Progress in U.S.-Taliban talks. On Thursday, negotiations between the Afghan Taliban and the U.S. continued for a fourth day, though they were scheduled to last only two days. The talks reportedly focused on a timeline for a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the two sides are apparently close to reaching a deal, according to Afghanistan’s TOLOnews, which cited sources familiar with the talks. The Taliban reportedly agreed not to allow any group to stage attacks against other countries from Afghan territory and to keep al-Qaida and the Islamic State out of Afghanistan. Once a timetable for withdrawal is established, the next step will be to engage the Afghan government in trilateral talks over issues such as a cease-fire, the release of prisoners and the future status of Afghanistan’s government.

Ukraine on Russian interference. According to Yehor Bozhok, the chief of Ukraine’s Foreign Intelligence Service, Russia plans to spend at least $350 million to try to disrupt Ukraine’s presidential election, scheduled for March. Bozhok said Russia hoped to destabilize Ukraine and to ensure that President Petro Poroshenko loses his bid for re-election, primarily through the use of cyberattacks and propaganda. Ukrainian media, meanwhile, have repeatedly reported on Russian military activity in the Black Sea as well as on fighting in Donbass in recent days. Ukrainian authorities are likely releasing reports of Russian aggression and interference to try to shore up support from allies.

Japan strengthens ties in Asia. A delegation of Japanese officials met with Nepalese officials to discuss development projects. Nepal’s minister for energy, water resources and irrigation called on Tokyo to increase investment in the country’s energy sector. The Japanese delegation, in turn, pledged to support Nepal’s development. Nothing particularly noteworthy came of the meeting, but it’s an early indicator of an emerging trend. Japan has been increasingly assertive in the security realm, but this development shows that it is also proactive in mainland Asia’s political and economic spheres. Nepal depends on India for oil and on China for investment, and Japan’s promises of support will challenge their primacy in these areas. It’s a way of increasing Japan’s regional power – one that gives Nepal more leverage for negotiating deals with its neighbors.

Honorable Mentions

  • Greece’s Parliament voted 153 to 146 to ratify the Macedonia name change deal, opening the door to Macedonia’s accession to the EU and NATO.
  • A Republican representative in the U.S. Congress introduced legislation that would give the executive branch more power over tariffs. The bill is expected to fail in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
  • The State Bank of Pakistan received the first of three $1 billion payments from the United Arab Emirates to “support the financial and monetary policy of the country.” The central bank also received $1 billion from Saudi Arabia, the final payment in a $3 billion support package.
  • Uzbekistan’s defense minister will visit the United States over the weekend and attend an exercise at the Camp Shelby military base in Mississippi.
  • According to Reuters, Europe is now the leading importer of U.S. liquefied natural gas, having bought 3.56 million tons (3.23 million metric tons) from October 2018 to January 2019. U.S. LNG exports to Europe totaled just 0.77 million tons the year before.