extremist.
Durbin issued a statement in which he welcomed the appointment of Dodin to the Biden administration, and praised her service to his office. In a message posted on Twitter, he wrote: “Excited that my floor director, Reema Dodin, will be joining President-elect Biden’s (Legislative) Affairs team. She is smart, trusted, and has the respect of members on both sides of the aisle. Reema is just what our new president needs to help him in the Senate.”
Prominent Arab Americans and politicians rallied to Dodin’s defense.
Ziad Asali, founder of the American Task Force on Palestine, said that Dodin had “worked her way from law school to community activity to Senator Durbin’s office, all the way to the White House. Message to young Palestinian/Arab Americans: Yes you can. Belong and earn your way with competence and commitment. Meritocracy means success without waste.”
Warren David, the president of media organization Arab America said: “We are so excited about Reema’s appointment. It means so much to Arab Americans, who have been marginalized throughout the years, to see a senior official of Arab/Palestinian heritage in the White House. Hopefully, appointments such as this are not the ‘exception’ but the ‘rule’ regarding Arab Americans in public service.”
Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal also welcomed the appointment, saying: “Over my 10 years in the Senate, Reema has been an invaluable source of insight and counsel. She is invariably conscientious and caring, and the Biden admin is lucky to have her. I’ll miss her on the Senate Floor but look forward to working with her in her new role.”
Dodin was born to Palestinian immigrants whose origins can be traced to Dura in Palestine, near the Israeli-occupied city of Hebron.
She has been active in Arab American circles for many years. In May 2018 she participated in the Arab American Institute’s annual Khalil Gibran Awards ceremony, during which she presented an award to Marcelle M. Wahba, the president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington D.C. and a former US Ambassador to the UAE.
Dodin has a strong resume, having served as Durbin’s research director and an aide to his Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law. She was also a volunteer voter-protection counsel on a number of political campaigns, including Obama for America.
She is a Truman National Security fellow, a New Leaders Council fellow, an Aspen Socrates alum, a former term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a member of the Jenkins Hill Society, a consortium of women in politics supporting female politicians.
Originally from California, Dodin is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
An Iranian scientist that Israel alleged led the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program until its disbanding in the early 2000s was “assassinated” Friday, state television said.
Israel declined to immediately comment on the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once called out in a news conference saying: “Remember that name.” Israel has long been suspected of carrying out a series of targeted killings of Iranian nuclear scientists nearly a decade ago.
State TV Friday cited sources confirming the death. It said it would offer more information shortly.
The semiofficial Fars news agency, believed to be close to the country’s Revolutionary Guard, said the attack happened in Absard, a small city just east of the capital, Tehran. It said witnesses heard the sound of an explosion and then machine gun fire. The attack targeted a car that Fakhrizadeh was in, the agency said.
Those wounded, including Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards, were later taken to a local hospital, the agency said.
State television on its website later published a photograph of security forces blocking off the road. Photos and video shared online showed a Nissan sedan with bullet holes through windshield and blood pooled on the road.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. However, Iranian media all noted the interest that Netanyahu had previously shown in Fakhrizadeh.
Hossein Salami, chief commander of the paramilitary Guard, appeared to acknowledge the attack on Fakhrizadeh.
“Assassinating nuclear scientists is the most violent confrontation to prevent us from reaching modern science,” Salami tweeted.
Hossein Dehghan, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader and a presidential candidate in Iran’s 2021 election, issued a warning on Twitter.
“In the last days of their gambling ally’s political life, the Zionists seek to intensify and increase pressure on Iran to wage a full-blown war,” Dehghan wrote, appearing to refer to U.S. President Donald Trump. “We will descend like lightning on the killers of this oppressed martyr and we will make them regret their actions!”
The area around Absard is filled with vacation villas for the Iranian elite with a view of Mount Damavand, the highest peak in the country. Roads on Friday, part of the Iranian weekend, were emptier than normal due to a lockdown over the coronavirus pandemic, offering his attackers a chance to strike with fewer people around.
Fakhrizadeh led Iran’s so-called “Amad,” or “Hope” program. Israel and the West have alleged it was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon in Iran. Tehran long has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says that “Amad” program ended in the early 2000s. IAEA inspectors now monitor Iranian nuclear sites as part of Iran’s now-unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
James Wolfensohn, who served as the president of the World Bank for 10 years and was a guiding force for a couple of the most well-known cultural institutions in the U.S., has died. He was 86.
Wolfensohn died Wednesday at his home in Manhattan according to the Institute for Advanced Study, where he had been a past chair of the board. His son and one of his two daughters also confirmed his death in media reports.
Wolfensohn, born in Australia, worked on Wall Street for many years before taking over as the head of the World Bank, a loan-offering global development organization, in 1995. He was nominated by then-President Bill Clinton.
In his time there, he took on issues like corruption in the organization's development projects, and emphasized paying attention to the needs and priorities of the countries doing the projects.
He was also a lover of the arts, serving as chair of New York's Carnegie Hall in the 1980s and the Kennedy Center in Washington in the first half of the 1990s. At both places, he worked to boost finances and renovate physical spaces.
He even performed, holding cello performances with high-profile musician friends at Carnegie Hall on significant birthdays.
Along with his three children, Wolfensohn is survived by seven grandchildren. His wife, Elaine, died in August.
Developers of Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine on Thursday called on British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to try combining its experimental shot with the Russian one to boost efficacy.
"Current full dose AstraZeneca regimen resulted in 62% efficacy. If they go for a new clinical trial, we suggest trying a regimen of combining the AZ shot with the Sputnik V human adenoviral vector shot to boost efficacy," the developers tweeted.
"Combining vaccine may prove important for revaccinations."
AstraZeneca is going to run more trials to assess the efficacy of its vaccine after questions were raised over the results from its late-stage study, the company’s chief executive officer Pascal Soriot said.
Clinical trials of the Oxford vaccine were conducted on 20,000 volunteers from the UK and Brazil. Preliminary results showed that the average vaccine efficacy was 70%.
During the trials, it was found that when two equally large doses of the vaccine were administered with a difference in a month, the level of protection against infection was 62%.
It increased to 90% when the subjects first received a small dose, and then, with a second injection, a bigger dose of the medicine, reports TASS.
According to the World Health Organization, there are about 170 projects in the world now to develop a vaccine against Covid-19.
On August 11, Russia was the first in the world to register a Covid-19 vaccine called Sputnik V.
According to the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the efficacy of the vaccine is 95%.