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Daily Memo: Amnesty in Mexico, Unemployment in Saudi Arabia, Road Bumps in North Korea

All the news worth knowing this weekend.

|July 7, 2018

By GPF Staff

Last year, Mexico recorded its highest homicide rate ever, so its next president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, will try a new strategy against the cartels. Dubbed “transitional justice,” the strategy will feature amnesty, leniency and decriminalization, at least according to the incoming interior minister. AMLO, as the president-elect is colloquially known, doesn’t take office until Dec. 1, and he must approve the strategy before submitting it to the public for a referendum. It’s clear that the incoming government will need to make some kind of change, but AMLO will soon discover that Mexico’s problems are not the reflection of bad policy but of much deeper societal issues. How he handles the cartels may become another obstacle to improved U.S.-Mexico relations.

The beginning of this week brought good news for the Saudi economy. Government data, after all, showed surprising gross domestic product growth in non-oil sectors. Or so it seemed. Recently released unemployment figures tell a different story. Unemployment has edged to 12.9 percent, a record high and almost double the unemployment rate at the beginning of 2018. Rates such as these are never good, but they are especially problematic for a country with a young population in the middle of government efforts to transform not just the economy itself but the very culture of the state.

North Korea nuclear talks have hit a speed bump. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left Pyongyang on Saturday and arrived in Japan, where he spoke of the progress made on all issues – though he admitted that further talks were needed to iron out details. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry released a statement, however, calling the meeting “regrettable” in light of what it called unilateral U.S. demands to denuclearize. This may be part and parcel of the negotiation process, but it’s hard to ignore that North Korea has not agreed to concrete steps going forward, has contradicted U.S. assessments of meetings and has cozied up to China even more than usual.

All this stands in the shadow of next week’s NATO summit and the subsequent Trump-Putin meeting on July 16. The NATO summit comes at a time of deep divisions within the alliance over how to deal with Russia, whether to offer membership to Macedonia, the role of Turkey in the alliance going forward, and U.S. frustration about other members failing to meet their financial obligations. The Trump-Putin meeting also looms large. The meetings themselves will generate any number of headlines, but the bigger story here is whether the U.S. is attempting to find a more diplomatic, less interventionist way to deal with foreign policy challenges, and the ripples that attempt is making on the global stage.

Honorable Mentions

  • South Sudan’s warring sides have an agreement on security arrangements for a power sharing deal. This ties back to Ethiopia’s attempts to stabilize conflicts on its periphery and seems to be flirting with success.
  • Iran is not happy with Europe’s offers to keep the nuclear deal in place but will continue negotiations. A complete collapse would not look good for President Hasan Rouhani, who is facing, and so far surviving, domestic political pressure.
  • Theresa May’s government has a Brexit plan that can be boiled down to free trade with the EU in goods, not in services. The whole negotiation process has been a soap opera, but this particular episode has been a long time coming, and it puts the ball back in the EU’s court.
  • Azerbaijan has wrapped up a large five-day military exercise without much drama.