Turkey is gearing up for a different sort of fight in Syria. Turkish forces have reportedly been pouring into the country to reinforce outposts across Idlib and Hama provinces since August. They continued to come in unabated even after Moscow and Ankara struck a deal to set up a de-escalation zone in Idlib and forestall a major offensive by the Syrian army. On Tuesday, for example, a convoy of some 35 Turkish military vehicles accompanied by an unknown number of pro-Turkey rebels was spotted crossing the border. This comes two days after Turkey said it would further expand its military footprint in the country by setting up “secure zones” across northern Syria, including in Kurdish-held areas east of the Euphrates River. According to the deal, all heavy weaponry is supposed to be withdrawn from the de-escalation zone by Oct. 10, and hard-line rebels are supposed to vacate the area by Oct. 15. The onus is primarily on Turkey to make it happen, whether by carrot or by stick, but the fractured rebel landscape will be difficult for Ankara to control. And the task may be made more complex by new reports that the Syrian military has been transporting hundreds of Islamic State fighters from pockets near the Iraqi border to Idlib.
NAFTA negotiations are coming down to the wire. Again. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Tuesday that the U.S. will move forward on its bilateral trade deal with Mexico, with or without Canada. Lighthizer also hinted that the lack of progress on outstanding points of contention such as protections for Canada’s dairy market and trade dispute settlements mean a deal between Washington and Ottawa is unlikely by Sunday – a deadline set by the Trump administration for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto to sign the new agreement before leaving office. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland dismissed the deadline as artificial. She may have a point. There’s pressure on the White House from U.S. Congress to keep Canada in NAFTA, legal ambiguity about whether a bilateral deal is even possible, and steep economic costs that would make it extremely painful for Canada to walk away. Deadlines alone won’t kill a deal if mutual interests dictate that one be reached.
Other U.S. allies want to put trade tensions behind them. A day after the U.S. and South Korea finalized an updated version of their bilateral free trade agreement, top-level U.S. and Japanese trade officials agreed to create a framework for expanding bilateral trade, without providing any detail. U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are expected to discuss a formal framework agreement today. This would be just the first step in what’s likely to be a protracted negotiation, but Japan’s conciliatory tone and urgency to move forward are notable. Tokyo is already feeling sidelined on U.S. strategic matters in the region, particularly on North Korea, and it doesn’t want trade to drive a deeper wedge between it and Washington. Trade ministers from Japan, the United States and the European Union also agreed to co-sponsor a proposal to overhaul the World Trade Organization. Meanwhile, India’s commerce secretary said the country was open to capping exports to the U.S. in exchange for an exemption from U.S. duties on steel and aluminum. The U.S. has an interest in getting these deals done as well, both to build momentum toward a multilateral structure aimed at containing China, and because fighting friends and foes simultaneously on trade will make the trade war with China considerably less effective.
- The Pentagon is reportedly pulling four Patriot missile systems from Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain. It’s not clear where the batteries will be deployed.
- The U.S. State Department authorized a $330 million arms package to Taiwan. China condemned the move.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would continue its military operations in Syria, despite Moscow’s announcement that it would supply more advanced anti-aircraft systems to the Syrian military.
- Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said his country wants equal ties with Russia and the West.
- Chinese non-financial corporate debt as a share of gross domestic product rose to 164 percent in the first quarter of the year, according to Bank for International Settlements, erasing gains made in 2017 in Beijing’s sweeping deleveraging campaign.
- The U.S. freeze on major military drills with South Korea has degraded U.N. forces’ readiness to respond to a North Korean military threat, according to the Pentagon’s nominee to command U.S. forces in the South.
- China has rejected a request for the USS Wasp to make a port call in Hong Kong following the recent U.S. imposition of sanctions over Chinese purchases of Russian arms.
- Philippine police arrested Sen. Antonio Trillanes, a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, amid continued rumors of a plot against the president.
- The emir of Qatar called on Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt to hold “unconditional” talks to end the blockade against Qatar.