Turkey and the U.S. not seeing eye to eye. Washington may halt preparations to deliver fifth-generation F-35 multirole fighter jets to Turkey if Ankara follows through on a deal to receive Russian S-400 air defense systems, Reuters reported. Turkey hosts an F-35 engine overhaul depot and makes other parts for the aircraft, all of which could be removed from the country. It is unlikely at this point that Turkey will pull out of its deal with Russia on the S-400s, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned the issue into a public show of defiance against Washington. That is the real issue here, not the F-35 or the S-400. The U.S.-Turkey relationship is now defined less by a shared strategic view and more by occasional spats like the Pastor Andrew Brunson affair and now the F-35 deal.
Negotiating a Brexit deadline. British Prime Minister Theresa May came out swinging last night in a speech in which she announced that she would be asking the European Union for a three-month extension on Brexit. European Council President Donald Tusk said in an earlier speech, however, that the U.K.’s choices were between a shorter delay to May 22 or a much longer one. It’s an important debate because for once it concerns a deadline that will be difficult to fudge. European Parliament elections begin May 23, and the EU’s legal position is that if the U.K. is still a member state by then, it would have to participate or it would throw a critical EU institution into legal disarray. It’s never wise to underestimate Brussels’ ability to find workarounds, but jeopardizing the European Parliament for a departing member is probably a bridge too far. Meanwhile, the British government is expected to try to bring its withdrawal agreement up for another ill-fated vote next week.
The Islamic State is officially out. The self-declared caliphate had been significantly weakened and put on the defensive for years, but according to U.S. President Donald Trump, the group will suffer its final defeat today. This morning, Syrian Kurdish news reports suggested that the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces recaptured the town of Baghuz, IS’ last stronghold in Syria, last night – and effectively put the final nail in the coffin for the caliphate. This is the sort of fact that is true only so long as you don’t think about it too much. The Islamic State transitioned back to its roots – namely as a grassroots insurgency aiming to stoke sectarian tension and fill power vacuums – months ago once it realized it couldn’t hold its ground any longer. The underlying problems that led to IS’ emergence have not gone anywhere, nor have the thousands of IS soldiers and supporters who have melted back into the local populations. So yes, officially, the Islamic State is no more. But unofficially, the group remains a threat in a somewhat different form.
Xi’s Eurotrip. Chinese President Xi Jinping began his five-day trip to Europe in Italy today with a cool reception. EU leaders will gather tonight to discuss ways to limit China’s influence in Europe, not facilitate it. (Specifically, they want to establish deadlines for China to follow through on trade and investment promises.) An EU-China summit is scheduled for April 9, and last week a European Commission document preparing for the summit referred to China as a “systemic rival.” Earlier this week, reports emerged that the Italian government was responding to U.S. and EU pressure and watering down the memorandum of understanding for the Belt and Road initiative to remove references to data sharing, 5G and strategic infrastructure. EU member states are a long way from consensus on the best way to deal with China, but it’s notable that serious conversations are getting underway.
- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may travel to the U.S. in April to meet with Trump for discussions on North Korea talks and U.S.-Japan trade.
- A high-ranking North Korean official in charge of logistical preparations for Kim Jong Un’s overseas trips has been in Moscow since Tuesday, leading to speculation that Kim will visit soon.
- Deutsche Bank CEO Christian Sewing now believes there is a strong case for a merger with Germany’s second-largest private bank, Commerzbank, according to Reuters, which cited an unnamed source.
- The Nicaraguan government agreed to release within 90 days all the protesters it had detained since last April in an effort to restart peace talks, an Organization of American States special envoy said Wednesday.
- China’s ambassador to Mexico said Beijing plans to participate in the construction of the Mayan Train railway, industrial economic zones and other infrastructure projects in Mexico.