Donald Trump’s first foreign trip as US president was to Saudi Arabia - and this week his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited the Kingdom. Despite increased strains on the relationship, including the controversial war in Yemen and the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Trump Administration has shown no signs of breaking with Riyadh. Is this fully explained by the trade in oil and arms – or are other factors at work? How important is a shared antipathy to Iran? Are human rights always expendable when trade and strategic interests are in the mix? And why and how did the two countries become so entwined?
This week Celia Hatton asks a panel of experts what is keeping the United States and Saudi Arabia close.
Are We Alone In The Universe?
It's an old question, but despite many estimates - based on Frank Drake's famous equation - that our own Milky Way galaxy could contain up to a million alien civilisations, the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence begun in 1961 has so far failed. Funding for SETI - as it's known - has also been a problem, although private money has partly filled the gap. But SETI scientists are now hopeful that, after a 25-year pause, the US Congress will mandate NASA to spend ten million dollars a year, for the next two years, renewing the search.
And it's not all about intelligence, as everyone agrees the discovery of life of any kind on another planet would be astounding - with some of the most exciting developments in this field much closer to home.
This week on The Real Story we ask a panel of space scientists: are we any closer to finding extra-terrestrial life? What new approaches are showing promise? How will we know if we've found it? And what might that life be like?
(Photo: VLA Radio Telescope, New Mexico. Credit: Education Images/UIG/Getty Images)
BBC Correspondents Look Ahead
How do you look ahead in a world which constantly takes us by surprise, sometimes shocks us, often makes us ask 'what happens next?' Who would have predicted that President Trump would, to use his words, fall in love with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whose country he had threatened to totally destroy? Who could have imagined that a prominent Saudi journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, would be murdered and dismembered in a Saudi Consulate? And, on a happier note, we’re relieved that, as the year ends, a climate change conference in Poland did manage to save the Paris pact, and maybe our world. The BBC's chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet talks to correspondents from around the globe about what might happen in the world in 2019.
Katya Adler, Europe editor
Yolande Knell, Middle East correspondent
James Robbins, Diplomatic correspondent
Steve Rosenberg, Moscow Correspondent
Jon Sopel, North America editor
Producer: Ben Carter
Editor: Penny Murphy
(Image: King Mohammed VI, Melania Trump, Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Brigitte Macron. Credit: EPA/BENOIT TESSIER / POOL MAXPPP OUT)
France's Yellow Vests: Macron's Malaise
After weeks of protests and violence, France's President Emmanuel Macron has bowed to the yellow vests protestors. First he made an televised address to the nation in which he admitted he had made mistakes. Now he has issued a new budget with financial giveaways. It is not just that he has been spooked by weeks of demonstrations - not unknown in French life - but also that protestors have enjoyed high levels of public support. Their demands combine elements from the left and the right: calls for huge increases in government spending and in wages, coupled with the halving of taxes and tough restrictions on migration. But behind these demands, some people detect the grievances of France's left-behinds, either in small towns or in the countryside, and those at the wrong end of globalisation. Ruth Alexander and a panel of experts discuss Macron's options. Can his concessions satisfy the yellow vests, and if not, where does he go from here? The protestors want to have little to do with politicians but are they playing in to the hands of Marine Le Pen and the far right?
China's Big Social Experiment
In 2014, the Chinese government issued a document aimed at increasing the amount of 'trust' in society. Today this emerging system is known as China's social credit system - like a credit score but tracking more than financial transactions. China's central government wants to have the system in place across China by 2020, using a range of information -- including shopping habits, driving fines and even what's written on social media -- to rate and rank individuals. People with poor scores could find themselves unable to get bank loans or buy plane tickets. Advocates claim that a system is necessary in a country where few people have credit ratings. But detractors see it as a kind of dystopic super-surveillance. Celia Hatton and a panel of expert guests weighs up the costs and benefits of social credit.
(Photo: A Chinese woman walks along the street holding a broom and dustpan. Credit: Getty Images)