The U.S. stays silent. The White House has yet to comment on the first deliveries of Russia-made S-400 components to Turkey. After Turkish television broadcast the unloading of the air defense system on Friday, the U.S. called and then canceled a press conference on the issue. Despite the U.S. silence, there are some things we can be pretty sure of. For starters, Turkey will be cut out of the F-35 fighter program in a significant setback for the Turkish air force. The Pentagon flat-out said as much last month, and U.S. lawmakers have already put forward a bill that would limit the F-35’s transfer to Turkey. And Ankara will face other U.S. sanctions via the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which gives Washington a menu of penalties to choose from.
Even the weakest of these would be damaging for Turkey considering the vulnerability of the Turkish lira and flagging investor confidence. On Friday, Fitch ratings agency dropped Turkey’s sovereign debt further into junk territory, to BB- with a negative outlook, in response to the president’s firing of the central bank chief. CNN also reported Friday that the U.S. military was concerned that U.S. troops in northeast Syria could soon be caught up in cross-border Turkish military operations, which we mentioned in yesterday’s memo. Whatever happens next, a full-scale realignment by Turkey toward Russia is not possible, but a serious rupture in U.S.-Turkey relations is.
Washington reaches out? A few days after the U.S. levied sanctions against three Hezbollah officials, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in an interview with Al-Manar TV that Washington was trying to open back-channel talks with the group. In the same interview, Nasrallah called the U.S. sanctions an “insult” and a “medal of honor.” He also said Hezbollah had drawn down its forces in Syria – but only because such a large presence was no longer needed.
The refugee crisis continues. While U.S. (and many European) media outlets focus on controversial migrant detention centers in the southern United States, Europe is dealing with its own crisis in the Mediterranean, where just last week more than 80 people drowned off the coast of Tunisia while trying to reach the Continent. Estimates of the fatality rate for attempted crossings in 2019 range from 1-in-17 by the International Organization for Migration to 1-in-8 by the Institute for International Political Studies, an Italian think tank. So on Saturday, Germany’s foreign minister brought back an old idea during an interview with the RND media group: a “coalition of the willing” to take in migrants who successfully make the trip and hopefully end what he called the “blockade” in the Mediterranean. Sebastian Kurz, the former and likely next chancellor of Austria, was the first to reject the idea, but he won’t be the last – Hungarian and Polish officials will be similarly opposed. Ironically, the refugee crisis is one area where the outspoken euroskeptic interior minister in Italy, Matteo Salvini, has more in common with mainstream German politics than he does with other euroskeptic leaders.
- An attack Friday on a hotel in Somalia killed at least 26 people and left 56 injured. Al Shabaab claimed responsibility.
- Several thousand protesters in the Hong Kong border town of Sheung Shui clashed with police on Saturday.
- Authorities in Gibraltar set free without charge the crew of an Iranian tanker suspected of carrying oil to Syria, but they did not release the tanker itself, despite warnings from Iran.
- The Turkish Cypriot president offered to cooperate with the Republic of Cyprus on offshore energy exploration to defuse tensions, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said.
- U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Congress on Friday that the government could hit the debt ceiling in early September, setting the stage for a political showdown over the coming weeks.