The staring contest in Syria continues. A trilateral summit of Russian, Turkish and Iranian leaders wrapped up in Tehran on Friday. Noticeably absent was the president of Syria. The situation is no more clear on the ground than when the summit started. Cryptically, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would not sit on the sidelines if a Syrian operation in Idlib went forward. Russian President Vladimir Putin said he believed a truce would emerge … but also said terrorist groups would never lay down their weapons, so mixed messages there. Iranian President Hasan Rouhani blamed everything on the United States and insisted the territorial integrity of Syria must be respected. All sides said they would work together to fight Islamist terrorists, and, apropos of something, said they would try to ease their dependence on the dollar. The statements are interesting, but the actions are more telling: Russia and Syria resumed bombing parts of Idlib and Hama on Saturday. Russia-Turkey relations hang in the balance.
Unrest continues in Iraq too. The situation in Basra has deteriorated considerably in the past 24 hours. On Friday, Iraqi protesters attacked and burned an Iranian consulate, and though the building itself sustained a lot of damage, no Iranians were injured. The Basra Coordination Committee, which is organizing the protests, blamed the usual suspects – the Islamic State and the Baath party, once headed by Saddam Hussein. A spokesperson for the Iranian Foreign Ministry condemned the attack and charged the Iraqi government to find the assailants. The protests on Saturday again turned violent when three rockets were fired at the Basra airport. These protests are beyond the usual level of dissatisfaction in Iraq and show little sign of abating. The Iraqi government is convening an emergency meeting to discuss the situation today.
China-U.S. relations continue to flounder. The public comment period on new U.S. tariffs against Chinese imports ended Thursday. U.S. President Donald Trump was quick to tell the media that an additional $267 billion worth of tariffs might be levied at any time, depending on China’s actions. There’s little to suggest China will bend. China did not think Trump would move forward with a serious trade war, but it has recovered from the initial shock and looks prepared to stand its ground. Besides the economic measures to give Beijing greater control, China continues to pursue its foreign policy objectives as well. It’s no coincidence that on the same day Trump threatened more tariffs, China announced its president had accepted an invitation from Russia to attend the upcoming Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok. Meanwhile, China hosted a South Korean envoy on Saturday, a day after South Korea’s president said he hoped to declare an end to the Korean War by the end of the year. Those tariffs are likely coming sooner rather than later.
- Canada says NAFTA negotiations are going well.
- Saudi Arabia has sentenced two more controversial clerics to death after condemning another cleric earlier this week. Is Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman turning against the religious establishment?
- After the collapse in Serbia-Kosovo talks in Brussels, Serbia’s president says he will still make a visit to Kosovo on Saturday.
- French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had an inconclusive meeting in Marseille. The two appeared to be of one mind on migration and mostly avoided more difficult topics.
- On the other side of Syria, near the border with Jordan in at-Tanf, the U.S. dispatched 100 Marines. Russia had warned the U.S. that it and Syria would attack Islamic State militants in the area.
- Currency watch: The Kazakh tenge continues to fall, declining 3 percent since last week. Kazakh media suggest that the tenge will recover when the Bank of Russia takes measures to support the Russian ruble next week as it is rumored to.
- China says Nepal can use some of its ports for trade. The deal isn’t signed yet, but if it goes forward, it’s a blow to one of India’s main points of leverage over Nepal.