Saudi Crown Prince faces prospect of awkward meetings, protests, possible prosecution at Argentina G20

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TODAY:

  • Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Argentina today for the G20 meeting, facing the prospect of awkward meetings, public protests and the possibility of arrest.
  • The Russian space program has a lot riding on Canadian astronaut David Saint Jacques' next Soyuz mission.
  • Researching a story about antibiotic use on farms becomes a journalistic reality check for a reporter.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Saudi Arabia's crown pariah

There were no bands or flowers waiting for Mohammed bin Salman when he arrived in Buenos Aires this morning.

The Saudi Crown Prince got a red carpet to walk upon, but the dignitaries on hand were mostly from his own embassy, and the official handshake greeting came from Argentina's foreign minister Jorge Faurie, rather than President Mauricio Macri.

All of which is understandable, given that the country's federal prosecutor is considering a legal submission from Human Rights Watch requesting that the de facto Saudi leader be charged with war crimes and torture for his country's attacks against civilians in Yemen, and the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Argentina's constitution gives authorities "universal jurisdiction" to prosecute such crimes, but most observers think it's unlikely that the government will want to cause a major diplomatic incident during this weekend's G20 summit.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at a meeting with the Tunisian President in Tunis on Tuesday. (Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)

Still, MBS, as the prince is known, is likely to be greeted with street protests — like the ones he encountered over the past two days during a stopover in Tunisia — and the cold shoulder from his fellow world leaders.

Seating arrangements at dinner will be awkward, photo-ops worse, and whatever one-on-one meetings he is granted are likely to come at a humbling price.  

Vladimir Putinconfirmed today that he will sit down with MBS, vowing to bring up Khashoggi's murder — widely believed to have been ordered by the Crown Prince — along with oil markets and the situation in Syria.

The Prince has also apparently reached out to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a bid to try and explain how he had nothing to do with the torture and dismemberment of Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

The Saudi government has admitted that prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in its consulate in Turkey. (AFP/Getty Images)

Erdogan was non-committal, but his foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, has told a German newspaper that the Saudi hit team couldn't possibly have carried out Khashoggi's "premeditated murder" without high-level authorization.

U.S. President Donald Trump last week declared himself a "steadfast partner" of Saudi Arabia come-what-may. Perhaps he will try to fill the enthusiasm gap during his scheduled tête-à-tête with bin Salman, cozying up to a man who is quickly becoming an international pariah — even as he threatens to cancel his planned meeting with Putin in a protest over Russia's "aggression" in Ukraine.

However, that double standard isn't winning the president many friends on Capitol Hill.

In the U.S. Senate, a rare bipartisan coalition is forming around a bid to introduce a resolution halting American military, intelligence and financial support for Saudi Arabia's brutal intervention in Yemen's civil war. The motion may come to a vote as soon as this week, although the White House is already vowing to veto it.

This morning, Trump dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and defense secretary James Mattis to the Hill for a closed-door meeting with senators in an effort to head off the motion.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, arrives for a closed-door meeting with U.S. senators about Saudi Arabia on Wednesday on Capitol Hill in Washington. Senators who have grown increasingly uneasy with the U.S. response to Saudi Arabia after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi were expected to grill top administration officials. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

Sen. Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republican majority, has said that "some kind of response" is required to address the Saudi government's role in Khashoggi's death.

Pompeo provided one via an opinion piece in the Wall St. Journal today, arguing that Saudis are a "powerful force for stability" in the Middle East.

The murder of Khashoggi "has heightened the Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on," the Secretary of State writes. "But degrading U.S.-Saudi ties would be a grave mistake for the national security of the U.S. and its allies."

The piece did promise an additional $ 131 million US in food aid for Yemen, where a Saudi-enforced blockade has contributed to the starvation deaths of 85,000 children and famine threatens at least 13 million more lives, according to the UN.

A Yemeni mother holds her five-year-old son, who is suffering from severe malnutrition, at a treatment clinic in the western province of Hodeidah last week. As many as 85,000 infants under the age of five may have died from starvation or disease since 2015 in war-ravaged Yemen, Save the Children says, basing its estimate on UN-compiled data. (AFP/Getty Images)

But actually halting the conflict appears to be a different matter.

Last night, CNN reported that the United States has "slammed the brakes on" a planned United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a limited ceasefire in Yemen and more humanitarian aid.

The U.S. had been a driving force behind the motion, until Mohammed bin Salman was shown the text and reportedly "threw a fit."

As many as 57,000 people are believed to have been killed in the fighting in Yemen since the beginning of 2016, most of them civilians.

The next round of peace talks between the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels is scheduled to take place "within the next few weeks" in Sweden.


What's riding on next Soyuz mission

Canadian astronaut David Saint Jacques strolls in Moscow in August during a break from training for his Dec. 3 Soyuz launch to the International Space Station. (Pascal Dumont/CBC)

Canadian astronaut David Saint Jacques is scheduled to fly into space on a Russian rocket in just five days. Moscow bureau reporter Chris Brown talks to him about the upcoming launch, and looks at how important this mission is to the Russian space program.

It was just coincidence, but a prophetic one nonetheless, that when our CBC Moscow team visited Canadian astronaut David Saint Jacques at his Russian training site back in August he was practicing a drill known as a "ballistic descent."

It's when the re-entry crew capsule is either forced to leave the International Space Station in an emergency, or when it gets jettisoned from the top of a Soyuz rocket because of a problem during launch and returns to Earth many times faster than usual.

The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft carrying Nick Hague of the U.S. and Alexey Ovchinin of Russia blasts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Oct. 11. The rocket experienced a failure and the crew was forced to initiate an emergency ballistic descent. (Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters)

"Wild ride" doesn't come close to describing it. For those crammed inside the tiny space, it would feel like the weight of up to 10 atmospheres bearing down on their body.

"We joke that as the Gs [gravitational forces] go up, your IQ goes down," Saint Jacques told me of the technical challenges of actually trying to fly the capsule under such strenuous conditions.

He said astronauts have only a limited ability to steer the capsule on such a descent, but it is possible to "nudge" the spacecraft just enough to get it to a better landing location.

During the very next Soyuz launch in October, that ballistic descent drill suddenly became a real-life scenario.

The spacecraft carrying American Nick Hague and Russian Alexsey Ovchinin came plummeting back to Earth after a booster rocket failure two minutes into their flight.   Thankfully, the capsule's parachute deployed and the two men were picked up from the Kazakhstan desert, shaken but otherwise unhurt.

A NASA employee speaks on the phone next to a Russian Soyuz MS-07 space capsule shortly after it landed south-east of the Kazakh town of Dzhezkazgan on June 3. (Dmitry Lovetsky/AFP/Getty Images)

The problem was an "assembly error" on the launch pad. After a month-long investigation, officials at Russia's space agency Roscosmos pronounced it has been solved.

Saint Jacques now finds himself in the tense position of being the first to fly in a Soyuz since the mishap.

While every launch carries risks, the pressure on Russia's space agency for Saint Jacques' trip to go off without a hitch is extreme. Plagued by several high-profile failures involving cargo rockets, the last thing Russia's space program needs now are doubts about its ability to safely shuttle crew members to the International Space Station.

Members of the International Space Station (ISS) expedition 58/59 at the Gagarin Cosmonauts' Training Centre in Star City outside Moscow on Nov. 14 (from left): Canada's David Saint-Jacques, Russia's Oleg Kononenko and Anne McClain of the U.S. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

In our doc for The National tonight, we'll look upwards and into the future of Russia's space program. Its past glories — the world's first satellite, first man in space and the MIR space station — still resonate loudly in Russia, but insiders worry Putin's government is falling far behind in an extremely competitive 21st century space race.


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Sophisticated farming

Sheep on Darlene Stein’s property near Barrhead, Alta. (Terry Reith/CBC)

Working on a story about antibiotic use on farms was a reality check for reporter Raffy Boudjikanian.

While many journalists are good at providing balance in our stories and not showing preferences for different sides of, say, a policy or political argument, we still have to watch out for our own preconceptions.

Take the agricultural community, a crucial sector of the Canadian economy I've explored on a number of occasions since moving to Alberta a couple of years ago.

For my latest story, I visited farms with a CBC News crew as we followed how ranchers are reacting to new federal rules imposing limits on purchases of antibiotics for livestock.

Darlene Stein's property near Barrhead, Alta., has a lot of what you'd expect on a ranch: green grass far as the eye can see, zealous border collie Jill rounding up stray sheep (I lost count of how many "Jill that will do" commands I heard), and a big red barn for good measure.

Raffy Boudjikanian interviews Darlene Stein on her farm near Barrhead, Alta., as curious border collie Jill checks out the camera. (Terry Reith/CBC)

While we were there, Stein whipped out a computerized handheld device that would have been right at home on Star Trek, scanning her sheep and instantaneously receiving results about how much medication was still coursing through each animal's system.

Later, when we met veterinarian Trevor Hook during a routine herd health check on a dairy farm, he donned a pair of goggles to help him conduct ultrasound scans on pregnant cows.

I have to admit, as a city boy (I grew up in the Montreal area), I was astonished to see this kind of technology deployed on small, independent farms.

When you think about it, Stein's device is not all that different in principle from blood sugar monitors used by diabetics every day. And as for the goggles, obviously ultrasound scans are a normal part of regular pregnancy checks on humans, so why should a vet using them on cows be a surprise?

Still, the idea of family farms as places left behind by technology had somehow become ingrained in me. And given how many Canadians are gravitating toward big cities as places to live (Statistics Canada says 12.5 million of us were clustered around Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal as of 2016), I'm likely far from alone.

These days, though, nothing could be further from the truth. Farming is a high-tech business that uses cutting-edge tools and requires a complex skill set, no matter whether it's a huge factory farm or a small family operation.

This story reinforced for me the need to be wary of unconscious biases, and was a good reminder that I have to make sure to check my preconceptions at the door — or in this case, the farm gate.

– Raffy Boudjikanian

  • WATCH: The story about farms and antibiotic resistance this week on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

A few words on … 

Saying farewell to a rebel with a cause.


Quote of the moment

"One of the most vivid memories that stands out is one of my teammates being taped to a table ass-up naked, being whipped with his own belt by two veterans. He was screaming."

– Former NHL agitator Daniel Carcillo talking about the hazing he underwent and witnessed during his time as junior player with the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting.

Daniel Carcillo. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/File)


What The National is reading

  • French swimmer abandons attempt to cross Pacific (BBC)
  • Russia deploying new missiles to Crimea as Ukraine tension rises (CBC)
  • Lion Air crash investigators say plane was 'not airworthy' (BBC)
  • Manafort lawyer said to have briefed Trump team on Mueller talks (NY Times)
  • Margaret Atwood announces sequel to the Handmaid's Tale (CBC)
  • Myanmar refugees protest against ID cards that don't say Rohingya (Asia Times)
  • New Zealand bans China's Huawei gear from 5G network upgrade (NZ Herald)
  • Expedia tells customer he'll lose $ 1,500 flight over misspelled name (CBC)
  • 'Siberian unicorn' once walked among early humans (CNN)

Today in history

Nov. 28, 1967: Young filmmaker David Cronenberg

This earnest, black-and-white discussion about film policy and distribution in Canada is totally worth it for a young David Cronenberg's plot synopsis of From the Drain, his second short film: Two war vets sitting in the same bathtub, dealing with their psychological wounds, until one is killed by a mutant plant that haunts the sewer system.​

Along with his friend Bob Fothergill, the 24-year-old filmmaker talks about making movies and founding the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre. 5:03

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