Twitter diplomacy. U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Twitter on Saturday that he had planned to host the president of Afghanistan and senior leaders of the Taliban separately for peace talks. Trump, however, took umbrage at a recent terrorist attack in Kabul and tweeted that he was calling off the peace negotiations because the Taliban was untrustworthy. The door doesn’t seem to be completely shut to negotiations, though; the U.S. secretary of state said the Taliban needed to show and not just say that it was interested in peace, while an official Taliban statement committed the group to continued negotiations even though the U.S. had “damaged” its reputation. The Afghan government, meanwhile, released a simple statement thanking the U.S. for its efforts, adding that real peace could come only from a Taliban cease-fire and subsequent face-to-face meeting with Afghan government officials.
Rapprochement? France’s foreign and defense ministers are in Moscow today for meetings with their Russian counterparts – the first such meetings since annual consultations between the two countries were halted after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. This comes on the heels of a meeting between French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin, after which Macron spoke of a Europe united from “Lisbon to Vladivostok.” France’s foreign minister downplayed the meeting, insisting that France was not reconsidering its position on sanctions against Russia and that he expected the ongoing conflict in Ukraine to be the subject of most of the talks. Russia appears more solicitous; its defense minister said Moscow would pursue cooperation with France as long as Paris would do the same.
City council elections in Moscow. Normally, city council elections aren’t important enough to make it into this space, but then, most aren’t as controversial as those that were held in Moscow yesterday. The reason these elections became significant was that the Russian government barred a number of candidates from appearing on the ballot, which led to a significant backlash. The results announced yesterday showed that President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party lost one-third of its seats in the Moscow parliament, though it retained a majority and performed well in a number of other elections throughout the country, including the race for St. Petersburg regional governor. The results are a reminder that Russian politics are not as clear-cut as many make them out to be; there is strong and at times overbearing centralized control, as evidenced by the curation of candidates in Moscow, but there are also real elections and expressions of dissatisfaction with government policy, as the election results and protests underscore. In this case, the results suggest the government has lost some support but not nearly enough to threaten its legitimacy, no matter how outsiders may hope to spin it.
Saudi Arabia’s new energy minister. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman removed Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih from his post yesterday and replaced him with the king’s son, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman. The move breaks a long-standing Saudi tradition that kept the head of the Energy Ministry outside of the purview of the Saudi ruling family. Prince Abdulaziz has worked in the Energy Ministry since the 1980s, but the real reason for his appointment is that King Salman and his heir apparent, Mohammed bin Salman, wanted someone in charge of the Energy Ministry who shared their views on the long-awaited ARAMCO initial public offering and the role of Saudi Arabia’s energy resources in helping the country realize the ambitious goals of the Vision 2030 reform project. Al-Falih’s removal is just one example of King Salman and Mohammed bin Salman putting people they trust in charge of key Saudi institutions.
- Russia’s deputy prime minister said Russia would deliver S-400 anti-air missile systems to India in roughly 18 months.
- Greece’s prime minister announced a range of tax cuts and structural reforms as evidence that his country is no longer the “black sheep” of the European Union.
- Teachers in Jordan announced a strike yesterday, accusing the government of not following through on a 2014 promise of a 50 percent salary increase.
- The Israel Defense Forces said that pro-Iranian fighters in Syria fired multiple rockets toward Israel today, adding that the rockets “all failed to hit Israeli territory.”
- In a separate incident, Hezbollah claims it downed an Israeli reconnaissance drone in southern Lebanon today; Israel claims the drone crashed in southern Lebanon during routine operations.
- China’s foreign minister met with Pakistan’s prime minister yesterday, one day after the Chinese ambassador said China was looking to invest $1 billion in various development projects in Islamabad.
- The Philippines reported its first cases of African swine fever.
- Protests continued in Hong Kong for the 14th straight weekend.
- Croatia’s deputy prime minister said during a visit to Russia that bilateral relations between the two countries were on an upward trajectory.