Damage control in Saudi Arabia. The government in Riyadh admitted that journalist Jamal Khashoggi did, in fact, die in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul – his death a result of a fist-fight gone awry. The admission came not from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the de facto ruler of the country, but from his father, King Salman, who is apparently taking over the handling of the incident. The king has since ordered the kingdom’s general intelligence unit to be restructured and has dispatched his personal aides to Turkey to smooth things over. The governments of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have thrown their support behind the king and his version of the Khashoggi affair. Meanwhile, Western intelligence agencies are rumored to have participated in informal discussions over a new line of succession in Saudi Arabia. The country is in the middle of an economic and political transition, and it’s an important cog in Washington’s apparatus to counter Iran. So while an all-out coup is unlikely – and a civil war even unlikelier – the internal turmoil cannot be ignored.
U.S. and Russian defense. U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton has arrived in Russia for defense talks. The trip will be tense, to say the least. It comes on the heels of accusations that Russia has been trying to interfere in upcoming U.S. elections – a charge Moscow believes is merely pretext for more sanctions. Yet the countries have much they want to discuss, namely the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. START will expire in 2021 if they don’t agree to extend it, and rumors circulated that Bolton may threaten to withdraw entirely from the INF treaty. (As the talks progress, keep an eye on Ukraine. The U.S. envoy to the country said the talks will go nowhere until after the Ukrainian elections next spring.) This is all a timely reminder that for all the kind words between leaders, the fundamental differences between the U.S. and Russia tend to generate conflict, not cooperation.
North Macedonia after all? Macedonia took a major step toward becoming a member of NATO and the European Union. Two-thirds of the parliament – the required threshold for amending the constitution – voted in favor of changing Macedonia’s name to North Macedonia. Several more votes will be needed to complete the process, which could happen as early as January. It should be noted, however, that the parliament voted only because the public referendum on the name change failed. So while the government is in favor, as are the EU and NATO, others are not so pleased. Macedonia’s VMRO-DPMNE party expelled seven of its members who voted in favor of the initiative. No one expected this to be an easy process – in addition to the expulsions, Greece’s foreign minister has resigned over the issue – but even so, it’s interesting how committed the two governments are to its passage. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he would oversee foreign affairs himself until the process is completed, claiming his government still had support from lawmakers.
- Iran’s central bank earmarked $9.5 billion from the country’s foreign exchange earnings to fund the import of essential goods. The move comes ahead of U.S. sanctions set to take effect Nov. 4.
- As a nod to talks with North Korea, U.S. and South Korean defense officials have suspended joint air exercises.
- Indian exporters say they have experienced irregularity with U.S. trade, noting that Washington is reviewing India’s eligibility to qualify for its Generalized System of Preferences.
- France expressed its support of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and its interest in investing in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, according to statements from its ambassador to Pakistan.
- Ukraine and the International Monetary Fund have reached an agreement for a fresh $4 billion loan to Kiev. To receive the funds, Kiev must pass a 2019 budget in line with IMF recommendations, which include an increase in gas rates.
- Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has announced his most recent budget, which the EU approved but which does not include pension cuts. It’s the first budget since its bailout program ended.