Russia is using the same disinformation playbook to sow doubt about the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter as it did in the case of Alexander Litvinenko’s death, Marina Litvinenko, the slain Russian intelligence officer’s widow, said at the Atlantic Council in Washington on September 11.

Russian authorities are now “trying to use a case of Alexander Litvinenko to destroy the future case of Yulia and Sergei Skripal,” Marina Litvinenko said. Alexander Litvinenko died in London in November 2006 after being exposed to radioactive polonium-210, allegedly given to him in a cup of tea. Litvinenko had emigrated to the United Kingdom in 2000 after serving for almost two decades in Soviet intelligence and then eventually Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).

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At a time when the Taliban are gaining ground in Afghanistan, Afghan government losses are mounting, and regional partners’ views on the conflict are shifting, US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has not given in to pessimism. On a September 7 visit to Kabul, Mattis expressed optimism about the existence of “a framework” and “open lines of communications” between US diplomats and Qatar-based Taliban representatives that he believes might lead to an intra-Afghan reconciliation process that would end nearly two decades of war. He also reassured Kabul’s leadership that the United States will stand by the Afghans until there is lasting peace and stability.

What remains uncertain at this point, however, are the answers to two overarching questions: How will key regional stakeholders—Pakistan, Russia, Iran, China, and India—manage shifting interests and threat perceptions at a time when the United States is pushing for a peace deal, and is there a contingency plan if talks fail?

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In June this year, Africa’s longest-running conflict appeared to come to a sudden end as Abiy Ahmed, the newly-installed prime minister of Ethiopia, made a compelling peace overture to his counterpart in neighboring Eritrea. After a couple of short meetings with Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afwerki, peace was summarily declared. Parades were held, banners festooned both capitals, and the habitually cheery Abiy and the often surly Isaias were photographed arm in arm, with broad smiles on their faces.

A series of historical reversals then occurred: telephone lines were unblocked for the first time in decades, airplanes started flying between Asmara and Addis Ababa, and families that had been separated for twenty years—since 1998, when the border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia broke out— were joyously reunited.

History was made again on September 11 as Abiy and Isaias ceremoniously reopened several border crossings, including at the Debay Sima-Burre border point, which sits on the road to the Eritrean port of Assab. Opening this crossing will give Ethiopian exports new access to the Red Sea, with economic dividends in store for both countries.

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In the early hours of September 12, 2001, as the world was coming to grips with the enormity of the events of the day before, US National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was busy working the phones. She discussed with the United States’ NATO allies the possibility of doing something never done before in the history of the Alliance: the invocation of Article 5 on collective defense.

Daniel Fried was working at the National Security Council and in Rice’s office at the time. He recalls Rice’s conversation with her French counterpart. “We need this,” she said.

By the evening of September 12, less than twenty-four hours after al Qaeda terrorists hijacked and crashed commercial airliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, the allies invoked Article 5 in an act of solidarity with the United States. Then NATO Secretary General George Robertson informed United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan of the Alliance's decision.

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Seven years after the first protests against Bashar al-Assad, the dictator in Damascus is not only still standing, but is reconsolidating control over most of Syria. The war has killed hundreds of thousands, sent millions of refugees streaming into neighboring countries and as far as Europe and the United States, and spun-off proxy wars that have pit the United States against regional powers and strained Washington’s relations with its allies.

Although the United States is winding down its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in one of the many offshoots of the current conflict, Atlantic Council resident senior fellow Faysal Itani and Nate Rosenblatt argue that Syria represents a resounding defeat for Washington, not a victory. While other actors within and outside of Syria certainly deserve much of the blame for the conflict’s brutality and duration, “the United States was the international actor with the greatest capacity to alter events in Syria, deliberately or not, and its actions deserve special scrutiny,” Itani and Rosenblatt write in a new issue brief for the Atlantic Council, “US Policy in Syria: A Seven-Year Reckoning,” released on September 11.

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US-Palestinian relationship is ‘broken,’ says former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad


The decision by US President Donald J. Trump’s administration to close the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is a symptom of a “completely dysfunctional and broken relationship” between the United States and the Palestinians, says Salam Fayyad, a former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority who is currently a distinguished statesman at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security.

The Trump administration’s decision was announced in a statement from the State Department as well as in remarks by senior administration officials on September 10.

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On the night of September 11, 2012, the US diplomatic compound in Benghazi was attacked and burned. The US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, who was visiting Libya’s eastern city, and three other US citizens lost their lives. At first, the attack was thought to have been carried out by a mob angry about a video made in the United States that mocked Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. It was later determined to be an act of terrorism.

Six years have passed and Libya remains mired in chaos. The crisis has sharpened in its severity in the years since the ouster of the North African nation’s longtime ruler, Moammar Gadhafi, by rebels backed by the United States, France, and the United Kingdom in 2011. The United States—weary of foreign entanglements—has decreased its attention toward Libya.

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Moscow will soon orchestrate yet another major military exercise, this time in its Eastern Military District (EMD)—a vast 2.7-million-square-mile territory stretching from its Siberian Arctic shores down to Vladivostok on the Pacific, close to Russia’s borders with China and North Korea. This will come exactly one year after its Zapad-17 exercise across Russia’s Western Military District, just on NATO’s doorstep.

While far from the Alliance’s borders this time, the forthcoming event’s location, huge scale, and unusual partner participation (China) carry strategic implications for NATO and the West, and also raise serious questions open to diverse interpretation.

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Is this what the end of an era looks like?
 
This was a week that President Trump closed by dramatically escalating his trade dispute with China, threatening new tariffs on nearly $500 billion of Chinese goods. He did so even while facing mounting tensions within his own administration, underscored by an anonymous New York Times op-ed and a new book by Bob Woodward.
 
In a bit of symbolic theater on the eve of Trump’s trade announcement, China’s Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai was hosting a party in Washington for his African counterparts to celebrate this week’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing. 

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On September 8, the Republic of Macedonia celebrates its Independence Day, marking twenty-seven years since it declared independence from Yugoslavia. On September 30, citizens will vote in a referendum to ratify a name-deal with Greece, that will see the country renamed to “the Republic of North Macedonia,” hopefully ending a decades-long disagreement with Greece and paving the way for Macedonia’s accession to the European Union and NATO.

But Macedonia is about more than NATO expansion or naming disputes. Here’s a look at this small Balkan country that is now grabbing headlines.

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