Reporting out of Moscow suggests that some number of armed Russians—up to 200—were killed by the US-led, anti-ISIS coalition after crossing the Euphrates River deconfliction line in eastern Syria on February 7.  If the reports are true, this was by far the bloodiest incident for Russian personnel since Moscow’s military intervention in Syria at the end of September 2015.

The degree to which the Kremlin knew in advance of the ill-advised fording of the Euphrates is not clear.  American military sources say that communications between them and Russian counterparts in Syria never broke down, and that the Russian air force never intervened on behalf of the invaders.

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s current trip to the Middle East reportedly seeks to attempt to restore stability in the region following the virtual destruction of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) by US and coalition forces. What is his way forward with the Turks and how should Washington manage its differences with Ankara on Syria? 

Given the raft of other problems in the relationship—the fate of the Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, the detention of American Consulate staff in Adana and Istanbul, disagreement about the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Ankara’s dalliance with Moscow and Tehran, and the difficulty of dealing with an increasingly authoritarian and erratic ally—how much can Tillerson actually achieve?

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Will he go? That’s the big question on the minds of South Africans this week as their president, Jacob Zuma, was asked to step down by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party’s National Executive Committee (NEC).

The NEC’s decision followed a marathon thirteen-hour meeting on February 12 to decide the fate of Zuma, who has been plagued by corruption allegations.

Zuma’s successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, was elected president of the ANC in December of 2017, defeating Zuma’s former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Ramaphosa faces a delicate balancing act. By forcing Zuma to heed the NEC’s call and resign, he would risk alienating large vote banks that remain loyal to the president. On the flip side, allowing Zuma to prolong this political crisis risks further tarnishing the ANC brand under Ramaphosa’s leadership.  

With the NEC’s decision, the ball is now in Zuma’s court.

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Rose Gottemoeller, deputy secretary general of NATO, discusses arms control

When the Doomsday Clock took its last big leap, moving from five minutes to three minutes to midnight in 2015, Rose Gottemoeller took it personally. She was then US under secretary of state for arms control and had spent her entire career negotiating with first the Soviets and then the Russians to keep the world further from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ “apocalypse.”

“I was very cross,” she recalled with a self-deprecating laugh, “because of course I was responsible for arms control matters in the government and they still moved the clock back toward midnight. I was like ‘what do I have to do?!’” Gottemoeller said nonproliferation experts felt the Obama administration could have done more.

When the “clock of doom” ticked forward thirty seconds in January, up to 11:58, Gottemoeller watched from Brussels in her post as NATO's deputy secretary general, no longer responsible but no less concerned.

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to the Middle East this week comes amid escalating tensions between NATO allies Turkey and the United States as their forces stare down one another in war-ravaged northern Syria.

While Tillerson’s agenda is notably missing a stop in Israel, the secretary will meet with leaders in Turkey, as well as Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Lebanon.

The Turkey stop on his tour will surely be wrought with tension considering the standoff currently playing out between their respective armies.

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Atlantic Council analysts discuss agreement that could end political uncertainty in Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on February 7 moved a step closer to forming a coalition government that would include her conservative Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD).

But first, more than 460,000 members of the SPD will need to approve the coalition agreement in a postal ballot. The results will be announced on March 4.

Approval of the deal would end more than four months of political wrangling that have followed an inconclusive election in September and keep Merkel at the helm for a fourth term as chancellor.

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Though hailed as one of US President Donald J. Trump’s key considerations in his 2018 State of the Union address, the topic of infrastructure was handled summarily in a few simple sentences that were short on substance. While there was not much to disagree with in his mention of a perennial problem plaguing and permeating the US policy landscape, there was not much there to work with either. 

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Even as it supports the Olympic thaw between North and South Korea, US President Donald J. Trump’s administration is keeping up pressure on Pyongyang, evidenced by US Vice President Mike Pence’s promise that the “toughest and most aggressive” sanctions on North Korea are imminent.

On February 7, two days ahead of the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Pence described North Korea as having the “most tyrannical and oppressive regime on the planet.” He insisted that the United States will continue to intensify the heat of sanctions until North Korea takes concrete steps toward denuclearization.

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One hundred years ago, Parliament passed the Representation of the People Act, marking a powerful first step towards granting all British women the right to vote.

The British suffragettes, led by the courageous Emmeline Pankhurst, fought for decades to secure the right to vote. They endured imprisonment and forced feedings. They were separated from their families, and shunned by society. But their determination to bring about change never wavered.

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The center can still hold in Germany. Angela Merkel’s conservatives have finalized a government deal with the Social Democrats. Barring a last-minute upset—Social Democratic Party members need to vote before the deal can go through—Germany will be ruled by another “grand coalition” for the next four years.

The worry is that this one will mostly contend itself with presiding over good times rather than make ambitious reforms.

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