Daily Memo: An Embargo on Venezuela, a New Phase in Syria, Tough Talk on the South China Sea

All the news worth knowing today.


An embargo on Venezuela. U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Monday freezing assets belonging to the Venezuelan government and banning transactions with the government. Exemptions will be allowed for transactions related to humanitarian aid. The order came a day before the Lima Group, along with dozens of other countries that oppose President Nicolas Maduro, is set to convene in Peru on Tuesday. A delegation from the U.S. will attend the meeting; Russia, Turkey, Cuba and China were also invited to attend but declined. The Venezuelan opposition has been losing momentum, and the embargo is an attempt to increase pressure on the government, maintain the confidence of allies and break the stalemate. At this point, however, there’s little reason to believe the embargo will be the final nail in the coffin for the Maduro government.

Turkey in Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish ambassadors in Ankara that the country will begin a “different phase” of military operations in Syria “very soon.” He said Turkey would set up a peace corridor in Syria and stressed that his country would not be safe unless the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units are removed from northern Syria. Erdogan has reportedly already informed Russia and the U.S. of plans for a Turkish offensive there. Not unexpectedly, the Pentagon responded by saying any unilateral Turkish action in northern Syria would be unacceptable and that Washington will work to prevent such incursions. Talks between the U.S. and Turkey are underway, but Turkey is clearly losing patience. Washington has been putting off any decisive action but can’t do so indefinitely.

Beijing’s tough talk on the South China Sea. An official from China’s Foreign Ministry has warned that Beijing will not tolerate U.S. deployments of intermediate-range ground-based missiles in Asia and that such deployments would force China to take countermeasures. He also called on Australia, Japan and South Korea to show restraint when dealing with the U.S. on the issue. The comments were in response to the U.S. withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty last week and remarks from the U.S. secretary of defense over the weekend about the potential deployment of midrange conventional missiles in the Asia-Pacific. In addition, Chinese military drills near the disputed Paracel Islands began today and were met with objections from Vietnamese officials, as well as protests at the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi. Meanwhile, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte also announced he will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping soon to discuss – for the first time – the 2016 international court ruling that invalidated China’s territorial claims in the Spratly archipelago. How hard Duterte will press Xi remains to be seen; just four months ago he agreed to allow China to develop major infrastructure projects on three islands in the area. These developments come less than a week after the U.S. criticized China’s coercive behavior in the South China Sea and pressed nearby countries to resist Chinese influence.

All eyes on Pakistan. A day after India revoked the state of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, many are speculating on how Pakistan will respond to the move. At a meeting with army commanders, Pakistani Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa said the Pakistani army will “go to any extent” to support Kashmiris. Prime Minister Imran Khan emphasized the dangers of two nuclear powers engaging in conflict – a warning he also delivered in February when India and Pakistan clashed over the disputed region. Pakistan’s foreign minister also expressed concern that a conflict over Kashmir could put Afghan peace talks at risk. For now, Pakistan appears to be weighing its options both internally and with the United States.

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