A lot to update in Turkey. Turkey, Russia and Iran said they will support the creation of a committee to bring a political settlement to the Syrian civil war. But they haven’t agreed on who exactly will sit on it. The committee will comprise 150 delegates – 50 from the Syrian government, 50 from Syria’s various rebel groups and 50 from so-called “independent” members (i.e., Iran, Turkey and Russia). It’s nothing less than a competition for who will have the most influence in Damascus once the Syrian conflict is over.
Meanwhile, there are signs that U.S.-Turkey ties are improving. The United States has approved a $3.5 billion sale of Patriot air defense systems to Turkey, presumably as an alternative to the Russian S-400 system, which can’t be integrated into NATO air defense systems. (The U.S. has long opposed its acquisition.) Russia is indifferent to the Patriot deal, claiming it won’t affect the S-400 sale. That’s true. S-400s and Patriots are similar but not identical; S-400s have a longer range, better intercontinental and intermediate-range ballistic missile potential, and greater versatility, while the Patriot is better for point defense. Turkey can claim it needs both.
Moreover, the U.S. said Tuesday that it is considering extraditing Fetullah Gulen, the Muslim cleric Turkey believes orchestrated the failed 2016 coup. The announcement contradicts a statement Washington made just one day earlier. It’s a subtle but important development – a public confirmation means Washington is probably looking for ways to reconcile with Ankara. To that end, the Trump administration said Wednesday that it would withdraw completely from Syria, something it said it wanted to do earlier this year (in March) but quickly backtracked on (in April). Along with a recent statement from Washington’s envoy to Syria – that the U.S. has “no permanent relationships with sub-state entities” – this is a foreboding prospect for the Kurds.
Behind the tree. Lebanon’s army was put on high alert after Lebanese and Israeli forces had a minor verbal altercation about the placement of a security fence. A video shows soldiers from Israel and from Lebanon only a few yards apart, arguing about where the fence should be erected relative to the Blue Line, the internationally recognized border established after the 2006 war. (Soldiers kept shouting the phrase “behind the [olive] tree.”) Israeli activity toward Hezbollah has raised the possibility of another war, making tiffs like this a little more troubling than before.
Competition in the Horn of Africa. On Tuesday, the U.S. announced it would invest $900 million in Somalia, half of which will go toward humanitarian aid. This comes just a week after U.S. national security adviser John Bolton unveiled the White House’s new strategy for Africa, focused on limiting Chinese and Russian influence on the continent. Kenya, which shares a border with Somalia, will be a key partner in that strategy. Somalia has also attracted attention from other foreign countries looking to gain a foothold in the region, including Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The Horn of Africa is often seen as a strategic location for foreign powers. The U.S. recently announced plans to build new hangars for its unmanned aerial vehicle force at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, on the Bab el-Mandeb strait, a critical chokepoint between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.
- Another Canadian citizen has been detained in China, ostensibly in response to Washington’s extradition request for Huawei’s chief financial officer, who was recently detained in Canada.
- Argentina’s economy has entered a recession, contracting by 3.5 percent in the third quarter.
- Japan has lodged a protest against Russia over the construction of two new military barracks on islands near Hokkaido.
- Chinese holdings of U.S. Treasurys have declined for the fifth month in a row. Beijing is trying to prop up the value of the yuan.
- Switzerland has nearly completed a financial mechanism that would allow the transfer of funds to Iran, supposedly for humanitarian purposes. Certain humanitarian supplies are excluded from the U.S. sanctions on Iran.
- The International Monetary Fund has approved a $3.9 billion economic agreement for Ukraine, $1.4 billion of which will be available for immediate distribution.
- Israel and Cyprus are conducting another round of military drills.
- The European Commission on Wednesday accepted Italy’s modestly revised 2019 budget, which targets a budget deficit of 2.04 percent of gross domestic product instead of the initial 2.4 percent.