The U.S. and Canada are wasting no time getting down to business. U.S. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke by phone on Monday afternoon, and according to the Canadian prime minister’s office, the conversation was “constructive” and negotiators from both sides will meet soon “with a view to a successful conclusion of negotiations.” A U.S. trade representative said that there isn’t much time for Canada to get on board because the Trump administration wants to inform Congress by Friday of its intent to sign Monday’s agreement with Mexico – and that if Canada has not signed on by that time, it will be a bilateral deal. Canada’s foreign minister travels to Washington on Tuesday for more negotiations. Meanwhile, Mexico’s president-elect said in a speech in Chiapas that it was important Canada be included in the deal. That’s mostly lip service. Three days is not a lot of time to bring Canada on board.
Russia is busy all over the map. Russia and Afghanistan agreed to postpone a meeting on Afghan peace talks scheduled last week; the reason given is vague, referring to both sides needing time to “consolidate” their positions. And the Russian daily Izvestia reports that Russia has deployed 10 ships and two submarines to the Mediterranean Sea, citing the Russian Defense Ministry as saying it is the largest Russian deployment in the Mediterranean since Russia became involved in the Syrian civil war. The speculation is that the concentration of force is related to an upcoming Syrian army offensive in Idlib. Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry announced that it would not renounce a 2003 treaty with Russia on shared use of the Sea of Azov despite Russian moves to block Ukrainian and foreign merchant ships trying to reach Ukrainian ports in the Azov. But perhaps most confounding is a sudden breath of optimism from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who told a Slovak newspaper that the U.S. and Russia were working together “on a constructive and beneficial basis” to improve bilateral relations. That is a far cry from the bluster, recriminations and U.S. sanctions of recent months, the Helsinki summit notwithstanding.
Italy continues to push back against the EU on migration. The latest spat began last week, when Italy threatened on Thursday not to pay into an annual EU budget if other EU countries did not agree to accept some 140 migrants on an Italian coast guard ship docked in Italy. An EU official responded the next day, threatening sanctions against Italy if it followed through on the threat. By Saturday, the Italian Catholic Church, Ireland and Albania had agreed to take the migrants in – but the squabbling did not stop. On Monday, Italy’s deputy prime minister threatened to veto the EU’s seven-year budget plan if a greater emphasis on sharing the burden of migrant arrivals was not included. On Tuesday, Italy’s controversial interior minister, Matteo Salvini, is meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the de facto leader of the EU faction against redistribution of migrants throughout Europe. The Czech Republic’s prime minister, meanwhile, is due to visit Italy later this week, also to discuss migration – Prague is also an opponent of redistribution. Italy is not of one mind on this issue: EU officials from the Five Star Movement, a party in the coalition government, said in advance of the Salvini-Orban meeting that EU funds to Hungary should be suspended because of Hungary’s lack of support for burden sharing in the EU. Either way, it seems Italy’s opposition to Brussels is deepening.
Heavy lies the crown in Mexico. While headlines focused on the U.S.-Mexico trade agreement, a Mexican news magazine called Proceso reported that president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had met with top military officials and, in an about-face, agreed to let these officials select his next defense and navy ministers. A column in Mexican daily Excelsior confirmed that the president-elect had softened his position on military matters. Lopez Obrador has promised big changes, but even before he has reached office, the realities of governing Mexico are beginning to mold the man, rather than the man molding Mexico.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin says the Russian government will proceed “very carefully and cautiously” with the proposed pension age increase that has caused so much discontent at home. Russia’s presidential spokesman announced that Putin will be making a major, televised address on the issue on Wednesday.
- Venezuelan migrants are becoming a major regional problem: Representatives from Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru are meeting in Colombia to discuss how to handle the flood of Venezuelans spilling into their borders.
- China is not happy about Australia’s recent decision to ban Huawei and ZTE Corp. on national security grounds. The recent round of Australia-China pleasantries was short-lived indeed.
- According to Telesur TV, 460 community and social leaders in Colombia have been assassinated since 2016 – and 153 so far this year.
- The Financial Times reports there are rumors afloat once more of a potential merger between long-beleaguered Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank. That we are still talking about Deutsche Bank’s woes points both to its resilience and the resilience of the challenges it, and Germany, faces.