Peace in Yemen? U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced Thursday that a delegation representing the Saudi-backed Yemeni government and the Iran-backed Houthi rebels agreed to a cease-fire in the strategically invaluable port city of Hodeida. Tehran, Riyadh and Washington all praised the deal. There any number of reasons to doubt the truce’s prospects, and implementation is the hard part. But there’s pressure on the outside players to scale back their involvement. Iran has been signaling that it’s looking for a way out of the quagmire; financial and political stress at home, along with the containment efforts of the U.S. and its Arab partners, have given Tehran ample reason to reconsider its regional strategy. Domestic political pressure in the United States, meanwhile, has been weighing on both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. On Thursday, the U.S. Senate voted 56-41 to approve a nonbinding resolution to end U.S. support for Saudi military operations in Yemen. It’s a symbolic measure that will do little to affect actual operations, but one that has put a spotlight on the war in Yemen that Washington and Riyadh would rather avoid.
Turkey gears up for another fight against the Kurds. A day after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced an impending operation to clear Kurdish forces from border areas east of the Euphrates in Syria , both sides appear to be digging in for a long fight. Turkish state media confirmed that Turkey’s military is positioning tanks and artillery along the Syrian border, and Reuters reported that as many as 15,000 Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters are preparing to join the offensive. A Free Syrian Army commander said the border cities of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn will see action – as will Manbij, west of the Euphrates, jeopardizing a U.S.-Turkish deal on joint patrols there. On Friday, Erdogan said Turkish troops would forcibly remove any remaining Kurdish rebels from the city if the U.S. didn’t. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces pledged Thursday to fight back, but it’s unclear how much support they can count on from Washington. According to an unconfirmed report from Azerbaijani outlet Trend, U.S. and French military contingents have vacated Tal Abyad. The report follows a meeting between Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on the sidelines of a regional summit in the Azerbaijani capital.
The U.S. talks loudly, looks for a stick in Africa. U.S. national security adviser John Bolton rolled out a new U.S. strategy to counter Chinese and Russian influence in Africa. China, according to Bolton, is “deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the U.S.” and using “bribes, opaque agreements and … debt to hold states in Africa captive to Beijing’s wishes and demands.” Bolton accused Russia of following suit. In response, he announced a new program, dubbed “Prosper Africa,” to facilitate U.S. investment across the continent with tools like the new U.S. International Development Finance Corp., a $60 billion agency combining several government development organizations. The U.S. won’t try to match China dollar for dollar in Africa, and Russian and Chinese influence there isn’t much of a challenge to U.S. strategic interests. But it’s notable that Washington is edging back into the realm of economic statecraft and looking for ways to pair government support with the much deeper pockets of the U.S. private sector in service of its strategic aims.
- EU leaders offered Kiev additional aid but declined to impose new sanctions on Moscow.
- The 10th round of negotiations between Washington and Seoul on footing the bill for U.S. forces in South Korea ended without a deal.
- South Korea deployed fighter jets after a North Korean aircraft crossed its tactical action line.
- India and Russia are reportedly nearing a logistical supply deal that will allow the two countries’ military forces to share each other’s facilities.
- Foreign direct investment in China fell more than 27 percent year on year in November. Retail sales growth slowed to 8.1 percent year on year, down from 8.6 percent in October, and industrial production growth decelerated to just 5.4 percent year on year, compared with 5.9 percent in October.
- Japan’s Cabinet approved Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ambitious new military spending plans.
- In a meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May, EU leaders declined to offer new assurances that the so-called backstop guarantee for the Irish border wouldn’t tie the U.K. into the EU’s customs regime indefinitely.