The U.S. in Central Europe. During a trip to Hungary, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that Washington would try to re-engage with Central and Eastern Europe to prevent the region from building closer ties to China and Russia. Pompeo also warned of the risks of building networks using Chinese tech firm Huawei’s equipment and said cooperation with countries that have a strong Huawei presence could stall. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto responded by saying suggestions that Hungary was too friendly with Moscow and Beijing were an example of the West’s “enormous hypocrisy,” adding that cooperation with Russia didn’t prevent Hungary from being a reliable U.S. partner and NATO member. Despite the somewhat contentious exchange, Pompeo and Szijjarto agreed on a defense cooperation agreement that will allow the U.S. military greater freedom to move through Hungary and could increase Hungary’s purchase of U.S. arms. Pompeo is on a tour through Central and Eastern Europe that will also include visits to Poland and Slovakia.
Russia balances Iran and Israel. According to Russian and Israeli officials, Israel will sign a free trade agreement with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union, an organization with which Iran is also in talks to sign a trade deal. (Israel and Iran will sign separate agreements with the EAEU, so they will not be able to trade freely with each other.) The agreements illustrate Moscow’s desire to continue engaging with both Israel and Iran. Indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Sochi today to discuss a settlement to the Syrian crisis, just one week before he’s scheduled to visit Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Feb. 21.
Iran reaches out to Saudi Arabia? A spokesperson for Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Tehran was open to talks to resolve differences with select Middle Eastern countries, which some have understood to refer to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, ahead of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Pakistan, Iran’s ambassador to Islamabad praised the Saudis for offering Pakistan billions in loans and up to $10 billion in investments. It’s possible this is related to reports that Islamabad is close to signing a bailout deal with the Washington-based International Monetary Fund, an organization Iran would rather not have influence over its neighbor. Meanwhile, Iran is expected to draw down its involvement in Yemen’s civil war, a move Saudi Arabia would support.
- Trade credit insurer Euler Hermes forecast a 20 percent increase in insolvency cases involving Chinese firms this year. Small and medium-sized companies will be the most affected.
- Spain’s Supreme Court started proceedings against 12 Catalan separatists for their role in the Catalan independence referendum and declaration of independence from Spain.
- The U.S. Embassy in Pristina informed Kosovar authorities that it objected to tariffs imposed on Serbian goods and that U.S. military training activities would be canceled if the government did not “reflect on its actions.”
- The Turkish government opened its own food market that will sell cheap produce following a 31 percent spike year on year in food prices in January.
- Brazil’s foreign minister confirmed Brazil would open a humanitarian aid station for Venezuelans in Roraima state.